Bob and Nancy have two weeks for vacation before they have to be back at work. Their main goal is to go to Edmonton to visit Bob’s sister. Two weeks is a lot of time, so they plan to do a few things along the way. Their first stop is at Moose Mountain south of Regina. It is a beautiful area and the weather is great, so they stay a few days, after all, they have lots of time. Then they head over to Moose Jaw because they have heard that there are some interesting tunnels there that date to the prohibition era and so they go there, take the tour and decide to stay the night. While on the tour, they meet a couple who has just come from Cyprus Hills and tell them how beautiful it is there, so they decide that they can easily afford a few days in Cyprus Hills. Although it will be a bit out of the way, they remember that they haven’t been to Waterton Park for a long time and decide that it would be good to make that journey, but they promise themselves that they will head right to Edmonton after that. After a few nights there, they get an early start and realize that it will take them very little time to get to Edmonton and so they decide that they will take the scenic route through Banff and Jasper. Four days later they find themselves with car trouble in Hinton Alberta just before the garage closes. By the time the needed part arrives and is installed, it is too late to complete the trip to Edmonton. They call Bob’s sister, to see if they can meet her for lunch the next day. Now they need to head home and so that is all the time they will have, but they find that she is not available, so they head home without ever meeting their goal.
Is that happening in your life? I don’t mean with something like a vacation, I mean with your whole life. Do you know what your main goal in life is? Are you being distracted by a lot of other things which are preventing you from accomplishing your main goal?
If you are a follower of Jesus, the main goal in your life has been defined for you. One expression of it in Scripture is from John 20:19-23. In the context of a resurrection appearance, Jesus affirms that He is alive and has gained a decisive victory over evil and sin and death. Although we might expect that this would be a time for Him and His disciples to rejoice in the victory and settle in to enjoy the victory, Jesus leaves them and leaves them behind, very deliberately, with a responsibility. We have the same responsibility. Let us read the text and then think about what Jesus has Jesus left us to do?
This text begins with fear. They were afraid because of all the things that had happened in the last few days. They continued to be filled with the fear that had gripped them when Jesus was arrested and they had all fled. They were still fleeing. When Jesus suddenly stood in their midst, without knocking on the door, they must have been terrified, but Jesus immediately removed their fear with the words, “Peace be with you.”
After demonstrating to them that it was truly Him and that He had been raised from the dead, He once again declared, “Peace be with you.”
Why did he repeat this phrase a second time? I believe that the direction of the second statement was different than the first. The first was to allay their immediate fears. The second was to provide a foundation for the confidence they could have for the rest of their lives and in their the mission He was about to give them. This peace was possible because of the resurrection. He was giving them assurance of the power of the resurrection. Because Jesus was alive, sin was overcome. God had given forgiveness and therefore they could have the hope of peace with God. Death was no longer the threat it once had been. A new reality had pressed itself in on their consciousness. The old paradigm that death is the end was no longer true. They realized that they had a God of resurrection. Therefore they could be assured that the plans that come from God can never die. Therefore they could be assured that the church will reign eternally and that even those who die do not die eternally, but live.
As we follow Jesus, we follow Him with the same confident hope, the same sense of peace and the same knowledge of the resurrection victory of Jesus. Jesus is alive and because He is everything has changed. Jesus was saying that because of the certainty that He had risen from the dead and was alive, we can go out with confidence to proclaim Him.
Joseph Aldrich tells the story of what might have happened as Jesus returned to heaven from earth. He imagines a conversation between the angel Gabriel and Jesus.
Gabriel says, “Master, you must have suffered terribly for men down there.”
Jesus says, “I did.”
Gabriel then asks, “Do they all know about how you loved them and what you did for them?”
Jesus replies “Not yet. Right now only a handful of people in Palestine know.”
Gabriel was perplexed and asked, “Then what have you done to let everyone know about your love for them?”
Jesus said, “I’ve asked Peter, James, John, and a few more to tell others who will tell others until my story is spread to the farthest reaches of the globe.”
Gabriel frowned and looked rather skeptical. He knew well what poor stuff men were made of. “What if people who come after them forget? What if twenty centuries from now people just don’t tell others about you? Haven’t you made any other plans?”
Jesus answered, “I haven’t made any other plans.”
Aldrich says, “Twenty centuries later…He still has no other plan.”
What Jesus said to his disciples He also says to us. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” This is the assignment we have received from Jesus and it appears throughout Scripture. Matthew 28 says, “While you are going about in the world, make disciples.” In John 17 Jesus prays for his disciples and for those who will believe in Him “through their message” implying the same assignment. Paul recognizes in II Corinthians 5:18, “All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also.”
We cannot escape the reality from Scripture that God has left us here to serve Him and that God has in fact sent us to serve Him in this world.
Not only does Scripture call us to communicate the message of good news to the world, but the desperate need of the people of the world also calls us to let them know that there is hope. People in the world are utterly lost. This is the language Jesus used in Luke 15 when he presented the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. These parables tell us of the heart of the Father who seeks those who are lost. The lost condition of all people who don’t know Jesus is a powerful reason why we must be about the work of making His name known.
But the desperate need of lost people is only half the reason. The reason we have something to say to lost people is because we have a message about how to be found. The message about Jesus is such great news. If any person on earth is overcome by their sin and is wallowing in guilt and shame, the good news is that God will forgive them if they trust in Jesus. If any person on earth is held captive under the power of sin, the good news is that Jesus can free them from its power through the Holy Spirit will live in them. If any person is terrified of death, the promise of God is that Jesus has conquered death and through faith in Jesus anyone can live in resurrection victory for all eternity. This is the best news in the world and because we have this great news, we must go where we have been sent.
William Barclay points out about this sending that, “it means that Jesus Christ needs the church.”
We have an important assignment. Are we doing the assignment? Luke 16:13 reminds us, "“No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other." If we are distracted by all the things in the world, we will not be diligent to be involved in the sending we have received. We need to focus. We need to be the mouth, feet & hands of Jesus.
The text also tells us something about how that work is to be done. There is a lot that instructs us in the phrase “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” I believe that means not only that we are sent as Jesus was sent, but also tells us that the way in which Jesus was sent is also the way in which we are sent. How did the Father send the Son? How did the Son accomplish His task?
I believe that an important message here is that He sent the Son into the world. He did not establish a center of learning and invite people to come to it. He did not set Jesus up with a nice house and put a sign in front and invite people to come and meet Jesus. Jesus was sent out from heaven and lived on earth. He became a human being. For thirty years He lived like an ordinary human being. Even his own family did not grasp that there was anything special about Him. When He began to manifest His deity and began to teach, they were surprised. As He walked about on earth, He met people in their context. He met the religious leaders in the synagogue. He met the demon possessed man in the tombs beside the herd of pigs. He met the woman of Samaria beside the well. The theological word used to describe the way Jesus was sent is “incarnation” which comes from the Latin for becoming flesh.
I believe that our sending must be exactly the same way. Far too often we have done it otherwise. We have built a church and invited people to come to the church to hear the gospel. Jesus did not do that. That does not mean that there is anything wrong with building the church, but it does mean that the fulfillment of the sending we have received will not happen in the church. The church is the community of believers who are growing to be like Jesus. The church is the place where we become disciples and where we care for one another so that we can be equipped to go out of the church, to go out into the world and live next to those who don’t know Jesus. Therefore, we need to be involved in the world. We need to go. Where are the unbelievers? We need to meet them where they are, to live Jesus in their midst, to let them see Jesus as well as hear about Jesus. Therefore, we need to participate in the Art’s Council and the Municipality and the hockey team in order to be the face of Jesus among those who are lost. We need to discover all the possible ways in which we can incarnate the gospel message. We need to be in the world and let people see Jesus in us. That is how I understand what it means when Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me.”
What does it mean to live an incarnational lifestyle like Jesus did? What was Jesus like? When we examine His lifestyle, what do we learn about Him?
He was accused of spending time with tax collectors and sinners. Until we are accused of spending time with tax collectors and sinners, we haven’t been like Jesus. He lived a holy life. Although he was accused of spending time with tax collectors and sinners, He was not accused of being like them. In fact one summary of His life from Hebrews 4:15 says that He “was tempted in all things as we are, yet was without sin.” If we are not living a holy life we have not learned what it means to be sent as Jesus was sent. When the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery and accused her, Jesus did not judge as they judged. Instead He offered grace. If we are not offering grace, like Jesus offered grace, we are not living like Jesus did. Jesus invited people into the kingdom, but he didn’t deceive them that it would be an easy life. He didn’t use dishonorable methods to gain many converts. He gladly invited those who were looking for life, but didn’t make an easy path for those who wanted a free ride. If we are using trickery or deception we are not following the method of Jesus. Jesus spoke about the kingdom, healed the sick and cared for the hungry. He worked with both word and deed. Unless we are extending the kingdom both in word and deed, we are not using the methods of Jesus.
I have been reading a book, given to us recently, with the title, Outrageous Grace written by Grace Fabian. It is the story of a couple who were translating the Bible. As they were nearing the end of their task, which had taken them over 20 years, one of the people who had been working with them killed the husband with an axe. It is the story of God’s grace, of forgiveness and of the willingness to lay down one’s life for Jesus.
One of the interesting things about John 20 is the little phrase in verse 20, “he showed them his hands and side.” In the foreword to this book, the writer says, “…even in his glorified and resurrected body, Jesus retained the scars of his crucifixion. God the Father wanted those wounds to remain visible in the exalted body of his Son. Far from being a source of embarrassment or shame, those scars spoke more eloquently than words ever could of the reality of God’s love and our redemption!”
Speaking of the disciples he goes on to say, “They were looking at the scars at the very moment they were receiving the Great Commission. It was impossible for the disciples to misunderstand. The Father had sent the Son to lay down his life for others. He died so that others might live. And now the Son is sending his disciples into the world to do the same thing. The cross was to define not only the message they preached but the very way they lived their lives, in self-giving love for others.”
Paul understood this when he said in II Corinthians 4:10-11, "We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body."
Do you know that the Greek word for witness is “martyr?” Those who speak for Jesus may be called upon to give their lives. It has not happened to me or anyone really close to me, but we know very well that it has happened to many others like the five missionaries murdered in Ecuador or the man in the story I am reading. The commission we have received is no joke. I sometimes wonder why I have such an easy life. I have peace, abundance and ease and I am afraid that that peace, abundance and ease have taken away the urgency of the call on my life. If we are to be sent as Jesus was sent, it will mean a commitment so deep that we are willing to give our lives for Jesus. In our current situation, I am barely willing to give my life for Jesus by sacrificing a Sunday evening or changing my plans in order to make friends with people who don’t know Jesus. What will have to change in order for me to come to that place?
Perhaps the next concept in this passage answers that question. We read in John 20:22, “He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
The breath of Jesus reminds us of the breath of God who breathed life into the clay shell He had just created as we read in Genesis 2:7. It reminds us of the breath of God which made dry bones live again in Ezekiel 37:9. The power to fulfill the commission we have received will be possible only as we are filled with the Holy Spirit and the promise of Acts 1:8 is that Jesus has filled us with His Spirit.
Although Jesus was indicating at this point that He was leaving, the promise of the coming of the Spirit assured them and us that even though He left, His presence did not leave. Sometimes we say to another person, “I won’t be able to be there, but I will be with you in spirit.” What do we mean by that? We mean that we will be thinking of them. When Jesus was saying to His disciples and us, “I won’t be there, but I will be with you in Spirit,” He was saying something quite different. He was assuring them that He was going to be present with them in power, enabling them to carry out the sending which He had just called them to. It is still the power of the Spirit who enables us to do what we have been sent to do. Oh that we would learn more of what that means!
Finally Jesus gave them the content of the message they were sent to proclaim. In John 20:23 He spoke to them about the promise of forgiveness of sins. This verse is a little difficult and has sometimes been interpreted to mean that we have the power to refuse forgiveness to someone. I do not believe that that is what Jesus meant by making this statement. Barclay explains, “This sentence lays down the duty of the Church to convey forgiveness to the penitent in heart, and to warn the impenitent that they are forfeiting the mercy of God.”
In this verse we have a summary of the wonderful message which we have been given to proclaim to the world – the possibility of forgiveness of sins and the implications that go with that. Implications of peace with God, a restored relationship with God, a removal of the consequences of sin and the assurance of eternal life.
The message of forgiveness also reminds us that it is not our job to condemn sinners of their sin. According to John 16:8-11 that is the work of the Holy Spirit. Our job is to answer to the guilt with the message of sins forgiven. May we boldly and gladly proclaim grace!
It is also not our job to place burdens on people. When Jesus was on earth, He accused the Pharisees of putting burdens on people. They loaded burdens of legalism and law keeping on them. Jesus came with the message of forgiveness which removed the burdens, promised acceptance with Him and set them free to love and serve Him. May we continue to offer not legalism or judgment, but the glorious message of sins forgiveness!
Friends, this is not the first time you have heard a message like this from the Word of God. We know that we have been sent by Jesus, on the basis of His resurrection, to proclaim forgiveness and life by incarnating the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. We also know that we are not doing it as we should. May these words be an encouragement not just to be reminded, but to make the changes necessary so that we will respond to God at the point at which He is speaking to us.
This evening we have an opportunity to hear the stories of what God has done through a number of people from our congregation. When Paul went out on his missionary journeys, he came back and reported to the church what God had done. That is what is happening here this evening. As we hear stories of the way in which God called and encouraged those who went and worked through them, I hope we will be challenged and encouraged to follow the sending we have received.
Let us carefully consider our response to God’s call.