Our theme this evening is The Sending God as we continue this series on Knowing God and our passage is John 20.19-23. Firstly by way of introduction, THE NEED Some newspaper headlines from this past week:
TRAGEDY OF FIREBALL DAD - A tragic young dad turned himself into a human fireball in front of 6 children in South Shields.
NEWCASTLE TEENAGER FACES LIFE FOR RAPE - after destroying the lives of a 16 year old girl and a 40 year old woman.
WEST END RAIDS NET FIRE DEATH SUSPECTS - in relation to the arson attack which killed a pregnant woman, her daughters and the 16 year old babysitter.
MP's ADULT SCARS OF A BRUTAL CHILDHOOD
BATTLING PARENTS TO GET LESSONS IN GOOD DIVORCE
GUCCI WIDOW CONVICTED OF MURDER
FEARS OF MORE JOB LOSSES IN THE NORTH EAST
CAN MARRIAGE BE SAVED?
THE NEW MUSLIMS: WHY ARE SO MANY JOINING ISLAM?
STORM WRECKS HONDURAS:THOUSANDS DEAD & HOMELESS
CONFLICTS CONTINUE ON REMEMBRANCE DAY
People need the Lord. People need to hear the gospel, the hope of the gospel. People need to hear of the justice, love and mercy of God. People need to know the saving and transforming power of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. For "to those who receive Jesus Christ, to those who believe in his name he gives the power or right to become children of God", says John 1:12. May be someone here tonight needs to repent and receive Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord and be transformed. Many people are doing that everyday in some parts of the world where the church is growing rapidly and finding true freedom and release from guilt and fear. We live in a needy, insecure, violent and hurting world, especially in the affluent West spiritually and morally speaking. Where those behind the headlines are weighed down with guilt, depression, suffering and sin. Where many are looking and questioning but not finding. Where everyone who has not turned to Jesus Christ is lost and dead in their sins. Yet a world which God loved so much that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). And John 3:17:
"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him".
God didn't just send an e-mail saying I love you, which he then saved on file. No he sent his Son to die on the cross in our place, to pay the price for our sin and be raised so that we can have new and eternal life. The sending God offers salvation, rescue from darkness and hell, forgiveness, a new start, eternal life - a personal relationship with him if people repent and believe in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. And let's be clear from John 3:18:
"Whoever believes in Jesus is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son".
This is very serious. Now, as 1 Timothy 2:3-7 states,
"God our Saviour wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and man - the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all men".
And those who repent of their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ are forgiven and saved. But those who do not believe in Jesus stand condemned already - unless they too come to repentance and faith in Christ. John 3:19-21 suggests that some won't repent. Some men love darkness instead of light because their deeds are evil and fear their deeds will be exposed if they come to the light of Christ. But others will. People throughout the world need the Lord. It is a matter of eternal life and eternal death. People need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ from us and see Christ in us. "You are the light of the world", says Jesus in Mt 5:14. We've been hearing and praying about that in the service this evening. CYFA highlights the importance of reaching out to young people in our schools and colleges. And how vital that is in both our schools and universities. It's a key time. Did you know that the average age of people becoming Christians in this country is 19? How crucial it is that we invite students to the Tavern and to the appropriate events during Mission 98. Often people can be harder to reach when they're older. But there is an increasing openness to the gospel among all generations today. That average age of commitment is getting older each year. How vital it is that people of all ages are invited to Mission 98. And Paul simply says in 2 Cor. 6:2:"Now is the time of God's favour, now is the day of salvation" - for anyone of whatever age who will believe. "The harvest is plentiful", says Jesus in Mt 9, "but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest therefore to send out workers into his harvest field." We have an important role in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus has been sent and he sends us too to go in his name to tell others of Jesus in the power of the Spirit. Listen to the words of Jesus in Mt 28:18-20.
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
We are all commanded and commissioned by Christ to go - 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? Are all of us willing to invite at least one person to M98? We're all busy but Christ did not say Go unless you are busy. No he said Go! Romans 10:13-15 says this:
"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"
But many of us are quite fearful about going and making disciples. Now I think it's one of the most exciting aspects of the Christian life. But 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. 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 vv19&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 through the locked doors Jesus came and stood among them - the risen Lord was with them. 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. Firstly 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? When the Titanic went down on 15 April 1912, some 1,595 people perished in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. Many more could have been rescued, but there were only enough lifeboats for half the number of people aboard. One of those who was unable to find a place in a lifeboat was a Glasgow preacher, John Harper. As he clung to a piece of wreckage in the tossing sea, he shared the good news of the love of God with another passenger, a fellow Scotsman, who was clinging to a spar not far away. Eventually the preacher could hold on no longer, and met his death in the bitterly cold water. But the Scotsman survived to tell the tale of how, as he himself put it later, "There, alone in the night and with two miles of water under me, I believed. I am John Harper's last convert." It was so important to John Harper even in the icy sea. And 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. The cost of the latest space shuttle mission to put John Glenn into orbit was enormous in monetary terms. The cost of the mission which we are involved in is very different. 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 v22 In spite of their many failures and their denial and desertion of Jesus the disciples were being entrusted with his Word and his work. 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: Fourthly,THE RESULT OF THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL v23 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 v23 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.