John 20:19-23 (Second Sunday after Easter—Series B)
“The Authority to Forgive Sins”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
April 12, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in John 20:
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
The sacrifice was complete. His blood had been shed; hell and damnation were suffered as He hung on the cross. Jesus won the forgiveness of sins and eternal life for the whole world. “It is finished.” Salvation is secured; victory over sin, death, and the devil is complete. As undeniable proof that Jesus is the Son of God, that His doctrine is truth, and that God the Father accepted Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for the reconciliation of the world, our Lord rose from the dead. And that’s where we meet up with our Risen Lord in our text.
It is Easter evening, the evening of that first day of the week. It’s the very same day that the women had gone to the tomb when the sun had risen and found the stone rolled away and the body of Jesus “not here.” It was the very same day that Jesus showed Himself to Mary Magdalene at the tomb, calling her by name. Now the wild stories were flying about. The women had seen visions of angels who told them that Jesus was alive. Mary claimed to have touched Him and held Him in worship. Peter and John hadn’t seen Him. None of the other disciples had either, until that evening when the disciples were hiding in fear behind locked doors to avoid arrest and execution at the hands of the Jews who had crucified Jesus.
Despite the doors being locked, the risen Jesus simply appeared in the room and greeted His followers, “Peace be with you.” He showed them His hands with the nail wounds visible. Jesus showed them His side, the wound of the Roman spear-piercing still visible. This was indeed Jesus who was crucified—alive and glorified—not a spirit, not a ghost, not a dream.
Jesus comes and gives the disciples what His wounds merited for them and for the world—peace, peace with God because of the forgiveness of sins, a peace which passes all understanding. Proof of this peace was in the marks of the nails in His hands, the wound in His side, and the fact that He was alive and showing Himself resurrected to them. The disciples respond to this greeting of peace from their living Lord and Savior with joy! They were glad when they saw the Lord. That’s how faith receives Jesus. Faith is glad and rejoices to receive the Risen Lord and the gift of peace He brings in the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. We read in Romans 5, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . . . For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation,” the forgiveness of sins. (Romans 5:1, 8, 10-11)
Faith receives the living Lord Jesus and then receives from Him His redeeming work to be carried out in the world. “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’” In other words, Jesus tells His disciples that because there is now peace with God the Father through the forgiveness of sins which He won for the world by His death on the cross, He is sending them out with that forgiveness to distribute it to the world in His name. “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’”
The Risen Christ gives His disciples, His Church, a vital mission to accomplish. His winning of forgiveness was not some kind of indifferent ritual that He underwent for the world. Jesus suffered and died, shedding His blood to cover over your sins and mine, which are all too real. All of impure thoughts condemn us and prevent us from entering heaven. Each one of our words and actions that are contrary to God’s Word condemn us, separating us from God forever. In this sinful condition we did not have peace with God. We had no hope of reconciliation; we had no hope of eternal life. But God gave up His only Son into death on the cross for us to pay for our sins and to bring about true peace with God through the forgiveness of our sins. The joy the Risen Christ brings to us is the joy of sins forgiven and life forever with God in heaven. The gladness Jesus brings to our bodies and souls is the fact that we are reconciled to God and we have peace with Him.
There are those in our world today who do not know Jesus nor receive Him as the Risen Lord and Savior. So the Living Lord Jesus sends those who do know Him and have received forgiveness and peace with God to deliver to the world these life-saving gifts. Your mission, your task, your sending from the Lord Himself is to deliver to others the forgiveness of sins won by Christ on the cross. This is what the work of the Church, corporately and individually, is all about.
As Christians, we are all about the forgiveness of sins and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. That’s what we have to give the world. That’s what you have to give the world. Simply put, it’s the Gospel—that for Christ’s sake God has forgiven all sins to all people—that we give to others in Jesus’ name through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Church has received from God the Gospel, the Word of reconciliation. You and I have received from Christ forgiveness, peace, and eternal life. It is our Living Jesus who authorizes you and me, His Church in this place, to proclaim to all people this blessed good news and to offer and give the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name to those who repent. At the same time Jesus authorizes us, for those who do not repent, to withhold forgiveness from them until they should repent. This authority and mission from Jesus to His Church, to you and me, is called the Office of the Keys. As we learn in the Small Catechism, this Office 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.” This authority works like a key to open heaven by forgiving sins, or to close heaven by not forgiving them.
Jesus’ mission given to you and me as individual members of His Church, as a congregation, as His Church on earth, is to give the Gospel of our Crucified and Risen Lord to people. We have freely received forgiveness and peace with God—the fruits of His cross. Freely we give forgiveness and peace in His name, to all nations, beginning with our friends and family, our neighbors, and our community. When I meet with prospective members, one of the first things I tell them is what we as a congregation are all about—Forgiveness!—forgiveness for all their sins, and eternal life with God because of the forgiveness Jesus won for them when He died and rose again. That’s the Gospel; that’s what being the Church is all about! Because . . .
The sacrifice is complete. His blood had been shed. Jesus died our death and won the forgiveness of sins and eternal life for the whole world. Salvation is secured; victory over sin, death, and the devil is complete. Our Lord is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. Forgiveness, eternal life, and peace with God are ours freely as the gifts of Christ. Share His forgiveness in Jesus’ name as He empowers you by His Holy Spirit. Amen.