When we speak of the seven last words of Christ, we generally refer to those words spoken by Jesus immediately preceding His death and crucifixion. Those seven statements are:
1) “Father forgive them for them for they do not know what they are doing.”
2) “Woman, here is your Son.”
3) “You will be with Me in paradise.”
4) “I am thirsty.”
5) “My God, My God why have You forsaken Me.”
6) “Father into Your hands I commit My Spirit.”
7) “It is finished!”
Although this is true in the context of Jesus in the hours immediately preceding His death by crucifixion these were not the last words of Jesus Christ that He spoke upon earth, nor were they the most significant ones. Turn with me to John 20.
Now I do not want to imply that these sentences were the last words that Christ spoke on earth and that with the speaking of them the words of Christ ceased, because that may imply that there was no resurrection. Since this can be misleading, let me clarify that in the closing chapter of John’s gospel, we actually have a series of last words spoken after Christ’s resurrection but before His ascension, which may be more important in some ways and essential than the sayings more commonly thought of.
These seven actual “last” sayings here in John 20 are:
1) “Peace be with you.” (verses 19-21)
2) “As the Father has sent Me, so the I am sending you.” (verses 21)
3) “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (verse 22)
4) “Stop doubting and believe.” (verse 27)
5) “Blessed are those who have not seen, but yet have believed.” (verse 29)
6) “Feed My sheep.” (verses 15-17)
7) “Follow Me.” (verse 19 and 22)
We will focus on the first three of these sayings in this sermon. These three sayings which were written down by John for the church were given to the apostles during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which makes them even more meaningful for us right now.
John introduced this first great word of Jesus Christ: “Peace be with you.” It is a great blessing of endowment.
John 20:19-20 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, 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.
We know that when Jesus greeted His disciples speaking of peace in the upper room on the evening of the next day after He rose, He used a very common greeting. He used the word shalom. It was often used the way that we use the word hello, but there is more to it than that.
For one thing it was never used in a flippant manner. It was a serious greeting. It was always related, in some measure, to the thought of peace being God’s gift and is therefore much more parallel in English terms of the phrase “God bless you.”
In the New Testament, the thought of God’s giving peace to people is always connected with what Jesus accomplished by His death and resurrection. Accordingly, in the book of Romans Paul writes of peace as one of the results of our justification. Paul writes:
It is in this sense that Jesus uses this word in His greeting to the assembled group of disciples. He had gone to the cross, He had been raised from the dead, now is the result of what He had accomplished. He was dispensing real peace to those who believed in Him.
What is peace? The world has a few definitions of it. One definition applies to the relationship between countries, calling it an agreement to end hostilities. Another calls it public order. A third definition calls peace, harmony in personal relations. None of these definitions, good as they are, does justice to what Jesus really meant when He offered peace to mankind.
When Jesus spoke of peace to His disciples, He was speaking first of all of peace with God. This is the peace bought by His suffering on the cross and it is significant because of the fact that people are not at peace with God naturally.
According to the Bible, people are at war with God and consequently it was up to God to make peace through Christ’s sacrifice. It follows from this that the peace must be on God’s terms.
People try to negotiate with or meet God on their terms, which do not and cannot work. Even on a human level it would be ridiculous to believe that a conquered person could bargain or negotiate on the terms of a settlement. Once dominated, the time for bargaining is past and the conqueror is there to dictate the terms of peace, not negotiate them.
God says, “If you recognize this truth on the human level, recognize it spiritually. This is the way it must be between Me and rebellious, sinful humans. People come to Me to present their terms. They say, ‘If you do so-and-so for me then I will serve you and we will get along together just fine.’ God says, there’s no room for bargaining. If you want peace, you must receive it in the way that I provide it. Jesus died to make peace, and if you’re going to enter into My peace it must be by faith in Him and what He has done.” There is no other way to God’s peace.
The wonderful thing is that when we come to God on such terms, we find that He is not hostile, He is no longer looking toward us in wrath. There are no frowns, instead He receives us with smiles and makes us His sons and daughters.
In the context of this sermon, God makes peace with us and immediately He follows it up with a festival, the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
When Christ offers us peace, He offers us peace with God but He also offers us the peace of God. This is God’s own peace offered to us and Paul speaks of this peace in Philippians 4.
Philippians 4:6-7 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
This was a wonderful word for the disciples. They had gone through the most traumatic week of their lives. For three years they had followed Jesus in and out of hundreds of villages in Palestine and had come both to know and love Him and they had watched Him do miracles and had heard Him teach.
They knew that hostility was growing against Jesus on the part of the Jewish rulers. They had warned Him not to go to Jerusalem and still they were unprepared for what happened. Suddenly there was an arrest by night in the garden of Gethsemane and they scattered in fear, presumably returning in the dark to Bethany.
Now Jesus did not appear when these frightened men got to Jerusalem a few days later. After much agony they learned that the worst had happened. Jesus had been tried and crucified and then on top of that and before they had even adjusted to the thought of His death and burial, word came to them of an empty tomb.
If ever there was a fearful group, it was this small fearful band of Christ’s disciples. But then Jesus came. One minute they were alone and the next minute He was there saying, “Peace be with you!”
You do not find peace in the world, there is none. Humanity’s basic problem is that they are not at peace with God. This disharmony constantly breaks forth to disturb the relationships with other people and even their own personal tranquility. Human beings are all agitated people.
There are often difficulties in life and there are upsetting events, the death of a relative or friend; the loss of a job leaving you without a sure future; the sting of failure; the loss of friends. These are all causes of distress and agitation, yet Jesus offers peace in the midst of all of it.
We must not think that when Jesus spoke of peace to the disciples that He was listing all the benefits of His death for them. This was only one of many gifts which are the result of His death and resurrection. One of the additional gifts is access to the presence of God through prayer. Not everyone is capable of communication with God, because sin separates people from God.
Isaiah 59:2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.
Isaiah 59:7-8 Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths.The way of peace they have not known, and there is no justice in their ways; they have made themselves crooked paths; whoever takes that way shall not know peace. [The entire world does not know true peace.]
There is not a line in the Bible to suggest that God listens to, much less answers, the prayer of one who is not a believer in Jesus Christ, although He probably does at times. It is God’s choice of course who He will answer and whether or not He will answer. The Bible states explicitly that the only way one can come to God in prayer is through Jesus Christ.
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
The best man or woman in this world is unable to come into the presence of God on the basis of any merit of his own. It is only on the basis of the death of Christ that any sinner who has turned from his sin, repented, and accepted Christ as his personal Savior, can come any time, day or night, and can speak out of the genuineness of his heart to God.
The Bible also tells us that the death and resurrection of Christ gives us a sure and certain hope. Hope refers to the future, more particularly to what lies beyond death and Jesus encouraged His disciples with a promise.
John 14:2-3 “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
He said these things before His death but we could not be certain of them until He died and was resurrected and now we know one who has passed through the portal of death and who has returned. It is as He said, there is a future and He has gone to make it ready for us.
Are these the only results of Christ’s death and resurrection? Of course not, there are more. He gives us the Holy Spirit; He gives us eternal life; we have the Bible; we have a status before God as sons and daughters; we are heirs and co -heirs with Christ; we have His promises among which is His promise to meet all of our needs. The apostle Paul wrote:
Philippians 4:19 And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
So we have all of these assurances and guarantees that God provides for us in every case. The final point of Christ’s words to the disciples on the occasions of His first appearance to them after His resurrection, was that they now had a job to do, as we read in John 20 where Jesus said:
John 20:21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
This was for them and us as well. Now we will turn over to Deuteronomy 28. If they had received God’s peace through faith in His death and resurrection as well as His many other gifts, they were nevertheless not at liberty to keep the good news to themselves—they were to now become His messengers. God asks for our all, and His way is the way of blessing.
Deuteronomy 28:1-2 “Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God.”
This is the way it is spiritually. God has laid a foundation for gratitude for what He has done.
Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.
The blessing in Ephesians 1 that opens Paul’s prayer in praise, emphasizes the mediation of Christ for all God’s blessings by repeating that these good things are ours in Christ. These gifts of God are conveyed by and through the Holy Spirit.
Paul breaks out into the exclamation that God is worthy of praise for such a plan and that His eternal purposes, now that they are revealed to people, give insight into the character and glory of God. Most people suppose the opposite however. They feel that the plans of God are dark, stern, forbidding, and therefore believe that His character is anything but friendly.
People speak of Him as He is referred to as a sovereign, as if He was tyrannical and unjust, and they never connect the idea of friendliness and loveliness with God’s eternal purposes. Many Christians turn away from His truth with dread, or if they tolerate it they still feel that there is something dark and forbidding about it.
However Paul felt that it laid the foundation for eternal praise, that it presented glorious views of God, that it was the basis of confidence and hope, and that it was necessary for Christians to meditate on it and praise God for it.
What we may call the” real last seven words of Christ” spoken after the resurrection and before His ascension, are words of instruction, encouragement, and promise—positive things. We will take a look at the second phrase here. It is John’s version of the great commission, it is: “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” We see that it is connected with peace.
The great commission appears five times in the New Testament. Once at the end of each of the four gospels, and once in the opening chapter of Acts. The repetition is significant. If something is repeated by God more than once it is especially important.
In each case the emphasis is different. Matthew emphasis the authority of the Lord. Jesus is standing on a mountain, presumably looking out over numerous towns and villages.
Matthew 28:18-19 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
In Mark the emphasis is on final judgment.
Mark 16:16 “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”
Luke presents the commission as the fulfillment of prophesy.
Luke 24:46-47 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
The last one in Acts presents a program for preaching the gospel to the world.
Acts 1:8 “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
These words are drawn from a variety of circumstances and were spoken to a variety of people. John’s vision is unique in that it is probably the first expression of this command and links our commissioning to the prior commissioning of Christ.
John’s words are linked to the first of the seven last words which occurs just two verses before, lest we miss this connection in John 20:19. John repeats it in verse 21. This is not accidental, in fact the reason is apparent.
It is simple that we ourselves must have peace both inwardly and outwardly before we can effectively preach the gospel of peace to others. The gospel of peace also includes God’s commandments, His statutes, and His laws. All of that is necessary to have peace.
I could never figure out how these church groups will go out and preach the gospel to the world but they are not getting the church ready, they are not guarding the truth, they have not built a strong foundation. From what I have learned in researching this sermon that cannot truly preach the gospel correctly without having taken upon themselves the peace of God and done what is necessary. You have to build the foundation!
There are two kinds of peace involved here. The first is peace with God achieved by the death of Jesus Christ on our behalf. In ourselves we are not at peace with God, rather we are at war with God. But Christ has made peace by bearing the punishment due us for our sins and He provides us with forgiveness of sins and the assurance of it.
The second peace is the peace of God. The disciples were cowering in an upper room, they were afraid, but Jesus told them to have no fear but rather to be of good courage. They were in hiding but He told them to abandon their shelter and go out into the world as the ministers of the gospel.
Christ words seem to be the opposite of the disciples’ experience but they are reasonable because of who it is that speaks them. He is the Lord; He was arrested, beaten, and crucified but He rose, and it is as the One who has been triumphant over death and sin that He now speaks peace and encourages His followers to go out into the world and speak peace.
The church’s very first need before it can begin to preach the coming Kingdom of God, is an experience and an assurance of Christ’s peace. Peace of conscience through His death banishes sin, and it is peace of mind through His resurrection that banishes doubt.
The gift of peace is not the characteristic emphasis in John 20:21 however. Instead the emphasis is on the connection between our commissioning and the commissioning of Jesus Christ by His Father. These words were a command to witness but they are more than this, they establish a pattern for us as we witness.
Our mission in the world is to be patterned after Christ. In a sense, He was the first witness. Our labors are to be conducted like His, but what does that mean specifically? It means that as Jesus was sent into the world, so also are we sent into the world. This context is not made explicit in John 20, but it is clearly stated in John 17, from Christ’s High Priestly prayer which is a close parallel to it. There Jesus says:
John 17:18 “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”
Having determined to come down to us, Christ did not even then come in the radiance of His divine glory, rather divested Himself of that glory and appeared in humble form. In fact, He did not even appear in a human disguise, which is what the agnostics taught. He actually became a real human being and just like us He was born of a woman, He grew, He suffered, and eventually He died.
That is what it means to come into the world since this is the way Jesus came into the world. Often we have retreated from the world rather than facing it. God does not want us to be hermits. If we are going to go into the world as Christ had gone into the world, we are going to have to learn how to become good ambassadors of Christ to unbelievers, and then work out the issue of life by our example.
Christ lived the way that we should live thereby leaving us the best example. That is the greatest witness that we can offer. As ambassadors for Christ we must pattern our efforts on Jesus’ purpose. The context is that we are sent into the world as Jesus was sent into the world, but why are we sent into the world? The answer is seen in Paul's solemn affirmation to Timothy.
I Timothy 1:15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
Christ came into the world to save sinners, and so, as ambassadors and witnesses, we must make God’s truth available to as many people as possible but not in an in-your-face way. We must help others make the best use of their calling, and we do this by encouraging them to persevere through trials.
It is true that we cannot save anyone and our duty, in one sense, is simply to be Christ’s witnesses. Nevertheless we are to share God’s truth with others as the opportunity arises, knowing that ultimately the drawing of the unbeliever to Christ is God’s doing.
Another way in which I Timothy 1:15 may be applied is by stressing the word “sinners” there. We are all sinners of course, but members of His church do not sin as a way of life. In contrast, people in the world flagrantly sin as a way of life. Matthew records that Christ said He came to all sinners.
Matthew 9:13 “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
Jesus had been eating in the house of Matthew the tax collector and many of Matthews “low friends” had come to eat with him. The Pharisees had rebuked Jesus for associating with such people and they thought that it was beneath His dignity as a distinguished rabbi. But Jesus did not buy this line of reasoning. Instead, He taught that it was precisely to such people that He was sent. This is not to say that we should socialize and party with the world. That is not what Christ did.
What would Jesus say if He were here to instruct us? The Parable of the Sheep and Goats is one of the most vivid parables Jesus ever spoke and the message is crystal clear that God will judge us in accordance with our reaction to human need.
Matthew 25:31-36 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’”
So God’s judgment does not depend on the knowledge that we have gathered or the fame we have acquired within the church, or the wealth that we have gained. Rather it depends upon the help that we have given.
There are certain things that this parable tells us about the help that we must give and here are three of them:
1) It must be help in simple things. These things Jesus picks out, “giving a hungry man a meal; giving a thirsty man water; welcoming a stranger; encouraging the sick; visiting the prisoner,” these are all things that anyone can do. This is doing simple things for the people we meet every day.
2) It must be help which is uncalculating. Those who helped did not think that they were helping Christ, and in doing so piled up eternal merit. They helped because they saw a need and could not stop themselves. It was the natural, instinctive, quite uncalculating reaction of a loving heart. Whereas on the other hand, of those who failed to help was an attitude of, “If we knew it was You we would have helped, but we thought it was just some common person who wasn’t worth helping.”
Now there are those who will help if they are given praise, thanks, and accolades for doing so. But to help like that is not to help, it is to pander one’s own self esteem. Such help is not generosity, it is disguised selfishness. The help that wins the approval of God is that which is given for nothing but the sake of helping.
3) Jesus confronts us with the wonderful truth that all such help given is given to Himself and all such help that withheld is withheld from Himself.
If we really want to please a parent and move him to gratitude, the best way to do it is to help his child. God is the Great Father and the way to please God is to help His children, our fellow brethren, brothers, and sisters.
There is one more thing that comes from Paul’s statement in I Timothy 1:15, and it is an explanation of why we do not naturally think as Christ thinks. Notice that when Paul said, “Christ came into the world to save sinners,” he went on to add “of whom I am chief.”
Turn to Philippians 2. Paul likewise went to sinners and the reason Paul went was because he knew he had been one of them, in fact he was the chief. That suggests why we do not go, we think we are better than others and are concerned to maintain our position. We feel that we would have to stoop to save sinners and we do not want to do that. Jesus had to stoop, He laid His glory aside in order to become man and die for our salvation.
Philippians 2:5-8 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Though Jesus was God appearing in the form of man, a divine person on earth, yet He did not assume and assert the dignity and prerogative appropriate to a divine being. He put Himself in a condition of obedience.
For such a Being to obey law implied voluntary humiliation, and the greatness of His humiliation was shown by His becoming entirely obedient, even until death. His humility reflects His godly character.
The humble are known for their fear of the Lord and righteousness and we are commanded to assume humility before everyone and especially humble ourselves before God. Humility is always the proper posture before God and others.
Not only is our mission to be like Jesus Christ in His context and purpose, it is to be like His mission in its goal as well. What is that goal? In John 17, in the midst of that prayer in which Christ intercedes for us in regard to the lives we are to live in this world, Jesus said:
John 17:4 “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You [speaking of God the Father] have given Me to do.”
Then a little later he adds in verse 10:
John 17:10 “And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them.”
God the Father and Christ want us to glorify Christ by living like Him and doing His will. These verses and others teach that the ultimate goal of Jesus’ coming was to glorify the Father, that is to make His glory known. And then because our goal it to be patterned on His, they likewise teach that we are to glorify Jesus by our thoughts, words, and actions. We have a duty and responsibility to do so. Once we have accepted Jesus Christ and committed to Him in baptism, we cannot turn back!
This is our mission: First, we are to go into the world as Jesus entered into the world. Second, we are to go so that people might be save through faith in Him. Third, we are to glorify Christ as He glorified the Father.
We are ambassadors of God the Father and Jesus Christ in this world. May God make us witnesses to present Him as He truly is!
Now moving on to the third of Christ’s last words after His resurrection it is: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Nobody by scholarship, human reasoning, or intelligence can comprehend the whole truth of God apart from the Holy Spirit. Through God’s Spirit alone are we called and enabled to understand it. God, by divine revelation by way of His Spirit, opens our minds to the mysteries of His truth, allowing us to discern what is truly vital to our salvation.
John 20:22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
A person can learn how to live under God’s rule, only if the Holy Spirit is imparted to him. But since Adam rejected God’s offer in Eden, God has not offered salvation to humanity as a whole. However, prior to Jesus Christ’s resurrection and glorification specific people have been given God’s Holy Spirit in order to perform God-given responsibilities.
Nevertheless Christ made it clear that the Holy Spirit would not be given at the time until after He was glorified, and this was done to establish and usher in the church era, opening up the opportunity on a larger scale for Israelites and Gentiles alike to be called into the church.
John 7:39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
So when Jesus Christ breathed the Holy Spirit on His apostles, it was after His resurrection, after His glorification.
In John 20:22 the imperative word tense is used suggesting a future event, “You shall receive.” So the presence of the Lord now is a partial and temporary fulfillment of His promise to return to them. The imparting of the Spirit now was a symbol and foretaste of what they would permanently receive on Pentecost.
Acts 1:1-3 The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen [We see there how He imparted that knowledge to the apostles, through the Holy Spirit.], to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
When Christ taught His apostles and gave them commands regarding their commission to continue the work of God which Jesus had begun, He did it by and through the power of God’s Spirit, but apparently the Holy Spirit was not yet indwelt in them.
This may be similar to the way God works when He initially calls a person prior to baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit. People are called by way of the Holy Spirit which opens their minds, however the Holy Spirit is not permanently imparted to them until baptism and the laying on of hands.
Acts 1:4-8 And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you [a future event]; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Acts 2:3-4 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
When Christ established His church, God began offering His Spirit only to those He called to be firstfruits, nevertheless many are called but few are chosen.
I Corinthians 2:9-10 But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.
This proves that people, by nature, are not able to discover the deep things of God, that is the truths that are needed for salvation. It also proves that the apostles were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and if so then the Scriptures are inspired. All Scripture is given by God’s inspiration!
In addition, it proves that all members of God’s church are taught by God, through the Holy Spirit, that these truths are made known to us by God’s revelation, and that except for this we would remain in the same darkness as people in the world.
I Corinthians 2:11-14 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
The Holy Spirit is the second Spirit which human beings need to go with their human spirit.
Job 32:8 “But there is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding.”
It was the breath of Jesus Christ that gave the disciples understanding when He saw them after His resurrection and before His ascension.
Romans 8:16 tells us that God’s Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
John 20:23 “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
This seems to be granting a special authority to forgive sins to a special body of chosen men and their successors. But this is not the meaning at all. This is a teaching, reiterated on many occasions, that there is none who can forgive sins but God only. The authority to forgive sins is His prerogative. The clearest statement of this is from an incident early in Christ’s ministry in Mark 2.
Mark 2:5-7 When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Now these were individuals who knew the Old Testament well, they were Jews and they knew what it said and they knew from the Old Testament, that only God could forgive sins.
This was a true principle, so Christ used it to lead them to consider His claims to divinity. He showed that in this case the healing of the body and forgiveness of sins would be identical. Consequently when He healed the man, as He then did, it was proof that He had the power to forgive sins and was therefore God.
Mark 2:8-10 But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic. . .
The argument would be meaningless if human beings were able to forgive sins under any circumstances.
Another reason why that the scripture is not saying that the forgiveness of sins to any group of human beings is that there is no instance in any of the New Testament books of any apostles taking upon himself the authority to absolve or pardon anyone.
This is important because it relates to a fundamental rule of scriptural interpretation, namely that every text must be interpreted within its historical and biblical context and never in isolation. To interpret this text correctly we must ask what Jesus meant by it and what the disciples understood Him to be saying.
Did the apostles understand Christ to be imparting to them the authority to forgive sins? Not at all. If they did they would undoubtedly have claimed and exercised such powers which we do not find. Instead Peter said to Cornelius, here in Acts 10,
Acts 10:43 “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”
Peter reiterated it three times over that remission of sins is in Christ and by Christ. Similarly Paul said in Acts 13,
Acts 13:38 Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man [speaking of Jesus Christ] is preached to you the forgiveness of sins.
So Paul was pointing to Christ alone as the remitter. What the apostles did in these and other instances is preach God's truth, declaring with authority the terms in which God forgives sins, namely on the basis of Christ’s death and through faith in Him alone.
John 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
There is another reason we do not have authority given to any group of men to forgive sins. How do we deal with the wording here? According to most texts the verbs “are forgiven” and “are retained” are in the perfect tense, which suggests, but does not prove conclusively, that the forgiveness involved is something which has already been determined in heaven and is now merely proclaimed on earth.
The translations that best reflect this tense would be “have been forgiven” and “have been retained” the New American Standard version makes this explicit by saying:
John 20:23 (NASB) “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have [past tense] been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been [past tense] retained.”
Then by adding in a marginal note, that is “have previously been forgiven,” [the NASB updated edition (NASBU)] does the same thing in Matthew.
Matthew 18:18 (NASBU) “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth your Father shall have bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth your Father shall have loosed in heaven.”
So this suggests that the forgiveness involved is something that has already been determined in heaven and is now proclaimed on earth.
John 20:23 is to be taken precisely the way Luke records Christ’s teaching given on the same occasion here in Luke 24.
Luke 24:46-48 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things.”
That was the responsibility He gave the apostles there. He gave them the authority to preach repentance, remission of sins, and that they be witness of these things.
Let me summarize a few things we have covered in this sermon. First, the mission of the church in this world must contain involvement and proclamation. In John’s version of the great commission in John 20:21, we are sent into the world as Christ was sent into the world, therefore we must be in the world but not of the world.
John 15:19“If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
We must be ready to listen to others and learn from their circumstances. We must discover how to communicate God’s truth better. But we cannot give up proclaiming God’s truth of salvation and of the coming Kingdom of God with which we have been entrusted. We are to guard the truth at all cost!
Second, is that the word of Jesus Christ about the forgiveness and retention of sin throw emphasis upon the royal priesthood of all believers. We have many privileges, but we also have many responsibilities, primarily of which is feeding the flock and the faithful guarding and proclamation of God’s truth. On a personal note we are to be overcoming sin and making our election sure.
Third, the privileges and duties of which Jesus speaks are for all believers, therefore we warn that acquaintance with spiritual truth is not sufficient. Association with church is not sufficient, the name of “Christian” is not sufficient. What is necessary is new life from God which inevitably results in a turning away from sin to faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior. Here is where verse 22 of John 20 comes in. it says:
John 20:22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
There is no contradiction between John, who apparently speaks of the impartation of the Holy Spirit, and Luke, the author of the book of Acts, who speaks of a special coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost 50 days later.
Obviously the Holy Spirit was sent in power in a special way on Pentecost to inaugurate the church age, but are we to suppose that there was no impartation of the Spirit, or no working of the Spirit in the disciples lives before that time? Of course not! That is how God opens our minds, through His Holy Spirit. So obviously His Holy Spirit was at work when Jesus breathed on them and they received that understanding through the Holy Spirit.
Earlier in Christ’s ministry, Peter had confessed that He was the Christ, the Son of the living God and Jesus had responded by saying that this had been revealed to Peter by God. Was this apart from the Spirit? Did Peter believe without the opening of his mind and heart by the power of the Holy Spirit? Of course not. He had to have had his mind opened by the Spirit.
Similarly, on the next morning following the resurrection, John had entered the empty tomb and believed in the resurrection. Was this insight achieved apart from the Spirit? Of course not. God’s influence by way of His Spirit was there all along and would be so in even greater measure at Pentecost.
What Jesus’ indication in John 20 is that God is the source of the Spirit and that nothing can be done in the Christian life—certainly one is not even a Christian—apart from God’s Spirit.
To show His disciples what was going to happen on the day of Pentecost, God, through Jesus Christ, breathed. This shows that the Holy Spirit is not a personality, it is inanimate. Wind is inanimate, it has no personality. Christ breathing and imparting the Holy Spirit reminds us of the creation, when God breathed into the first man Adam so that he became a living soul. This would have given Adam the spirit in man which Job describes in Job 32:8. But what Christ did imparted God’s Spirit to open the human mind to spiritual knowledge and understanding.
Jesus’ teaching is that we must be created anew if we are truly to be His and to serve Him faithfully. The faithful have been made new and God’s blessings are ours. John 20:17-22 presents all those new features of the New Covenant that are ours through Jesus Christ.
John 20:17 Jesus said to her [Mary Magdalene], “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’”
Let me briefly list some of those new features of the New Covenant that we find here:
1) Christ is known in a new way, no longer after the flesh, but in Spirit. (We find that in verse 17. this was a transition to the Spirit.)
2) The faithful are given a new title, that title is brethren. (verse 17.)
3) The faithful are told of a new position, Christ’s position before God the Father. (verse 17.)
4) The faithful occupy a new place apart from the world. (verse 19.)
5) The faithful are assured of a new blessing, peace, made and imparted. (verses 19-21)
6) The faithful are given a new privilege, Jesus Christ stood in their midst. (verse 19)
7) The faithful have a new joy, when it was confirmed that Christ was risen. (verse 20)
8) The faithful receive a new commission—sent into the world by the Son as He was sent by the Father. (verse 21)
9) The faithful are a new creation indicated by the breathing. (verse 22)
10) The faithful have a new indwelling, even the Holy Spirit. (verse 22)
All of this is through Christ who calls us to repent of sin and turn to Him in humble faith. Jesus is teaching that we must be created anew if we are truly to be His and serve Him faithfully.
We celebrate the joyful and positive Feast days of Unleavened Bread, not only because we have received our deliverance from sin and the world, but also because we have received the blessing of the new features of the New Covenant.
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