Sermon April 27/ Vicar James Preus/ John 20:19-31/ Jesus Gives Us Peace And Eternal Life Through The Forgiveness of Sins
19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I have a good friend who told me a story. As a youth he walked down an unfamiliar street with a group of high school friends. They encountered another group of youths who were looking for trouble. As the encountered group of trouble-makers spotted the approaching party they began to taunt them and attempted to intimidate them. My friend, not one to be intimidated, confidently taunted back sure that his posse would have his back. Roused by the reciprocated antagonism the band of trouble-makers confronted my friend ready to initiate a physical showdown. Stimulated by his natural fight-or-flight instinct, my friend readied himself for initiation into street fighting. Yet, when he looked over his shoulder he saw the street empty of his high school companions. He was abandoned. His response quickly shifted from fight to flight and he quickly scurried away to safer territory, and he promised himself that he would never hang out with those high school mates again nor ever consider them his friends.
We all heard a similar story the other week. We heard how Jesus’ disciples promised that they would never leave him, even to prison and death. Yet when Jesus was confronted by a band of soldiers (and unlike my friend, Jesus did not taunt them back) Jesus’ disciples fled. They abandoned Jesus. And Jesus was not just scuffed up a bit. Jesus was beaten, flogged, and tortured all the while being mocked and spit upon. The mob demanded Jesus’ death and the governor granted their heinous request. Nailed to a cross, Jesus died as his friends hid.
Yet in our text Jesus arrives alive. What will he say to his ‘friends’ who abandoned him? Does he give them a mouthful for their unfaithful abandonment?
No, Jesus says: “Peace to you.”
Peace. That is the opposite of war and conflict. Jesus probably used the Hebrew word שָׁלוֹם(Shalom). This word conveys a message of completeness, tranquility, a wish for good health and prosperity, friendship, true genuine peace.
How generous of Jesus to forgive his friends for their abandonment and denial! Jesus is much more generous than my friend was to his pseudo-friends. Yet, Jesus is not simply letting bygones be bygones. Jesus is relaying a message from God to his disciples. “God’s peace to you!” And this peace is not just for the eleven disciples, this message is for the entire world.
The entire world was in conflict with God…a rebellious war of people against their Creator. This conflict not only involved our natural inclination to sin (what we call original sin). People actively sin against God. We make ourselves God’s enemies by breaking his commandments! Yet here, Jesus relays a message from God to his disciples: Peace to you!
God sends this message of truce, this message of a divine treaty to the entire human race. Why? Because of Jesus.
Jesus’ arrest, torture, and death upon the cross were all done for the sake of the world. Our sin demanded judgment. As long as our sin remained, we were at enmity with God, meaning: we were God’s enemies. Jesus, who is a real human-being, took our place at God’s judgment, bearing all of our sin, as the prophet says: “The LORD laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Yet Jesus is also true God, the only begotten Son of the Father from all eternity. This assures us that Jesus’ sacrifice is enough to pay for the sins of the whole world. Last Sunday we celebrated with loud ‘Alleluias’ the resurrection of Jesus from the dead! In Jesus’ resurrection God declared that he accepted Jesus’ payment. If Jesus’ death were not enough to pay for our sins, he would still be dead in the grave. But Jesus’ death is enough. Jesus rose from the dead. And in Jesus resurrection he completed our salvation. Jesus saved us. Jesus removed the conflict between us and God. It is complete. So Jesus returns to his disciples with this divine message: “Peace to you!”
It is Jesus who saved us. In his death he washed away our sins. In his resurrection he justified the world. This is how Jesus saved us; it has two parts. One is negative: Forgiveness. The other is positive: Justification. Forgiveness is negative, because it takes something away: Sin. Forgiveness as a mathematical equation is: You – your sins = forgiven. Jesus subtracted your sins from you by taking them to the cross and dying for them. Justification is positive, because it adds something to you: Jesus’ crown of righteousness. Justification as a mathematical equation is: You + Jesus’ righteousness = Justified. Jesus saves you by taking away your sins and giving you his righteousness. This forgiveness and justification were won for the whole world through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Because of this fact, we are all invited to confess our sins to God our Father, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer. To confess our sins means to acknowledge that we are sinners and ask God for forgiveness. We also have faith that God will forgive us, because Jesus has already paid for our sins on the cross. God invites us to confess our sins to him and believe in this forgiveness. We should daily confess our sins to God (even those sins which we do not know) and believe that God forgives our sins for Jesus’ sake.
Jesus paid for our sins, yet sin still burdens our conscience. The devil, the world, and the sinful flesh daily lure Christians into temptation and sin. When Christians see that they have neglected God’s Word and have made other things a priority over God like sports, work, or leisure their consciences can be stricken. When Christians recount the times they treated their neighbors less than themselves or have broken another of God’s commandments, guilt begins to build up. Guilt can make one feel separated from God. Indeed sin does separate us from God. It is not healthy to live wracked with guilt.
What ought a Christian to do when burdened with a weight of guilt brought on by sin? One thing such a tortured soul can do is confide in a trusted brother or sister in the faith. Countless times a husband has confided in his wife or a Christian confided in a brother or sister in Christ. Having heard the burden of his or her fellow Christian, that Christian friend can console the burdened one by assuring that troubled soul of Jesus’ forgiveness. Any one of you can tell your burdened friend: “Jesus forgives you. Jesus died for your sins. Jesus loves you.” (This is called the Mutual Conversation and Consolation of the Brethren). This message of forgiveness is as true when said by a Christian as when Jesus himself said it, because it is true. Jesus did die for the sins of the world. Jesus is risen from the dead. When Christians assure others of Jesus’ forgiveness, they simply speak the truth. This truth gives real peace.
You may and should pray to God every day asking for forgiveness and trusting that God forgives you for Jesus’ sake. You are encouraged to confide in your Christian brothers and sisters and to believe in Jesus’ forgiveness of which they assure you. Yet in our text Jesus gives us another wonderful way to receive the Gospel.
Jesus says: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Jesus has already done the work. Now he sends his ministers with the command to forgive sins. Their words are as valid and certain as Jesus’ words.
In fact, we answer the question concerning this text in the Small Catechism: What do you believe according to these words?
“I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”
We believe the word of the called minister of Christ, because it is Christ’s own word. When the pastor forgives sins, he repeats the message of peace and reconciliation that Jesus spoke to his disciples after his resurrection. The declaration of the forgiveness of sins is a declaration of peace, a divine treaty of reconciliation from God himself.
Yet what is this business of withholding forgiveness and excluding sinners from the Christian congregation? Didn’t Jesus die and rise for everyone? Jesus truly did die for everyone and his forgiveness is offered to everyone. Yet when sinners refuse to repent of their sins, meaning, when they refuse to acknowledge when they break God’s commandment and refuse to ask God for mercy, they reject Jesus’ forgiveness.
The authority to forgive and withhold forgiveness is called the Keys of the Church. To forgive means to release or loosen. Living in sin is like being bound with a steel band with a thick lock. As long as one is bound, that person cannot enter into heaven. When the pastor forgives that sinner, it is like taking a key, turning the lock, and loosing the band so that it falls off, freeing the forgiven person to enter heaven. The power of this key comes directly from Christ Jesus, so we know from Jesus words that the pastor has the authority to use this key.
When sinners refuse to believe in the forgiveness and refuse to repent from their sins they refuse to let the pastor to use the key to loosen the band of sin. The pastor does not refuse to loosen sins willy-nilly. Only those who reject Jesus by clinging to their sins and unbelief have forgiveness withheld from them. To declare forgiveness to such people would be to lie to them. To declare false forgiveness would only secure a person in his or her sin and move that person even farther away from Jesus.
Yet a pastor is not given the authority or power to look into the heart of a sinner. A pastor accepts the confession of a sinner. He cannot refuse forgiveness from a sinner who expresses repentance and asks for forgiveness even if the pastor has personal doubts of the person’s sincerity. The pastor can only bind openly unrepentant sins. Only God can judge the inward heart.
Jesus gave the Keys to the Church so that sinners can receive the forgiveness of sins. He did not give them to the Church to torture souls and bind sins to repentant sinners, so they can’t go to heaven.
I did not see Jesus rise from the dead. Unlike Thomas, none of us saw Jesus’ nail pierced hands and pierced side. Yet Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen yet have believed.” To believe in the forgiveness of sins spoken by the pastor is to believe in the resurrection of Jesus without having seen him risen. Jesus gives us his word, so that we may believe despite having not seen. By believing in the forgiveness Jesus proclaims to us, we receive life in Jesus. Jesus lives forever. We who receive life in Jesus also live forever.
It is New Members Sunday. Some of you have joined Mount Olive from another congregation. Some of you have recently joined not only Mount Olive, but the Holy Christian Church through Baptism. In Baptism you received the peace from God that Jesus declared to his disciples. Although you are Baptized into Christ, the devil, world, and your flesh still drive you to disobey God and bind your sins to you. Yet Jesus invites you to come and have your sins loosed. As a member of Christ’s Church you have the privilege to hear Jesus’ words spoken by the pastor. When he tells you that your sins are forgiven, your sins are literally released from you and Jesus’ crown of righteousness is placed on you. Whether you confess your sins with the whole congregation or privately confess your sins to the pastor, Jesus invites you to believe that when the pastor says, “Your sins are forgiven” that it is as valid and certain even before God in heaven. When the pastor forgives your sins, he repeats to you those words of reconciliation from God: “Peace to you.” When the pastor forgives your sins, the gates of heaven are literally opened to you! Do not disbelieve, but firmly believe that you have life in Jesus!
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: God’s peace to you!
Let us pray:
May we, O God, by grace believe
And thus the risen Christ receive,
Whose raw imprinted palms reached out
And beckoned Thomas from his doubt.
LSB 472 Stz. 4. “These Things Did Thomas Count as Real”