Saturday, March 21, 2015

Peace, Power, Presence

Scriptural Reading: John 20:19-23
Devotional Reading: Romans 14:13-19

In one of their teaching experiences the disciples had just witnessed Jesus perform a number of miracles and were on the road to Caesarea Philippi when He decided to test them. I personally never enjoyed unexpected pop quizzes. There was always the fear that I would fail the test. But how can you lose with the Master Teacher? The test consisted of only two questions as reported in Matt 16:13-20 and Mark 8:27-30. First, He inquired of the disciples as to who people thought He was. The various incorrect answers were John the Baptist, Elijah, and Jeremiah. Peter then received a divine revelation and responded correctly that He was the Christ, Son of the living God. Jesus then commanded the disciples to tell no one.

They were happy to have had their Rose among them all this time. Now it sounds to them as if Jesus is flipping the script. Immediately after their test in Matthew and Mark, Jesus began to prophecy his death and Resurrection. They had been willing to accept Christ as the Son of the living God because He was their Rose. However, God’s Plan of Salvation had much suffering for their LORD. He would be humiliated, brutalized, and killed. This thorn was too much for them to understand. The same disciple, Peter, who had the revelation as to His identity had to be rebuked as to the Plan. It was for this purpose that Jesus came to earth – to give His life for all men (sinners) and give them an opportunity to receive eternal life. Without the thorn, man would not have had the opportunity for it is written at John 3:16-17, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (NKJV) It was not up to the disciples to say yea or nay to the Plan. It was going to occur just as prophesied by Isaiah in chapter 53. They simply needed to understand that it would be to their best advantage and would bring great joy.

This quarter of study is entitled “The Spirit Comes.” We are in Unit I – “The Pledge of God’s Presence” of the three units of the quarter. This is the fourth of a five-lesson study focusing on the promise of the Holy Spirit. In our lesson today we review the fulfillment of the Death and Resurrection prophecy of Jesus, His first appearance to His frightened disciples, and His empowerment for their ministry.

On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found the stone had been rolled away. John 20:1-10 is the first step toward proof of the LORD’s Resurrection. She immediately ran to Peter and the disciple Jesus loved (John) and told them the body had been removed. The three ran back to the tomb. John outran Peter, looked inside, saw that it was empty except for the linen cloths, but did not go inside. Peter arrived, went inside the tomb, and observed the linen cloths. Then John went inside the tomb and observed. Both disciples left. However the Scripture records that John believed but did not understand.

Meanwhile Mary Magdalene stood outside the tomb in tears continuing to seek the body of Jesus. She spoke to two angels and who she assumed to be a gardener. But she was not satisfied until she knew what had happened to the LORD. Once He spoke to her Himself in His Resurrected state, she believed. He then gave her a message to report back to the disciples. The LORD referred to the disciples as His brethren, not as the deserters. She would tell them she had seen the LORD. When she had been seeking after a dead body, she found a living and glorified body. Mary Magdalene is known to some as the apostle to the apostles. They were to know that His Father was their Father, and His God was their God. (John 20:11-18) Now they were “sons” and “heirs of Gods”. God is the Father of the LORD Jesus from all eternity. Christ is the Son by eternal generation. We are sons of God by adoption. It is a relationship that begins when we are saved by the blood of Jesus through God’s Plan of Salvation and it will never end. As sons of God, we are not equal with God and never will be.

Our lesson this week begins “on the same day” that Mary Magdalene discovered the Resurrected Lord and returned to tell the disciples (vs. 18). Apostle John reports at John 20:19-20, “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, Jesus came and stood in the midst, 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.” (NKJV) While He was yet alive Jesus taught that He would suffer many things, but on the third day He would rise. (Matt 27:62-64; Mark 8:30-32) This was the third day. It is the day after the Jewish Sabbath and the day God designed to place honor for His Plan of Salvation.

The disciples were assembled behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. If authorities had arrested and executed their leader, then surely that could also be their fate. They did not understand any of the promises of comfort and peace that Jesus had given them three days before. Although they had information of the risen LORD, it was not their own eyewitness testimony. Perhaps their meeting was necessary to compare notes, to go over what Jesus had told them, to make future decisions as to whether to remain together or scatter, to strengthen each other and see if they had enough evidence of the Master Teacher’s Resurrection. After all, they would be the ones who would teach His gospel.

While they were assembled Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst. This was a miracle. The locked doors could not stop Him. He has the power to stand before the disciples in His glorified Resurrected body of flesh and bones in a manner for them to see Him. His appearance fulfilled the promise of His being present with them again bodily as stated in John 16:16, “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.” (NKJV) The first words Jesus spoke to the disciples were not only familiar to them, but comforting. When they were full of doubt and fear Jesus simply said “Peace be with you.” He calmed the sea when He said “Peace be still.” (Mark 4:38-40 NKJV) Now He shows His disciples He is present and they are to be at peace in Christ. Their faith was renewed. It also did their faith good when Jesus showed them the marks of the crucifixion. They were overjoyed and ready to receive the instruction and promise of power.

Jesus now gave the disciples the honorable and ample commission to be His agents in planting the Church. Apostle John records at John 20:21-23, “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ 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 retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” (NKJV) In the peace of Christ, Jesus now sends His disciples into the world just as the Father sent Him into the world. They will be His agents and continue His ministry of preaching and teaching. Jesus had always instructed them to shake off the very dust from their feet as soon as they leave the home/cities of persons who would not receive the Word. (See Matt 10:14; Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5) They were not to internalize that sin but to continue to minister.

Just as Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit, they had to be empowered by the Holy Spirit even more so. So Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” I found some difficulty in understanding John 20:22 because the Holy Spirit was not given until the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Luke reported at Acts 2:1-4, “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (NKJV) My understanding of what appears to be a contradiction in the verses (John 20:22 and Acts 2:1-4) is that Jesus empowered the disciples by breathing the Holy Spirit on them and shared with them a part of His Resurrection. They received more of the Holy Spirit than they had before. This spiritual blessing was given gradually. They were being sent out to minister but needed to know they would have an Advocate. However, Jesus had earlier promised to ask His Father to send another Comforter to both guide and empower them for ministry. (See John 14:15-18) God sent the Holy Spirit in response to the prayer of Jesus Christ. This event occurred on the Day of Pentecost. Both events of Holy Spirit empowerment are tied together. The disciples had to be empowered with the Holy Spirit to plant the Church.

I also had some difficulty understanding John 20:23. It appears to say that the disciples are given the power to forgive or not forgive sins. This is in contradiction with the Bible’s teaching that only God can forgive sins. I prefer to believe the verse is stating the disciples were given the right to declare sins forgiven. For example, the disciples are preaching the gospel. Some people repent and accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. The disciples are authorized to tell them their sins are forgiven. For those who refuse to repent, they are able to tell them they are still in sin and, if they die, they will perish eternally. There are two ways that disciples and ministers are able to declare sins forgiven or not with the blessing of God. 1. It must be based on sound Biblical doctrine. They must tell the world that salvation is based on sound Biblical doctrine. If not accepted, God will not approve. 2. Who you allow in communion with you by strict discipline, according to the gospel, God will allow in communion with Him. If you cast them out of your communion and you were within the gospel, they may expect the righteous judgment of God.

Written by Deborah C Davis

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