He Forgives His Sinners!
Second Sunday of Easter 12 April 2015
Preached at Memorial Lutheran Ladies’ Retreat, Houston, TX
+ Jesu Juva +
St. John 20:19-23
There He is! He comes right in! Doesn’t even knock.
He stands in their midst. What will He do with these sinners? One denied Him three times. The others abandoned Him. None believed His preaching for three years – that on this day, the first day of the week, He would rise from the dead. None of them trusted Jesus to be God for them in His suffering, death and resurrection. Miserable sinners. They hurt Jesus appallingly. They all failed Him in His hour of glory.
What would you do? You’d give them what they deserve. Payback. Retribution. If somebody hurt you the way these disciples hurt Jesus, you’d hurt them right back. Big time. Or at least you’d want to. Obviously, Jesus is there in that upper room to do just that, right?
The first word out of His mouth is the word of forgiveness, absolution. “Peace be with you.” And His words give what they say: “Peace.” Everything is forgiven. He holds nothing against them.
Then He “shows them His hands and His side.” The wounds of Good Friday! He is the One nailed to the cross. His is the divine blood that gushed from His pierced and crucified body. Staining the wood and the world red. His wounds – that is where the “peace” or forgiveness comes from.
So there He is. With His sinners. The sinners He died for on the cross. Giving and bestowing that Good Friday forgiveness with His words: “Peace be with you.”
They are forgiven.
And so are sinners like you! He died for you too. He doesn’t give you what you deserve either. Doesn’t chide or berate you. Doesn’t kick you in the teeth. You too are forgiven.
To give you that Good Friday forgiveness He won for you — He sends preachers to speak it to you. He gives what He says with His words. That’s what the second word of “peace be with you” is all about. The apostles are sent to absolve others and with that forgiveness silences all their fears. “As the Father has sent me,” Jesus says, “so I send you.” So, as Jesus was sent by the Father to be His authorized representative, to speak on His Father’s behalf, so now Jesus sends His apostles to speak on His behalf. To give out the gifts He won in His Good Friday dying.
He breathes on them and speaks words that deliver the Holy Spirit. “Receive the Holy Spirit.” With His breath God made dead clay into a living being: Adam. With His breath God breathed life into the dead dry bones that Ezekiel saw. “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made and all their host by the breath of His mouth,” (Psalm 33:6). Now with His breath Jesus breathes the life of His resurrection and gives life to His little church.
This is a little Pentecost. It anticipates the big Pentecost that will come seven Sundays later. Then Jesus would breathe on His whole church with the sound of a mighty rushing wind. Here Jesus breaths His Spirit on those He was sending in His name to be His apostles, His pastors. It is their ordination day. Jesus was not giving them the Spirit to make them disciples. They were already disciples. Here the Spirit is given so that they might speak the peace of Jesus’ death and resurrection into the ears of sinners with the confidence that it is by Jesus’ own breath, words, and Spirit.
This is the same Spirit that of which St. Paul spoke to Timothy when he reminded the young pastor of his own ordination. “Hence, I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands, for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but of power and love and self-control,” (2 Timothy 1:6-7).
Jesus breaths His words and Spirit into His apostles so that the forgiveness of sins would be heard in the church. “Anyone whose sins you forgive is forgiven. And if there is someone who has no use of me and my Good Friday death their sins are to be retained. They can die and be damned forever because they insist on it.” Jesus binds His words to their mouths. He links His forgiveness with their forgiveness. He puts the apostles under holy orders to deal decisively with sin by applying His Good Friday death to sinners.
Dealing decisively with sin is what the church is all about. The church is to be the mouth-house of forgiveness. The church is to have a forgiveness fixation, a mercy on the brain, a pardoning obsession or an absolution mania! It all comes together in that little sentence in the Small Catechism or in the hymnal when the pastor asks: “Do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?”
The answer is yes! The absolution is as certain and sure as if Christ our dear Lord is dealing with us Himself. And He is. Because the absolution is the viva vox Christ (living voice of Christ)!
Divine forgiveness for you comes in the way of Jesus incarnation – with His words and with His wounds – with His breath and with the Spirit – with His apostles and men put into the apostolic ministry. Jesus leaves you in no doubt as to where the gifts of Good Friday and Easter are being given out. Listen to what the pastor says – the pastor He has sent.
In those words the gifts of Jesus’ perfect life, His bitter suffering and death on the cross and His resurrection are delivered most surely and certainly into the ears of the hearer. The forgiveness that Peter, James, John and the other apostles spoke was not their own. They had no forgiveness of their own to give. They were in constant need of forgiveness themselves. Forgiveness belongs to Jesus, the crucified and risen One, who died and rose for you. Forgiveness was His to win by dying. It is His to speak through those He sends to speak it.
It goes like this. “As a called and ordained servant of the Word I announce the grace of God to you. And in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”