John 20: 19-23 (MsgB)
Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then He showed them His hands and side. The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated His greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent Me, I send you.” Then He took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” He said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”
If you’ve been reading this blog series from the beginning you know that we’re selecting passages from the Gospel of John that help clarify for us (i.e. twenty-first century followers of Christ) how Jesus of Nazareth and the first-century church defined ‘leadership’.
Here’s how I stated it back at the beginning of our blog sessions:
“My goal will not be to do a line-by-line devotional study of John’s Gospel, but to offer you a series of blogs commenting on various sections of John’s text where the focus, in my mind, is on the original disciples (future overseers of the church) as they interact with Jesus. As I see it, if we’re looking for ways to move away from the 21st century corporate approach to church life in America, re-defining ‘successful Christian leadership’ in the process, the Gospels would be the best place to begin and end such a pursuit.”
So now, here we are 40 sessions later and coming to the end of John’s gospel.
Let’s re-set the scene. Jesus has just completed everything God, the Father, assigned Him to do. Over a three-year period, He has walked, talked, and lived out in front of His friends a life fully devoted to the cause of the Kingdom. From the cross, Jesus proclaims it clearly, ‘It is finished!’ God’s majestic work of redemption has been accomplished. Done. Case closed. Yes, it took all of His blood, sweat and tears to complete this overwhelming task, but from Jesus’ perspective, the work of God in redeeming a lost and dying world from itself is now complete. But therein lies the mystery.
If the work of God, through the obedience of Christ, in 33 AD is complete, why is there more to the story? If everything is finished, as Jesus proclaims, why do we have this additional 2,000-plus years tacked on as an addendum to God’s redemptive program?
As I see it, this was the question burning in the gut of Jesus’ disciples as He stood there in front of them on that eventful Sunday evening in some hidden-away upper room in Jerusalem. Rather than gathering up those who loved Him dearly and sweeping them safely away into God’s presence, He basically says, “Peace be with You, my friends…and now it begins.”
And rather than a perfect ending to a perfect story, Jesus opens a puzzling new chapter in God’s Book of Life. An unexpected chapter. A shocker! A chapter that was not expected by anyone on earth or in heaven! Even the angels in the throne room of God are found speechless when God stands up at the climax of all time (the death & resurrection of His Christ) and says, “Now, the story begins!” So rather than a nice neat package that sums all of the world up in one fell swoop, Jesus looks into the eyes of men and women who love Him passionately and says, “Now, my good friends, it’s your turn.”
What is God thinking here? Why take such a nice clean ending like this and mess it up by giving us a turn. Doesn’t Jesus know that His flaky, unpredictable friends will most likely screw this thing up rather than make it better? Doesn’t He realize that when holy things get placed into the hands of self-seeking, self-promoting men, the job will get all that much tougher? Why risk it? Why does God allow this scandalous thing to occur? Turning the Kingdom ministry of Jesus over to a dozen-plus guys who, quite honestly, don’t know their heads from the as….?
Excuse me there, I almost got a bit crass. And what about this ‘authority to forgive sins or withhold forgiveness’ thing Jesus says in verse 23? What in the world is Jesus thinking? Giving that kind of authority to this bunch of dunderheads is like giving the car keys of a NASCAR race car to a pack of little 5-year olds!
Yet, interestingly enough, I don’t sense any fear in Jesus at all, as John the Gospel writer, tells us the story. No hesitation. No wavering. No conditional ‘you better be careful, guys’.
Just a deep breath and a then a holy impartation that changes everything. Too bad John only gives us one sentence here. In truth, what happens in this one little sentence changes the whole picture when it comes to the job Jesus gives us. As I see it, without the breath of the Holy Spirit, you and I, as representatives of God’s Kingdom, commissioned by Jesus Himself, are a disaster waiting to happen. Chaos on wheels. Self-centeredness. Fleshly decisions. Human greed. Demonic influence. The whole nine yards. But with the breath of the Holy Spirit, as we defer to His leadership, the whole thing works just as Jesus planned it. Men and women, called by God, to continue the Kingdom work Jesus began, humbly submitting themselves to the breath and life found only in the Spirit of God.
Now, it’s beginning to make sense. More on that next time.
My prayer: Lord, quite honestly, I’m shocked that You did what You did. Actually, Lord, I’m even a bit offended that You didn’t just go ahead and sum all things up in 33 AD. But yet, Lord, I realize as I say that, if You had wrapped it all up 2,000 years ago, I would never exist. My life would never be lived. So for that, Lord, I say thank You. Thank You that, in Your wisdom, You chose to make 33 AD a new beginning and not an end. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: So what are the theological consequences from this surprise God throws out in 33 AD. If Jesus says, ‘It is finished’, yet in truth, world history continues on for several more millennium, what’s that mean for us living in the first part of the twenty-first century? If we are commissioned by Jesus to ‘go as the Father sent Me’, what will that look like for me in my life?
So what is God speaking to you today as we follow Jesus the Nazarene, the Leader of the Church?
Between now and the end of 2015, we will be sharing with you a blog series we first developed in 2013. We call it Follow The Leader: Re-defining Successful Leadership from the Gospel of John. In order to keep all 46 blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Follow The Leader home page for ease of use. ENJOY!
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