John 20:19-23 (NLT)
That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
By Chuck Griffin
To pick up where I left off Friday, there is a particular moment in this resurrection appearance story I want to explore.
When Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you,” he indicated the true role of the church, the global church of believers. We are to act as the body of Christ, as a group continuing the work Jesus began through his teaching, crucifixion and resurrection.
Here’s my immediate impression: What an honor! God allows us to participate in work he could easily do himself. We are reminded of how we were initially created, as images of the one who made us.
As mere reflections of God, we of course cannot continue Christ’s work while relying on our own power. We instead must depend on God’s power being present among us and within us. Which brings us to the next moment in the story.
Jesus breathed on these men who would be the early church leaders and planters, telling them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” I think of this as a mini-Pentecost, an event we will celebrate Sunday, May 23. These men received early the gift that would fall upon the church in full after Jesus’ ascension.
Tired and afraid, hiding out, I’m sure they needed his power to begin their new roles.
The gift of the Spirit has been transmitted from generation to generation for thousands of years, and it will remain present somewhere in the world until Christ returns in full. We have to actively share the story of Jesus and bring people to belief, however, if they are to receive the gift.
Otherwise, we are in danger of living in one of those places on the planet where the Spirit once worked powerfully but now is not visible because of a lack of heart-felt evangelism and adherence to God’s teachings.
In this story, we also see a powerful concept we as the church are to offer to the world, the idea that forgiveness is possible even for what we consider terrible sins. True repentance—a desire to put sin behind us and turn toward God—is required, of course, but once we repent, God makes restoration easy, trusting the church to recognize it and declare it to have happened.
This message of forgiveness is something the world desperately needs to hear, particularly in our increasingly secular culture, where an escalating game of “Gotcha!” seems to be underway.
You’ve seen what I am talking about: Opponents dredge up sins from decades ago to use against each other, trying to tell the world, “That’s who that person really is!” Where there is no room for forgiveness, there is no room for restoration and growth, and we all are left to bite and devour each other until nothing remains.
As part of our efforts to evangelize the world, the most attractive part of our message may be the concept of forgiveness, of lives changed. As members of Christ’s global church, let’s remember to inject lessons of forgiveness into a gotcha kind of world.
Yes, Lord, sin remains in the world, even in our lives. Thanks to you for giving us and others a way out, a way to grow, a way to be more like what you created us to be. Amen.