The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, The Love of God, and The Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you All. Amen.
John 20:19 “When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20 And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples therefore rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus therefore said to them again, ‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send 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, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.’ 24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore were saying to him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’ 26 And after eight days again His disciples were inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst, and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing.” 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” 30 Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (NASB)
“Peace be with you,” “the Eighth Day,” Thomas–doubter to the dauntless confessor,” “the physical and scarred body of Jesus,” the blessedness of faith without seeing,” what the resurrection means for us and for our salvation, or that these particular things have been written so that we’d “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
There’s a lot of good preaching material in this text and I have preached on these things and others over my nearly 30 years in the pulpit. But this morning we have some unfinished business because of the particular verse I just quoted “that believing you may have life in His name.” There’s that word again–“life.” There’s also that other word in that other verse with the other things Jesus said and did in the Gospel reading. “He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.’” – “He breathed on them.” It’s reminiscent of what God did in Genesis chapter 2:7, when He brought the first man to life.
One week ago on Easter morning, the sermon was titled in the pattern of Lent and Holy Week sermon series. During Lent, we followed the blood, the tree, the water, the myrrh, the hyssop, the Seed, the curtain, and the cloud. We followed all of these thing from Ash Wednesday to the Cross of Good Friday. On Easter morning we followed the Life from the Garden of Eden to the tomb of Jesus on the Sunday after Christ’s crucifixion.
Genesis 2:7 “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” Human beings were and are the only creatures created in the image of God. They were animated by the breath (in Hebrew–ruah) of God Himself, which is understood in the Bible to be the “spirit” or “wind” of God. This is what is fundamentally different. We are the image bearers. That’s why in the language of the Church and Western civilization human beings can be murdered and murder. Other creatures can only kill and be killed. Thus the better and more accurate translation. “Thou shall not murder.”
The link between the spirit, breath, and wind of God and life abundant and life eternal shines a bit of a light on Bible passages like the one between Jesus and Nicodemus. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:6-8). This passage doesn’t mean Christians are flighty and unpredictable people. It means we are born of a different nature and the life we live is different.
The Spirit, the breath, and the wind of God are all tied up in the life the Lord God created and meant to be from the very beginning. It is God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit that creates this new life in us in the person, work, and word of Christ.
Remember the dry bones of Ezekiel 37 from last week’s Easter sermon? The Lord God took Ezekiel in a vision to a valley of dry bones. The dry bones represent all the descendants of Adam, who although alive in this world, are dead in their sins and will die unless given the new life. The dry bones represented sinful human beings who weren’t truly alive in the spiritual and eternal sense of the word. They were essentially the “walking dead.” This is an Old Testament version of Ephesians 2:5-6; “When we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
The dry bones represent the human condition apart from Christ. God commanded Ezekiel to “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God, Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life.” Here the Lord God commands Ezekiel to call upon the Holy Spirit to come into these lifeless bones and give them true life—life eternal.
Lesson one: God’s breath, Spirit, (wind) gives real spiritual life and life eternal. Lesson two. In the Garden of Eden at creation God breathes directly into the man to bring him to life. Lesson three: After the fall into sin, God sends His Word, His Spirit, His life giving breath and wind to sinful man through the Prophets, Levites, Priests, Apostles, and Pastors. They are God’s tools His Old and New Testament Word and Sacrament ministry.
We live more than 2,000 years after the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the Christ. On the Cross Jesus said, “It is finished,” gave up His spirit, and breathed His last. There they are right next to each other. Jesus gives up His spirit and breathes His last. He breathes His last and gives up His Spirit.
The Spirit is and gives life. (John 6:63) Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”
The words I have spoke are spirit and life. God’s breath and our new and eternal life are connected to the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God works in the words of God. “the words that I have spoken [Jesus said] to you are spirit and are life.”
Revelation 1:17 “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” The Keys belong to Christ, yet He has given them to His church on earth to be used according to His instruction and command.
It is this same Word and Spirit that comes to us today in, with, and under the unassuming means of the spoken and written Word, water, and bread and wine. These are the jurisdiction of the priestly and prophetic office and the public office of ministry is filled by unassuming and sinful men who need what it is they distribute to others: God’s grace, forgiveness, and life.
It is strange to think about. It even seems contradictory. Jesus Himself said, “Blessed are those who believe and yet have not seen,” yet He still comes to us in very real and tangible forms; things we can see, hear, touch, taste, and feel.
This is the Office of the Keys. Jesus promised the disciples in Matthew 16:19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” It is here in John 20 that Jesus fulfilled that promise. He gave to His Church in the pastoral office, the Office of the Keys.
It is here that God breathed into His Church and into Christians, the Life of Christ. “Jesus therefore said to them again, ‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.’”
From Genesis one and two to this very moment, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is breathing life into sinners, life eternal, and the very image of God Himself in Christ: the image of holiness, righteousness, and innocence.
The very breath of Almighty God gives eternal life to all those who were dead in their sin. It is through the means of grace and the Office of the Keys that God forgives sins and gives life eternal.
It is in the Word and Sacraments administered by an undershepherd of Christ, who administer the Word and Sacrament according to His instructions that sins are forgiven and retained.
Here is that almighty Word and Breath at work in our very midst! Here is that life-giving Word and Breath at work, right where He promises to be, doing exactly what He has always done—giving His gift of life to dried up bones and walking corpses of sin; giving His hope and comfort and assurance to all those struggling in the blindness and despair of doubt and unbelief.
What is the Office of the Keys? The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His Church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.
Where is this written? This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”
What do you believe according to these words? I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.
The preaching and teaching of the Word. The waters of Holy Baptism. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The Pastoral Office. These are the places wherein God breathes His gift of spiritual and eternal life into the walking corpses of the children of Adam. “Peace be with you.” A called minister of Christ has dealt with you according to Christ’s commands so your sins have been forgiven.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen