When we were on our vacation we took a number of pictures. We did so in order to try to capture some of the memories so that we can relive them in the future. Usually, when people get their pictures back, they look through them and enjoy remembering the events surrounding the scene depicted. Later on they will pick up the pictures again. At that time they look more closely at the pictures. Often times they will notice things they did not notice at the time . . .or when we originally looked at the photo. You might see: a person standing in the background; an expression; a billboard; the shape of a cloud or any number of things. These are sometimes wonderful discoveries.
The passage before us is like a vacation photo. It is a snapshot of a visit of Jesus to the disciples on that first Easter day. It is a picture recorded for us so we can relive the experience over and over again. In the past we have quickly looked at the picture and enjoyed reliving the event. We have seen the obvious. Today I want to look more carefully. I contend that if you look carefully you will see some things you never saw before. In fact, they may very well be things that will change the way you look at this memory forever.
He Accepts Us
In our text we see the disciples (and presumably others) huddled together in a room. It’s resurrection day and it has been an eventful day for everyone involved. There were the woman who testified of angels, and Mary who testified of seeing Jesus personally. There were also the men who had traveled with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. They met together excited, yet afraid. The door was locked because rumor had it that the Jewish leaders were going to try to arrest and dispose of anyone who had been associated with Jesus. I imagine the conversation had people re-telling their stories again and again. Others may have talked about days of ministry. Still others may have talked with regret at how they deserted the Master. I wonder if some of the disciples wondered if they would EVER see Jesus themselves after the way they ran away from Him in the time of crisis.
Suddenly, without warning, Jesus appears in the room. And what does he say? He says, “Peace be with you.” I don’t imagine those were the words some of the disciples were expecting.
Suppose you went shopping and you all packed up and left the mall only to discover many embarrassing minutes later, that you had left one of the family, who had been using the restroom, behind. How would you expect the conversation to go when you returned for the stranded family member? Would they stand at the door with a big smile and say, “Peace be with you”? I suspect not . . . I would guess that the usual pleasantries would give way to more “choice” words. . . .or stone silence. But that is not what happened with Jesus.
There is no rebuke, no “how could you?”. Jesus doesn’t scold . . . He doesn’t feel the need to “deal with things”. The first words out of the Savior’s mouth show one thing, He accepts them. What relief, what joy, must have flooded the hearts of the followers. The wall that they were anticipating is not there.
These first words of Jesus were almost identical to the last recorded words of Jesus to his disciples: “I told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (Jn. 16:33) In some respects, it is almost as if the last few days hadn’t happened. Certainly these disciples felt unworthy . . . but the Savior extends peace. Let that sink in. Understand how gracious an act this was.
Do you understand that Jesus wants to extend peace to you as well? He doesn’t gloss over your past. He is well aware of the mistakes you have made. He knows how you’ve scorned Him, denied Him, and rejected Him in the past. Yet He still holds His arms of love open to you. Here’s how Paul stated it,
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possible dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8) [emphasis mine]
Some people have the mistaken notion that they need to become good before they can experience the salvation that Jesus offers. Many of these same people have concluded that they have strayed so far in their lives that it is impossible to be good enough. Friend, do you understand the message of the gospel? Though you are far off, though you have wandered far from Him, He has sought you out and He offers you peace.
This peace of the Lord has several dimensions,
- Peace with God (Romans 5:1)
- Peace in difficult times (Jn. 14:27; 16:33)
- Peace in our relationships (Ephesians 2:14-18)
- Peace with the past (Romans 8:1)
The Savior offers YOU peace today.. . .Feel you don’t deserve it? You’re right. . . Sound too good to be true? I agree. . . . .But, it IS true. God’s peace, God’s forgiveness is extended to you and to me by His grace. So here’s the question: Why continue to cower in the corner when the Savior wants to embrace you? Why live under a cloud when the Savior invites you to the light? Why keep walking toward Hell when the door to Heaven has been opened to you? The barrier is abolished. The sin is paid for. The debt is washed away. Jesus extends His peace . . . will you receive it.
But keep looking at the snapshot . . . there is more.
He Commissions Us
As you know, it is a special moment in every teenagers life when mom or dad tosses them the keys to the car the first time. It is a transitional moment. At that moment the child becomes an adult. They are given a new responsibility that proves the parents’ faith in them.
Jesus does something similar with the disciples (and with us). Jesus tells his followers, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” If you will, Jesus tosses the disciples the keys. He not only accepts them . . . He entrusts them with the message of the gospel . . . He give them a great privilege. He believes in them. Listen to how Paul states is,
he has committed to us the message of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Cor. 5:18-20)
Notice that Jesus sends us into the world in the same way the Father sent Him. I think this has some implications. Here are a few of them,
- As Jesus went to the world so we are to go to others. We are not to sit back and wait for others to come to us. We are to be initiators….as He was.
- We are to teach the truth like He did. We must open our mouths. What would have happened if Jesus had never said anything about the truth? We would certainly have still esteemed Him as a great man . . . but we wouldn’t have known where this greatness came from. How many people have you heard say, “I witness for Jesus by the way I live my life.” If that is true, terrific! We need you to live consistently. The power of a Christlike life is overwhelming. However . . . we must also explain why we live the way we do. We must explain where the joy comes from.
- As Jesus demonstrated the validity of His message by what He did . . . so must we. This is not hard to understand. However, why is it that it seems the most consistent Christians are the ones who are most timid in their expression of faith and the most vocal are often also the most offensive in their living? I’m sure I exaggerate but it is the way things seem to appear. The most vocal Christians are often the ones who are slandering their co-workers; the ones looking for ways to avoid doing their job; the most judgmental in their dealings with people who fail; the most unforgiving towards those who hurt them; the most self-justifying about their own sin; the most abusive in their speech and most underhanded in their tactics.
Do you understand what this kind of behavior does to the gospel? When non-Christians see (or hear) us (or of us) gossiping about friends, co-workers, teachers, coaches, civil officials and so forth; when they hear us tearing them down and delighting in their failures . . . when they hear us act in unethical ways in our lives. . . when they see us ignore the hurting . . . they are quick to dismiss the truth of the Gospel. It sounds harsh . . . but it is true.
I’m not free of guilt here. I perk up at juicy gossip. I have sought to use another’s failure as my stepping stone to success. I have criticized behind another’s back. But just because I’ve done it, doesn’t make it right and doesn’t mean I am not responsible for the lives I lead astray. We must declare AND demonstrate.
- We are to be prepared for opposition. It shouldn’t surprise us when others laugh and ridicule us because of our message or our approach to living. It shouldn’t surprise us because the same thing happened to Jesus. It also happened to the disciples and countless faithful followers through the centuries. He does not call us to be popular (which means toning down the message) . . He calls us to be faithful.
He Equips Us
Are you feeling a little overwhelmed? Me too. That’s why these next words are so important, “And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘receive the Holy Spirit.'”
Now this is a passage difficult to understand. We wonder what happened here. How does this relate to what would happen 50 days later at the day of Pentecost? There are all kinds of theories about what happened and how we reconcile this with what would happen in the future. However, we must be careful whenever we try to move beyond what the Bible teaches us. For now we must take things at face value . . . and if we do, we see a wonderful truth: Jesus not only entrusts us with the responsibility of proclaiming the gospel to others . . . He also equips us for the job!
At this moment of greatest need the Savior promises to place His Spirit in each of us individually. “So”, you ask. So know we are not working alone. Listen to what the Bible says the Holy Spirit will do.
- gives us the words to say (Luke 12:11,12)
- convicts us, and our listeners of sin (John 16:8)
- converts a hard heart (John 6:44)
- sustains us in the difficult times (John 14:26,27)
- gives focus and substance to our prayers (Romans 8:26)
- gives us the abilities to do what He has called us to do (1 Corinthians 12:7)
- gives us the Christlike qualities that demonstrate His grace (Ephesians 5:22-23)
Have you seen Him work? I have. I have seen a fumbling counseling session turn a couple around. I’ve seen a poorly delivered message lead someone to faith. I have seen small acts of consistent love turn a hardened skeptic to faith. I’ve seen a simple act of kindness become something that a person never forgets. I’ve found myself in “the right place at the right time” too many times to count it a coincidence. I have been on the receiving end as well as the delivering end. When the Holy Spirit is given room to work He will surprise us again and again by what He can do. We are not left alone! He has provided the help we need.
He Motivates Us
The last verse of our text adds one final thing. Jesus says,. “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (20:23) This text is difficult because we know that “no one can forgive sins but God alone.” (Mark 2:7) So we wonder, what was Jesus saying.
The NIV Study Bible explains the text this way,
God does not forgive people’s sins because we do so, nor does he withhold forgiveness because we do. Rather, those who proclaim the gospel are in effect forgiving or not forgiving sins, depending on whether the hearers accept or reject Jesus Christ.
Do you understand what is being said? “If you tell people about this forgiveness you are extending forgiveness to them. If they respond they are indeed forgiven. However, if you don’t tell them, you are NOT extending forgiveness to them. Then their sins will not be forgiven.
The Savior not only accepts us, commissions us, and equips us; He also motivates us. The motivation is that the world is desperately in need of the message we have. If we do not go forward some will never hear that they can be set free. Some will never know the joy of Salvation. Some will never know of the Spirit’s strength in the difficult times. If we don’t tell the people we come in contact with about the Gospel . . . . we have no right to call ourselves their friend.
If I saw you headed into danger and didn’t warn you . . . would I be your friend? If I could help you in a difficult time but refused to do so . . . would I be your friend? If I could meet the deepest longing of your heart at no loss to myself but turned away . . . would you consider me a friend? Then how can we consider ourselves a friend if we withhold the words of life? If we do not extend the message of forgiveness . . . they will not be forgiven. It’s as simple as that.
So my friend, have you heard the good news? The past . . . that burden that weights you down . . . can be forgiven. The hurt you inflicted, the rebellion you engaged in, the laws you broke, the foolish choices you have made, the words you have spoken, can all be paid for. Don’t misunderstand, it’s not that these things aren’t bad . . . they are. It’s just that Christ has done something about that sin in our lives.
The Bible is clear. The gift is offered. All you have to do is receive His forgiveness. So, what about you? Will you trust Him? Will you place your sin-stained life in His hands? You can stop hiding, you can stop pretending . . . you can know peace and joy. Today, in prayer to the Lord, give yourself to Him and receive the gift of forgiveness and life.
And to those who have already done this let speak candidly . . . Would your friends be surprised that you were a believer? Would they be surprised because your life seems to contradict your testimony? Would they be surprised because they have never heard you say anything about the one that could set them free. If so, admit your failings to God. Apologize to the people you have treated harshly. Repent of your silence while others suffered in sin and guilt. Ask God to help you stop manipulating, gossiping and feeling self-righteous as you engage in sinful behavior. Start from this point and proclaim the Savior with your words and your actions.
And finally, are you leaving room for God’s Spirit to work through you or are you always “playing it safe?” Are you willing to share His love with the people He brings your way this week? Are you willing to trust Him for the words, the wisdom and the compassion you will need? Are you willing to trust Him to do the changing? In short, are you willing to take the keys He has given you and use them faithfully?
It’s time to close the album. But I hope you have seen an old picture with “new eyes”. I hope, after seeing this snapshot with greater clarity, you will never view the world the same again.