Sunday, April 27, 2014

Blessed Are You

Sermon on John 20:19-31
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
April 27, 2014 (The Second Sunday of Easter)

Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.  At first glance, this last line from Thomas’ conversation with Jesus sounds merely like some sort of final “zinger” Jesus tosses into Thomas’ path at the end of the conversation.  If Jesus weren’t the perfect Second Person of the Holy Trinity, without sin and without petty selfish motivations, that’s all a statement like this probably would be.  But what Jesus is saying is not a “zinger” directed at Thomas, it’s a statement of fact.  Because what Jesus had instituted a week ago, which now also included Thomas, was the mechanism by which thousands would believe without having seen.

You see, what Jesus instituted on that first evening after His Resurrection was the Office of the Holy Ministry.  He had ordained the ten who were there into the office of forgiving and, when necessary, retaining sins.  He had breathed the Holy Spirit into them and told them that whosoever sins they forgave were forgiven, and whosoever sins they retained, were retained.  Now, at first glance that sort of an arrangement sounds like it’s ripe to being abused.  And, in fact the history of the Christian Church includes many instances of so-called pastors trying to use the Office of the Keys for purposes other than the reason it was instituted.  The Roman Papacy is one extremely notable example of this, but many others have tried to exercise a rule over their followers that is other than what our Lord gave the apostles here.  The thing of it is, what Jesus says is only true if the men in the Office of the Ministry really are acting within their office, and that is, forgiving the sins of those who are repentant, and retaining the sins of those who do not repent.  Those who do something else aren’t really acting within Jesus’ institution of the Office, and so what Jesus says here, namely that the sins forgiven and retained really are forgiven and retained in heaven itself, isn’t true of what men may do when they step outside the Office.  A false pastor may retain sins that aren’t really sins, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men, and he may forgive things that should not be forgiven, using the Gospel as an excuse to condone sin rather than a message of forgiveness and restoration for those who really do know the horror of their own sinfulness.  False pastors like this do not truly forgive and retain sins, and so that’s why what Jesus says here isn’t a recipe for spiritual tyranny, despite what many have tried to do.  That’s also why Christians have the right and duty to hold their pastors accountable to the Word of God.  Just because the sins forgiven and retained rightly really are forgiven or retained in heaven, doesn’t mean pastors aren’t human and can’t make mistakes.

But what all of this does mean is that Jesus is giving His Church a gift.  He will continue to speak the Word of forgiveness to His Christians, and they will still be able to hear His words, spoken in the grammatical first person to the grammatical second person, as in “I forgive you.”  He is giving His church representatives, ambassadors if you will, whose words really are a declaration of what He is really doing for His people.  Down through the centuries God’s people have heard that their own sins, their own failures to even begin to live up to what God originally created them to be and to do, have been forgiven and that their imperfection is swallowed up in perfection.  Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.  That’s most Christians down through the centuries.  That’s also you.  Blessed are you.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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