Jesus did many other signs in front of His disciples that are not written in this book, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life in His name. John didn’t just run out of room to write more. He didn’t want to write more but then came to the end of his parchment and had to stop. That’s not the point. He wrote exactly what the Holy Spirit wanted him to write, no more and no less. The point here is that what John wrote was written for this very specific purpose – that you who are hearing right now may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in His name.
This tells you the purpose of the entire Bible. It’s written so you believe in Jesus. This doesn’t mean that “everything else” is unimportant, that the ten commandments don’t matter because it’s all about Jesus. People actually say this. It’s very popular among the religious liberals even today, that since the Bible is all about Jesus we can ignore what the Bible teaches about everything else, can say that it has errors in its history and that the ten commandments – like the marriage of one man to one woman for life – is up for revision. It’s obviously the opposite. Because everything in the Bible is about Jesus, therefore every word the Bible says in every detail is beautifully important and cannot be broken, as Jesus said, “The Scriptures cannot be broken.” It makes no sense to say you’ll believe in Jesus but not in His Words, that you will call Him the truth, but say that His word contains errors. Now I wouldn’t even mention this, as popular as it is among the liberal churches in our community and across the nation, because it is so obviously absurd, except that the same sort of thinking will come into your minds too. What matters is that I believe in Jesus, that He took away my sins, and so it’s not so important that I work hard at school or that I obey my parents or that I keep myself pure for marriage or that I pray or go to church – after all Jesus will forgive all this. The exact opposite should be your thinking – because Jesus died for me, because He rose again for me, because He forgives me, because I bear His name, because He fulfilled the law for me, because He is my Lord and gives me life, I will live faithful to His commandments, in prayer to Him, not forced, but because He loves me, and I will spend my life reading His Word, which is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
For this reason the Bible was written, so you may know Jesus and so live real life, life in love for God and for one another, according to His Word, until at last in the resurrection all sin and sorrow and pain is removed from us forever.
But John is much more specifically telling us the reason for why we find what we find in the Gospel of John, and specifically in chapter 20. You heard the resurrection account last week. Today you heard the rest of chapter 20. Look at what we have here, what is given us so that we may believe in Jesus. Because of all the things John could have recorded this is what he wrote down, what God wanted us to know.
First is Jesus’ insistence on coming to and being with His disciples. Nothing stops Him. He literally passes through walls. Jesus suffered for them, bled for them, died for them. He is jealous for them. They are His sheep. He loves them. And the laws of physics themselves must bend under their Creator’s insistence on being with His disciples. This was written so that you may believe. That Jesus is just as insistent on coming to you. That the laws that He created of time and space and physics were never meant to keep Him from you and can never keep Him from you. He comes under the bread and wine, as He said, this is my body, this is my blood, and neither doors nor walls nor any other created thing can separate Him from you.
Second is his focus on His wounds. He does not do this simply to convince them that He isn’t a ghost, that He really is risen with His body. There’s actually no hint of that in the Gospel of John. He shows them His wounds because they are their peace. Many other things Jesus showed them, but these are recorded that you may believe. That these wounds are for you. That they have secured your peace with God. That Jesus took your punishment and bore your death and so death and hell cannot claim you, but Jesus can, because He bought you with His blood. If God did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how can He not love us, how can He still be angry with us? The wounds of Jesus do not lie.
Third is Jesus’ giving of the Holy Spirit. There is, of course, a louder, more public giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, which we’ll celebrate in a little over a month. But here Jesus connects His giving of the Spirit directly with His wounds, with the fact that He suffered for them. He shows them His wounds and then He gives the Spirit. And the wound on His side is not insignificant. Jesus speaks of it. Thomas speaks of it. It marks the Lord Jesus. And it was out of this side that water and blood flowed at Jesus’ death, when the centurion pierced His side with the spear. Saint John will tell us that these are connected, it’s what we just heard from His epistle, “There are three that bear witness on earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood, and these three agree as one.” So Jesus joins the Spirit He breathes out on His disciples to that wound on His side, the water and blood that flowed from His side, and so to the water that washed you in Baptism, the blood that He gives in the Supper. This is what John records, so that you may believe. The Spirit gave many gifts and Jesus performed many miracles after His resurrection, but none compares to this, none did the Holy Spirit think was so important to record for you, but He does tell you this that you may believe – This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. The Spirit has nothing greater to talk about, nothing greater to give, than what you receive in Baptism as you are joined to the death and resurrection of Christ, and what you receive in the Supper, the body and blood of the Lord once pierced on Cavalry and now risen for your life.
Fourth, Jesus tells His disciples to forgive sins. It is amazing that He doesn’t tell them here, I forgive you. They had all abandoned Him. Peter denied Him three times. They doubted the news of His resurrection. They were cowards, hiding in an upper room as the women braved going to the tomb. But He doesn’t say, “I forgive you” to them (obviously He forgave them, and His word “peace to you” is their absolution, their forgiveness); instead He tells them to forgive others. This is written that you may believe that Jesus’ concern was very emphatically not simply for His twelve disciples, but for you. He says this to them before His crucifixion – and I have other sheep who are not of this fold, they also must hear my voice. And it is what He prays to His Father in Gethsemane, “I do not pray for these only but for those who will believe through their word.” Jesus’ concern is for those who hear this Gospel. So He instructs them on the very night of His resurrection, after showing the wounds of His passion, instructs them to care for the future generations by bringing the forgiveness won by these wounds to them. And that is what you get every Sunday. We don’t do confession and absolution because we’re stubborn Lutherans who won’t change with the times or because this is what we inherited from our tradition. No, you confess and I forgive in Jesus’ name because Jesus told his disciples exactly this. Look at what I suffered, see the proof; this will not be in vain. Forgive sins. Announce my forgiveness to all who feel the burden of their sin and trust in Me.
Fifth, Jesus tells His disciples to retain sins. That is to put the fear of God into them and into us. To those who don’t repent, don’t sorrow over their sin and have no intention of doing better, don’t seek from Jesus forgiveness and deliverance, Jesus says, Hold their sins against them. This is Jesus once again being beautifully honest and exclusive. And these things were written that you may believe. Believe that you do not have a seeker friendly Savior who just wants people to like Him and to join His club. We have a real Savior, One who knows very well that we need Him completely and entirely, that we would otherwise die in our sins, that without Him there is no forgiveness, no life, no salvation, no way to the Father, no real life. And those who refuse to acknowledge His sacrifice, who ignore His wounds, who say, I’ll live by my own way, He holds their sins against them. If they are not forgiven in Him, they are not forgiven forever. He is the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Him. And He will not have the Honor of laying down His life for sinners mocked by those who want to live in their sins. So, in all the happiness, all the joy, and peace and beauty of this resurrection history, come these striking and sobering words; always take your sins seriously, but Jesus more seriously, the only Savior, the great and the mighty Savior, who alone has forgiveness to give.
Finally, we have doubting Thomas. Everything Jesus said to the disciples that first night was in order for them to preach Jesus, so that people would believe. And the first test is Thomas. And it is a total failure. Thomas refuses to believe. And this also was written so that you may believe. Because this is part of believing. Dealing with the scandal of unbelief. Don’t be astounded at it. Don’t be amazed that so many hear the news and stubbornly refuse it. See that it is not because of reason or logic – to deny the eyewitness of trusted friends about the resurrection of a man you’ve seen do countless miracles, including raising the dead, that’s not reasonable and that’s not logical, it’s just stubborn. But this is written that you may believe that irrational, prideful, stubborn unbelief Jesus overcomes with hard facts, with the truth that Thomas could no longer deny, so that our mouths too can confess with him about our dear Lord Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” And these beautiful truths are all recorded that you may believe. Jesus pursued His Christians, nothing could stop Him from being with His disciples, not death, not any created thing, and He showed them the wounds of His suffering, and on their virtue He speaks peace to us, gives us the Spirit so that God Himself lives within us, specifically takes care not just for His disciples, but for us, for you in particular, so that you can hear your forgiveness from the pastor as from Christ Himself, not doubting but firmly believing, that by it your sins are forgiven before God in heaven.
I often wonder what else Jesus did in those forty days, what all He said, what all He prayed, before He ascended to heaven. But I thank God that He had written what is written, so that I and you may believe that Jesus is in fact the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, we may have life in His name.
Alleluia. Christ is risen.