by Matthew C. Harrison
On the same night when He was betrayed into the hands that would crucify Him, Jesus promised His disciples:
These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:25–27)
The word used in this translation for the Holy Spirit — the divine, third member of the Holy Trinity — is “helper.” While describing the work of the Holy Spirit, this English translation misses something of the original Greek word “Paraclete,” which both Luther and the King James translated as “comforter.” In this context, the Holy Spirit is promised to “teach you all things” and help Jesus’ disciples to recall all that Jesus said (in large measure so that they could see to it that the words and deeds of Jesus were recorded in the Gospels). And the Holy Spirit thus gives “peace.” Both the Holy Spirit and the peace bestowed figure heavily in the resurrection appearances of Jesus. And the peace that comes from Jesus is “peace on a mission.”
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And 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 withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:19–24)
The disciples were frightened, yet Jesus came in person and delivered His peace. Jesus had been put to death, and the authorities were coming for the disciples next. But Jesus appeared and showed them His wounds in the flesh.
He’s alive! Profound sorrow and dismay were changed to rejoicing. What comfort! And then Jesus doubled down and said it again. “Peace be with you.”
Jesus’ peace is “peace on a mission.” “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Jesus came “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10), and it got Him killed. His apostles would now embark on the same mission and receive the same reward. And what did they need for the road ahead? They needed the sure hope of resurrection. They needed the Lord’s own appointment and commission. And they needed the gift of the Holy Spirit, and thus the divine authority to forgive and withhold sins.
We know from Jesus that “where two or three are gathered” in His name, He is present (Matt. 18:20). We know from Matthew 18 that the keys are given to the whole Church, not just pastors. We know that in Matthew 16 the keys are given to Peter in the name of all the apostles. We know that the woman at the well went and told others about Jesus, and many of the Samaritans of the city believed in Him because of the witness of the woman (John 4:39).
What does all of this mean for us? We’ve been washed by “water with the word” (Eph. 5:26), a “renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). When our pastor absolves us, both in the service and privately for comfort and consolation, we are forgiven. Each of us has the comfort of the resurrection as we face the many challenges of this life. The Church has a “Holy Spirit mission,” the very mission of Jesus. Whether as a full-time, called pastor or church worker, or as a person with one of a thousand God-pleasing vocations, we are called to speak of Jesus (Christ is risen!), to forgive sins and to ask for forgiveness in the name of Jesus. The Sunday service should be a rich and fulsome delivery of forgiveness, particularly in the absolution, the sermon and the Supper. And this rich and fulsome delivery of the forgiveness of sins continues into our daily lives — between husband and wife, parent and child, friend and neighbor, coworkers, etc.
Peace be with you!
— Pastor Harrison