I want us to imagine that we are with the disciples at this moment. Imagine having the sort of week that this group of followers just had. Their leader arriving in the capital city across lifted up by the chorus of praise coming from the crowd, as he rode in on the back of a Donkey. Then sitting with him at the table as he taught, and then exampled ‘humility’ in the way of the foot-washer. Then as chaos descended like a desert storm. In a moment, your world started to collapse, and nothing seemed to make sense. As one who had walked among you for years: suddenly, walked away from you to betray your master, teacher, and friend to the state authorities. Then with a speed that matched their fear of him, they set about to put him to death.
Navigating through Chaos
Imagine as you sat through the sham trial and the shame that came with it how you would have felt. Not just in the micro, but the macro: you had left everything – family, friends, and economic security to follow and learn from this great teacher. Now, what would you do? What would become the motive of our life: would we take what we have learned for him and seek to carry the mission on. Would we do this together, or simply go our own ways. Or, maybe we would retreat and withdraw back into obscurity.
Imagine in those moments after as His body, battered and bruised was taken from that rugged and crude structure, still stained in his blood what you would have felt in that situation? Hopelessness? Anger? Despair? Fearful? Probably a mix of all of those emotions, yet for me, fear would have reigned. The state had just taken an innocent man because he preached a challenging (yet not rebellious) message, yet, and murdered him in the most gruesome and cruel way they could. They killed him because his teaching and lifestyle exposed the hypocrisy of their way of life. As I disciple, my mind would be weighed down by thoughts of: “Now that they have dealt with Jesus, surely they will want to finish the job off and make us disappear.”
The Whispers of the Empty Tomb
Imagine then the exasperation you would have felt as the latest news seeped through from Mary Magdaline. First, the empty tomb (confirmed by the witness of John and Peter), I would be thinking that the State was setting into motion the final part of its plan. At that moment, my fear would increase, and I would be worried about how short my life might just be…. Then, if the empty tomb, with the missing body and linen sitting in a pile, was not peculiar enough, Mary was suddenly claiming: “I have seen the Lord!” (v18) and that Jesus had said:
‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ (20:17)
I do not know what you would think at that moment, but I would think that grief has got to her, and she has gone mad! The facts are obvious: Jesus is dead, and all that we had hoped for and given ourselves too was dead with him. Life at that moment was just one rapid movement from one disaster to another. And with every motion, an increase in fear. This small remnant of Jesus followers would have been fearful for their lives and one another.
Different Situation: Same Hope
I love that like the quiet vindication of the empty tomb rings out that we see the disciples in such an honest position. They are still fearful because they do not understand. I love the power of this situation for where we find ourselves today as individuals, a church and a world. In the shadow of Easter and the vindication of the empty tomb, we similarly find ourselves locked inside, fearful. Not of the state, but facing a pandemic. 2000 years apart, in radically different situations and yet the answer to the riddle of this fear remains the same – Jesus. We see today how when Jesus is the Lord of our life that he deals ith our fears by placing them in the context of his victory on the cross and his Lordship over all. It is not that in that moment Jesus makes the problem of the disciples disappear, but in that moment they realise the gift of knowing him, and what his victory secured for them. Thus, today we must remind ourselves of the certain hope that we have in Christ when we know our sin, and what he achieved for those who follow him on the cross. What became their confident hope in that moment is our confident hope today (if we follow Jesus). As we rest in that hope we are called to carry it into the world that people may receive the gift of redemption that Jesus makes available to all who put their trust in him.
This passage follows on with a consistent theme from last week as John finished his Narrative account of the life and ministry of Jesus, with four resurrection encounters. We looked at two of them last week: John and Peter at the empty tomb, Mary as she meet the risen Saviour. Over these next two blog posts, we follow on from those and consider today his interactions with his disciples. We will think about what they reveal to us about Him and how this challenges us as we walk with Jesus. Then in part 2, we consider what we can learn from Jesus, revealing himself to Thomas and John’s summary statement of purpose for his Gospel.
In the first part of our look at this passage, we will consider Jesus’s encounter with the disciples minus Thomas. What exactly his peace is. Then the message he recommissions them to carry and what that means for us today. Then tomorrow, we will consider the second appearance of Jesus to the disciples and Thomas, and the purpose of Johns Gospel and what those mean for our faith today.
1 – THE DISCIPLES MEET JESUS (19-21)
John 20:19-20 NIV
”On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.“
When we grow up with this story, it can be so easy to read into it how we think they should react. But, when we step back and consider the reality of what the disciples where facing and who delivered the news. It might be that they hoped it was true, but their hearts and heads where being drawn to the most logical conclusion: they were under a real threat as the Government seemingly acted against them. Hence, even with the news of his resurrection, they are cowering in a locked room; clinging, to the hope that walls and wood could keep them from what Christ endured. A group of followers full of fear and hopelessness, squeeze into a space in the hope that together they might just survive. Yet, what little peace that room and their shared company might have offered, it would soon seem illogical as Jesus Christ entered the room.
A Reminder of Who Jesus Is
It is a powerful scene as Jesus appears right in the midst of them, and the first thing he speaks to them is “Peace.” John highlights for us here the locked doors, the lateness of the day: so that we feel the weight of fear that would be gripping this group of people. Yet, as throughout the Gospel narrative, what appears to be defeat will soon be a victory. As their gathering of fear turns into a commission in power to go out into the world and take the upside-down kingdom with them.
The appearing of Jesus is a visible incarnation of his Lordship and Authority, as Resurrected, he has been vindicated and now displays his lordship and authority of their situation. He is not limited by their locks or their fears. He is Lord over all things. Furthermore, the sovereign plan of redemption that God set in motion from before the foundation of the earth has been enacted. Thus, it is now entering its final phase: where the body of Christ will carry on with the work of Christ until his return.
”Until the will and the affections are brought under the authority of Christ, we have not begun to understand, let alone accept, His Lordship. The Cross, as it enters the love life, will reveal the heart’s truth.” – Elizabeth Elliot
A Peace like No Other
The Peace that Christ speaks was a standard greeting and still is today. Shalom Aleichem in Hebrew or the Arabic As-Salaam Alaikum:
“Peace be with you!”
A standard greeting perhaps; yet so much more… in this moment how much more profound and powerful would those words have seemed. Imagine that scene, as the disciples cowered in a room, paranoid that every sound was the arrival of someone seeking their destruction; perhaps even fearful that Judas might again betray them: Then suddenly there was the presence of someone unexpected in the room! What would they have been thinking: “… it looks like…. It cannot be… ” Then, before their minds have processed what their eyes have seen, they hear a voice that drives out all of their fears. A voice that speaks words in a moment that evaporate all their fear hurt, anger and paranoia: “Peace be with you!” a statement that fulfilled what Jesus had promised the disciples in John 14:27:
“27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Fearful and afraid they were; now, with the presence of the risen Saviour among them, they knew nothing but Shalom. At that moment, all fear was gone, and while it is yet to make sense to them, it must have felt perfect.
A Peace that Speaks to our Situation
Peace From Presence
Today, we are taught that the presence of Christ is the Shalom of God, it is his presence that gives us a certain-peace that transcends our circumstances. Furthermore, it is his presence and our active and continual seeking of it that brings us peace wherever we find ourselves in. It is not that Jesus makes us forget our contexts – like some dopamine high. Nor that in his power, he evaporates our problems and fears when we have enough faith. No, it is about context: in the presence of Jesus, our fears and worries are put into perspective; an eternal perspective. When we truly abide with him daily, we are reminded of the victory of the Cross and the vindication of the empty tomb. That is the duality of that event Jesus dealt with our biggest problem – sin. Thus, everything else is placed in the perspective of our secured eternity through Him.
He Cares for You
What is significant to us is significant to the Lord. He cares for his children and acts to protect them. Today, we find ourselves facing a similar kind of fear. We have celebrated the resurrection of Jesus: yet, we are stuck in our houses! Some of us locked in fearful for our health or the health of someone who is living with us. Covid has made us even more fearful than ‘normal’ the illusion of security has faded from around us, and we do not know what the future will bring. Nor even what the world will look like as we come out of the darkness of this night. We are rightly afraid, and in this fear, it is hard to know where to look, or whom we can trust. Today’s passage boldly reminds us the answer is Jesus.
Understanding His Peace
So what is this Peace? Can we even begin to make sense of a ‘Peace that passes all understanding?’ (Philippians 4:7) Yes! Sometimes the best way to understand what something is is to know what it is not! Thus, The first thing is to be clear what it is not. The peace that we are thinking about is not arrogance or favouritism in the world above circumstances.
The weird, wonderful, and worrying tends to crawl out of the shadows in times of crises. Covid-19 is no different: Pastors or church leaders claiming that God will protect them from any harm when all around them fall sick – because they have the gift of faith. Or those who would teach that if we have “enough faith”, then God will protect us as well. This is a right understanding of peace, it is, however, absolute rubbish. Furthermore, this kind of teaching is dangerous, stupid, and foolish: to think or teach this is to twist the word of God and use it to elevate oneself.
The peace of God is not foolishness. It is confidence in the person and work of Christ. To have this, peace is to know Jesus. To have a supreme and confidence trust, hope and certainty that regardless of context, God is with us and at work, and that he can be taken at his word. As Jesus said to the Disciples that he would give them peace (14:27), so he proved it by his presence with them. The Peace of Christ is the assurance of the work of Christ in all circumstances, not ignoring reality but trusting amid the hurt, pain, and worries of life that God is working.
Furthermore, the peace of Christ is also a gift of Salvation. A gift won at the Cross for those who trust in Jesus. Thus, its presence is the mark of true faith. The Peace of Christ is connected to the presence of Christ: one who has this peace is one who abides in Jesus and has trusted through faith in the victory of the Cross & vindication of the tomb. It is a peace that like the Cross and the Tomb works in ways the world cannot see, nor understand. Yet, when it is present, there is evidence of it. The peace of Christ is evidence of one abiding in Christ, and that abiding is enabled by the dwelling and work of the Holy Spirit. Where the Holy Spirit is a work, that person will bear fruit that accord with that work and one of those is peace (Gal 5:22-23). I pray that today you have this peace, and have a right understanding of it. That the Peace of God is not the absence of suffering or hardship, but the presence of God in those moments that gives perspective to them.
Responding to the Presence of Resurrected Jesus
What I love in this moment of victory is how John draws to our attention to the reality of the Cross. Yes, Jesus is back from the dead; can move through walls and doors, but he still bears the trauma of the Cross. A reminder as we read this and celebrate Jesus that the resurrected one is still the crucified one. His wounds a reminder of the cost, his presence a declaration of his victory. Furthermore, by his wounds and way of appearing, we are reminded that this is a different resurrected-body to Lazarus:
“The resurrection of Jesus was fundamentally and profoundly different. It was, in fact, superior. His resurrection body, while still completely human, possessed supernatural qualities. He was raised to a new kind of life, never to die again.”1
Thus the disciples react to the presence of Jesus with Joy, as with them, he fulfils the promise he made in John 16:20-22 – “I will see you again.” And we are reminded that he can and should be trusted. That Jesus is one, we can take at his word.
“We live and die; Christ died and lived!” (John Stott)
2 – THE RECOMMISSION (21-23)
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
It is a joyful reunion, as disciples once again sit in wonder of their teacher and friend. Yet, it is also a purposeful reunion: Jesus is here with a reason, not just to hang out with his mates after being away for a few days. Or to prove the witness of Mary. He is here to recommission those who he called to himself and his work. Remember how, in In John 17:18, Jesus prayed: “ As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” Now we see him transition that prayer into action as he commissions his disciples to do this work. The word ‘sent’ translated in verse 21 is Apostellō, it literally means ‘sent ones.’
Now the mission of God is being entrusted to this group of followers, and all who come after them. They are being sent by the vindicated one to declare his victory. Furthermore, as the Son received the Spirit (1:32-34, 3:34) from the Father for his mission, so he now gives the Spirit for the continuing of the mission.
The act of breathing over the disciples is a foretaste of what was to come at Pentecost and a play on Old Testament Imagery. The word translated as breath (emphyaso) is used in the LXX (Latin Translation of the Old Testament) in Genesis 2:7, when God breaths life into Adam, and in Ezekiel 37:9 when life is breathed into the dead bones. Now, the disciples receive life as a new empowering for ministry that will bring life as they go out into the world with the Gospel of Christ. The Spirit of God will equip true followers of God for the work of declaration.
Understanding the Message and the Work (23)
There have been many debates, and thesis written over this one verse. Verse 23 is difficult to understand in meaning and application. It is, however, a clear parallel of Matthew 16:19 & 18:18
- I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven
- Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.
While it might be difficult when reading with an understanding of Matthew, it becomes clearer in terms of meaning and application for most evangelical scholars. As with the peace of Christ, to understand rightly means grasping what is not being taught through this verse. Then we can understand how this relates to the message and mission of Jesus. Firstly, this passage does not give authority to followers of Jesus to forgive sin. That authority belongs to God alone. Thus, FF Bruce summarises:
“The preachers’ disciples role is declaratory, but it is God who effectively remits or retains. The servants of Christ are given no authority independent of his, nor is any assurance of infallibility given to them.”2
The disciples are not being given the authority to forgive sins of their own accord but to preach the message of repentance with the assurance that those who respond to it will be (and have already been) forgiven by God. Ramsey puts it well as he writes:
“Those whom they forgive (because their message is accepted), God will forgive; those whose sins they “retain,” as Jesus sometimes did (because the message was rejected), God will not forgive. In short, God will ratify and validate their mission because God is their Father (see v. 17). He has given them “authority to become children of God” (1:12), and consequently to act on his behalf.”3
It is not the job of the preacher, or follower of Jesus to forgive sin. The gift of faith is one given by God, and his children are known to him since before the foundation of the earth. Thus he will forgive whom he will forgive. We joyfully accept that which we could never earn and in acceptance remember that we do not choose God, he chose us. Jesus himself said: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (John 15:16)4 Thus, we who are called by God carry the same message of Christ and trust that God will outwork it where ever we pant the seed.
3 – WHAT NOW: NOW WHAT?
As we close part 1 of 2, it is important to stop and reflect on the lessons have we learned, and consider what they mean for us today. The first truth that speaks powerfully to me is simply the presence of Jesus. That he is the one we have been looking for and the one we need. Thus we must ask ourselves, do we truly know him, as individuals right now in the middle of this covid-19 crises what reigns in our hearts? Is it a fear of tomorrow, and uncertainty of what is ahead or is it the peace of Christ, and the certainty of a secured eternity?
I pray that today we have a genuine sense of his peace, that comes from his presence.
To know the Peace of Christ in every circumstance is to know the presence of Christ in every circumstance. It means that when a storm lands on our shore out the first move is to seek out Jesus and ascertain what he wants for us and is calling us to at that moment. We abide in him, and that abiding increases our confidence and peace. The Holy Spirit dwells in those who truly follow Jesus, and as the Spirit dwells, he enables us to know Christ more, and live for him. Yet, we must be active in that dwelling: Whether through the reading of his word, the prioritising of him above the busyness of the world (and sometimes church), and the living out of our faith in the community of faith. Small groups, relationships that enable rather than disable our faith.
Finally, as the disciples were recommissioned to the mission when they encountered the risen Jesus, so too are we. Today, if we follow Jesus, he has a purpose for our lives. This is not where I tell you that God is going to make you a world changer! But, God calls each of us to join in his mission and intends to use us where he will place us. We are called to carry the same message, whether we are Ministers, youth-workers, homemakers, doctors, speech therapist, Missionary, Programmers, Designers, Teachers, Students or retired.
As long as we live, we live for Him. So today – even as we are stuck at home – let us recommit ourselves to his commission and carry his peace into the world. Let us remember that every one of us is empowered by the Holy Spirit for the work, and no matter how insignificant we think our role is, it is Significant and useful to God in heaven. Take a moment and think how God intends for me to carry this message of repentance into my context, pray that he would speak to you and challenge you through his word, and get ready to join in the work of the mission. The privilege is not what we do, but that we get to do!
Questions to Consider
- Do we truly know the peace of Christ in our hearts?
- What does a proper understanding of that peace speak into whatever we are facing today?
- How is God calling us to work out his mission in our current context?
- How could we better use Social Media, technology, the internet to bring Glory to Gods name?
- This week where do we need to be praying for the Peace of God to rule in distressful situations?
- As we draw out of this darkness back into ‘normal’ in what ways might the mission work God is calling us as individuals or churches in our communities look different?
1 Excerpt From: Charles R. Swindoll. “Insights on John 04 Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary”
2 Bruce, F.F… The Gospel of John: A Verse-by-Verse Exposition. Kingsley Books. Kindle Edition. “
3 Excerpt From: J. Ramsey Michaels. “The Gospel of John”.
4 For Further biblical references see:
Ephesians 1:4-5, 11-12; Romans 8:28-30, 1 Peter 1:2, Galatians 3:12, Jeremiah 1:5, 1 these 1:4, Romans 9: 11, 15; Exodus 33:39