John 20:19-23: Forgiveness Jesus’ Way

The One raised from the tomb breathes on His disciples, “Peace be with you.”  Next, He shows them the injuries He suffered in His crucifixion.  Again, the words, “Peace be with you,” leave His mouth.  An unbreakable bond must somehow exist between our Lord’s wounds and the peace He brings them.

In His sacrificial death, Jesus restores us with the Father.  “For God delighted in all his essence to dwell within his Son,” Scripture reports.  “Through him, God reconciled everything to himself…  making peace by the blood of the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20). 

So, this peace is more than hollow words, for what our Savior says, He does.  All hostility between God and the Apostles is no more.  How?  Through His death, by which Jesus achieved this universal peace, which He delivers in His speaking. 

No matter how hard we try, we cannot generate this goodwill between the Almighty Creator and us.  For restoration with the eternal Father does not come about because of what we do.  No, if we can create this peace, this becomes our doing, not His.  Now, if we can do this, why do we need a Savior?

The cross-dying Redeemer brought us eternity’s tranquility, removing “the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us” (Colossians 3:13).  In His suffering for our failings, the Son took them away, reestablishing harmony with His Heavenly Father. 

Still afraid, the disciples are hiding after their Rabbi’s death.  Without warning, He is before them, the wounds from spike and scourge in front of their eyes.  Stunned and afraid, these men require what He gives.  What Jesus did for them in His death needs to come them as they cower in fear, “Peace be with you.”

Like those first disciples, we also live in the time after our Destroyer of death died and rose.  Like them, we also need what He offers.  Otherwise, Jesus speaking His peace to His first disciples turns into a curious, historical fact, and nothing more.

From eternity, the Father sends the Son.  In time, the Son, Jesus, sends His Apostles.  Why?  So others can receive what He achieved on the cross—the peace from above and beyond all understanding. 

The Scriptures tell us: “In Christ, God reconciled the world to himself, not counting their sins against them, giving to us the Word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19).  The “us” are the writers of the verse: The Apostle Paul and Pastor Timothy.  The pastors of the Church are to come with Jesus’ restoring Word, delivering what He earned for all.

In the end, every sin we commit is against God.  So, He alone comes with sin-cleansing strength to forgive us.  For the sin of all people, Christ went to the cross—but since He is also God, He is empowered to absolve sins. 

First, our Lord suffers; later, He speaks.  So, as with Jesus, so with His Apostles, as St. Luke records.  “The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance into the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name” (Luke 24:46-47).

First, comes the cross, followed by its preaching.  First, our Redeemer does, with His preachers next proclaiming what He did.  From Jesus comes these words to His Apostles, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, if you retain them, they are retained.”  So affirms our Savior, who authorizes them to forgive and retain sins.

The Savior sanctions His pastors to speak His eternal absolution.  No such power to pardon—with the amnesty of the Almighty—exists anywhere else in the world.  The Supreme Court is not vested with such spiritual might; neither is our President, nor the Congress.  The Lord gave this authority to His first pastors as He breathed on them. 

All Christians can speak the Word of law and grace to others.  So, forgive the wrongdoings of others.  How else can you bring the Father’s forgiveness to another?  Nowhere, however, will you find Jesus laying the burden of retaining sins on anyone but His pastors, first spoken to His chosen Apostles on Easter evening.

The risen Christ established a particular office in, and for, His people on earth.  Those in this “office of overseer,” using the Apostle Paul’s words, are to proclaim the Gospel and dispense life and salvation through the Sacraments.  So, goodwill with God now comes once more, delivered to those in need, by whom our Lord authorizes.

How can we be sure?  Read through 1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus, and you will understand this to be true.  In 1st Timothy, we find, “If a man aspires to the office of overseer (pastor), he seeks a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1).  Though noble to serve in such a way, no one may make himself a minister.  What Scripture reveals are men placed into this office by the laying on of hands (ordination) through the Church. 

Through His Church, Christ installs a man into the pastoral office, who comes with His mandate.  To do what?  To preach Christ Jesus and administer His Sacraments.  Through these ways, Christ is at work through, and in, His Holy Church.

Now, many revile the reality of Jesus working through His called-and-ordained servants.  A culture of individualism, self-created authority, and autonomy pervade our religious culture.  Each individual only wants to answer to himself and no one else.  So, he self-selects the god he fancies, often by going to a congregation which agrees with him, instead of what God wants for him. 

So, Jesus creates a position for someone beyond yourself to forgive or retain your sins.  All this is to keep you from affirming whatever you might want, or justifying what you do.  Only a person who isn’t yourself can call you out on your rationalizations for committing the misdeeds you do.

Again, let’s consider Christ’s words of divine pardon.  For if the pastor comes to you with HIS forgiveness, he gives you something useless, with no value before the Judge of all.  So also with the pastor retaining your sins.  Seldom will someone accept correction.  Only a few can accept this without becoming angry.  So, Jesus set up a way for His Word of reproof to come to another, with His authority.

Only when a man comes with Christ’s mandate, speaking what He authorizes him to say, are his words valid—but if so, they come with Christ’s power!  Of course, few want to believe this, because each person selects the Jesus he likes based on his self-chosen ideas.  Here’s the truth.  Your notions, or mine, aren’t how the sin-slaying Lord chose to establish His Church.  No, He is the Lord of His Church, not you or me.

The first truth, Christ took away all sin in His death.  The second—those who stay unrepentant do not benefit from His sin-destroying death.  Whoever regards his failings as inconsequential, refusing to repent, isn’t relying on Christ’s forgiveness.  So, he remains in his iniquities. 

How tragic, for many consider the Church and her ministers as the enemy, who exist to lay guilt on sin-free souls, so they think.  Here what’s real: The place of God’s presence is the oasis of living water in this sin-parched world.  The voice of Christ comes through her preachers as they speak the Father’s cease-fire to sinners facing never-ending death.  Despite them railing against someone speaking for God, they need this, for God to deliver His everlasting release to them.

First comes our Savior’s work: All is complete on our Redeemer’s cross.  Later, comes our Lord’s words, for He still preaches today through those authorized to do so, as they preach repentance into sins’ forgiveness.

So, turn away from wanting God your way.  What matters is receiving Him as He wants you to.  For your way and mine, don’t save.  No, what we bring comes with sin and corruption, and will fail us in the end, conveying only our eternal death.

Yes, you need someone separate from yourself to bring you the saving Word, something real, here and now.  From the mouth of your pastor, outside of yourself, your Lord’s words come to you with life and eternal rescue.

Now, if you do want everything your way, you are putting yourself above Jesus and what He puts in place for His Church, for you.  Now, if so, your misdeeds remain stuck to you.  The righteousness you bring before God remains, forsaking you, regardless of what you may think, say, or do.

So, external to you comes this Word of Jesus: Repent!  Receive Jesus in the way He promises to come to you.  Only in His way is forgiveness yours, which your pastor’s words declare, “I forgive your sins.”  No one can receive too much of God’s mercy! 

For our sinful nature, taints everything you do with decay and contamination.  So, you never outgrow your need for God’s grace and saving deeds.  Yes, this is the time to savor and delight in God’s goodness, at the banquet of life He brings.

If you judge God on your measure of things, do not partake of Jesus in His Sacred Meal.  For judgment will be yours, not forgiveness.  Apart from Christ, your sinfulness remains, corrupting you to your core.  In repentance, however, forsaking sin and yearning for Christ as He comes to you, His Table is open. 

Listen to these words of Christ.  “My peace I give you.  To you, I do not give as the world gives.  So, do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).  “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  In Christ, your transgressions are no more.  Amen.