Second Sunday of Easter
He is risen! He is risen indeed! Grace and peace are yours from Him who is and who was and who is to come, our risen Lord Jesus, dear friends in Christ, worrying, anxious thoughts, fear, trouble, sleepless nights, a pounding heart, nervousness, fright, head-aches, we all know what those things feel like, don’t we? I think we’d all classify those things as being in the opposite realm of that little 5 letter word: peace. What is “peace”? What is it like to be “at peace”? A calm sunset on a beach? A quiet house? A walk through the woods? Those things certainly might give us “peaceful” feelings, but not true peace. Today in our text we see someone with true peace and it seems almost backward from what we might’ve expected.
Recently in our text the apostle Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, supposedly because he’d violated the temple by bringing a Gentile into it, but really he was arrested because the Jews hated him for telling people about Jesus. They plotted to kill him, so the commander sent him to the governor in the port-city of Caesarea. In Caesarea he was tried under the governor there. While he should have been set free, the governor enjoyed hearing Paul. After a while this governor was called to Rome and he left Paul in prison to do a service to the Jews. Then this governor called Festus took over and he didn’t know what to do with this Paul guy and didn’t want to upset the Jews so he dragged his feet- no doubt he didn’t want to upset the Jews and get in trouble, but he also wanted to deal with this unfinished business that the previous governor left him- he seems to be willing to favor the Jews so Paul exercised his Roman right to appeal to Caesar in Rome, the higher court for justice. The same thing happens in our courts today, you are allowed to appeal your case to a higher court.
Now, since Festus didn’t really know what to write on Paul’s charge to send to Rome he decided to have a big production to which he invited a neighboring ruler, King Agrippa, to attend to find out what to put on Paul’s charge. It turned out to be a big festival with great fanciness and hype and glitter and pomp. The governors are seated in the luxury booths, no doubt there are military commanders present, and all are ready to listen to Paul do his spiel. Can you picture the situation? We’ve got some grand spectators, walking in on a red carpet, a fanfare of trumpets, great pomp and hype and glitter. And then… here’s Paul, probably in rags, in bonds, most pitiful looking. And what does he do? Paul uses the opportunity to preach the gospel and win hearts!
He told everyone about how God had miraculously called him to faith and called him to service in spreading the gospel. And that’s exactly what he did. He went around in Damascus and Jerusalem and all over spreading the good news about Jesus to Jew and Gentile alike. And it was because of this message that prompted the Jews to hate Paul and want him dead. But their schemes and plans have not worked, why? Because Paul has had God’s own help- the Greek word implies a help of an ally that hastens to aid- which has led him to this very position to have the opportunity to speak about Jesus to a great many people –from unimportant people to great big-shots.
And what was Paul’s message? “I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen- that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” Paul’s message is nothing new! What he is telling people is exactly what has been true all along. This is the message Paul wanted to get to: that the Savior would come and suffer and die and rise from the dead! Paul’s job is to point to the fact that He has come!
But when Paul said all of this the Roman governor Festus couldn’t contain it any more. How can Paul do all this? He’s educated. He’s smart. He has incredible zeal that he goes all over the place with this message. He’s perfectly calm and collected here in front of such important people. He’s not even upset and angry he’s in prison. And he’s telling me I need a Savior and that there is a Savior who rose from the dead! He must be out of his mind! He must be insane!
Paul calmly, coolly, and courteously said, “I am not insane, most excellent Festus.” Then Paul turned to Agrippa, who at least professed to be a Jew and who would have known the OT Scriptures and about everything that had gone on in Judah- about Jesus, what he did and what had happened to him- and Paul asked him, “Do you believe the Prophets?” If he really was a Jew he’d have to say, “Yes.” But Agrippa didn’t want to deny his supposed Jewish faith by saying he didn’t and he didn’t want to get into a debate with Paul who was obviously well-educated, so he brushed Paul’s question off, “What do you think you’re going to persuade me to be a Christian?”
In the midst of all of this, being in prison, being accused, a totally unknown future in Rome, standing before great people and Paul essentially says, “My prayer is that all here may be what I am, a believer at peace in my Savior, just not in chains.” Wow! How could Paul have such confidence? How could he be so calm?
You see, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead absolutely changed everything for the apostle Paul’s life. You remember that beforehand Paul was a terrible persecutor of God’s church, rounding up Christians to put them in prison, causing them to suffer, trying to get them to blaspheme, even approving of their death. Until something happened. Jesus appeared to him… alive! And that changed everything!
You see, Paul never had a 401k or a retirement account, he didn’t have friends in high places to help him out, he didn’t have guns or weapons or even a home, he didn’t have a full bank account or the latest fishing boat, he didn’t have any of those things our world will tell you that you must have in order to have a “peaceful,” easy life.
Well, why do you have peace? What is it that gives you peace? Knowing that your family is safe? Knowing that you have a gun hidden in your home in case of an intruder? Knowing that your investments and savings are secure? Knowing that you have friends that will back you up no matter what? Knowing that the doctor gave you a clean bill of health? Knowing that you are needed and your job is secure? Knowing that you are in a good physical shape?
These are all fine and nice blessings from God, which we thank Him for and treasure and are glad about. However, none of those things give us true peace. Imagine if those were the things to which we looked for peace in! What happens when 2 of your kids die in a tragic boating accident? No peace. What happens when your house goes up in flames with everything in it? No peace. What happens when your health fails? No peace. What happens when the company you work for goes bankrupt? No peace.
Where is your peace? Where do you find true peace? Peace that lasts, peace that persists, peace that can’t be taken from you no matter what? Peace that changes everything? Peace that calms you even in the greatest of tragedies? Look to a vacant, empty tomb. Look to a Savior who has conquered death. Look to Jesus who is not dead, but alive!
That’s the peace that the apostle Paul had! Look at this scene! Everything seems so backward and opposite! The beautiful, the rich, the powerful, the mighty, the strong who sit in their luxury box seats watching this Paul guy, they have no real, true peace. They might think they have peace, but they don’t have true peace. They don’t have peace with God. One day, if not sooner, on their death bed they’ll leave behind their beauty, their power, their might, their wealth. This life won’t go on forever. On the other hand here’s this raga-muffin preacher, who looks about as pathetic as anyone, no home, no power, no position, no money, no 401k, no wife and kids, no certainty of justice, no promise of a long life. And yet, it didn’t matter to him! Why? Because he had all he ever needed: the peace that surpasses understanding. Everything is just right between him and God- Jesus’ resurrection proves it! Since Jesus is alive, his sins, every one of them are forgiven, there is no dividing wall of hostility between him and God. And so to him doesn’t matter what happens here on this earth, because of Jesus he knows without a doubt that God has forgiven his sins, that God has a room prepared for him in the mansions of heaven! That’s peace! So it doesn’t matter what people might think they can do to him, Jesus lives, so he knows he will live! So, since that’s taken care of, what does Paul focus his entire life on doing? Telling others! Sharing that message of peace! He tells them about the peace found in Christ, so others can have it too!
That exact same peace that Paul had is also your peace! You’ve seen the empty tomb! Your Savior lives! You will live! You have the peace that surpasses human understanding! God’s in control! Can you imagine living with that peace? Come what may in my life there isn’t going to be a single day in my life that Jesus isn’t alive, that that tomb isn’t empty. Will Jesus be any less risen tomorrow? Or the next day? Or when I lose something very valuable to me? Jesus lives! That peace goes with me always! Nothing can take that peace from me, from you!
What’s there left to do with our lives? Use them to share this peace with others! Tell others about the peace that we have! That’s exactly what Paul was doing- even when it looks like everything is lost for him, he’s still telling other people about the Savior who lives! And the peace of Jesus’ resurrection is ours to live in and enjoy. Whatever it is that causes you to worry or be anxious or causes you trouble or consternation or hesitation or fear, look to your Savior’s empty tomb, see in it the peace that surpasses understanding, the proof positive that heaven is yours and you will live eternally. See, Jesus’ resurrection gives you peace! Amen.