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Sermon for the Sunday after Easter, John 20:19-31
A Sermon by Martin Luther; taken from his Church Postil of 1521.

[The following sermon is taken from volume II:354-363 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI). It was originally published in 1906 in English by Lutherans in All Lands Press (Minneapolis, MN), as The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 11.  This e-text was scanned and edited by Richard Bucher, it is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without restriction.]


1. This Gospel praises the fruit of faith, and illustrates its nature and character. Among the fruits of faith are these two: peace and joy, as St. Paul writes to the Galatians, where he mentions in order all kinds of fruit saying: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control." Gal 5, 22. Thus these two fruits are also mentioned in our text. In the first place, Christ stands there among the disciples, who sit in fear and terror, and whose hearts are greatly troubled every hour expecting death; to them he comes and comforts them, saying: "Peace be unto you." This is one fruit. In the second place there follows from this sweet word the other fruit, that they were glad when they saw the Lord. Then he further bestows upon faith power and authority over all things in heaven and on earth, and truly extols it in that he says: "As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you." And again: "Receive ye the Holy Spirit: whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." Let us now consider each thought in order. 

2. Faith, as we have often said, is of the nature, that every one appropriates to himself the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, of which we have already said enough; namely, that it is not sufficient simply to believe Christ rose from the dead, for this produces neither peace nor joy, neither power nor authority; but you must believe that he rose for your sake, for your benefit, and was not glorified for his own sake; but that he might help you and all who believe in him, and that through his resurrection sin, death and hell are vanquished and the victory given to you. 

3. This is signified by Christ entering through closed doors, and standing in the midst of his disciples. For this standing denotes nothing else than that he is standing in our hearts; there he is in the midst of us, so that he is ours, as he stands there and they have him among them. And when he thus stands within our hearts, we at once hear his loving voice saying to the troubled consciences: Peace, there is no danger; your sins are forgiven and blotted out, and they shall harm you no more. 

4. And this entrance the Lord made here through barred doors, going through wood and stone, and still leaving everything whole, breaking nothing, yet getting in among his disciples. This illustrates how the Lord comes into our hearts and stands in us, namely, through the office of the ministry. Therefore, since God has commanded men to preach his Word, one should in no wise despise a mortal man into whose mouth he has put his Word; lest we get the idea that every one must expect a special message from heaven, and that God should speak to him by the word of his mouth. For if he imparts faith to any one, he does it by means of the preaching of man and the external word of man. 

This is going through closed doors, when he comes into the heart through the Word, not breaking nor displacing anything. For when the Word of God comes, it neither injures the conscience, nor deranges the understanding of the heart and the external senses; as the false teachers do who break all the doors and windows, breaking through like thieves, leaving nothing whole and undamaged, and perverting, falsifying and injuring all life, conscience, reason, and the senses. Christ does not do thus. Such now is the power of the Word of God. Thus we have two parts, preaching and believing. His coming to us is preaching; his standing in our hearts is faith. For it is not sufficient that he stands before our eyes and ears; he must stand in the midst of us in our hearts, and offer and impart to us peace. 

5. For the fruit of faith is peace; not only that which one has outwardly, but that of which Paul speaks to the Philippians (4, 7) saying it is a peace that passeth all reason, sense and understanding. And where this peace is, one shall not and cannot judge according to reason. This we shall see still farther in our Gospel lesson. 

6. First, the disciples sit there behind barred doors in great fear of the Jews, afraid to venture outside, with death staring them in the face. Outwardly they indeed have peace, no one is doing them any harm; but inwardly their hearts are troubled, and they have neither peace nor rest. Amid their fear and anguish the Lord comes, quiets their hearts and makes them glad, so that their fear is removed, not by removing the danger, but in that their hearts were no more afraid. For thereby the malice of the Jews is not taken away, nor changed; they rave and rage as before, and outwardly everything remains the same. But they are changed inwardly, receiving such boldness and joy as to declare: "We have seen the Lord." Thus he quiets their hearts, so that they become cheerful and fearless, not caring how the Jews rage. 

7. This is the true peace that satisfies and quiets the heart; not in times when no adversity is at hand, but in the midst of adversity, when outwardly there is nothing but strife before the eyes. And this is the difference between worldly and spiritual peace. Worldly peace consists in removing the outward evil that disturbs the peace; as when the enemies besiege a city there is no peace; but when they depart peace returns. Such is the case with poverty and sickness. While they afflict you, you are not contented; but when they are removed and you are rid of the distress, there is peace and rest again from without. But he who experiences this is not changed, being just as fainthearted whether the evil be present or not; only he feels it and is frightened when it is present. 

8. Christian or spiritual peace, however, just turns the thing about, so that outwardly the evil remains, as enemies, sickness, poverty, sin, death and the devil. These are there and never desist, encompassing us on every side; nevertheless, within there is peace, strength and comfort in the heart, so that the heart cares for no evil, yea, is really bolder and more joyful in its presence than in its absence. Therefore it is peace which passeth and transcendeth all understanding and all the senses. For reason can not grasp any peace except worldly or external peace, for it can not reconcile itself to it nor understand how that is peace if evil is present, and it knows not how to satisfy and comfort a person; hence it thinks if the evil depart, peace departs also. When however the Spirit comes, he lets outward adversity remain, but strengthens the person, making the timid fearless, the trembling bold, changing the troubled into a quiet, peaceful conscience, and such an one is bold, fearless and joyful in things by which all the world otherwise is terrified. 

9. Whence does he receive this? From his faith in Christ. For if I truly believe in the Lord from the real depth of my heart, that my heart can truly say: My Lord Christ has by his resurrection conquered my need, my sin, death and all evil, and will be thus with and in me, so that body and soul shall want nothing, that I shall have all I need, and no evil shall harm me: if I believe this, it is impossible for me to be faint-hearted and timid no matter how much sin and death oppress me. For faith is ever present and says: Does sin burden you, does death terrify you, look to Christ who died for your sake and rose again, and conquered every evil; what can harm you? Why will you then fear? So also in case other misfortunes burden you, as sickness or poverty, turn your eyes from it, lock the door to reason and cast yourself upon Christ and cleave to him, so shall you be strengthened and comforted. If you look to Christ and believe on him, no evil that may befall you is so great that it can harm you and cause you to despair. Therefore it is impossible for this fruit to remain outside, where faith is, so that peace does not follow. 

10. From peace the other fruit now follows, as is taught in this Gospel. When Christ came to the disciples and said: "Peace be unto you!" and showed them his hands and feet; then they were glad that they saw the Lord. Yes, to be sure they had to be glad, for that they saw Christ was the greatest joy the heart of man can experience. Hitherto we have been permitted to see our hands, that is, we have been taught to trust in our works; this brought no gladness. But to see Christ makes us glad. And this takes place by faith; for thus St. Paul in Rom 5,1-2 says: "Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; through whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand; and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God." 

11. Thus we have the fruit whereby we know who are true Christians. For he who has no peace in that in which the world finds nothing but unrest, and is joyful in that which in the world is nothing but gloom and sorrow, is not yet a Christian, and does not yet believe. This truth is being also sung at this season everywhere in the hymn on the Lord's resurrection; but hardly anybody understands it. He who composed it surely understood it aright. He does not stop at the Lord is risen, when he says: "Christ is risen from his Passion;" as though this were sufficient, but brings it home to us and adds: Let us all rejoice in this. But how can we rejoice in it, if we have nothing of it and it is not ours? Therefore, if I am to rejoice in it, it must be mine, that I may claim it as my own property, that it may profit me. And finally he closes: Christ will be our consolation, that we can and shall have no other consolation but Christ. He wants to be it himself and he alone, that we should cling to him in every time of need; for he has conquered all for our benefit, and by his resurrection he comforts all troubled consciences and sad hearts. This the Gospel teaches concerning faith and its fruits. 

12. Now follows the office of the ministry. The power of faith now develops love. For it does not yet suffice that I have the Lord so that he is mine, and that I find in him all comfort, peace and joy; but I must henceforth also do as he has done: for it follows thus in the text: 

"As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you." 

13. The first and highest work of love a Christian ought to do when he has become a believer, is to bring others also to believe in the way he himself came to believe. And here you notice Christ begins and institutes the office of the ministry of the external Word in every Christian; for he himself came with this office and the external Word. Let us lay hold of this, for we must admit it was spoken to us. In this way the Lord desires to say: You have now received enough from me, peace and joy, and all you should have; for your person you need nothing more. Therefore labor now and follow my example, as I have done, so do ye. My Father sent me into the world only for your sake, that I might serve you, not for my own benefit. I have finished the work, have died for you, and given you all that I am and have; remember and do ye also likewise, that henceforth ye may only serve and help everybody, otherwise ye would have nothing to do on earth. For by faith ye have enough of everything. Hence I send you into the world as my Father hath sent me; namely, that every Christian should instruct and teach his neighbor, that he may also come to Christ. By this, no power is delegated exclusively to popes and bishops, but all Christians are commanded to profess their faith publicly and also to lead others to believe. 

14. Secondly, if you have exercised yourself in this highest work and taught others the right way of truth, then make up your mind to keep on and serve everybody. Then the example of your life and good works follows; not that you can thereby merit and acquire anything, seeing you have beforehand everything that is necessary to salvation. Furthermore Christ now gives a command, he breathes upon the disciples and says: 

"Receive ye the Holy Spirit: whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." 

15. This is a great and mighty power which no one can sufficiently extol, given to mortal men of flesh and blood over sin, death and hell, and over all things. The pope too boasts in the canon law that Christ has given to him power over all earthly things; which would indeed be correct if the people rightly understood it. For they apply it to the civil government; this is not Christ's thought; but he gives spiritual power and rule, and wishes to say this much: When ye speak a word concerning a sinner, it shall be spoken in heaven, and shall avail so much as if God himself spake it in heaven; for he is in your mouth, therefore it has the same force as if he himself spoke it. Now it is always true, if Christ speaks a word, since he is Lord over sin and hell, and says to you: Thy sins are forgiven; then they must be forgiven and nothing can prevent it. Again, if he says: Thy sins shall not be forgiven thee; then they remain unforgiven, so that neither you, nor an angel, nor a saint, nor any creature, can forgive your sin, even if you martyred yourself to death. 

16. This same power belongs to every Christian, since Christ has made us all partakers of his power and dominion; and here his is not a civil but a spiritual rule, and his Christians also rule spiritually. For he does not say: This city, this country, this bishopric or kingdom you shall rule, as the pope does; but he says: Ye shall have power to forgive and to retain sins. Hence this power pertains to the conscience, so that by virtue of God's Word I can pass judgment as to what the conscience can cleave to, so that against and above that no creature can do anything, neither sin, nor the world nor Satan. This is true power. But thereby no power is given me to rule over temporal matters, over a country and people, externally after the manner of civil governments, but a much higher and nobler power, which can in no sense be compared with it. 

17. Therefore we shall thank God, that we now know the great power and glory given us through Christ in his plain Word, as St. Paul also highly praises and extols it to the Ephesians, saying: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ." Eph 1, 3. And again: "God made us alive together with Christ, and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in heavenly places, in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus: for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them." Eph 2,5-10. 

18. Observe, what great transcendent comfort we have in that God awakens in us also the same power he exercises in Christ, and bestows upon us equal authority. As he made him sit in heavenly places, above all power and might, and everything that can be named; so has he invested us also with the same power, that those who believe have all power over heaven and earth. This we have in the words he left behind him; and they are so powerful, that when they are spoken by us, they avail as much as if he himself were on earth and spake them in the majesty and glory in which he now exists. And this is the power we have from his resurrection and ascension; there he gives us power to, kill and to make alive, to consign to the devil and to rescue from him. 

19. But in this matter one must proceed carefully, and not do like the popes. For they have reached the point to have the power, that however and whatever they say, so it must be, because they say it. Nay, this power you have not, but the divine Majesty alone has it. They say thus: If the pope speaks a word and says: Thy sins are forgiven thee, they are blotted out, even though you neither repent nor believe. They mean by this, that they have the power to bestow and withhold heaven, to open or shut it, to locate one in heaven or cast into hell; far from it that it should be so. For from this it would then follow that our salvation depended on the works, authority and power of man. Therefore, since this is in conflict with all the Scriptures it can not be true that when you open or shut, it must be open or shut. 

20. Therefore we must rightly understand Christ when he says: "Whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained;" that this does not establish the power of him who speaks but of those who believe. Now the power of him who speaks and of him who believes are as far apart as heaven and earth. 

God has given us the Word and the authority to speak; but it does not therefore follow from this that it must so be done, as Christ also preached and taught the Word, and yet not all who heard it believed, and it was not everywhere done as he spake the Word, although it was God's Word. Therefore Christ's meaning is: Ye shall have the power to speak the Word, and to preach the Gospel, saying, Whosoever believeth, has the remission of his sins; but whosoever believeth not, has no remission of sin. But ye have not the power to create faith. For there is a great difference between planting and giving the growth; as Paul says to the Corinthians: "I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase." 1 Cor 3, 6. Hence we have no authority to rule as lords; but to be servants and ministers who shall preach the Word, by means of which we incite people to believe. Therefore, if you believe the Word, you gain this power; but if you believe not, then what I speak or preach will avail nothing even though it be God's Word; and if you believe not these words you are not treating me but God himself with dishonor and contempt. 

21. Therefore, unbelief is nothing but blasphemy, which makes God a liar. For if I say, your sins are forgiven you in God's name, and you believe it not, it is the same as if you said: who knows whether it be true, and whether he be in earnest? By this you charge God and his Word with lying. Therefore you better be far from the Word, if you believe it not. For when a man preaches his Word, God would have it as highly esteemed as if he himself had preached it. This then is the power given by God, which every Christian has, and of which we have already spoken much and often; hence this is enough for the present.