SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER April 24, 2022
19 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.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” 24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.
Jesus gathers his church.
We say that in the Catechism. We say Jesus sends forth the Holy Spirit to “call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify the whole Christian Church on Earth, keeping it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”
“In this Christian Church,” continues the Catechism, “he daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.” So Jesus sends forth the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit brings the Gospel to us, and in that Jesus is building up his church, daily cleansing us.
Jesus does it all by speaking his Word.
By his Word he forgives sin, he cleanses the sinner. In that Word he bestows the Holy Spirit.
His Word is, of course, his Law and Gospel—two distinct words each doing something different to the sinner: in his Law he pronounces the sinner guilty before his Father; in his Gospel he releases all guilt, justifying the sinner.
How to get rid of sin? We will never dispel sin by putting one under the Law. On the other hand, we never accuse by giving the Gospel. The Law is God’s word to accuse; the Gospel is his Word to cleanse and free.
All sinners—every person on Earth—stands under the Law’s accusation. But, where Jesus speaks his Gospel to the sinner, he is gathering his church. John 20:21:
21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
So now we can describe his church: it’s a bunch of scared disciples having locked themselves in a room in fear that the same thing could happen to them that they saw happen to their Lord when he was publicly crucified.
His church is a bunch of scared disciples.
At least one of them is known for not having the guts to admit his faith in public. Another is known for having been a tax-collector for the Roman government, a dirty job for a Jew to hold. Others are known for trying to position themselves with power over the others. All of them will now be known for hiding scared in a locked room.
Yet, this is Jesus’ church. He speaks his word to sinners; he cleanses them; he breathes into them his Holy Spirit; he makes them his church. He does it all by a Word spoken into the ear.
With Jesus, it’s always by a Word.
He does do things without speaking his Word to sinners—he upholds the universe with his Word of power; he sends rain and snow, he brings forth crops in the field, he brings to life a new baby, he gives different people differing gifts and talents, he distributes his gifts of creation; he gives his gifts of life and healing and food and strength and all the rest—but all this he does by his Word of power.
He does have all power.
But the sinner isn’t saved by the Lord’s Word of power. The sinner isn’t saved by seeing Jesus do some miraculous work.
Peter, after all, had seen Jesus do the miracle of walking on water, and Peter still sank into the water for lack of faith.
If seeing Jesus walk on water does not create faith, if seeing him heal does not create faith, then how will the sinner have faith in Jesus?
By the Word of Gospel.
Not by display of power, but by Jesus speaking a gentle word into the ear of the sinner: I forgive you; You are clean; Peace to you.
So they all see Jesus resurrected—nothing more powerful than that. It is his power over death; it is his defeat of the demons; it is Jesus ushering in the life of the resurrected body for all belonging to him.
But he doesn’t just show them his resurrected body. Much more than that, in his resurrected Body, from that mouth, he speaks a Word into their ears:
“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.”
This is our Lord instituting his gift of Absolution. The Lord’s gift of Absolution has a pastor standing in front of the sinner to say,
As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by his command, I forgive you your sins.
How can a pastor possibly forgive sins? The pastor is no less a sinner than any Christian gathered into the Church. No less a sinner than any other person on Earth, for that matter. The pastor is no more spiritual, no more worthy, no closer to God than any other Christian, or else Baptism means nothing.
So how can a pastor forgive sins? Because Jesus instituted Absolution, he mandated that the word forgiving the sinner be declared to the sinner in his church.
“If you forgive the sins of any,” [said Jesus,] “they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Jesus instituted the gift of Absolution also in other places, such as when he said to the Apostles,
“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on Earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on Earth shall be loosed in Heaven.”
How can a pastor forgive sins? How can he not? That’s what the Lord ordains him to do. Jesus wants sins forgiven. He wants the sinner freed of guilt. He wants to gather sinners into his church to be in fellowship with him.
He gave the gift of Absolution so that no Christian is left in any doubt that the Word of Jesus’ forgiveness has been spoken into his ear, no doubt that Jesus has justified the sinner with the Gospel here on Earth so that the sinner, then, is justified also before the Father in Heaven.
And what of those sins that are unforgiven? What of Jesus saying,
“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
When would Jesus ever want forgiveness withheld?
Jesus wants forgiveness to be withheld never. He came for just that purpose, to forgive sins, to justify the sinner. Jesus wants no sinner ever left unjustified before his Father.
But the sinful flesh does. That’s our sin.
The sinful flesh wants to justify self, to think that we are somehow less a sinner than that which requires the death of Jesus to justify us—our sin is that we want to be Christians without the one thing that makes a Christian. And what makes a Christian is the Lord’s gift of repentance and forgiveness.
But Jesus wants no sinner unforgiven. So he gives the word of warning: when you hold onto sin, when you want to deal with it yourself, when forgiveness is rejected, then forgiveness is withheld.
But he did institute Absolution for the sinner—to absolve the sinner, to release the sin and guilt, to justify the sinner before the Father and to gather him or her into the church.
It is all by his gift. He set the gift in place for his church by giving his Word of mandate to his Apostles. He gathers you and me into that church.
He does it by a Word. It’s his kind and gentle Word, his word of grace spoken into the ear of a scared sinner: I forgive you your sin. Peace to you.
On that day in that locked room, when Jesus has been resurrected from the dead, Thomas wanted to see a miraculous sight, a sign of power—he wanted to see proof that could be understood and perceived by the sinful flesh.
Jesus, though, wanted Thomas to have much more.
Jesus showed Thomas his hands and side. So Jesus showed him the power of the resurrection. Having shown Thomas the great sight of a resurrected body, Jesus then said to him,
“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Faith—faith in Jesus—comes only by the ears hearing the Gospel of all sin forgiven. Anything apart from that is false faith. Blessed are those who have not seen Jesus, but who have faith by hearing his Word.
The Word of Jesus—the Word forgiving sins.
So Jesus instituted Absolution. He ordains a man to speak that Word so that the gift is delivered and the sinner is left in no doubt. By that Word, Jesus gathers you into his Church. Peace to you.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.