The Office of the Holy Ministry: John 20:19-31

When Jesus speaks His divine peace to His disciples, He shows them His wounds He received on the cross.  For Jesus, the crucified One, is now risen from the dead.  He is the Messiah–and His wounds prove it.

But Thomas denied what he hadn’t experienced.  Instead, Thomas demanded a religious experience of his own choosing before he would believe.  He demanded to see the nail prints of Jesus.  He demanded to put his hand in Jesus’ side, where the spear had pierced Him.  He demanded on experiencing the truth of Christ’s resurrection in the way he wanted to receive it.

But faith doesn’t come from having religious experiences, where God has to prove Himself to sinners.  Faith comes by hearing.  That’s what Scripture tells us.  “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).  And so the Holy Spirit gives us new birth into new life by the Gospel we hear.

God speaks.  That’s how He created the world.  And that’s how He also creates faith, replacing a stony heart into one pulsing with spiritual life.  That’s how He changes us from unbelievers into true believers, who live on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Jesus speaks, and by His speaking, He brings us His peace.  He says, “Peace be with you.”  Did you notice that Jesus didn’t say, “May peace be with you”?  For Jesus isn’t wishing or praying; He is giving, and His words give what they say.  And so Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”  And when Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” that means His peace is with you.  For Jesus has said so.  His words aren’t wishes; they are all-powerful.  And so when Jesus says it, it is so; and it is so, because He says it.

Jesus’ words give us peace.  But what peace is that?  It’s the peace that He gained by His perfect life, death, and resurrection.  Whenever we think of our Lord Jesus, we should not only think about what He does, but also about what He says.  For Jesus joins His words to His work.  And so what Jesus says and what He does fit together into a perfect harmony.

Jesus isn’t just talk.  He’s also action.  He says, “Peace be with you,” and then He shows His Apostles His hands and His side.  He speaks His word and points to His work.  The two are joined.  Then, after showing them His work, He speaks to them again, saying the same words: “Peace be with you.”

And what peace is this?  Look at His hands and His side.  It is the peace that Jesus has earned by His work.  His work was dying for us.  He labored in agony when the nails pierced His hands and feet, and He was crucified on the cross.  There, He worked, and He worked hard.

That was the hardest work anyone has ever done.  That was when Jesus fought against the evil that was poured out upon Him.  That was when He fought against the devil’s temptations.  That was when He fought against the sin that was given to Him.  There, Jesus worked.  He worked to fulfill all righteousness.  And He labored and bore the burden of guilt for the entire human race.

And so Jesus shows the holy work He had done by showing the marks of the nails and spear.  The scars on His body testify to the truth of His words.  And so when Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” He is speaking the truth.  He gives you what He has to give.  He gives you what He earned by His hard and bitter labor.

This is where we mess up: We want to be like unbelieving Thomas.  Like him, we want to base our faith on our experience.  That’s where we get it wrong.  We don’t base our faith on our experience, but on Christ’s experience.  For our faith doesn’t come from our words; it comes from Christ’s words.  Our faith doesn’t result from anything we say, do, or offer to God; it comes from Jesus.  He gives us what belongs to Him.  His work has earned it, His words give it, and our faith receives it.

The heart of our faith is the forgiveness of sins that Jesus gives us.  And with the forgiveness of sins comes the peace that Jesus gives.  We can add nothing to this forgiveness to be right with God.  That’s why the peace Jesus gives us is real, because it’s based on His work, not ours.

But if we didn’t believe this, it would be for nothing.  For without faith, we don’t benefit from the forgiveness that God gives.  That’s why Jesus sent His Apostles.  Our Gospel reading for today records this, but so also does Matthew 28.

Jesus sent His Apostles to preach the Gospel and give out His Sacraments.  Why?  So others would receive the Holy Spirit.  Why the Holy Spirit?  Because the Holy Spirit brings us to faith.  That’s why Jesus sent the Apostles to preach the Gospel and give out His Sacraments.  For everyone needs faith.

Today, God still sends men to preach the same Gospel and give out the same Sacraments, which He first entrusted to His Apostles.  God still sends pastors, even as He has sent pastors since Jesus first sent out the Apostles.  God is the One who sends them.  They don’t send themselves.  They aren’t pastors because they decide to be pastors.  No, God sends them through the call of the Church.

That’s why the Church doesn’t hire preachers.  God sends them.  Jesus said, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”  Now, was Jesus only speaking to those men who were present with Him in the room?  No, Jesus was also speaking to all future pastors in His Church.  Although Jesus directly sent His Apostles, the same apostolic ministry is to continue until the end of time.

Since the Apostles, through the call of the Church, Christ has sent His pastors.  We see this taking place in the book of Acts.  There, the Apostle Paul was addressing the pastors serving inEphesus.  Jesus didn’t directly call those men to serve as pastors.  Yet, the Apostle Paul told them to “keep watch over… all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers and to shepherd the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).  The Holy Spirit, through the Church, called those men to be overseers, pastors, of the congregations they served.  And it is no different today.

Jesus breathed on His Apostles and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  Jesus speaks through His preachers.  When we hear them speak, we hear Jesus speak.

When the pastors of Christ’s Church preach God’s law, God Himself is judging us and showing us our sins.  Although the man speaking is a sinner like you, the Law he preaches has divine authority.  It’s true that a mere man can’t judge your heart and expose your conscience to your sins.  God does that.  And God speaks through His pastors.

So when the pastor sent by Christ tells you, that because of Christ, your sins are forgiven, it’s as if Jesus Christ Himself were saying that to you.  Why?  Because, through His pastor, Jesus Christ Himself is saying that to you.

We receive Christ’s pastors because Christ sends them.  Jesus says to His pastors, in Luke 10:16: “The one hears you, hears me; the one who rejects you, rejects me; and the one who rejects me, rejects the One who sent me.”  Jesus doesn’t send pastors to preach false doctrine.  If they do, “keep away from them.  For such [pastors] aren’t serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites” (Rom 16:17-18).

There is no divine call except to preach and teach the truth of God.  Pastors who are called, who preach the Gospel faithfully and give out the Sacraments of Christ according to Christ’s institution are sent by Christ.  They may not be hired and fired at will.  To fire a faithful pastor is the same as tossing Jesus out from His own Church.  As Jesus said, “The one who rejects you rejects me.”

That’s why the Church still calls men to be pastors, not hire them.  For those who are hired can be fired.  But why do we insist on this distinction, of calling instead of hiring?  We do so to protect ourselves from hirelings who will preach whatever our itching ears want to hear.  For if a pastor’s status depends on pleasing the people, then most pastors will do whatever they have to do to please the people.

What’s the deal?  It’s this: You can’t trust a pastor who can be hired and fired at will.  When Jesus sends pastors, He puts them under holy orders.  They are first accountable to Him.  That’s why the Apostle Paul and Pastor Sosthenes, who helped co-write 1 Corinthians, said, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4:1).

Why does any of this even matter?  It matters because Jesus wants us to receive His peace.  That’s why God’s Law must expose our sin that separates us from Him.  That’s why Christ’s pastors must tell those who hang on to their sins, refusing to repent, that God is still holding those sins against them.  But this does have a divine purpose.  For when the Holy Spirit brings someone to repent, the pastor is to tell him that, because of Christ, his sins are forgiven.  That’s the source of God’s peace.  For if God has forgiven you, you also have His peace.

But there’s more: You also can forgive your neighbor who sins against you.  Not only can you do this, but God expects you to do this.  But we can only give what we have.  And so we confess our sins to God.  We receive His forgiveness.  And God gives us His forgiveness in words spoken by those whom He sends.  Then, we take these words to heart, and we give to others what we also have received.  That is the life of the Christian.  Amen.