Absolution is from Christ

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter based on John 20:19-31

Dear absolved believers: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Many people find Absolution offensive. Only God can forgive sin, they say. How then can you have a pastor saying, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”?

It is true that only God can forgive sin, but in what way has He promised to forgive sin? He sends His ministers to forgive on His behalf, saying, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Christ has the authority to forgive sin. He earned it by paying for every sin ever committed through His suffering and death. And Christ gives that authority to His Church on earth. When a pastor speaks the forgiveness Christ has sent Him to speak, it is Christ Himself who forgives sin. Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth, so it is He who decides how He wants to forgive sin. Christ has chosen to give forgiveness of sins through the mouths of sinful men sent to His people for that purpose.

Forgiveness doesn’t do you any good if it is somewhere out there for you to find. Forgiveness doesn’t do you any good if it’s sitting in heaven. Forgiveness of sins needs to come to sinners, where sinners are. That is why Christ instituted the church. The church is the place for sinners to gather and receive forgiveness. Forgiveness belongs to the church.

Since forgiveness belongs to the church, no man can assume the office of pastor without a call from the church. The church, to whom forgiveness belongs, must call a pastor to give this forgiveness to them. No one can appoint himself to be a pastor. This is what it means in Romans 10 where Saint Paul asks, “How are they to preach unless they are sent?” They cannot preach unless they are sent. They must be called by God through the church.

Christ instituted the office of the ministry, or the office of pastor, for the purpose of preaching His Word and giving His forgiveness. It is the office or the position that is special, not the man who occupies the office or position. There is nothing special about the man John Nieminen. He has nothing to say to you. He has no special wisdom, insight, or knowledge to impart to you. Yet when your pastor speaks Christ’s Word to you, it is Christ Himself who speaks to you. When your pastor forgives you your sins, it is Christ Himself who forgives you your sins through the Word He has given your pastor to speak.

This is why pastors wear albs or robes. They cover up the man and remind you and me that it is only according to his office as pastor that he has the right to say one word from God. This is also why pastors are called by their title. It’s not a matter of pride or conceit, but rather a reminder to you and to me that I’m not here of my own doing. I didn’t decide one day that I think I’ve done enough studies, look on a map and say, “I’m going to move to the prairies and serve these two congregations in Neudorf and Melville as their pastor.” No, God called me here to be your pastor. He called me through you, the church. You called me to come and speak God’s Word to you and forgive you your sins in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ.

I’m not here as John to do what I want or speak what I want. I’m here as a pastor, doing what God has commanded me to do, and saying what He has commanded me to say.

There are some things I’m tempted to not preach or teach. I’m tempted to avoid saying things that get people upset. I’m tempted to not touch sensitive topics with a ten-foot pole. But I don’t have a choice in the matter, unless I am going to be faithless to the One who has called me to teach and preach to you.

I must preach God’s Law to you. I must tell you what God commands you to do in every aspect of your life. It is necessary, not because you can fulfil the Law of God, but so that you will recognize your failures to do what God commands and repent of your sins. It is necessary for me to preach the Law so that you realize that you need forgiveness and that you would desire to receive that forgiveness.

I must preach the Gospel to you. I must tell you that Jesus died on the cross for all your sins, so that every single sin is forgiven: big sins, little sins, public sins, secret sins. Jesus took the punishment of every single one of your sins so that you have the promise of eternal life instead of eternal punishment in hell.

I must forgive the sins of repentant sinners. I must also retain the sins of the unrepentant.

Those who are offended by a man forgiving sins are even more offended at a man retaining sins. “Who are you to judge?” they say. Once again, we have to go back to the Word of Christ Jesus Himself, who says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Withholding forgiveness is not done arbitrarily or based on the whims of the pastor. Here too, a pastor must follow the Word of Christ. It is only the impenitent sinners who have their sins retained and are not forgiven; those sinners who refuse to turn away from their sin; those who have no desire to do better.

Every sinner who is repentant is forgiven. The weak sinner who struggles with his sins is forgiven. The repentant sinner who has again fallen and thought, said, or done something which breaks God’s holy Law is forgiven.

This is where Absolution comes in. Absolution gives forgiveness to the weak and doubting heart. It strengthens faith. It is Christ’s Word spoken to you in His stead and by His command.

When you hear the words of Absolution, it may be the voice of your pastor you hear, but you are hearing the words of Jesus. Jesus instituted the office of the ministry for the benefit of His Church, so that through the ministers who faithfully proclaim His Word, Jesus Himself is speaking. When Jesus commands it to be spoken, so it is.

You can thus be confident in the Absolution you receive from your pastor. The forgiveness he speaks is not his own forgiveness, but the forgiveness of God. He is the messenger of Christ, speaking that which he has been commanded to speak; forgiving what he has been commanded to forgive.

Your faith is thus in Christ and His promises, nothing else. Christ cannot deceive or lie, so you can confidently trust His word of forgiveness which He speaks to you through the mouths of His ministers. Ministers come and go, but Christ’s promises to you are eternal. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Church: Built on Confession

Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 16:13-20

Dear absolved believers: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The jokes get Saint Peter all wrong. I’m sure you’ve heard many of them. Saint Peter stands at the pearly gates giving an entrance examination which must be answered correctly to get into heaven. There are many varieties of these jokes, but the funniest ones seem to involve lawyers, politicians, and celebrities. Saint Peter supposedly gives a last chance to outwit or outsmart him or get his question correct to get into heaven.

Of course, we don’t get our theology from jokes, but these jokes do stem from bad theology – the idea that Jesus made Peter the first pope and that the pope has the authority to decide who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. It is the misunderstanding of our text where Jesus gives the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter, as if that gives Peter the authority over who gets into heaven.

First of all, Jesus did not give the keys to the kingdom of heaven to Peter alone. Two chapters later in Matthew, Jesus tells the same things to all His disciples. He tells all of them, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you (plural) bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you (plural) loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 18:18) Also, in John 20, Jesus also speaks in the plural to the disciples, saying, “If you (plural) forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you (plural) withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (v. 23)

This did not, however, give the disciples the authority to decide who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. It did not give them the authority to decide on a whim whose sins they would forgive and whose sins they would retain. So based on what did the disciples absolve and retain sin? Based on confession.

Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” is the rock on which Christ builds His Church. Christ does not build His Church on Peter himself, but on the truth that Peter confessed.

Jesus did not give Peter the authority to decide who gets asked the hard questions and who gets asked the easy questions at the pearly gates. In fact, no one will be asking any questions at the gates of heaven. By the time you are dead, your sins have already been loosed or retained. No amount of correctly answering easy or even difficult questions will change that fact.

Christ builds His Church on the confession of who He is and what he has done. These are what the church confesses.

Christ sees the hearts of all, but we cannot see hearts. We cannot see faith. But we can hear faith being confessed. Thus, the decision of whose sins are forgiven and whose sins are retained is based on confession. This is as true today as it was in the time of Saint Peter and the other apostles.

The Church teaches the faith. Those who learn and believe the faith as taught by the Church, confess the faith. They confess, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” All Christians of all time confess the faith as outlined in the three creeds of the Church – the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.

When someone wants to join the church, since we cannot see their hearts, we simply ask them their confession. Do you believe what Scripture teaches as it is summarized in the Small Catechism? Do intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully? Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death? Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?

If they confess these things affirmatively, the church takes them at their word, and they are brought into the church. We cannot see faith, but we can hear it confessed.

In addition to what Christians confess about God, we also confess something about ourselves. We confess that we are poor, miserable sinners who deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment. We confess that we are sinful by nature and have sinned in thought, word, and deed.

Again, we cannot see hearts. The pastor cannot see the hearts of those who speak the words of Confession. He does not know if they mean what they say. However, based on the confession he hears from their mouths, He absolves them in God’s name – remember, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them” and “Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

The pastor does this, because whether or not someone believes the words they confess – that they there are sinners deserving hell, it is true. Whether or not someone believes the words of Absolution – that their sins are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, it is true. These are just as true as the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Whether or not someone believes that it is true does not change the reality of it.

Speaking the words of Absolution is nothing other than speaking the Gospel. Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. If someone does not believe it, they get no benefit of it being true, but it still remains true.

Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. This remains true even for those who do not believe it. Everyone’s every sin was paid by Jesus. If you reject His forgiveness then you do not have it and will go to hell, but His offer for forgiveness remains. His death in your place remains true.

So who then has their sins retained? Those who confess that they are not sinful. Those who confess that their sin requires no forgiveness. Those who refuse to turn away from their sin and want to stubbornly remain in sin. Those have their sins retained who do not confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Even for such people, however, there is hope. There is hope that they will still come to realize their sin and turn away from it. There is hope that they will hear God’s Law which condemns their sin so that they would fear God’s righteous punishment and repent. There is hope that they will hear the sweet words of the Gospel that Jesus has paid the price of their sins and believe.

For those who struggle to believe that some sin from their past is forgiven, private Confession and Absolution is offered. Private Confession and Absolution is offered so that the burden of sin can be unloaded on Jesus who has already carried that sin on the cross. Private Confession and Absolution is offered so that those who struggle with sin can be strengthened in their fight with sin by hearing it specifically absolved from the mouth of the pastor as from Christ Himself, since He is the one who sends His minsters saying, “He who hears you, hears me.” (Luke 10:16)

Absolution heard in private is the exact same Absolution heard in public in the Divine Service. It is not because of the length or detail of Confession that sins are absolved. The Absolution is the same, whether you spend an hour tormenting yourself to confess every detail of every sin to God that you can remember, or if you merely say as we did this morning, “Almighty God, have mercy upon us, forgive us our sins, and lead us to everlasting life.”

Absolution is the same, because Absolution is the Gospel. Absolution is the good news that because of Jesus’ death for your sins, you are forgiven. Absolution is the good news that because of Jesus’ death for you, you have eternal life. Absolution is the word of Christ Himself which forgives your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Marks of the Church: Consecrates or Calls Ministers

Sermon for Midweek Lenten Service

Dear people served by Christ through His called ministers: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The true Christian church, or God’s holy people, is recognized by the fact that she consecrates or calls ministers. Why is this a mark of the church? Because Christ instituted the office of pastor. There must be one who publicly and privately administers, gives, and exercises the Office of the Keys, Holy Baptism, and the preaching of the Word, those marks of the church that we have heard about in previous sermons, as well as the Sacrament of the Altar which we will hear about in Maundy Thursday’s sermon.

The church did not sit down in a council one day and decide that they needed to create an office or position of pastor. Rather, Christ Himself instituted the office of pastor. Ephesians 4 tells us that Christ gave not only the apostles, the prophets, and the evangelists of the past as gifts to His church, but also pastors (Eph. 4:8-11).

Why is a pastor a gift to the church? Because he equips the saints, he does the work of ministry, and he builds up the body of Christ are the reasons given in Ephesians 4 (v. 12). In other words, a pastor is a gift to the church because Christ gives His gifts through the pastor to His church.

Since the office of pastor was instituted by Christ, He is also the one who decides who can fill the position. First Corinthians 14 (vv.33-40) and First Timothy 2 (vv.11-15) exclude women from the office. First Timothy 3 excludes unsuitable men: those who are not above reproach, who are divorced, or who are not sober-minded and self-controlled; those who are not respectable, hospitable, or able to teach; those who are drunkards, violent, quarrelsome, or lovers of money; those who do not manage their household well or keep their children submissive with dignity; and finally, those who are recent converts or those not well thought of by outsiders (vv. 1-7).

While holiness of life is indeed expected of all Christians, there are special requirements for the office of the holy ministry. Christ does not want His sheep hurt or misled by the shepherds that are supposed to take care of them. Pastors who cannot teach God’s Word properly or do not set an example of good works and holy living can lead others into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Pastors are instructed to be an example to their flock in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity (I Peter 5:3; I Tim. 4:12). The church neither shall, nor can, tolerate public vices in her ministers.

Further, a pastor does not decide what to preach or what to teach. He may decide which text to preach on. He may decide which book of the Bible to study for Bible class. But God’s Word is God’s Word and that is what the pastor is to preach and teach. The pastor doesn’t decide what is right and wrong. He doesn’t decide if infants should be baptized or not. He doesn’t decide whose sins should be absolved and whose should be retained. He does not even decide who should commune and who should not commune. All these things have already been decided by God’s Word. The only question is if the pastor is going to be faithful to what God has called him to do as a steward of the mysteries of God (I Cor. 4:1), or if he is going to be faithless and serve his own belly (Rom. 16:17-18).

As it comes to preaching and teaching, Saint Paul instructs the young pastor Timothy, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (II Tim. 1:13) Scripture gives us a sound pattern of words. Don’t try to be creative. Preach the Word. Don’t try to be edgy. Preach the Word. Don’t try to entertain. Preach the Word.

Christ also instructs His ministers saying, “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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)

Christ did not say teach them to observe those things that they want to observe. He didn’t say teach them those things that are socially acceptable and tolerable; those things that people don’t find offensive. Christ did not say teach them to observe what you think they should observe. Christ’s instruction and command is for His ministers to teach people to observe all that He has commanded. There is no picking and choosing.

How can Christ command such a thing? As He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” He is the one with the authority. The church is His. The people are His. The pastors are His. Thus, what is taught by His pastors to His people in His church is up to Him, not to anyone else.

Christ gives such clear instructions for pastors to follow because He knows better than pastors. A pastor may have the temptation to let something slide or to avoid dealing with some matter because it is difficult and will cause conflict. “Maybe if I’m just friendly to them and ignore the obvious sin then I can win them over and they’ll repent.” Trust me, every faithful pastor in the history of the church has had the temptation to let things lie. Christ knows better. Christ knows better how to save than we do. Christ has given us His Word which leads to repentance and saves. A pastor’s friendliness will never save anyone, but the Gospel saves. Baptism saves. Christ saves through His means of grace.

Note Christ’s promise which He gives to His ministers and to His church, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Until the end of the age, that is, until the end of time, until the end of the world, Christ will be with His church. Christ will be in His church giving His gifts that He earned on the cross through His called and ordained servants.

Christ speaks His absolution through the mouth of the pastor. Christ baptizes in His name with the hands of the pastor. Christ gives His body and blood to eat and drink from the hands of the pastor.

Thus, it is a mark of the true Christian church that she calls pastors to faithfully preach God’s Word, exercise the Office of the Keys, and administer the sacraments. Where the church consecrates or calls pastors to faithfully give these gifts of Christ, there is the true Christian church. This must be so because Christ Himself gives His gifts through the office that He instituted to care for His people in His church.

Because Christ uses pastors to give His gifts of the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, the office of pastor is necessarily found in the Christian church. A Christian church is recognized as such because Christ calls ministers to faithfully serve His people there by giving His gifts. God’s holy people cannot be without faithful pastors and faithful pastors cannot be without God’s people because together they are the church, the holy people of God. That is how you can recognize the true Christian church. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

*Our midweek Lenten series is based on Martin Luther’s On the Councils and the Church, as found in the primer A Christian Holy People, which is available from Lutheran Press both affordably in print and free electronically (lutheranpress.com).

The Marks of the Church: The Use of the Office of the Keys

Sermon for Ash Wednesday

Dear members of the Christian church: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

How do you know that you have found a Christian church? There are all kinds of places around that call themselves Christian, and there are all kinds of places around that call themselves church. The question is that if you walk into any given church, how do you know if that place is a Christian church?

There are all kinds of reasons why people are in any given church. Perhaps your parents attended there so you grew up attending there. Maybe you married someone who is a member there. Sometimes, simply the location of the building or the worship times are what make it convenient and that is why some people attend. Sometimes, people look for a church with lots of children or youth, skilled musicians, or a charismatic preacher. None of these things, however, really tell us whether the church is a Christian church or not.

So what does? That is the topic of our midweek Lenten services this year. It is not a new question, and our seven-part sermon series is based on Martin Luther’s answer to this question. Luther identifies seven marks of the Christian church based on Scripture and points us to look for these identifiers in answering this question.

The first mark of the Christian church that we will examine is the use of the Office of the Keys. As we know from the Small Catechism, “The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.”

The Office of the Keys has two sides to it, or two keys: forgiveness for the repentant sinner and the withholding of forgiveness from the unrepentant sinner.

The need for the forgiveness of sins is perhaps the more understandable of the two. The Christian church is Christ’s holy people. How are people made holy? By the Holy Spirit giving the forgiveness of sins which Christ has purchased for us. Without the forgiveness of sins, we cannot be holy. Thus, if a church is not forgiving sins, it is not and cannot be a Christian church. Therefore, it is a sure and certain mark of the Christian church that the forgiveness of sins is there given.

Christ says to His Church, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16:19) Christ tells the ministers of His Church, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:23), and “He who hears you, hears me.” (Luke 10:16)

Christ sends ministers of His Word to speak on His behalf. The Absolution spoken by a pastor is not his own. As a man, a pastor cannot forgive sin. However, in his Office, having been called by the congregation to exercise the Office of the Keys – and thus being called by Christ Himself – his absolution is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.

If a king sends a messenger to announce to a colony that has rebelled that they are forgiven their rebellion, the pardon announced is valid not because of the messenger, but because of the king who sent the messenger. So also, the called ministers of God speak God’s message of forgiveness, and this Absolution is valid and certain because the message is from God.

We know also from the passages we heard earlier from Matthew 16 and John 20, that Christ commands that unrepentant sinners have forgiveness withheld from them. This is the second key. Jesus says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” and “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.”

We tend to view discipline in a negative light. However, we should not. Discipline is not a bad thing, but rather a good thing. After all, we believe disciplining children is good for them. Scripture tells us that when God disciplines us, He is treating us as His sons, and if we are left without discipline, we are illegitimate children and not sons. The Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives (Heb. 12:5-11). God disciplines His sons to keep them from falling away from the faith, and that is also why God calls on the church to discipline those who are wandering – so that they will return to God from their wandering ways. The Christian church is also to discipline those who have fallen away from the faith so that they would realize their fall, repent, and return to the faith.

Thus, it is a mark of the church that sin is rebuked and not tolerated. Open sinners are disciplined so that they would turn away from their sin and receive Absolution. Those who harden their hearts and refuse to turn away from sin are to have their sins bound so long as they do not repent. Nevertheless, should they at any time repent, they will never be refused forgiveness and the loosing of their sins.

Luther concludes, “Wherever you see that sin is forgiven or rebuked in many people, be it publicly or privately, know that God’s people is there. For where God’s Christian holy people is not, there the keys are not. And where the keys are not, there God’s Christian holy people is not.”

Christ has given to His church the Office of the Keys, by which the Holy Spirit makes fallen sinners holy. Those who fall into sin are to be restored again through repentance.

The Christian church thus also offers private absolution to everyone who desires to make use of it. Public Absolution in the Divine Service gives forgiveness of sins to everyone who hears it. However, for those who struggle with particular sins for which they want to receive Absolution, or for those who want to hear a personal word of comfort, private Absolution is offered to give that comfort in the forgiveness of sins.

It is important that you do not mistake struggling with sin as unrepentance. Struggling with sin is not the same as being unrepentant. Struggling with sin is a sign that the Holy Spirit is working in you. Struggling with sin shows that you do not want to do the sins that your sinful flesh craves. Struggling with sin shows that God is working repentance in your heart to turn you away from sin.

Our struggle with sin will not cease in this life. Our struggle with sin ends when we give in and let sin rule over us, in which case we have fallen away from the faith, or our struggle ends when we die from this life and God takes us to be with Him in eternity where there is no more sin, so there is not more struggle with sin.

To help us in our struggle with sin, Christ has given to His church the Office of the Keys. Unrepentant sinners are urged to struggle against sin and receive forgiveness, and repentant sinners who are struggling with their sins are absolved and given Christ’s true body and blood which strengthens them in their fight against sin and gives them the forgiveness of sin.

Where the Office of the Keys is found, there the Christian church is found because there God leads sinners to repentance and gives the forgiveness of sins. Where the Office of the Keys is used, there the Holy Spirit is working to make people holy. Where the Office of the Keys is, there you should be, because there is a Christian church. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

*Our midweek Lenten series is based on Martin Luther’s On the Councils and the Church, as found in the primer A Christian Holy People, which is available from Lutheran Press both affordably in print and free electronically (lutheranpress.com).

Peace Be With You

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter based on John 20:19-31

Dear disciples who have peace: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Peace be with you.” These are Jesus’ first words to His disciples after His resurrection. The disciples had abandoned Him. They had fled when the going got tough. One of them had denied Him verbally, but they all denied Him by their actions. They did not believe the women’s words that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thomas gets a bad rap and we call him “doubting Thomas,” but all the disciples doubted. They had all lost their faith in Jesus and were hiding behind locked doors out of fear. And Jesus showed up in their locked room and said, “Peace be with you.”

Jesus did not come to them to berate them. He didn’t come in anger and demand explanations from the disciples for their lack of faith. Jesus came to the disciples to give them peace. He came to calm the turmoil going on in their hearts. He came to them to comfort them in their fear and sorrow. He came to show Himself truly to be alive.

Jesus showed them His wounds – the wounds by which He earned them peace. He proved to them that He is bodily, physically risen from the dead. Jesus showed them His wounds by which they are healed and have peace with God.

The disciples have peace with God because Jesus faced the wrath of God for them. Jesus drank the cup of the wrath of God in their place. The anger of God was all directed at Jesus, not the disciples, so the disciples have peace.

If you are still looking at God as an angry judge, you’re still looking at Him wrong. If you expect God’s wrath to be poured out on you after you have fallen into sin, you still have the wrong picture of God in your mind. Jesus came to His disciples who had miserably failed, and He did not come to them in anger or wrath. He came with peace. “Peace be with you.”

This is not to say that God does not discipline His children. In fact, Scripture tells us the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives (Prov. 3:11-12; also cited Heb. 12:5-6). Scripture tells us that those who are left without discipline are illegitimate children and not sons (Heb. 12:8).

God’s discipline of His children is not to punish us, but is to correct us and is for our good. God’s discipline quenches our sinful desires and kills the flesh. His discipline yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness as it turns us away from our sins and gives us peace through the forgiveness of our sins (Heb. 12:11). His discipline is not the same as pouring out His anger and wrath on us even though it is painful rather than pleasant. His discipline is an act of love, just as an earthly father disciplines his child out of love for the good of his dear child. God the Father’s anger was poured out on Jesus, so we will never face the anger of God over our sin.

Jesus’ first order of business after giving the disciples peace was to send them to give that peace to others. Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Jesus sent the disciples to forgive sins, thus giving peace, because there is peace in every heart that has received the forgiveness of sins.

And do not misunderstand withholding forgiveness to be out of anger or wrath. This too is done out of love. Withholding forgiveness from someone living in sin is for the purpose of turning them away from their sin. Jesus commands forgiveness to be withheld, not because He is angry or wants to send sinners to hell, but because He wants sinners to turn from their sin and receive forgiveness. Jesus wants sinners to have peace.

The disciples understood the need for peace – they themselves had been in desperate need. They were in hiding behind locked doors out of fear right at the moment Jesus made them apostles by sending them to forgive sins. They were cowering without faith one minute, and being sent by Jesus to forgive sins the next minute.

The comfort of this is that absolving sins isn’t effective because the minister has great, strong faith. Absolving sin is effective because Jesus sends His ministers to forgive sins. Jesus tells His ministers to absolve repentant sinners and to retain the sins of the impenitent. It has nothing to do with the person of the minister himself – it is the command of Christ, that is why it is just as valid and certain even in heaven as if our dear Lord dealt with us Himself (SC V). Jesus commands it, and so it is, even if your minister just came from cowering in fear and doubt behind locked doors.

Of course the peace that Jesus gave to His apostles meant that they did not stay in hiding behind locked doors. The peace Jesus gave them meant that they were no longer in fear for their lives. In fact, the apostles went into the Temple to preach the resurrection of Jesus to exactly those Jews from whom they had been hiding.

The book of Acts (4:1-22) tells us that because Peter and John preached in Jesus the resurrection of the dead, the exact same council which had condemned Jesus for blasphemy and brought Him to Pilate for crucifixion had Peter and John arrested. Annas and Caiaphas and the council threatened them and told them to stop speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus. The apostles were thrown into jail since they refused to stop (Acts 5:17-18), but an angel of the Lord released them from prison during the night, and they went right back into the Temple to teach.In response to the threats of the council they simply responded, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)

The disciples were no longer afraid. In the face of threats and opposition, they only prayed for more boldness to keep preaching the peace of God because of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Because of the peace that Jesus had given them, they were not afraid of death. Jesus had proved to them and to all of us that He is stronger than death. He has defeated death by His resurrection. We do not have to fear death. Death is but a slumber from which Christ will awaken us.

You have peace. You have peace in spite of illness and death. You have peace in spite of the endless wars the world wages. You have peace in spite of your sin and you have peace in spite of the war waging within your heart. You even have peace in spite of receiving God’s discipline.

You have peace because Jesus was wounded for your transgressions. You have peace because Jesus rose from the dead and has promised you that you too will rise. You have peace because Jesus still sends His ministers in His stead and by His command to forgive you your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.