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Second Sunday of Easter

John 20:19–31

James T. Batchelor

Easter 2, series C
Saint Paul Lutheran Church  
Manito, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Apr 3, 2016 

Well, today is annual Pick on Thomas Day. There are people in this world who have never even picked up a Bible, but they have heard about Doubting Thomas. The fact of the matter is that this label is inaccurate and unfair.

Lets take a moment to do a quick review of a verse from last weeks Gospel.  10Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. (Luke 24:1011) Did you catch that?  They meaning the apostles did not believe them.  At this precise moment of time, the disciples were not just doubtful; they flat-out did not believe.  They were pagans.  They were unbelievers.

So Thomas missed out on an appearance of Jesus.  He said, 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. (John 20:25) Okay so Thomas is not a doubter, but a pagan unbeliever as well.  The point is that he was no better or worse than any of the other apostles.  They were all unbelievers not just Thomas.  So how come Thomas is the one who got singled out?  How come Thomas has to carry the label Doubting Thomas down through the centuries?  Why dont we have Pagan Peter, Unbelieving James, Matthew the Infidel?  The fact is that not a single one of them truly believed until they saw Jesus in the flesh.  The fact of the matter is that the entire crew failed miserably.  They were an embarrassment as disciples.

That is what makes some of the other things that happen in todays Gospel absolutely amazing.  First of all, Jesus showed up among them and the words out of His mouth were, Peace be with you. (John 20:19) He had every right to scold them vigorously.  You simpletons! I told you again, and again, and again that I was going to suffer, die, and rise from the dead.  Ive seen rocks next to the road that have a better understanding of my words than you do! Jesus had every right to come on like that, but He did not.  Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, Peace be with you. 20When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. (John 20:1920) Jesus not only gave them His peace, but He even invited them to check out the wounds of the crucifixion in His hands and side.  He was full of grace and friendship.  There was no condemnation at all.

Now as if that was not crazy enough, Jesus took it up a notch.  21Jesus said to them again, Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. (John 20:21) With these words, Jesus said that He is an apostle.  An apostle is a sent one. So Jesus is saying that He is the Apostle from God the Father.  In turn, His words appointed this group of underachievers as apostles as sent ones. They are now sent from God the Son.

Then Jesus gave them a special authority.  He breathed on them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld. (John 20:2223) Jesus has just given the Holy Spirit to this small group of disciples and given them the authority to forgive and the authority to withhold forgiveness.

Lets just think about this for a few minutes.  A few days earlier, Jesus endured false arrest, abuse at the hands of the soldiers, several rigged trials, beatings, floggings, general mocking, and death by crucifixion.  During this process of abuse, He also endured the full wrath of God against your sins my sins the sins of the entire world.  He did this in order to procure the forgiveness of sins for you.  Now He has taken that dearly won forgiveness of sins and placed it in the hands of this group of underachievers.  I cannot overstate how strange and wonderful and amazing and bizarre and unusual this is that Jesus would place His forgiveness in the care of these men men who a few hours earlier in the day had refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Jesus has given His forgiveness to the church.  The Small Catechism covers this authority to forgive sins when it discusses the Office of the Keys.

What is the Office of the Keys?  The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.

Where is this written?  This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven' (John 20:22-23).

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 exercised this authority earlier in the service when you heard me say,

Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

These words are so precious and so valuable that even if the rest of the service is a total bust the sermon dull the hymns hard to sing the choir out of tune no matter what goes wrong in the rest of the service, it is worth it to come just to hear those words of forgiveness.  For in those words of forgiveness, we receive the very forgiveness that Jesus gave to those underachieving disciples on the very day that He rose from the dead.

There is great comfort for us in todays Gospel reading.  All of us mess up.  We all fail regularly.  This is a characteristic that we share with the disciples.  Peter was notorious for sticking his foot in his mouth.  Jesus sometimes referred to James and John as the Sons of Thunder because of their temperaments.  All the disciples said they were ready to die for Jesus and then they all ran away.  Todays Gospel tells us that they were in a locked room out of fear.  When you consider your shortcomings and your failures, you can know that you are not all that different than the disciples.  Just as Jesus came to those disciples with His peace and forgiveness, He also comes to you today.

The forgiveness that Jesus earned on the cross is for you.  Todays Gospel teaches that you receive it when you hear the words of absolution from your pastor.  Other verses in the Scriptures teach that you also receive forgiveness whenever you hear the Gospel of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins.  We have the promise of Jesus Christ Himself that we receive it in the water of Holy Baptism and the bread and wine that are His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.  Jesus comes in all these ways to bring peace and forgiveness to you.

Martin Luther once preached, It is a great and excellent thing for the mouth of every honest minister and preacher to be Christs mouth, and for his word and forgiveness to be Christs word and forgiveness.  If you sin and confess it, believing on Christ, then your minister and preacher will forgive you the same sin in Christs place, and the words which he speaks on Gods behalf you ought to accept as if Christ himself had spoken them to you. What an amazing thing it is that Jesus has promised to deliver the forgiveness of sins through the mouths of sinful men who are, never the less, called to be pastors.  This is an amazing thing.  An honest pastor knows more than most how sinful he is.  He knows that he is not worthy to utter those words of forgiveness.  Never the less, the pastor can cheerfully forgive the sins of his people because it is Jesus who makes the promise.  It is Jesus who forgives.  The pastor is only the humble servant who brings the gifts of Jesus to Gods people.  What an amazing peace what an amazing forgiveness what an amazing Jesus.  Amen



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