19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
The words of this text stun you. That Christ can empower His disciples with such authority is only possible through the working of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit we are lost. Without the Holy Spirit we will say things that are strange to God’s kingdom, His character and all that Christ is. Beware of speaking words that are not inspired by the Holy Spirit, lest you bring judgment on yourself when on the last day, every man will have to give account of every idle word he has spoken. We should rather be hearers than doers and speakers of what is wrong. In this text, Jesus and His disciples meet and have an encounter where they are empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said to them, If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld. You may be fearful to enter this realm but Jesus empowers His disciples with the Holy Spirit and there are times when we need the guidance of the Holy Spirit alone. His disciples will be enabled to face situations if they are breathed upon by Jesus. If you dare to call yourself a Christian, realise that without the breath of the Holy Spirit you will be prone to speak evil which will not stand in the judgment. You can forgive when Jesus forgives and retain forgiveness when He retains His forgiveness. Beware of what the Bible says is the sin that cannot be forgiven. We should fear to just say what our intellect, feelings, and what general Christianity tells us.
Here is the challenge: are we in communion with Jesus – with His Spirit, the spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit so that the Spirit can work in us and lead us into His truth?
Being in the company and presence of Jesus and claiming to walk with Him, is not child’s play. You need to tread carefully, be on your guard and watch that you do not fall asleep and get washed away by the flood or the tide of circumstances. Write this in the back of your mind and never forget it for the rest of your Christian life. Your life should depict the fact that you are in His company.
Yesterday I met someone who said these words to me: ‘when I was still a Christian…’ But then she got married and I suppose for that reason she had to forsake Christianity to submit to her husband’s religion. May it never be said of us that we have been robbed of our life and reward in Christ. Timothy was admonished to guard that which had been entrusted to him.
The heading for today’s text is: Jesus among His disciples. Don’t you want to be such a disciple where Jesus is amongst them? What kind of disciple are you? Jesus had called 12 disciples but now there were only 11 present. Beware lest you are intoxicated and enticed by something that will cause you to lose your discipleship. Beware lest you are utterly convinced and gripped by something that, if Jesus said to you, ‘…that which you are to do, do quickly…’,that you too will respond and go out into the darkness.
When it was evening on that day – the first day of that week – the doors were shut. The disciples feared the Jews, the chosen nation of God, who were selected and elected by God to be His holy nation, so that the works of God should be manifest here on earth through them. They were the offspring of Abraham. Jesus’ disciples feared these Jews.
There can be times of terror, persecution and suffering. The disciples knew that it was not because of their sin that there were suffering. Jesus Himself, at times, had to hide from the Jews because they wanted to kill Him. If they feared their Roman oppressors it would seem right. Jesus said that because you are not of the world, the world will hate you. How terrible that the Jews hated the disciples of Jesus! The children of faith, His children, are the ones who cause fear and the bolting of doors.
Their Lord had been crucified, the One for whose sake they had lost and forsaken all, the One to whom they had said, ‘Lord, where shall we go? You alone have words of life.’ They heard His wonderful promises for the first time. Now their hope, their life, their future, their existence had been crucified and placed in a grave with the dead. It must have been heaven on earth for the disciples with their Master, day and night, but now they feared for their own lives.
But just then Jesus came and stood in their midst. Do you hear that, Christian? You may be suffering, there may be many troubles and thoughts that rise in your mind. Your hope and trust fails. Allow Jesus to come and to stand in your midst. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ It was not a flippant ‘Peace to you brethren’, or, ‘God bless.’ Do not use God’s name in vain. Then He showed them His hands and side, identifying with them, saying this is what I have come for. You have been redeemed by these hands. You are Mine and I am yours. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. In the midst of this tragedy, calamity, suffering, pain and fear – He stood and He spoke. When they saw it was the Lord, they rejoiced. So Jesus said again, ‘Peace be with you.’
Friends, the peace of Jesus entails more than we can imagine.
Horatio G Stafford was a successful lawyer and businessman in Chicago. He had his wife, Anna, and five children. His son died from pneumonia in 1871 and he lost his business in the great Chicago fire. On 21 November 1873, a French ocean liner, Ville du Havre, was crossing the Atlantic from America to Europe, with 313 passengers. Mrs Spafford and her four daughters were on that ship. Her husband would follow later. Four days into the journey, the ship collided with Loch Earn, an iron clipper, from Scotland. Within 12 minutes the ship sank in the darkness of the ocean and 226 died. A sailor on a boat found Mrs Spafford holding onto a piece of driftwood and he saved her. She landed in Cardiff, Wales, alone. She sent a telegram home to her husband – ‘saved alone’. Mr Spafford boarded a ship to comfort his wife. On the fourth day of the voyage, the ship’s captain called Mr Spafford to his cabin, and told him that this was where his four daughters drowned. It was then that he penned the words of the song:
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll,
whatever my lot,
Thou hast taught me to say,
it is well, it is well with my soul.
This successful businessman lost everything in the Great Fire of Chicago but it did not dampen his love for Jesus. 200 years later, we still sing the song that he wrote down and are blessed by it. What will come out of your life? What traces, marks and moods will stay behind after 200 years of your life?
The converted soul, Paul, said of himself: I am the chief of sinners because I persecuted the church. It was his great sin which he freely admitted and openly confessed.
21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” They received their commission when Jesus was in their midst and spoke His peace to them. Without Jesus there is no peace, without the cross there is no peace with Jesus or your fellow man. Do you want peace? Then the cross must be actively at work in your life and Jesus needs to be in you, as His disciple.
Jesus came to redeem us from our sin and the sin of unforgiveness which seems to be common in the church. Jesus said to His disciples that when they pray they should ask the Father to ‘forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are indebted to us’. Forgiveness should be abundant in the church of Christ. At the cross both parties bow the knee. We find ourselves at the cross even if we were strangers. There we receive a snow-white, spotless garment. We may come to the cross as enemies but we leave the cross as friends. We come and receive His Spirit who is the focal point of our Christianity. Jesus stood in the midst of His disciples. Have you opened your heart – your senses, feelings, judgements and deliberations – to the Spirit of Jesus?
Jesus said, I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33 Can anything be compared to this?
Listen to these wonderful words: Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27 Can you believe that we, as a functioning church, are the body of Christ? Friends, do we realise that we make up the body of Christ? If people want to see Christ, then we should be able to say, ‘Come, come to our church and you will see the body of Christ.’ Every member should be part of the body of Christ. Is there an arm that is just floating around? That will be very strange. It is unnatural and occultic. Do you see what Christ is calling us to? You will be my body on earth, you will imitate me, you will take after God. Friend, we are called to this peace where Christ is standing amongst us, teaching every member. His Spirit directs us in the truth.
As the Father has sent Me, so I send you. Is this true? Is this commission true in my life? I send you in the same way that the Father sent Me. Do you see the absolute necessity that Jesus stands in our midst and speaks His words. He needs to breathe on us and we need to accept His Holy Spirit. Is your life a vessel that can be filled by the holiness of the Spirit of Jesus?
It is not easy if Christ sends us as the Father commissioned Him. Jesus spoke because the Father told Him to do so. If you are commissioned, you are sent. You dare not say the wrong words that will disqualify your commission. It requires much denial and shutting of the mouth if you are sent. You dare not go if He has not told you to if you want to be united with the ones whom the Lord has called and chosen and represent the body of Christ, His Church.
The choice is ours. Do not persecute the church of Christ if you do not choose to be a member of the body of Christ. By doing so you identify with the world which Jesus said hated Him and would hate you as well.
If you have not tasted the real joy that the disciples tasted when they saw their Lord in their midst, showing His hands and His side, I invite you to the Cross. Have your garments cleansed so that you can unite with those who belong to Christ and are part of the body of Christ where His Spirit enlightens every soul and mind. Be ready to be commissioned.