John 20:21-23 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
I know I have preached on the first two verses of this passage, but I think I’ve been afraid to preach on the third one! This is obviously an extremely important passage, because it was Jesus’ first encounter with His disciples after the resurrection, and it is indeed a commissioning. The first thing that hits me is how matter-of-fact Jesus was. “Peace be with you” was a standard greeting, as it still is in some cultures, so this was equivalent to saying, “Good evening.” Of course, when Jesus says it there is real peace imparted, and the disciples were certainly in need of peace, after all they had been through in the previous few days. Then He says He is sending them as He was sent. I’m sure books have been written on this statement – or they should be! If we meditate on this verse it should give us both a deep humility and a deep excitement and expectation of what God wants to do through us. There must be no misunderstanding: there is only one Savior, one Mediator between God and man (Acts 4:12, 1 Timothy 2:5). That is not and cannot be part of our commission. However, apart from that, God wants to manifest Himself through us just as He did through Jesus’ human body. Jesus Himself said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) We seldom exercise that kind of faith! Then it gets theologically awkward. We don’t understand forgiveness nearly well enough. This isn’t talking about excusing, it’s talking about forgiving. The scariest thing Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount was that if we refuse to forgive, we won’t be forgiven. (Matthew 6:14-15) Here He’s extending it, saying that how we forgive others has eternal consequences for them as well as for us. That should really give us pause and cause some deep self-examination.
I talk about forgiveness a lot, because Japanese culture has a very weak understanding of the whole concept. However, that’s not to say that I understand everything about it myself. I do know that I must not hold grudges, that as soon as something is done against me I’ve got to let go of it and yield it to God. I’ve done too much ignoring God, and even defying Him, to want to risk not being forgiven myself! I am reminded of Corrie ten Boom’s encounter after WWII with the guard from the concentration camp where she was and where her sister died. I think that was exactly what Jesus was talking about here. Corrie did choose to forgive, and she received a release and a blessing beyond what she had thought was possible, previous to experiencing it. I need to remember that in my forgiving of others I am allowing Jesus’ blood to flow over me as well. I don’t even know everything for which I need to be forgiven, so I’d better be proactive in forgiving others. As a pastor, I need to be very careful that my forgiveness doesn’t come across as excusing; wrong things are clearly wrong. I am to declare the holiness of God, and then His grace and mercy. It is only when we know we are wrong that we repent, and that is essential.
Father, I’ve still got so much to learn here. Thank You for continuing to move me along, to grow me and deepen my understanding. Help me communicate effectively what You show me, so that the Body of Christ may be built up as You desire, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!