Fear and Faith: A Meditation for the Second Sunday of Easter

John 20:19-31

Our text says, “Then, the same day at evening.” The day was Easter. So this is the night of Easter Day.[1]

That morning the women went to the tomb and found that Jesus was not there. He was not there because He had been resurrected from the dead.[2]

The women went from the tomb to the disciples to tell them that Jesus was risen. Remember the disciples thought the women were, to put it mildly, a little off.[3]

Some of the disciples, though, did go to the tomb and found it as the women had said.[4]

That was morning, and now it is evening of the same day. It is likely close to midnight, because the two disciples who had returned from Emmaus “could not have reached Jerusalem before a very late hour.”[5] Where are the disciples and what are they doing?

They have gone behind closed doors. They have locked the doors. Notice that doors is plural. Lenksi says, “We may think of the outer door to the building itself and of the inner door to the room in which the company had gathered.”[6] In other words, doubly locked in.

Why are they acting this way? The text tells us, “for fear of the Jews.”

Jesus is risen from the dead, and the disciples are afraid of the Jews. Jesus is out of the tomb, but in a manner of speaking, the disciples are in a tomb. They have locked themselves in for fear. “Their lack of faith is shown by their ‘fear of the Jews.’”[7]

This is the first that Jesus has been with them since his death. Think of all He has been through. Think of all the teaching He gave the disciples and how hard it was for them to understand. Think of the multiple prophesies He gave of his death, burial, and resurrection. With all that, now He is with them for the first time since his death. Isn’t this an especially important moment? Isn’t this the time to say something especially important?

It is important that the disciples are afraid of the Jews. That is what is driving their actions: fear. There was adequate reason for them to fear the Jews. To the outward eye, they had succeeded in killing Jesus, though we must remember, Jesus said, “No one takes [my life] from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”[8] But to the outward eye, there appeared to be much for the disciples to fear from the Jews.

Perhaps Jesus will have something to say about this. But no, He does not say one word about it. Doesn’t He care? Doesn’t their fear matter?

The disciples do not determine the subject of this especially important moment. The subject for the disciples is fear, and Jesus does not talk about it. No, Jesus determines the subject. He decides the topic of conversation.

In this especially important moment, there is something more important to fear than the Jews. The Jews and whatever they might do to the disciples are, so to speak, small potatoes compared to a greater threat.

Jesus wants to talk about this greater threat. He cares about it. He cares for the disciples, and He wants them to know where they should be putting their focus in this especially important moment.

Jesus says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (NKJV) “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (ESV) “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (NIV)

Sin is more to be feared than the Jews. What sin does to us is a greater threat than any threat that could come by the Jews. The fear of the Jew does not deserve even a mention by Jesus compared to the fear of sin.

Jesus does not talk about the Jews and what we are going to do about fear of them. He talks about sin and what we are going to do about the problem of sin. Sin is the especially important topic for this especially important moment. What we are going to do about sin is provide confession and absolution. We are going to declare on the authority of Jesus’ Word the forgiveness of sins. Thus, forgiveness becomes the chiefly important thing in this especially important moment.

Jesus won the forgiveness of sins for us on the cross and by his resurrection. In Luke’s account of this resurrection appearance of Jesus to his disciples He we learn, “He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name.’”[9]

The cross and resurrection were long ago and far away. Jesus delivers the forgiveness of sins to us here today by the by the Word and Sacraments, by the Word and faith.

We 21st century American Lutherans have gone rusty on Confession and Absolution. We tend not to go to private confession with the pastor. We do not go because somehow, we have gotten the idea that it is too Catholic and the feeling that the pastor cannot forgive sins, only God can.

We are not interested in confessing sins to the pastor because of his flaws. We think to ourselves, why would we want to do that with him, the way he is? What good would it do me to hear him say, “Your sins are forgiven?”

And yet, in this especially important moment, in this moment of focus on the fear of sin more than the fear of the Jews, this topic, sin, confession, and absolution are what Jesus thinks is important enough to talk about. So, let’s at least hear him out, even it is out of fashion.

The means Jesus chooses to deliver to us forgiveness, life, and salvation do not depend on themselves. They depend on the Word of God.

We do know this because we do know Baptism and Communion.

Luther’s Small Catechism says:

How can water do such great things?

Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” (Titus 3:5–8)

Baptism depends on the Word of God. It does not depend on the infant, the parents, or the sponsors. It also does not depend on the pastor.

The church has had some who teach that if the priest or pastor is unworthy, a baptism performed by him is not saving. Recently in one Roman Catholic congregation it was discovered that the priest secretly was married. In the Roman church, marriage disqualifies a man from being a priest. We Lutherans do not agree with that, but we do agree deceit is sinful. It was deceitful for him to hide his marriage. This priest was unworthy. The congregation was greatly troubled. They worried that the baptisms this unworthy priest had performed did nothing for their children. His unworthiness, they thought, blocked the grace of God in Baptism.

This is an outstanding doctrinal error. We Lutherans need not suffer such worries for our Catechism rightly teaches the doctrine from Scripture, that Baptism with water into the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, because it is done in accordance with God’s Word is true Baptism. It grants forgiveness, life, and salvation, and any sin, disqualification, or unworthiness of the pastor cannot stop the Word of God. It is no more the pastor than it is the water which does such great things. It is the Word of God that does them,

The same is true of Communion. Luther’s Small Catechism says:

What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?

These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?

Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: “forgiveness of sins.”

Notice that the Catechism says forgiveness, life, and salvation are given us “through these words.” It is the Word of God that makes Communion what it is, not bread or wine, not Christians who commune, and not the pastor. Luther says, “Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: ‘forgiveness of sins.’”

Even if someone does not believe these words, the words still are true. The bread still is the body of Christ, whether we believe it or not, because the Words of Christ in the upper room make it so. The wine still is the blood of Christ, whether we believe it or not, because the Words of Christ in the upper room make it so.

It is just because the bread and wine still are the body and blood of Christ, regardless of whether we believe, that it is dangerous to partake without faith in Christ’s Words. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:27-30:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

Note what the text says is the unworthy eating and drinking. It is eating and drinking without discerning the body. In other words, not believing the Word of Christ that “this is my body” and “this is my blood.” That lack of faith fails to discern the true body and blood of Christ in Communion. The unbelief does not stop the bread and wine from being the true body and blood of Christ, but it does make an unbeliever guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.

In the same way, any defect, flaw, disqualification, unworthiness, or sin of the pastor cannot stop the bread and wine from being the true body and blood of Christ and cannot stop Communion from giving forgiveness, life, and salvation to those who believe.

In the same way as with Baptism and Communion, in the Office of the Keys, as the Catechism call it, or Confession and Absolution as Lutheran liturgies call it, the Word of God makes Confession and Absolution what it is. Any defect, flaw, disqualification, unworthiness, or sin of the pastor cannot block the Word of God.

Luther’s Small Catechism says:

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 His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:22–23)

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.

What is Confession?

Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.

Where did Luther get this? He got it from our lectionary text for today in John 20. “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

All authority in heaven and earth are given to Jesus.[10] This includes authority to give authority to the church. If Jesus cannot give authority to the church, then He has not been given all authority. At least that one authority would have been kept back from him. But He has all authority, and we have this Scripture text telling us that Jesus did say this and did give the Church the Office of the Keys, the authority to announce absolution.

Jesus gave us his Word, Baptism, Communion, and Absolution to deliver to us the forgiveness of sin that He won for us on the cross. He gave them to us for our assurance of faith. In this especially important moment, He wants you to have assurance of faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Notice that in our text, Jesus said it twice, “Peace to you.”  “The whole victory of the crucified and risen Lord is contained in [the] word [peace].”[11] “The word ‘Peace be unto you,’ is to them their own personal absolution and justification, the individual appropriation of Christ’s whole salvation.”[12]

The Word of God rescues us from sin and fear to forgiveness and faith. He enters your locked room and says “Peace to you.” This is the peace Jesus had promised before his passion when He said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.”[13]

In that locked room, Jesus showed the disciples his wounds “to prove the direct connection between His wounds and the peace which He brought them from the sepulchre.”[14] “It was the same body which had hung on the cross and thus earned and merited redemption for all men.”[15] “Then,” as our text says, “the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” (v 20) Jesus is our peace, and by his stripes we are healed. Upon showing Thomas his wounds, Jesus says, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” (v 27) Then Thomas says, not “The Lord and God,” but “My Lord and my God.” Jesus says to you today as He did to Thomas, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing,” inviting you to confess him as “My Lord and my God.”

Receive “the peace of God, which passes all understanding,” which “will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”[16] Amen.


[1] Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: The New Testament, vol. 1 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921), 524.

[2] Luke 24:1-8; Mark 16:1-9; Matthew 28:1-8.

[3] Luke 24:9-11; Mark 16:10-11.

[4] Luke 24:12, 24; John 20:3-10.

[v5 A. Spaeth, The Lutheran Commentary: Annotations on the Gospel According to St. John (New York: The Christian Literature Co., 1895), 309.

[6] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), 1365.

[7] Spaeth, op. cit.

[8] John 10:18.

[9] Luke 24:46-47.

[10] Matthew 28:18.

[11] Spaeth, 310.

[12] Spaeth, 310-311.

[13] John 14:27.

[14] Spaeth, 311.

[15] Kretzmann, op. cit.

[16] Philippians 4:7.

3 thoughts on “Fear and Faith: A Meditation for the Second Sunday of Easter

  1. No. Everyone is busy perusing T.R.’s reading list.

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