Sunday, April 12, 2015

Pentecost Preview

Sent by the Son

First after Easter

Gospel: John 20:19-23  (KJV)

19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.
21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.
22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:
23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

We don’t go to the movies much, but, when we do, we find it a little irritating that we have to sit through 20 minutes of previews before the movie starts. I wish I could fall asleep during them rather than the movie I am paying to see.

But those previews have a purpose - to give you an idea, which may or may not be accurate, of what coming movies will be about and to try to interest you enough to go see them. As you watch them, you find yourself saying, “No, maybe, yes.”

When Jesus met with 10 of his Apostles on Easter evening,  he gave them a clear preview of what would happen 50 days later on Pentecost.

1. The Meeting

When Jesus was arrested his disciples scattered, though they remained in Jerusalem. The disciples kept a low profile through the weekend. Then on Sunday evening 10 of them met together. Judas had taken his own life, and for some reason Thomas was not there.

  • Though they met, they were still cautious because they were fearful of what the Jewish authorities might do, if they found them. So they locked the door. Like people in Communist Russia and Nazi Germany they may have dreaded the knock at the door, being arrested, dragged out, and tried as Jesus had been.

  • Then Jesus came and stood among them. John probably implies some kind of miracle with this appearance though he does not tell us the nature of it or dwell on it. The important thing is that Jesus is there, and that he speaks to them, “Peace be with you.”
    • That was the usual Jewish greeting. It was originally wishing for another the blessing of God’s peace. But it had come to be used without thought of what it meant - like we use goodbye - which means “ God be with you” - without the meaning. But Jesus intends the full meaning when he says, “Peace be with you.”
    • These were men needed peace. They had experienced extreme emotions. Jesus had been arrested, tried, condemned, crucified, and buried on Friday. Saturday must have been a very low day as they grieved the loss of Jesus and the loss of the hopes they had put in him. Now on Sunday some women and Peter and John said the tomb was empty and that Jesus had risen. But had he really?
    • And, if he was alive, then how would he treat them? Their faith had failed miserably. They had deserted the Lord in his greatest trial. What would that do to their relationship with him?

  • So Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”
    • When we think of peace, it is primarily negative - the absence of war between nations, of conflict within families.
    • But in the Bible the word is positive. The Old Testament word for peace - “shalom” - means wholeness or total well being because of God’s favor on you. The New Testament shows us that peace is first and foremost being reconciled with God by the forgiveness of sins. Jesus had accomplished that by his death. It means that you have no need to fear God’s condemnation, that all is  right between you and God, that, not only will he not condemn you, but that he loves you, favors you, and takes you into his fellowship.  
    • This peace in relationship with God is the basis for personal peace - freedom from guilt, anxiety, and fear. If we have peace with God, then peace within is possible. Peace with God is also the basis of good relationships with others. If we have peace with God, peace with others is possible.
    • Jesus wanted his disciples to know that God was at peace with them, that he was at peace with them, and that they could live in that two-fold confidence.

  • Jesus gave them evidence that they were not hallucinating, that he was not a ghost, but that he was the same Jesus who had died and who had been raised with a physical body. He showed them the nail scars in his hands and the place in his side where the spear had been thrust. There was continuity between the body of the man who had been crucified and the man who stood before them now. His body was glorified - beyond the touch of death and possessing the fullness of eternal life  - but it was the same body that had been laid the grave.  

  • Now the disciples were glad - they experienced joy. Gone was the sadness and anxiety. In its place came the joy that Jesus was alive, that he had conquered death, that he had opened the door of eternal life for all believers. This was a fulfilment of what Jesus has promised the night he was betrayed: “ have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).

There is a pattern here that may be repeated in our lives:

  • We can be afraid because of what other people may do to us, because of the uncertainties of the future, because of losses we might suffer, because of how we have failed the Lord. We can be afraid about many things.

  • Fear is countered by the reality of the resurrection of Christ attested to us by witnesses. Paul tells us that Jesus “appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all he appeared to me…” (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). The resurrection is the turning point of history and the foundation of our faith.

  • Because of the resurrection we have peace. We have assurance our sins are forgiven, that we are reconciled with God, that God is in control matter what is happening in life, and that death is our transition into the presence of Christ where we will await the day when he will raise our lowly bodies and make them like his glorious body.

  • On the basis of the resurrection we can have joy from knowing the Christ is victorious over death and the the devil. Christ reigns and will continue to reign till he has placed all his enemies beneath his feet - the last enemy being death itself. We are not immune from life’s tragedies, griefs, and sorrows,  but because of the resurrection we can have joy consistent with tears, joy that will one day overwhelm all sorrow.

2. The Mission

Jesus is risen and is among them but now what? Immediately Jesus addresses that question.

  • Sending.
    • Jesus begins by again assuring them of peace. Then he says, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” One of the great themes of the St. John’s Gospel is that the Father sent his Son Jesus into the world as the first Apostle - the One the Father sent to represent the Father, speak for the Father, do the Father’s will, carry out the mission given to him by the Father. The reason the Father sent his only begotten Son into the world was to save the world. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). Jesus has accomplished that salvation by his life, death, and resurrection.
    • Now, as the Father sent the Son, the Son sends his Apostles. Where does he send them? He sends them into the world. He had prayed to his Father on the previous Thursday evening, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). He sends them as his authorized representatives to bear witness to him as the Savior of the world. He gives them their mission, and he gives them their message. As he was sent to save the world, so by bearing witness to him and his saving work, they will seek the salvation of the world, and “whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
    • This was the mission of the Apostles, and it is the ongoing mission of the church. This is the apostolic succession that matters most - taking up the mission of the Apostles and proclaiming the message of the Apostles - seeking the salvation of the world by bearing witness to Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20). We as Covenant Church are sent by Jesus and set down here in Roanoke to make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching. And you and I as Christians are sent into the world to represent him and by our lives and words to bear witness to him and his Gospel of salvation.

  • Spirit.
    • Now Jesus does something that seems strange to us. He breathes on the ten and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” As God breathed into Adam the breath of life, so Jesus breathes into his disciples the Holy Spirit who will use them to give life to the world. What on Easter evening is the breathing of the Spirit into the disciples will on Pentecost become the rushing of the mighty wind of the Spirit into the whole church.
    • The disciples had to be thinking, “The Father sent his Son into this world, but the world was hostile to him, rejected him, and killed him. How can we frail men go into a hostile world as his witnesses?” On the night of his betrayal Jesus had been telling them that, when he left, he would send his Spirit to them to empower and equip them as he sent them into the world.
    • This was a preview of Pentecost, when they - but not only they but the whole church - would be filled by the Holy Spirit. Then they proclaimed the good news of Jesus the Messiah to Jews who had come to Jerusalem and who spoke the many languages of the parts of the world where they lived. It was by the same Spirit that Peter proclaimed Jesus as the crucified Savior and risen Lord, and 3000 repented and were baptized for the forgiveness of sins. It was the same Spirit who set apart Paul to take that same Gospel to the Gentiles. The Spirit Jesus on Pentecost is with us, filling us, equipping us, empowering us so that we can be his witnesses here.

  • Authority.
    • Jesus, having given them the Spirit, says, “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” What is Jesus saying? Is he saying that the Apostles then or the church now through its ministers may choose willy nilly to say grant forgiveness or to withhold it?
    • No. This authority is connected to his sending the church into the world and empowering the church with the Holy Spirit. Proclaiming Jesus as Savior from sin and risen Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit the church faces with the world with  a decision that cannot be avoided. The Gospel creates a crisis for everyone who hears it. Will you be condemned or saved? You can’t be neutral. If you reject Jesus you stand unforgiven and condemned. If you receive him you are forgiven and made an adopted child of God.
We have been given an awesome responsibility and privilege. We are sent by Jesus, and empowered with the Holy Spirit to bear witness to him so that the world through him may be saved.

Margaret Clarkson was a Canadian who born into a loveless marriage that would end in divorce. As child she suffered from migraine headaches and juvenile arthritis as well as a spinal deformity. She took great comfort in hymns and came to appreciate some of the great Christian hymn writers. She became a school teacher,never married, and her life was seldom free of pain, but God blessed her with a gift for writing hymns. She - and, forgive me, she was a Presbyterian -  wrote the greatest missionary hymn of the 20th century.

*So send I you - by grace made strong
to triumph
o’er hosts of hell, o’er darkness, death,
and sin,
my name to bear, and in that name to
conquer -
so send I you my victory to win.

As the Father hath sent me, so send I you.

So send I you - to take to souls in bondage
the word of truth that sets the captive 
to break the bonds of sin, to loose death’s
fetters -
so send I you,  to bring the lost to me.

As the Father hath sent me, so send I you.

So send I you - my strength to know in
my joy in grief, my perfect peace in pain,
to prove my pow’r, my grace, my promised
presence -
so send I you, eternal fruit to gain.

As the Father hath sent me, so send I you.

*Some may remember this hymn beginning, “So send I you to labor unrewarded…”. Miss Clarkson
herself revised to hymn to reflect a more Biblical understanding.

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