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The Ministry Of Reconciliation


April 16, 2023 |The Ministry of Reconciliation|John 20:19-31

JD Cutler



Here we are, the week after Easter, the week after we declared together that ‘Jesus is alive!’


He has defeated death and the grave, he has declared on the cross that it is finished signifying that the debt of sin that separated men and women from God had been paid, the veil has been torn and now Jesus stands as the living way to the Father.


What would this new reality look like for his disciples, the ones who had followed him for three years, witnessing his miracles, being taught by him, operating as his ambassadors at times by carrying his ministry of healing and proclamation of the kingdom to the surrounding areas? They had abandoned him in his time of suffering, everyone in their own way, just as he had predicted and just as they had sworn to never do.


Now, on that first Sunday, the tomb is empty and women have claimed to have seen the savior alive.

What did it all mean, what was next, what would he say to them if they saw him?


These are surely all of the questions swirling in the minds of the disciples on that first day of the week, huddled together behind locked doors because they feared the Jews would not stop with Jesus, but would be hunting down his disciples next, especially as the rumors spread that they had stolen the body of Jesus.


It is into this scene that Jesus himself appears to them.

John gives us his account of this first encounter with the group of disciples, with the exception of Thomas, immediately following the scripture we looked at last week when Martha encounters Jesus.


Open your bibles to John 20:19. We will read this morning of two encounters and John's summary purpose for writing and then we will go back and dig into that first encounter, specifically verses 21-23.


In this first encounter with the group of disciples Jesus gives them their orders as ambassadors of the resurrected Savior.

Their Mission, their Means, and finally, their Message.


John 20:19-31 (ESV) 19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.


With our context set, let us dig into that first encounter, beginning with John 20:21 and their mission.


The Mission

John 20:21 (ESV) 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”


This reminds us and surely reminded the disciples of what he had told them previously in the upper room.

John 13:20 (ESV) 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”


What does it mean to be sent? The idea here is that Jesus is giving the disciples a task. The word sent can be translated as ‘to bid a thing to be carried to one’.

It is the language of an errand.


Jesus is sending the disciples on a mission, to carry out a task, if you will.

Furthermore, as Jesus revealed in the upper room, Jesus is sending them in his name. When they go, it will be as though Christ is going, when they encounter people, the response of the people to the disciples will be as though they had responded in that way to Jesus himself.


The task itself will become clear in his later words, but for now, let us ask a question of how it is that these disciples are to be sent.

Jesus gives this picture of his giving of their mission, ‘as the father has sent me’.

This again, is not new language for Jesus, in his great priestly prayer recorded in John 17, he says.

John 17:15-19 (ESV) 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.


How was Jesus sent by the Father?

Verses like John 17 and Luke 19 tell us why the father sent Jesus.

John 3:17 (ESV) 17 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.
Luke 19:10 (ESV) 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

These we are possibly familiar with, but there are also verses where Jesus tells us about how he was sent.

Scripture like John 5:43 where Jesus says, 43 I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me and scripture like John 8:42b where Jesus says, I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.


Jesus makes two things clear, he came by the will of the Father and in the name of the Father.

In the same way, he sends his disciples. By his will and in his name, right?

Just a few quick references make this abundantly clear.


Matthew 28:16-20 (ESV) 16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”


Mark 16:15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.


Luke 24:46-48 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.


It was by the will and authority of Christ that they were to go and they were to preach repentance of sins in his name. This was their mission.


We have to ask the question, was this mission solely for the first disciples, or are we sent into the world as well?

To answer that question, we simply have to return to Jesus’ prayer in John 17.

19 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

John 17:20-21 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.


As those who are no longer of the world, but in the world, we are sent into it so that others may believe in Christ through our words and be brought into the family of God.

You are sent, I am sent, and those who believe in Jesus because of our testimony about Jesus, are sent. This is the mission of all those who come to believe on Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior.


But, and here is an important detail, we are not sent to be witnesses in our own power, and neither were the disciples. We come now to the means that they were to carry out their mission.


The Means

John 20:22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.


The disciples were never supposed to carry out their mission apart from the power of God. Jesus had repeatedly told them about the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

John 14:15-17 (ESV) 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.


John 16:7-14 (ESV) 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.


Here the Holy Spirit is called the helper, literally, one who comes alongside to aid. As the disciples proclaimed the good news of the gospel, as they testified to what they had seen, the Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.


We must ask the question though, because we know what happened at Pentecost, is this the moment, here in the upper room, that the promised Spirit was given to the disciples?

I believe the answer is yes and no.

Yes, obviously Jesus tells them to receive the spirit, but he also tells them elsewhere to wait on his coming.

Acts 1:4-5 (ESV) 4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Acts 1:8 (ESV) 8 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.”

Luke 24:49 (ESV) 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”


How do we reconcile these two events? I don't know that I can in a way that would satisfy the question, but I will try, with my small insights, to see if we can’t try and understand what is happening here.


I think the significance of John's description of what Jesus did in this moment cannot be overstated. he breathed on them and said to them

This is the only time this word is used in the New Testament, but it is used once by the Jewish translators when they translated the Hebrew texts into Greek.


Where? In Genesis 2:7 (ESV) 7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.


Do you see what John is trying to get us to see?

In the same way that man went from a collection of dust to a living creature, so these men went from a collection of sinful men to the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the head of the body, the head of this new man, created in him to be reconciled to God through his ministry on the cross.

Later at Pentecost, they would be baptized by the Spirit and the spirit would be available to all those who would come to Jesus, but here and now, Jesus establishes his church by giving them the very thing that distinguishes them from every other group of men in the world.

In the same way that man went from a collection of dust to a living creature, so these men went from a collection of sinful men to the church of Jesus Christ.

There is further evidence that this is an appropriate understanding in another piece of John’s commentary.

John 7:37-39 (ESV) 37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.


Jesus’ glorification was completed in the ascension and sitting at the right hand of the father, from which he poured out the promised Holy Spirit. Since he had not yet ascended, the best way to understand this is a special imparting of the Holy Spirit to his disciples in advance of the immersion they would experience at Pentecost as a signal of the birth of Jesus’ church of witnesses and the means by which they would carry their mission out.


At least, that is the way that I make sense of it, hopefully it helps you as well.

The important thing to me is not that we completely understand what happened here, but that we see the importance of it in light of the context. In sending them out on mission, Jesus would also provide the means by which they would carry it out. Which brings us to our last division…


The Message

John 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”


Let me say this upfront, our understanding of this verse greatly affects many other doctrines and understandings.


This verse is one of the reasons you and I are sitting here today and not part of the Catholic church. That is to say, the protestant reformation, from which Baptists draw their lineage, protested the church’s understanding and application of this verse as one of its primary rallying points.


It is important to note, that it is not only Catholics that hold one position and Baptists the other. Indeed with the Catholic church we also find Eastern and Oriental orthodox and Lutheran churches holding the position of Apostolic authority or priestly authority to forgive sins. To some degree Anglican and Methodist denominations hold to this as well.

With us stand many of the reformed churches, presbyterian, and other congregationalist churches.


How we understand what Jesus is doing and teaching here is vastly important to our understanding of our mission as well as our message.


Do all Catholics believe this? Obviously I cannot claim to know what individuals believe, but according to the teachings of the Catholic church, to reject this doctrine is to reject the teaching of the church and as their teachings says, protest, and therefore while openly declaring oneself a Catholic one would secretly be a Protestant and in turn to not truly belong to the Catholic church.

Here is the interpretive challenge before us.

Is Jesus giving these apostles authority to forgive sins in his place or is he saying something else?


In the first sense, unless we go through the Church to receive the forgiveness of sins by Christ through his official representatives, forgiveness is beyond us.


The churches that hold this view call this the Sacrament of Reconciliation (also called penance or confession). There is of course, as I said, many doctrines that go along with this.

The doctrine of salvific baptism, of venial and mortal sins, of confession, of penance, and absolution.


And while we can see where one would come to such conclusions based on the text, I do not believe that it is teaching that at all.

What is at stake here is our understanding of how a sinner can come to Christ for forgiveness, both in initial repentance and in his/her ongoing struggle with sin.

Can a sinner freely come to Christ to receive forgiveness or must he/she go through the church?

What is at stake here is our understanding of how a sinner can come to Christ for forgiveness, both in initial repentance and in his/her ongoing struggle with sin.

There are some interpretive helps in the text itself when we examine it in its original language of Greek.


Their sins are forgiven (perfect passive indicative)

Their sins are not forgiven (perfect passive indicative)


The perfect tense designates an action that occurs in the past and continues into the present, i.e., “I have been eating.” The disciples were not doing the forgiving but pronouncing the sins that “have been” forgiven by God.


Which one of these fits what Jesus told his disciples their message was to be?

Luke 24:46-48 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

Jesus tells the disciples that their mission is to proclaim in the name of Jesus that forgiveness of sins is possible for those that repent, turn from their sins and trust in his name. Furthermore, this message was to be for all men. you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”


Do you see the difference?

In one, our message to the sinner would be, be reconciled to Christ by and through the church and in the other it is be reconciled to Christ through repentance from your sins. This is the means of reconciliation that is at the core of our message as ones who have been sent in the power of the Holy Spirit by Jesus into the world.


Romans 5:6-11 (ESV) 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.


Our message is that reconciliation is possible because Jesus Christ died for the ungodly. While men and women were enemies and sinners, Christ died for them so that they may be justified, delivered from the wrath of God, reconciled to him, and saved by his power.


So then, where does the church fit in? We declare to those who are repentant and trust in Christ that they can be sure that their sins are forgiven and we declare to those who are unrepentant and have not come to Christ, they are still in their sins.

In doing so we, as a body, welcome the first into fellowship with us as members of our body, and we declare the other to not be a part of our body because of their rejection of Christ.


Our mission is to go into the world, our means is the power of the spirit, and our message is to proclaim forgiveness in his name.


Conclusion:

Friend, listen, if you have been reconciled to God, you have been given the ministry of reconciliation.

This is not just the job of ordained ministers, this is not just the ministry of the pastor, this is for each and every one of you.

I’d like to read to you what Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthian church, that echoes and sums up what we have seen here today is this encounter between Jesus and his disciples.

...if you have been reconciled to God, you have been given the ministry of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (ESV) 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.


Paul is of course referencing himself and those with him here, but I do not think his intention is to mean that they alone have been entrusted with this ministry of reconciliation, but every person who has been reconciled has been given this ministry.


In Christ, you have been reconciled...

In Christ you have been sent...

In Christ you have been empowered for your mission...

In Christ you have been given the ministry of reconciliation, not only individually but as a gathered body.


This is what Christ declared to his disciples on that first Sunday and this is what he declares to us today through his word.


The question before us is then one of obedience.


Are you walking in your calling as a minister of reconciliation?


Are we as a church living out our collective calling as a collective of ministers of reconciliation?


These are the questions we must endeavor to answer and if we find that we are not, we must fall on our face before Christ in repentance and pray for a renewed desire to obey.



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