Open your Bibles to John 20:11-31. Over the last two weeks we have been examining the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the single greatest, hope-filled event in all of history. The great theologian Jonathan Edwards said this about the resurrection:
“[The] resurrection of Christ is the most joyful event that ever came to pass; because hereby Christ rested from the great and difficult work of purchasing redemption, and received God’s testimony, that it was finished. The death of Christ was the greatest and most wonderful event that ever came to pass; but that has a great deal in it that is sorrowful. But by the resurrection of Christ, that sorrow is turned into joy. The Head of the church, in that great event, enters on the possession of eternal life; and the whole church is, as it were, begotten again to a lively hope, 1 Pet. 1:3. Weeping had continued for a night, but now joy cometh in the morning.”
The question before us today is, does the resurrection Christ produce in us joy? I fear that for many of us, it does not. We have become numb to the resurrection of Christ. It is merely a historical event, but we do not feel its weight. We do not see it's hope. Which leads to the ultimate question, do we really, truly believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And by believe, I do not mean do we accept it as a doctrinal truth of the Christian faith. By believe I mean is our entire life built upon its foundation!
Over the last two weeks we examined the evidence of the resurrection. As I say frequently, faith in Christ is not without solid proof. It is not a blind leap of faith. Belief in the resurrection is built upon historical reality. First, the resurrection of the Messiah was unmistakenly proclaimed before Jesus was even born in the Old Testament. Second, Jesus taught that he would be crucified and be resurrected three days later. Third, the stone was rolled away, the guards were missing, angels were present, and so were the linen clothes that wrapped the body of Christ. Coincidence? I think not.
It should be noted that no one denies that the body of Jesus went missing. Just think about that for a second. In order to put an end to the debate once and for all, all they would have had to do is to present the body. But they couldn’t. Why? Because He has risen. One argument that resurrection deniers put forth is that Mary and the disciples went to the wrong tomb. Well, if that was the case, the Sanhedrin could have easily ended the spread of Christianity by going to the right tomb and presenting the body. But they didn’t. Why not? Because in this garden, there was no mistaking which tomb was the correct tomb.
Now if the predictions in the Old testament weren't enough, and the predictions of Christ weren't enough, and if the missing body with the linen cloths left weren't enough, last week we examined one more piece of evidence, the eye witness account Mary Magdalene. And as we said last week, it is hard to deny that Jesus is alive, if he is standing before you alive. So with that, the evidence continues to mount. Mary is the first of over 500 people in the next 40 days who see the living Christ before his ascension, and today we will examine a few more followers of Jesus who witnessed a resurrected Christ. So with that, let us read our text, pray, and unpack God’s Word.
- John 20:19-31 – “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,c Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”24Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin,d was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 26Eight 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.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
Peace Be With You
The opening scene of our Scripture for today is a locked room full of ten of the 12 disciples. Judas has now been absent from the group sense Friday evening, and Thomas is no where to be found. Why? We are not sure, but it might possibly be his defeatist attitude after the death of Jesus, the one whom they thought was the Messiah.
The word that wold summarize this gathering of the ten is fear. John tells us that they were afraid explicitly in verse 11; however, we also see it in their actions of the locking of the door on Easter evening as well as eight days later, when Thomas is finally present. They once again lock the door.
The reason that they are afraid is because of the fear of the Jews. Why is this? It is obviously because the Jews had just killed Christ on Friday evening. Jesus, the one who calmed the storms was crucified by the Jews. And if they were able to kill Jesus, the disciples believed it would be a piece of cake to kill Jesus' followers. And if they were going to come and kill the disciples, they would do it on Sunday, for Saturday was the Passover Sabbath, and no work was allowed on that day, including arresting people. Not to mention, earlier in the day, they had discovered that the body of Jesus was missing. And the disciples could only assume that the Jews would come looking for it, and where would they begin? The most logical place would eb with the disciples. So the doors were locked, and fear consumed them.
I think it is interesting to dwell upon this reoccurring theme that John continues to bring to our attention. In John 11 we are told that the twelve disciples are scared to return to Jerusalem so as to attend the funeral of Lazarus. Once again, because of the Jews. Then we are told in John 14 that during the Upper Room Discourse the disciples hearts were trouble. Then we are told in John 18 of Peter's denial of Jesus due to being afraid of a servant girl. Then in John 19 we are told that the only ones who were at the crucifixion were John, Mary, and some other women. Where were the rest? Hiding. Then later on in John 19 we are introduced to Joseph of Arimathea who is described as a secret disciple. And now in John 20, what do we see, but ten grown men, huddled together and hiding. First on Easter evening, and then again eight days later. Why so much fear? To put it simply, they did not believe in the resurrection. And this lack of faith produced in their life anxiety. Perhaps that statement, does not only describe the disciples, but it also describes you. Your lack of faith in the resurrected Christ has produced in your a paralyzing anxiety.
Then in the midst of their small group grief session, who suddenly appears and stands in their midst? The resurrected Jesus. And what are the first words out of his mouth? “Hey guys!, Miss me?” No. He says, “Peace be with you.” In fact, we are told that he says it two times in this first meeting with them, and then says it again, eight days later when Thomas is present, “Peace be with you.”
Why does Jesus do this? Because this is what they needed more than anything at this moment in their lives, the peace that only the resurrected Prince of Peace can give. And just like that, peace was upon them. The presence of the resurrected Christ, and the proclamation of His Word removed their anxieties and the peace of God that surpasses understanding stood guard at their hearts and their minds, and what replaced it? Gladness. Their fear was turned to gladness, or to say it another way, their sorrow was turned to joy. And not only joy, but worship. In verse 28, Thomas says the “My Lord and my God!” This Jew who throughout his life would have heard the words of Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one,” Is now calling Jesus God. Why? Because the resurrection of Christ proves that Jesus is more than a man, he is Emmanuel, God with us.
And what was the cause of this radical transformation? A belief in the resurrected Christ. And this makes complete sense, how could they fear the Jews if the living Jesus stood in their midst? And this logic can also apply to us today. Jesus is as much alive today as he was then. How can we fear death, in Christ is alive? How can we fear disease, if Christ is alive? How can we fear, financial strains if Christ is alive? How can we fear anything, if Christ is alive? The key to peace, is the resurrected Christ standing in your life and speaking over you. And how does this occur? Reading the Bible by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And with that we see Jesus being true to his word that he spoke to his disciples just four days earlier in the upper room. If you recall in John 14:18 Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” Despite their unfaithfulness, Christ remained faithful to those whom the father gave him. Christ came to them where they were at and took away their anxieties. This is what Christ does for his disciples. He provides a peace that is unmatched in this universe. It is peace that leads to a gladness in ones life. It was available to them and it is available to all of us in Christ.
Touch His Hands and Side
Now after saying, “Peace be with you.” Jesus then spends time showing the ten disciples his hands and his sides. With Thomas, he even encouraged him to touch his wounds. Why did he do this? It was to show them that he was actually resurrected, and not just some spiritual being. He was back from the dead.
Now this may cause you to wonder, was this an actual concern? Yes. In the Old Testament, Sal called Samuel's spirit back from the dead through a medium. In Mathew 17, Peter, James, and John were taken to the Mount of Transfiguration and saw spirits of Moses and Elijah. And then there was Matthew 14, when Jesus was walking on water, and what did the disciples think? That it was a ghost. Jesus wanted to make sure they understood that he who stood in their midst was a crucified and now resurrected Messiah. Flesh and bones. Jesus is the first of the resurrected, and he really was resurrected, and is still resurrected.
We Share the Same Mission
And this leads to a second question, why? Why does Jesus want his disciples to know that death could not hold him? It was because of their upcoming mission. Look at verse 21, “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
As we stated last week, Jesus was not interested in small talk. As he got down to business with Mary Magdelene at the tomb, he was not getting down to business with his disciples. They had work to do, and that work was identical to the work of Christ. They were being sent out, just like Jesus was sent out. So how was Jesus sent out? He was sent out to save people from sin and death. John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus was sent, not to make people comfortable, not to make people rich, not to provide the best life now. No. Jesus was sent to save people from the coming wrath of God.
This was Jesus' primary mission, to provide a way for people to be reconciled to God. And now this becomes his disciples primary mission, to seek and save the lost. This text is John's version of the Great Commission. And in this passage we see that it is given to the followers of Christ the very first time Jesus appears to them on Easter evening, showing its preeminence within the Church. Was their fellowship that evening, sure. Was there worship that evening, sure. Was their gladness that evening, sure. Was their preaching that evening, sure, but all of it was so that they could go and proclaim that the Kingdom of God has arrived in the reign of the Living Christ.
Unfortunately, as we stated last week, going and making disciples has fallen by the wayside in Churches. It is no longer fashionable, no longer seen as important. Other things take priority, such as buildings, pot lucks, worship music, theology. None of these things are bad, but they can compete against evangelism instead of equipping for evangelism. Everything we do as a Church should go through the filter of, will this help us in going and making disciples. This morning as we gather together as a group of disciples, and meet in the name of Jesus, thereby having Jesus in our midst, we are to be learning, and worshiping, and fellowshipping and praying for the purpose to equip ourselves as a body of Christ to be sent and Jesus was sent. His mission is our mission.
We Share in the Same Power
And when we leave this building, not only is our purpose to be the same as Jesus', but so it our power. Look at very 22, “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” When disciples go and proclaim Christ, we do not go in our flesh, we go in the Spirit. If you recall, as Jesus began his ministry, three years earlier, how did it begin? It began with his baptism and the Holy Spirit descending and remaining on him. IN Matthew 12:18 it quotes Isaiah and says, “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.” We, like Christ, are commission to go and proclaim by the same Spirit, and how do we receive it? We receive it through Christ.
Now, on a side note, most commenttors say, and I would agree, that the breathing by Jesus in giving of the Spirit is merely symbolic in this moment. The Holy Spirit is not actually given at this moment. Why do they say this? For several reasons. First, after Jesus breathes on the disciples they are still found hiding in a locked room eight days later. Also, we will see in John 21 the disciples fail to go and make disciples, but instead go back to fishing. A radical change in their life doesn't actually take place until Pentecost. Which makes sense, because Jesus has already said explictily in John 16 that when he ascends to the Father he will send the Holy Spirit. At this moment in time, Jesus has not ascended to the Father. Therefore, he has not sent the Spirit yet.
So why would Jesus do this symbolically? Because he wants to teach them that the only way to receive the Spirit is through him. Jesus is the source of the power of God. It is how we access it, through Christ alone. Without Jesus there is no forgivens of sins, and without Jesus there is no new creation. In fact, this scene is a very interesting one, in light of the original creation account in Genesis 2. If you recall, after God formed Adam he breathed life into him and he become a living being. Jesus is now displaying that he is the source of be a new spiritual living being. So not only are we sent on the same mission as Jesus, we are sent by the same power of Jesus.
The Forgiveness of Sins
And as we go and make disciples, what are we actually doing when we proclaim the Gospel? Look at verse 23, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” The sending of the disciples to do the same work as Jesus, by the same power as Jesus, produces the same result as Jesus, the forgiveness of sins. This is the goal of sharing the gospel by the power of the spirit. When we speak the gospel we are offering forgiveness, when we do not speak the gospel, we are denying forgiveness.
The Catholic Church as made a mockery out of this text, as they do some many other things. They take this passage and argue that verse 23 gives the Pope and the Priests the power to absolve sins. The is ridiculous. Why do I say this? Because only God has the authority to forgive sins. Isaiah 43:25, ““I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” We also see it in Mark 2:9 when Jesus heals the paralytic, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”
So what does Jesus mean by out text this morning? He means that he has given us the ability to forgive sins by proclaiming the gospel. Those who repent and believe in Jesus Christ will be forgiven. We see this very clearly as we walk through the book of Acts, not once do we see the apostles forgiving anyone sins, instead we see them encouraging people to believe in Christ. Listen to what Peter says in Acts 10:43, “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Do we have the power to forgive sins, thereby causing people to avoid the wrath of God for their transgressions? Yes, but only by the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. And shame on us if we do not unleash it upon the world.
And this is the reason why John writes this Gospel, so that people will believe. Look at verse 31, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The only way to be forgiven is by believing in Jesus. The only way to have eternal life is be believing in Jesus. The only way to be reconciled to God is by believing in Jesus. Faith alone. Grace alone. Christ alone.