John 20:22-23 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 retain the sins of any, they are retained."
Many people think they know what our gospel lesson is about – and it can be summed up in the simple command – Don’t be a doubting Thomas! And perhaps that would be enough if people really knew what doubt was – but for most people doubt is anything from uncertainty to unbelief – and it does not do much good to tell someone that they should not be uncertain – how do you make uncertainty go away – that is the real issue – what makes uncertainty go away? Faith! You see, Jesus does not say, stop being a doubting Thomas – Jesus says, Do not be faithless, but believe. In other words the problem was that Thomas was, at least for the moment, an unbeliever, he had abandoned the faith.
We all know the scripture that says you cannot serve two masters, but sometimes we forget what it means – it means you cannot have 2 gods – and in the case of Thomas, he made seeing a god, I don’t know whether it was that it seemed unreasonable to believe that Jesus was risen, or he simply didn’t trust the word of the other apostles, or that he didn’t hold onto Jesus own word, that he would rise on the 3rd day. The point is that he had fallen into unbelief, and he needed to be lead in the way of repentance.
And that is what is at the center of the text – the office of the keys, the power that the risen Christ gives to the church, first he gives them the holy spirit, and then he gives them the power to forgive and retain sins. The office of the keys might be seen as one of the chief things that the church is to be about – it is, if you will, the mission statement of the church.
So who do we forgive?
All those who repent of their sins
All those who turn from sin, and turn to God
All those who, turn from trying to live by reason or strength,
and accept the grace of God to live by faith
All those for whom Jesus died.
Whose sins do we retain?
All those who do not repent of their sins
All those who would live only by their own reason or strength
All those who refuse the grace of God that is ours in Jesus Christ
Why do we retain their sins?
We do not to this for punishment, or for vengeance
We do not do this so make people earn forgiveness
We do this only so that they might be brought to repentance
And by grace through faith find forgiveness in Jesus our Savior
And that is why it is a story about UNBELIEVING THOMAS,
For it is in this story that we see how the office of the keys is to be administered,
Jesus shows Thomas his sin, and Thomas turns from his sin, and receives the grace of God which works faith in the heart – and the heart believes the promise, that sins are forgiven.
Where is the forgiveness of sins? In the words, Peace be with you! For there is no peace without the forgiveness of sins.
And then we remember that Thomas is not unique, all the disciples had abandoned Jesus at his death, and so when Jesus appears to them on Easter, his first words to them are, Peace be with you! He didn’t say it once, but he said it twice, and it is to these forgiven sinners that he gives the office of the keys, the power to forgive an retain sins, and he gives them his example, as he calls Thomas to repentance and then forgives him.