You Can't Have the Joy of Easter without the Peace of Forgiveness

Easter 2 + April 5 & 8, 2018 + Pr. Dale Reckzin                                                             Download PDF

Text: John 20:19-31

Hymn: O Sons and Daughters of the King (CW, 165)

Congratulations!  You have just won an all-expense paid trip to Hawaii.  Your trip includes a first-class ticket to Honolulu.  Once you land, a limousine will pick you up and take you to a gourmet restaurant.  After this fabulous dinner, you will be whisked away to your private suite.  You will receive a relaxing massage. Then our courteous staff will settle you snugly into your own recliner.  Our licensed doctors will then administer the drugs that will make you feel euphoric, then sleepy.  And once you are asleep, the drugs will shut down your internal organs one by one.  You will die peacefully.

To a trip like that, you would say, “Thanks but no thanks.  Sure, a first-class trip to Hawaii would be great.  But I don’t want to go there to be executed!”

Well, that’s what the resurrection of our bodies would be like if we did not have the forgiveness of sins that comes by faith in Jesus.  Yes, the resurrection of our bodies is more amazing than a free trip to Hawaii.  Think about it.  Our bodies that die come back to life.  What an amazing event! 

But the resurrection of the body will happen to everybody on Judgment Day—believers and unbelievers.  Jesus says in John, chapter five: "a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned." (John 5:28-29)  On Judgment Day every dead person will rise from the dead.  But those who did not have faith and forgiveness—these resurrected sinners will be judged and sent to hell. 

So the real joy of Easter is not just the resurrection of your body from the dead.  It is chiefly the resurrection to eternal life in heaven. This resurrection is only possible through the forgiveness of sins.  So you can't have the joy of Easter without the peace of forgiveness.

Now, on that first Easter evening the disciples should have been filled with joy and peace.  They had heard good news: Jesus was alive!  But instead of joy and peace they had sadness and fear.  Our text says, "On the evening of that first day of the week…the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews." (v 19) The disciples were afraid.  They were thinking, The Jews killed Jesus. Now, we are next.

Well, Jesus scattered their fear and sadness.  "Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!"  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord." (v  19-20)  

 Jesus replaced their fear with joy.  The same Jesus who died on the cross was now alive and standing among them.  Christ’s presence among them gave them peace.  But the peace just didn’t come from seeing an old friend.  The peace wasn’t just the defeat of the nasty, spiteful Jewish leaders.  No, the peace that Jesus gave was the peace between sinners and a holy God.  The peace that Jesus gave was the forgiveness of sins. 

Our text continues.   "Again Jesus said, 'Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."  And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.'" (v 21-23) 

Forgiveness of sins—that’s the real source of peace.  Christ earned that forgiveness by his death on the cross.  Christ sealed that forgiveness by his resurrection from the dead.  Christ dispenses that forgiveness when the Holy Spirit proclaims the name of Christ through his apostles and all other ministers of the gospel.

That’s why we have the joy of Easter.  Jesus gives us the peace of forgiveness. So, when Jesus brings your body out of the grave on Judgment Day, he won’t condemn you.  Instead, he will say to you, “Rejoice and be glad!  Your heavenly Father will not charge you with breaking any of his commandments.  You are perfect in his sight because I have taken away every single one of your sins.   So, you have perfect peace and joy forever in heaven.”

But we are not in heaven yet.  We still live in this sinful world.  So, we still struggle with sadness and fear.  We still act like the disciples in that locked room.  We still think, Yes, the Bible says Jesus rose from the dead.  But I haven’t seen him with my own eyes.  How do I know for sure that Jesus really came back to life?  How can I be sure that I will rise from the dead?  How can I be sure my sins are really forgiven?  How can I be sure heaven is real and I will go there for eternity?

Well, when we have those doubts, we need Christ to come to us the way he came to his disciples.  We need to see the living Christ among us.

Now, you may say, “It would be great to see the living Christ.  But that’s not how it works.  Jesus is not here with us like he was with the disciples.”  But to that objection Jesus says, "'As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.'  And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.'” (v 21-23)

 Jesus is indeed with us just as he was with is disciples.  Jesus comes to us through the ministry of the gospel. Jesus is with us whenever a called and ordained pastor forgives your sins, preaches the gospel, baptizes you, or gives you Holy Communion. 

Now pastors, and all other ministers of the gospel, are ordinary sinners like you.  But called and ordained pastors possess something. It’s more than just a theological training, their skills, their compassion, or their charming personalities. Called and ordained minister of the gospel possess the right to represent Christ, essentially, to be Christ among you. Remember, Jesus said to his disciples, "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." (v 21)

Jesus Christ is one with his heavenly Father. Jesus is God in the flesh. When you saw Jesus, you saw God.  Likewise, when you see and hear your pastor proclaiming the forgiveness of sins, you are seeing and hearing Jesus proclaim the forgiveness of sins.  Martin Luther puts it this way in the catechism:  "I believe that, when this is done, it is as valid and certain in heaven also, as if Christ, our dear Lord, dealt with us himself."

 So, when you hear your pastor proclaim the forgiveness of your sins, hear Jesus Christ talking.  And when your pastor gives you Holy Communion, see Christ.  Receive Christ.  Believe Christ.   Yes, Jesus is with us here and now just as much as he was with his frightened disciples on that first Easter evening.

And with Christ with us through Word and sacrament, he gives you what he gave to those first disciples.  Christ gives you himself. Christ gives you peace.  Christ gives you forgiveness.  Christ gives you the resurrection to eternal life, not the resurrection of your body for their eternal execution in hell.  So, you do have the joy of Easter. You do have the peace of forgiveness.  You have every blessing you need for time and eternity because, by faith, you have Jesus Christ.