John 20:19-23 “So, I Send You”
I remember a scene from a very old Charlie Brown television cartoon special. Charlie Brown goes to visit Lucy at her “Psychiatrist’s Stand,” and pays her the going rate of one nickel for her advise. “All right, Charlie Brown, what seems to be your problem?” Lucy starts. She asks him about potential mental diseases he might have:
“Do you have claustrophobia?” “That is the fear of small places.” Lucy suggests.
“Maybe you have agoraphobia?” “That is the fear of markets.” Lucy continues. “Perhaps you have pantophobia? Do you think you have pantophobia, Charlie Brown?”
Charlie looks at Lucy and asks, “What is that?”
“That is the ‘fear of everything’!” Lucy responds.
“That’s IT!” Charlie Brown screams back at Lucy so that she falls off her chair.
So, let me ask you, what are YOU afraid of today? WE see that after the incredible news that Mary Magdalene brings back to the disciples, for which anyone in their right minds would be jumping for joy, “Jesus is ALIVE,” the disciples are instead behind the locked doors cowering in fear. How can this be? Can you imagine one moment screaming in delight that Jesus is alive—that the resurrection is for real—then the next moment going into hiding out of absolute fear of everything. Pantophobia.
I repeat myself when I say this, but the number one repeated command in the Bible is “DO NOT FEAR!” It is given 365 times in the Bible. That is of course, one command a day, everyday, for a full year. There is an exception for a leap year of course. Next year, for example, we can allow ourselves maybe one day to fear. Maybe that will be election day!
Jesus in his sermon on the mount first mentions this that we are not to worry. He mentioned the lilies of the field that are dressed so much better than any royalty because God cares for them. God cares for the birds. His Eye is On the Sparrow, as Chad sang for us! They do not worry. God cares for us, so we should not worry either. Have the disciples already forgotten the sermon? Yup.
Jesus appears to them. This is the resurrected Jesus that Mary saw in the garden. It is not clear, by the way, how he gets into the locked room where the disciples are hiding out. It just says that he came in. Some think that he is able to walk through walls. I do not know. It does not say that he walked through the closed door. It just says that he entered. We can just leave this as a mystery, please.
The first thing that Jesus says is a simple greeting for the time and culture. He says: “Shalom.” As you all surely know that this is the greeting still used today among Jews around the world. It is almost equivalent to simply saying “Hey there, y’all.” I love this—how casual it is. There is no great and majestic proclamation made with a godly voice. Jesus just comes in and says, “Hiya, guys.”
Just try to imagine Jesus coming into the church here on a Sunday morning and just saying “Aloha.” What else would Jesus say?
So, Jesus shows his hands where the nails went in and his side where he was pierced by the Roman guard. At this point, they believe that it really is Jesus before standing before them. They rejoice. It takes them a while, but they finally do get to the point of rejoicing about the resurrection. Then, Jesus says this thing again. But, this time the meaning is different. You see, “Shalom” also means to have peace, or literally to make peace as it is an active verb. The first time Jesus says “Shalom” is just a greeting. The second time he is telling his disciples to be at peace finally. He is telling them to finally and for all time let go of their fear.
I want us all to hear these words today. Yes, this is one of those things I expect you to take home with you from this sermon. Jesus calls you to have peace in your lives. No more fears. Whatever it is that is weighing on your hearts this day, let them go and have the peace that Christ is offering to you. He gives us that peace that surpasses all understanding.
An amazing thing happens now. Jesus commissions his disciples to go out in his name. He literally sends them. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you he says.” At this point the disciples are in fact graduated from being simple students of Jesus. Now they are sent out. The word for one who is sent is “Apostle.” So the disciples are now officially apostles of Jesus. This is different than we heard on Easter when Jesus sends Magdalene back to the disciples. That word to send is “angelo” or to be sent like a heavenly being on a mission from God. The Apostles are not quite angelic as Magda!
In life application, we too must listen for Jesus’ voice telling us that it is time no longer to be just a student of his and to begin our own ministries. This is a part of the Easter story. Jesus appears to us and commissions us to go out to further his ministry in the world. “So, I send you!” so, Christ sends us as apostles into the world.
Now, something super interesting happens. Our bibles say that Jesus breathed onto the apostles. I do not like that translation so much. It is not like he simply breathed on them. The word is to “puff into.” This is ενεφυσησεν in the Greek. It sounds like “infused,” does it not? Well, that is what it is! But, it means to blow into.
We do not do this anymore in the church, do we? That is to say, we do so many other things that Jesus did. We take communion, as we are doing in a little bit. We wash feet. We baptize. We lay on hands. We do it all, but we do not go around breathing on one another the Holy Spirit as Jesus did. Why not?
I think one of the reasons is that this is actually an idiom in the Greek. It can be translated as “breathing over” someone, but I think what Jesus was doing was that he was in fact “puffing up” his former disciples. He was puffing up their self-esteem. He was filling them with courage.
I think that we really do need to do this. We need to encourage one another. We need to puff up each other. No, we do not need to breathe germs onto one another, but we should be well versed in building up one another. Give someone a little puffing up today. Encourage in the Spirit.
Now, I know already that some of you will say, “I would like to help up my fellow Christian, but I do not want to puff them up anymore, considering their current ego!” Ha ha, this is true! Some of us really do not need any more ego boost!
Let me tell you this strange theory I have about this though: Have you ever puffed a balloon to the point that it pops? It is even great fun to watch this happen! I think that it happens with people’s egos too! Sometimes when we see someone who comes across as haughty or with an overly inflated ego or initial response is to try to take the air out of that person. Right? But, that is not our job as Christians. WE are supposed to puff up! If you take the air out, that just means that the person will continue to be over-inflated. Why not take it the other direction? Keep on puffing that other person’s ego up until it pops so that Jesus can pick up the pieces!
When we counsel people in twelve step programs against addiction, we always talk about the need for the person to hit rock bottom before climbing back up. We should think about this same theory for people with egos that are too big. Just keep puffing it up until the whole things pops! It is okay. This really works. I think it is a biblical principal at its best!
So, go ahead, encourage others! This is part of our calling. Build up others!
Jesus then commands the apostles to “receive the Holy Spirit.” The word in the Greek is “λαβε.” It means to take into you. Let that spirit flow into you and fill whatever empty void there is in you.
The last part of our scripture for today is a bit troubling for us as we have experienced how history has made these words of Christ to mean other than what Jesus must have meant for sure. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
The problem with this is that some have interpreted this to mean that only the apostles have the power to forgive sins. Ergo, only those who have been commissioned by the laying on of hands from the apostles today have this power. For sure, this is not what Jesus meant to convey.
Today many Christians will still believe that only a priest can forgive sins. And, more troubling, that a priest might be able to retain the sins. The fact of the matter is that Jesus died on the cross to relieve us of our sins. Through His grace we are already cleansed of our sins. That is what the crucifixion was all about.
The apostles, and all of us are supposed to offer this forgiveness on behalf of Christ to the world. We were not ever supposed to offer forgiveness in the form of paid-for absolutions, indulgences or the saying of priestly trientles. Nor were we ever supposed to say: “Your sins are not forgiven,” hence retained by human command.
All that Jesus could have meant is that we were supposed to go out into the world offering forgiveness. We are to go out offering the world the peace of Christ. We are to go out to encourage. We are to go out offering forgiveness. “So, He sends us.”