John 20:19-23 Pastor Kenneth Frey
Pentecost 10 8/13/17
John 20:19-23 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Not Just Words
1. The Motivation for using the Keys
2. The Means for using the Keys
3. The Mission of using the Keys
When you’re having a bad day, people will often try to encourage you with sayings like, “Hang in there; it’ll be ok.” Or they may say, “Have a good day.” These things are said with good intentions but what good do they really do? I can tell someone who is having a hard time at his job that “it will all work out,” but how do I know that? Maybe it won’t. I can say to someone, “Have a good day,” but I can’t make it happen. They may not have a good day, so what good does it do? Just words – that’s all it is.
In our text today Jesus twice said, “Peace be with you.” He told his disciples to “receive the Holy Spirit.” Just words? No, Jesus’ words have the power to do what he says. His words do give peace. His words do bring the Holy Spirit. Not just words.
Today we focus on the last chief part of the Small Catechism, Keys and confession. In the office of the Keys, Jesus’ words give power to our words. In the office of the Keys, Jesus gives us words that are not just words, but actually give what they say. Jesus give the keys in our text today and shows the motivation, the means and the mission.
Can you picture the scene on that Easter evening? The doors are locked. The room is dim. There is a low murmur of voices in the background as you sit in a corner and review for the hundredth time the contradictions, the injustices, and your own role in the horrible death of Jesus.
What do you see in that room? I’ll tell you what I see. I immediately see fear. And how often don’t we cower in fear behind our own locked doors? We cower in fear clinging to our money and retirement accounts for security. We cower in fear afraid to be labeled “too religious” if we stand up for him too often. We cower in fear behind our worries or we try to build up our self-esteem by tearing others down. We cower in fear wondering how God could really forgive someone like me.
That’s when Jesus appears with his word of peace. On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Peace. They have nothing to fear. The picture in this word is like a guard on night patrol. He hears noises so he is on alert. But then the lights come on and he sees everything is okay. He can rest easy. That’s peace. Jesus proclaimed peace to those disciples and to us. And these are not just words. They give to us peace so that we can rest easy in our relationship with God. We don’t have to be on high alert waiting for God to strike us down. We can rest easy knowing that our sins are forgiven because of Jesus.
This is real peace that calms the heart and brings joy to the soul. Worldly peace consists in removing whatever brings trouble and anxiety to us, such as, war, fighting, the stress of work or the fear of disease. When we get rid of such troubles, we feel at peace. But then some other trouble comes and peace is gone.
The peace Jesus gives is different. It’s not tied to the circumstances of life. Troubles may come, but we are still at peace. It’s a peace that is centered in the cross and empty tomb of Jesus. It is the peace of sins forgiven and paradise promised.
What is the result of that peace? After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. The 5-year old had been missing all night. When his mother had looked out yesterday afternoon, she no long saw him playing in the yard. Had he been abducted? Had he wandered off? Soon she and her husband, the neighbors and the police were all searching. It had been a long, horrible night.
But at 10:30 the next morning, a neighbor found him in nearby woods, cold and crying and hungry, but unharmed. He had wandered off and fallen asleep hidden under the leaves. When his mother and father saw him they ran and hugged him. Just being able to touch him meant so much.
Their joy was the joy of the disciples when they could see and touch the living Jesus. But this joy was more than relief; it was the joy of salvation. Jesus is alive. He conquered death. They have peace.
What is making you afraid today? What nagging guilt keeps you from joy? What sin is lurking in your past that makes you feel like a hypocrite and a fake? Hear what Jesus says to you today: Peace! Peace, earned at the cross and proclaimed from the empty tomb. And if you still can’t believe it’s for you, ask yourself why Jesus went through all of that. Was it not for you? Be at peace.
Peace is the motivation in our use of the keys. Jesus also gives us the means to use them. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Jesus breathed on them, or we could say he blew on them. It reminds us of the creation account when God created Adam. “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) These are not just words. When God breathed into Adam, Adam became a living being. When Jesus breathed on the disciples, they received the Holy Spirit.
You and I have the same Spirit. We got it at our baptism. Peter told the people on Pentecost, “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 2:38) We have the same peace the disciples had. We have the same Spirit the disciples had and so we will have the same mission which the disciples had. And if you doubt that you can be part of that mission, say, “But I’m baptized.”
And what is that mission? If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Jesus is sending us, not just the pastors but all of us. Everyone who is baptized has the mission. Everyone who is baptized possesses the keys. Yes, to use them publicly in the Church, you need a call. But to use them privately, to share God’s word with your FRANS or to assure forgiveness to a fellow member is something all of us can do.
The Church has the authority to forgive and to withhold forgiveness. But that sounds like judging, doesn’t it? And we live in a world where there are few worse things than being labeled judgmental. But that is our mission. There is an unusual bit of grammar in Jesus’ command. Literally, he says, “Those whose sins you forgive have already been forgiven; those whose sins you do not forgive have not been forgiven.” The point is, “God does not forgive men’s sins because we decide to do so nor withhold forgiveness because we will not grant it. We announce it; we do not create it.” (Merrill Tenney, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 9, p. 193) We are sent to announce forgiveness and those who believe it, receive it. Those who do not believe it, do not receive it.
Not just words. Jesus says that his power is in the words he gives us. This is the office of the keys. There are two ways that we specifically see the Office of the Keys, this work of forgiving and retaining sins, played out in the life of the Church. Most of you are accustomed to see this played out on Sunday morning when we begin our worship service. We come together, confess our sins, and then hear the Pastor announce that our sins are forgiven. In that case, when the Pastor uses an absolution that says “I forgive you all of your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, it is not me as the Pastor who is forgiving you. I am simply speaking to you what God’s Word already says. I am speaking to you “by his authority.”
But there is also what we call “private confession and absolution.” When you hear that, perhaps you don’t realize that Lutherans still retain this practice, as most of us usually put Confession into the realm of something that Roman Catholics do. In this case, if there is a particular sin that troubles you that you wish to confess, you come to your Pastor. The Catechism tells us as far as what sins to confess “Before God we should plead guilty to all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer; but before the Pastor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts.” In other words, you don’t come to confession because you have to, you do it because you want and need assurance of forgiveness. And when you hear it, believe it. Not just words.
The whole point of the Office of the Keys is this: it is daily proclaiming in love the truth of God’s Word of Law, and God’s Word of Gospel, and specifically applying it to the daily life of the Christian. Not just words. That’s the Church using the office of the Keys.