Old St. John. Grand-daddy of the early church. Last living Apostle. Living out his days in Ephesus, in the late first century. And he writes letters to the church, his “dear children”. We have three of these in the New Testament.
And he writes his Gospel. A Gospel which is different than the first three. It gives a very different perspective than Matthew, Mark and Luke, which we call the “syn-optics”. John's optics, his view, is different. Complementary, of course.
For instance, you have the Great High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in John 17, the longest recorded prayer of our Lord. You have an extended description of the events in the upper room. You also have the great “I Am” passages. And familiar favorites like John 3:16 and John 14:1-6 (I go to prepare a place for you).
Today's Gospel reading from John gives us three chunks of Gospel goodness, each a sermon's worth in itself. So we'll the first two briefly, and the third in some more depth this morning.
He gives them His Spirit, too. Not that they didn't already have it. Anytime the Word is preached or proclaimed, the Spirit is at work. Even today, here and now. We are continual recipients of the Spirit, who brings us also the good gifts of Christ.
And Jesus gets right to the point of what he wants these Apostles, these first public servants of the Word to be about. The forgiveness of sins. The forgiveness that brings the only real peace. “If you forgive anyone his sins they are forgiven”. What an authority and power, and what a responsibility also to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant. So does he charge pastors even today. We call it the “Office of the Keys” because by such forgiveness, heaven itself is unlocked. Thanks be to God we have heard this forgiveness proclaimed, even today. In the stead and by the command of Christ. And that command to forgive comes from right here, in John 20.
Section two deals with Thomas. Poor Thomas who goes down in history as “Doubting Thomas”, even though he eventually came to believe and confess beautifully, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas, whose doubts anticipate the doubts of many who would follow, and through whom Jesus encourages us all, “stop doubting, and believe!” The resurrection is real. Jesus is alive, in the flesh. We may not get to touch him like Thomas did, but that only makes us more blessed. For faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.
Which leads us to the third section, John's purpose statement for his Gospel:
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.”
The mind races at the thought of all the wonders and signs the resurrected Jesus might have done. What miracles did they see? What divine powers did he show them? Perhaps when we meet the Lord he'll fill in the gaps for us, but for now it is enough. The Holy Spirit inspired St. John to write these words, to record these things, for a very specific purpose. That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that believing, you may have life in His name.
There are a lot of people who want to use the Bible for a lot of different things. Sometimes it makes for entertainment, like the new show on NBC: “A.D.” Some would use the Bible as a secret decoder ring for the latest fad diet or personal wealth building scheme. Most of us laugh at these sorts of things, though.
But then there are those who would make the Bible a rulebook for living. A how-to of the law that shows us which way to go. A sort of expanded version of the 10 commandments that teaches us “what would Jesus do”. This is a pretty shallow understanding, too. Those who take this approach aren't usually that familiar with what Scripture actually teaches when it comes to the law.
You and I know that the laws and rules of the Bible are full well impossible to follow. We can't love God with all our heart, soul and strength. We don't love our neighbor as ourselves. We worship other gods. We take his name in vain. We kill and lie and steal and gossip and covet and lust. We do it in our heads and hearts at least, and often in word and deed as well. The Law of God stands in constant accusation of sinners like you and me, who are never good enough. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. We must repent!
But these things were not written that you would be instructed in how to be good. These things were not written that you would know right from wrong. These things were not written that you would simply be crushed and brought to despair that you'll never be good enough for God. These things were written that you might believe and have life in Jesus Christ.
This is a Gospel, after all. Good news. The law kills, but the Spirit gives life. The work of Jesus, his life, his death, and his resurrection. These things are written, that we would believe.
His life – all that he did and said that are recorded for us in Holy Scripture. All that we confess in the creeds – that he was conceived of the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. That he suffered in accord with the scriptures. That he fulfilled all prophecies, right down to the last moments of his life. He did all things well. He healed the blind and deaf and lame. He cast out demons. He commanded nature. He even raised the dead. He did all this for us, that we might believe and have life.
And his preaching – a new teaching, and with authority! That he himself was the content of the message. That in him, the kingdom of God has arrived. That in him is rest, healing, peace, forgiveness and life! He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. And he who lives and believes in me will never die.
And his death. The cross- we preach Christ Crucified, Paul says... nothing more or less. Oh sure, the whole counsel of God. But the whole counsel of God always leads to and stems from the cross. The lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world, is the one who bears his nail scars and pierced side into his resurrection and eternity – the cross should never be far from our hearts, minds, lips.
And his resurrection. We rejoice not only a week after Easter but every sunday, every “little Easter”, the Lord's day because he renews all creation on Sunday – the day of his own resurrection – this eighth day of creation as some have called it. The cross and empty tomb go together – two sides of a coin, if you will, the death he died and the life he now lives for us forever. These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and believing have life in his name.