Text: John 20:19-31
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk of the word.” So we chanted earlier in the service. St. Peter wrote those words to urge recently-converted Christians who had, for various reasons, been scattered far and wide across the ancient world. What the people needed was the pure spiritual milk of the Word, for that is how they were brought into the faith and that is how they will be kept in the faith. We confess this in the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed. We cannot, by our own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ or come to him. Thanks be to God that the Holy Spirit, working through water, Word, blood, and wine, converts unbelievers and keeps unbelievers in the true faith. Without these gifts, we’d only be left with our reason and strength.
These show themselves inadequate. Obviously. Look at Jesus’ disciples. They are there in the locked room for fear of the Jews. Why do they fear the Jews? On the one hand, it makes a lot of sense. You see what they did to Jesus. They were ruthless to Jesus. Jesus didn’t do anything wrong. Jesus, in fact, did the opposite of wrong. He was good and perfect. He healed the sick and raised the dead. Yet his end was death. Maybe the Jews will do the same to those who follow Jesus. Their fear was already evident on Maundy Thursday. Do you remember what they did when Jesus was arrested? They all left him and fled. Peter ends up following at a distance to see what will happen, but he cowers in fear as he’s asked if he knows Jesus, denying him three times. But, again, do you blame them?
On the other hand, they should know what’s going on. Jesus told them at least three times what was going to happen. He told them he would be crucified, but rise form the dead after three days in the tomb. They also have multiple witnesses that have either seen Jesus or been told that he is risen from the dead. There were the women at the tomb in the morning who came to find it empty and who were told by the angel that he had risen from the dead. Peter and John both ran to the tomb to find it empty. Mary Magdalene spoke to Jesus. Jesus revealed himself to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and they ran back and told the disciples in the locked room that they had seen the Lord. Jesus told them what would happen and all the reports that they’re receiving are confirming that what Jesus told them would happen has happened. There should be no fear in the disciples at all. Why are they afraid?
They’re afraid because they lack faith. Their reason tells them that they should be afraid. Their reason tells them Jesus is dead. Their reason tells them that Jesus can’t be alive because when people die they stay dead. They saw him get nailed to that cross. They saw him laid in the tomb. He is dead. They can either believe the reports that defy reason, or they can trust their own reason and strength. They choose the latter. Fear and unbelief rules the day for them. Their sinful flesh will not allow them to trust what the Word of God says.
Jesus still steps into this situation, though. He doesn’t need the invitation of the fearful, doubting disciples. They don’t ask him into their heart like Armenians. In fact, he doesn’t even need a door or a window. The resurrected, exalted Jesus Christ appears in the flesh right before the eyes of the disciples. He shows the disciples his hands and his side. Now they now that the reports are true. They know that Jesus really has risen from the dead. Along with that fact comes dread, though. They see how foolish they were. They had disbelieved the Lord himself when he said that he would rise from the dead. Had Jesus only shown the disciples his hands and side, they would not have been glad when they saw him. They would have glad. They would have remained in fear and dread. They would have remained in their sin.
That’s why the words that Jesus speaks are so important. “Peace be with you,” he says. This is not just a trite saying by Jesus. It’s not just a simple greeting. Jesus is absolving the disciples. He is telling them that their sins have been covered. His death paid for their sins of fear and unbelief. This is the peace that surpasses all understanding. This is the peace that was promised by the angels when they proclaimed the birth of Jesus to the disciples. This is the peace between God and man of sins forgiven.
It’s also really important to see that Jesus doesn’t just forgive the disciples once, he repeats the action when he comes to them again eight days later. Again, he says, “Peace be with you.” Forgiveness is not a one time thing. Were the disciples’ sins forgiven the first time that Jesus came among them? Yes, of course. Did the disciples remember their sins, perhaps even the same sins that they felt guilty about when Jesus came the first time? Probably.
In this whole process, Jesus gives his disciples the Holy Spirit for the express purpose of forgiving the sins of those who come to them burdened by sin. To this day, God sends us pastors who have been entrusted with the Office of the Keys to proclaim the forgiveness of Christ to sinners with burdened consciences.
This is something we sorely need. For we, like the disciples, listen to our reason that tells us that what we read in the Word of God might not be true. Maybe God really didn’t say all the things that we find in the scriptures. Maybe the skeptics are right. It might just be a set of myths and elaborate fairy tales. Many of the things that Jesus did simply aren’t scientific. For that matter, large portions of the scriptures seem to record things that are simply not possibly true. Of course, few of us would go so far as to label the scriptures as untrue. But we might be tempted to compromise on some of the details. We might attempt to harmonize rational human explanations for the miracles of Jesus, or the creation account, or Jonah swallowed by a big fish, or the crossing of the Red Sea. Maybe there are natural explanations for all of it.
You can’t have it both ways, though. Either the pure, spiritual milk of the word is true or it isn’t. When you think you know better than the Word of God, repent. Repent of your idolatry that puts yourself in the place of God. Repent, and drink the pure spiritual milk of the Word that gives you the forgiveness of sins. Whether your sins are “big” or “small,” Your Father in heaven wants to forgive you. This is why God gives his Word to you. He wants you to have the peace that he won for you on the cross. This is why he sends his ministers to you to pronounce his absolution. This is why he gives his body and blood to you to eat and to drink. You’ll notice that the Pax Domini comes right on the heels of the Words of Institution each Sunday. That’s because, that’s what we receive in the Sacrament of the Altar. Jesus’ body and blood are not there for you simply as a memorial meal. They are there to take what was won on the cross by Jesus and give it directly to you.
Just as Jesus returned to his disciples eight days later to deliver this peace again, Jesus comes to you week after week with the same forgiveness. Were you not forgiven the first time? Of course you were. But memory of sins forgiven and the guilt that comes along with those memories doesn’t fade that quickly. Jesus stands ready to give you his peace again and again.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.