When Jesus Comes in the Midst
40 Days with Jesus When Jesus Comes in the Midst John 20:19-29 Pastor Pat Damiani May 5, 2019 NOTE: This is a manuscript, and not a transcript of this message. The actual presentation of the message differed from the manuscript through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is possible, and even likely that there is material in this manuscript that was not included in the live presentation and that there was additional material in the live presentation that is not included in this manuscript. On February 16, 1972, my dad took us to see the Phoenix Suns basketball game. You might be asking how I remember that exact date. To be honest I didn’t, but it was pretty easy for me to find out what the date was because what I do remember is that on that night, the great Wilt Chamberlain scored his 30,000th career point, something that he accomplished faster than any other player in NBA history, including Michael Jordan. I also remember that when he entered the arena that night, how Wilt’s presence in the midst of that arena captivated everyone’s attention, because of the anticipation that he would be the first NBA player to reach that milestone. And perhaps you’ve experienced something similar in your life. You’ve been somewhere when a certain person enters into the midst of a group of people and immediately captures everyone’s attention. But my guess is that after that moment passed, nothing had really changed permanently in your life. That was certainly true for me that night in Phoenix. I was glad that I got to experience that, but the fact that Wilt Chamberlain scored his 30,000th career point that night had no lasting impact on my life. But there is someone who does change our lives when He comes into our midst, or at least He ought to – Jesus. And since we know that Jesus is in our midst this morning because He has promised that where even two or three gather in His name, He is present, that means that Jesus wants to change your life in some way today. And it might very well be that the changes He wants to make in in your life are exactly the same ones He made when He came into the midst of His disciples the evening after He rose from the dead. This morning is the third message in our current series – 40 Days with Jesus – in which we are taking a look at the encounters Jesus had in the 40 days between His resurrection and His ascension to the Father. So far, we’ve covered His appearance to Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb early in the morning after His resurrection, and His encounter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus later that day. This morning, we’ll look at His third recorded appearance after His resurrection. We were introduced to that event last week in Luke 24, but today we’re going to look at John’s account of that encounter. [Read John 20:19-29] I want to focus our attention this morning on a phrase that appears in both verse 19 and again in verse 26: …Jesus came and stood among them… In spite of the evidence of the empty tomb and the witness of Mary and the other women to the words of the angel that Jesus was alive and apparently even an appearance of Jesus to Peter some time that day, the disciples are hiding behind locked doors because they are afraid of the Jewish officials. And while they are cowering in fear, Jesus appears right in their midst. He doesn’t toy around with them by knocking on the door or calling out to them through the wall. He knows that their faith is wavering and He passionately wants them to see Him and believe in Him because that is the only way they are going to be enabled to carry out His mission for them. And in the space of a little over a week, we see one of the most significant transformations in history because Jesus came and stood among them. Not only does He overcome their fear and their sense of defeat, but He sets them on a course to go and change the world in the name of the risen Christ. And here in this passage we find a pattern for how Jesus wants to come into our midst and change us so that He can then send us out to change the world. Here is how we’re going to summarize that transformation: I’m going to tell you right up front that verses 22 and 23 present some challenges and there are obviously different ideas about exactly what they mean. While I’m not going to claim that I have them completely figured out, I will share my understanding of Jesus’ actions and words there. And I’ll also address a couple of common misunderstandings and explain why they can’t possibly be what Jesus had in mind here. Before we get there, we’ll start with the more straightforward idea that Jesus’ presence brings us… 1. Peace Three times in this passage Jesus uses the common Jewish greeting: Peace be with you. The word translated “peace” here means something quite different than the way we tend to use that word in our culture or even the way it was used in the Greek and Roman cultures of Jesus’ day. We tend to think of “peace” as “the absence of conflict or war.” But Jesus and His disciples were all Jews who would have understood the idea of “peace” in a way that is consistent with the Hebrew word for “peace” – “shalom”. “peace” (Hebrew shalom) = “a state of complete well-being that comes from a right relationship with God Once we understand that, we see that peace is the antidote to both the fear of the disciples and Thomas’ doubt because both fear and doubt were just the symptoms of the underlying problem of a lack of peace that resulted from the fact that their relationship with God was not whole yet. In order for that relationship to be made whole, Jesus did a couple of important things to teach His disciples about the significance of His death and resurrection. The first thing He does is to show them His hands and side. And we also know from Luke’s account of this encounter that He asked them for some food and ate a piece of broiled fish before them. Both those actions were to prove to the disciples that they weren’t just seeing a ghost and that Jesus had physically risen from the dead. This is consistent with the other accounts of the resurrection where Mary and some of the other women physically touched Jesus. As we’ve talked about before the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus is important for at least 2 reasons. First, a physical resurrection proves that Jesus did actually rise from the grave to prove His mastery over sin and death. It means that the disciples weren’t just seeing what they wanted to see or having some kind of hallucination. Second, Jesus’ physical resurrection guarantees that one day all of us who have put our faith in Jesus will also experience a physical resurrection. We are going to receive glorified physical resurrection bodies that will one day be reunited with our spirit and our soul and live eternally in a physical world of unimaginable beauty and glory in the physical presence of Jesus. The kind of shalom peace that Jesus was pronouncing for His disciples here is only possible for us when we believe and understand the significance of Jesus’ physical resurrection. I’m reminded here of this familiar verse from Paul’s letter to the churches in Rome: because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 ESV) We know from Luke’s account of this same encounter that Jesus did something else that was crucial to the disciples’ ability to have shalom peace. He took time to show Him how the Scriptures pointed to Him and His suffering and resurrection for the purpose of their sins being forgiven. This just reinforces the idea we developed last week about the importance of seeing Jesus in all the Scriptures. So Jesus did much more that just wish that the disciples might have peace. He showed them and taught them what they needed to do in order to appropriate that peace. That brings us to the second blessing that comes when Jesus comes into our midst: 2. Purpose We see this in verse 21. Right after the second time Jesus says, “Peace be with you”, He gives them a new purpose for their lives: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” One of the main themes in John’s gospel is the idea that Jesus was sent by God to the earth. In John’s gospel Jesus refers to “the Father who sent me”, “the One who sent me”, and “He who sent me” over 20 times and that idea reaches its pinnacle in Jesus high priestly prayer in John 17 that the disciples had heard just a few days earlier: As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. (John 17:18 ESV) So Jesus gives His disciples a new purpose – they are to carry on the work that He has been doing on earth for the last three and a half years. That purpose is further explained in the very difficult language that we find in verse 23: If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” This is one of those places where it is absolutely crucial that we view this verse in light of everything else in the Bible and not just take this one verse out of context. Unfortunately the Roman Catholic Church has failed to do that and as a result they have used this verse to justify the idea that human priests have the ability to forgive sins and to establish the idea of apostolic succession. Neither of those two ideas is supported anywhere else in the Bible. In fact, the Bible is clear in both the Old and new Testaments that only God has the power to forgive sin. No man can do that – not even the Old Testament priests had the power to do that. All they could do was to act as a mediator between man and God so that God would forgive sin. It’s actually not that hard to understand what Jesus is saying here if we keep His words in context. He has just told His disciples that He is sending them out as His ambassadors and here He is giving them some details about the message that they are to proclaim as they do that. As they proclaimed the gospel, they could honestly tell people who believed in that message that their sins were forgiven, and they could honestly tell people that did not believe in the message that their sins were not forgiven and that they stand condemned in God’s eyes. I love how Pastor John Piper explains Jesus’ words here: What he means is this: When you tell people about what I have done, speaking my word, about my work, in the power of my Spirit, I am the one speaking through you, so that if anyone believes your word, I forgive their sins. And if any does not believe your words, I don’t forgive them. And since you are my voice and my truth, I speak of you forgiving them, and you withholding forgiveness. So our purpose is to continue the mission that Jesus began of bringing the good news of God’s saving, redeeming and restoring love to the world with both our words and our deeds. But the problem with that is that none of us can do that on our own, and Jesus knew that, so when He came into their midst, He also supplied His disciples with… 3. Power Here is where verse 22 comes in: And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. As you might expect this verse generates a lot of confusion when it is considered along with the giving of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost that occurs nearly 50 days later. Several explanations have been proposed: • Some claim that this is a reference to what happened on the day of Pentecost and John just has it in the wrong place chronologically. But that really seems like a stretch to think that John, who was present when Jesus appeared here, would get a detail like this so out of place. • Some have proposed that what Jesus was doing here was merely an object lesson, or a preview of how they would receive the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. But usually when Jesus did something symbolic like that, he made that clear, especially when speaking to the apostles. So that doesn’t seem likely either. • A third approach, and the one that seems most likely to me personally, is to take this literally and understand that Jesus did literally give the Holy Spirit here. This was probably more like the way God gave the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, when the Spirit would come on a person for a specific purpose for a specific time. So Jesus, knowing that they would permanently receive the Holy Spirit in just a matter of weeks, provided them with the power of the Holy Spirit for that period of time as He continued to teach them and prepare them for the mission He had just given them. Regardless of exactly what is happening here, the one thing we can be sure of is that neither these disciples or us can carry out the mission that God has given us in our own power. We need the power of the Holy Spirit, working in us, to carry out that mission. Jesus reminded us of that with His last words before he ascended to the Father: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV) While Jesus makes those three gifts available to all, obviously not everyone receives them. Even in the case of the disciples to whom Jesus appeared, not all of them received the gifts right away. In particular, Thomas wasn’t willing to accept the testimony of the others and refused to believe until he saw Jesus with his own eyes. And even when the disciples received these gifts, they weren’t exactly rushing out to use them. The same disciples to whom Jesus appeared on the night of the resurrection were still in hiding eight days later in spite of the fact that Jesus had blessed them with peace, purpose and power. But, in spite of those shortcomings, I think there are some practical things we can learn here about… HOW TO BE BLESSED AND BLESS WHEN JESUS IS IN OUR MIDST 1. Gather It’s really interesting to me that most of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus occurred when His disciples were gathered together. As we saw a couple weeks ago, He did appear to Mary Magdalene when she was alone and there are references in both Luke and 1 Corinthians 15 of an appearance to Peter, although we have no details on that appearance anywhere else. There is also a mention of an appearance to James in 1 Corinthians 15. But other than that, Jesus came into the midst of His disciples when they were gathered together. Since today, Jesus primarily appears to us in His Word, it is certainly possible for us to experience the presence of Jesus individually, and we ought to do that. But that is not a substitute for gathering together corporately to worship Jesus and to hear good Bible teaching. That is why the Bible consistently stresses the importance of gathering: • In the Old Testament, all able-bodied Israelites were required to gather in Jerusalem three times a year to observe the feasts that God had prescribed for them. • Jesus specifically promised that where even two or three are gathered in His name, He is among them (Matthew 18:20). • Most of us are familiar with these words, which we have displayed on the wall right in front of you as you enter this building each week: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24–25 ESV) The very fact that you are here this morning, means that you’ve taken this first step. 2. Expect Even thought the disciples were hiding out in fear, and even though they really didn’t believe the testimony of the women who told them that the angel said Jesus was alive, the very fact that they kept gathering together leads me to believe that there was a sense of expectation among them. Let me ask you a question. Why did you come here this morning? Did you come to church because that is just your Sunday routine? Or did you come here today because you were eager to experience the presence of Jesus with your brothers and sisters in Christ? Did you come because you think that is what God wants you to do? Or did you come today expecting that because Jesus is in our midst God would speak to you and change you in some way today? As you sit in your seat right now are you distracted by thinking about where you’re going to go to lunch today, or what sports event you’re going to watch when you get home or some task that you need to take care of later? Or are you eagerly expecting Jesus to bless you with His peace, equip you to carry out His purpose for you and pour in His power to enable you to do that? 3. Believe The disciples were certainly slow to believe Jesus even though they had plenty of evidence that should have caused them to believe: • All during His earthly ministry, Jesus had told them that he was going to die for their sins and then be raised back up to life. • Mary and the other women had reported the empty grave and the testimony of the angels there that Jesus was alive. • Peter and John had come back and testified to the fact that the grave was empty. • The two disciples who had met Jesus on the road to Emmaus had testified to their encounter with Jesus But Jesus is really patient with them. Instead of rebuking them for their unbelief, He gives them what they need in order to believe. That is especially true with Thomas. I think sometimes we’re a little too hard on Thomas, especially if we consider his devotion to Jesus that is evident elsewhere in the gospel accounts. The word “believe” is the key word in John’s gospel, and as we’ve talked about before, it is a word that means more than just an intellectual assent to a set of facts, but rather the kind of belief that results in obedience and action. And while they might not exhibit their belief immediately, all these disciples eventually end up giving up their lives for the sake of the gospel. This is why it is so important that each one of us make some kind of personal application from the message each week. If we don’t do that, we can say that we believe Jesus and that we believe the Bible, but that is not the kind of belief that is going to bring peace, purpose and power. That is why in the sermon outline in your bulletin each week, there is a box titled “Applying the Message”. That is there to remind us all of the importance of making personal application of the message each week. So after I cover the last point in just a moment I’m going to ask you to prayerfully consider what personal application God wants you to make from today’s message by answering those three questions. 4. Go This encounter with Jesus changed these disciples. But that wasn’t the final goal here. Jesus didn’t want to change these men just to bless them, but rather because he wanted to bless the entire world through them. And the same thing is still true for us. Every week when we gather with Jesus in our midst, He does want to change each one of us individually. But that change is not just for us. It is also so that we can take the peace, purpose and power that Jesus bestows on us and use that to leave this place and take the gospel to the world around us. As I mentioned just a moment ago, I want to encourage all of us to take some time right now to prayerfully consider what God wants us to do as a result of today’s message and then write down what God puts on your heart in the space provided in your sermon outline. [Prayer time] I can promise you, based on God’s Word, that Jesus is in our midst this morning and that because of that every one of us can have His peace, His purpose and His power in our lives. And if we’ll appropriate those blessings, Jesus will not only change us, He will change the world through us. Discussion Questions for the Bible Roundtable 1. Describe the Biblical concept of “peace” in your own words. What are some different aspects of that peace? 2. What are some practical things I can do to make sure that I enter corporate worship with a sense of expectation? How would our corporate worship change if we all did that consistently? 3. What are some ways that the Holy Spirit empowers us to share the gospel with unbelievers? How do we appropriate that power? 4. Jesus told Thomas that those who would believe without seeing the resurrected Jesus would be blessed. What do you think Jesus meant by that? How does that apply to us?