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? The Scriptures proclaim that neither of those answers is accurate – the meaning of 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 and the pledge of His forgiveness. 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 into the world with this same mission – He has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation so that we petition others on behalf of Christ, “Be reconciled to God!”
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 makes reconciles us to God.”
Alongside this joyful task, we have the solemn duty of warning the nations that there is no other way to be reconciled to God. We must come to God through Christ alone. “If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” There is no way to be accepted by God other than through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, 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.