Second Sunday of Easter
March 30, 2008
Text: John 20:19-31
He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!
Beloved in the Lord, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19; ESV), says Jesus to you this morning. It is His Holy Absolution. It is the absolution of the risen Lord addressed to His band of faithless disciples shut up in the upper room in fear. It is the absolution of the risen Lord addressed to His band of faithless disciples of all generations. It is the absolution of the risen Lord addressed to you who have locked yourselves away in fear, who have hidden yourselves from the Christ-hating, Christian-hating world, afraid to be crucified with Him and for Him, for His Gospel’s and His Name’s sake. It is the absolution of the risen Lord addressed to you who have doubted… doubted whether Jesus is, in fact, risen; doubted whether God loves you; doubted whether you can be forgiven for your betrayal; doubted whether God’s Easter Promise is true for you, that even though you die, yet shall you live, and that whoever lives and believes in the risen Lord Jesus Christ will never die. Peace be with you. Jesus does not come in wrath. He has every right to do so. He has every right to hide His grace from you and consume you in His anger. But He does not do that. He does not reject you. He forgives you. He gives you His peace. Fear not. All is forgiven. Jesus lives. He has destroyed death and hell and sin. Satan is bound. “Peace I leave with you,” says Jesus; “my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
So it is that Jesus stands among His disciples in the upper room, ten of the apostles, for Judas has hanged himself and Thomas is not present for whatever reason. Jesus stands among them, though the door is locked for fear, and He absolves them. Peace be with you. And then He breathes on them. He in-spirates them with His Holy Spirit. They are re-created as new men. Just as God created Adam out of the dust of the earth and breathed the breath of life into him, so now God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, breathes the peace which is His Spirit into the dusty, downtrodden disciples. And the peace, the Absolution, is not just for the ten. The apostles are to be Jesus’ representatives, His sent ones, sent to speak His Word throughout the world. And His Word is peace. His Word is absolution. His Word is forgiveness. As those who have been forgiven by Christ and called to be His apostles, they are to forgive others. This is the institution of the Office of the Holy Ministry and the institution of Holy Absolution. “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld” (John 20:22-23). The Office of the Ministry is given for the dispensing of the forgiveness of sins. Absolution is what we do.
Unfortunately Thomas was not with the Ten when Jesus appeared to them. He did not see Jesus, receive His greeting of peace and the breath of His Holy Spirit. And Thomas refused to believe. The news of the Lord’s resurrection was too good to be true. “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (v. 25). It’s easy to be hard on Thomas. “Doubting Thomas,” we call him. But honestly, what would you have said? Would you have believed, or doubted? Perhaps you would have said to your friends, “Come on, guys, you must be joking. We saw the Jews arrest Him. We saw the Romans crucify Him. This is nothing to joke about. Get serious. I simply can’t believe He’s risen from the dead.” Or perhaps you would have said something like, “You, my friends, must have seen someone else who looks like Jesus. We all know He’s dead.” Or perhaps you would have said, “Poor dears, still in denial over Jesus’ death. But better to face the reality of the situation than give in to wishful fantasy.” I actually have a lot of sympathy for Thomas and his doubts. Because as truthful as I know you beloved members of Epiphany to be, and as much as I know you would never intentionally lie to me, if you told me you saw my father walking around alive, no matter how many of you thought you saw him and came to tell me about it, I wouldn’t believe you. My father is dead. I saw him buried. You’re either joking, or you’ve been deceived. Unless I see him for myself, I’ll never believe it.
I have a lot of sympathy for Thomas and his doubts because I would probably say exactly the same thing. And if you think about it, you probably would, too. What makes Thomas so endearing is that he’s so real. And that is why St. John preserves the account of doubting Thomas. Make no mistake, Thomas was wrong to doubt. He was sinning when he refused to believe the witness of the apostles. But the account of doubting Thomas is actually the account of how Thomas came to faith again in the risen Lord Jesus. And that is of great comfort for us, because you and I have our doubts, too. Jesus doesn’t reject Thomas, nor does He appear to Thomas in wrath. When Jesus appears to Thomas, He says the same thing He said to the other doubting and fearful disciples. Peace be with you. All is forgiven. Look at my wounds. Put your finger in the nail marks. Cast your hand into my side. Be not doubting, but believing. Thomas didn’t even have to touch the wounds. He knew that from those wounds flow his forgiveness and life. From those wounds flow Thomas’ peace. A Word from Jesus is all it takes. “Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (v. 28).
Jesus’ Word dispels all doubt, including your doubt and mine. Jesus’ Word dispels unbelief. That’s why evangelism is as simple as speaking the Word of Jesus. A gimmick will never convert anyone, but a Word of Jesus will. And from His holy wounds, His hands, His side, His feet, His thorn pierced head, flows the Holy Absolution of the whole world. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. There is forgiveness in the blood. So behold the wounds. Receive the mortally wounded, yet risen and living body and blood of the Savior in His Supper. Be not doubting, but believing. There is forgiveness for you. “The peace of the Lord be with you always,” says the pastor in the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper. Again, that’s Holy Absolution. And the only proper response is, “Amen. Yes, yes, it shall be so.” That is the answer of faith. Behold the wounds and hear Jesus’ Word. Your sins are forgiven. Your doubts are forgiven. Your fear is forgiven. Fear not. Believe. Peace be with you.
Of course, you can only see the wounds and hear the risen Savior’s voice in His Word with eyes and ears of faith. With your fallen eyes, you’ll only see bread and wine. With your fallen ears you may hear noble sounding words from the Bible, but you’ll never recognize the living voice of God. But when Jesus gives you His Holy Spirit though these means of grace, your eyes of faith are opened to see Him; your ears of faith are opened to hear Him. And Jesus even pronounces a blessing upon you in our text this morning: “Have you believed because you have seen me?” He’s speaking of Thomas seeing Him with his fallen eyes. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29). Blessed are you who have believed through the Word. That is why these things are written. St. John even says as much. “(T)hese are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (v. 31).
Peace be with you, dear friends. You have life in Jesus’ Name. As a called and ordained servant of the Word, in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins. Blessed are you. For if you possess the forgiveness of sins in the risen Christ Jesus, there is nothing else that can harm you. Even if you have to suffer various griefs and trials now, for a little while, these are only for the refining of your faith. You are receiving the goal of that faith, the salvation of your souls. You have an inheritance in Christ Jesus that is being kept in heaven for you who are being guarded through faith for the salvation ready to be revealed in you when Jesus comes again. So praise the Lord. Rest in His peace. Receive His unending gifts. Be not doubting but believing. For the risen Lord Jesus Christ is present this morning to show you His wounds, speak His peace, and dispense the gifts of His cross. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!