Sermon for Sunday, November 8th, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Job 19:23-27 ESV] 23 “Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! 24 Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! 25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, 27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!
New Testament reading:
[Act 2:36-41 ESV] 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
[Jhn 20:19-29 ESV] 19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “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.” 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.” 26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Last week we saw Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene. And she went to tell the disciples.
But you wonder if they might have been incredulous, unbelieving.
Now Jesus appears to them. And even Thomas eventually comes to say “Indeed.” “He is Risen, Indeed.”
So this is the sequel. Round two of He is Risen. Now, He is Risen INDEED. Who knows, next week we might even complete the Trilogy.
I. THE RISEN LORD
Now, in our text, we have two appearances of Christ, a week apart. The text is says the second of these appearances was 8 days later.
But, if I’m not mistaken, the Jews often used an “Inclusive” counting method.
So Jesus died on a Friday and rose on a Sunday. And you might think that is only 2 days later. But for them it is 3 days, or “on the 3rd day.” There is Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Today we wouldn’t likely include the Friday in our counting.
So we have Jesus visiting the disciples “8 days later.” But this might be 7 days as we count it. Then we can see that they already meeting with each other on a weekly basis. They are not forsaking the assembling of themselves together.
Now in each of these two resurrection appearances Jesus does just that – he appears. The Apostle John emphasizes that “the doors were locked.”
The disciples were in fear of the Jews. The Jews had killed Jesus and they were concerned that they would be next!
“The doors were locked” but Jesus appeared anyways. What does this mean? Well, it doesn’t seem to imply merely that Jesus had a key. Rather, he either walked through the walls or teleported into the room in some way. However he entered in, it is clear that it was a supernatural way.
Yes, this doesn’t mean that Jesus was only a phantom, a ghost.
He is risen in the flesh. We see that emphasized as Thomas is called to touch Christ’s wounds. And elsewhere the resurrected Jesus asks for food to eat. And spirits (presumably) do not eat physical food.
Do you remember the last time in John’s Gospel when the disciples thought Jesus was a ghost? Back in Chapter 6 when the disciples were rowing a boat on the Sea of Galilee and a storm arose and they saw Jesus walking on the water and “they were frightened.” (John 6:19)
And in the parallel account in Matthew’s Gospel they say “It is a ghost.”
But Jesus says “It is I; do not be afraid.”
We have a similar situation now in today’s passage.
Jesus appears and says “Peace.”
This isn’t some sort of hippie greeting. He’s not wishing them a groovy time. He is telling them that he brings is true peace. Do not be afraid. It is I. Jesus has returned. And he’s not a ghost.
Now in this first of the two appearances Jesus “showed them his hands and his side.”
In the second appearance it was more than just seeing because Jesus had Thomas physical touch him to verify his presence in Thomas’ mind.
Thomas had not, in fact, even been present on the first appearance. And we might say this is a good example of why you don’t miss church!
After the first appearance of Jesus to the disciples they went and told Thomas “We have seen the Lord.” Just like Mary Magdalene said after she saw Jesus. But Thomas responded “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.”
Thomas would not say “He is Risen” until he was fully persuaded of it. He didn’t want the testimony of others, he wanted to see (and touch) Jesus for himself.
For this we have in church history the term “Doubting Thomas.” The Scriptures never call him this. He is merely Thomas or “Didymus, the twin.”
It is clear that Lord heard Thomas’s doubting statement. Because when Jesus appeared the second time—and Thomas was there—he responded to Thomas’ doubts exactly.
For each of Thomas’ demands, Jesus has a response:
Thomas said “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails … I will never believe”
To this Jesus said “Put your finger here, and see my hands”
Then Thomas had also said “Unless I place my hand in his side, I will never believe.”
To this Jesus said “And put out your hand, and place it in my side”
And Jesus said, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
Then, presumably, Thomas does as Jesus said
And then Thomas says, “My Lord and my God!” That is, he believes.
It is as if he then says “Indeed, what the others said is true! He Is Risen, Indeed!”
So there has been the appearances of Jesus to Mary Magdalene, to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and now twice to the disciples in this locked room in Jerusalem. And the appearances continue in the next section of John’s Gospel as well.
How many post-resurrection appearances of Christ there were depends on how you count them and requires searching the Scriptures and comparing texts. But the most frequently sighted number is 12. There are twelve different post-resurrection appearance of Jesus Christ. This completely does away with any theory that one person (or even a group) was hallucinating. Jesus’s appearances were multiple and completely sufficient to prove that He is Risen Indeed.
II. THE TASK OF THE DISCIPLES
Now I want to look at something Jesus says in the first of the two post-resurrection appearances in our passage.
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.”
This doctrine is called the “Keys of the kingdom” because of a similar passage in Matthew:
[Mat 16:19 ESV] 19 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.”
When I was in the Lutheran Church a friend visited our service and he was more of the Reformed or Presbyterian persuasion. And something bothered him about the Lutheran service that I had never really noticed before. There in the Lutheran Church service the pastor will say “I forgive your sins.” Not merely “Your sins are forgiven in Jesus Christ” or “I declare to you the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.” But, “I forgive your sins.” This is, I now believe, based on a mistaken understanding of the idea of the Keys of the kingdom.
I’ve long been confused about what exactly is meant in these passages about the forgiving and withholding of sins. Possibly my understanding is quite satisfactory yet, but I benefitted from my former pastor’s sermon on the subject which he gave some years ago (2014) and which I listened to recently.
The forgiving of sins is not a power of the minister as the Lutheran’s contend, nor is it such as the Roman Catholics contend; with the necessity of confessing your sins to the priest and receiving absolution.
We have to look at Matthew 18 to see what the Keys is about.
This gives us context.
Matthew 18 is the go-to passage for conflict resolution. And it says this:
[Mat 18:15-18 ESV] 15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Reading this in context we see that to loose and to bind, or to forgive and withhold forgiveness is about membership in the church.
A minister cannot forgive sins, but he can declare forgiveness to all of those who are in the church. He does not declare forgiveness to those who are outside of the church. To them he proclaims the Gospel and command them to believe so that they will have forgiveness of sin and join the church.
A minster cannot absolve of a person of their sins, because, as we read in Mark’s Gospel – “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7)
Then, the grammar is important as well in these passages about the keys of the kingdom.
In John it says, again,
“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
A better understanding of this is a translation like:
“If you forgive the sins of any, they have been forgiven them; if you retain (those) of any, they have been retained.”
The church, the pastor, is merely confirming and declaring the forgiveness of sins that believers have in the Lord Jesus Christ.
So never mistake that. Only Jesus forgives sins. Yes, we forgive each other of their sins to us, but only Jesus can forgives us of our sins before God.
The authority then that Christ gives to the disciples (and to today’s pastors and elders) is the authority of receiving a person into church membership and the right of to expel a person from the Church in the process of church discipline. And in the case that what has been expelled, the pastor and elders retain the right to against restore them to fellowship with the church. This is the binding and the loosing.
Joining the visible church is the mark of forgiveness made visible on the believer. If the pastor and elders approve of your joining the church — based on your confession of faith— they “forgive sins,” but these sins are already forgiven in the Lord. The word of the pastor and elders in this regard is to accept you into the visible church.
Jesus has been sent into the world for the purpose of forgiving sinners. Not he sends his disciples to for a purpose.
He says “As the father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
We here more about this sending in the Great Commission of Matthew’s Gospel
Jesus came and said to them “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.”
When Jesus first began with his disciple he told them “you will be fishers of men.” Now that is the case. They are to go out into the world to reel in believers to the church.
While the work of forgiveness was finished on the cross, God uses his disciples as instrument to bring the Gospel to the world. They are to baptize; they are teach; and they are bring believers into membership in the church.
This commission is relevant still today despite the fact that there are no Apostles with us. All Christians—but especially elders—are to proclaim the Gospel and to teach the Word of God. Ministers are then called to baptize believers as a sign of the covenant and to proclaim forgiveness of sins and approve of members in the church all who believe and confess the Lord Jesus Christ. The keys of the kingdom are theirs.
How terrible it is that some profess to be Christians but do not join the body of Christ, His church. I must give a warning to all of those who are disconnected members. If you slice halfway through your finger or sever your arm halfway, you quickly attend to it and bandage it up so that the member can be retained with the whole of your body. So to should the Christian quickly attach or reattached himself to the church.
All of this matters. Membership in the church. Believe in Jesus Christ. Baptism. Teaching. It all matters because He is risen indeed.
And the promise of Christ is “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Blessed indeed are we who have the hope of the Gospel knowing that He is Risen Indeed. Amen.