Easter1 (Quasimodo Geniti) - St. John 20:19-31 - April 12, 2015

Recitation of the Small Catechism (handout)
Hymn #263 O Little Flock, Fear Not the Foe
Hymn #288 Lord Help Us Ever To Retain
Hymn #444 Rise! To Arms! With Prayer Employ You
Hymn #262 A Mighty Fortress

OT - Job 19:25-27
Epistle - 1 John 5:4-10
Gospel - St. John 20:19-31

1)         It is a wonderful blessing to have the forgiveness of sins. Without the forgiveness of sins we have nothing in this life because all we would have to look forward to in the life to come is punishment, wrath, and everlasting death on account of our sins. The forgiveness your sins is the utmost concern of your Father in heaven. If it were not, He would not have provided His Only-Begotten Son for you, to bear your flesh in the incarnation. If your Father in heaven had desired to leave you in everlasting torment for your continual breaking of His divine Law, He would not have sent His Only-Begotten Son to bear your burden by living a life of perfect obedience to the Divine Law, always and ever loving God the Father perfectly and always ever loving His neighbor with a perfect love. If your Father in heaven had wanted to leave you to the power of the Devil, He would not have sent His Only-Begotten son to destroy the works of the Devil on the cross, that great and powerful exorcism in which the ruler of this world was cast out. The forgiveness of sins is what Christianity is all about. The forgiveness of sins is the reason Christ lived and died, so that He alone could be the propitiation for your sins and the sins of the entire world. The forgiveness of sins, earned by Christ on the cross, and delivered to you in His Word and Sacraments, is what the Christian faith in about from beginning to end. Before Christ ascended into heaven Jesus tells His apostles, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46-47) There was nothing else to be preached except Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins, as the Apostle Paul will later write to the Corinthian church. The forgiveness of sins is what Christianity is all about.

2)         The centrality of the forgiveness of sins to the Christian faith is demonstrated from the words of Christ mentioned a moment ago from the end of St. Luke’s Gospel. Those words were spoken immediately before Christ ascended. Those words end His forty days on earth after His resurrection. Today, at the beginning of this blessed season of Easter, Christ begins the forty days of Easter with the forgiveness of sins as well. St. John writes, “Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” (John 20:19) This is Easter Day evening when this happens. Peter and John had raced to the tomb to find it empty. The women had been their earlier to respectfully care for Jesus’ remains and found their dead Jesus replaced with joyful angels. Jesus had even appeared in human flesh to Mary Magdalene outside the Garden Tomb. But by the time evening comes darkness and fear has encroached resurrection joy. Ten disciples, Judas being dead and Thomas being out that evening, are huddled in their room with the door locked for fear of the Jews. And they were right to be afraid. If they killed their Christ what would they do to them?

3)         Through a locked door appears Jesus, not a phantasm, not a symbolic Jesus, but the real physically present Jesus. His Words of words of sweetest and purest Gospel to these frightened, cowering men. “Peace be with you.” No chastisement for abandoning Him in Gethsemane. No “I told you sos” from their Lord. He is not petty as we are petty. Jesus has a good word for His repentant disciples. “Peace be with you.” If Jesus gives you peace, that means God is giving you peace, for Jesus is the Only-Begotten Son of God the heavenly Father, the Son of is “of the same substance” as the Father. The One who had told Philip at the Last Supper, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) God Himself, the second person of the Holy Trinity, gives these sinful men, these deserters, these deniers, peace. And if God gives you peace, then you have peace indeed. The peace that Jesus gives is not a mushy feeling that waxes and wanes. It is not an inner peace that makes one in a perpetual good mood or gives an ever-present sunny disposition. It is peace with God because of the forgiveness of sins. That is the only way God can say “peace” between Himself and sinners. There had to be blood spilt in payment for sin. Jesus’ blood, as true God and true man, was enough to merit that peace.

4)         But Christ the Lord is so loving and gracious that He does not stop there. The peace of the forgiveness of sins is for more than these ten men. It was earned for the whole world and Jesus wants it to be applied to all who will believe. So 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 retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:22-23) The forgiveness of sins must go forth into all the world. It must not be confined to this room with locked doors. God’s death to atone for the sins of all mankind, therefore all mankind must hear of the blessings earned. So Jesus institutes an office that does just that. We call it the “Office of the Holy Ministry.” It is an office because someone must fill it, namely the apostles and those whom they would appoint in their stead. It is called Ministry because it a service to the world, for ministry only means service. But it is called the ‘Holy Ministry’ because it is not a man-made office of a man-made service to the world. It belongs to Christ so it is holy as Christ is holy. These ten men, next week 11 with Thomas, and 50 days later 12 once Matthias is added to their umber, these men bear the office of Christ, so they are commanded to forgive and retain sins. They are to forgive the sins of those who hear the Law’s condemnation and death sentence and repent. They are to retain the sins of those who plug up their ears to the Law and refuse repentance, just as Christ did in His earthly ministry.

5)         And this is a glorious office because Christ is present it this office. Like Christ in the upper room that evening of His resurrection, Christ is truly present in the Office of the Holy Ministry. It is not a phantasm or symbolic present. Christ is truly forgiving sins through the man whom He has put into His office! So even in this age of the world, when a man who is rightly called and ordained as a Servant of the Word absolves your sins in the stead and by the command of Christ, your sins are truly forgiven because his words are really God’s words, Jesus’ words spoken directly to you. Christ tells the apostles in Luke 10:16, “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” If you hear your pastor’s absolution faith, believing that it is Christ’s forgiveness of all your sins, then it is truly Christ whom you are hearing. Your Lord also tells His apostles in Matthew 16:19, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” It is Christ’s most wonderful blessing that He earned our forgiveness upon the cross. It is part of that wonderful blessing that He, in mercy, still gives us men to preach this Word into our ears and hearts, that through the words of our pastor we hear Christ saying to us the same words He spoke to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” (Matthew 9:2)

6)         The forgiveness of sins, earned and applied to you by Christ is the most wonderful blessing Christ brings to sinners. It is such a wonderful blessing that the Devil, the World, and the sinful flesh of mankind hates it, despises it, and tramples it underfoot. The North American church culture has neglected the forgiveness of sins to the point that it is no longer the chief article of their faith. The absolution of Christ has slipped from the mainstream of the American Christian consciousness. In our day sermons abound on what seems like any topic except the forgiveness of sins. Many have moved past forgiveness and have instead moved into the landscape of self-help and self-improvement, all in the name of Christ and claiming to be “bible-based” but having nothing to do with the Gospel and the Office of the Holy Ministry. Many think of justification as the prequel to the Christian lif, that the Gospel is the introductory remark God has about your life while the main body of His message for you is how to now improve and become a better version of yourself. What they’re trying to do is make that the Gospel, that if you work hard to become a better Christian, then you’ll have more peace in your heart and mind, then the floodgates of heaven will burst forth and blessings will reign down on you, that if you discover God’s hidden will for your life then you will have your best life now.

7)         All this is merely a functional works-righteousness. There is no way, means, or method to have true peace with God than through repentance and the forgiveness of sins that Christ earns at the cross and applies to you through His Gospel. Christ wants nothing else to be preached than His doctrine which convicts sinners of their sins so that they repent and the doctrine of the gospel which forgives sinners of all their sins. Everything in the church flows into and from this chief article of the Christian faith. That is why Christ establishes the Gospel and the Office of the Holy Ministry on the evening of His resurrection. First things first. Top priority gets top billing. It matters not the sins that have been committed. Jesus died for all sins. It matters not how badly your sins bite at your conscience. Jesus atoned for those sins fully so that there is no work you must add to Jesus’ work to make it really stick. It matters not how deep, how depraved, or how deadly your sins are. Jesus atones for all sins and Jesus forgives all sins through the Word of His Apostles, Bishops, and pastors because that word is not their word, but the Word of Christ Himself. Hold on to the forgiveness of sins. It is His most wonderful blessing and His chief gift. Do not let anyone take it from you by deception and a false Gospel which tells you to contribute to Jesus’ work on the cross and His work of giving it out in the Word and Sacraments. Receive it in joy and gladness so that you daily are moved to repent of your sins and believe the Gospel, hearing Jesus say to you, Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” Amen.

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