Christ is! He is risen indeed!
Our text for today tells of the first appearance of Jesus after His resurrection to all the apostles in the same time and place. There are several things we can learn from this story.
First, our faith is not based only on personal feelings and opinions, but on actual events. Remember that the three women discovered the empty tomb at dawn on the first Sunday of the resurrection, then Peter and John. Mary Magdalene was the first person to see the risen Christ, then the same day two disciples on the way to the village of Emmaus
Many historians, including non-believers, say that clearly there was much evidence that the tomb was empty. The authorities who condemned Jesus to death sealed the tomb with a large stone and put a guard in front of it. However, on the third day the stone was removed, the tomb opened, and they could not show the body of Jesus.
So, why were the apostles gathered behind closed doors for fear of the Jews? They had the evidence of the empty tomb and the testimony of those who saw the risen Christ. While faith is not only something in the heart, it is not only in the mind either.
The apostles were afraid of the Jews because the official explanation of the empty tomb was the apostles robbed it. But, perhaps they too were afraid when Jesus appeared in the room despite the closed doors. The first words of the Lord were "Peace be with you", a blessing, not a condemnation. The apostles had abandoned Jesus at his time of trial. But, the Lord did not come to punish them, but to proclaim the gospel, the good news of salvation in His blood. He showed them the marks of the nails in his hands and the spear in His side not only as proof that He was not a ghost, but to recall the purpose of His earthly ministry. He was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under the power of Pontius Pilate and was crucified, died and was buried to rise on the third day. Through His resurrection, He won for the apostles and all believers the promise of eternal life.
In addition, Jesus commanded them to continue the proclamation of this good news. He said again: "Peace be with you: As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And having said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit, Whose sins you remit, they are remitted to them, Whom you retain, they are retained."
This is John's account of the giving of the office of the keys and the institution of the pastoral ministry. The office of the keys is the special power that our Lord has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of penitents, and not to forgive the unrepentant until they repent. This authority works like a key that opens heaven or closes heaven.
This office was given to the apostles first. Jesus told them, "Receive the Holy Spirit" to strengthen their trust in Him, also to give them the authority to preach publicly and administer the sacraments in His name. The Holy Spirit is active in the preaching of the Word and in the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion.
The apostles received this commission directly from Jesus Christ. But, on the day of Pentecost, after the Ascension of the Lord, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the whole church in a visible and audible way. This means that the church as a body now has the authority to call and ordain its ministers to preach and administer the sacraments. Pastors today are called by Christ, but with the church as His instrument.
That is why, when the pastor preaches the Law, God's will for our lives, it is to call everyone to repentance for their sins. Those who confess their sins, then, will receive absolution, the pronouncement of forgiveness as if Christ himself absolves them. But the impenitent, who do not confess their sins and reject the message of forgiveness, will face God's judgment on the final day.
However, the mission of the church is reconciliation, not condemnation. Let's learn this from the story of Thomas. Not by chance, Thomas was absent from the first appearance of Jesus. He had stopped meeting with others, perhaps because of his disappointment and disillusionment. But, the blessing for Thomas was the same as the others. "Peace to you." Furthermore, our Lord said to him, "Put your finger here, and see my hands, and place your hand here, and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believing."
And Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord, and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen me, you believed, blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed." With His last words, the Lord spoke of us, we who have not walked with Jesus in a visible way. How do we put our fingers in the hands and side of the Lord?
The Lord has given us His written and preached Word. In addition, the sacraments. St. John himself says in our epistle (1 John 5: 4-12), "And there are three that bear witness in the earth; the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.” The Spirit is active in preaching, also in the water of baptism, and in the Holy Supper. In addition, we have in the Holy Supper the presence of the body and blood of the Lord in, with and under the bread and wine.
Some baptized and confirmed members of our congregation are not with us today, and some have not gathered here together for a while. But, the Spirit calls them to return, not to punish them, but for their blessing, to listen to the Word and receive forgiveness again in the Holy Supper. Our Lord says to all who attend the divine service, "Peace be with you". This peace is peace between God and us, and our neighbors and us. This is the peace that surpasses all understanding. Amen.
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