So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 20:21–23, NASB)
The four Gospels give different accounts about Jesus’ last days on Earth. While there are some apparent differences between them, these highlight the whirlwind of activity surrounding His death and resurrection. The Gospels agree on a few key issues: Christ died on the cross; He rose; He was seen alive by His apostles; and now, He has ascended to heaven and lives forever. Jesus is still alive, and He is still active on Earth, although now He acts through His body, the church.
John 20:21–23 recounts Jesus’ visit with the disciples on the evening following His resurrection. It was Sunday night, and while a few people have seen Jesus alive, this was the first time He met with 10 of the 11 remaining apostles. (Judas Iscariot had committed suicide, and Thomas was not present.) The disciples remained fearful and confused.
The focus of Jesus’ teaching turned in a new direction after His resurrection. For three years, He taught the disciples the gospel and principles of the kingdom of God. After His resurrection, He focused on how they would proclaim that gospel throughout the world.
Several key themes occur repeatedly throughout Jesus’ post-resurrection preaching. I will not cover all of those themes, but will address four that appear in the above passage:
- First, He was truly, fully alive. The disciples were not seeing a ghost. They could feel His breath when He breathed upon them. One week later, He would invite Thomas to touch His hands and side. Elsewhere in Scripture, we are told that Jesus is the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20), so His resurrection is a preview of our own resurrection and eternal life. “Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19) is His promise that we too will live in resurrected glorified bodies someday, not as amorphous spirits floating around in cosmic nothingness.
- Second, disciples are called to continue the ministry of Jesus. As the Father had sent Jesus, He was now sending them. He would later tell the apostles to go into all the world, teaching people to observe all that He had commanded them (Matthew 28:18–20). We are called to continue His ministry—not to cast it aside and create something new. Although we may need to adapt to new circumstances, the core message and mindset of Christ’s ministry should permeate the post-resurrection disciple’s ministry.
- To fulfill that ministry, we need the Holy Spirit within us to empower us. Jesus assured His disciples that He would be with them until the end of the age. His presence is revealed through the working of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. “Receive the Holy Spirit right now, and cling closely with Him. Only three days ago, you received the bread which I identified as My body. In the same manner, receive now the Holy Spirit within you, to permeate every corner of your being. As My Holy Spirit has lived within Me the whole time I have been with you, He will now live in you. Receive it! Believe it! Live by it!”
- Finally, our ministry and message is good news of forgiveness of sins. The apostles repeated this message constantly, because it was the message He gave them (Luke 24:46–49; Acts 2:38; Acts 10:43). Our message should be good news, assuring our hearers that a free gift of forgiveness of sins is available to all who believe. We are not called to push people away from God with our dogmas, doctrines, and new rules. We are called to invite people to come to Jesus, to receive His forgiveness, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to transform their lives.
The resurrection was more than an event that makes a great story for Easter Sunday services. It is the moment when Jesus conquered sin, hell, and death. He invites us to share that victory. If you have not entered a personal relationship with Jesus, this is a great day to become a partaker of His life and victory. If you already know Him, it is a reminder to continue His earthly ministry by sharing the good news of salvation with those who need to hear it.
This post was written as part of the Scripture Sabbath Challenge.
This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.