John 20:19-23: Jesus Still Speaks His Forgiveness Today

Confession and Absolution (610x351)The Lenten season is finished.  And yet, we don’t move on to something better, even though we have broken our Lenten fast with the Easter feast.  For what can be better for us than Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes our sins away?

In our Gospel reading, we find Jesus still fresh from the tomb on that first Easter Day.  The wounds of death scarred His hands and side.  Jesus suddenly appeared to His disciples turned Apostles, minus Judas, and minus Thomas, whose whereabouts were unknown.  Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you.”  Shalom, wellness and completeness, be with you.  And as He said, so it was.  Then and there, Jesus gave them His peace that day.

And so we come full circle.  In Lent, we pondered the pure and holy Lamb of God, the victim of our sin.  In Easter, we see Jesus, the risen victor over death and hell.  But He remains, and still is, the Lamb who bears and takes our sins away.  For the peace that Jesus gives is based on the forgiveness that He earned on His cross of death.

Today, it is as Jesus said that first Easter evening: “Peace be with you.”  Christ’s lasting legacy is peace.  But His legacy is not peace as we usually understand the word.  Jesus’ peace was “shalom.”  That wasn’t just the end of hostilities, but that all was as it should be.  All is now in its proper place and state of being.

Jesus’ peace is the peace that surpasses understanding, the peace that lasts through the stresses and storms of life.  His is a peace that will see you through the valley of the shadow of death.  It will bring you into heaven’s high courts, where you, too, will stand in glorious, risen flesh before the Father’s throne.  Indeed, the Lamb of God gives you peace–everlasting peace.

That’s why the Church celebrates Easter for more than one Sunday.  For 40 days, this paschal candle, the emblem of the risen Christ, will stand near the pulpit.  Its bright flame recalls those 40 extraordinary days when the astonished disciples lived with their resurrected Lord.  With their own eyes, they saw Him.  They touched His living flesh, eating and drinking with Him after He had risen from death.  With their own ears, they heard His life-giving, death-destroying Word.

Indeed, Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again!  The same Lord who was put to death for our offenses, was raised for our justification, and will come again in glory to claim His Bride, the Church.

Although we have not seen Jesus as His first disciples did, yet we still love and believe in Him.  For in the precious Word of Christ’s Gospel and in His holy Sacraments, we are continually receiving what God gives to save us in body and soul.  That’s the joy-causing reality for us, even when life spins out of control.

Throughout the Easter season, we celebrate with undiminished joy, which is good, because God knows that so much can rob us of our joy these days.  Private and public dangers threaten all around.  Fear and confusion grip the nations of the earth, while wars and rumors of wars echo and re-echo around the globe.  There’s illness and hardship, and distress of body, mind, and soul.  All these rob us of inner peace and joy.

But on a day when dismay, fear, and depression were still having their way with Jesus’ disciples, Jesus came to them with His astounding blessing.  They had locked the doors out of fear over what could happen to them.  But Jesus entered anyway to speak His words of life and hope.  “Peace be with you!” He said to them.

It was the standard greeting of His day but divinely amplified.  This was no “Hi, how are you?” or “Have a lovely day.”  For after Jesus said those words, He showed them His hands and His side.

And do you know what they saw in His living flesh?  They saw the wounds of death.  The peace that Jesus gave was the peace that He paid for with His blood, divine blood.  That’s why the peace that He gives is not an earthly peace but peace everlasting.

Jesus’ Apostles saw the holes where nails had been.  They saw the gaping gash, where the point of the soldier’s spear had pierced Jesus’ side and from which the blood and water poured out when He died.  Standing before them was the Lamb of God who takes our sins away, the Lamb of God who died that we might live.

But Christ was dead no more.  Marks of death adorned His living flesh and bone.  What they saw was no figment of their imagination, no abstraction of good triumphing over evil, or no pious wish for the progress of mankind.  No; in that locked room, they saw none other than the incarnate Son of God embodied in human flesh.

The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world was now the Lamb of God who gives us peace.  And that’s exactly what He did.  He came and spoke peace to the disciples.  “Peace be with you,” He said.  That was, and remains, an extraordinary statement, without precedent or parallel in ordinary, social conversation.

Jesus wasn’t merely extending a greeting, a wish, or a prayer.  He was using performative speech.  What Jesus said, He did.  Through the words He spoke, Jesus gave actual peace to His disciples.  He was granting to them the end of hostilities between God and man.  It was a spiritual cease-fire.  Jesus ratified the universal peace treaty that He began at the cross when He breathed His last and cried out in triumph, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

The peace of the Lord continues, for the great cosmic battle between God and man is done and over.  Jesus has won peace for us all.  Jesus has conquered our sin.  He has breached the stronghold of the grave.  Even hell itself has lost all power to destroy us.

In Jesus, life has triumphed over death.  Death has lost its teeth.  Oh, it can scowl and glower, but now it only has a toothless bite.  The sting of death is gone, for Jesus, our Lord, has removed our sin and given us His peace.  And once sin is gone, nothing in all creation can ever separate us from the love of God, not even death itself.

Jesus sent His Apostles, the Church’s first pastors, to breathe out the Spirit’s breath when they proclaimed the forgiveness of sins that Jesus earned on the cross.  Jesus said to them, “As the Father has apostled me, so also am I sending you” (John 20:21).  That’s why we have, as the book of Hebrews states, a Sabbath rest for the people of God (Hebrews 4:9).  For when we hear the life-giving Word of Absolution, of Christ’s forgiveness spoken into our ears in real time, God is giving us His Sabbath rest.

And so we have the life of Jesus given to us.  By faith, we receive, through Jesus’ performative Word, the benefits of His saving work in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said to His Apostles, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven” (John 20:23).  Those were not empty words.  Jesus commissioned those men, those Apostles, those first pastors in the New-Covenant Church, to serve as His emissaries.  They were to give out, according to Christ’s command, the forgiveness that Jesus had won for all on the cross.

And it is still the same, today.  When we hear from the mouth of the pastor, “I forgive you all your sins,” it’s not the pastor’s forgiveness that we receive–as if that would do us any good!  No, we receive Christ’s forgiveness–the real and genuine article, the removal of guilt and shame in Jesus’ name.  Now that’s not so because the pastor says so, but because Jesus says so.  He, the Lamb of God who takes our sins away, is the Lamb who brings us peace.  And He gives us that peace in His Church.

“Peace be with you!”  We also hear these words of Christ before we eat His body and drink His blood in His Holy Supper.  As it was in that locked room that first Easter evening, so it is here this day.  Through Word and Sacrament, the Holy Spirit restores our hearts, forgives our sins, and renews our lives because of Jesus.

Although we daily live and breathe on a spiritual battlefield, the peace of the Lord continues to bring us peace within.  That’s our shield and protection, our bulwark and defense against all that threatens us.  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you,” says our risen Lord.  “I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27).

That’s where we come in, you and me.  Left to ourselves in this world, we have no peace.  Left to ourselves, we have, not only worry and fear, but also hurt and loss, with shame and guilt to top it off.  Left to ourselves, we are but spiritual corpses.

But we are not alone.  The Lord Jesus Christ, the risen victor over sin and death, has given and bequeathed to His Church His living and lasting peace.  This peace is dispensed, given out, in the words of Absolution and in the eating and drinking of His Holy Supper.  Then, there is peace once more, Christ’s peace, peace eternal.

In the forgiveness of our sins, we have the peace that Jesus gives us.  Jesus “came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through Him, by one Spirit, we both have access to the Father” (Ephesians 2:17-18).

So, peace to you, this day–the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding.  For Jesus means exactly what He says and gives precisely what He means.  The peace of the Lord is with you always.  To this we can only add our glad “Amen.”