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It had been anything but a peaceful day. It had been a mind boggling, mentally tiring day. Report after report kept coming to the disciples that the tomb was empty; that Jesus had appeared to a number of women, and to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Peter and John raced to the tomb and saw that the reports were true. It was empty except for the grave clothes. But Jesus didn’t appear to them there. Physically and mentally exhausted, ten of the disciples gathered Easter evening in an upper room in Jerusalem, a place they thought was safe, but whose doors they had locked just in case.
They were not at peace. Whether or not Jesus was alive, they were filled with guilt. If he really was alive, how could the face him? If were not alive, how could they ever be forgiven? They had all run away when Jesus was arrested. Peter especially was filled with guilt because he had done what he confidently claimed he would never do. He had denied even knowing Jesus to save himself. He had not been willing to die, or even suffer with Jesus, as he claimed. These disciples needed to be at peace.
When Jesus appeared Easter that Sunday evening and then again a week later when Thomas was present he greeted them by saying, peace be with you.
He gave them the peace they needed by giving them absolute proof that he was alive. They could see him. He invited them to touch him, even put their fingers into his wounds if that’s what they needed to do. He even ate food in their presence. He wanted them to have absolutely no doubt that he had risen bodily from the grave because they were going to be witness of his resurrection. He wanted them to be certain that he had risen bodily from the grave so that they would have the courage to face persecution and death because they would know that they too would one day rise bodily from the grave.
As we hear about more and more bombings of churches and persecution of Christians throughout the world, we need to hear Jesus saying to us peace be with you. We need to hear his promise that wherever two or three gather in his name he is with us, not visibly as he was on Easter evening, but present none the less. We need the reminder that Jesus did rise bodily from the grave; that because he lives we too will live. Because he lives we can face any trouble or persecution that may come our way because what can man do to us? All they can do is kill the body which is destined for death anyway. But Jesus will raise our bodies and make them like his glorious body. As we think about bombings and persecutions the fact that Jesus appeared to his disciples in the upper room, not once, but twice, gives us peace.
When Jesus appeared Easter Sunday evening the disciples might have expected that he would be angry, that he would bring on them a just punishment for their sins of denial, lack of trust and doubt. As soon as they saw him in his glorified body they must have felt like Isaiah who cried out, Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips. The guilt of their sins must have terrified them. But Jesus said, peace be with you. “Your sins need not alarm you. You are forgiven. I paid the penalty for all your sins by my suffering and death on the cross. I was delivered over to death for your sins and raised to life for your justification. Because of all I have done in your place God has declared you not guilty.”
We need to hear Jesus say this to us. As we examine ourselves before we take Communion, and hopefully every day, we are filled with fear. We realize that when we see Jesus in his glorified body he should bring a just punishment on us for those sins we see. But, in the absolution, and in the Scripture readings, and in the songs of the liturgy, and in the Supper, we hear Jesus say to us, peace be with you. “Whatever sins you have discovered in your examination, whatever it is that you are beating yourself up for thinking ‘how could I have done such a thing,’ as Peter must have done- whatever it is, it is forgiven. I suffered the punishment you fear so that you don’t have to.” Peace be with you.
Then, when had had given them peace, by removing their fears and doubts and showing that he had not come to punish them for their sins were forgiven, he gave them a mission. As the Father had sent him, he was sending them. They would not be alone in their mission. He breathed on them and said, receive the Holy Spirit. As he had promised them, the Spirit would be with them wherever they would go and remind them of all that he had said and taught. Now that they were at peace their job was to share that peace with others. They would do this by using what we call the ministry of the keys. They would be able to speak on his behalf. And Whenever you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven. Whenever you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.
When someone is troubled by their sins they need the peace that only forgiveness can give. The world can’t help them. The world doesn’t have the power to forgive sins, nor do they think it’s a helpful thing. But you have that power, not because of who you are, but because of the words of Jesus. You can give a troubled sinner the peace they need, the peace that the world can never and will never give them. You can tell them that Jesus has paid for the sins that are troubling them. Yes they deserve the punishment they fear and worse, but Jesus took their punishment on himself. They have peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Failing to share the peace of sins forgiven in Jesus with a troubled sinner can have terrible consequences. Think of Judas. He came as a troubled sinner to the religious leaders of his day. He confessed that he had betrayed innocent blood. He tried to return the money they had given him to betray Jesus. But instead of giving him the peace of forgiveness, they told him that his sin was his own responsibility. That was a burden he couldn’t bear and he ended up committing suicide.
What a powerful tool Jesus gave to us, his disciples, when he gave us the authority and right to tell people that the sins that trouble them, all their sins, are forgiven by Jesus!
I saw the movie, “Unplanned” the other night. It was well done and made very clear what abortion is, what it does, and how it affects those who have one and often all around them. It did a good job of depicting how to show love to those who are considering an abortion, or who have had abortions. But I do have one complaint about the movie. When Abby finally realizes what she has done and is overwhelmed with guilt for being involved in taking the lives of thousands of babies including two of her own, the comfort she is given is very weak. It is stated conditionally. It makes no mention of how her sins are forgiven, no mention of Jesus. What an opportunity was missed by those who wrote and produced the movie! Yes, God is mentioned, and prayer is highlighted, but how wonderful it would have been if, when she is mourning over her sins, they would have had someone tell her, “God has forgiven you because Jesus has paid for all your sins by his life and death in your place.”
Sometimes people have a false peace. They think that their sins don’t matter, or they aren’t serious enough to deserve God’s punishment because there are lots of people doing worse things. They might think that since society doesn’t consider something bad or sinful it must not be sinful in God’s eyes. Their false peace needs to be disrupted before they can experience true peace. That’s why Jesus says, whenever you do not forgive someone, they are not forgiven.
The purpose of telling someone that their sins remain on them is to disrupt their false peace. They need to see that, although they may feel at peace, they are not at peace with God. The hope is that they will realize the seriousness of their sins so that you can have the opportunity to give them real peace in the forgiveness Jesus won for them.
Like the disciples, there are times when we have lacked peace. There are times when we have doubted and when we have been burdened by the guilty of our sin. By God’s grace, when we faced those times we were reminded by a fellow Christian, or through the Absolution, or through the Supper, that our sins have been forgiven because of Jesus. The punishment we deserve has been taken off of us and given to Jesus. By God’s grace we know the peace that the world can’t give, the peace that passes all understanding. Now, as Paul says, we can comfort others with the comfort that we have received from God. What a privilege to be able to say to a troubled sinner “peace be with you, your sins are all forgiven in Jesus!”