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Second Sunday of Easter
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Mike Moffitt, April 24, 2022

Before and After, Part 1

Text: John 20:19–31

For many years I’ve enjoyed reading the witty and wise sayings of Mark Twain. One of my favorite quotes really resonates with me. Twain wrote,

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

Apparently some have claimed that Twain never actually said that, but it still rings true and reminds me of my youth. When I was in my early teens my father once said to me, “Someday you’ll have a son as smart as you are, and you’ll be as dumb as I am.”

I’ve found that one of the blessings of growing older is that many things I once thought vitally important when I was young have taken a back seat to those things that I have come to believe really are vital. I think this is true of almost everyone. Many of the things we thought would bring us joy and satisfaction didn’t, but things that may have seemed of little importance have taken a front-row status now.

The same things are often true concerning our evaluation of people. We think that we know them very well but over time we discover that our initial impressions were wholly inadequate. We see them in a whole different light as we discover hidden gifts and talents and of course we are also maturing together. I have found this to be true in my relationship with my wife. Next month Teresa and I celebrate 49 years together and fortunately neither of us are the same people that we were then.

This is certainly true with the disciples and their understanding of who Jesus really was, and why He came. But who He seemed to be initially was was nothing in comparison to His true identity as God incarnate, God in the flesh. In first meeting Jesus they saw Him as a mighty man of God, and most likely the Messiah that Israel had been waiting for since the time of Moses. Remember John 1:40–41,

One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).

Even at the very beginning of their relationship with Jesus there was just something about Him. It piqued their interest enough to follow Him but their view of who the Messiah would be was very, very shallow, and wholly inadequate.

I find that to be the case today for many who would call themselves Christians. Often, they are glad to hear that Jesus died for their sins and now they get to go to Heaven when they die. Usually when questioned they seem to feel that they’re actually pretty good and their sins wouldn’t disqualify them anyway. What many seem to lack is a true understanding of the seriousness of their sins in light of the holiness of the Lord of the universe who is nothing like us and is rightly praised in Revelation 4:11,

Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.

Today we will begin a three-part series on the early and later parts of the life of the disciples, particularly John. I want to briefly compare the Apostle John’s view of Jesus Christ when He was with His disciples before and after the resurrection in contrast with the glorified Lord that John encountered in Revelation 1:1–8. Today we will be focusing primarily on John 20:19–23 and briefly refer to the Revelation 1:1–8 passage. More on that next week.

Last week we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. We relived the story from Luke 24:1–12 of the first Easter morning when many of the women who followed Him went to the tomb to finish the burial ritual on Jesus’ body. This process was started by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus on Good Friday but couldn’t be completed because the Sabbath day was beginning. The women find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. They find two men in dazzling apparel, taken to be angels, who said to them,

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

Suddenly they did remember and ran back to tell the eleven disciples what they had found and what the angels told them. The disciples didn’t believe them; however Peter ran back to the open and empty tomb, and in verse twelve, “and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.”

So basically the disciples were in a dark place spiritually and emotionally. They were in hiding after Jesus was crucified out of fear for their own safety. I suspect that they wanted to be secluded so that they had time to think and come up with an exit strategy. They had been so confident that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, now everything they believed about Him was apparently false. But how could they explain the miraculous things that Jesus did, and what about when He taught the crowds, and it was like no other teaching they had ever heard? Everyone would always marvel and claim that Jesus taught as one who had authority. What about the people who were possessed by demons who fled at the command of Jesus? What about when they had been sent out by Jesus with the authority of His name and were able to heal the sick and even the demons submitted to them in Jesus’ name? Could they still do that now or would the demonic forces laugh at them?

So, I can imagine their thoughts were a jumbled mess. It seemed that basically this Jesus who was their Rabbi, their Master who claimed to be the Son of God was not who He claimed to be. It just didn’t add up and now they were in a real jam and felt lost and disillusioned.

Let’s look again at John 20:19–21,

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.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

Verse 19 could easily have read, “and later that same day” because this is the evening of the same day that it was discovered that Jesus’ body was not in the tomb.

Earlier in John 20:16–18, John writes that the only one who had seen and spoken with the resurrected Lord was Mary Magdalene. It is such a touching scene when Mary speaks to a man that she assumes is the gardener and asks him where the body of her Lord has been placed. Listen to John 20:15–16,

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

I love the tenderness and compassion that Jesus showed to Mary Magdalene in that moment. He sees her great pain and does something that only Jesus could do, He reveals Himself and in that moment everything was made right again and her joy returns. Jesus then sends her back with a message for the disciples in verses 17–18,

Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

I love John’s account here because it’s the first clue that because Jesus is the resurrected Lord everything has changed. Let me explain. In our reading this morning from John 20:19–31 we saw that Jesus invites Thomas to touch Him verifying that the holes in His hands and the wound in His side were a verification that He was indeed their Lord and Master. So why did Jesus instruct Mary to not cling to Him? I believe that Jesus wanted Mary to understand that He was not merely an earthly being recovered from an illness or a sound beating, but she needed to know that He was truly resurrected from the dead as he had foretold them and as the Scriptures foretold concerning the Messiah. This was the prelude to His ascension back to the Father, His Father, and their Father.

Jesus was making a distinction between His unique Sonship and the redemptive, adoptive sonship of the disciples. This is why He had come at the command of His Father, and they needed to understand that things were not only different but gloriously so. In the meantime Mary is given a commission to go and tell the disciples that He was alive, the very thing that He will instruct the disciples to do.

John doesn’t share with the reader the reaction of the disciples when Mary returned with the explosive news that Jesus was alive and shared with them His message. All we know is that they locked themselves in because they were afraid of the Jewish religious leaders arresting and punishing them because they had been Jesus’ disciples.

Even though the doors were locked Jesus appears in the room and says, “Peace be with you” which was a common greeting both then and now in that part of the world. This was another indication that something was very different. There is no indication that Jesus had ever before walked through walls. In his farewell discourse in the Upper Room on the night of His betrayal Jesus had said the same thing to them in John 14:27,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

This time Jesus was going to lead them into the kind of peace that went beyond the sentiment of a greeting but would be a part of who they were in Christ. Now the Prince of Peace is standing before them and the greeting “Peace be with you” should be seen and understood by the “It is finished” on the cross. Because now through his finished work there is peace with God for those who embrace him by faith. Once he said this he showed them his nail-scarred hands and the wound on his side and then suddenly they get it and are glad.

I must confess that for me something seems to be lost in the translation, “the disciples when they saw the Lord were glad.” The word for “glad” in Greek is “Chairo” and it can be translated rejoice; to be full of joy; or from the Message, they were awestruck. Think about their misery and hopelessness just moments before Jesus appeared. I guarantee that they were stunned, blown away, beside themselves with a mixture of joy and maybe a little apprehension.

When I picture the scene in that room, I am reminded of the time when my parents and I went on vacation. We left our little dog in a kennel for a week. It would be completely inadequate to describe the scene by saying that Brownie was glad to see us. She was over the top in excitement. She jumped around, crying for joy and just couldn’t stop showing her joy and affection. That’s how she was glad and I can only imagine the scene in the room that night when Jesus just showed up suddenly.

Jesus told them earlier that they would be glad when he returned in John 16:22, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Now for the second time Jesus says to them in verse 21, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

Essentially Jesus is doing the same thing that he did with Mary Magdalene, he is giving them his commission. He gives them his peace to let them know that he hasn’t come to chastise them for running away at his arrest but also they were going to need his peace to do the work that the Father was sending them to accomplish. Over forty times in the Gospels Jesus is said to have been sent by God and now this will become the characteristic of his disciples as well. Jesus had promised them that he would send them the Holy Spirit (14:16; 15:26; 16:7) and now he is also sending them out to continue the work that he had begun.

The Father had sent the Son, which meant that in the words, works and person of Jesus, men were confronted not just by a Jewish rabbi but by God himself. It would then be true that in the apostolic mission of the church, the world is not confronted by a mere human institution, but by Jesus the Son of God. In the same way that Jesus in his humanity was totally dependent on and obedient to the Father, the church would need to follow the same path as Jesus and therefore would need the same power and glory to accomplish all that he was sending them to do.

The Gospel of John clearly teaches the divinity of Jesus, but it is always in the context of Jesus obediently following the voice of his Father and only doing what he saw the Father doing. At the beginning of his ministry Jesus humbly submits to John the Baptist's baptism of repentance and the Father sends the Holy Spirit upon him and expresses his own delight in the Son. Jesus knew that if the community that he had established was to function in obedience to all that he would ask of them, they too would need the power and authority of the Holy Spirit. At the resurrection Jesus had been glorified so now the Spirit could be given. Now the life that Jesus had shared in union with the Father is shared with the disciples. Jesus suddenly appearing in the room where they were hiding was not merely him proving that he was alive but was a reunion with him and the disciples, who would now be united to him as well. Look at verses 22–23,

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Jesus imparting the Holy Spirit by breathing on the disciples was a major event in the Gospels, but the question arises about how to see this as it relates to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The breathing of the Spirit by Jesus is definitely a powerful event, but it does not fulfill the promises that he made earlier in the Gospel. Jesus had promised that the Spirit would be sent to the disciples after he returned to the Father and this would be the Helper, Counselor and the one who would bear witness of Jesus.

What John is describing is Jesus commissioning or ordaining the disciples for mission but not just for them but for the whole world. The actual beginning of the call on their lives will begin at Pentecost where the outpouring of the Holy Spirit changes the disciples completely and they are empowered to fulfill the calling to go into the whole world in the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. In the breathing of the Spirit upon the disciples Jesus is preparing them for ministry. We’ll talk about Thomas next week but for now remember that Thomas is not present when the Spirit is given, yet he is the one who confesses Jesus as Lord, which is a confession that is the work of the Spirit. This would suggest that the breathing out of the Spirit was not simply directed to those within the room but was the Holy Spirit being released into the world in a new way that begins to bring about new life where faith is found.

The disciples enter into a new phase in their life with God, but it is not yet the time when the Holy Spirit will be unleashed in power upon them in a way that transforms them into the witnesses that reflect the image and power of Christ to the world. This was to happen at Pentecost. In the meantime Jesus is commissioning them to be his witnesses.

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

The disciples were to bear witness to Jesus by being the presence of Christ through the Spirit. In this way they would be the prophets and teachers who confront the world about their rejection of God and his word, just as Jesus had done. As the disciples faithfully bore witness to the Lordship of Jesus both in word and through the examples of their lives and love for each other, the world would be forced to choose for or against Jesus, just as they were during his ministry.

Those who repent and believe in Jesus could be assured of forgiveness and those who refuse to surrender to the Lordship of Christ would be assured that their sins are not forgiven. This is the consequence of rejecting the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world. The ancient church understood this to be demonstrated through the teaching of baptism as the sacramental sign of forgiveness of sin and the exercise of church discipline on those who continued in their flagrant sins while refusing to repent and turn back to obedience to God in Christ.

Unfortunately most in the modern church have lost the will to show this kind of love for God’s word and for their members, and the consequence is that many within the institution of the church continue to live without regard for the word of God or the witness of their testimony. They consider themselves forgiven for their sins while continuing to mock God through disobedience to his word. The true act of God’s love is to confront those who feel such comfort and call them to faith lest they die in their sins. We’ll return to this idea next week but now let’s look forward 50 to 60 years to the Book of Revelation 1:1–8.

The Gospel of John was likely written around the same time period as the Book of Revelation. John’s Gospel was the last gospel to be written and it was written primarily to answer the many heresies being introduced to the early churches, especially concerning the divinity of Christ. From the beginning John proclaims Jesus as the living Word through whom all things were created. From the time the disciples first encountered Jesus to the time of His death, burial and resurrection they had grown in their understanding of who Jesus really was. However, by the time John wrote his gospel 40–50 years had gone by and his understanding of the reality of who Jesus was, is, and is to come had grown immeasurably.

The Book of Revelation is a continuation as to the divinity of Jesus Christ, now Lord and King of all creation. Let me close with a quote from our new study on the Book of Revelation beginning on Wednesday.

When Jesus died, many of his disciples and admirers believed that he had experienced his final defeat. Some even believed that all his teachings and miracles were for nothing. What his disciples didn’t understand until the third day was that Jesus’ death wasn’t the end of the story. In fact, his resurrection proved that his death was actually his victory. His resurrection allowed his disciples to understand Jesus’ ministry, suffering and death from a completely new perspective. And when John wrote the book of Revelation, his readers needed this new perspective too. The early church faced persecution from the powerful Roman Empire. And many Christians began to view this as a defeat. But John encouraged his readers to find both comfort and confidence in the victory that Jesus achieved at his resurrection. He wanted them to understand that even if their lives ended in martyrdom, that wouldn’t be the end of their story either. Eventually, Jesus would consummate his kingdom, and every believer that had ever lived would share in his victory.

Let’s pray.

©2022 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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