Gems in the Gospel of John
Part 88 - John 20:21-23
The Great Commission and the Spirit
In 3 short verses John 20:21 - 23, John covers what took Matthew 4 long verses and Luke 47 verses, Those are the great commission of Matthew 28 and the giving of the Spirit in Acts 2. Here is John’s version: “Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
As has happened before John seems to have not been the least bit concerned about when things happened, only in their theological significance. So the fact that he says the disciples became Spirit filled on the day of the resurrection while Luke says it happened 50 days later should not worry us.
The way he has put it has highlighted the connection between the 2 things and, in particular, the importance of the Spirit for true evangelism. We are to be small copies of Jesus! Mark tells us in 1:14,15 that “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.’” John never puts what Jesus did in quite those terms but it is clear that that is a good summary of what John records with his emphases on particular incidents in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus did not spend all his time in direct evangelism. He did a lot of teaching and healing as support for the direct challenges he gave to people like Nicodemus and the woman by the well. We are not all called to be evangelists in that direct sense. That is just as well because surveys in our culture seem to suggest that less than one believer in ten is likely to be a good and effective evangelist by directly talking to strangers. It is the job of the rest of us to teach, to disciple, to heal, to do the more and greater works that Jesus said we should in 14:12 - and to support and pray for those who have a true gift in direct person-to-person evangelism. And they may need it. It is easy to mix up the natural ability of the born salesman and the Spirit filled gift of evangelism. If you are one of the gifted ones you need to be careful because you may well have a natural gift for salesmanship as well but only what comes from, and is guided by, the Holy Spirit himself is going to be spiritually effective.
If a big white man with a strong personality tells unsophisticated villagers in an underdeveloped country to jump, they will jump. If he does not understand their culture and then goes home and boasts about how many converts he has made he has done more damage than good. (I have seen this happen!) Let us be careful and wise.
The last of these three verses is difficult for it seems to say that we here on earth can decide whether someone’s sins are forgiven or not and that heaven will then fall inline, always agreeing with our decision. That is a very simplistic way of thinking and you will probably have reacted against it when I put it in those blunt terms. The forgiveness of sins is the privilege and prerogative only of the heavenly realm. When, in Mark 2:5, Jesus said to the paralyzed man ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’ the surrounding people were rightly shocked because they said, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
That is an entirely healthy and Bible honouring reaction, both in Old and New Testament terms.
In all our dealings with other people, particularly those who are not yet believers, we need to be extremely careful, recognizing that only the Holy Spirit himself can forgive those who repent and give them the gift of new life and the Holy Spirit.
Indeed we need to be sent by God himself, as Jesus indicates when he tells the disciples, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Note too, that the words immediately before that command are about the peace that the presence of Jesus brought to them. We too shall know the deep peace of the presence of Jesus particularly when we obey his command to go where he sends us.
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