Communion and Commission – John 20:19-23

Communion and Commission

Nick Esch, 11/18/2018 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Introduction

For a little over three years I have given myself to doing four things here: preaching, praying, loving, and staying… I’ve devoted myself to preaching—seeking to preach Christ-centered expositions of God’s Word; I’ve given myself to praying desperately for faithfulness, fruitfulness, for each of you and your hearts for the Lord, and that we might be a healthy, multiplying, God glorifying church; I’ve sought to pour myself out in love for you all—a love that shows itself in sacrificial service; and I’ve committed myself to be here for the long haul—to stay here and to be truly all in, unless the Lord calls me away… The Puritans used to pick out a burial plot when they were called to a church; and that’s been my overall mindset here… I plan to pour out my life for the fame of Christ, and to pour out my heart in love right here, for as long as the Lord allows me… And as I’ve sought to do these four things thus far—preach, pray, love, and stay—my great goal over these years has been for you to truly see who Jesus is and to be amazed by Him—for you to truly know Him and love Him… And my hope has been that as your heart for Jesus grows that you would not only know Him, and love Him, but that you would truly live for Him and help others do the same…

You see, I believe that the most effective means of evangelism is true Christians with hearts full of gospel joy, because what we delight in we talk about… So the best way to reach the world is to have joy-filled Christians gathering together in healthy local churches and living faithfully out in the world for the glory of Christ… And I believe the best way to make disciples is in the covenant community of a church full of joyful Jesus loving Christians, who know that they are sinners saved by grace… We don’t need more events or programs; we just need more faithful Christians who are in love with Jesus. And so that’s what I want for us as a church. I want us to love Jesus more that we might live for Jesus more. I want us to be gripped by the gospel more that we might know Jesus more, love Jesus more, and live for Jesus more–sharing the gospel and making disciples.

Well, this same type of thing is what we see in our text today… In the Gospel of John, he has walked us through three years of Jesus’ life, seeking to show us who Jesus truly is, in hopes that we would be amazed by Him—that we know Him and love Him… And now, John shows us the risen Christ appearing to His disciples, calling them to not merely know Him and love Him, but to live for Him and to help others do the same—to evangelize and make disciples… You see, there comes a point when our hearts are so gripped by grace that we are called to go and share that grace with others… So, what we’ll see in our text today, Lord willing, is that we have been brought into a great communion with God, and we are now given a great commission by God… We are to go and tell—we are to advance the gospel—we are to go and make disciples… In our text we’ll see that through the gospel fear has been replaced with peace and joy; and that so, our hearts should rejoice in Christ, and as they do we will gladly live on mission for Him. So look with me at John 20:19-23.

John 20:19-23

Our text begins by giving us a bit of the context. In verse 19 we read, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week…” It’s still Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the very day the Lord Jesus rose from the dead in victory… Jesus lived and died to save His people, and now He has risen from the grave… Mary Magdalene, John, and Peter have all seen the empty tomb; and Mary has encountered both angels and the risen Lord Himself… Jesus has just commissioned Mary to go and tell the disciples that He is risen, and that through Him all of His people are brought into right relationship with God… They are now children of God in right communion with God… And she went and shared this amazing news, but now a few hours have gone by; and at this point it’s clear that either this good news hasn’t quite sunk in, or everything else has already caused them to lose sight of this good news.

In the next bit of verse 19 we’re told that on this Sunday evening the disciples were gathered together, and the doors were locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews… And this was legitimate fear; no doubt, they thought that since the Jews killed Jesus, their leader, they might come after them next… So, here they are so focused on fear that they’ve already lost sight of the good news about the person and work of Jesus—the gospel… They’ve got the doors locked up and secure, to where no one was getting in… Or so they thought… In the last part of verse 19 we’re told, “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” So, as they’re hiding out in this room, with every entranced closed up and locked—filled with fear and anxiety—suddenly Jesus appears among them… John doesn’t tell us how He got in, but it appears to be by miraculous means… Tradition would say that Jesus walked through the walls, and that may very well be… We don’t know… What we do know is that locked doors cannot keep out the risen Lord…

So Jesus appears among the disciples who are filled with fear… And the first thing He tells them is, “Peace be with you…” Now Jesus doesn’t mean this as a typical Jewish greeting; we know that because He repeats it a few times, and because the disciples are overrun with fear and in desperate need of peace… But also, because in the upper room, just before the cross, Jesus told His disciples, “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” (John 14:27)… What beautiful words… What an amazing promise… And if that weren’t enough, the very last words He spoke in the upper room, before He began to pray to the Father, was, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33)… Now, the idea behind peace, or shalom in Hebrew, is peace with God first and foremost, but also tranquility, safety, harmony, and reconciliation… The word was often used to refer to the peace that will come at the last day when God will fix all that is broken and there will be no more sin, death, or tears… And all of this comes true in Jesus… So peace is with them because Jesus is with them and for them… Their hearts need not be troubled if their hearts belong to Jesus…

Now, let’s think about this for a second. Here we see this contrast between fear and peace… The disciples have fear of man, fear of death, fear of the unknown; no doubt, though Mary has told them of the risen Lord and His gospel, many are struggling to believe it, and are wrapped up in the fear of abandonment and unbelief… So, Jesus brings peace, but they are running towards fear… Therefore, fear, the way we see it here, is going away from Jesus; it’s denying the gospel… Fear, anxiety, and worry often cause us to look anywhere and everywhere except to Jesus… And that’s kind of how the disciples are here… A pastor friend of mine was struggling with anxiety and worry recently, and his wife reminded him that worry is prayer to the wrong god… And isn’t that right? Because in our worry and anxiety we tend to look for solutions in and of ourselves, or in the world, instead of in Christ…

The disciples have decided to lock themselves away, to hide out from the world and avoid their problems… But Jesus, miraculously enters into their hideaway; by sovereign grace—not knocking or asking them to let Him in—He enters into their fear ridden world and brings peace… Jesus could’ve rebuked them for their fear here; He could’ve rebuked them for their fear that lead to them abandoning Him when He was arrested and crucified… But instead of rebuke Jesus gives grace… Instead of rebuke Jesus gives peace… And again, this peace is associated with reconciliation… Jesus has brought them peace with God and peace with one another—He’s reconciled them… He’s brought them the peace that is beyond all understanding that only comes in and through the gospel…

We can see this in the first part of verse 20, where we’re told, “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.” Here He’s showing them that He is indeed the risen Lord; He’s not a ghost, and He wasn’t resuscitated—He has risen from the grave in power and glory… And though He’s in His glorified body, He’s still recognizable as Jesus, and He still carries with Him the marks of the cross… He shows them His nail scared hands, which will wipe away every tear from their eyes… He shows them His side from which blood and water flood after He satisfied the wrath of God for His people… He shows them the marks of the chastisement that brings us peace—for it is by His wounds that we are healed…

Jesus gives the disciples a gospel wakeup call as He appears before them and displays resurrection proof to them… After this we’re told in the last half of verse 20, “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” That word glad means literally to rejoice… It’s an overwhelming and overflowing feeling of joy… So with this gospel reminder they go from being overwhelmed with fear to overwhelmed with joy… As they see Jesus, and begin to grasp the reality of the gospel, everything changes… Now they can see that they have truly been brought into communion with the triune God, and they are glad in the Lord…

The gospel, and the joy of the Lord that comes with it really does change everything… I mean, think of the things we read throughout the rest of the New Testament; they aren’t words ripe with fear, but filled with joy and confidence in the Lord. I think of Hebrews 13:5-6, where the author reminds us that God has said, “‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ (And he goes on) So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” Do you see? Because we are in communion with God; because Christ is in us and we are in Him; because God is with us, we need not fear… As Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31)? We can be content, we can be confident, we can be free from fear and filled with joy because we have peace with God—we have gospel peace in Christ… Every genuine disciple of Christ is a child of God; and therefore, as Romans 8:15 says, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”

The way to battle fear, worry, and anxiety, is with the gospel, because the way to be truly faithful to the Lord is with joy in the Lord… Joy comes from the gospel; and joy compels us to walk in obedience… This is the testimony of God’s Word, and it has been the ongoing testimony of God’s people throughout church history… For instance, George Müller, who lived from 1805-1898, was incredibly faithful and fruitful… He was a faithful evangelist, pastor, and rescuer of numerous orphans—starting and running orphanages and the like, and did many other amazing things for the glory of Christ… He once wrote, “According to my judgment the most important point to be attended to is this: above all things see to it that your souls are happy in the Lord. Other things may press upon you . . . . [But] Day by day seek to make this the most important business of your life. [For] the secret of all true effectual service is joy in God, [enjoying true] fellowship with God Himself.” And beloved, that’s what Jesus has accomplished in the gospel… By grace, through faith, in Christ, He has brought us into fellowship with God. And that communion—that peace should cause us to rejoice…

When we think about the good news of the gospel, it’s important that we recognize why it is such good news… Now we could say the gospel is good news because if we repent and believe our sins are forgiven, or, we now get heaven instead of hell, or, because we get eternal life; and on and on I could go… And those are all true… But think of it this way: if Rachel (my wife) and I get into an argument and get upset at one another, and we get to the point that we’re not even speaking to one another… I need to man up and repent and apologize… But why? What’s the goal of my apology? Do I simply want her to forgive me? Do I simply want to clear the air, and get rid of all of the tension in the room? Well, yes; but, what I want above all is to be reconciled to my wife… I don’t want there to be tension because I love my wife and I long to be in right relationship with her… I enjoy being in fellowship with my wife… And you see that’s what makes the gospel such good news; forgiveness is great, but fellowship is better… Heaven sounds amazing, but the most amazing part is that we will spend eternity in communion with God, enjoying Him forever… We will be with Jesus… We aren’t just forgiven, we are brought into the family of God, and given eternal life, and eternal joy in Christ… That’s good news! And that good news gives us peace now and forevermore, and from that peace comes joy… And that joy leads to faithfulness…

So now, after realigning the hearts of the disciples with the gospel, and filling them with joy, in verse 21 Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” What we see here is that joy leads to mission; that being in communion with God leads to being commissioned for God—that’s what faithfulness looks like here… Jesus again says, “Peace be with you…” And of course now, after grasping the reality of the resurrection and the gospel, they are indeed at peace—they were in communion with God and glad in the Lord… And Jesus says, “Therefore, in light of that, go…” He says He’s sending His disciples—not just the ones in front of Him, but every true disciple throughout the rest of time until He returns—just as the Father has sent Him… So this applies to every Christian in every nation and generation… Every Christian whose heart rejoices in Christ is called to go and tell… And that really shouldn’t be an issue…

Let me show you what I mean… A couple of weeks ago a pastor of a mega church in Dallas reached out to me, wanting me to come to lunch at his church with a group of pastors from the DFW area… I don’t have a lot in common with this guy, so I kind of blew him off… But then he reached out to me again… But I blew him off again… And then he reached out one more time, and this time he told me, “By the way, we’re having Babe’s Chicken cater the lunch…” To Which I said, “What time do I need to be there?” You see, I love Babe’s Chicken… This week Eli, Ron, and I went out to lunch… We were discussing good restaurants in the area, and then Eli and I started telling Ron about all kinds of different restaurants in the DFW area, since he just recently moved here from Georgia. Well, I asked Ron if he’s eaten at Babe’s Chicken yet… He hasn’t; so Eli I began to evangelize about Babe’s for a bit… We began to share the good news of Babe’s Chicken with Ron… And I don’t know about Eli, but no one has ever trained me on how to talk about Babe’s Chicken, and fear has never kept me from talking about Babe’s Chicken… It’s just good; and it brings joy to my soul, and that joy has just got to be shared… And you see, that’s how we should be with Christ…

Joy in Jesus should compel us to go and tell… But, even if it didn’t here Jesus commissions us to go and tell… He says He has sent us just as the Father has sent Him; but what does He mean? How has the Father sent Him? Well in John we’re told that Jesus was sent in love to save sinners, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). He was sent to do the work of God; to glorify God… He came to earth and entered into our mess to love sacrificially so that the lost would be saved; He came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many… He was sent to magnify the glory of God and to save people from every nation and generation… And through loving obedience and sacrificial service that’s exactly what He has done and is doing…

So what does it look like for us to be sent as Jesus was sent? Well, first and foremost that means that we are sent into the world, like Jesus, to live, love, and serve in a Christlike manner… The world in John, “is any part of human society that neither knows nor honors Christ” (John Stott). We are sent into this world, to those who need Jesus, in love: we are loved by God, and sent to tell others of the love of God in Christ Jesus… We are sent to love: we are to love God and love people so much that we go and tell and serve joyfully… We are to serve sacrificially: entering into the messiness of people’s lives, dying to our self daily and living for the good of others and the glory of God… All that is tied to being sent like Jesus… But Jesus gives us more to go off of here…

In verses 22 and 23 we’re told, “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.’” Here we see a foretaste of what’s to come at Pentecost in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit comes down and takes up residence in the life of the disciples… Here in John, Jesus is soon to ascend to the right hand of the Father, and when He does the Holy Spirit will then come down upon the church in a New Covenant way… So when Jesus gives the disciples the Holy Spirit here, they were genuinely receiving the Spirit; but not yet fully as they would at Pentecost… The Holy Spirit is active through the Bible, but He comes down in a New Covenant way at Pentecost… But we’re not meant to get hung up on that, but to see that to live as a Christian, especially on the mission that Jesus has given us, is impossible without the Holy Spirit… You see, we are sent like Jesus; we have a Christlike mission; but the trouble is we ourselves are not all that Christlike… That’s why we need the spirit of Christ within us, to convert us and conform us to the image of Christ; and to empower us to live out the mission that Christ has given us…

The giving of the Holy Spirit here is meant to further the idea of communion with God; the Spirit of God is taking up residence in the life of His people—assuring them, encouraging them, and empower them to be the church… Without the Spirit we cannot live the Christian life… Without the Spirit there would be no Christians… But Jesus gives His Church the Holy Spirit, and enables us to embrace our mission… And now, in verse 23, Jesus gives some clarity as to what the mission of the Church is… The indwelling of the Spirit, and the mission of the church are directly tied to the forgiveness of sins… The Spirit causes us to be born again, to repent and believe and thus be forgiven, and then to walk in newness of life on mission—a mission tied to others coming into forgiveness as well…

Now first, let me point out that this verse, in the Greek, is in the perfect tense… And what that means is that Jesus is not telling us that we have the power to grant or withhold forgiveness from heaven; rather, He’s saying we have the authority and responsibility to preach the gospel that leads to forgiveness, and the authority and responsibility of the ordinances that show that forgiveness… In the Greek the sentence reads, if you forgive the sins of any, it is because they have already been forgiven in heaven; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is because it has already been withheld in heaven… This is very similar to the language of Matthew 16 and Matthew 18 where we see the fundamentals of church membership and church discipline… We preach and share, call to response, love, minister, and serve, and seek to recognize what God has already done…

So, what Jesus is speaking of here is evangelism, discipleship, and essentially church membership… Evangelism is simply preaching or sharing the gospel with someone, with the aim to persuade them—by God’s grace—to repent and believe, to forsake their sin and follow Jesus… How we respond to the gospel shows whether or not our sins are forgiven… If we truly repent and believe our sins are forgiven, because Jesus took the punishment due us for our sins upon Himself, and now we are covered in His righteousness… If we reject the gospel we reject Jesus, and thus we are without the righteousness of Christ and still in our sins… And when we share this gospel with others how they respond determines the same thing… Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)… Our only hope is to cling to Christ… So if you haven’t done that, I urge you right now to repent and believe…

Jesus gives us—the Church—the authority and the mandate to proclaim the gospel… There are many good works we can do, and many we should do; and many of those things are things that the world does as well… But the one thing that separates us from everyone else, and the one thing we must do is preach the gospel… Christ commissions us to do this, and it’s the only hope of this world… For the gospel is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes… And when they believe they are to go public with their faith through baptism… We baptize people into the church, and in so doing proclaim to them and to the world that we believe that they are truly Christians, and that their sins are forgiven… At baptism we covenant together to help each other fight sin, pursue holiness, and live on Jesus’ mission for us… And then we live together as a covenant community in church membership, helping each other follow Christ, living in line with the mission He’s given us… And we renew that covenant, and get greater assurance of our forgiveness each time we take the Lord’s Supper together… At the communion table we remind each other that we are in communion with one another and in communion with God…We proclaim the gospel to one another and remember Jesus’ great work and how He’s brought us peace—peace with God and peace with one another…

So, what we see here is that fundamentally the mission of the church is a gospel mission… We are to go out into a lost and dying world and share the gospel with as many people as possible… We are to pour out our lives for the fame of Christ among all peoples… And then we are to gather those people together in local churches through baptisms and the Lord’s Supper, and disciple them… Dicipling is helping others stay faithful to Christ and grow in Christ; and this, like evangelism, is done with the gospel… We minister the gospel to one another, and seek to help each other grow in the joy of the Lord, that we might happily serve Him all the more… And again, none of this is possible on our own… We have no power to forgive, no power to convert, no power to sustain or keep; but the Spirit does… And the Spirit is in every true believer… The Spirit enables us to become Christians, and empowers us to live as Christians… The Spirit empowers us to live on mission and actually make disciples…

This passage is John’s version of the Great Commission that we find in Matthew 28:18-20. There Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He is with us because the Holy Spirit is in us… And the Spirit empowers us to be the gospel proclaiming, gospel advancing, gospel ministering, disciple making church we are called to be… Our mission field is the world, and the context for making disciples is the church… Together in covenant community, doing life, and seeking to pour out our lives for the fame of Christ among all peoples…

Conclusion

So, let’s put all of this together… We are not to be a fearful people, but because of the amazing news of the gospel we are to be at peace and full of joy… The gospel shows us that we are loved by the Triune God of the universe… In this text we see the whole Trinity loving us and working for our salvation… And what we see here is that we are not just saved from something, but for something… We have been given a mission: a mission to glorify God by making disciples of Christ… And this is for every Christian… The church and the mission of the church should be central to every Christian’s life…

Our sinful instinct is to do something similar to the disciples here, and gather together and lock ourselves away somewhere in fear… Now, we are called to gather together, but in faith not fear. When we gather together in fear we withdrawal from our responsibilities as Christians. But when we gather together in faith and we commune with one another and commune with the Triune God that then leads us to go and tell, and to live on mission…

Church, Jesus has graciously entered into our lives, and calls us to be at peace and filled with joy… And the peace and the joy that He gives us in the gospel are to compel us to advance the gospel… When we grasp the gospel our hearts are gripped by the gospel, and we can’t help but share this amazing news with as many people as possible… So may we be more at peace, may we love Jesus more, and may our hearts so rejoice in Christ that we would not keep silent… May we love Jesus enough that we give ourselves to the mission of the church… We have been brought into a great communion and given a great commission… So, may we love Jesus so much that we joyfully pour out our lives for His praise to the ends of the earth…