“Whose soever sins you remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins you retain, they are retained.” John 20:23
At first glance it seems as though what You are saying here, Lord, goes against what You have already said to us. It’s all over Your New Testament, but here’s what You say, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if you don’t forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14,15) So how do Your words here agree. Because the fact of the matter is that Your word will always be in agreement and if it is not, it is because I don’t understand it clearly or rightly. So, guide me to see clearly what You are saying.
Now, in John 20 we’ve been seeing Your resurrection and then Your commissioning of Your followers by giving them Your peace, Your shalom. You’re sending us out to be Your representatives. You’re sending us out prepared for success by equipping us with Your shalom. What You have, we have. You breathed on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Ghost…” And it wasn’t that they were fully prepared when You breathed on them, but it gave them the opportunity to start living by faith in that promise, to start believing and receiving Your word. Because the Holy Spirit was coming. The power to fulfill this commission was going to dwell in them soon. As long as they acted upon the truth of the words. As long as they were faithful and waited as Jesus would tell them. Because we can’t have peace, we can’t have shalom without the Holy Spirit.
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” (Acts 1:8) Why do we need power? Because all that You require of us is not humanly possible. You alone come where no one else can come. You reach inside of us where no one else can reach. You come to us in the middle of our fears. You don’t wait for us to straighten up, because we can’t on our own. You are the Straightener Upper. But You don’t just straighten us up. You change us altogether. And You’er close, so close, You are right in the middle of me!
You offer us peace, shalom. You accomplished our peace, shalom on the cross. By the nature of who You are and the power of the Holy Spirit, You bring it into our lives. We have shalom between us and You, between us and God, between us and others who are in Christ, between us and our own souls, and with the world. (Thanks to John Piper for that list) You gave us this and offered this to us in order for us to be able to accomplish Your purpose. See, this was Your purpose, to glorify God by making everything of Him and reconciling us to Him. Now, by Your power, You hand the baton over to Your children. As You were Light, we are to be Your representatives of light and continue what You started by making everything of God and reconciling others to Him. Only, we have no power to do that on our own. You had to give us Your power.
So here’s the power we have all wrapped up in the purpose to glorify You and bring others to You. “Whose soever sins you remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins you retain, they are retained.” We do it the same way You did it Jesus. We tell them and we show them the Gospel truth! Every time we share Your Word and Your truth in the power of the Holy Spirit, each hearer has an opportunity to receive You. If they receive the Word and receive You, then their sins are forgiven because they will receive Your shalom, Your peace, You. But if they reject our words of You, then they remain in their sin, and reject You and all that is enjoined with You.
Whoever receives Your Word as true, You as true, and receives You, “whoever has seen the Lord, has been in touch with Him, and has felt his heart filled with gladness, is the recipient of this great commission.” (Alexander Maclaren) It’s not spoken to only the apostles or only the clergy and pastoral staff. This is for me or you if we have received Him by faith. And the fact is, this never ends. God didn’t just send Jesus once. He sent Him for every moment. And that is how He is sending us and will continue to send us. This was a moment of great transition. Jesus was shifting things around. The work He was doing, He is now handing over to be done through His servants. ” What He does by another, He does by Himself. We Christian men and women do not understand our function in the world, unless we have realized this: ‘Now, then, we are ambassadors for Christ’ and His interests and His work are entrusted to our hands…‘as My Father hath sent Me, so send I you,’—then we are not only to carry on His work in the world, but if one might venture to say so, we are to reproduce His attitude towards God and the world. He was sent to be ‘the Light of the world’; and so are we. He was sent to ‘seek and to save that which was lost’; so are we. He was sent not to do His own will, but the will of the Father that sent Him; so are we. He took upon Himself with all cheerfulness the office to which He was appointed, and said, ‘My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me,—and to finish His work’; and that must be our voice too. He was sent to pity, to look upon the multitudes with compassion, to carry to them the healing of His touch, and the sympathy of His heart; so must we. We are the representatives of Jesus Christ, and if I might dare to use such a phrase, He is to be incarnated again in the hearts, and manifested again in the lives, of His servants.”(Alexander Maclaren)
So, that is the commission. And Jesus breathes into us life through the Holy Spirit, that we might have the power to fulfill His commission for us. To receive Christ is to recieve all the equipement of our new life, the life of the risen Lord. Alexander Maclaren continues to say, “the life is given to every believer in correspondence with the clearness and the contents of his faith…It is the power that will fit any of us for the work for which we are sent into the world. If we are here to represent Jesus Christ, and if it is true of us that ‘as He is, so are we, in this world,’ that likeness can only come about by our receiving into our spirits a kindred life which will effloresce and manifest itself to men in kindred beauty of foliage and of fruit…If we are to be Christ’s representatives, we must have Christ’s life in us. Here, too, is the only source of strength and life to us Christian people, when we look at the difficulties of our task and measure our own feebleness against the work that lies before us. I suppose no man has ever tried honestly to be what Christ wished him to be amidst his fellows, whether as preacher or teacher or guide in any fashion, who has not hundreds of times clasped his hands in all but despair, and said, ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ That is the temper into which the power will come…It is for lack of it that so much of so-called ‘Christian effort’ comes to nothing. The priests may pile the wood upon the altar, and compass it all day long with vain cries, and nothing happens. It is not till the fire comes down from heaven that sacrifice and altar and wood and water in the trench, are licked up and converted into fiery light. So, dear brethren, it is because the Christian Church as a whole, and we as individual members of it, so imperfectly realize the A B C of our faith, our absolute dependence on the inbreathed life of Jesus Christ, to fit us for any of our work, that so much of our work is ploughing the sands, and so often we labour for vanity and spend our strength for nought. ..even we, are not altogether passive in the reception of that gift.”
“Receive the Holy Ghost.” “Take hold of the Holy Ghost.” There has to be a giver to receive. But there has to be an outstretched hand ready to hold and grasp what is given. But this is an extra interesting gift. Some gifts we can receive without ever realizing our need. But not this one. This gift is one in which we can only receive it upon realizing our need for it. Alexander Maclaren again explains ” things in the spiritual realm that are given have to be asked for, because asking opens the heart for their entrance. True, that gift was given once for all, and continuously, but the appropriation and the continual possession of it largely depend upon ourselves. There must be desire before there can be possession. If a man does not take his pitcher to the fountain the pitcher remains empty, though the fountain never ceases to spring. There must be taking by patient waiting… Wait on the Lord, and the life will rise like a tide in the heart. There must be a taking by the faithful use of what we possess. ‘To him that hath shall be given.’ There must be a taking by careful avoidance of what would hinder. In the winter weather the water supply sometimes fails in a house. Why? Because there is a plug of ice in the service-pipe. Some of us have a plug of ice, and so the water has not come…”
So, we bring this all together again as John Piper and Alexander Maclaren have directed us in the power of the Holy Spirit. I think it’s interesting that John Piper is a contemporary of ours in today’s world, whereas Alexander Maclaren passed from this life in 1910. Yet the Holy Spirit has led both to the same conclusion in such a sweet way. Pastor Piper calls it peace, power, and purpose. Pastor Maclaren calls it peace, mission, and purpose. It’s just different words for the same truth.
So, we join in with God in proclaiming “the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world!” “[T]o him who receives it his sins melt away, and the preacher of forgiveness through Christ has the right to say to his brother, ‘Thy sins are forgiven because thou believest on Him.’ The rejecter or the neglecter binds his sin upon himself by his rejection or neglect. The same message is, as the Apostle puts it, ‘a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death.’…The message of the word will either couch a blind eye, and let in the light, or draw another film of obscuration over the visual orb….And so, Christian men and women have to feel that to them is entrusted a solemn message, that they walk in the world charged with a mighty power, that by the preaching of the Word, and by their own utterance of the forgiving mercy of the Lord Jesus, they may ‘remit’ or ‘retain’ not only the punishment of sin, but sin itself. How tender, how diligent, how reverent, how—not bowed down, but—erect under the weight of our obligations, we should be, if we realized that solemn thought!”
John Piper sums it up this way, ” Jesus says to the disciples: ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’…What he means is this: When you tell people about what I have done, speaking my word, about my work, in the power of my Spirit, I am the one speaking through you, so that if anyone believes your word, I forgive their sins. And if any does not believe your words, I don’t’ forgive them. And since you are my voice and my truth, I speak of you forgiving them, and you withholding forgiveness…Which simply means that right now: what you make of this message from this fallible, sinful, human messenger will decide whether you are forgiven or not. As an ambassador of Christ, I urge you be reconciled to God: receive as a free gift his peace, his power, his purpose. In the name of Jesus. Amen…”
And that is my same prayer. Only I also pray that we who are believers would be faithful in our commission. Lord, let me share Your Good News in the power and love of the Holy Spirit. Neither let me be withheld nor let me withhold it for any reason. I think of Your words in Luke 12:48 “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” You have given me the deposit, the indwelling of the power and love of Your Holy Spirit, of You. Your Spirit is limitless. So I’ve been given much. According to the measure of mercy and power I’ve been given, I’m expected to give of You. To the one in which much has been deposited, much is expected. What goes in, must come out. And my prayer, Lord, would be that You flow from me in the proportion that You are in me. So, in any and every area of my life where that is not happening, open my eyes to see, and my heart to weep, that I may correct that deficiency. May my life be a demonstration and witness of Your peace, power, and purpose.