O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
The Authority to Forgive
The Authority to Forgive
Based on John 20:19-31
Preached on April 27, 2014
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Fellow baptized saints, well, it is our annual "Pick on Thomas Day" isn't it? Every year, we celebrate Easter and then, the very next week, we pick on Thomas. He was late to Sunday service and so he missed Jesus. He uttered that ultimatum: "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." Of course, the very next Sunday, Jesus showed up and said, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe." So, Thomas believed and they all lived happily ever after right? Well, not quite.
I don't know why we seem to single out Thomas, because the skepticism of ALL the disciples is one of the things that contributes to the credibility of the Easter accounts in the Gospels. Before Jesus revealed Himself to the disciples none of them believed. Luke the Evangelist records: [Luke 24:9-11] When the women returned from the tomb, they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. Notice that it states that the eleven ... all of them ... thought the witness of the women was an idle tale.
There are people who insist that the account of the Resurrection is made up, but its entire style flies in the face of such a claim. I mean, if the disciples were making these stories up out of their own imaginations, we would expect the story to go something like this:
There were eleven loyal disciples of a man named Jesus. These disciples immediately understood Him when He told them He would suffer, die and rise again. They were so loyal that they stayed right by His side during His false trial, suffering, and crucifixion. And when their Lord had died, they removed His body from the cross with the utmost dignity and respect as they waited for Him to rise. They stayed in the temple, praying and fasting - holding vigil until His resurrection from the dead.
This is what you would expect from disciples that were making it up from their own imagination.
But what actually happened was that Jesus told the disciples that He would suffer, die, and rise and the disciples didn't get it. Instead they quarreled over who among them was the greatest. And when it finally became clear that Jesus was going to allow Himself to be arrested and taken in for trial, the disciples ran like rabbits from a hound. Then after His resurrection, witnesses were telling the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead, but the disciples thought that the witnesses were hallucinating or something. The disciples didn't just doubt, they flat-out rejected the idea that Jesus rose from the dead. The accounts portray the disciples as unbelieving cowards. Not exactly the way to start a new religion.
The truth of the matter is that while Jesus lay in the tomb, the disciples were unbelievers. They were lost in unbelief and sin. They weren't just doubting. They were unbelieving.
Unbelief is the way that all people begin this life. The rite of baptism says: The Word of God ... teaches that we are all conceived and born sinful and are under the power of the devil until Christ claims us as His own. We would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation. The psalmist tells us: [Psalm 51:5] Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. But the Father of all mercy and grace has sent His Son Jesus Christ, who atoned for the sin of the whole world that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
This is the reason it is so important to hear the words of Jesus in today's Gospel. Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."
Here are the disciples hiding behind locked doors ... afraid ... disheartened ... unbelieving. And nevertheless, Jesus comes to them with peace. He is gentle. He is patient. He shows them his hands and his side. He mildly and carefully restores their faith in Him. Now they know. Not only did Jesus die on the cross, but He also rose from the dead. He even lets them poke and prod Him in order to prove it.
How badly do we need this peace? How desperately do we too need Jesus to show us such mercy? Be gentle Lord. Be patient. For you and I, like the eleven, have hearts hidden behind locked doors. We have fear and unbelief. We shake at the sound of these things. Lord, if you open your mouth towards me - if you come to me - Be gentle. Have mercy.
And He says, "Peace be with you." Peace. In fact, it is in this Gospel reading that we hear how Jesus transmits His peace to you. He says, "As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." Listen up you eleven. I am apostling you. Sending you to declare my peace to my people. To unlock doors. To calm fear. I am the Father's apostle, the One He sent. You eleven are my apostles. The ones I send. Go, therefore, you have it on my authority. Tell my people, I am at peace with them.
And He has been sending men to preach this ever since. Yes, the apostles have died, but the Office of the Holy Ministry continues. As St. Paul writes, "Christ gives His Church the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. Christ still sends out a ragtag group of men to proclaim His forgiveness. He still breathes on them in ordination and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld." Jesus is still the One working to create faith. Still the One forgiving, washing, feeding through men He sends. The apostles back then, and pastors today, are like God's people of old who often came to the battle ready to fight only to discover that God had already won the war. They thought they were coming as soldiers, but they ended up being witnesses to the victory God had won for them.
I love this next line: Your pastor is a tool. Seriously. Merely an instrument your Lord uses to deliver His forgiveness to you. There is nothing special about him, only the Office of the Ministry to which Christ calls him. He is Christ's ambassador in your midst, the One who is to speak only as Christ speaks - particularly when it comes to proclaiming the forgiveness of sins to you. Whether this happens publicly - here during the Divine Service or privately in confession - your pastor is a tool God gives you to receive His comfort. In fact, open your service book to page 326. Page 326. Here is Luther's Small Catechism on Confession. Let us read it together.
Then hear this, you whose heart in hidden behind locked doors. You who are afraid. You who struggle with doubts.
"As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Jesus is here, right now - and He says, Peace be with you. In His Holy Name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr