Sunday, April 3, 2016

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday of Easter (April 3, 2016)

JOHN 20:19-31


M:         Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong: He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name + of Jesus.

      On the evening of that day, 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... (John 20:19)  I suspect that the disciples were even more fearful of Jesus than they were of the Jews who were locked outside of their room.  They all had good reason to be afraid of him.  The last time most of them had seen Jesus, they were running for their lives out of the Garden of Gethsemane and into the dark of night.  Those who had boasted that they would never forsake him and would even die with him forsook him.  Jesus went on to die alone.  These disciples were plagued by the guilt of their faithless allegiance.  They were not good disciples.
     These guilt-ridden disciples were all gathered back in that upper room where they had feasted with Jesus.  They had heard reports of Jesus' resurrection from the women.  For the most part, they dismissed them.  But what if it were true?  What would Jesus say to them if they saw him again?  How angry would Jesus be?  Would Jesus reject them and cast them into fiery judgment?  He should, shouldn't he?  These were legitimate concerns.
     Then, Jesus appeared among them.  He was not angry.  There was no sense of regret or disappointment.  He said, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)  He did not breathe fire; he breathed his Holy Spirit upon them.  He did not cast them out of the kingdom of God; he gave them authority to serve in his kingdom and even to proclaim his forgiveness to others.  He came to trembling sinners and declared, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)
     When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.  Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20:20)  Jesus demonstrated that it was really him—their flesh and blood Savior.  We should take to heart the fact that Jesus appeared in the flesh to declare his peace.  Although the word of God is clear in many places about God's mercy and forgiveness, Jesus did not leave these disciples to figure out for themselves that God loves and forgives the guilty.  The guilty are too frightened and confused to know or believe that God loves them.  They might hope so.  They might even insist that it has to be true.  But a guilty conscience will not let your heart have rest.
     Judas was just as guilty as the eleven with his sins.  In fact, Judas was the only one of the Twelve who actually tried to amend his sins.  Judas tried to return the money he had received to betray Jesus.  But Judas' attempt to undo his betrayal and its consequences did not take his sins away.  Wanting to be freed from his guilt did not make Judas free from his guilt.  Judas Iscariot was so overcome by his guilt and grief that he sought relief in suicide.  Sadly, that faithless death only resulted in endless grief and eternal sufferings.  The remaining disciples huddled together in the upper room.  They, too, wanted to be freed from their guilt and shame.  But banding together for mutual consolation could not take away their sins or relieve their guilt.
     Therefore, Jesus himself appeared to these disciples.  The very one who had taken their sins to the cross delivered the message of forgiveness to them.  Jesus did not speak about some nebulous forgiveness.  Jesus personally declared that their sins were forgiven.  Jesus knew they had failed.  He knew all their faults.  And he still loved them.  He declared, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)  Jesus had authority to forgive their sins, and so he did.  As he declared it, so it was done.
     Now, our sins are just as real as those of the disciples.  Every day we strive to be faithful to our Lord and obedient to his word.  But we forsake God's truth when holding firm to it costs too much.  Our society desires to be free from God and his word, and our nation fulfills the warning from St. Peter, “With respect to (sinful attitudes and immoral behavior) they are surprised when you do not join in with them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.” (1 Peter 4:4)  We do not like to have abuse heaped upon us.  And so even Christians adopt worldly attitudes, get drunk, sleep around, turn to obscenities, and back away from God's word when people sneer at us for believing it and living like we do.  We like being popular with the world more than being faithful to God because we favor immediate pleasure over future glory.  So, how should the Lord treat us when we abandon him because it was hard or inconvenient to be faithful Christian?  Repent.
     If you feel guilty over your sins, if you feel ashamed of your cowardice, if you are burdened by your lack of faith and obedience, you are where the disciples were in the upper room.  At those difficult times, you may think of reasons why your sins should not trouble you any longer.  But how can you trust your thoughts?  Depending upon your mood, you can convince yourself how awful you are or how wonderful you are.  If you believe you are so awful, despair may lead you where Judas went.  If you believe you are so wonderful, is that God's word or are you just telling yourself how wonderful you are?  No matter how convinced you are of your own opinion—whether you are awful or wonderful—God's judgment is the only one that matters.  Therefore, if you want to have peace, you need God's word to deliver it.
     The Lord Jesus appeared to his troubled disciples in the upper room on Easter evening to absolve them of their sins.  He does not appear in person any longer.  But this is what he does instead.  Jesus said to them again, “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 any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:21-23)  
     Jesus gives authority to forgive sins to his disciples.  The same authority Jesus has to forgive sins he gives to his disciples.  And the Church calls ministers to apply that forgiveness to troubled sinners.  If you are troubled by your sin and guilt, you will not find peace in some nebulous forgiveness out there.  How would you ever know that Jesus forgives you, and that he forgives that sin?  He does this by sending flesh-and-blood ministers to speak in his stead and by his command.  “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you,” (John 20:21)  Jesus said.  Jesus gives authority to forgive sins.  Through his ministers, Jesus applies to you personally the forgiveness of your sins.  Yes, Jesus knows that you have failed.  He is aware of all of your faults.  And he still loves you.  He does not look upon you with disgust or disappointment.  Rather, he looks upon you with mercy and desires you to live without guilt or shame or fear.  So Jesus gives you a personal word of forgiveness, and you hear it when his minster declares, “I forgive you.”  It is Jesus' “I” that you hear.  It is Jesus' forgiveness that is applied to you.  It is declared with Jesus' authority and backed by Jesus' own promise: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” (John 20:23)
     Jesus gives authority to forgive sins.  And he is not chintzy with his forgiveness.  You are all disciples of Christ.  You are all priests of God and servants of the Lord.  And you all have friends who carry upon them the burden of guilt and shame.  Many of them live in terror at the idea of seeing Jesus.  They expect him to be angry, and for good reason.  They need the very forgiveness that you have.  And you get to be the voice that Christ uses to bring relief to guilty hearts and comfort to troubled souls.  Jesus gives authority to forgive sins to you, too.  It is his word.  It is his good news.  And it is meant for everyone Jesus died for – that is, everyone.
     Jesus gives authority to forgive sins.  He does this for your benefit so that you can know, without a doubt, that your sins are forgiven.  He grants peace to troubled sinners, and he brings joy to grateful saints.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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