John 20.19-31; 1 Peter 1.3-9
Introduction Last week I asserted that many of us are hanging around the door that leads into the fulness of the eternal kind of life when we’re meant go through and live it. A significant reason is that we’re carrying burdens of guilt we have no right carrying, or we’re allowing others to carry such burdens because we’re either too preoccupied to notice, or because we ‘re not sure they are ready to be released from their guilt, they’re not sorry enough (whatever that means). It’s also possible that we haven’t heard that we’re empowered to pronounce release and forgiveness to fellow believers. And so we and people we ought to have released from guilt a long time ago are rendered incapable of living in the amazing environment of resurrection grace and power, because guilt is like a cloud of pollution with which we’ve draped ourselves, and thus are prevented from appreciating what God intends us to be and do.
A surprising commission In John’s account of the rising of Jesus an early encounter with His disciples sees them being filled with the Holy Spirit for a remarkable purpose. Here we have the disciples, scared stiff that they’re next for a kangaroo trial, leading to their mass execution; you can imagine that the stories from Mary of Magdala, and of Peter and John, haven’t really overcome their very rational fear. So there’s a bit of bickering, suspicion that some in the group are losing their minds, fear about what comes next and how far they can get before the Romans or the Temple guard come for them. And out of nowhere, perhaps through the locked door, Jesus appears; and He greets them with, “Peace be with you.” Huh! Some chance of that! But He quickly sets to demonstrating that it’s Him; wounded hands and side. While they’re still trying to adjust to the idea that He’s neither an illusion nor a ghost, He tells them it’s time to get busy, to take the good news out into the needy world.
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” B.F. Westcott says that this is the charter of the church given them by the Lord. We are a sent people, not entitled to sit around looking after our own community, but with a responsibility to take the great news we have to those who live near and far. Then Jesus gives a very specific commission as He imparts the Holy Spirit, giving life not unlike the breathing of life into the Creation [Genesis 2.7] or the raising of the dry bones [Ezekiel 37.5-10, 14], the Spirit breathes new life and enabling into the death of self-confidence, creating a new generation or race of Spirit birthed and filled people. But listen to what Jesus says as He breathes new life over them; “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Revolutionary words that will change how they view themselves and their role in the world; they have a message to proclaim, stating that those who come to Christ in faith will receive forgiveness, and those who refuse to come to Him will have their sins cling to them, characterise them, and ultimately destroy them (if not relieved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ).
Most scholars agree that this is a blanket proclamation to those who embrace faith in the crucified and risen Lord as the bringer of salvation and deliverance from imprisonment to sin. However there are times when an individual needs to hear it explicitly applied to her, to liberate her to be all that the new life into which she has been born contains for her. And we need to carefully, and prayerfully note the warning to those who refuse or discount faith in the grace of God that sin will not leave them ever, but will remain bound to them as long as they refuse grace from on high. For some, healing is not possible until they are released from slavery to guilt, and cease to allow that to define them, in contradiction that all Jesus’ sacrifice and triumph have done for them. This is the power, the impetus, the great message behind the charter of the church to go.
Break the bonds Wherever you or I encounter people of faith who carry a burden of shame, we have responsibility to remind them of their liberty, and of their responsibility to live and move in freedom. It’s not for their own sake, but for the sake of that for which God has commissioned each of us in His service – neither is it for us to assert our status before God, but as fuel for us in our outward call for the sake of the lost who have yet to know the liberty that is ours. In His letter John says that when we confess our sins we find God faithful and, forgiving and cleansing. Let’s renew our commitment to that today.
Taking the issues on I’m inviting response to this message and so I’ve thrown out some questions to tweak a discussion into being (even an argument if that’s how you feel).
1. Where are followers of Jesus Christ to pursue the living out of their lives of faith? What does that imply to you or your group? Where are we being sent to? Is it close, neighbourhood stuff, or far away in other places, among “foreign” people and cultures?
2. What guarantee of direction and empowering do we have? [See John 14-16] From whom does it come? How does it come to us?
3. What is the specific commission for which this empowering, guidance and direction comes? What is the content of such a commission, how could be it be pursued by you and by us at Forrest Hill? Who deserves this liberating message?