I do not need these five verses. Since I do not need these five verses, I do not need this sermon. You do not need these five verses. Since you do not need these five verses, you do not need this sermon. But…we need these five verses. And since we need these five verses, we need this sermon. And this is only true because of these five verses.
In John 20:19-23, the risen, living Jesus appears to ten men at the very same time. These ten men are the disciples. Jesus has resurrected from the dead and he is alive. The first physical appearance of the living, risen Jesus took place at the tomb several hours prior to verse nineteen. And in that first physical appearance, the risen, living Jesus appeared to just one person. When Jesus first appears to the disciples he does not appear to them individually, but rather he appears to them collectively, while they are all gathered together in one room. In these five verses only ten disciples are present. Thomas is not there. The living, risen Jesus will appear to Thomas eight days later. However, Jesus will not appear to Thomas alone. Jesus will make himself known physically to Thomas when Thomas is with the rest of the group. Why does that matter? It is because Jesus has something to say and what Jesus has to say is not for each of these men individually, but for each of these men collectively. What Jesus has to say is for the group.
When Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” it is peace for the group. The “you” is plural. When Jesus says, “I am sending you,” he is sending the group. The “you” is plural. When Jesus says, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” it is a command and it is a command given to the group. The word “receive” is plural. When Jesus breathed on them, he did not breathe on each disciple individually, he breathed on or into the group. And what Jesus says to them in verse twenty-three, does not rest on one or two prominent individuals, but on the group. So, see. See that we need these five verses and therefore we need this sermon. For we, a local church, “though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5). We need this.
It Begins with Fear
When the living, risen Jesus first appears to the disciples, it begins with verse nineteen. And in verse nineteen we learn of a most important detail. It is Sunday evening and, here it is, the disciples are afraid. These disciples are so afraid they have locked themselves in a room. They did not just lock themselves in a room, but they “locked the doors” to this room. There is more than one door to this room and the disciples made sure that every door, every possible entry to this room was locked. They are really afraid.
Remember, when Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene she was weeping. She was distraught and in sorrow. When Jesus appears to the disciples they are afraid. I read someone say that “fear is the way I feel the need of the risen, living Savior most often.” How often will I be distraught, grieving and in sorrow? Most likely not often. But how often do I know fear or panic or dread?
I can relate to being afraid. I get afraid about every Sunday morning with every sermon. I can really relate to being afraid on a Sunday evening. I get afraid about us. Will we make it? Will we be effective? Will we fail? Will we lose people? Will we gain people? I get afraid about my family, specifically my daughters.
What Do You Need When You Are Afraid?
What do you need when you are afraid? John 20:19 reminded me of Joshua 1. Joshua was a man like these men. He followed God because he loved him. And Joshua was afraid. He was in a room and afraid and the living God appeared to him and said, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
And in John 20:19, the living, risen Jesus appears to the disciples in a room, right in the middle of them, while they are afraid and speaks. So, what do you need when you are afraid? You need the voice of the living, risen Jesus.
Peace Be With You
These fear-filled disciples, who by the way will go on to turn the world upside down, hear Jesus say, “Peace be with you.” He says this twice in this room on this evening (20:19, 21). He will say it a third time when Thomas is present (20:26). Essentially, this is a common greeting that in one moment will never feel common again. These fear-filled men are hearing “Peace be with you” from the living, risen Savior. The last words that these men knew/heard Jesus scream were “It is finished.” And now being alive, these men hear “Peace be with you.” In other words, the first words these fear-filled men hear from the living, risen Savior, twice in this passage, is “Peace is my gift to you!” Through the blood of his cross these men, and all who want it, can now have peace with God and can be presented because of Jesus alone, holy and blameless and all together good before God. Peace is his gift to you! Paul will use this one word, peace, at the beginning of each of his thirteen letters. These are the first words that fear-filled men hear from the living, risen Jesus. These are the words to hold you and your sight when you are afraid. It gets better.
And He Breathed on Them
Jump to verse twenty-two. “And when he had said these things, he breathed on them.” Pause there. This could be translated one of two ways. Either “he breathed on them” or “he breathed into them.” What is important to note is that he did not breathe into each one of them individually, but breathed on them or into them collectively. What is the significance of the living, risen Savior breathing into this group? The Old Testament may be of help here. Listen to Genesis 2:7. “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” This is about new life. This is about the living, risen Savior breathing into this group new life (cf. John 3:7-8). And new life does not happen without the Holy Spirit.
Receive the Holy Spirit
As Jesus breathed into them, he said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Interesting here is the word receive. The word receive is a command and is given in the active voice, meaning this is something that the subject does. The disciples were to receive, actively take hold of, the Holy Spirit. Do not get confused about this, and instead remember what Jesus has already said to these men about the Holy Spirit. Remember John 14:16-17. “And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him or knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” Remember John 14:25-27. “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 14:16-17 and John 14:25-27 are words about the Holy Spirit that Jesus spoke to the disciples on Thursday night. And on the following Sunday Jesus is saying to them “Receive the Holy Spirit.” It is on the same night that they are afraid. It is on the same night that he gives them the gift of peace. It seems then that in this moment Jesus is telling them, “Grab a hold of what I have told you about the Holy Spirit. He is now in you. He will be reminding you of all that I have taught you. He will guide you in the truth. He is your helper. Now do not be afraid.”
I Am Sending You
In the context of this moment – their fear, the gift of peace and the exhortation to grab a hold of what Jesus has already said about the Holy Spirit – do not miss something of great importance. It is a verse we deliberately skipped. It is verse twenty-one. “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Do not miss the sending. Jesus is sending fear-filled men. He is sending them out. And Jesus says, it is as the Father has sent him. In what way? Jesus was sent by the Father for a specific purpose. So it is with these men. Jesus is sending these men for a specific purpose. Jesus is sending these men to do a definite something and to do that definite something you absolutely need a helper. His name is the Holy Spirit. Grab a hold of the fact that you are a jar of clay possessing in you a phenomenal treasure. You are a temple of the Holy Spirit. You have the Spirit of the living Christ in you. In you God the Father and God the Son and God the Spirit have desired to make their home. Grab a hold of that, even when you are afraid, because you are sent by Jesus to do a definite something.
Sent by Jesus to do a Definite Something
What is that something? It is verse twenty-three. “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold the forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” In short, the definite something is forgiveness.
Again, this definite something is not to be done or given to be done by one or two certain individuals, but something that is to be done by the group. The group is sent out and the group is to do a definite something about forgiveness. Luke 24:46-48 is helpful. Luke gives an account of this same moment and says, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
It is about proclaiming repentance and forgiveness to all nations. This is the definite something. John puts it another way, “if you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” What kind of authority is that? Is it actually determining whether or not a person can be forgiven or should be forgiven? Is it really possible that if someone seeks forgiveness that there is someone or a group that can actually withhold forgiveness from a repentant person? No. Put it like this, “when you tell people what Jesus has done, speaking his word, about his work, in the power of his Spirit, he is the one speaking through you, so that if anyone believes your word, I forgive their sins, and if anyone does not believe your words, I don’t forgive them.”
Remember what Jesus said to them on Thursday night. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me” (John 13:20, cf. John 17:17-19).
We Are Sent
We need this because we are sent. Ephesians 4:11-12 says that if I have really done my job in the teaching of God’s Word, then you are equipped. The word equipped has with it the idea of going out. You are like a fishing boat who has come into port to be outfitted with supplies to go back out fishing. We are sent. We are to grab a hold of amazing reality like John 14 and 2 Corinthians 4 and go out. He is sending us! And what is begged of us is to wherever God has set us down, go. What is begged of us is that we, this church, examine the outreach that we are to be doing. What is begged of us is to pray to the Lord of the harvest seeking open opportunities for open hearts and open ears and open minds, that eyes may be opened. What is begged of us is to see that he is using us, sending us that the whole world, all nations would know the forgiveness of the risen, living Savior whose name is Jesus the Christ.
You are sent in the power of his Holy Spirit. So, let’s go.