Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
“Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them; to whom you retain them, they are retained." These words are found first in Matthew 16:19, when the Lord said to Saint Peter, "And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Keep in mind the future tense. In our texto for today, on Easter Sunday, the Lord fulfilled this promise, and not only for Peter, but also for the other apostles.
The forgiveness of sins that Jesus earned by his suffering and death must be imparted and given to men through the proclamation of the Gospel, in public and in private. This is absolution from sins. Only he who does not accept this forgiveness, this mercy, this salvation, excludes himself from the grace of God. If such a person is told this fact, his sins are retained.
The church, that is to say, all the people of God, calls qualified men to declare the forgiveness of sins and the judgment of God against the unrepentant in the place and by command of Jesus Christ. But all Christians can proclaim the forgiveness of sins in their daily vocations. We must all confess to our neighbors our sins against them, while asking God in the Lord's Prayer to forgive us our offenses. And we must forgive those who offend us.
Ten of the twelve, minus Judas Iscariot and Thomas, met at night behind closed doors, lest a sudden attack by Jesus' enemies make them also victims of their hatred. Suddenly Jesus appears in their midst. In the parallel account in Luke 24:36-39, Saint Luke says that Jesus appeared while the two men who had met Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:28-35) were still recounting the events of the evening. His resurrection, as announced by various witnesses during the course of the day, was a fact. The disciples knew that Jesus was alive, but this sudden appearance filled them with awe and terror, because they had forsaken his Lord at his crucifixion and now feared his wrath.
The first thing he does is forgive his sins and declare that all is well. "Peace be with you!" This is not just an empty greeting, but an absolution. Jesus does not come to condemn the disciples for their lack of faith, but to bring them his forgiveness. The peace that Jesus brings is the same peace that the angels announced on Christmas Eve and that Paul speaks of in Philippians 4:7, "the peace that surpasses all understanding." The peace that Christ gives consists in the forgiveness of sins for the reconciliation of God and men.
Jesus showed the disciples his side, his hands and his feet to assure them that he was not a ghost, also to indicate where the peace that he had imparted to them came from. The glorified body of Jesus is able to pass through closed doors. Also, his glorified body in is limited to one place. That is why we believe that the body and blood of Christ are present in the Lord’s Supper.
Again Jesus said: "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so I send you." First, He granted them forgiveness personally. He now he does it again for the important office of the ministry. With the second blessing, Jesus authorized the disciples to carry out the missionary task of the church. Jesus strengthened the faith of the disciples by first absolving them and then giving them the commission of the Office of the Keys, that is, the authority to open or close the door to eternal life with the proclamation of the Word of God.
“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; whose sins you retain, they are retained."
Our Old Testament reading, Ezekiel 37:1-14, recounts the vision of the valleys of dry bones that when they hear the Word of the Lord they come together again. This vision represented the resurrection of God's people after the destruction of Jerusalem by the king of Babylon. By blowing on his disciples, Jesus is raising up a new people of God. Through the Holy Spirit, the disciples become the church. Note that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son of God, Jesus Christ. We cannot obtain the Holy Spirit apart from a living faith in Jesus Christ.
What happened on the day of Pentecost, then? Didn't the church receive the Holy Spirit at that time, after the Ascension? Sure, but in a visible way the Spirit showed his power to all the people. At this time, the Lord privately bestowed the Spirit upon them.
Eight days later, Jesus appeared again to the ten plus Thomas. Again we have an absolution, but it has a special meaning for Thomas. But absenting oneself from fellow Christians in times of crisis leads to trouble. Thomas categorically rejected the testimony of the other disciples. When the women told the disciples, they did not make the demands that Thomas did. The conditions under which he proposed to believe the fact of the resurrection show the extent and depth of his doubt. Thomas, however, did not need proof now that he saw his Master before him and heard his loving voice. Thomas's words are an exclamation, but at the same time a humble confession, confession of sin and confession of faith.
It should be noted that Thomas confessed Jesus not only as Lord and God, but as "my Lord" and "my God." The demons can confess Jesus as Lord and God, but he cannot confess him as “my Lord and my God”. And Jesus did not reject the confession of Thomas, but blessed all who confess Jesus as their Lord and his God, even those who believe in the risen Christ without having seen him. Part of the author's purpose of this gospel is to help readers receive this blessing. Those who hear the testimony of the Scriptures receive all the evidence necessary to believe and live.
In this hope, we have the peace that passes all understanding. Amen.
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