Done And Delivered
St. John 20:19-23
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
John 20:19-23 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After He said this, He showed them His hands and His side. The disciples were overjoyed when the saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the father has sent Me, I am sending you.” And with that He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… At the time of these events, the minds of the disciples were still spinning. Jesus had completed His suffering and death. He was raised from the dead. His tomb was empty. The women had seen Him and brought the disciples the news of the Lord’s resurrection. And now, suddenly Jesus was in their midst. Closed doors could not keep Him out.
With His wounds and with His words Jesus identified Himself to the disciples. This was no phantom, no ghost, but the same Lord who was crucified on Good Friday. He was alive. The sound of His voice delivering the peace which He won on the cross and the sight of His wounds brought gladness to the disciples, to these men who were locked up in fear of the Jews.
Wherever Jesus is, there is peace; peace with God. At His birth the heavenly host of angels proclaimed over the plains around Bethlehem, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Having seen the infant Jesus, Simeon blessed God saying, “Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word.” On the eve of His death the Lord told His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you.”. And now He makes good on that promise as He says, “Peace be with you.”
The Lord’s word of peace carries with it the full load of forgiveness, for God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself making peace through the blood of His cross. The Lord’s peace means that the enmity – that broken relationship – between God and man on account of our sin has been repaired. That hostility has been done away with as Jesus fully answered for all of our sins in His dying on the cross.
Now there is peace between God and man, between heaven and earth. Jesus’ greeting of “Peace be with you” is a word of absolution for the disciples. By that greeting they know their sins are forgiven. Think of what that word, “Peace be with you,” must have meant to Peter who had denied Jesus three times. Think of what it meant to the disciples who had fallen away a few nights before!
A second time Jesus says to His disciples, “Peace be with you.” And this time He adds, “As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.” With His first word of peace the Lord forgives His disciples. With this second word of peace He makes them Apostles, His sent ones. The Father sent the Son and now the Son is sending these men to be His Apostles, His sent ones. And how does He send them? By His Spirit and His Word. The Lord breathed on these disciples and gave them work to do. He said, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Just as the Lord God had breathed into Adam the breath of life, so now Jesus breathes life into His disciples.
Throughout Scripture the Lord’s breath and the Lord’s Word are together. The Psalmist wrote, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth,” (Ps. 33:6). There can be no word without breath. And breath without words is of no substance.
But the Lord’s breath and Word give life to His Apostles. What they have received from the Lord they have passed on to us. We are among those who have not seen and yet have believed. We have believed because we have heard the Apostles’ words – words alive with Jesus’ breath, that is, the Holy Spirit who has created faith in our hearts. It is truly a miracle. Thomas believed because he saw the risen Christ. We believe because we hear Christ, for as St. Paul says, “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.”
When Jesus said on Good Friday, “It is finished!”, everything needful for our redemption had been done. But unless the benefit of that work is delivered to us, the results of Jesus’ death and resurrection do us no good.
Let me illustrate. On the first day of January, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. By virtue of his position as President and by this declaration he set free all slaves regardless of their attitude toward their status. As the slaves heard the news of the presidential proclamation they actually received their freedom. Freedom was delivered at the speaking of the words.
Here we have a parallel to what God the Father did for us in the death of His Son. On the basis of that atoning death, the Father declared the sins of the world to be forgiven. But just as the slaves received their freedom in hearing that they were indeed free, so we receive our freedom from sin, death, and hell – that is, the forgiveness of our sins – as that word of absolution is spoken to us either in the general absolution or when the pastor applies the absolution to private and specific sins confessed to him. Not only has our Lord accomplished our salvation on the cross, He also continues to deliver that Gospel into our ears.
The Apostles are sent out with that Word – a word that forgives and retains sins. The deed is done. Forgiveness of sins is accomplished. But God doesn’t stop there. He puts that forgiveness into your ears. That is the apostolic ministry. Our Lord says of those whom He sends, “He who hears you, hears Me.” (Luke 10:16) And so we confess in the Catechism:
“I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”
Pastors do what the Apostles were sent to do. The Apostles went to Thomas with the Good News of the Lord’s resurrection: “We have seen the Lord.” Thomas would not believe their word. He said, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” Thomas would see and he would believe. He could confess Jesus to be Lord and God by what he saw.
But we live after the Lord’s Ascension. It is not given to us to see the Lord like the Apostles did, but it is given to us to hear His voice in the preaching of His Word. By His word we are given faith. We believe not because we have seen, but because we have heard the Gospel. On that faith the Lord Jesus speaks a word of Benediction. He says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
We need not go back to the cross and the empty tomb. Indeed, we cannot go back there. But just as the risen Lord came to His disciples on Easter evening and just as He came to Thomas a week later, He continues to come to us today in the Divine Service. And He does so with earthly means of water, bread, wine and words – by the words which He gives His servants to speak in His stead and by His command.
By those words He gives us life in His name. By those words, spoken by the man called to the Office of the Holy Ministry, we are given absolution. By those words, which are really the words of God, we are set free. By those words we receive “absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.”
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.