Easter 2 - April 7th and 8th, 2018 - John 20:19-31
Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.
Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.
Jesus doesn’t dillydally around. He gets to the point. He isn’t one for small talk, He doesn’t waste the disciples’ time in pointless chit-chat or self aggrandizing speeches. The very Word of God Himself is very efficient in using His Word – He wants His Word to do what it needs to do. This is what we see and learn from our Gospel lesson this Sunday. On the evening of that day [that is, Easter], the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” What do you make of that? There’s no “hi there guys.” No “so how are you all doing?” Peace be with you. And He shows His hands and feet – see, it really is Me, I am indeed risen – those women weren’t crazy after all. Jesus gets to the point.
So what was that point? Let us look at what Jesus says and does. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” Jesus gets to the point. Here it is, Easter day. Christ has been sacrificed, Christ has been raised. Things will be different now. There is no more need for all the sacrifices in the temple. There is no more need for all the cultural laws that kept Israel separate from the other nations, for the Messiah has come and done His duty. From now on, we are in end of days, the time of the Church – and Jesus sets it off.
In the past 2000 years there has been a lot of discussion about what the Church needs, what it should do to grow, how it will grow. There have been lots of theories, lots of different approaches. What do we tell people about? How do we get them in? I’ve seen various commercials for Churches – we offer this program, if you come here your family will be nicer to each other. Is that the key? That we offer folks a product that they will want to consume – even a good product? I drive down Kankakee, and there are signs telling me about exciting worship. Is that the important thing – that we be exciting and lively? That it could be like a rock concert, except more holiness and less smoke! Is that the key, that we be more entertaining? Of course, all these advertisements are different than last year, or five years ago. I just had a telemarketer leave a voicemail Friday for some new thing. Is that the key, to always be changing, to always be trying to be more hip and cool than… well, I don’t know who more cool than, but is that it?
Call me simple, but rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, or in this case the Church – I’d rather just look to what Christ says. Jesus shows up to the disciples, He gets ready to send them out – and what does He say? What is the essence, what does everything that we do as a Church flow out of or come from? What does Jesus tell the disciples that they are to do? Go and forgive sins. Preach the forgiveness of sins – and everything else flows from there.
There is a drastic need for forgiveness in this world, but it’s one we tend not focus on – in fact, it is one that we can shy away from. It’s easy to want to focus on “the family” – shoot, every politician says they are focused on family values, except that doesn’t mean anything. Or excitement – our culture thrives on excitement – simply watching TV or Youtube will show you that. And change – well – some churches go after those that want change – they say we are contemporary. Some churches will go after those that are annoyed by change – they say we are traditional. Or the Churches that proclaim that they are progressive – some like that! These are all terms we are comfortable dealing with. But are we really comfortable dealing with forgiveness – with the thing that Jesus sets before us as of most importance? Are we comfortable with seeing the need for forgiveness?
If you say that someone needs forgiveness, you are implying, you are saying that they have done something wrong. That doesn’t tend to be popular. Might upset them. But this isn’t a chance to sit and bash others – this isn’t a chance to talk about everyone else. Let’s talk about us. In fact, when we talk about the fact that we here need forgiveness – when we get to the meat and bones of the Law and look at our own sin – that can be quite uncomfortable, can’t it. How often do you squirm a little bit in a sermon when I start hitting the “wrong” law – the one that hits too close to home? I know I do. Or how often do you get upset when it lands on a certain topic that might touch too close to your own personal history? I don’t like it when the text does that for me. Talking about sin is uncomfortable. It isuncomfortable talking to other people about their sin, face to face. It can be quite scary to confront your own sin. It seems easier sometimes to just let the topic of sin go. Excitement, tradition, progress, justice in society – good. Sin – my sin, that's quite scary to talk about, and we avoid it until everything gets so bad that the only thing we can do is lock ourselves in a room and hide.
And what does Christ Jesus do? He comes busting on in with His Word. He shows up and is blunt and honest about your sin – but also blunt and honest about something even more wondrous. But these 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. Simple and blunt. The goal, the endgame God is after is to see that you live, that your sin is forgiven and you have life. It's what Jesus says, how He sets up His Church to work. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven. That's simple. Our sin can be complicated. We can scheme and plan and plot. Wicked twists and turns abound aplenty. But God’s forgiveness is blunt and bold and simple. Jesus died, and so you are forgiven. Jesus rose, and so life has been won. There’s nothing massively complicated to do – in fact we do nothing. God speaks His Word of forgiveness, and you are forgiven.
And that’s real. God’s Word is powerful – it does what it says. When God tells His church to forgive people by telling them that they are forgiven for Christ’s sake – He means what He says. Jesus gets to business – there’s sin out there, sin that I died for – proclaim it forgiven! Now, John deals with the first thing Jesus tells the disciples after Easter – what about what Matthew records as what Jesus says right before His ascension? All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Get that forgiveness out there. They need it. From the earliest days of our lives as we are brought into the Church in Holy Baptism all the way to our deathbeds, we are people who are in need of Christ’s forgiveness – we need forgiveness given to us, proclaimed to us again.
And that’s what the Christian Church is. That’s what this place is – it is to be a place where Jesus’ authority to forgive sins is used. It is the place where we gather to hear the Word and receive forgiveness from it. It is the place where we are gathered by Christ, and He deals with our sin by forgiving it. Think about what happens here – we start with confession. We confess our sin – and God forgives it. Week in and week out we struggle against temptation, we fight against our sin, and when we fall and stumble back in this place, Jesus just picks us up by His Word, dusts us off, and sends us back out there again. Then the service goes on, and we hear readings and a sermon. Listen, here are specific things that Christ has done, specific skeletons that might be in your closest that He has conquered – go and sin no more for He has conquered that sin and you are forgiven. Again – right to forgiveness. When we sing, what do we sing about – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Because of this, we are now sons and daughters of the King! When we celebrate the Supper, why do we do so? Because Jesus has said, “I give you forgiveness again through this, I strengthen your faith through the giving of My Body and Blood.”
And what does this forgiveness do? How does God strengthen us? Love your neighbor. That’s what the Law says. And that’s mighty hard. I of myself, I in my sinful flesh do not want to love – I don’t want to give of myself to others, I want to take and grab. I want to be selfish. I want to love only myself. God crushes that. By His Word God breaks us of sin, turns our eyes away from our own wants and places them upon the cross, places them upon our forgiveness – gives that forgiveness to us and makes us His new creation. To what end? When we see ourselves, not as “good” Christians, not as nice people, not as people who are kind and loving – but when we see ourselves for what we are – sinners, and when we see God for who He is – the God who forgives sinners, even thanks be to God sinners like me – we are. We are forgiven, God says so. We are a new creation, and so we see things differently in this world – when we see our neighbor – we don’t merely see someone who wrongs us, we don’t see someone who doesn’t fit some artificial standard of behavior that we use to prove what good people we are – we see someone who is fundamentally exactly like us – a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness. And God uses us to show them love. When our focus is on Christ and His forgiveness, when we delight not in our own works, not in our own sacrifices to God, but when we delight in Christ Jesus and His death and resurrection and His forgiveness – God will show love through us, God will welcome the stranger through us, God will care for the outsider through us, and God will speak that same forgiveness through us. That is how God strengthens us – by forgiveness. That is how God shapes us to be who we are – He gives us Christ and makes us Christlike – and how – by Christ's forgiveness.
Jesus gets to the point. And the point is that He had died for your sins and risen again to give life. That is the point, and always needs to remain the point. Satan doesn’t want our focus to be there – Satan will hold other more exciting or “nice” things in front of it – or he’ll even try to make us want to shy away from anything that has to do with our sin – even the forgiveness of our sin. But Jesus will have none of it – He continually pulls our wandering eyes back to Him and to His forgiveness. Whatever our age, whether we are but a few days old or old enough to know that we have very few days left us in this life – the Holy Spirit calls and gathers us to the Church that we would receive Christ’s forgiveness and by believing in Him have life in His Name. This is how Christ wants it – that you receive His forgiveness – that you know His peace. Peace be with you. Amen. Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, alleluia