April 2022 A.D.
Study on John 20 (Easter 2)
By: Rev. Clint Stark of St. John Lutheran Church of Frisco, TX, presented at the pastors’ study group at Faith Lutheran Church of Plano, TX, March 2022 A.D. (These are my modified personal notes that I made for an interview I did on KFUO in June 2016)
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending 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, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
John 20:19-31 is the appointed Gospel lesson for the Second Sunday of Easter in both the LSB one- and three-year lectionaries. It is also the sedes doctrinae for the pastoral office and the office of the keys. Therefore, there is no shortage of good Lutheran resources to aid one in study. My goal in this paper is to give resources that might aid your sermon preparation, as this is a text that we all preach on every year. I also hope that through our discussion, we might all learn something new about this pericope.
First, allow me to give a glimpse of how I study a text in preparation for writing a sermon, as well as give some general remarks on how I teach my members to approach the study of God’s Word. Whenever we study Holy Scripture, we ought to humbly pray for understanding. Faith and pure doctrine are gifts, not something we take credit for. For, as we will see with St. Thomas, if God withdraws from us, we all fall back into rank unbelief (Luther’s thought from a sermon). We are always students of the Holy Spirit in Scripture. In addition to prayer, diligent study of the actually words of Scripture are key in becoming a good theologian, using reason ministerially and not magisterially. The other aspect that drives us to prayer and the study of Scripture are the trials we experience in this fallen world (oratio, meditatio, tentatio). Also, during and after my study of Scripture, I try to learn from other theologians, whether it’s Lenski’s Commentary on The New Testament, Pieper’s Dogmatics text books, or just reading Luther’s sermons. There is no shortage of good sermons and resources on John 20:19-31, both ancient and modern. I recommend Martin Luther’s sermons, which can be found in volume 69 of the Luther’s Works in the American Edition, first published in 2009. As an aside, even though we follow Christ in Scripture, as Luther did, we Lutherans would benefit to read more Luther than the many modern Lutheran bloggers, etc. One final thing that I always try to do when studying a portion of Scripture, is to look at all the places the verses are cited in our Lutheran Confessions. Verses from John 20:19-31 are cited in about 10 different places in our Lutheran Confessions.
What is the context and scene of our Gospel lesson? Resurrection timeline—when and who Jesus appears to from Lenski’s commentary p. 1363.
“Ten of the eleven were together with a number of other disciples. The women who had met the angels and then had seen and heard Jesus early in the morning had brought this news. Peter and John had seen this strange sight in the tomb. Mary Magdalene had seen the angels and Jesus himself and had brought the message from him. What thus occurred in the morning of this wonderful day did not produce faith among the disciples (Luke 24:11 and v.22, etc.). save the littleness of faith in John’s silent heart (v.8). Then came the appearance of Jesus to Peter (Luke 24:34; I Cor 15:5), of which we know the fact and the effect but no details, not even the hour or the place. Finally came the report of the two disciples who had gone to Emmaus, Luke 24:35; when these two returned, joyful faith had already spread among all those gathered together. While the two from Emmaus are still speaking (Luke 24:36), Jesus appears to the entire company. Luke 24:36-48 and John 20:19-23 deal with this same event.”
A quick comparison of Luke and John’s account as cited by Lenski:[Luke 24:36-48 ESV] 36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them. 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. [John 20:19-23 ESV] 19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them 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 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending 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 withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
(John 20:19-31 ESV)
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
On the evening of “that day”—“that day” is the day that our Lord rose from the grave. On the evening of that day, the first day of the week,… Unlike our dying world’s calendar, the first day of the week is Sunday not Monday. Think back to the literal six-day creation in Genesis—also note here from Genesis that God gave Adam authority and dominion over the kingdom of this world—meaning the authority to govern and rule in the earthly kingdom—in home, church, and state. Also, Adam was given authority over animals and so forth. Note this authority, because we will see how in the Gospel lesson that God gives authority in the heavenly kingdom to His Church on earth to bind and loose sins. As to say, we will see that the kingdom of heaven is not an earthly kingdom—more on that point later. Back to six days of creation and God resting on the seventh day or the Sabbath Day, which is Saturday. You see Jesus also completing His saving work on the cross on the sixth day, Friday, resting in the tomb on the Sabbath day, then rising on Sunday, “that day” the first day of the week. Since this is the day Jesus rose from the dead, this is also why Christians have always in freedom offered the Divine Service on Sundays—we don’t want to ever forget the resurrection—as Paul in I Cor. 15:14 says, [1Co 15:14 ESV] And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. It isn’t that having a Saturday night service is wrong, but I think making Sunday morning a priority can be a good way to confess our priorities to the world, which worships around the lake or sports field instead. What you do find in the book of Acts and in our Lutheran Confessions is that Word and Sacraments, preaching and communion were offered ever Lord’s Day (Sunday) and also during other feast and festivals on the church calendar. As it is in some congregations and church bodies today, communion was not an occasional extra in the life of the Church. The final thing to note about: On the evening of that day, the first day of the week is that Jews started the next day at evening. But even though it is Sunday evening, John doesn’t describe in in Jewish terms, but still calls it Sunday.
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
Present in the room are the 10 disciples, Judas and Thomas aren’t present. Also, Jesus knew Thomas wasn’t present. Jesus could have come a different time when He was present, but in His good and gracious will to Thomas and the others, He did it this way. They are afraid since the Jews just killed their Lord. Doors is plural indicating that the outer door to the dwelling and the inner door to the room were both locked (Lenski). And, when the Holy Spirit sees fit to record something, it is significant—when The Holy Spirit through John says, “fear”, it means the disciples were really afraid.
It is also a miracle that Jesus came and stood among them. Luther tended to think Jesus was present and then made Himself visible. Whether Jesus went through looked doors or just appeared somehow in the room isn’t for us to speculate. What we can say dogmatically based on Biblical Christology is that He is present bodily—this isn’t a ghost or vision. Jesus is fully God and fully man, where one is so is the other. He rose bodily, as the first fruits, and we too believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. This is a miracle. Some liberals try to explain this miracle away and speculate that Jesus climbed in through a window or snuck in the door when the disciples from Emmaus came in. What nonsense you get when you put fallen human reason above the words of Holy Scripture!
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” While this greeting was a common greeting, there is much more going on here. Think of denying Peter and the other disciples who abandoned Jesus and were like scattered sheep, as Jesus foretold. Luther notes that when we are afraid that can show contrition—we are afraid of death–we are afraid of God. Aren’t they afraid of dying by the hand of the Jews and probably feeling sorry and guilty over abandoning their Lord? And what is the first thing Jesus says after living a sinless life in their place, dying for their sins, and defeating death and the power of the devil—for them and for all—“Peace be with you.” There is peace between God and all mankind for the sake of Jesus alone. And we see that the peace that Jesus won, He desires it to be delivered to everyone individually through Word and Sacraments. This is Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” How can they hear unless a preacher is sent to preach this Good News of peace to them? We also see that the Lord’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours—more gracious than ours. If I was abandoned to death by my friends, I would want to hold a grudge—Jesus, without any merit or worthiness in them or us—says, peace.
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
Just as they were really afraid, they are now really glad. Notice this wasn’t something they created in themselves, but Jesus outside of themselves created joy in them with His Words and presence. I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. He also shows them the content of the peace He spoke—His hands and side. Jesus died for the sin of the world. He was raised for our justification. The Father declares the whole world righteous for the sake of the Jesus. We are no longer enemies of God, but while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. He has reconciled us to the Father by His blood.
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.
This is most certainly true.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
Notice the repetition here. As to say, don’t miss this peace for you and this is the peace that I am sending you out to herald and proclaim. The Father sent the Son on a mission—His saving course, as we sing in, “Savior of the Nations Come.” Jesus came to seek and save the lost; He did this by going around to the Jews primarily and preaching primarily in their synagogues. A lot of people from the church growth movement think Jesus was knocking on doors like the vacuum-salesman-evangelism-programs—no, He was gathering the lost sheep of Israel primarily through preaching in their established places of worship. If you skipped worship that day to travel with the private Jewish basketball league—that is you despised preaching and God’s Word—well, you missed the gathering net of the Gospel—you missed the Good Shepherd gathering His sheep by preaching. So, just as Jesus preached/forgave sins visibly primarily in the appointed places of worship during His three-year visible ministry, He would send His apostles (sent ones) to do the same in His stead and by His command. They would go with authority.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending 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, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
So, again, just as the Father sent Jesus to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins, so too Jesus would send His apostles and Church. He would send His Church to all nations—to Jews and Gentiles, since Jesus died for all and desires all to repent and live. By the way, some will say that since Jesus was speaking to His disciples this only applied to them being sent and only they could forgive and bind sins. The response to this is that if this was only for the apostles to do since Jesus said it to them, then the same would be true for baptism and communion and everything He taught them. Also, this would mean that the disciples misunderstood or disobeyed Jesus since they laid hands on some men, and sent them out to preach. As to say, they started congregations, pastors were called through means, and sent to preach. This is the teaching of Scripture. No one should teach or preach the Gospel publicly without being rightly called (AC 14). This is why we reject laymen doing publicly what only called ministers should—teach the lessons from the lectern, preach, and administer the sacraments. John 20 is read at the ordination and installation of pastors (LSB Agenda) as we believe, teach, and confess that Jesus’ institutes the office of the Holy Ministry here. While the apostles were in a different office, immediately called by Jesus, Jesus still calls ministers through His Church today—a mediated Call. It is no less a Divine Call. Pastors shouldn’t ever be fired or removed unless there are biblical grounds, like persistent false teaching or a scandalous life style, like committing adultery. When a called and ordained servant of the Word forfeits the office, hopefully he repents and receives forgiveness, but the temporal consequence is that he has lost his public voice in the Church, and should bear fruits in keeping with repentance by living a quiet and humble life.
On the other side, congregations that drive out faithful ministers should be disciplined and bound in their sins so long as they do not repent. They definitely shouldn’t get another pastor if they unjustly removed their pastor without biblical cause—like, “He just wasn’t a good fit.” So, again, this is a proof text for the Office of the Ministry instituted by Jesus. However, some go too far and say that this to mean also that only Called Ministers can speak the Gospel. As to say, only pastors can proclaim forgiveness of sin in Jesus’ name. No, this would be wholly un-Lutheran and so unbiblical. The Gospel is given to the whole Church. Read Luther’s sermons on this point—he was such a clear thinker. “His coming is nothing other than His preaching throughout the whole world. For whoever is a Christian and preaches Him does not do the work himself, but Christ does it. When we hear the Gospel, we hear Christ Himself, and it is His own voice and His Word that is spoken. So when Christ comes to us, no one sees Him there or touches Him, but He is perceived only by the heart, and He stands “in the midst” [John 20:19], that is, in our hearts, so that we believe and receive His help when He is preached thus, because there is no [other] way in which He comes to us. How He comes cannot be seen.” (AE 69, p.343). “Brother, God speaks to you the forgiveness of sins,” and though a man says it, it is just as much as God Himself speaking…”Believe in Christ and acknowledge Him. In Him, without merits, you have the remission of sins.” This is to be said in the sermon or with a brother [individually].” (pp.346-347) Luther goes on the speak in the same way about the binding key. Here are a few closing quotes: “And in every mouth we have the same power that is in the mouth of Christ. It is always the same Word through which all the saints are saved…Even if God were to speak through a piece of straw, I ought to accept it and trust Him as if He Himself had spoken. This is our consolation: that we forgive sins.” (p.348).
Any Christian can and should forgive sins in their private vocations. If a dying brother in the field confesses his sin to another layman, he shouldn’t say, “Too bad; no pastor is here, sorry.” No, he has the authority of Christ to proclaim forgiveness. This isn’t in competition with the pastoral office, but complementary. Christ wants the Gospel going out unhindered everywhere. But this doesn’t mean there isn’t order in the Church.
Others go too far, like a drunk driver from ditch to ditch, and will say that it is applies to both pastors and laymen without any distinctions. While any Christian can proclaim the Gospel or baptize that doesn’t mean he should in every circumstance. Certainly, the power rests on the Word of Christ—hence an emergency baptism by a layman doesn’t need to be done again by a pastor. We don’t hold to an indelible mark. (Did you see the recent news about the RC priest whose baptisms were deemed invalid because he said, “We baptize you” instead of, “I baptize you..”?) But that doesn’t mean layman should be baptizing and preaching when it isn’t any emergency or in a public service. It really comes down to a proper understanding of the doctrine of vocation, the order of creation, and office of the ministry. Sadly, there is a lot of confusion over these issues, even within Lutheranism, but I digress. Back to the lesson. Actually, I think looking at the Office of the Keys will help shed some clarity: We also call this John 20 lesson the institution of the Office of the Keys? From our Synodical catechism:
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.
Though these questions might not have been composed by Luther himself, we have a very fine explanation to the gift of keys being given to the Church, but exercised by her called ministers. How do you all teach these questions? Are the keys thrown to the congregation who then throws them to their called minister? Are you Called into the ministry by Christ and so are in the office even if you are between calls from a congregation, etc.? Where does ordination fit? Obviously, questions we have all dealt with and have not found a unity of mind among the pastors and congregations of our Synod.
Here is some guidance from our Lutheran Confessions regarding John 20:
A Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (bookofconcord.org)
Treatise Compiled by the Theologians Assembled at Smalcald – 1537
In the first place, therefore, let us show from the [holy] Gospel that the Roman bishop is not by divine right above [cannot arrogate to himself any supremacy whatever over] other bishops and pastors.
9] III. John 20:21. Christ sends forth His disciples on an equality, without any distinction [so that no one of them was to have more or less power than any other], when He says: As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. [These words are clear and plain:] He says that He sends them individually in the same manner as He Himself was sent; hence He grants to no one a prerogative or lordship above the rest….
23] In all these passages Peter is the representative of the entire assembly of apostles [and does not speak for himself alone, but for all the apostles], as appears from the text itself. For Christ asks not Peter alone, but says: Whom do ye say that I am? And what is here said [to Peter alone] in the singular number: I will give unto thee the keys; and whatsoever thou shalt bind, etc., is elsewhere expressed [to their entire number], in the plural Matt. 18:18: Whatsoever ye shall bind, etc. And in John 20:23: Whosesoever sins ye remit, etc. These words testify that the keys are given alike to all the apostles and that all the apostles are alike sent forth [to preach].
24] In addition to this, it is necessary to acknowledge that the keys belong not to the person of one particular man, but to the Church, as many most clear and firm arguments testify. For Christ, speaking concerning the keys adds, Matt. 18:19: If two or three of you shall agree on earth, etc. Therefore he grants the keys principally and immediately to the Church, just as also for this reason the Church has principally the right of calling. [For just as the promise of the Gospel belongs certainly and immediately to the entire Church, so the keys belong immediately to the entire Church, because the keys are nothing else than the office whereby this promise is communicated to everyone who desires it, just as it is actually manifest that the Church has the power to ordain ministers of the Church. And Christ speaks in these words: Whatsoever ye shall bind, etc., and indicates to whom He has given the keys, namely, to the Church: Where two or three are gathered together in My name. Likewise Christ gives supreme and final jurisdiction to the Church, when He says: Tell it unto the Church.]…
31] The second article is still clearer, that Christ gave to the apostles only spiritual power, i.e., the command to teach the Gospel, to announce the forgiveness of sins, to administer the Sacraments, to excommunicate the godless without bodily force [by the Word], and that He did not give the power of the sword, or the right to establish, occupy or confer kingdoms of the world [to set up or depose kings]. For Christ says, Matt. 28:19.20: Go ye, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; also John 20:21: As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.
Now, it is manifest that Christ was not sent to bear the sword or possess a worldly kingdom [rule in a worldly fashion], as He Himself says, John 18:36: My kingdom is not of this world. And Paul says, 2 Cor. 1:24: Not for that we have dominion over your faith; and 2 Cor. 10:4: The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, etc.
Large Catechism – Apostles’ Creed
54] We further believe that in this Christian Church we have forgiveness of sin, which is wrought through the holy Sacraments and Absolution, moreover, through all manner of consolatory promises of the entire Gospel. Therefore, whatever is to be preached concerning the Sacraments belongs here, and, in short, the whole Gospel and all the offices of Christianity, which also must be preached and taught without ceasing. For although the grace of God is secured through Christ, and sanctification is wrought by the Holy Ghost through the Word of God in the unity of the Christian Church, yet on account of our flesh which we bear about with us we are never without sin.
Apology VI: Confession and Satisfaction
79] But the keys have not the power of binding and loosing except upon earth, according to Matt. 16:19: Whatsoever, thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Although, as we have said above, the keys have not the power to impose penalties, or to institute rites of worship, but only the command to remit sins to those who are converted, and to convict and excommunicate those who are unwilling to be converted. For just as to loose signifies to remit sins, so to bind signifies not to remit sins. For Christ speaks of a spiritual kingdom. And the command of God is that the ministers of the Gospel should absolve those who are converted, according to 2 Cor. 10:8: The authority which the Lord hath given us for edification.
AC: Article XXVIII: Of Ecclesiastical Power.
5] But this is their opinion, that the power of the Keys, or the power of the bishops, according to the Gospel, is a power or commandment of God, to preach the Gospel, to remit and retain sins, and to administer Sacraments. 6] For with this commandment Christ sends forth His Apostles, John 20:21 sqq.: As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained. 7] Mark 16:15: Go preach the Gospel to every creature.
8] This power is exercised only by teaching or preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, according to their calling either to many or to individuals. For thereby are granted, not bodily, but eternal things, as eternal righteousness, the Holy Ghost, eternal life. 9] These things cannot come but by the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments, as Paul says, Rom. 1:16: The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. 10] Therefore, since the power of the Church grants eternal things, and is exercised only by the ministry of the Word, it does not interfere with civil government; no more than the art of singing interferes with civil government.
*Shortened for St. John Newsletter.
Share this Post