John 20:19–23 (NKJV)
19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, 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 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to 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, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
For nearly two millennia now our fathers and mothers have been celebrating the feast of Easter – the celebration of our Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead. On this day, the first day of the week, nearly two millennia ago our Lord Jesus rose bodily from the grave to conquer sin and death.
So what is the meaning of the resurrection? Is the resurrection just a nice story about the tenacity of life over death? Is it like the fairy tales of old, a tale that’s obviously not true but meant to teach us some moral lesson? Certainly not! The Scriptures declare that the resurrection is, first of all, historical. Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. It is God’s proof to the world of the reality of His existence, the certainty of coming judgment, and the promise of forgiveness for those who believe in the Risen Christ. It is then, second, theological. Because Jesus rose from the dead, He has conquered death and now reigns as the Messiah, the Ruler over all the earth. As I said in our greeting this morning, Jesus Christ is “the firstborn from the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth.”
John records the significance of Jesus’ Lordship in his Gospel. In the evening of this day, Jesus appeared to the disicples and pronounced His blessing upon them and commissioned them to be His emissaries to the world. “Peace be to you!” he said, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” Even as the Father sent Jesus into the world to seek and to save that which was lost, to reconcile us as human beings to Himself, so Jesus has sent the Church to proclaim His death and resurrection to all nations. He has entrusted us with the ministry of reconciliation. We petition the world, on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor 5:20)
To accomplish this task, our Risen Lord has poured out His Spirit upon us and given us the immense privilege of proclaiming forgiveness in His Name. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” We have the privilege of declaring to all those who put their faith in Christ, “You are forgiven. Jesus really has conquered sin and death. He is our great High Priest who reconciles us to God.” And because the forgiveness of sins is such great good news, the elders have decided to supplement our liturgy with a congregational response to the pronouncement of pardon. Henceforth, after I declare, “Your sins are forgiven!”, you get to respond, “Alleluia! Praise the Lord!”
Alongside this joyful task, the Church has the solemn duty of warning the nations that apart from faith in Christ, there is no forgiveness or reconciliation with God. “If you retain the sins of any,” Jesus declares, “they are retained.” If human individuals and societies would prosper, then they must seek God’s blessing through Christ alone. As Jesus declared to the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jewish nation, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. All other paths end in judgment.
So listen – where have you placed your confidence for acceptance by God? Jesus is the Risen Lord, the Ruler of the kings of the earth. On the last day, we shall all rise from our graves and stand before this King as our judge and give an account of how we have served Him. If we remain in rebellion against Him, refusing to find in Him the One who reconciles us to God, then we shall be judged. So turn from your sin and turn to Christ; rely on Him and Him alone for forgiveness. Only in and through Jesus can we be reconciled to God.
Reminded that we can only be reconciled to God through the sacrifice of Jesus, let us confess our sin and seek His forgiveness in Christ. And, as you are able, let us kneel together as we confession. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession that is found in your bulletin. Our confession for Eastertide acknowledges the ways we have transgressed each of the Ten Commandments.