Quasimodogeniti (2nd Sunday of Easter)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 20:19-31
April 3, 2016
“The Joyful Mission”
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
It is the evening of the first Easter Sunday. St. John pictures the eleven disciples of Jesus sitting inside a house with the doors locked “for fear of the Jews.”
Why were the disciples afraid? It’s simple. Outside was death. Jesus had been murdered days before, and Jesus’ disciples were nowhere near as strong as He.
But then, says John, this miserable handful of scared men begins to rejoice. “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:19-20)
Our flesh might expect the story to end here, happily ever after, with the disciples basking in the peace of God.
But it is not the end of the story.
Jesus doesn’t stop at proclaiming forgiveness of sins and peace with God to His beleaguered disciples in that room. His reign of salvation and life extends to the ends of the earth, to all people and throughout time. “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.’” (John 20:22-23)
Jesus empowers and sends the disciples to be the risen Christ, so to speak, to the world. They aren’t Him, but they are given His power and authority, so that when they say, “Peace be with you,” it is the peace of the Lord and conqueror of death.
He’s sending them out of those doors that they have locked to try to keep out death. He’s sending them out into the world that killed Him and which will also kill them. But they are no longer to fear death. They are to reign over it.
He’s sending them out to reign with Him as King.
They will go out into the world and exercise Jesus’ authority to forgive sins and to hold sins unforgiven. They will go out into the world like little Lord Christs, and in His name they will forgive some sinners and they will hold some sinners bound in their sins until the day of judgment.
But why would Jesus give this prerogative of God to eleven men who were unable to stand by Him when He suffered?
That is a good question. But it’s not simply a question about the disciples then; it also concerns us, who have been made Jesus’ disciples by Baptism and catechesis.
All Christians are called to reign as little Lord Christs. Every Christian is called to participate in forgiving and retaining sins—by supporting the Church and the ministry of Word and Sacraments, by proclaiming God’s Word to family and neighbors. Every Christian is called to reign with Christ by serving the world with words and deeds. Finally, every Christian is to share the marks of the Lord Jesus’ Christ’s Kingdom; to endure the cross and suffering for the privilege of proclaiming His forgiveness and judgment.
But the question is how Jesus can give you this royal privilege, the authority to “forgive and retain sins”, also known in the Catechism as the office of the keys. You too have proven untrustworthy. You have been embarrassed of Jesus, have run away to save your skin when you should have willingly endured the cross with your Lord.
This is not the way who believe in risen Lord should act. They should not be afraid, but be joyful. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the risen Lord; they didn’t remember how they were small in number, how their enemies were great and powerful, how death was waiting for them outside the door. They rejoiced when they saw Jesus, because in Him they had peace with God. It was as if they no longer remembered their weakness, their sins, the hostility of the world, or death.
Yet many baptized Christians act as if all they can see is the church’s weakness, the hostility of the world, the pain of the cross, and the power of death. It’s as if Jesus hasn’t risen, conquered death, loosed us from sins, and as if He isn’t present in our midst in flesh and blood.
In other words, they manifest unbelief.
And as a result, by no means are they willing to go outside the locked room and reign with Jesus.
What is this but to live as if Christ is not risen? Hypocritical Christians don’t recognize this. They don’t realize they are called to reign with Christ; they are content to live what they consider virtuous lives in the flesh. They say, “I do enough. I go to church. I’m as good a Christian as anyone can expect. Surely Jesus doesn’t expect me to put my life, reputation, comfort, or standard of living at risk to be a Christian. After all, we’re supposed to be saved by grace apart from works.”
Real Christians, however, are troubled by this failure to follow Jesus out of hiding and self-protection. They recognize that when Jesus gives us peace with God, it’s not an earthly peace. Peace with God means that God exalts us with Christ. We become “a royal priesthood”, as Lutherans are fond of saying—kings and priests together with Jesus. But as kings with Jesus, we go into the world not to be served, but to serve. We proclaim God’s law and His Gospel, we serve our neighbor in every way. But we also endure hostility from the world and the devil. To receive Christ’s blessing, “Peace be with you” by true faith at the same time means to receive His cross. Christians are troubled to recognize all the ways we try to avoid the cross. They are all manifestations of our unbelief in Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the world.
And this is another reason why Jesus gave the office of the Keys to the Church. It isn’t simply so that we may forgive and retain the sins of those outside of the visible boundaries of the Church. Jesus gave this authority also for the sake of those within the visible Church, so that those who are baptized and yet struggle to leave the locked room may be loosed of their sins.
When Jesus rose from the dead and proclaimed, “Peace be with you” to His disciples, He was proclaiming not only that they were forgiven, but that they were new creatures. What they saw themselves to be—men who a few days before had fallen away from Christ, who were weak and unworthy to be His disciples—was not who they were anymore. Jesus forgave them everything, and His forgiveness also meant that the old disciples had died and new men had risen in their place.
And when you are absolved of your sins, Jesus frees you from them as well. Their guilt is taken away. But you are also not the person you were before. You live now by His Spirit. Your sins, inscribed on His flesh with nail and spear, died when He lay in the tomb; now that He is risen, the wounds are memorials before God of your priceless worth to Him. The old you has died, nailed to the cross with the Lord, and you now live in Him who died and has been raised again, in Him over whom sin and death have no dominion (Romans 6).
That is what enables us to go out into the world to reign with Him—this appearance by Jesus declaring that His work for our justification is finished.
Yet in the Church so many people seem to be unaware of the fact that in the Divine Service, in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, and in Absolution, Jesus is appearing to us with peace just as in that locked room on the first Easter. This is shown by so many people’s lukewarmness toward His Word and Sacraments. People don’t come to pastors and say, “Show us Jesus.” Generally pastors have to urge people not to despise the Divine Service, Bible Study, and so on. But nowhere is this more evident than in people’s disregard of absolution.
Yes, we’re willing to be absolved in general, as we do in the service. But that’s really not much different than what happens in preaching, except we add a general confession of sins to it. A sainted member of the church once remarked to me that private confession and absolution probably made it seem “more real”. This person never came to private confession but understood that it’s easy to admit in a general way “I’m a sinner” without owning the sins by which we have earned damnation. Similarly, it’s easy to hear “I forgive you all your sins” in the same way—as a general statement about the way God works instead of a personal forgiveness for our personal unfaithfulness. General statements don’t usually provide much comfort.
The reality is that everyone struggles with sin. It’s true that God has already assured us of the forgiveness of sins in the Scripture. Yet it is also true that many people doubt whether that forgiveness applies to them because of the state of their heart. When you reveal your sins in front of the man God has called to speak in His name, and that man forgives your sins with the authority Christ here gives to His Church, it provides comfort and assurance that is greater than your heart.
In private confession and absolution God’s forgiveness spoken in response to the very things that make you feel alienated from God. The absolution says those things are forgiven, and that you are not the person that you see in yourself, who has repeatedly failed Christ and cannot be trusted to reign with Him. You are a new person, raised from the dead to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Private absolution says, “You can speak God’s judgment and grace to the world because you are not the slave of sin you once were. You are released from sin and condemnation; peace be with you.” You are righteous through Christ, and everything He has is yours. You are no longer under the law’s curse; you have been set free from the law, having died to it through the body of Jesus.
Of course, no one is going to force you to confess and receive absolution privately. No one should be forced to receive the gifts of Christ. If our need and the greatness of the gifts don’t compel us to come to hear God’s Word preached, or to baptize our children, or receive the Lord’s Supper, or go to Bible study, or read it at home, or confess and be absolved, external force won’t help. It would be wrong for me, however, not to show you the greatness of Christ’s gifts and remind you of your need.
But mostly I preach this for those who see their need for it and desire the blessing, but who are afraid or ashamed; I preach this to encourage you to come. I cannot invite you as graciously as Jesus invites you; I wish I could. I can tell you that Jesus welcomes sinners and those who are weak in faith. He wants them especially to receive His comfort and pardon. I can tell you that the greater our sins appear to us, the more worthy we are of condemnation, the more graciously Jesus invites us to come to Him. When we come, He will not only forgive us. He will wipe our guilt and shame away entirely. He will make us reign with Him, seat us above the holy angels, make them our servants.
I can tell you that when Jesus showed the disciples His hands and side He didn’t do it simply to show it was Him, nor did He do it to remind them of their sins. It was also an invitation to them to consider how sincerely He loved them and had how completely He had forgiven and put away their sins. The place of the nails and the spear in His body are seals to us that we no longer have anything to fear, but have peace with God that can’t be taken away.
By those same marks Jesus invites and urges us to come to Him so that we may hear Him say, “Peace be with you”. I pray that you will hear His invitation and recognize that when He opens His Word, bestows His Sacraments, and absolves us, He comes into our midst with peace as He came into that locked room. And when He does so He enables us to leave our locked rooms and go forth into the world with His peace to reign with Him.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Soli Deo Gloria
No way. Sorry.
I’ve been with you guys for 3 years now, so I know how you operate.
You’re on fire for Jesus until it might cost you something. Then it’s, “No, I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”
You’re all about Jesus as long as you think you stand to gain something.
So you tell me you saw Him. You say you know it wasn’t a hallucination because He showed you the holes in His hands and the slit in His side. You tell me He sent you, He breathed on you, gave you the Spirit.
No way. I’ll believe you when I put my finger through the holes where the nails were and reach my hand into the gash in his side.
Poor Thomas. This wasn’t just about the facts—whether or not Jesus rose from the dead.
This was about jealousy. He rose from the dead, and all the disciples got to see Him except Judas and Thomas.
Poor Thomas could see all the reasons why Jesus shouldn’t send these ten disciples to be His messengers.
He could see their sins, but couldn’t hear the joyful message—“We have seen the Lord!”
If Thomas could have heard that, then he could have heard the grave that was so much bigger than who got to see Jesus and who gets authority and who gets to be first.
Christ is risen! That means—you’re free.
Whether you saw Him or didn’t. It doesn’t matter if you are the one who saw Him or who gets to be in charge. You’re free! Death and hell no longer hold you!
Thomas didn’t hear that. Didn’t see Jesus sending the others with this key of freedom for Thomas. He just saw theses sinners trying to exalt themselves over him again.
Poor Thomas! Look what he almost missed!
Poor us! Look what we are missing!
What sins should we confess? Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer. But before the pastor we should confess only those sins that we know and feel in our hearts.
If you get away from God, you’ll have freedom. Absolute freedom. You won’t have to worry about doing what He says and you won’t have to worry about dying.
Get away from God or get rid of Him; then you’ll be free. Unlimited freedom.
But really, chains.
Adam hides. That’s his freedom.
Peter hides and he won’t come back because he’s trying to escape chains and death. But he gets a different kind of chain. He has to keep lying and stay away from God in order to maintain his freedom.
Jesus doesn’t look like He’s free to us, but He is.
He confesses the true God. He confesses Himself.
He knows full well what this means; the people will want to kill Him.
He also knows that it is the Father’s will.
It seems to us that denying His Father (and Himself) would make Him free and that doing the Father’s will has made Him a slave.
Sin is a chain.
It gets you away from God. It cuts you off.
But to turn back to God is to turn back to punishment; the wages of sin is death.
To confess your sins to God is not like a get out of jail free card. Confessing your sins does not earn you freedom. Confessing your sins is like turning yourself in to the police.
It is to agree with God’s law that you deserve death.
It doesn’t make you not a sinner anymore. It’s like if Jeffrey Dahmer turns himself in to the police or pleads guilty. He isn’t now good and fit for life in normal society. He’s still worthy of punishment. He still would do unspeakable things if you let him out on the street again.
It’s not confessing that makes us free from the chains of sin.
It’s Jesus receiving our penalty of death and hell for us.
Then rising from the dead with our new life.
Lenten Midweek Vespers + St. Peter Lutheran Church+ March 12, 2014
Passion History, Part 1 + “What is the Office of the Keys? Where is this written?”
“I appoint you to a kingdom”
As surely as I live God said, I would not see the sinner dead.
I want him turned from error’s ways; repentant, living endless days.
God doesn’t have pleasure in damning sinners. He wants to see them turned, repentant, and forgiven.
It’s because David knew that about God that he is so bold when he prays to God for forgiveness in Psalm 51. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, cleanse me from my sin, blot out my transgressions according to your steadfast love. Purge me with hyssop and I will be clean. Wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
And when David is cleansed of his awful sin of murder and adultery? Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.
Because David will teach them who the Lord is—He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, eager to see those who have sinned be reclaimed. David will say, “See, this is what the Lord did for me. He cleansed me from bloodguilt. He made me whiter than snow.”
God does not want the sinner dead and damned. He wants him to come back and be saved.
But first the sinner has to realize his sin. When they don’t, they have a different spirit. They do have pleasure in damning, in condemnation.
See the priests. They are not like the Lord. They do have pleasure in the death of sinners. They plot in the darkness to have Jesus killed. They don’t come out in the open and say, “Jesus is a false prophet.” They’re afraid of the people. They’re more concerned about their well-being than about the people God has appointed them to serve by telling them the truth, His Word.
But when Judas comes to hand Jesus over, they are delighted. God has no pleasure in the death of sinners. He condemns them and punishes them, but has no pleasure in it.
But the priests have pleasure in it.
How different Jesus is!
He is about to die unjustly. His disciples are going to leave Him in the lurch while He suffers for them.
You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.
If you knew you were going to be betrayed and killed in a matter of days, would you find it hard to think about other people? Would you lament the injustice? Would you be afraid?
All Jesus is concerned about is His disciples. About the people He is going to serve and die for—the apostles, but also the Church that would come after them, born from their preaching and service.
He is loving them. Proclaiming the Passover. Longing to eat it with them. Turning it into the new testament of His body and blood. Teaching them about His kingdom and what greatness in His kingdom is.
He loves them to the end. He loves them to the fullest. He fills up the full measure of love toward them and us. He gives Himself completely.
The Father gave all things into his hands—really? As He is about to be handed over and to suffer not just nails, spitting, flogging, a crown of thorns, mockery, agony in the garden—but above all God’s righteous wrath against sin? Really everything is in his hands?
Yes, right then, when He gives up everything for sinners, He reigns.
He reigns from the cross. Because He pays for all sins, He has authority to forgive sins and retain them.
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 20:19-31
April 7, 2013
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Beloved of our Lord Jesus,
Jerusalem’s gates will never be shut (Rev. 21, Is. 60). This means they have no fear of attackers. Jerusalem is the Christian church, Christ’s little flock.
But the doors are shut where the disciples are. They know there are bad people outside who want to hurt them.
This is not the life Jesus promised the Church. John says in the Epistle: Everyone who is born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world: our faith. Who overcomes the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
The church didn’t look like it was overcoming the world. It was in hiding, running from the world for fear.
That’s because to overcome the world is beyond human power. To be born of God is beyond human power.
People in Jesus’ day thought that they could recognize the truth and choose to follow it. They think the same today. Jesus will come in if we just open the door and let Him into our hearts.
Jesus disagreed. You are not able to do that, He said.
And He is right. If Jesus only could come to us if we held the door open for Him, the church would have died in the room with the cowering disciples. In shutting the doors they were keeping the Jews out but also, unwittingly, showing that they didn’t believe Jesus’ word—Don’t be troubled. I will rise on the third day.
We think, and it really seems true, that we and other people don’t believe because either Jesus has not done enough, or we have not done enough.
Thomas is ready to believe as soon as he can thrust his hand into Jesus’ side.
We don’t hold the door for Jesus. He doesn’t come into our midst because we let Him in or because we are expecting Him.
He doesn’t carry out His mission in the world because we let Him out.
The stone wasn’t rolled away from the tomb to let Jesus out, but to let the disciples in and see that He was not there.
We don’t hold the door open for Jesus. Our old nature does not allow that.
To open the door to Jesus to our old nature is like the disciples opening the door of that room. Jesus said He would come in. But it seems a lot more likely some guards with spears and torches and chains will come.
We don’t expect God to do us good. We call into question God’s good will toward us. We act like His power is bound by our willingness or unwillingness. This is nothing new. Look at Sarah. She laughed when she overheard that the Lord would return a year from that time and cause her, an old woman, to bear a child in her old age. She laughed at God. And she is one of the examples for Christians.
We do this continually, and even if we overcome it, it is always present with us—resistance, unbelief, calling God a liar. Looking to another God.
We are truly helpless to save ourselves. You can’t do anything to make God turn His heart toward you. Nor can you rid yourself of your resistance toward God.
Even the apostles couldn’t.
What hope is there for us then?
Only this: that God has decided to be open toward us and freely forgive all our sins.
When Jesus was in the room with the disciples, He said, “Take, eat, this is my body…” He was informing them that He was indeed going to death as He had said, and that they could not come with them. But they should not be troubled. It was all for them. And just as clearly as He showed them that He was open to them and for them—washing their feet, giving them His flesh and blood even as they were about to forsake Him—He also explained to them that His Father was for them. If you had really known Me, you would have known My Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.
298. Prayer of a person who wants to go to private confession and desires the holy Absolution.
Lord Jesus Christ, my Redeemer! You have bequeathed to Your beloved church here on earth and her faithful butlers (servants; ministers) the holy Office of the Keys with the promise attached to it, that what they in the power of this office will loose or bind shall also be loosed or bound in heaven. For such a grace-rich means and instrument of Your Spirit, I declare Your eternal laud, glory, and praise. I beseech You from the bottom of my heart: since as a poor, bound sinner, I am in need of this comforting loosing-key, and so that I will not be held in the fetters of the jailwarden of hell, let it come upon me through my Christian father-confessor, and for the sake of Your blood and death graciously release and acquit me from all my sins. Lend me Your Holy Spirit alongside of the holy Absolution, that I may take hold of it in genuine repentance, unwavering confidence, good purpose [to amend my life], brotherly love, and thankfulness, and finally come to everlasting blessedness in heaven. Amen.
–Sigismund Scherertz (1584-1639)—Superintendent at Lueneburg (Germany)
Seelen-Arznei und Spiegel der geistlichen Anfechtungen (Soul-Medicine and Mirror of Spiritual Afflictions)
From Evangelische-Lutherischer Gebets-Schatz
- Prayer in Sickness. Eisenach Hymnal (1760). Ev. Luth. Gebets-Schatz (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- The Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel…Sermon on Luther’s Small Catechism, 3rd Article of the Apostles’ Creed (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Prayer for Septuagesima. Ev. Luth. Gebets-Schatz. (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)