Jesus empowers us to forgive and retain sins
“Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” John 20:21-23
On the evening of that first Easter Day, Jesus appeared to His disciples where they were gathered together behind closed doors for fear of the Jews and showed them His hands and His side to prove to them that He truly was Jesus and that He really had risen from the dead (John 20:19-20).
Two times Jesus said to them: “Peace be unto you.” Since Christ had died upon the cross for their sins and was risen again in victory, they had peace with God — the peace of having all sins pardoned and forgiven through faith in the shed blood of Jesus (cf. Eph. 2:11ff.; 1 John 2:1-2).
The Bible says: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1-2).
Not only did Jesus bless them with the peace of sins forgiven, He breathed on them, gave them His Holy Spirit and commissioned them to forgive the sins of penitent sinners and to retain (not forgive) the sins of impenitent sinners as long as they do not repent (John 20:21-23). We often speak of this as the Office of the Keys because it opens the gates of heaven to those who are sorry for their sins and look to Christ and His redemptive work and closes the gates of heaven to those who are not sorry for their sins or do not trust in Christ for forgiveness. Indeed, it takes the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit to rightly use and apply these keys to others, but this is what Christ our Savior would have us do!
Some would object and say, “How can we, as believers in Christ, forgive and retain sins? Only God can do that!” This power is given us precisely because of Christ’s death upon the cross for the sins of all mankind and His glorious resurrection on the third day. Since Christ has paid for all sin and is risen in victory, we can announce and proclaim God’s pardon and peace to penitent sinners. And since Christ is the only way of salvation, we must also warn those who continue in sin and unbelief of the coming judgment of God upon all who do not repent.
As Jesus says, “He that believeth on Him [the Son] is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).
Dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we thank and praise You for Your death on the cross for our sins and for Your glorious resurrection and ascension. Grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may always trust in You and find peace in the pardon You have won for us, and help us to rightly apply Your Word to others that they too might receive the comfort and peace of knowing their sins are forgiven and that they too might have life everlasting through faith in Your name. Amen.
[Devotion by Randy Moll. Scripture Quotations from the King James Version of the Bible]