The Disciples

Our passage is John's Gospel 20:19-23. This morning we continue our short series on The Resurrection by looking at John's account of Jesus' appearance to the disciples on Easter evening in the upper room. Introduction Did you know that the average age of those becoming Christians in this country is 19? How vital it is therefore that we as a church are going, making and supporting disciples in the universities, colleges and schools of Tyneside. That we are discipling and praying for our children. But also that we who know the risen Jesus as our Saviour and Lord are telling others of whatever age the good news of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection. For that average age has been going up in recent years. It was 16, it is now 19. Older people do seem to be more open to the gospel. And not just in this country but throughout the world. And as we see what is going on in our country and around the world people's need of the Lord Jesus is evident. We've all been watching the tragedy of Kosovo and there have been similar tragedies happening in Africa. But also in this relatively peaceful country people are lost and confused emotionally and spiritually. You only have to look at the programmes that have replaced News at Ten on ITV to realise this. "What is love" is a common and genuine cry today. As is, is there any hope? That question is particularly evident on the faces of the Kosovan Albanian refugees but many here feel a lack of hope too. Will there be another world war? Will I still have a job next month? Is the Millenium Dome all I've got to look forward to next year? Well yes there is a living hope. As 1 Peter says, God has given to those who trust in Christ, new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for you. We have been sent to share this hope, this good news with the world. John's account of Jesus' appearance to Mary in the previous 9 verses of John 20 ends with Mary sent to share the good news with others. "I have seen the Lord!", Mary tells the disciples in v.18. John is surely anticipating the missionary commission of the risen Lord to his disciples then and now. So it's been said, "'I have seen the Lord' must surely lead to 'Go and make disciples of all nations' (Mt 28:19). The resurrection is the vindication of the life and death of Jesus as the one in whom God, in person, entered our world that salvation might be won for every tribe and people and nation." In Mt 28 we are all commanded and commissioned by Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations. Not just the keenies, not just the paid ministers and staff. In fact those who are newly converted often make the best evangelists as they have a wider circle of non Christian friends. Not all of us have the gift of evangelism but we are all called to be his witnesses, ready to explain the hope that is within us with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). We are all commanded to go and make not merely converts but disciples of Jesus Christ - whether God calls us to stay here or to go overseas. The question is are we willing to go and obey Jesus? (cf Romans 10:13-15) But many of us are quite fearful about going and making disciples. We're unsure of what to say or of what others might think of us. I'm always encouraged by the words of John Chapman, the Australian evangelist who led two missions here. He admits that, "For many years I was not able to admit to anyone how really difficult I found it to try to speak to people about Jesus. I thought there must be something wrong with me and sometimes I even doubted whether I was a Christian because of this fear. This spark of doubt would flare up into a flame whenever I was challenged with a question like, 'How many people have you led to Christ?' It was a long time before I discovered that almost all Christians were like I was. All Christians are tempted to be ashamed of the gospel." Jesus said it wouldn't be easy. When he sent out the 12 in Mt 10 he told his disciples that I am sending you out like sheep among wolves and that some won't welcome or listen to the gospel message and that there will be suffering for the gospel. But we don't go on our own. We are not sent by ourselves. Jesus sent his disciples out in twos. We are sent as the church as the body of Christ as here in John 20. "Jesus' vision is not of a multitude of inspired individuals each acting independently out of his or her personal encounter with the risen One. The fruit of his exaltation is a community, bound together by their common participation in the Spirit, sent forth to gather his other sheep from every corner of the world" (Milne). And we are sent and accompanied by the sender. Jesus promises to be with us always as we go in his name. And he has sent the Holy Spirit to empower us for the task. It is he who gives us the words we need, who convicts people of their sin and need of Christ and who brings them to new birth in Christ. So we need not be paralysed by fear of evangelism. God is with us and it is his work. Which brings me to the first of the next four brief points from John 20: 19-23. First, PEACE BE WITH YOU vv. 19&21 "Peace be with you", says Jesus as he came and stood among the disciples in v.19 and as he commissioned them in v.21. Shalom says Jesus. Why? Two of the disciples had seen that Jesus' tomb was empty on that first Easter Sunday. They'd heard reports that Jesus was alive. That he'd appeared to Mary, Simon and to the two on the road to Emmaus. In Luke's account they then say "It is true the Lord is risen!" But they are still rather bewildered and fearful. Look at v.19. "the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jews." They feared for their lives as those who were identified with Jesus. Are we fearful of being identified as a follower of Jesus at school, college, work or at home? Then suddenly and significantly through the locked doors Jesus came and stood among them - the risen Lord was with them. It is true. He is alive. He has risen. Yes the reason the doors were locked was for fear of the Jews, but the function of the locked doors here is to stress the miraculous nature of Jesus' appearance. He is risen. We need not doubt and we can pass on this eye witness account to others. He calmed their fears with a word of greeting - Shalom! Peace be with you! Now shalom means more than an absence of stress. It means well being. It means life at its best under the gracious hand of God. So here after the death and resurrection of Jesus is the first true use of that word as the victory has been won. So, writes one commentator, "Jesus' Shalom is the complement of his It is finished on the cross. For the peace of reconciliation and life from God is now imparted. Not surprisingly shalom is included along with grace in every greeting of every letter of Paul in the NT." (Beasley Murray) So as the risen Jesus stands among them and as he commissions them he says Peace be with you. Do not be afraid, I have risen - sin and death have been defeated, peace with God is now possible and the peace of God will be with you. The same is true for us. Jesus says to us today Peace be with you as you are sent in my name, as you go to make disciples. And I will be with you too. It is true the Lord is risen! There is a glorious gospel message to proclaim. Do not fear. And Jesus further reassures his disciples then and now that it was really him - risen and alive and not a ghost in v.20 by showing them his hands and his side, where the nails and the spear had been. How important it is for our needy and hurting generation that Jesus is recognised by his scars! How important it is that we preach Christ crucified and risen. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. As with Mary Magdalene in the previous section, the risen Jesus' coming banished their fear and confusion. He began to transform their fear into courage, their confusion into conviction and bestow true peace. And because of the resurrection we can meet Jesus today through the Spirit and by faith. He can transform our fear into courage and give us peace. He is alive and with us as we go, which leads us on to my second point from these verses. Secondly, AS THE FATHER HAS SENT ME, I AM SENDING YOU v.21 "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me , I am sending you." This commissioning echoed his prayer for his disciples in John 17:18:

"Father as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world".

And Jesus says to his disciples today - to his disciples here tonight:

"As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."

What a commission! Just think about Jesus' words again - "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you" Well this commissioning or sending by Jesus tells us four things about the mission of the church. First it tells us that mission is of vital importance. If Jesus sends us as the Father has sent him then mission must have the same importance for us and for the church as it had for Jesus. Does it? So exactly how important was and is mission to the Godhead? In John's Gospel Jesus describes himself as the sent one 6 times and the Father is described as the Sender 12 times. So the Godhead is defined in terms of mission. "The challenge for us is evident. As Jesus is defined by the mission of the Father, so the church is defined by its mission to the world" (Milne). And if God is a missionary God and we are to be like him then the extent to which we and the church are committed to proclaiming the gospel will be a measure of how godly we are. How godly are we? Do we see the crowds as Jesus does - harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd? Jesus prays for us in John 17 - that the Father's love may be in us and that we may be one - which is so important for mission. Are we praying for the lost and for workers to be sent into the harvest field? Are we spending time with non Christians? Are we clear about what is central to mission and what is central to the Son's mission - that repentant sinners might not perish but have eternal life, that they might experience new life as the children of God and freedom from the slavery of sin. Centralities which we are reminded of in v. 23 but centralities which the wider church does not always stick to. Secondly this key statement of Jesus helps us to understand the character of mission. The tenses of the two verbs in the sending are different. The second verb is present - I am sending you. The first verb is a perfect, ie a past action continuing in the present - the Father has sent me. So there is no double mission here. It's not Jesus' mission first and then our mission afterwards. No. Rather the one mission of God has two phases - that of the Son on earth and that of the Son in his risen life through his people, through you and me. He is with us when we go and we partake of his authority. As the sent ones of Jesus we speak with his authority. Thirdly Jesus here tells us the cost of mission. As the Father has sent me. For Jesus this meant self-sacrifice to the hell of Calvary, to death on a cross. In principle it means the same for us. Fourthly Jesus here also points to the resources of mission. One is Jesus himself. He will continue to be the leader of the disciples. We go out under his leadership, with the inspiration of his living presence and the support of his prayers. The other major resource of mission is the Holy Spirit which leads us on to my third point from John 20. Thirdly, RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT v.22 In spite of their many failures and their denial and desertion of Jesus the disciples were being entrusted with his Word and his work, which must be an encouragement for us today. He was sending them out to represent him, to be his ambassadors. Peter had denied him 3 times and yet in a few days Peter would preach the Word and thousands would be saved. Before that he met the resurrected Christ and was empowered by receiving the Holy Spirit. Without the filling of the Spirit they could not go forth and witness effectively. Here the receiving of the Spirit at Pentecost is anticipated. The words on them are not there in the original. The Spirit had dwelt with them in the person of Christ, but now the Spirit would be in them. If we're Christians then the Spirit is in us. Without him we can't evangelise either. We need to keep on being filled with the Spirit. He empowers us to go to people here and to the ends of the earth with the gospel. Which leads us on to my final heading: Fourtly, THE RESULT OF THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL v.23 This verse does not mean that Jesus gave the right to his disciples to forgive sins and let people into heaven. Literally this verse reads like this: "Those whose sins you forgive have already been forgiven; those whose sins you do not forgive have not been forgiven". I.e. the disciples did not provide forgiveness; they proclaimed forgiveness on the basis of the message of the gospel. "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Mk 2:7) All Christians can do is announce the message of forgiveness; God performs the miracle of forgiveness. If sinners will believe on Jesus Christ, we can then authoritatively declare to them that their sins have been forgiven; but we are not the ones who provide the forgiveness. So as we saw in v.21 Christian ministry is a continuation of Jesus' ministry. Through the gift of the Spirit the authority that Jesus exercises is repeated in the lives of his disciples. (Carson) As one writer concludes: "There is no doubt from the context that the reference in v.23 is to forgiving sins, or withholding forgiveness. But though this sounds stern and harsh, it is simply the result of the preaching of the gospel, which either brings people to repent as they hear of the ready and costly forgiveness of God, or leaves them unresponsive to the offer of forgiveness which is the gospel and so they are left in their sins" (Marsh). We are to go forth in the name and with the authority of the risen Lord Jesus and preach the gospel. The Holy Spirit does the rest.

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