Victorious, but Not Unscarred John 20:19-23
I’m sure someone looked at the title of today’s message, “Victorious, But Not Unscarred” and thought, “Evidently the pastor just finished filling out [his] income tax form.”
April 15th it’s not only income tax day as you may remember. It’s also the day the Titanic sunk and the day Lincoln was shot.
Sometime back in California, a seventy-one year old grandmother pleaded not guilty to armed robbery, saying she had been driven insane by the Internal Revenue Service. That seems perfectly understandable to me.
Someone said the difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get more complicated each year.
Most of us receive many benefits from our system of government though sometimes we can all feel a little sympathy for the businessman who, while on his deathbed, called a friend. He said, “Joe, I want you to promise me that when I die you will have my remains cremated.”
“And what,” his friend asked, “do you want me to do with your ashes?”
The businessman said, “Just put them in an envelope and mail them to the Internal Revenue Service and write on the envelope, ‘Now you have everything.’”
“Victorious, But Not Unscarred.” Of course we are not dealing with tax matters today. We are dealing with an appearance of Jesus to his disciples after Easter.
It is interesting. A couple of years ago, the Reuters News Service carried a story about a Russian teenager who survived a lightning strike.
The bolt hit this young woman on the top of her head and seared through her body into the ground. The necklace she had been wearing was vaporized to the atomic level,” leaving burns in the shape of a cross on her neck. Only a couple of links of the chain could be found.
A doctor at the local hospital who treated her over a period of two weeks said: “It is a miracle she survived.” She did survive and is fine now but, says the report, “she will have deep scars on her neck where the cross was for the rest of her life.”
In a like way, after Jesus’ resurrection from the grave, he still bore the scars from the cross. We read in John’s Gospel, “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side . . .”
Then a few verses later we read, “Now Thomas . . . was not with the disciples when Jesus came.
“A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’
“Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”
To me, it is significant that though Christ had been resurrected from the dead, his body still bore the scars from his crucifixion. Victorious, but not unscarred.
It is a reminder to me that no one ever achieves anything of lasting significance without getting a few scars along the way. No one makes a lasting contribution to the world who does not pay a price.
We need to know about people like Dr. Eleanor Chestnut. After arriving in China in 1893 under the American Presbyterian Missions Board, Dr. Chestnut built a hospital, using her own money to buy bricks and mortar. The need for her services was so great, she performed surgery in her bathroom until the building was completed.
One operation involved the amputation of a common laborer’s leg. Complications arose, and skin grafts were needed. A few days later, another doctor asked Chestnut why she was limping. “Oh, it’s nothing,” was her terse reply.
Finally, a nurse revealed that the skin graft for the patient, a coolie at the bottom of Chinese society, came from Dr. Chestnut’s own leg, taken with only local anesthetic.
Sadly, during the Boxer Rebellion of 1905, Dr. Chestnut and four other missionaries were killed by a mob that stormed the hospital.
You see, Eleanor Chestnut knew the dangers of serving in China, but her faith was strong and her commitment to Christ and to the Chinese people was complete. Today the Chinese Christian community is the fastest growing body of Christians in the world. But it would not even be there in that historically closed society if people like Eleanor Chestnut were not willing to bear on their own bodies the scars of commitment. Victorious, but not unscarred. The scars that Christ bore remind us that no one ever achieves anything of lasting significance without getting a few scars along the way.
Those scars are also a reminder of just how much Christ loves us.
Some of you are familiar with American Sign Language, the language which serves so many of our friends who are deaf. Do you know what the sign is for Jesus? I understand it is the tip of the middle finger of one hand touching the palm of the other. When deaf persons are worshipping, they will make this sign many times during their service: Jesus, the one with scarred hands. And when they touch the place where the scars were, they remember.
The details of Christ’s death have always had an impact on those who believe in him, though sometimes in ways that are not so healthy.
Have any of you seen stories on Discovery Channel about Central and South American peoples who as part of their Easter Celebration find it the highest honor to hang crucified on a cross – tied and nailed. Others glory in being scourged. That is a perversion of our faith. Christ does not want us to scar our bodies as a way of showing our devotion to him. However, we can’t help to be moved by the knowledge that the pure Son of God who knew no sin allowed himself to be brutalized and slain by sinful human beings?
Why did he do it?
He did it out of unadulterated love for you and me.
It’s like a story that William Barclay once told about a young French soldier in the First World War who was seriously wounded. His arm was so badly smashed that it had to be amputated. He was a handsome young man, and the surgeon was grieved that he must go through life maimed. So he waited by his bedside to tell him the bad news when he recovered consciousness.
When the lad’s eyes opened, the surgeon said to him: “I am sorry to tell you that you have lost your arm.”
“Sir,” said the lad, “I did not lose it; I gave it‑‑for France.”
In the same way, Christ did not lose his life; he gave it for you and me.
In a sermon on the web, the Rev. Christi O. Brown tells about a tennis friend who understands about scars. This friend is a highly fit 30-something-year-old. Yet she wears a brace on each knee. Brown once pointed to her friend’s knee and asked if her scar was from knee surgery. She said, “No, it’s from my son, and I actually have an identical scar on my other knee.”
Here’s the story: several years ago this young mother “scooped up” her toddler son from the swimming pool and began to walk toward a lounge chair. As she stepped onto the tiled patio, her foot slipped on the wet slick surface. She was also seven months pregnant, and it was one of those moments where you feel like you’re moving in slow motion but there’s nothing you can do to stop the fall. Within a split second, she knew her momentum was toppling her forward, and she could either fall and land on top of both her son and her unborn child, or she could fall on her knees.
“Of course, as any loving parent would do, she chose to fall on her knees directly onto the unforgiving concrete. Her knees immediately burst open and blood went everywhere. She ended up needing stitches, which resulted in scars, but her son and unborn child were both unharmed.
“It is hard for me to tell this story,” writes Christi Brown, “without tearing up, because to me, it serves as a miniscule example of the immense sacrifice and love of Jesus Christ. You see, we are the beloved children of God for whom Jesus took the fall. Christ suffered on the cross and endured unimaginable pain for us. His is the greatest scar story ever told.”
“Victorious, But Not Unscarred.” The scars that Christ bore remind us that no one ever achieves anything of lasting significance without getting a few scars along the way. Those scars are also a reminder of how much Christ loves us.
This brings us to a final thing to be said: Christ’s scars are a summons to us to commit ourselves more fully to his work. The saddest commentary on our lives is probably the fact that we bear so few scars for Christ and for his kingdom.
Doesn’t it concern you that our faith really requires so little of us? Some of us tithe. That’s a considerable sacrifice, but 10% is half of what some of us tip servers who bring us our food in restaurants. We’re here in worship most Sundays, unless something more pressing comes along. No one will accuse us of being fanatics about our religion. That’s a fact.
Jim Congdon in Leadership Magazine tells about a jarring TV commercial that ran sometime back. The commercial featured no dialogue. It simply showed a series of people who had one thing in common – a nasty injury or scar. There’s a cowboy with a huge scar around his eye, and something wrong with the eye itself; a fellow with a bulbous cauliflower ear; another with horribly callused feet. There’s no explanation at all . . . except a Nike swoosh and the words, “Just Do It.”
The ad has been analyzed and criticized widely as being incomprehensible and extreme. But the key to the controversial commercial lies in the background music, says Congdon. Joe Cocker sings, “You are so beautiful . . . to me.”
To these athletes – the wrestler with the cauliflower ear, the surfer with a shark bite, the bull rider blind in one eye – their injuries are beauty marks from their commitment to their sport. And to their fans, these athletes are beautiful because of their scars. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” says Mike Folino, the ad’s creator.
It reminds me of one last story about a Confederate general named John B. Gordon. Gordon directed the last official action against the Union Army on a Sunday morning in April, 1865, at Appomattox when Lee surrendered to Grant.
Later Gordon became a candidate for the United States Senate. However, a man who had once served under Gordon became enraged over some political incident. As a member of the legislature, he vowed to do all that he could to defeat Gordon.
At the convention, this man stormed down the aisle to present his vote against Gordon in order to stop his bid for election. As he neared the platform upon which Gordon sat, he happened to look up at his former commander. The once handsome face was now disfigured by battle scars. He recalled the actions in which Gordon had led the troops, actions which had left him permanently disfigured.
Overcome with emotion, Gordon’s opponent had tears falling down his cheeks. He declared to the assembly that he could not vote against John Gordon. Then turning to Gordon, he asked the general’s forgiveness. “Forgive me, General. I had forgotten the scars.”
Victorious but not unscarred. That is how we too will one day see our Lord and Master and it will remind us of his great love for us. I wonder if on that day when we see him face to face, he will examine us for scars too.