Second Sunday of Easter (Quasimodo Geniti)

Readings: Ezekiel 37:1–14 | 1 John 5:4–10 | John 20:19-31

Text: John 20:19-31

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Everything in the Bible from cover to cover hinges on Jesus Christ.  Without knowing His birth, His life, His suffering, His death, and His resurrection, the Bible never quite adds up.  From the creation and promised redemption of the first man and woman, to the countless multitude who forever stands around the throne of God, everything depends on what God has done for His human creatures in Christ.

Because of this, what God tells us in the Bible is positively the most important thing for all people to know.  Everyone is a descendent of Adam and Eve, and all are corrupted by the same sin.  And just as all became sinners through Adam, Jesus Christ is the Savior of all [Romans 5:12-14].  When the Father sent His Son into the world, it was not to help just a select group of people; He has loved every person He has made.  Therefore, the blood of Jesus was shed for every single person.

When Jesus rises on that “first day of the week,” this is the message He announces.  Every one of His disciples who saw Him preach and teach, suffer and die, He encounters with the outcome of His suffering and death: Peace.  “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15)and that is exactly what He sets out to do with the marks in His hands and feet, and the spear mark in His side.  He goes out proclaiming to the sons of Adam that the gate to paradise has been flung open for them!  The seal of the grave has been burst!  He has conquered sin and death!  For everyone who believes in Him, sin and death are powerless, empty forms of their former tyranny.

This is the glorious news proclaimed in verse 23: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”  To every sinner who feels their guilt and the weight of God’s anger against their sin, Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.”  But to everyone who thinks himself better than lost and condemned person, who answers back to God, You fool, you don’t know what you’re saying!, this person has no forgiveness and no peace with God.  They remain in their sins and the wrath of God burns against them, because they have despised the very One who freely takes their sin away.  Yet, even if that is the case, it is still in God’s heart that such a person turn from their hard heartedness and live!

Jesus lives to breathe life back into to sinners.  When God first made mankind, Genesis 2 tells us, “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”3  God’s breath (which is His Spirit[1]), gave that dust a soul and made him a living being.  This is why we confess in the Creed that the Holy Spirit to be “the Lord and Giver of Life.”

But when these souls, Adam and Eve, turned away from God, they asphyxiated themselves from the life He had given them.  Their first reaction was to cover their shame with their own work of fig leaves and hide from God among trees.  Flash forward to the Upper Room on Easter evening. “The doors [were] locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews.”  They were afraid, so they hid themselves—not just from Jesus enemies, but from God Himself because they all had all betrayed Him by what they had done and left undone.  And there’s Thomas too, who made his ultimatum that he would only believe in a Savior he himself could see and touch.

It’s the same thing that we are quick to do when we know we’ve done wrong.  We hide ourselves away from God, even though we probably wouldn’t call it that.  We lock ourselves away behind the diversions of life like our job, or shopping, or countless things we take pleasure in that keep us from having to look at it.  But in our guilt-ridden state, we also—like Thomas—refuse to believe the messengers the Lord sends to bring peace.

This is the double tragedy of our sin.  First, that when we know we’ve sinned, we hide ourselves and try to cover up our mess.  We use our God-given reason and ability to either patch up or ignore our guilt before God.  Second, by trying to deal with our sins ourselves, we show how broken our trust in God is.

But God would not have us stay in this tragic state.  The risen Christ passed through the stone that blocked the entrance of the tomb.  Despite the locked doors, He appeared in the midst of His frightened disciples.  Perhaps even more amazing is when the walls of the hard human heart are penetrated by Him.  Yet, He does not force anyone to believe.

The eleven disciples, less Thomas, stood locked away in the Upper Room.  They would hear no strange message from the women.  They were perplexed at what they had seen at His tomb.  They were each ashamed of their part in His death, and they were afraid they would suffer the same as their Lord.  Into the prison of sin they had locked themselves in, Jesus enters.  He stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Through locked doors and numb hearts, the Lord brought them what they needed most.  They needed exactly what He had gained for them by His death and resurrection.  He gave them the only thing which could truly deal with their sins—the peace of God.

This is the same way He comes to us, when we are guilt-ridden, doubting, and hopeless.  Our reaction to our sin and the evil around us is to shut out everything but our own voice and that of the devil:  You’ve failed!  You deserve to be punished!  How could you even think of being in heaven?  Heaven is for good people.  But into that spiritual nightmare, Jesus enters.  He stands in your midst—even here today.  He brings you exactly what you need to answer those pangs of guilt and silence their voice.  He gives you the fruits of His passion and resurrection.  He gives you forgiveness for all of your sins and He raises you from death to live with Him.  And He does this by speaking.

In the beginning, the Holy Spirit breathed life into Adam so He became a living being.  But since we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, we need to be breathed into again.  In the Old Testament lesson, Ezekiel saw the valley of dry bones, and how the breath of the Lord made the slain ones live.  The risen Lord Jesus brings that vision to reality when He says: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”  The Holy Spirit breathes new life into the dying, burdened souls of Jesus’ disciples through the Word of forgiveness.

St. Paul wrote those memorable words, “the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Rom. 1:16)  And it’s true.  God places the life-restoring Word of Jesus’ death and resurrection on human lips.  As it reaches human ears, it comes with the power of the Giver of Life, the Holy Spirit. 

And this is how it is for you as well.  Jesus places His Word of forgiveness on human lips.  But, in that Word, the Holy Spirit is breathed anew into you.  It is truly a new genesis [Titus 3:5] as the breath of God takes away your guilt and puts it on the cross of Jesus. 

It is God’s will for the whole of humanity to be breathed into anew with the Gospel of Jesus full atonement for sins and His resurrection victory over the grave.  In sinful rebellion, many will harden their hearts against the Spirit and choose to deal with sin by their own devices.  But God grant you here today ears that hear, and hearts that believe, because Jesus is your life today and forever.

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

[1] Hebrew Ruach means both wind and spirit; Greek pneuma carries the same double-meaning (John 3:8)

Second Sunday of Easter (John 20:19-31)

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Right now we’re all too familiar with barriers.  If you make it to Costco, they have Plexiglass shields between you and the checker.  We’re can all play bank robber and put a mask on and ask the teller to give us money (as long as it’s ours, of course).

There are all kinds of barriers too—gloves so germs can’t get on us, 6 foot circles so we don’t share air, the glass of storm doors to keep us safe from the potential for spreading disease.

After Jesus’ resurrection, there were barriers too.  Last week on Easter, there was the barrier of the stone—“Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:3), but God overcame that with the might of His angel.  In today’s Gospel, the disciples are behind locked doors so that the they would be safe from fear of the Jews who murdered Jesus.  But this barrier also served to keep out further news of Jesus, whose tomb was empty (John 20:1-10).

Yet, this barrier was overcome by the Risen Lord Himself—“Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”  Most theologians agree that the Lord Jesus didn’t need the door opened to get in, any more than He needed the stone rolled away to leave the tomb.  But more important than the mechanics is that Jesus came to them in spite of the barrier.

Having overcome this barrier, Jesus ran into another one, not of doors, but also manmade:

24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

The Lord had appeared to the ten Apostles, and they reported this amazing news to Thomas, but Thomas chose to believe in the barriers of sight and time, which removed him personally from the night of Easter.  He pragmatically put his own reason over the testimony of the other witnesses—a very human (and very common) barrier to faith.

Before we move on, we have to talk about another barrier, not physical, but spiritual.  It’s the barrier between us and God that is the result of our sin.  This barrier came from both our natural birth into sin (Ps. 51:5, Rom. 7:14-15) and from the sins of our own making.  Yet it is the Lord’s will to overcome that barrier, too.  So, He gives to the Apostles this power to overcome the divide: “’Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’” 

We see eight days later that Jesus appears again, overcoming the physical barrier.  Right away, He shows His love for Thomas and the others, greeting them with “Peace be with you.”  Then, in divine forbearance, He condescends to Thomas’ weakness: “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” It’s these human barriers which threaten to destroy our fellowship with God.  Yet, they can’t be overcome by any power on earth.  Just as Israel’s armies didn’t lay a hand on the walls of Jericho, but rather it was at God’s command that they fell flat (Josh. 6:1-20), no amount of cajoling, arguing, or browbeating can take down these walls within us.  It is God’s purpose to overcoming them, and—as with all things—He does this by His almighty, creating Word.

Notice the parallels between this scene in the Upper Room and the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:5-9).  God is coming into man’s midst.  In the beginning, lifeless clay must become a living being, so God breathes into his nostrils.  Here, redemption from sin and death has come, and now God breathes anew with His Spirit.  Now man becomes not just a being who lives just span of time, but lives eternally.  This is God’s work to restore what was rent asunder, to break through those barriers.

That Jesus is able to overcome physical barriers is a comfort to us right now, because we are all locked behind closed doors, whether we want to be or not.  The Church is broken up into family units, yet the Lord is still able to come and be in our midst.  This is by no means the norm for the Church to be physically scattered, but neither is it too hard for our Lord to keep His promise that He is with us always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).

With that word of peace, our Lord also overcomes the spiritual barriers—the sins which separate us from God, and which alienate us from one another.  We’ve erected barriers by knowing what we ought not to do, and doing it anyway.  We’ve divided from one another by the things which we’ve said and done that make it so we can’t look each other in the eye.  The Lord Jesus has overcome it all by speaking the Spirit-filled Word of forgiveness. “Peace be with you” and He shows us His hands and His side.

We know that this word of peace was given to the Apostles that night to speak—”as the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you”—but that word is given to every Christian to speak to one another.  The peace of Easter doesn’t just stop when we receive it, but as Jesus was sent to us, as the called servants of Christ pass that peace to you, you also pass that peace to those who have sinned against God and perhaps you personally.

These are the barriers which the Lord overcomes, and He does it by His Word.  The Bible truly has everything which God needs us to know.  Not only is it a vast trove of wisdom about the Lord and humanity, but what God has inspired to be written, He has done so to overcome all barriers in you—“that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that by believing, you may have life in His Name.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

Second Sunday of Easter (John 20:19-31)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Second Sunday of Easter + April 28, 2019

Text: John 20:19-31

“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you,” Jesus tells His disciples on the evening of the first Easter.  He wants His ministry to continue, for the Gospel to be preached to every town throughout the world.  And history has shown this calling to be true.  The Lord has preached, and continues to preach in every corner of the world.

The rub in that is that he sends men to do this—with all their flaws, their backgrounds, their quirks, their fears, their sins.  But as is true anywhere there are people, it gets complicated.   The apostles were behind locked doors for fear of the Jews, they were still behind locked doors a week later.  They were uncertain, small in faith, weak in resolve, small in vision of what the Lord was asking of them.

Take Thomas for instance.  In perpetuity, he has been dubbed, Doubting Thomas.  The court of public opinion and years of pastors’ ink has been spilled either defending or defaming this man.

But like any of the other apostles, Thomas was a man.  He had praiseworthy moments, like in chapter 11:16 at the death of Lazarus, it says, “So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’”  If only that were a constant or regular state for his faith and conviction.

No, today, we see Thomas at one of his low points, putting a rash condition on the Resurrected Lord—“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”  But then there’s another high point when Thomas returns to his faith and confesses, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus instituted His Church.  He founded it on the rock with the promise that not even the gates of hell can prevail against her (Matthew 16:16).  And in that church, He instituted the Office of the Ministry.  He did this because it’s all well and good that there were eyewitnesses to the resurrection, and that’s great for the first generation.  But the Lord’s will is that “Repentance and forgiveness of sins be proclaimed in His Name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47) and He will not return until “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)

That word is carried on through this Office of the Ministry, populated by men who are officeholders.  They aren’t the power or the authority, and more than a police officer or a soldier has the right to become a vigilante and take justice into his own hands.  He acts in the stead of the state.  So also, the pastor in the office doesn’t have authority in himself to forgive or retain sins; it is Christ who is the power behind the words the pastor speaks.  That’s also why, in the liturgy, the pastor says, “The Lord be with you”—because He is sent to speak the Lord’s Word to you.  The congregation then replies, “And with your spirit” or “And also with you.”  Both are an acknowledgement that it is the Lord who sent this man, and the congregation is also asking that the pastor be kept faithful and strong to carry out that divine Office.

Scripture speaks many different ways about these servants (literally slaves) of the Lord: house managers who give the proper portion (Luke 12:41-48), shepherds (John 21:15 ff.), stewards of the mysteries (1 Cor. 4:1-5).  But their sufficiency for that office is not a matter of charisma, or managerial acumen, or what family they come from.  As St. Paul, the man who had a history of persecuting the Church wrote, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:5-6)

And Jesus says the same thing multiple times: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I sent receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” (John 13:20) and in a warning tone, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16)  It is the will of the Lord for His congregation, gathered around Him, to hear His Word through these men, even though they are weak and fallible.

At this point, you might be saying, Pastor, you’re just tooting your own horn.  If I am, it’s meaningless because I am no more than an officeholder.  Although I might want accolades for my labors, the glory really belongs to God alone.  There have been pastors before me who have tended the flock here, and—God willing—there will be pastors in years to come.  The point is that Jesus called even Thomas, even Peter, even James and John the sons of Zebedee, even Saul (Paul), even Martin Luther, even Pastors Caruana, Barkley, Rehley, and Rummerfield, and Miller.  All of them men, all of them sinners.  But it was the will of the Lord to make their feet beautiful with the good news of salvation.  It is out of love for you that Jesus continues to send these men to tend you.

Jesus says to the Eleven: “Peace be with you” on both occasions that He comes to them.  He declares this because, as men, they need the peace of the Lord just as much as the people they will proclaim to.  Even as Thomas was sent with this good news, he needed it himself.  All pastors need to receive forgiveness from the people they serve.

And you and I are blessed through this Office of the Ministry, because “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:14-15)

So what does the Lord do with these men and His Church?  He makes their feet beautiful with the good news of His Kingdom.  He blesses us still with His good news: Peace be with you.  The Word Jesus speaks is always aimed at forgiveness, but sometimes needing to preach a firm word of repentance.  In those times, where the servant is sent to preach rebuke or correction, that’s when it gets complicated again.  We can’t just accept the pastor as God’s called servant when he tells us what we want to hear.  He is God’s servant for our spiritual and eternal good, whether it’s a word of Law that He speaks or it’s the glad tidings of peace with God.

So, on this Second Sunday of Easter, we rejoice that we still hear the voice of Jesus.  Yes, it’s complicated because we don’t see him in just one place and with our own eyes.  But blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.  We will see, but for now, the order of the day for now is hearing.  As St. Paul continues about those who are sent with good news: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)  Blessed are you who hear those who faithfully serve you in the Office of the Ministry.  Amen.

Second Sunday in Easter (John 20:19-31)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Second Sunday in Easter + April 23, 2017
Text: John 20:19-31

This sermon was written by Pastor David Juhl and adapted by Pastor Michael Miller.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
The first word the disciples hear from the mouth of their resurrected Savior is His Easter greeting: Peace be with you. Jesus’ greeting encompasses the whole result of His Easter message: PEACE. On the evening of the day of resurrection, the disciples were together. Their hearts were still full of sadness and guilt. They had heard snippets of the Easter news from the women at the tomb, Peter and John, and even two disciples who saw Him as they travelled to Emmaus.[1] Nevertheless, they still did not believe that their Lord was risen. Fear of the Jews overwhelmed their hearts, driving them to hide behind locked doors. Above all a bad conscience remained because they had forsaken their Lord and denied Him.
Then suddenly the Lord is in their midst. His greeting to them is this: Peace be with you. He also shows them His hands and side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Fear dissolved and peace moved into their hearts. Peace came to them not due to the mere appearance of the Lord, but because Jesus came to them with such a friendly greeting.
The disciples have reason to rejoice after their sorrows. Christ’s greeting to them is precious. This was no ordinary “How ya doin’?” Christ’s words to them are spirit and life. He imparts peace to His disciples with these words: peace with God and forgiveness of sins.
This is what we are doing when we greet one another in the peace of the Lord before the service.  It’s not just your ordinary casual exchange, an extra to say good morning.  It’s an Easter greeting that we have received from God and are sharing with our brothers and sisters.  Jesus’ resurrection means your sins are forgiven and you have a gracious God, and you are able to share that with one another—even those who have wronged you or whom you have wronged.
The fruit of the resurrection is peace with God. When Jesus shows His hands and side, He reminds them of His suffering and death. There is forgiveness of sins in these wounds. There is also satisfaction of God’s wrath over sin and reconciliation between God and mankind.
The resurrection of Christ is a seal that the work of our redemption is accomplished. In a manner of speaking, it is God’s Amen to His Son saying, “It is finished!”[2] We are reconciled to God because of Jesus. We have peace with God because of Jesus. This is why our Lord’s Easter greeting is so precious. He pledges peace with God. In this peace is forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Is this greeting really for us to hear and believe? We know it is for the disciples, because they saw Him in the flesh, felt His hands and side, and heard Him say, peace be with you. The Lord no longer dwells among us in as He did then. It is not possible for Him to walk into our midst and greet us as He did then.
The first one to ask this question was Thomas.  Now, Thomas put himself in a precarious position—willfully staying away from the other disciples that Easter evening, refusing to believe the multiple reports of the resurrection he’d heard, then demanding that Jesus meet his standard of proof before he would believe.  By being in unbelief, Thomas actually jeopardized receiving that peace which Jesus had won by those wounds.  Let this be a warning for our faith.
Yet, the Lord Jesus brought good out of Thomas not being there that night, because we weren’t either.  Think of us, so many centuries later.  We have even more rational reasons to disbelieve than Thomas.  Can we trust that “peace be with you” was spoken to us too?  Hear the words of Jesus, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  That’s you and me!  We might blame our doubts on not having seen Jesus, but Jesus assures us that’s not a problem.  He sends His peace to you even today.
Although Jesus is no longer visible to us, we hear His Word. In the precious greeting to His disciples that Easter evening, Jesus institutes the pastoral office—the preaching office to announce this Easter peace from heaven to you. He sends His disciples as the Father has sent Him. Hear those comforting words to His disciples: Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” What pastors preach is as certain as if the Lord Himself spoke it. What heavenly comfort this office brings to us even when our guilt threatens to crush us and we can’t see any way path to peace.  In the midst of the locked door of our heart, Jesus’ Word shines through and says even to us: Peace be with you.   Let it be to you as you have believed.  Amen.
[1] John 20:1-18, Luke 24:13-34
[2] John 19:30