The Gospel reading for today (John 20:19-28) begins on the evening of Christ’s resurrection, on Easter Sunday. In it, we find the disciples afraid and huddled behind a locked door. It makes since, because it was the first day after the Sabbath, so if the Jewish authorities were going to come after them, like they had come after their leader Jesus, then today would likely be the day.
However, Jesus himself comes to them instead. Despite the reports of the women who had found the tomb empty, I doubt the disciples expected to see Jesus. But, he stands in their midst and proclaims God’s peace to them, saying, “Peace be with you.” He still bears the wounds of the cross on his hands and side and shows these to them, so that they are witnesses to his bodily resurrection. Not only that, but it is through Jesus’ wounds that they, and we, are reconciled to God; Jesus says again, “Peace be with you.” Then, Jesus commissions them and the rest of the Church, bestowing on them the Holy Spirit and saying, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you… If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”
Jesus gives his Church the mission of going forth and telling others what they have seen with their own eyes: that Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, and rose again; that Jesus is the Son of God, sent by the Father, to die for the sins of humanity and to reconcile us to God. And so, we as the Church are sent out by Jesus Christ testify to what we have seen, being given the Holy Spirit to enable us to speak His Word. Through the Word, we have the power to forgive and retain sins.
God’s Word is composed of both Law and Gospel. His Word of Law retains sins, showing us that we are sinful and worthy of condemnation and eternal death; it also shows us that we cannot free ourselves from this condition and therefore drives us to seek a Savior (and people are seeking a Savior in life – often the wrong one or ones and often without realizing it). God steps in here, though, with His Word of Gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ – in order to proclaim to us that He has graciously forgiven us of all our sins through Jesus Christ. The Gospel is God’s merciful Word that proclaims, through the wounds of Christ, “Peace be with you.”
And so the Church has gone forth and still does go forth armed with God’s two-fold Word of Law and Gospel to point out sin and its real cause and its real effects – and then forgive it through the Gospel which makes new disciples of Christ through faith.
And what is this faith? Faith is simply believing God’s Word. Faith believes God when He says that we are sinners; and faith believes God when He says that we are forgiven through Jesus Christ. Faith grasps hold of God’s promise of forgiveness given to us for the sake of Christ and thus justifies us before Him, because faith receives Christ’s righteousness. So, the whole point of the entire Scriptures is to proclaim God’s Word to bring us to faith so that we may be saved by Christ’s death and resurrection.
In fact, John concludes chapter 20 of his Gospel by saying, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
The point of the Bible is to point us to Christ, and everything in it serves that purpose. The Bible is not principally a textbook of world history. It has history in it for sure, but it’s the history of God’s Church, because the Church is the nation of people gathered around God’s promise of salvation through Christ.
So, in the Old Testament, and in the New, the other nations in the world are only mentioned in so far as they encounter Christ’s Church. Think about that: all those nations of old, who were world powers in their own times – the nations of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome – are only mentioned because they came into contact with God’s Church.
Similarly, the Bible is not principally a genealogy or family tree. Again, there is a lot of genealogy in it, but it is the genealogy of God’s Church and of Jesus Christ, our Savior, the one around whom the Church is centered. That’s why the Bible doesn’t really talk about Adam and Eve’s daughters or even his other sons, other than Cain, Abel, and Seth. It’s because the line of the Church runs from Adam to Seth and then down to Noah, through to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to all who have faith in God’s promise of salvation through Christ, just as Abraham did. These people believed God’s Word and were justified by God’s grace through faith in the Christ who was promised.
There were many other people in the world and there were many other things going on in the world that are not written in this book. “… [B]ut these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
This is the purpose of the Scriptures: to point us to Jesus Christ. The Old Testament gives us God’s promise of the coming of the Christ and tells about the people who have faith in that promise, and the New Testament reveals Jesus as the Christ, the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Old Testament. All of the writers of the Scriptures testify to what they have heard, seen, looked upon, and touched. They are witnesses of God’s Word and give you this Word to bring you to faith in Christ so that you may have life in his name.
Christ is the thread that holds the entire Scriptures together. He was there in the beginning as the Word through whom the Father spoke all things into existence. He was there throughout the Old Testament, as the pre-incarnate Word dining with Abraham and wrestling with Jacob, and He is there in the New Testament as the Word made flesh to accomplish our salvation. So, the whole point of the Scriptures is to show you the crucified and risen Jesus Christ and his wounds on the cross that he bears for you so that, like Thomas, you too cry out, “My Lord and My God,” recognizing Jesus as the one through whom you are saved from your sins and therefore know God.
And indeed, the whole point of the Sacraments – God’s “means of grace” – is also to show you Christ for your salvation. Baptism gives you him and incorporates you into his death and resurrection. And you daily die and rise with Christ through repentance and absolution, which is a living out of your new baptismal life. The Lord’s Supper gives you Christ’s body and blood which was given up and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of your sins; like Thomas, you touch the incarnate and risen Christ and then believe. Throughout all this, the Law that is also preached reminds and shows you that you need all this forgiveness; the Gospel then takes over to proclaim that it is yours, not because of your own works or merits, but rather because of Christ’s works and merits.
So, the witness of Christ continues to go on through the Church. The Church is wherever the Gospel is faithfully proclaimed and the Sacraments rightly administered. So, no matter if the congregation is large or small, or meets in a grand building, a house, or a community center, if it has Christ’s Word you know it’s the Church.
And so you are witnesses to the risen Christ. You have heard, seen, looked upon, and touched Christ. And through faith, you tell others about him so that they too may know him and receive him and also cry out, “My Lord and My God.”
That is why the Church gathers together each Sunday, because we want more of Jesus Christ, and God has promised that He will give him to us in our very midst through Word and Sacrament. That is why we live our lives faithfully in the world, because we have received Jesus and been brought into the light. That’s why we tell others of God’s grace through Jesus, because we want them to know God and be made His children too.
This is a grace and love that has overcome sin, conquered death, and defeated evil. This is a grace and love that is seen, heard, looked upon, and touched as Jesus Christ, who was dead and now lives, comes into our presence as we are gathered together and proclaims his peace to us through his Word and his Sacraments. This is a grace and a love given to you, because Christ died for you and then rose from the dead to dwell with you through his means of grace until that day comes when he returns for you. So, “Peace be with you.” Amen.
(Image: The Disbelief of Saint Thomas (Incredulité de Saint Thomas) – By James Tissot – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2008, 00.159.341_PS2.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10904794 )