April 22, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“Then [Jesus] opened [the disciples’] minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’”
Jesus’ appearance to His disciples changes things for them. A restoration takes place: those who ran away and abandoned Him are brought back into full fellowship. His appearance does frighten and startle His disciples, yet Jesus is quick to move them from fear to faith. The beginning of today’s Gospel Reading shows that: “As they were talking about these things, Jesus Himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 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.’ And when He had said this, He showed His hands and His feet.”
Jesus’ actions on the night of His resurrection show that He had truly risen from death. That is what changes everything. The movement that had begun in Galilee had not ended in defeat and disillusion, as the disciples had thought on Friday evening. Mourning was not to extend to countless numbers of Sundays, as the women who traveled to the tomb believed. No, the fulfillment of all that the Lord had spoken through the prophets of old had taken place. When Jesus appears among His disciples that Sunday night, He makes that point evident: what was said would happen does happen.
Jesus not only gives His disciples an opportunity to witness Him alive again, though that is vitally important. He does more than that. He speaks to them, summarizing everything that He had done in their midst during the past three years: “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.’” Jesus’ statement speaks to His identity. He declares that He was the One that the Old Testament writers had foretold. He reveals that His actions had all been done with a purpose. He affirms that He is the fulfiller of promises.
Then Jesus gives the disciples a charge that shows that they are more than just His restored followers, but His authorized ambassadors: “Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’” Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, which the disciples had witnessed in Jerusalem, had been foretold. These actions had a purpose: they are the source of salvation for the world. Now these acts are to be proclaimed in His name to all nations, so that others would benefit from them by being brought to repentance and given forgiveness of sins. And just who are the people who would proclaim those acts? The same disciples who had been brought back into full fellowship with Jesus and who would receive the promise of His Father will be the proclaimers.
A complete shift happens for the disciples. They are restored to right relationship with God Himself. The disciples are no longer doubters or unbelievers in Jesus and His acts, but witnesses and proclaimers of Him and them. They have been turned back to the Lord’s promises and covenant. But even more: the disciples are made the instruments through which whole nations are turned back the same way. That is what they will do in their task that Jesus entrusts to them: “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
This task is what you heard being done in Jerusalem in the First Reading for today. You heard a record of Peter’s proclamation about Jesus. He testifies about Jesus’ identity, even if his audience did not first believe it: “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” Peter boldly confesses who Jesus is and what He had done. He declares that what had been written about Jesus was accomplished: “But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He thus fulfilled.”
Peter also completes the task given to him by his Master: he proclaims repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. That is clearly seen in his words: “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers…. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets long ago.” Peter is calling the people to be recipients of divine favor. Everything had changed for them because of Jesus’ actions. The disciple is leading them to obtain what he first received from Jesus: restoration to right relationship with the Lord through belief and trust in His divine covenant promises. The gracious acts of God performed by Jesus were done for the people of Jerusalem, just as they were also accomplished for people of all nations. Peter desires for his kinsmen to receive them, just as he was brought from denial to faith.
What you see in this act is the same event that occurs in the Church today. Jesus’ disciples have not lost the commission that He gave to those whom He visited on the night of His resurrection. No, the charge still remains: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” What happened in Jerusalem doesn’t stay in Jerusalem. No, the acts are disclosed to you. But this is not just a matter of information or educational interest. The gospel accounts are not ancient minutes of a Jesus Society; the apostolic proclamation is not a lecture in First Century Ancient Near Eastern Studies. No, they are a speaking of what the Christ accomplished for salvation, a speaking that carries His authority and power to forgive sins and to raise from death.
That is why you heard the words of the apostles this morning. You heard a declaration with divine commission behind it. Through it, the almighty and everlasting Lord is addressing you. He speaks about your sin, everything that you have done to violate His Law. Even the indictment spoken against the people of Jerusalem is directed at you: “But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” Were you there when they crucified the Lord? No. Were you calling for His demise and desiring a murderer to go free? No. But your guilt drove Jesus to that end. Your natural desire to be lawless, to be the determiner of your own morality, to be practitioners of evil is a reason for Jesus’ death. It is why Jesus suffered and on the third day rose again, as His apostle John wrote: “You know that He appeared to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin.”
The Father’s desire is to remove your guilt: “But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He thus fulfilled.” He calls you to receive the result of that fulfillment. That call comes to you in the same words that Peter spoke in Jerusalem: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out….” Stop what you are doing! Acknowledge the unrighteous nature of your actions! Recognize the guilt that you have incurred! That’s what the Lord is telling you. But those two words—“turn again”—point out the way of salvation. They direct you to the Lord’s statements of promise, to His covenant that He has fulfilled for you. He has glorified His Servant Jesus. He has raised the Author of life—your life—from death. So the Lord says, “Come and receive what I have done for you.”
Like the disciples on Easter Night and the people of Jerusalem, you need Jesus to declare the words of forgiveness to you. His actions have put an end to the enmity and divide between God and Man. So Jesus says through those He commissions: “Peace to you!” He opens your minds to understand the Scriptures, so that you may see how they speak about what He has done for your salvation. He continues to exhibit the Father’s love by making you children of God, giving you the Spirit of adoption through Holy Baptism. Jesus grants you to eat of the Bread of Life in His presence. These are the acts of restoration that are done for you who have turned again to the Lord and His promises.
Everything has changed for you because of Jesus’ acts, just as it did for the disciples and the people of Jerusalem. Now you are in full fellowship with the Lord. Now you are God’s children. Now you are recipients of His favor. Now you are forgiven. Now you are righteous. Now you are alive. That is what the Lord promised in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms. What He said would take place has happened. Jesus has accomplished it through His death and resurrection.
This day, you have had repentance and forgiveness of sins proclaimed in Jesus’ name to you. You have turned again to Him and had your sins blotted out. You have purified yourselves by participating in the ways that Jesus delivers pardon to you. He has made Himself present and said: “Peace to you!” All that the Father foretold by the mouth of all the prophets has been fulfilled, so that what Jesus is—pure, without sin, eternally living—is what you also will be. So do not be troubled or doubt, but turn again and receive this day the benefits that Jesus, the Crucified and Risen One, has made to be yours.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.