God is present vs. God is present for you

I hope you had a happy Quasimodogeniti, the Second Sunday of Easter with perhaps the coolest name in the Church Year (which comes from the Latin for the first words of the Introit of the day from 1 Peter 2:2:  “Like newborn infants. . . .).  We had another powerful sermon from our pastor, Rev. James Douthwaite, preaching on John 20:19-31:

And the disciples did. Was God with them in that room behind locked doors because God is present everywhere anyway? Sure. But that wasn’t much comfort. Jesus knew they needed not just a “well we know He’s here, somewhere” God, but a “He’s here for me” Saviour. Jesus knew, and so He came. In the flesh. To raise them from their sin and fear to a new life in Him.

And Jesus knows that’s what you need as well. “I know God is with me because He’s present everywhere” just doesn’t cut it when you’re locked in fear and sin and darkness and impending death and God seems a million miles away. Like the young child crying out for mom in the middle of the night, who knows mom’s there, in the house, maybe even right in the next room, but that’s not good enough. That’s a million miles away in child miles. He needs mom there. She needs mom’s touch.

So it was with the disciples; so it is often with us. And so Jesus, who was soon to ascend, not only comes to His disciples, but then send them out to do what He has done for them, to give what He has given to them, and to speak what He has spoken to them. To go to those still behind locked doors, or locked in dying bodies, or those who locked the doors of their hearts in fear, and give them Christ. Not to be a poor substitute, the disciples like the baby sitter who is a poor substitute for mom, but to give them their Saviour. To go to them with Him. With His Spirit and His peace, with His forgiveness and His life, with His presence and His love.

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 anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”

We usually associate those words with Absolution in the church, and rightly so. But they are more than that. They include wherever Christ and His forgiveness and life is given: in absolution, yes, but also in baptism, in the proclamation of the Gospel, and in our Lord’s Supper. Jesus wants His answer, His forgiveness, His victory, His life, Himself, to be given lavishly to people everywhere and in every need, through the means He has established to do just that. And so He sends His disciples into all the world. To bring His Easter to all the world. To a world lying still in death’s strong bands (LSB #458) – those strong bands that Jesus broke and would break for each and every person.

Continued at  St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Easter 2 Sermon.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Helen K.

    Dr. Veith – Thank you for posting your pastor’s powerful and comfort-giving message. I read through it with great joy. Just what I needed before bedtime.

  • Dr Luther in the 21st Century

    I am glad somebody finds some of the liturgical calendar names cool even though I personally can’t stand them. Probably has something to do with the fact I can’t pronounce half of them without first tying my tongue in a knot.

  • Abby

    “Jesus knew they needed not just a “well we know He’s here, somewhere” God, but a “He’s here for me” Saviour. Jesus knew, and so He came. In the flesh. To raise them from their sin and fear to a new life in Him.”

    I wish every Lutheran church could be convinced to offer the Holy Communion every Sunday — or even every service. I know some that do, but not enough.

  • JunkerGeorg

    As Rev. Douthwaite pointed out so eloquently, there is a crucial distinction to be made between “Omnipresence” and “Saving Presence”…In other words, between God being present everywhere, always (i.e., “omnipresence”), and His being present for one in a manner which saves and preserves one in salvation, namely, through the ministry and means of the Holy Spirit, that is, the preached Word and Divinely-instituted Sacraments. (Both Article V of the Augsburg Confession on Justification and Martin Luther’s 3rd Article on the Creed from his Small Catechism state this very well). This is especially important to point out to those who try to assert that the “Jesus Who was with them whilst they were fishing on the lake Sunday morning” is just as sufficient and salutary as the Jesus Who would serve them Himself in the Divine Service that same Sunday morning at their church. ;)

    Fwiw, I’ll suggest an additional, if not slightly similar, tangent on this text….that just as there is no comfort in a Presence of Jesus which isn’t also a Saving Presence of Jesus, so also there is no certain comfort in having a Resurrected, Easter Jesus appearing in front of you which is separated from the Crucified, Good Friday Jesus. A risen Jesus present with you is one thing, but a risen Jesus WITH WOUNDS is quite another. I mean, all will have immortality, whether they were in Christ or whether they rejected Him unto death. All will live forever, but the question is: Where will it be? Heaven or Hell? Unless our sin is answered for and dealt with (via Word and Sacrament rooted in and flowing out of the Cross Atonement), the fact of our immortality is of no comfort.

    We forget how these disciples (e.g., Thomas) were not only not solid on the Lord’s Word of promise to be raised on the Third Day, but no less also on the “reconciliation” He had wrought through His Cross Work on Good Friday, i.e., that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor 5:19). It is not merely that Thomas doubted the Lord had risen from the dead and would appear before him, but that all the disciples with him doubted what kind of Risen Lord they would have to appear before—a judge meting out a just wrath they deserved or a savior of undeserved mercy bespeaking a forgiveness they do not deserve? Apart from that knowledge and faith in such reconciliation of the Cross, which is proven in the wounds of that risen Jesus tangibly evident to those disciples, and as it is bestowed through His Word of Peace, then a risen Lord in/of itself is no comfort and it is no wonder they had huddled in fear…the awesome “sovereignty” of God manifested in a Risen Jesus triumphant over death and Hades being no comfort unless He be a merciful, forgiving God to them who were poor, miserable sinners. He could just as well appear before them in that Upper Room to count their trespasses against them! No wonder John tells us in his account how Peter, no doubt out of immense guild and shame for having denied and abandoned His Lord, quits discipleship and pulls a ‘Bar-Jonah’, taking up fishing again full time and then struggles to leave the boat go and meet His Lord on the shore that morning (to receive forgiveness and restoration from what would be a Divine Service by His Lord on that beach). We ourselves are of course no different than these disciples—we also never as solid as we should be on that truth of the Gospel, of the forgiveness of sins achieved in and by the Crucified One and bestowed unto us in the present here and now in Word and Sacrament (that Life-giving Word, water, and blood flowing from His mouth and pierced side), for which we poor miserable sinners can’t hear enough His Word of forgiveness, that Word of the Cross, through which the Holy Spirit creates and sustains our faith in Him, assuring us of forgiveness, of no residual naked shame in His presence, covered as we sinners are with His garment of righteousness. In fact, for those who are misled to think that the fact of the Easter Jesus means we should move “beyond” the Good Friday Jesus (and all that ugly Cross stuff), well, then you’ll be disappointed in Heaven when you find that the Christ we will ascribe all worth to in eternal will be the “Lamb Who was slain”.

    Anyways, in that awesome verse of 2 Cor. 5:19, St. Paul had concluded it by saying, “…and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” I find this significant for the simple-yet-performative word of Jesus to the disciples in the Upper Room, “Peace be with you”, is that very “Word of Reconciliation”, that “Preaching of the Cross”, that absolving word of the forgiveness of sins which He commits unto His apostles to proclaim , and hence by extension, unto the office of the ministry to proclaim yet today. For where this is given and received through faith, then indeed there truly is Peace with us, the Peace of new life and salvation.

    I write this in haste…apologies for all the complicated, overly-verbose writing here (ala Mark Twain, “Had I had more time, I would’ve written you a shorter letter.”) Dr. Veith, Rev. Douthwaite, and other Lutheran pastors who post here can say it much better than I have.

  • Marc

    Excellent Gospel message, JunkerGeorg. Thank you.

  • rvs

    Yep, that’s a cool word.

  • Matt Z

    Thanks for the reminder Dr Veith. I Lay read last Sunday, and now I wish I had used that name. It is dropping out of practice now here in Aus, to introduce the readings according to the particular Sunday. I’m old school, and slip it in when I can.


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