John 20:19-23 | Jesus is the Comforting Commissioner | Andrew Gutierrez
Topic: Worship Gatherings Passage: John 20:19–20:23
You can be seated, and please open to John, chapter 20. And while you’re doing that, I just want to say a word about The Epistle Project and the podcast starting tomorrow morning. This is something that we’ve announced for a while now. I don’t know that I’ve said much about it, but I just want to encourage you to join with us as a church in reading through the New Testament epistles. This is what the Lord has given his apostles to write and what he’s given them to write to us, the New Testament church.
So much wisdom in these New Testament epistles, and I’m praying for my own heart and for yours as well that there will be things that grab me like never before. That there’ll be a number of things going through the New Testament epistles that grab my attention and change the way I live for the glory of God. And I pray the same thing for you as well.
This is my favorite way to read through the Bible, kind of slowly, paragraphs at a time. I’m all for the reading the Bible through in a year and things like that. I commend it to you. But there is something to be said for reading slowly and meditating and asking the Lord to change you based on what you read. So I’m a fan of slow Bible reading, and this is what we’ve put together for you.
This New Testament Epistle Project where we kind of go through just maybe two verses a day, maybe it’s seven, maybe it’s twelve, but most often it’s not more than that. We’d ask you to read through it. Maybe read through it a couple times. Pray through it. Pray through it for others that the things that should be taken out of the passage are taken out for your own heart and then also for other people you love.
I’m very excited to do this together, and I’m praying that the Lord changes us continually and makes us more into his image as we read his word together. I’d encourage you to talk about it. Talk about what you read in your small group. Talk about what you read that week at church on Sunday. Digest the word of God together.
Any church can go through and read the Bible together. But the church that meditates on the word of God, humbles themselves under the word of God, asks him to change them according to the word of God, that’s the church that’s going to grow in Christlikeness. Anybody can read it. Who is being changed by it is my question, and I hope that that’s us.
And then the podcast is simply a devotional way to again digest what you’re reading. I’m just making some comments. Some of these podcast messages are four and a half, five minutes long. Others I get carried away and they’re ten minutes long. But I’m commenting on some devotional thoughts based on the passages that we’ve read.
We hope that this is all a blessing to you and that it helps you grow in the likeness of Christ.
Well, this morning, we come to John 20, verses 19-23. I’ve entitled the message “Jesus is the Comforting Commissioner.” The comforting one who sends his disciples out.
I don’t know what your New Year’s resolutions are. My wife and I were talking about these in the car yesterday. I’m not sure what yours are, but let me ask this question: Are any them scary? Probably all hard—losing the weight that you gained over the holiday season or whatever it may be. I know many of them are hard, but are any of them cause for concern? Do any of them make you nervous? Do any of them make you fearful?
The Christian life is a life where you live it day by day, and sometimes there will be times where to be obedient is actually going to be a scary thing. You’re going to be stretched and tried. And this is what Jesus is doing in this passage. He’s talking to a group of people who are afraid, and he’s sending them out into a new chapter. This is appropriate that it happens to be the day before the new year in my mind.
It’s interesting how the Lord has kind of lined up our preaching calendar. This is not planned by us but just in the ways he has, especially over the last month or so. There was a lot of talk about death a few weeks ago, and we happened to come to the text that next Sunday on the resurrection. That’s the kindness of God.
There is talk and a lot of people are thinking about the new year tomorrow and a new chapter. And this is Jesus telling his disciples just before he’s going to go to heaven how to live this next season of their life. This is a great day to look at John’s Great Commission found in chapter 20, verses 19 through 23.
If I asked you to make a New Year’s resolution, I know I’m treading on sensitive territory. I mean, who am I to tell you what resolutions to make? You’ve got your list. But if I were to ask you to make one resolution for this next year to be that you would represent Christ on this earth in the way that you live and the way that you speak about him even amidst any fear to do that faithfully. If I asked you to make that resolution that you would represent Christ without fear this next year, could you do it?
Some of you might be thinking, no, I couldn’t do it. I can’t talk to people about Christ. I get nervous, embarrassed, I’m afraid, I’m fearful; and the only way I can fulfill that resolution is if he does something amazing because me, myself, I’m nervous, I’m fearful. I’m not normally confrontational, if that would be what would happen in a conversation like this. He would have to do something amazing for that to be my resolution and for me to carry it out.
And I’ve got good news for you. He has done a number of amazing things so that you would be equipped to do just that. This is the “no excuses” sermon. No excuses for not doing what he wants us to do.
I want to show you in this passage that Jesus gives you, the disciples in the first century and us by extension, he gives us three encouragements. Three encouraging possessions to fearful disciples. This is what he gives us. You’re going to see encouragement coming from this passage.
Again, as I mentioned, this is John’s Great Commission passage. We see similar ones in Luke, and we also see the most famous one in Matthew 28, the one that’s perhaps the most extensive. But this is John’s Great Commission passage. Let me read it for you.
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.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Jesus here is the comforting commissioner. You see there in verse 21 he says that he’s sending out his disciples, and I’ll show you later that this is not just something that was to be done by the immediate people in the room, but it was meant to be the way that the church throughout the centuries, throughout the millennium would think of themselves, as the sent ones, the called-out ones, the ones for his own possession to be his representation on earth.
1. Jesus Gives His Peace
The first encouraging possession that Jesus gives to his fearful disciples is this: Jesus gives his peace. This is very significant. Jesus gives his peace. We see this in verses 19 through 21. Jesus comforts his fearful disciples who feared the Jews. We learn that from this passage. They are afraid of the Jews. After all the Jews had crucified the Lord. They had arrested their Lord, they’d crucified their Lord. They are afraid of these people.
And perhaps, perhaps they were also afraid of Jesus because the last time they were with him, they left him when he was perhaps in his most desperate need. So they may be fearing their standing with him. And I believe that that’s the case because of how they respond to him in John 21, because of how they respond to him when he appears to them after his resurrection. They’re still afraid. They’re still nervous. And Peter evidently needs to be restored in a very personal manner still. And we’ll se that in John 21.
So I believe there are really two fears going on here. The main one probably was that they were afraid of the Jews. But I also believe when Jesus came in, there was that immediate sense of guilt as they stood before him, the ones who had abandoned him temporarily.
So verse 19 says this: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week,” and that day is the day that he rose from the dead. “On the evening of that day [that Sunday, that 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.’”
Now just to kind of set this in context, to kind of show you what the day has held for Jesus, he was risen by his Father. He arose from the dead in the morning. He then appeared to Mary. He appeared, we learn later, to Peter. He then, we know, took about a 7½-mile journey to Emmaus and appeared to the two disciples who didn’t immediately recognize him. But once they got to their destination they recognized him and were amazed and their hearts were burning within them as he taught them, basically, the ultimate Bible study and showed them from the Old Testament that he was the Christ and he fulfilled everything.
Now, what’s interesting here is we don’t know—Luke doesn’t tell us a lot about what happened after that, but what’s interesting is that those disciples—one was named Cleopas; we don’t know the name of the other one—those disciples went to Emmaus from Jerusalem 7½ miles away. When they learned that they had just been with Jesus, do you know what they did? They turned around and went back to Jerusalem.
Now, I’m not a hiker, don’t really like to hike, and if I hiked 7½ miles I really don’t want to turn around and go back, but they had just met Jesus, the risen Jesus. They had been following him for years, and now they see him as resurrected, and they go back to tell his disciples, we’ve seen him. And they go back to this upper room, the setting where we’re at right here.
And this is what happened next. Jesus comes in. The doors are locked. I don’t know if he interrupted the speech of Cleopas and the other disciple. We’ve seen him, trust us, we’ve seen him. He showed us his scars. I don’t know if they were in the middle of that speech or if it was just after that speech. At any rate, it was after they had told the disciples this report. It was sometime after that. And he comes in and tells them, “Peace be with you.”
The doors are locked. They’re afraid. Matthew tells us that they were reclining at the table, and he reproached them for their hardheartedness because they did not believe Cleopas and the other disciple. So Cleopas and the other disciple have told them, we’ve seen him risen from the dead, and the other disciples aren’t believing it immediately. And Jesus, Matthew says, reproaches them for that.
Luke tells us that these two disciples came back from Emmaus to tell them that they had seen Jesus. The other disciples, they had seen Jesus. Verse 20 says this: “When he had said this [when he had said “peace be with you”], he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.’”
So Jesus shows them the marks that he received, the wounds that he received. He shows them the evidence that he is the same one that was on the cross and now he’s alive. He shows them his hands and his side. Luke tells us that he also showed them his feet. So you put the two stories together, he showed them his hands, his side and his feet. John focuses us on his hands and his side. He really died. There was really a wound as the spear was put through his side and probably into his heart. And he shows them this.
And the disciples—here’s the understatement of the world—the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. He overcame death. You’re the one finally that can overcome death. Death, the sentence placed on mankind back in Genesis 3. For thousands and thousands and thousands of years there was sin, then death. Now there’s someone who overcomes death. Yes, the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. He’s alive.
And here’s what I love. He shows them his physical body. Read 1 Corinthians 15. Our bodies will one day be made alive again. We’ll get new, resurrected, glorified bodies one day. Our relationship with Christ is not just spiritual, it’s physical as well. Sometimes I think that Satan has done a good job of discouraging us about going to heaven.
I don’t know if you’ve read the Far Side comic, that old comic strip where there’s a man sitting there and there’s an angel with a harp. He’s evidently in heaven, and he says something like, I should have brought some magazines. It’s just … is this all there is? Just some kind of floating on a cloud?
No, heaven is physical. Heaven is a lot like this earth without all the sin and corruption, without handicaps, without pollution. It includes taste buds and enjoying things. It includes moving around in commerce because we know the nations of the world will bring their glory to Christ. We will make things. People will have responsibilities. It’s this earth but only perfect. We’re going to walk. We’re going to taste. We’re going to sing. We’re going to laugh. And Jesus is showing his resurrection is physical.
There’s this error in Platonist philosophy that all physical stuff is bad. That spiritual is good. That’s not true. What we do with the physical can make it bad, but money itself, food itself, things that we have are not bad in and of themselves. It’s what we do with them that makes them bad.
This is our future, a physical resurrection where we enjoy life before Jesus Christ without any sorrow or pain. And Jesus doesn’t enter the room as a Spirit, and they just hear this voice, and they don’t know where it’s coming from. And he says I’m alive. He shows up physically and shows them that he is alive. This is what their future holds. This is what our future holds.
And so Jesus comes in and says, peace be with you. And he says it two times, which is significant. Whether it’s fear from the enemies that they have, the Jews, or it’s fear of Jesus himself because they have let him down, Jesus wants his disciples to be at peace. This is great for our hearts. Jesus enters into a room where they are afraid of other men, other authorities. He enters into a room where they have let him down, and his words are “peace be with you.” Peace be with you.
I don’t know if I would have been feeling peace if I were them. But Jesus wants them to be at peace. Before he sends them out, they have to be at peace. You will not be an effective representative of Jesus Christ if you are always afraid. Afraid of where you stand with him and afraid of other people. It will not be an effective representation of him.
This is not how he lived. He was not afraid of other people. He lived entrusting his life to the Father. And we see the disciples in Acts 2 and the Christian community in Acts 2, every Christian going out and being bold now in the face of threats and knowing where they stand with God, and there’s no fear in them. They are at peace as they represent him in the world.
But right now in this upper room they need to be taught that you must be at peace. The Christian who is not at peace because of failing to deal with their own sin or their own shortcomings before God or the Christian who’s fearful of others is virtually ineffective in representing Christ on earth.
Remember King David? His sin crippled him. His sin made him desperate and maybe even the text that we read in Psalm 39 is a response to this sin, this time of sin, when he was holding onto sin, when he was being disciplined by God. King David was not an effective leader for his nation during the time when he held onto his sin.
In Psalm 51, and I’ll ask you to turn there. Psalm 51. This is David crying out before God. This is his psalm of confession, one of his psalms of confession. And notice what David wants in Psalm 51. He doesn’t just want to be forgiven. He wants something more than that. Psalm 51, starting in verse 7:
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Now stop there. So far he’s asking, Lord, bring me comfort. I was in sin and despair, depression. I’m asking you to bring me comfort. Bring me comfort. Bring me not just comfort, but bring me a clean heart. I hate the filthy heart that I had before you. Bring me comfort. Bring me a clean heart. By the way, it’s interesting to note how comforting it is to be living righteously before God. Bring me a clean heart. Bring me comfort.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Now again, stop there. He’s asking to be allowed to have the Lord continue to work through him. And then notice verse 13.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
David doesn’t just want a clean heart. He doesn’t just want the joy that comes with being right before God. He wants something more. I want to be able to minister effectively to other people who are caught up in sin. I want to teach transgressors your ways so that sinners would return to you.
Is this just kind of a David thing? This is what the Lord intends for his disciples, that they would be at peace with him. There would be no fear. That they could then go out and lead sinners to God. Teach transgressors the ways of God. If I could be saved, you can be saved. If I can be forgiven, you can be forgiven. If you only knew the joy that I have because I know there’s nothing between me and God. I want you to know that.
So God is making sure that his disciples are at peace before they start going out and preaching. Maybe some of the reasons that we are not effective in evangelism is because we hold onto secret sin. We’re ineffective because there are things that—how can I tell someone that they should give their life to Christ and it’s going to be wonderful when my life doesn’t feel really wonderful right now? Maybe that’s part of our problem.
I’ll never forget the first year we were here. We got together a group of people from our church, and we watched a conference called The Cross Conference. It was livestreamed. We watched it at our church office, and it was a conference basically for young people who are thinking about going into the mission field. It’s a great thing to watch together.
And one of the talks—there were some main talks and then there were three little ten-minute talks giving advice to young people who wanted to go out onto the mission field. And one of the speakers gave a ten-minute talk basically saying if you want to go on the mission field, then don’t go into debt as a college student. You don’t want to go into debt and have to take years to pay something off so that you can be free to go and do ministry. So don’t go into debt.
I’ll never forget the other talk that was given—one of the other talks that was given, ten-minute talk—and it was this. If you want to be effective in missions work or even evangelism—it’s not just for missionaries—if you want to be effective in missions work or evangelism, stop looking at pornography. Did that come out of left field? No. Because if there is a secret life of sin, you will not be effective as a representative for Christ on this earth.
Jesus is telling his disciples who have let him down—he came in, Matthew told us, and rebuked them first, and now he communicates joy to them. So you put those together—they’ve got to deal with their sin and they’ve got to know that they can have joy and peace with Jesus Christ before they go out.
I want that for our church. I want that for our church. Hopefully, every Sunday as we rehearse the gospel in even our order of service, that while you confess your sin, you know quickly that he forgives, and you openly confess your sin to the Lord. You acknowledge what you’ve done before him, and you receive that forgiveness, that assurance of that forgiveness.
And then you go out and effectively communicate that your God is a forgiving God, not just because you read it one place, because you know it from your heart. He forgives me over and over again. That is what makes an effective church. That’s what makes effective witnesses. This is to be us. Peace be to you. Now I’m sending you.
Just by way of application, I would encourage you to remove any obstacle that you have that keeps you from peace with God, whether it’s your own sin … confess it. Tell him what he already knows. Open it up before him. Remove any obstacle that keeps you from peace with God, whether it’s sin or fear. Fear of man.
Lord, I can’t do what you tell me to do. I can’t go and be an effective witness. I’m just too afraid. Tell him that, and ask him to change you. Ask him to give you his Spirit. You have it if you’re in Christ. Remove any obstacle that keeps you from peace with God, whether it’s your own sin or fear of man.
Proverbs 29:25 says this: “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Think about that in context with the first century church. If the first century church who had threats increasing around them and literal flames that they were tempted with under Nero’s reign, if they could, with the Holy Spirit’s power, stop being fearful of man and trust Christ and therefore be safe, why can’t we? He’s the same Holy Spirit.
Do you believe that the Holy Spirit operating in the first century is the same Spirit that we have available to us today? Or do you not? Same Spirit. Remove any obstacle that keeps you from peace with God. Jesus doesn’t want to send us out wondering where we stand with him or fearful of what the world will do to us. Jesus gives us his peace prior to commissioning us.
2. Jesus Gives His Spirit
Here’s the second encouraging possession that he’s given to fearful disciples. Jesus not only gives us his peace, Jesus gives us his Spirit. This is so good. Jesus is giving us himself inside of us. You see how Jesus operated before the Pharisees?
I mean if you were a disciple when Jesus spoke the words of Matthew 23 to the Pharisees, you might be tempted to think, oh, my goodness, he’s being too hard on them. This is not going to end well for us. They’re gonna arrest him, they’re gonna stone him, they’re gonna stone us just because we happen to be near him. This is not going to go well.
Jesus, his Spirit, his bravery, his courage is what he’s giving to us. It’s so good to tell Jesus I can’t do this. You need to show up and work. This is what he does. He gives us his Spirit. If you are nervous about talking to people about Christ, that is so good if you will throw yourself on Jesus entirely and trust him. You’ve got to do it all. You’ve gotta make me brave, you’ve gotta make me courageous, you’ve gotta keep me from fearing man, you’ve got to do it. And lo and behold Jesus gives us himself inside of us. Gives us his Spirit.
He goes on in verse 21: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Verse 22: “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” He tells them, as the Father has sent me, so I’ve sent you, and I wonder how much time took place in between verse 21 and verse 22. Was there enough time for them to say, oh, man, we can’t do what he just did. We can’t live the way he just lived for three years. Was there enough time for them to have those thoughts before he said these words?
He breathed on them and said receive the Holy Spirit, which is a way of saying receive me inside of you. I’m sending you out, and I’m going to give you myself to go and be my representation on earth. It doesn’t appear that he allowed too much time for them to worry here. I’m sending you out, and I’m going to be right there with you. That’s what he’s saying to them.
Notice, he’s saying that he was sent by the Father, and now he’s sending them. I think a lot of times in today’s church we have this view that God sent His Son, God loved the world so much that he sent his Son, he sent his Son to die for sinners so that they could have his righteousness, and it’s finished. Well, yes, the work of atonement is finished. But the proclamation of that message is not yet finished.
Okay, well then God’s gonna make sure that message gets out there. Yes, he will. Well, he’s gonna get Bibles to people. Yes, he will. He’ll make sure that gospel is preached to every tribe and tongue and nation. Yes, he will. And guess how he’ll do it. Through you. Through us. This is his plan. The Father sent me. I’m sending you. For us to say, okay, I know that you died for my sin and I’m right with you, but it’s not really my thing to go and talk to unbelievers about you.
It’s really an attack on the will of God. It’s God’s will that his Son would come, live, die, rise again, ascend, pray for us as he sends us into the world. God’s will didn’t end at the resurrection. God’s will ends when all the Gentiles are brought in, Israel is made jealous, and they turn to Christ, a remnant of them turn to Christ, and then all of a sudden you’ve got people from every tribe, tongue and nation singing praises to the Lord because we’ve been used to get the message to them.
That’s his full will. That’s why we’re still here. And he gives us his Spirit to do all of that. Jesus says I’m sending you and give you the Spirit as you go.
Now, something that we ask here: he breathed on them. Is that when the Holy Spirit came to them or was it Acts 2? Here’s my belief. This is symbolic of what is to come. Because after this you don’t see them immediately walk out of this upper room and go out into the streets of Jerusalem and start preaching. They’re still downcast and discouraged in John 21. Peter still again needs to be personally restored by Jesus in John 21.
Even in Acts 1 before they get the Spirit, they’re still wondering if he’s going to reign and rule in Jerusalem right now. And he’s like, guys, you’re forgetting everything I’ve told you. You go out into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the outermost parts of the world. You’ve gotta go do some work here.
So I don’t believe they had the Spirit yet. I believe this is symbolic of what’s to come, and then in Acts 2 he leaves, Spirit comes, and whoa, are these men different. So that’s what I believe he’s doing. Showing them that very soon you’re going to have everything you need once I’m gone because now I’ll be inside of you. Physically with the Father, spiritually inside of you. Jesus is leaving the earth and he’s intending his disciples to be his representation here. In order to make his plan successful, he leaves them his own Spirit.
Remember Matthew 28:20? Remember how Matthew talks about it? He tells them to go and do all that work. He tells them to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all he’s commanded. So there’s the full scope of it. Go make disciples. Go do evangelism. Once they’re converted, see them baptized as a symbolic way of showing what they died to and what they now live in.
And then, don’t just leave them—okay, now you’re a Christian—see ya. No, don’t just leave them. Teach them to obey all that he’s commanded. That’s a big job. That’s our job. That’s a big job. And he ends that big job, the biggest job description ever, with these words: And behold (listen) I’m with you always, even to the end of the age.
He’s referring to his Spirit. Go and do that whole thing and do it because I’m inside of you. If I can do it, you can do it, because I’m doing it in you.
Many of you were here when we started our church over in Miller Valley school, at the elementary school. We’ve since graduated to high school. But you were there at Miller Valley, and you know the series that we started in. Matthew 28. And I remember some of the questions. Why are we going through this for so long? Don’t you know there are more things in the Bible? Yes, we’ll get to them. We’ll get to John for 2½ years. We’ll get there. We’ll get to Colossians. We’ll get to Habakkuk. By God’s grace, we got to preach through those books.
But why did we start with the Great Commission? Because largely the American church has forgotten all about the Great Commission. Largely the American church has taken this idea that church exists for me. I want the band I want. I want the preacher to be serious but not too serious, a little funny but not too funny. I want him to preach this long, this short. I want this kind of coffee. I want these types of groups that are available to me and my kids. And we act as if the whole goal of Christianity was simply to save us.
The whole goal of being like Christ, the whole goal of Jesus, the goal of the Father, the goal of the Spirt is to save us so that we would be a conduit, not a cul-de-sac. It doesn’t end with us. We’re used. It comes to us, and then it goes down to our kids as we bring them the gospel of Christ. It comes to us, and then it comes down to our co-workers and goes to our friends and family. We’re conduits.
Are we really going to be the generation after two millennia that says, oh, okay, that’s good. We’re gonna end it here. We’re gonna absorb everything for us. No, that’s not his intention. Every single Christian from from the time he ascended to the Father until the time when he comes again is meant to be a conduit, is meant to be passing along the faith. This is what he intended. That’s why we spent seven weeks going through the Great Commission.
I’ll never forget hearing about the illustration of George Whitefield. He used to always go around preaching you must be born again, you must be born again, you must be born again. So finally someone came up and said, Mr. Whitefield, why do you always tell us that you must be born again? And he said, my dear sir, because you must be born again.
Why did we go through the Great Commission for seven weeks? Because we are commissioned in a great manner by our King, and sometimes we act as if it’s the optional commission. It’s what he desires for us. It’s what, if we engage in, he will bless us through. Sometimes I think we think that if we do this, it won’t be easy, it won’t be comfortable, it’ll be bad.
Since when was doing what Jesus said something that brought us despair? Whenever we throw our trust on him and do what he says, there always comes blessing from that. Always. His will, his commands are for our flourishing. Trust him.
Here’s the body language of a disciple of Jesus. Here’s the body language. You understand your faithlessness before God, your sin before God. Your head goes down in despair. Remember the tax collector in Luke—could not even lift up his eyes to heaven. His head is down because he knows he’s not right before God.
And I think when Jesus perhaps first came in that upper room, and we know from Matthew that he reproached them. I think there were a lot of hanging heads at first. You go from having your head down to believing the resurrected Christ and to hearing him say peace be with you. And what happens to the head? It comes up. Head down because of sin. Head up because of forgiveness and peace.
And then what happens? Jesus, as your head is up and there’s a smile on your face because you believe that you are at peace with the resurrected King, then Jesus determines that your feet would start walking and your mouth would start opening. That’s the posture of the Christian life. The head was once down in sin, then was lifted up, a smile was put on it because you had the joy of forgiveness, and now start moving your feet and speak about his wonder and glory.
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession so that you would proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. You were not saved to be silent. You’re saved to speak of the amazing one who did what no one else could ever do for you—take you out of darkness and put you into light.
What a privilege to speak for Jesus. What a privilege. He tells the disciples he’s sending them, and he’s given them his Spirit.
I would encourage you don’t just say that you love the Holy Spirit. Don’t just say that you value the Holy Spirit. Actually love and value the Holy Spirit by engaging in the work that he empowers you to do. The Holy Spirit should not go to waste on us. He was given to empower us. Let’s worship him by trusting his power. We have the Holy Spirit. We have Jesus inside of us to do what normally makes us fearful. We have him.
This summer we went on a family vacation. We went to a children’s museum in northern California, and there was this table and it was about a foot deep or so, and it had water coming into it, and it was meant to flow down and reach the end, and there were all these walls that kids can go in and redirect the water. And they could put little boats in it and maybe they made a path and the boats just went straight. Or maybe they made the wall turn and so the boat went down and then … but the whole idea was that these boats and this water would reach the end.
That has to be us spiritually speaking. If we get so much Bible teaching put into us and so many resources in our worship guide and so many devotionals and so many podcasts that we can listen to. We can listen to the best preachers throughout the world just by clicking a few clicks on our phone. If we have all of that coming in, the worst thing to do is to think that it’s all for us, and to build those walls and to dam up all that God wants to do.
Let that water flow through you and reach its goals. In Prescott, in Nicaragua, in Italy, in Nigeria. Let it flow through you. Receive and give. Receive and give. This is the plan of God, and he’s given us his Spirit to allow us to do this.
And let me just say this, I’m challenging you here, but man am I grateful for this church. So many of you get this. We’ve got small groups that go to the park to talk to people. We’ve got people that go to retirement homes to do Bible studies with people to introduce them to Christ. And you know the other things that we have going on. We’ve got all kinds of people doing all sorts of ministry to get people the gospel.
We’ve got adult leaders giving up one night a week to youth in order to help see them come to Christ and grow as his disciples. We’ve got parents who lead their children in Bible time at home, wanting their children to respond to Christ. This is happening all over the place in our church, and I’m just saying keep going. Go harder, praise the Lord for the Holy Spirit that empowers you to do all of that.
This is why we’re here, to be fed, to grow ourselves, and to help others grow and to introduce them to Christ. This is why we’re here. We’re not here for us. We’re here for everyone. We’re here for Prescott. We’re here for the world. This is the plan of Jesus.
If the church is to be his representation, then we’re going to need not just his peace, not just his presence, his Holy Spirit. We’re going to need something else. We’re going to need his credibility. We’re going to need his authority. We’ve got to be able when we do this work, when we tell someone their sins can be forgiven, we’ve gotta actually know that that’s true. We’ve gotta be credible.
3. Jesus Gives His Authority
Jesus, in verse 23, gives us his authority. This is one of the things that Jesus does when he leaves earth and goes to heaven and delegates his authority to his disciples. Now, no disciple has any authority over anybody in the world in and of themselves. I don’t have any authority because I happen to have a strong personality. You don’t have any authority because you’re bigger than other people.
We don’t have authority in and of ourselves. We have authority that has been given from heaven to the church to go out and do ministry to the world. It’s all delegated authority. Jesus delegates his authority to his church to be his representation on earth. Notice verse 23: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
This is a big statement. Jesus is telling his disciples if you forgive anyone, it’s forgiven in heaven. God actually forgives that person and identifies that you’ve forgiven them. If you withhold forgiveness, then forgiveness is withheld from heaven. This is Jesus giving Christians his authority on earth. Ultimately, God is the one who forgives sins, but he’s saying as you recognize someone as forgiven, I agree with that. It’s true because I made it to be true.
If you recognize that someone perhaps is not forgiven, then I agree with that. It’s a big statement. People are afraid of authority today. And when the church starts talking about the fact that we’ve been given authority from Jesus, people get all sorts of squirmy because they’ve seen abuses by churches. Churches overstepping the authority they have.
Well, you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, churches have abused their authority. But the church has also been given actual biblically appropriate authority to use. And when I say the church, I’m not talking just about church leaders. I’m talking about the church has been given authority.
This is Jesus saying that we recognize that a person is forgiven. Heaven has forgiven them. When we recognize that a person is not repentant and therefore not forgiven, it’s because heaven has declared they’re not forgiven. Jesus is saying that he has vested his power into us to recognize who is in the kingdom and who is not.
This is the doctrine of the keys of the kingdom. You can see this in Matthew 16. Jesus gave his apostles first, and then us by extension, the keys to the kingdom. We can identify—you appear to be in and you appear to be out. Not because we make the final decision, but because we just identify what he’s revealed to us, and we just say, well, based on what this says and you’re saying, then you are in. That’s what heaven would say. Or you are not in.
If you say there are many ways to God and that I can trust Jesus and you can trust Buddha, then we can say that you are not in the kingdom of God. And if that person says to us, well, who gave you the right to tell me whether I’m a Christian or not? God. God did. He told us everything he wants us to know and what a person must believe to be in the kingdom.
Now, we’re not the king. Imagine a kingdom, a castle and walls around the castle, and a kingdom inside, and the King has said these are my terms to enter into the kingdom. And he says I’m going to go away for a little bit. And I’m giving you the keys to the kingdom. You’re the gatekeepers. We’re not the king. We never become the king. He’s the King.
But he’s given us the keys to the kingdom so when we go outside the city walls and announce you can be at peace with this King, and you can come into his kingdom—just admit that you violated him, trust that he will be gracious to you, He will care for you—you can come into this kingdom.
And someone comes in and says, I don’t like his terms. I believe there are other good kings. Or I don’t think I’ve actually even violated him. Let me in. We don’t have to say, well, then I guess you’re Christian. Who am I to judge? No, based on what he’s revealed and based on what you’re saying, you do not appear to be in the kingdom.
Or if someone comes in, stays a while, starts abusing the other citizens of the kingdom, starts questioning the King’s authority, actually starts sinning against the King, and when other people come and say, hey, you can’t do that against the King. The King has told you, you can’t live that way. You can’t do that.
I don’t care. And they keep doing that, there’s a process, a slow process, a patient process whose aim is to restore them back to a right relationship with the King and the community of the King. There’s a slow process that if they will keep rejecting the King and keep rejecting the community, keep rejecting the King, keep rejecting the community, where we say you’re not in the kingdom. You evidently were not ever truly in the kingdom.
We have the keys of the kingdom. Matthew 16:19, Peter makes this great confession about Christ being the Son of God, and he says this, Jesus says in response, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Now right here, I’m wondering if in your minds there’s this idea, yeah, but he did that for Peter. Peter’s the one that can determine who’s in the kingdom or not. And maybe Peter and the other disciples, the apostles. But not us. Surely not us.
Turn if you will to Matthew 18. Matthew 18, verses 15-20, written to disciples of Jesus. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” That happens all the time in the church, in the kingdom of God.
Verse 16: “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”
So, get our kingdom picture. We’re inside the walls. Our brother’s sinned. We’ve gone to him, and it’s a serious enough sin to go to him. He’s rejected us, so we tell a couple other people who have witnessed this. He rejects them. The Bible is saying—this is not Andrew Gutierrez saying this. I’m not inventing my own truth here. This is literally New Testament here. Okay? The Bible is saying that you tell it to the church.
Now, we wouldn’t tell the whole sordid affair to the church, just the nature of the sin. You tell it to the church. If they keep rejecting and keep refusing—and by the way, up until this point, this has taken a long time. This is slow. There’s time for repentance. There’s patience. There’s prayer, making sure there’s actually a biblical sin. There’s a lot that goes on before this, but at some point, if needed, you tell it to the church.
And if he refuses to listen, even to the church—now here’s what I want you to notice, this is not you tell it to the apostles, and then once the apostles die, the church of God never has to worry about stuff like this. No, you tell it to the church. This is us. This is even in 21st century America. You tell it to the church.
And so evidently the church is speaking to this person. Brother, please stop doing this. Come back to us. And the whole goal, by the way, is restoration. See, a lot of churches abuse their power here when it seems like the goal is we’re going to kick everyone out who ever sins. That’s not what this is. We want Canyon Bible Church of Prescott to be a safe place for sinners to be, but not a safe place for unrepentant sinners to be.
If you sin and struggle, welcome to the club. We’re here to help each other. But if you sin and do not want to repent and do not want to live like a kingdom citizen and even allow that sin to infect the body and don’t care, you won’t be comfortable here. The church is to be pure, growing in its purity, and evidently when these unrepentant people are in sin, the church goes and calls them to come back.
Come back. Repent of it. Stop. We’re here to help. Come back to Christ. Trust him that he’ll forgive you. Trust him. The church is talking. The church is talking. It doesn’t say tell it to the apostles.
“And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” What were Gentiles and tax collectors? They were not followers of Christ. They were not believers. Let him be considered an unbeliever. And that will never be done with smiles. Told you. They’re outta here. Whew. That’ll never be the posture of that. It’s a heartbreaking posture.
Evidently, they are not citizens of the kingdom. Evidently, they are not disciples of Jesus. And that’s a heartbreaking endeavor.
Verse 18, notice what Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth [this is the church. He’s saying, church, if you bound something on earth, if you said, no, this person has repented. They are in. They are joined with us. They are bound with us. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. I’ll look at your decision and say, yes, they are in the kingdom.
And whatever you loose on earth, you’re released. You’re not part of the kingdom of God. “[W]hatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” This is the ultimate context of that famous passage that we normally make about small prayer meetings.
It’s not that. This is about if there’s ever a time we’ve got to examine someone who’s continued to reject, continued to reject, continued to go on in their sin and not repent. If you ever have to say as a body we are saying you are not part of Christ’s kingdom, he’s saying heaven agrees with you. And if you say, no, no, no, they have repented and they have been forgiven by us and by God, heaven is saying you’re right. They have been forgiven by heaven.
This is Jesus’ plan. Why in the world would Jesus give this authority to fallen human beings? I don’t know, but this is what he’s done. I’d rather not be on the side of saying, well, that doesn’t seem to make sense. I mean, he’s God in heaven. We’re just us and we’ve got limitations. We can’t see every person’s heart. So we don’t believe any of this. That’s the wrong response.
The right response is to say, oh, my goodness, we’ve got a big accountability, and we better be very careful in how we handle this authority. And we’ve got to be very prayerful in situations like this. We need to represent our Lord right, but why would he ever use us to do this? We don’t know. But we’ve got to do it. That’s the right response. To do this with care and serious reflection.
This authority, by the way, in the church, I like what Jonathan Leeman says: “This authority is deputized, not coercive.” We don’t coerce people and tell people—we don’t get legalistic and tell people things they can and cannot do that we shouldn’t ever tell them they can and cannot do. We don’t overstep our bounds.
This is delegated authority to us when we only can do and encourage people to do what is Biblical. We can’t go beyond on this and tell them where to vacation, what to wear on vacation, where to live, who to marry. That’s overstepping your bounds. All we have is a deputized authority, delegated authority to represent Christ on earth based on what he says. That’s all we can do.
Now if you still aren’t convinced—well, it’s just not my place. It’s not the church’s place. First, I would ask you to read Matthew 18:15-20 ten times. Yes, it is. And next I would ask you to turn to 1 Corinthians 5. Here’s a church that failed to use the delegated authority that they had been given, and I’ll give you a clue before we start reading.
Paul does not say good for you guys. I mean if you call out someone in their sin, even if they’re unrepentant, it just shows how loving you are. It shows how you refuse to make someone uncomfortable. And by the way, it’s not like anybody else’s sin in the body will ever affect you guys because, I mean, you’re really godly. That’s not Paul’s posture here.
1 Corinthians 5:1: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you.” Paul’s writing to the church, by the way, not other apostles. This is for the church. “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.” There’s incest going on in the church, and even people outside the church cringe at this. But apparently the church isn’t doing anything about it.
Who are we to judge? Who am I to ever say anything about that? That’s their private deal. What goes on in their home isn’t my business. Friends, don’t ever make statements that aren’t true according to the Bible. That’s a horrible way to live the Christian life. We are a family and in this together.
Verse 2, notice what Paul says to the church. “And you are arrogant!” I can just hear the church in Corinth going, I’m not doing that! Why are you rebuking me? “[Y]ou are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn?” Here’s the problem with not dealing with sin: no one mourns over it. It just kind of becomes what happens. It’s what happens in their family. Big deal. But the church that actually cares about one another’s sin and growth gets wounded, and people hurt when other people sin.
And you want that. You want that in a body. You want people to be looking out for you. You want people to hurt when you hurt. You want people to say please don’t keep making that decision. This is killing your family. This is killing us. Don’t do this. You want that. That proves there’s a relationship there.
“Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” And we know that the process is Matthew 18. We know that’s a process, but ultimately Paul’s going to the end of that process saying, if this has happened, they need to be removed from among you.
“For though absent in body [Paul writes], I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.” Paul’s saying, I know what’s wrong. He shouldn’t be considered a believer if he continues doing this. “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus …” Now remember, remember Matthew 18 when it said tell it to the church? Now 1 Corinthians 5 is saying when you are all assembled, when you are assembled together. “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.”
Now again, if I just went and read these verses in most churches, people would be angry at me. I didn’t write this. The Holy Spirit is saying that if that person continues in unrepentant sin, when you assemble you are to remove him so that his flesh—not spirit, not soul—his flesh can be given over and dealt with by Satan. That sounds harsh and strong.
So we have two decisions here, two options. We can either say that sounds harsh and strong so we’re going to go the politically correct route, and we’re never going to talk about this. Or we can go the route of actually listening to what our God has said and saying we need to line up under what he says. We don’t get to question what he says. We have to submit to what he says and trust. His ways are best.
This says that this person needs to be handed over for the destruction of the flesh to Satan. What does that mean? That sounds rough. Listen, it’s not harsh. It’s not rough. This is so gracious. Where do we get grace from this? Keep reading. You’re to deliver this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, “so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”
Restoration is the goal of this. To say this person needs to be removed from the church because they are not turning from their sin, they are not repenting. They are continuing to infect the whole church. They’re hurting their family. To say to give them over to Satan.
Here’s the biblical picture of it—Luke 15. It’s the prodigal son. If the father wanted to go and rescue the son too soon, someone should have come to the father and said no, no, no, no. Let him experience what his own decisions are going to allow him to experience. This is going to be painful for him. You let the son grovel and eat with the pigs so that one day he looks and goes, what in the world have I done?
And the goal is that he comes back to the father. And what does the son say when he comes back to the father? I’ve sinned against you. And what does the father do? We’ll see. You earn it all back. Noooo. That’s not what the father does. The father sees him and actually humiliates himself and starts running after the son, which no wealthy man would have done in that day. Runs after the son, embraces him, throws a party for him, gives him the best of what he owns, and celebrates that he has returned, that he has in a sense risen from the dead. And the father celebrates him.
Restoration is the goal of all of this. And Jesus is telling us the whole church is involved with this. You cannot be a Christian and say I just want the blessings of Jesus, and I don’t want to put in any of the effort and hard work. And I don’t even want to do the things that he tells me to do that I’m uncomfortable with.
We have no option. When we call him Lord, do we actually believe that? Do we actually believe that we should do what he says and that that’s a good thing, not just for us but also for the church. This is what the Lord does. He delegates his authority to imperfect people who have a perfect word to guide them in how to do all of this.
Heavy stuff. But this is literally what Jesus sent his disciples to do in the world. And that’s us. Reach the nations with the gospel, see them baptized, disciple them; and when one starts to wander, we go after them. Come back. Come back. Come back. And if they won’t come back, we give them over to what they want to do, and we pray all the while, Lord, bring them so low that they know they can turn back and come to your grace. Lord, bring them back to us. Bring them back to us. Bring them back to us.
That’s what we do. And not enough places do that. This is what we have to do. If we seriously love one another, this is what we’ll do. John’s Great Commission tells us what Jesus expects for us as we go out and live as his representatives.
One of your elders, Brad Penner, has a practice that he does on Christmas Eve or shortly after. Somewhere around this time. Brad, I’m giving away your secret, but it’s a great sermon illustration, so forgive me. Brad sits by the fire and he reflects. At the end of the year he just sits and reflects on the past year. He just sits and thinks about his year, his life. And I’m sure as he thinks, he’s thinking about changes to be made. Things like that.
I think that in light of the Great Commission and the fact that we came to it the day before a new year, it’s good for us to sit and reflect. How am I living as a Great Commission disciple? As a disciple that’s been commissioned by God?
And I like to think of the Christian life in kind of three categories. My own life before the Lord. Do I need to grow in gentleness like Christ? Am I too impatient, angry, proud? What’s in between me and God that I need to confess and that I need to work on putting Christ on? What is there in my life, what character trait?
But it’s not just that, because I think a lot of people think about Christianity just in those terms. So God expects us to live holy before him and to grow. But there’s a second area. How do I live before the lost? There’s a reason I’m not in heaven yet. It’s to be his representation on earth. How am I doing with that? Am I fearful of persecution? Am I just saying the nice parts about the gospel and not saying the tough parts because I’m nervous? Am I not even preaching the gospel or even praying to be given an opportunity to preach the gospel to people? How’s my evangelism with the world?
So how’s my character growing, my Christlikeness growing before God? How’s my relationship to the world? And thirdly, how’s my relationship with my church? He’s given me a gift to use. Am I using it effectively? Am I using it as he would want me to use it? Am I helping build the church up or am I hurting the church?
And those are really the categories of a Christian life. You, the Father; you, the lost; and you, the church. And I think it’d be great to take time to reflect on how we’re doing in those areas. How are we living as Great Commission disciples in those areas?
So I invite you to take a page out Brad Penner’s book. That’s always a good thing to do. But reflect on that. Ask the Lord to make you a Great Commission disciple. May this, may 2018 be the year where we represent Chris more faithfully than we ever have. Would that be a good prayer to pray? I think that’d be a great prayer to pray. Let’s do that.
Father, we want to be all that you intend us to be on this earth. This time that you’ve given us, this culture that you’ve put us into, these skills and abilities that we have, the resources that we have, let us throw all of those together and use us effectively to be your representation on earth.
Lord, we’re asking boldly that this would be the greatest year of influence in our own personal lives and in the life of our church for your Son’s glory. We pray this in his name. Amen.
More in Jesus is...
February 4, 2018John 21:20-25 | Jesus is the True Lord | Andrew Gutierrez
January 21, 2018John 21:1-14 | Jesus is Our Provider | Andrew Gutierrez
January 7, 2018John 20:24-31 | Jesus is God | Andrew Gutierrez