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"Reaching and Receiving"

Apr.12, 2015 Jn.20:19-31


Keys are wonderful things. My father-in-law's house sold on Friday so we had to make sure we got all the keys over to the new owner. Keys make possible entry to a space you want to be in; they authorize you to go in, they're proof you've been empowered for that purpose.

Probably a lot of us have our own "keys" story - a time we were locked out, or forgot our key, or found creative ways to gain access to a place we were actually supposed to be able to get into. My most recent escapade along that line was last summer at (daughter) Allison & Philipp's apartment in Calgary - had to climb in through a ground-level back window for that one!

What's your favourite "key" story? Who 'rescued' you, or what antics did you have to resort to for a solution?

Keys can empower you to get in: or they can be very frustrating when you don't have them and they're locked out. Today we're considering a passage in which doors are locked. Jesus comes and authorizes the disciples to exercise a privilege in His name, to carry "the keys of the Kingdom". Where do we find ourselves as the church in the 21st century? Are we making full use of the "key" we've been given? Or - are we cooped up, limited by locked doors, cowering in fear?


Our passage begins the evening of Easter Sunday, the day Jesus has risen from the dead, but so far only a few individuals have actually seen Him - and those they told generally didn't believe them! Jn 20:19 "On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews..."

You can sort of picture the small group of disciples huddled together in a single room, somebody posted at each of the small windows for a lookout, still discouraged and mystified and terrified. Terrified lest the same fate that befell Jesus would soon find them. Just Thursday night, 3 nights earlier, they had all high-tailed it for their lives when Jesus was arrested in the garden. Peter was utterly ashamed of himself for lying 3 times in order to save his own skin, denying he knew his Master who was under trial. Would the Sandhedrin's bloodhounds soon be on their tail? Jesus had warned them in Jn 15:20, "Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." How soon would it start?

The church today can fall too easily into a persecution, fear-locked mindset. The recent Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) legislation about-face shows how powerful certain lobbies that oppose traditional understandings of morality can be. Certain lifestyles have "come out of the closet" - but bully tactics by corporations and governments may now risk forcing those with Biblical views of morality INTO the closet. In the media here in Ontario, two candidates for leadership of the Progressive Conservative party were recently ridiculed for showing support at a rally where demonstrators protested the provincial government's new sex-ed curriculum.

Such opposition is mild compared to what Christians in the Middle East are experiencing. In June 2014, Islamic State overran Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city. Christianity Today notes "about 500,000 people fled the city at the time...By the end of July, 2014, IS had destroyed, damaged, or occupied all 45 churches, schools, and other institutions..." On Good Friday, the Cardinal of New York and producers of AD:The Bible Continues, Roma Downey & Mark Burnett, wrote a piece on CNN stating: "In light of the tragic massacre of Christian college students in Kenya on Thursday, and the ongoing threat against Christians in other nations, this Holy Week we are calling upon Christians to also reflect upon the crucifixion, beheading, stoning, enforced slavery, sexual abuse, human trafficking, harassment, bombing and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Christians -- and others -- whose faith alone has made them a target of religious extremists." In response, over 80 well-known American Christian leaders pledged their support and that of their faith communities.

It would be easy to adopt a persecution-mindset; to retreat into our little Christian "ghetto" where we know everybody and feel safe and protected; to develop a sort of "fortress mentality", shaking in our boots, wary of ambush by hostile powers outside the church. The disciples that first Easter evening had the doors locked "for fear of the Jews"; what are we afraid of today? What's keeping us hushed up, flying under the radar lest we make a scene and be ridiculed, or worse?

But then, as they huddled there together, almost afraid to make a peep - something amazing happened. Vv19f "Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!' After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord."

They were ambushed, yes - despite their locked doors, this intruder seemed to appear out of thin air! In the original language Jesus "stepped into the midst of them". But it was a friendly intruder. One who ambushed them with peace, grace, and love. What a surprise!

This is no ghost - He can be touched, and eat a piece of fish (Lk 24:43). He has physicality, yet He can appear in the middle of a room when doors are locked, and 'cloak' or disguise His appearance so He's not recognized (Lk 24:16). He obviously participates in a life "beyond" our earthly realm, yet His wounds in hands, feet, and side clearly identify Him as the same Jesus of Nazareth who trudged the dusty roads of Palestine with His followers over the course of some three years. It's really HIM!

And so their joy "overflows". As He'd predicted back in Jn 16:22 "Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy." That same irrepressible joy can be ours today, even when we stand at the graveside of a loved one who trusted in Jesus. This earthly chapter may have come to a close, but an even better one awaits; and He who is the "firstborn from the dead" has given us a glimpse of that (Rev 1:5).

Three times in this passage, Jesus' greeting is, "Peace be with you!" This links with His declaration on the cross, His final words - "It is finished...Paid in full..." (Jn 19:30) His sacrifice has bought us redemption, forgiveness for our sins, reconciliation with God our Heavenly Father, restoration and spiritual 'wholeness'. Perhaps, given the disciples' huddled fearfulness, it's also a gentle jibe: had He not promised in Jn 14:27, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.I do not give to you as the world gives.Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid"?

But Jesus doesn't stop there. He turns the AMBUSHED into AMBASSADORS. Vv21-23 "Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that He breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.""

To those who would cower in a ghetto, Jesus says, "GO!" "I am sending you" - even as He Himself had been sent by the Father. Do we get this? Will we embrace our SENTness? Or is "church" just a safe place we retreat to once a week to reinforce our shared convictions and gripe about what a mess the world's in, how it's 'gone to hell in a handbasket'? That's not what Jesus wants - He's out to "break up the party" (in a manner of speaking) - after, of course, we've had time to re-connect, be fed in spirit, emboldened by His presence, and encouraged each other for the race.

Look closely at how He EQUIPS HIS AMBASSADORS. Three times (vv19,21,26) He emphasizes the "peace", salvation, connectedness, oneness or communion in love we share with the Father and each other. Jesus has "put things right" - He's won that peace or shalom for us!

Next He breathes on His flock saying, "Receive the Holy Spirit" - a foreshadowing of Pentecost, when the disciples were so filled with a sense of God's presence they couldn't help declaring His praises in all sorts of intelligible languages and ecstatic utterance. The Holy Spirit who apportions all kinds of gifts, that Chris (primarily) & I will be talking about at the retreat next weekend. The Holy Spirit who produces fruit in our lives - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control - delectable fruit that makes us the kind of people others want to be around, get to know, be like - because we're like HIM. We're ambassadors of the Spirit, representatives of God Himself, portrayers in little chunks of what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like.

And there's a distinctive AUTHORIZING that goes on in v23: "If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." This is absolutely striking - speaking on God's behalf?! Being able to actually pronounce forgiveness? It's the sort of thing that, when the Pharisees heard Jesus announce to someone their sins were forgiven, they responded in Mk 2:7 "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"

Commentators are quick to downplay the authority conferred here, lest power-hungry readers start rushing out into the streets and pronouncing forgiveness willy-nilly (as if there's much real danger of that!). For example, John MacArthur clarifies: "This verse does not give authority to Christians to forgive sins.Jesus was saying that the believer can boldly declare the certainty of a sinner's forgiveness by the Father because of the work of His Son, if that sinner has repented and believed the gospel.The believer, with certainty, can also tell those who do not respond to the message of God's forgiveness through faith in Christ that their sins, as a result, are not forgiven."

Certainly that framework of gospel-proclamation, and need to respond with repentance, is part of our pronouncement. But it seems Jesus is implying something even bolder here...namely, that those who receive the Holy Spirit will be able to discern with the Spirit's help who is ready to receive the Kingdom, and who's resisting. Sort of like Paul and the man lame from birth in Acts 14:9, "He listened to Paul as he was speaking.Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed..." Peter in Acts 5:3 sensed Satan had filled Ananias' heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and deceitfully keep some money back; or, another instance - Peter telling Simon Magus in Samaria in Acts 8:21-23, "You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord.Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin."

Jesus' aim is to empower His people as agents ready to use the "keys of the Kingdom". Mt 18:18 (speaking to the disciples in general) "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." He doesn't want us to just huddle each week for an hour then go incognito throughout society the rest of the week! He wants us to be outposts of God's grace and greatness wherever we find ourselves.

The "grace" part is easy - offering forgiveness won by Christ's blood shed on the cross. But don't overlook that second part, God's "greatness": God's ownership of Creation, His authority to make demands of us and set standards of behaviour, to call us to repent of our idols and rebellion. "If you do NOT forgive [someone their sins], they are NOT forgiven."

A pluralistic culture is not too likely to take offence to us prattling on about some 'holy spirit' - why, it's the "in thing" today to be 'spiritual'! They may even look at us bemusedly if we talk about charismatic behaviour like speaking in tongues or miracles of healing. That's fine for you if that's what turns you on, it's not bothering them whatever "craziness" we carry on within our church boxes. But don't you DARE try to define "sin" for anyone but yourself! What audacity for you to insist there are absolute standards! How arrogant of you to suggest Jesus' Lordship makes exclusive claims on the lives of anyone except those who already go to church!

Yet, deep down, people know some things are wrong, that poor choices often lead to pain and misery. Our role is not to be judge and jury - God is the final Judge and knows the whole story; our job is more to be like a doctor helping a patient diagnose their ailment. Biblical truth helps people recognize their sin, come to see their situation the way god sees it, so hopefully they are moved to confess and ask for and receive forgiveness and healing.

When Jesus shows up, His aim is to disperse our Holy Huddle out amongst the masses, with the 'keys of the Kingdom' in our hands, ready to do business for eternity. Dare we pick them up? It's so much safer back in our little box! But He knows how much broken hurting people need His grace. He yearns for the rebels and the self-sufficient to acknowledge their emptiness, vanity, and need for God to become the organizing principle in their life. Dare we speak up?


One disciple, Thomas, is missing when the others have their first group encounter with the Risen Lord. They tell him, v25,"We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.""

Sounds adamant, doesn't he? Don't be too hard on Thomas (often labelled 'Doubting Thomas') - Luke tells us that when the women reported what the angels at the tomb said to the other disciples, Lk 24:11 "they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense." Thomas was just like any of them, without their first-hand experience. In fact he had shown admirable bravery and devotion to Jesus months earlier when it had become apparent their Master was heading back into the dangers of Jerusalem: Jn 11:16 "Then Thomas...said to the rest of the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."" The guy's got guts! Give him some credit.

But he's not gullible, no pushover. His words are that of a hard-nosed skeptic, much like a modernist in today's society: "Prove it to me." "Seeing is believing." "I'm nobody's fool." At the heart of skepticism (that goes beyond honest questioning) are the seeds of an arrogant selfishness: "I reserve the right to determine truth on the basis of criteria I select."

Sometimes skepticism and intellectual arguments against Christianity can be 'fronts' for deeper issues...A person may not WANT to believe because they're afraid they would then have to give up their favourite immoral behaviour. The hurdle at the root can be selfish desire, not genuine honest doubt.

But for Thomas, and all those sincere doubters he represents, Jesus goes out of His way to make a special appearance. Vv26f "A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands.Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.""

Think carefully about the implications here. It's not just that Jesus is physically present and proves His risen reality. It's that His phrasing shows He actually KNEW of Thomas' objection even when Christ wasn't physically present. He is omniscient, all-knowing.

This combination is more than convincing for Thomas: it's overwhelming. He simply responds, "My Lord and my God!" (A title Jesus doesn't try to correct him on) Thomas moves from skepticism to submission, from doubt to devotion.

Submission is not a popular concept in today's culture. The "in" thing is self-expression, autonomy, self-authentication, total freedom to do whatever I want to do. To submit to Jesus as Lord runs counter to that: you're aligning yourself to His purposes, His goals, His commands. It's humbling, giving up your freedom to make your own choices. But then again He said in Mt 18:3 "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

Yes, it would have been nice to stand there with Thomas and see the Risen Lord with our own eyes. The rational, experimental, science-smitten part of us would like that. But Jesus and John seem to hint the evidence we have, that has been passed on to us, is enough. V29 "Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."" Jesus suggests there's a blessing to be experienced by believers who haven't had Thomas' privilege.

More specifically, John assures us there were many other miraculous signs Jesus did (v30), ones that didn't get recorded. But the ones that ARE written should be a sufficient basis for belief. V31 "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." Remember from last week - John believed just from seeing the way the graveclothes were left "still in the folds", body-less but undisturbed. He's suggesting the writings the first eyewitnesses left behind SHOULD be a sufficient basis for faith. Also it sounds as if he's implying believing will result in an experience of new life in Christ's name: life receiving the Holy Spirit, which will be additional confirmation of the truth of these things.

Moving from skepticism to submission, putting one's trust in Jesus as Lord, the Son of God, does bring an internal witness. Peter wrote of this in 1Peter 1:8 "Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy..." The written record coupled with that personal experience of love and joy bring the blessing of conviction, it's really true!


On March 30, 1981, then-President Ronald Reagan was giving a speech at the Washington Hilton. John Hinckley Jr. was waiting outside and fired six bullets at Mr.Reagan. Although none hit him directly, one ricocheted off the Physicians discovered the bullet stopped within three inches of the President's heart. The chief surgeon at the hospital later stated that if the President had waited only five more minutes before arriving, he would have died.

Twelve days later, Reagan returned to the White House and limited his schedule to only two morning meetings a day. During that span of time, he only received one outside visitor: Cardinal Cooke of New York who spent one hour with him on Good Friday. Michael Deaver would later write in his memoirs of the Reagan years that the President told the cardinal, "I have decided whatever time I have left is for Him."

That probably echoes Thomas' sentiments when he exclaimed, "My Lord and my God!" Thomas committed his life to serving the Risen Christ. What about you? Will you also determine that whatever time YOU have left is for Jesus? He wants to bring others His peace through your being His ambassador! Let's pray.