Easter 2 • John 20:19–31 • May 1, 2011
By Robert Kolb
Introductory thoughts: The text contains material for at least two good sermons; the sermon on Thomas and his faith and doubt can wait for another year. John comes to the climax of his entire gospel here: he has written in order that readers and hearers may believe that Jesus is the Messiah who has come to deliver them and in this trust in him that may have the true life in communion with the creator for which he fashioned us in Genesis 1 and 2.
Notes on the Text
Jesus has a habit of barging in on his people. It is not always that he is unwanted—though that is sometimes the case. Sometimes he simply is unexpected. But Scripture repeatedly depicts God as one seeking our company. He wants to be with us. He is a God of conversation and community, and he yearns for both with us. From his first evangelism call in Genesis 3:9 to today, he comes through doors we erect for our own security, though they are always inadequate to give us that security. He comes to say, and give us, “peace” in the midst of our fears.
We have good reason to fear. All hell has broken loose to stalk us like a roaring lion, from inside our selfish selves, from all around us, and from Satan himself. Elaborations of those threats to people in our own congregations are easy to make and too easily dominate a sermon that should focus on Jesus. Mentioned, however, they must be!
Peace. The Hebrew greeting, no flippant “hi” (though behind “hi” hides the Germanic root “heil,” which embraces the end of hostility, settledness, harmony, health, all the good things God gave us in Eden), constitutes the state in which God made Adam and Eve. Christ came to restore that peace by taking away the disruptive factor of our inability to fear, love and trust in God above all things.
The settled peace of Eden does not imply standing still. God is always on the move, as we view him in human history, and Jesus here confesses that he is on God’s mission and comes to send us on ours.
“Breathing on them,” recalling Genesis 2:7, Jesus here creates a new people of God out of his apostles, twelve in number like the twelve tribes of Israel (the absence of the apostate and the doubt of Thomas also reminds us that the church includes tares as well as wheat). The people of God are sent on their mission to bring peace through the forgiveness of sins, which restores trust and love in our savior and creator. This new creation, as unearned as the first, dependent only on God’s gracious will to restore his people to himself, brings us back to our original relationship with him in Eden.
The law/gospel element in John 20:23 is important. This great commission parallels the command in Luke 24:47 to preach both repentance, turning away from false gods, and the forgiveness of sins, God’s enfolding us as his children in his arms once again.
John’s Gospel, he says, is all about the deliverer, Jesus, whose death and resurrection form the focus of this Gospel, and about trusting in him and thus receiving the gift of genuine, Eden-style human life again.
I. What is causing you to huddle, to shut the doors against enemies, whether viruses, neighbors or fellow employees, family members, or God himself? How is your security system functioning (and failing)?
II. Jesus breaks through every kind of barrier simply because he loves us enough to suffer, die, and rise again for us, for you.
III. Forgiveness of sins sets aside the barrier that has blocked us from trusting him. We live as real human beings again, freed from trusting in insufficient sources of security, freed for the mission on which he sends us.
IV. Being sent means bringing the breath of new life in the Holy Spirit to those around us by forgiving them and by announcing their forgiveness and new life in Christ.