Christ has risen! He has risen, indeed! Alleluia! Our Savior who once was dead now lives.
The Gospel that we just heard begins with a time marker, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week.” (John 20:19) We need to look at the context to see what John means when he says, “That day.” The previous verse give the account of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene near the empty tomb. So, today’s reading is an account of something that happened on the evening of the day of the Resurrection. By this time, the disciples knew that the body was gone. Some of the women even claimed to have seen and talked with Jesus. Never the less, they weren’t sure what it all meant. They were confused.
The text goes on to say, “The doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews.” (John 20:19) The one thing they did know was that the Jewish leaders went to a lot of trouble to wipe out their leader. Now that He was out of the way, there was the possibility that they would try to destroy the entire movement. So, not only were they confused, but they were terrified.
This is another one of those moments that supports the credibility of the Biblical text. If you are making up a history to support your own man made religion, you do not portray the leaders of your religion as confused, frightened, and helpless men cowering in a locked room.
The other thing we learn from this account is that, at the beginning of this account, there was not a single Christian in the room. They had heard reports of the Resurrection, but they did not believe them. If you do not believe in the Resurrection, then you are not a Christian. This was a room full of unbelievers.
Now this is annual “Pick on Thomas Day.” You heard in the reading how Thomas was missing, and he made his assertion of unbelief before he saw Jesus, but the fact is that all the disciples were total pagans before Jesus showed Himself to them on that evening.
Now here is where we see how gracious and merciful Jesus truly is. He had every right to show up and rip into these disciples. He had every right to condemn them for their unbelief. After all, He had told them that after He died, He would rise again. If they had been listening, they should have expected Him to rise on the third day. But they didn’t. They deserved condemnation.
Instead, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19) What a marvelous greeting this is. Instead of getting what they deserve, Jesus gave them His peace. This peace is greater than any other peace for it comes from the very Son of God Himself. This is the peace that Jesus earned with His perfect life and His suffering and death on the cross. This is the peace that Jesus earned while He hung on the cross and endured the wrath of God for the sin of the world. This is the peace we have with God because Jesus took away the sins of the world.
When [Jesus] had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. (John 20:20) Jesus verified His identity and certified His peace by inviting the disciples to examine the wounds of the cross that still showed on His body. This was a real bodily resurrection … a resurrection that the disciples could touch and see. Jesus is real and so is His peace.
As the disciples began to realize that their friend and teacher was alive, Jesus gave them even more gifts. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21) This is nothing other than Jesus installing these men as apostles. The very word apostle comes from a Greek word that means to send. Jesus said that He is God the Father’s apostle, the one sent from the Father. Now He is commissioning these disciples to be His apostles, ones who are sent directly by Him. These apostles will take the very peace that Jesus has given to them and proclaim it to the world.
Do you realize how crazy this is? These are the guys who often quarreled about who is the greatest among them. These are the guys who abandoned Jesus at His greatest need. These are the guys who thought the stories of the resurrection were idle tales. These are the guys who drew a total blank every time Jesus told them He was going to suffer, die, and rise from the dead. People! These are not the brightest bulbs in the box.
Never the less, they are the one whom Jesus sent. They are the ones the Apostle Paul wrote about to the church in Ephesus: You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:19–20) The Apostle Paul states that these men are the foundation of the household of God. Paul is talking about men who were cowardly unbelievers until Jesus showed Himself to them. Now Jesus is sending them. Now they are Jesus’ Apostles.
But wait, there’s more. When [Jesus] had said this, 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 20:22–23) Here is Jesus giving the authority to forgive sins to His church. This authority carries with it the authority to administer His peace as well.
One of the things I like about the special form of confession and absolution that we used last Maundy Thursday is the question that I ask, “Do you believe that the forgiveness I speak is not my forgiveness but God’s?” This question is based on the words we just heard from Jesus in today’s Gospel. He has given the church the actual authority to forgive sins with the forgiveness that He earned with His perfect life and suffering and death. That means that when I stand up on a communion Sunday and say, “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,” that is Jesus forgiving your sins.
The wonderful thing is that it doesn’t depend on how wonderful your pastor is. He could be a total jerk. Never the less, the forgiveness is sure. It is sure because it does not depend on the character of your pastor, but on the promise of Jesus Christ … the same Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose from the dead. The one who kept His promise to rise from the dead, will most certainly keep His promise to forgive all your sins.
This forgiveness not only comes with the actual word forgive, but it also comes with other words … words like peace. In a few minutes, at the end of the sermon, I will place God’s peace on you. That is not just me giving my good wishes, but I am placing the very same peace that Jesus gave to His disciples on you. This also happens in the benediction. When I place God’s name on you, I also place God’s peace on you. After you receive communion, I say, “Depart in peace.” That is also the same peace that Jesus gave to His disciples in today’s Gospel. It is another way of placing His forgiveness on you with all its gifts.
We need the gifts of Christ’s forgiveness. We live in a sin-filled world that tempts us continually. Satan continually attacks us with the poisonous darts of His temptations. When we examine our lives in light of the Ten Commandments, we become aware of our many failings … our many sins. Our only hope is the forgiveness that Jesus gives to us. With that forgiveness, we receive His mercy, His grace, and His peace. In His love, He has given His church the authority to administer all these gifts and give them out freely. That is what we do when the Holy Spirit calls us together by the Gospel. In this place and in all the other places His believers gather around the world, He gives us His gifts through His servants in His congregation.
God continues to work in grace and mercy today. At birth, every one of us is a selfish, enemy of God. Never the less, the Father of all mercy and grace has sent His Son Jesus Christ, who atoned for the sin of the whole world that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. Jesus gives His peace to us. The Holy Spirit still works in us by the power of the very Word that Jesus sent His apostles to proclaim. Pastors still administer the very forgiveness of Jesus Christ as they say, “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In all of these ways and more, Jesus still comes to us and says, “Peace be with you.” Amen
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