O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
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Based on John 20:19-31
Preached on April 28, 2019
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Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father, and from His Risen Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Fellow baptized saints, what’s it like to be afraid to outside? So afraid that you’ve got the doors locked, the shades pulled and the curtains drawn?
Isn’t it amazing? One of the most remarkable reactions to the resurrection of Jesus is fear. In Mark, the women ran from the empty tomb and the angel’s good news – in fear. In John, the disciples are hiding in the upper room - doors locked - cowering together - in fear.
Not much of a celebration. Where is the shout of victory? Christ is risen! Where is the joy? He is risen, indeed! Nope. Instead the disciples are doing the opposite. Huddled together, locked up in fear.
When you stop to think about it, it makes sense. The rumors were already thick as fog. The tomb was empty. The guards were bribed by the Pharisees and disappeared. Mary Magdalene had seen Him, touched Him. Every street corner was buzzing about how the tomb of Jesus was empty. And the religious authorities were probably conducting a frantic door to door search. They had crucified Jesus. They were aware of His prediction. They would stop at nothing to silence this rumor. And so the disciples were afraid. Who could blame them? They circled their wagons, huddled together like frightened cats, and locked the doors.
Dead men don’t rise – so they feared the worst. That the religious leaders or the Romans had taken the body of Jesus and were now going to come after them. Or maybe they didn’t know what to think. What really is the appropriate response to the resurrection of a crucified man?
Jesus came and stood among them. He doesn’t knock on the door or slip in the window. He simply appears – right in their midst – like He was standing there the whole time. He can do that. He’s the Lord. He can be wherever He wants, whenever He wants. He isn’t limited in any way, even though He’s still very much a human, still flesh and blood, albeit risen from the dead, still the same Jesus they knew and loved. And now – just like that - He is with them again.
“Peace be with you,” He says to them, showing them the wounds on His hands and sides. Yup. That’s Jesus all right. You know its Him by His wounds. Don’t accept any other. Those are the very wounds by which you are healed. Those are the wounds that bring you peace. From His wounds comes the peace that He speaks – peace with God – and peace with one another.
Wounds seen. Fear melts. And then… finally…Joy.
A second time Jesus says it. “Peace be with you.” Why a second time, I wonder? Didn’t the first one take? Or can you ever get tired of hearing it? The first peace was to calm their fears. The second peace was to prepare them for what they were going to do. Jesus was sending them. He was making them apostles, “sent ones,” ones who were going to go with His peace – with His authority - to proclaim the kingdom and His forgiveness. They weren’t going to be locked up forever. They were going to go out – leave their fear behind in that room and go out - to the ends of the earth. They were going to endure persecution and hardship and even the loss of their lives. Alone in that room, they were in fear. Fear of death. But the moment Christ came – the moment He spoke His peace – suddenly they were ready to leave the room – even go to their death – because of one thing. Now they knew the peace of Christ - and His victory over death.
Jesus is the apostle of the Father. The Father sent His Son to be the world’s Rescuer. And now the Son sends His apostles - to speak in His stead and by His command. He breathes on them – ordaining them with His breath. His hot breath hit them with these words, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In the same upper room, Jesus had promised them the Spirit, the Counselor, the Defense Attorney - who would lead and guide them into all truth, who would bring to their remembrance all that Jesus had said, who would convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, who would testify of Jesus and bring glory to Him. And now – in that same upper room - He gives them His Spirit. His breath. His Word. And by it they are sent.
Words. Breath. Wounds. But not just for them. Their work is to deliver them to the world. Today we call it apostolic ministry. The Office of the Keys. The authority on earth to forgive sins. Jesus once healed a paralyzed man to show He had the authority on earth to forgive sins. Now - it’s easy to understand how Jesus has this authority. He has all authority in heaven and on earth. But the fact that He authorizes men to forgive sin in His stead and by His command, by virtue of their office, that’s something new and important. And here’s why.
Forgiveness in heaven does us no good. We’re not in heaven, except in Christ, but in Christ we have no need for forgiveness. We’re on earth. We’re in this sinful body of death. We sin constantly, even when we are doing good works, because we do those works through our old sinful natures. Every thought, word, act, breath needs to be forgiven. It’s nice that it’s forgiven in heaven, but we need to be forgiven where we are. On earth. Sin tends to be rather “earthy,” doesn’t it? And it’s right here, on the earth, in the middle of our fearful locked rooms, that Jesus drops a big forgiveness bomb. “For you.”
Oh you think He did it for Himself – He didn’t. He did it for you. Became a man – for you. Lived a poor life – for you. Arrested, beaten, mocked – for you. Dead, buried and risen again – for you. So He could come to you this very morning – through the mouth of this man He sent to this city – for you – and tell you personally – I did it for you. Peace be with you. I forgive you.
Imagine ordering something online but never receiving it. Imagine ordering a take-out pizza and never having it delivered. Imagine winning the lottery and never cashing in the ticket. That’s what the cross of Jesus is like without the Office of the Keys. It’s gift without delivery. It’s like God saying, “I bought you a gift.” And you say, “Great! Where is it?” And God says, “Well, I have it. I think you’ll like it.” And you say, “But I haven’t received it, so how can I like it.” And God says, “Well, just think about it and imagine how good it is. That’s enough, isn’t it?”
Not at all. Let’s hear from Luther: “Neither you nor I could ever know anything of Christ, or believe in him and take him as our Lord, unless these were first offered to us and bestowed on our hearts through the preaching of the Gospel by the Holy Spirit. The work is finished and completed. For Christ has acquired and won the treasure for us by His sufferings, death, and resurrection. But if the work remained hidden and no one knew of it, it would all have been in vain, all lost. In order that this treasure might not be buried but put to use and enjoyed, God has caused the Word to be published and proclaimed, in which he has given the Holy Spirit to offer and apply to us this treasure of salvation.” (LC III.38)
Did you catch that? That you might believe and enjoy His treasure - Christ established the Office of the Holy Ministry, authorized it with the keys of His authority, and gave it as a gift to His Bride, the church like a wedding present. Jesus so wants His church to hear forgiveness - and enjoy it - and live in its freedom - that He created an office in the church - and He put men under holy orders - to forgive.
“If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.” Forgive them. Forgive them. Forgive them. “If you withhold forgiveness….” Well, our translation seems compelled to add some words that aren’t there. Permit me a Greek moment: Whatever of theirs you bind, it is bound. That’s what it says. Sins aren’t mentioned. Just whatever of theirs you bind. Now, in the Bible you and I are bound by Sin and Death. Jesus binds the devil and He releases people from their bondage. A better way of understanding this passage is not about withholding forgiveness, although we do that when people don’t ask for it. A better way of hearing this verse is to think of both sides in the positive, as one glorious Gospel gift. Sins are forgiven, Sin, Death, and devil are bound. The prisoners are set free, and their captors are thrown into prison. Tell them. Jesus says. Tell them what I’ve done for them. That’s an order.
The disciples are free. The doors are unlocked. And so are you. Last Sunday we heard about the gift given – Jesus crucified and risen. Today we hear about the gift delivered and received. Jesus crucified and risen for you, for your forgiveness, for your life, for your salvation, for your freedom. Beloved, Christ has opened the door – and it’s safe to go out again. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr