Peace be with you (John 20.19-23)

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What a spine-tingling Sunday! The disciples’ first gathering together after the crucifixion. The doors were locked. Fear gripped their hearts with the very real possibility that they would follow Jesus to crucifixion. There must have been such an atmosphere of despondency and despair. The Master they loved and followed was now dead and buried. Had their faith been misplaced? What should they now do? Disaster had struck and there seemed to be no viable future.
It was Sunday, but I don’t think there was any praise or worship at that stage. And then it happened. Suddenly Jesus “stood among them”. Some times when I am preaching somewhere, I try to relive the disciples’ feelings. I picture Jesus suddenly standing next to me physically and saying, “Martin, may I listen in to your sermon?”. Or during the time of worship Jesus coming and standing next to the person leading: “Thank you for worshipping me. May I listen to your singing and prayer?”, he might say. My preaching and our worship might change quite radically!
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John notes how Jesus greeted the disciples with the traditional ‘Shalom’ (20.19, 21 and 26). In their fear they desperately needed that reassurance of God’s peace. Jesus’ use of ‘Shalom’ may have been traditional, but it was also deeply meaningful. The experience of Jesus’ resurrection brings peace to his followers. There is hope and true life despite even the worst circumstances. No wonder John says that “the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord”! As his disciples today we too need to experience the reality of the resurrection, so that we too may have his peace and be filled with his joy.
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Jesus’ gift of peace leads on to a new missionary commission. “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (20.21). God’s gifts are never meant just for our selfish enjoyment. “As . . . so”: Jesus sends us out into the world in just the same way as the Father sent him. We are bound therefore to ask: in what ways was Jesus sent to the world? One short blog is quite inadequate for such a huge question. But at least we can say that Jesus was sent in such a way that he identified closely with the Jewish culture and society of those days – and yet he remained entirely holy and perfect. What a model for us and our churches as we live and witness in the society and culture of our day! He was also sent as the Suffering Servant. We too are called to serve in humility whatever suffering and humiliation this may lead to. In Christian mission paternalistic pride and superiority are totally out of place. Jesus brought new life to the world through his suffering on the cross. We are to take the message of that salvation to our world whatever the cost. Jesus even says that we now have the authority of forgiving people’s sins and even to retain them if faith in Jesus is rejected (20.23).
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For such witness we very much need the Holy Spirit. So Jesus “breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'” (20.22). Without the Holy Spirit we shall run into extreme frustration and weakness. In Acts 1.8 too the key word “and” inseparably links the call to mission with the gift of the power of the Holy Spirit. If we receive the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit without moving into witness and mission “to the ends of the earth”, we shall be in danger of spiritual pride and stagnation. We must keep the gift of the Holy Spirit together with the calling to bring salvation and the forgiveness of sin to the world.
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