Many people today are looking for a fresh new start in their life. People will make new years resolutions, buy self-help books, take up a new hobby, and look to countless methods of bringing a newness and purpose into their existence. The sad truth is that many will quit and all will still be searching for happiness, peace and meaning. Jesus brings to us the ultimate fresh start and the power that we need to keep going on with it. Jesus had promised the disciples that the Holy Spirit would come. It was now time that the precious gift of the Holy Spirit would come.
THE DISCIPLES MEET JESUS (John 20:19-21).
On the very same day the tomb where Jesus had been buried had been discovered to be empty and an appearance to those at the tomb by the risen Savior, the disciples had not seen its last marvel. Though Judas was dead and Thomas was not with with disciples at this time they gathered in the evening for “fear of the Jews.” Perhaps they were gathered to discuss the events of that day and just how long it would be before the Jewish leaders would appear to arrest them. With all that had transpired the previous week and especially the events of that day the disciples had been driven into a defensive retreated and locked the doors.
It is in their darkest time of fear that Jesus appears to them unhindered by their barricade. Jesus came and “stood in the midst” of the disciples implies that He appeared right in the middle of where they were. “It is a comfort to Christ’s disciples, when their solemn assemblies are reduced to privacy, that no doors can shut out Christ’s presence from them” (Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson, 1994).
The first word’s of Jesus to His disciples, “Peace be unto you,” are exactly what they needed. For when they understood things the least, Jesus knew what they needed the most. This was more than the normal greeting exchanged between Jews. It first fulfilled promises in the Old Testament given by Israel’s prophets of God’s “Shalom” (Hebrew word for peace). “I will hear what God the Lord will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints” (Ps. 85:8). Even greater, this is fulfillment of Jesus’ own words, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you” (John 14:27). “His speaking peace makes peace, creates the fruit of the lips, peace; peace with God, peace in your own consciences, peace with one another; all this peace be with you; not peace with the world, but peace in Christ” (Henry).
The disciples had to of been in a state of shock upon seeing Jesus. The fear that had gripped their hurts turned into amazement. Jesus knowing their hearts take seizes the moments and before any can asked Him to, “he shewed unto them his hands and his side.” The empty grave showed that Christ resurrection was bodily but Jesus somehow miraculously appeared before them. Jesus showing them His nail-pierced hands and wounded side affirmed that it was indeed Him and that He was indeed in His body. “But the wounds meant more than identification; they also were evidence that the price for salvation had been paid and man indeed could have “peace with God.” The basis for all our peace is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He died for us, He arose from the dead in victory, and now He lives for us” (Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996).
Again, Jesus reassures them to be at “peace.” Perhaps this is given because the shock of His appearance meant they didn’t hear the first time. It seems that this second time He is driving home a point that they were being given peace and were going to do something with it. They would be the messengers of peace. As the Father had sent Jesus with peace, the disciples would further the reach by carrying it to all the corners of the world. In just a few words Jesus deputized the disciples to continue His work. “The work of the cross is peace, and the message they would carry would be the Gospel of peace” (Weirsbe).
RECEIVE THE HOLY GHOST (JOHN 20:22-23)
The disciples being told that they were being sent out to carry the message of peace would be daunting. In previous lessons we learnt that Jesus told the disciples that they would continue in learning and having comfort after His departure by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Now they were being told plainly that they are going to be ambassadors of the Gospel. It was important for them to know that in order for them to do any good work for God that the Holy Spirit was going to have be there for them in that just as powerfully. They would fail without Him.
As soon as Jesus had said that they were commissioned, “he breathed on them” and then explaining His action and strengthening their understanding He said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” Immediately our thoughts go to the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came in the upper room where 150 believers waited and received the Holy Spirit. Our minds then question “when did the disciples and the church receive the Spirit?” The differences in what happened between this scene and Pentecost suggest that the breath of Jesus on this occasion symbolized at the least the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost nearly two months later. At the most was the giving of the Holy Spirit to strengthen the disciples. “they received a precursor of the full coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost—almost as a deposit for that which was to come fully fifty days later—breathed to them now from the very mouth of Jesus” (David S. Dockery, Trent C. Butler, Christopher L. Church et al., Holman Bible Handbook, Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1992).
The Holy Spirit coming on the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2) brought with Him signs of power shown in the wind, purity shown in the fire, and unity in the languages. All of those are evident in the lives of Spirit-filled individuals. What Jesus does by breathing on the disciples at this point represents another work of the Spirit in believers life. Just as in Genesis 2:7 where God breathed into mankind the breath of life, the Give of Life would breathe new life into believers. The one difference is that the breath that Jesus gave at this point surpassed the garden experience and the tree of life because of the indwelling of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit within the believer (John 14:23).
At a glance one may feel that Christ is giving the disciples the power to forgive or not forgive sin. That is not what Jesus is implying. It is not for the disciples to set the terms for forgiveness. We are finite in our understanding and allow our feelings for certain people to cloud our judgments. The terms of forgiveness are set by God and are, “that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (20:31).
It is through faith in Jesus alone that sins are “remitted.” To remit is to forgive, cancel, dismiss. The disciples have the power through the Holy Spirit to proclaim forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ. “They are commissioned to tell the world that salvation is to be had upon gospel terms, and no other, and they shall find God will say Amen to it” (Henry).
To “retain” sins implies that walk away from the gospel in unbelief will hold on to or keep their sin. God himself stands behind the disciple’s in their preaching, granting or withholding forgiveness according to a persons response to the message of Jesus Christ.