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Forgiveness is the Lord's Doing

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Title: Forgiveness is the Lord’s Doing
Text: John 20:19-29
Date: April 15, 2007 @ LMC
Point: Jesus is revealed in the community of believers through the gift forgiveness.
                If we reveal Jesus, Jesus will be made known to the world.

Introduction of worship series

[Call attention to the tree banner]

We’re on a journey now in these weeks following the glorious Easter event. We’re being prepared, just as the disciples 2,000 years ago were, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. The theme for this Easter season is: “This marvel is the Lord’s doing.” Last week on Easter Sunday, we reveled in the great work of the Lord in bringing the promise of the resurrection to all who believe. “Life is the Lord’s doing,” is what we confidently proclaim in the midst of the shadow of death that passes over us and our loved ones. In the weeks to come we’ll see that all of the Christian life is really the Lord’s doing. Like a master sculpture, chiseling away at the block of marble, we as individuals and a community are being formed and shaped into something beautiful. The marvels that we’ll be discussing together over the next several weeks: life, forgiveness, revelation, provision, love, light, freedom and empowerment are all the work of the Lord. And, as with all things that are the Lord’s doing, these marvels are meant to reveal the person and character of Jesus. This week we’re centering on how Jesus is revealed to the world through the believing community’s act of forgiveness. So let’s get into the Word of God. Turn to John 20.

Transition from last week

Last week we left Mary Magdalene running back to the disciples Easter Sunday morning with the unbelievable news: “I have seen the Lord!” She was the first to see the risen Jesus and the first to reveal the risen Lord. I often wonder if the disciples believed her. I wonder if they thought that maybe she was hysterical with grief and her mind was making up things that she wished were there—kind of like in the movies where the man wandering through the desert is so dazed and exhausted by the heat of the sun, that he begins to imagine an oasis just over the next dune. Because like we talked about last week, grief and disappointment can make us very dazed and exhausted. Was her supposed encounter with a resurrected Jesus a mirage—an imaginary oasis? We don’t know how the disciples reacted to Mary’s message, but we do read in verse 19, “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders…”

The disciples’ fear

What did the disciples have to fear? Simply put, they thought they were next.  There were convinced that they were soon going to hear the sound of soldiers’ feet outside their door, ready to take them away as accomplices. If the Jewish religious leaders would turn over Jesus to the Romans to be crucified, what was to stop them from turning over his followers? The threat to their safety was very real.

Now, there’s something to point out here before we continue on. This room or house that they are gathered in contains more than just the Twelve disciples (minus Judas). John doesn’t use the word for the Twelve here, but the broader term disciple. There were undoubtedly many people, men and women, gathered in this place. So as they were huddled together in fear behind locked doors, we read:

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 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 the sins of anyone, their sins are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven. (John 20:19b-23, TNIV)

 And now, suddenly, the disciples don’t need anyone to reveal Jesus to them, because he’s standing right in front of them. Offering his hands for them to inspect where the nail prints were and turning and showing them his side, where the spear had pierced him. This is the very same person who they saw being killed on the cross just 3 days ago. And wasn’t that a locked door he just passed through? Jesus is being revealed here as someone they knew and yet someone more than they knew. It must have been an amazing experience.

Peace be with you

The first thing he says is, “Peace be with you.” This was more than just a greeting. It’s true that Jews ancient and modern have used their word shalom, which means peace, as we use the word “hello.” Muslims greet one another with the word salaam, which also means peace. But there is more going on here than “Hi guys!” Jesus is giving the disciples something.

When I was in seminary I said a lot of dumb things. I know I’m probably the only one with a recurring bout of foot-in-mouth disease. On this one occasion, I said something careless that I quickly regretted to a fellow seminary student, whom I considered to be a close friend. Well, that bothered me for the rest of the day and so when evening rolled around I had to set it straight. I wrote him an e-mail explaining what I said that was potentially hurtful and I apologized for it. He quickly replied saying that he didn’t think much of it and said he forgave me. And then wrote something that I’ll never forget and was more meaningful than anything else he wrote: Be at peace. Those words healed something in me. There was nothing magical about them. They were just words that were sincerely written and I sincerely and eagerly received them. I really felt forgiven.

We’ve all had encounters where we’ve forgiven someone but in word only… But Jesus is giving them real release from fear and real peace—peace for their leaving him and peace that they’ll need for the months and years ahead as they face persecution and hardship. Because Jesus is revealed in the community of believers through the gift of forgiveness. It’s such an important gift that he gives it a second time.

The ministry of forgiveness

Then, as though walking through a locked door isn’t enough, Jesus does something extraordinary. He breathes on them, tells them to receive the Holy Spirit, and then says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” What is going on here? I think the first place to look is what Jesus said in verse 21, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And what was Jesus sent for? For that, we can go back to John 3:16-17.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17, NRSV)

The television show Heroes tells us that if they save the cheerleader, they can save the world. But God sent the Son to save the world. And the great overarching message of the gospel of John is that God saves the world by inviting women, men and children to believe in God’s Son. So, when we read that Jesus is sending his disciples just as the Father has sent him, then our purpose is clear. We are sent to invite others to believe in God’s Son. We do that by revealing Jesus. But we don’t have a physical Jesus standing here this morning with his hands outstretched to allow us to examine the scars. So how can we reveal Jesus?

Think about the online auction site eBay. You can find nearly anything you want to buy on eBay. Private individuals from around the world list the items they want to sell on this website and then you, as an avid collector of Batman memorabilia, can go there and bid on, say, one of the actual capes used by Batman used in the television series. Now suppose there are 2 people that say that have an original Batman cape to sell. One listing has a picture and the other does not. Which one are you likely to bid on? Most likely, you’re going to bid on the one with the picture, because we’re more likely to believe that the person who took a picture of it actually has the cape.

The church is under the same kind of scrutiny. Unless people can see Jesus at work in the church, they will find it difficult to believe that he is who he says he is: alive and at work in the world. That is what is so important about what Jesus says here in verse 23. He is giving the believing community the ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation. Because as the church does the work of forgiveness, it reveals Jesus. To put it another way, Jesus is revealed through the community of believers through the gift of forgiveness. We are being sent by Jesus just as God sent Jesus—to reveal God’s Son as the way of salvation.

But what about the part where Jesus says, “If you retain the sins of any, they are retained”? I don’t believe that Jesus is actually saying we can withhold God’s forgiveness or even our own forgiveness from someone who is truly repentant. Rather, I think this speaks of the believing community’s call to discernment when others seek forgiveness. What do I mean?

When the believing community does the work of forgiveness, it must know when to withhold forgiveness when the

We reveal Jesus when we engage in the work of forgiveness. (Ravi Z. story of the judge talking to a man he condemned; or some other story.)

We have been given the ministry of reconciliation.

Acts 5:27-32 (notice the change in the disciples. Before the risen Jesus was made known to them, they huddled together in fear behind locked doors. But now!)

Let’s close our times of worship during the season of Easter with the simple words of Jesus’ blessing and empowerment to his disciples. “Peace be with you.” “And also with you.”

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