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Sermon: As The Father Sent Me, So I Am Sending You: John 20:19-23


Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 26:1–4

“In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: ‘We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.’” (Isaiah 26:1–4, ESV)

New Testament Reading: John 20:19-23

“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 20:19–23, ESV)

Introduction

Brothers and sisters, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ lived, he was crucified and buried, and on the third day he rose from the grave. This did not happen in a back alley somewhere. To use Paul’s language from his speech before Agrippa, the resurrection was not “done in a corner.” (Acts 26:26, ESV) No, our Lord rose from the grave and appeared to many over a forty day period of time before ascending to the Father. Paul testified to this in 1 Corinthians 15:3 when he wrote, “…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom [were] still alive [at the time of his writing], though some [had] fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me”, Paul says. (1 Corinthians 15:3–8, ESV)

Why did Jesus appear to so many?

Well, the most obvious reason was to prove that he was indeed alive. This, to quote Paul again, was of “first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3). If Christ did not raise from the dead then there is no reason to hope in him – there would be no reason to believe upon him if he was not raised. Jesus appeared to many over a period of forty days to, first of all, prove to them that he was indeed alive.

But was that the only reason? Last Sunday I sought to demonstrate that Christ also labored to show what kind of life he was raised to. It was a bodily resurrection – that is clear. But Christ was raised in glory. The body he had was a spiritual body, or a glorified body (see 1 Corinthians 15). Christ was raised from the dead, not to enjoy life as he had experienced it for the past thirty years or so, but to a higher order of life. In other words, Christ’s resurrection was similar to Lazarus’, but dissimilar in some significant ways. Christ was raised never to die again. He was raised to immortality, glory, and power. This he demonstrated in the forty days between his resurrection and ascension to the Father.

And notice a third reason for his meeting with the disciples in his resurrection. He sought to prepare them for the journey that was before them. Jesus would ascend, but his disciples would remain. And they would remain, not to sit idly awaiting Christ’s return, but to continue his work in the world. They would need boldness for the job. They would need a clearly defined mission. And they would need power to accomplish it. And so Jesus taught his disciples in the forty days between his resurrection and ascension. He instructed them from the scriptures. He encouraged them. He commissioned them. He prepared them for the road ahead. This is what we see going on in the text before us this morning.

Let me say a word about the setting before we get into the heart of the text.

First of all, notice that the disciples are no longer scattered each to his own home, but are now together in one place. We are to imagine at least ten of them. Judas is no longer with them. And we are told in 20:24 that Thomas was missing. If we work to harmonize the other gospels with what is said here in John it seems that Thomas was with the disciples at one point that evening but left in unbelief before Jesus appeared. Bummer for him. He would have certainly benefited from seeing the risen Lord, wouldn’t you agree? He was struggling with doubt, and it appears that he went off to sulk somewhere.

Let this be a lesson to those of you who, when you are struggling, decide to neglect gathering together with the people of God. It’s ironic, isn’t it? What you need is fellowship. What you need is to be ministered to by Christ and his people. And yet you, like doubting Thomas, decide to isolate yourselves from Christ. You say, well Christ can minister to me wherever I’m at!  There is some truth to that. But why would you assume that Christ would bless your disobedience. He warns us not to neglect the fellowship (Hebrews 10:25). Also, Christ is present in a special way when his church is gathered. The church is his body. The church is the temple of the Holy Spirit. The church is where the word is preached. The church is where the Supper is eaten. It is never wise to isolate yourself even when you do not feel like being around people. Had Thomas remained with his brothers his sorrow would have been relieved. But because he was negligent, his sorrow was prolonged for another week.

Well, at least there were 10 gathered, and perhaps more. “Disciples” certainly refers to the inner band of Jesus’ disciples (the Apostles), but it can be used more broadly. I imagine that the women were there along with others who, through they were not a part of the Apostolic band, were in fact disciples, or followers, of Jesus. Matthias, who would later be appointed to replace Judas, was probably also there. When you compare John 20 with Mark 16, Luke 24, and what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 it leads you to believe that there were more than the ten there. There were eleven if you count Matthias and other disciples too, including the men who had returned from the road to Emmaus, whoever they were.

Secondly, notice how Jesus emphasizes that Jesus appeared to these on “the evening of that day, [which was] the first day of the week.”  The risen Lord met with his disciples on Sunday, which is the first day of the week. I see this as very significant. A pattern is being established here. Look at John 20:26. There we read that, “Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” (John 20:26, ESV) Notice that the disciples were gathered together on the Sunday of the resurrection and Jesus appeared to them. And then they were gathered again “eight days later”. This is referring to the following Sunday according to the Jewish way of counting days. The first Sunday and the second Sunday would be included in the counting so that the phrase “eight days later” refers to the following Sunday. Again, Jesus appeared to his disciples as they were gathered together.

If anyone ever asks you the question, “who changed the Sabbath?” you can tell them that Jesus did. He changed it from Saturday to Sunday by virtue of his resurrection. The Jewish Sabbath – the Saturday, or seventh day, Sabbath – was patterned off of the first creation. It looked forward to the Sabbath rest offered to Adam, which would ultimately be earned by the coming Redeemer. The Christian Sabbath – the Sunday, or first day, Sabbath – is patterned off of the second, or new creation, inaugurated at Christ’s resurrection. It points us back to that decisive event where our redemption was earned by the Redeemer. Brothers and sisters, a Sabbath rest remains for the people of God (see Hebrews 4:9), and the day to observe it is Sunday, which John refers to elsewhere as “the Lord’s Day”. We, like the first disciples, and the early church which was born out of their ministry, ought to gather on the first day of the week expecting Christ to minister to us in a pronounced way as we do.

The last thing to notice about the setting is that the doors to the room where the disciples were meeting were locked. Why? Because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities. Their fear is understandable, wouldn’t you agree? It was on Friday that they saw their Lord brutally beaten and killed. Their suspicion was that the Jewish authorities would come for them also in order to snuff out the Jesus movement all together. And so they went to their homes on Friday evening, remained there on Saturday, and on into Sunday morning. The shepherd was struck and the sheep scattered. But then there was the rumor that the tomb was found empty and that some had seen the risen Lord. This was enough to bring them out of hiding to meet together, but it was especially risky.

They were afraid, and so they closed the doors and locked them. That needed to change. Christ did not raise from the dead so that his followers would cower in fear in this world. He rose so that they might have hope. He rose so that they might take courage in the world.

The Will Of Christ For His People Is That They Would Be At Peace

Notice that their fear is the first thing that Christ addressed.

Look at the end of verse 19: “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” (John 20:19, ESV) Look also at verse 21: “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you…’” (John 20:21, ESV) The will of Christ for his people is that they would be at peace.  The church is to be a community at peace.

While it is true that the church is to enjoy unity, that is not what Jesus is referring to here. It is not “peace” in the sense of unity or lack of conflict that he is addressing in this instance, but “peace” in the sense of inner tranquility, calmness – a heart that is settled and at ease. It is peace as opposed to fear and anxiety that Jesus is offering.

These brothers and sisters were not at peace – they were overwhelmed by fear and worry. When Jesus appeared to them they were cowering in fear. They were hiding. The doors were locked. I’m sure that Jesus could see the fear in their eyes and feel the anxiety in the room. Brothers and sisters, notice that Jesus appeared to these and offered them peace.

And he does the same with you and I today. God’s desire is that his people would enjoy peace in this world. The world gives us plenty of reasons to fear, but Christ has overcome the world.

This has already been emphasized John’s gospel. In 14:27 we heard Jesus tell his disciples, “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 14:27, ESV) And in 16:33 he says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, ESV)

These words are not only for the Apostles, but for all who believe upon Christ through their word. It is no wonder then that Paul begins his letters to the churches with this greeting: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Romans 1:7, ESV) One of the characteristics of those who have faith in Christ is that they are at peace – not ruled by fear or worry or anxiety.

You say, well that’s great, Pastor! I do have faith in Christ, and yet I struggle greatly with those things. What do you have to say to me?

First of all, notice that peace does not come automatically to Christians. It must be cultivated.

Notice that these original disciples believed in Christ and yet they struggled with fear. You say, well that is because they did not know for sure that Christ had risen! True, but notice what John 20:26 says. “Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”” (John 20:26, ESV) We have here on this second resurrection Sunday a repeat of what happened on the first. The disciples were still cowing in fear, and Jesus is still urging them to be at peace.

 

Secondly, notice that there is good reason for the Christian to enjoy peace in this world.

Here I wish to emphasize that the emotion of peace we enjoy in the heart is based upon something objective. There is a reason for it. The reality of the resurrection is the basis for our peace. Notice that Jesus appeared to his disciples, and not only did he say to them, “Peace be with you.” but he also “showed them his hands and his side.” (John 20:19–20, ESV) He presented to them the proof of his having raised from the dead. This was to be the ground of the peace they would enjoy in him. The resurrection of Christ is the ground of peace because in it we have victory over death itself.

Thirdly, notice that the Spirit of God must help us in our pursuit of peace.

We will return to this topic in a moment, but for now notice that these disciples who were cowering in fear had not yet received the promised Holy Spirit. It was after Pentecost that these disciples of Jesus grew bold. Acts 2 tells us all about the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. It was after that event, which transpired approximately fifty days after the death of Christ, that the disciple of Christ followed Jesus boldly. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23, ESV)

So what is a Christian to do if he or she is lacking peace? First of all, don’t assume that something is wrong with you. By this I mean, don’t assume that all true Christians have peace automatically. No, peace must be cultivated and maintained, even by disciples of Christ. Secondly, set your mind and heart upon the word of God, and especially reflect upon the reality of the resurrection and all of it’s implications. This takes work. It is a battle. “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…” (Ephesians 6:16–17, ESV) And thirdly, brother and sisters, we must pray. We must pray “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…” (Ephesians 6:18, ESV)

The will of Christ for his people is that they would be at peace.

The Will Of Christ For his People Is That They Would Continue His Work

Notice secondly that the will of Christ for his people is that they would continue his work in the world.

In verse 21 “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’” (John 20:21, ESV) God the Father sent the Son to accomplish redemption, and here the Son sends those given to him by the Father to engage in the work of bringing the redemption he has earned to others.

In verse 23 Jesus says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:23, ESV) The meaning of this is that the church, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ as the cornerstone, is tasked with the proclamation of the gospel, and the baptizing and teaching of those who respond to the gospel by faith, in the context of the local church.

This is the task that Christ has given to his people. As the Father sent him, so now he has sent the apostles, and through them, you and I also. Our mission is not the same as Christ’s. He was to accomplish redemption. he was unique as the Messiah. But our task is not disconnected from Christ’s either. We are to continue his work. We are to be involved in the application of the redemption he has earned to sinners. As we are faithful to proclaim the gospel we will have a front row seat to this process where forgiveness of sins is either withheld or extended. In fact, it is the church (here I am thinking of the local church) that is the agent through which forgiveness of sin is either withheld or extended as the gospel is proclaimed and as men and women make decisions for or against Christ.

I am not saying that the church has the power in and of herself to forgive sin. Only Christ does. But Christ has determined to continue his work of redemption in this world through the church. He accomplished redemption, being sent by the Father to do so, and now he is applying redemption to his elect through the church, whom he has sent.

This is John’s version of what we typically call the great commission. Each of the Gospels, along with Acts, contain some account of Jesus’ commission his apostles, and through them, the church that would be build upon their foundation. Listen to each of the accounts and observe the consistency.

Matthew 28:18: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:18–20, ESV)

Mark 16:15: “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.’” (Mark 16:15–16, ESV)

Luke 24:44: “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘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. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.’” (Luke 24:44–49, ESV)

Acts 1:7: “He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’” (Acts 1:7–8, ESV)

Brothers and sisters, we have work to do. When I say “we” I am not referring to you and I as individuals, but to you and I together as the church, the body of Christ. The great commission was not given to individuals. It was given to the church. It is impossible for an individual to fulfill the commission of Christ. No one individual can proclaim the gospel, baptize, teach, and do so to the ends of the earth. But the church can accomplish this – the church consisting of many members, each uniquely gifted to play a part in the accomplishment of this mission. Do you understand this? Christ commissioned the church to continue his work in this world. He did not commission individuals. He did not commission the family. He commissioned the church. He works through individuals and families, of course, but for the purpose of gathering his elect into the church.

This has huge implications for the way we do evangelism. Lord willing, we will be offering a course on evangelism in the fall. What I have just said here will serve as the foundational principles in that course.

The Will Of Christ For His People Is That They Would Be A Community Empowered By The Holy Spirit

Thirdly, and lastly, notice that the will of Christ for his people is that they would be a community empowered by the Holy Spirit.

“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.’” (John 20:21–22, ESV)

Here is the question. How does this event relate to Pentecost?

In Acts 2:1 Luke tells us that, “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1–4, ESV)

It was on the day of Pentecost that promised Holy Spirit was poured out. This was in fulfillment to Old Testament prophesied like Ezekiel 37 and Joel 2. And this was in fulfillment to the promise of Christ.  For example he said to his disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:18, ESV) And “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.” (John 14:25–26, ESV)

Most, if not all, agree that the events of Pentecost fulfilled these Old Testament prophesies and the promises of Christ. But how is John 20:21-22 to be understood?

There are two schools of thought. One is that the Spirit was actually given to the disciples here when Jesus breathed on them. The thought is that this was a mini or pre-pentecost. The other interpretation is that the Spirit was not actually given here, but that Christ is again indicating that the Spirit will be poured out upon those who believe.

I hold to the second view. I think this episode corresponds with what Jesus said to his disciples in Acts 1:4-5. “And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’” (Acts 1:4–5, ESV)

The important thing to notice is that Jesus, being anointed by the Spirit above measure in his life, raised by the Spirit, and glorified by the Spirit (spiritual body), also has the authority to give the Spirit to those who belong to him. The Spirit is a seal, or guarantee to us. The Spirit is a down payment or firstfruits, a promise of more good things to come. The Spirit empowers the disciples of  Christ to live as the ought to live in this world, to the glory of God. We are to walk by the Spirit.

Conclusion

Brothers and sisters, Christ rose and appeared to his disciples, not only to prove that he was alive, and not only to show what kind of life he had earned, but also to encourage, equip, and commission his disciples for the road ahead. His desire is that we would be at peace, that we would be about his work, and that we would do so by the Spirit, to his glory, honor and praise.

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warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

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