“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 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.’” (vv. 21-23)

John 20:19-23 Saturday 21 May 2016

Psalm: Psalm1


If Christians think of Pentecost according to the account in Acts2 of the Holy Spirit falling with a great force on Jesus'followers so that they begin to speak in a multitude of tongues,then the 'Johannine Pentecost' in John 20 may seem somewhat subduedby comparison. Yet, the story is no less significant in reinforcingJohn's version of the good news or in highlighting the ongoing workof the Spirit through all who follow Christ.

There are several significant references in the passage to otherparts of the Gospel or to Old Testament parallels. Verses 21-23 arethe fulfillment of the prophecy of John the Baptizer in John1:33. Jesus is the promised one who will baptize with the HolySpirit. The opening verses of John's Gospel recall theaccount of creation in Genesis through the Word (cf Genesis 1:1-5), and now these verses in today'spassage recall that God breathed life into the first humans (Genesis 2:7). Thus, Jesus breathes on hisdisciples and they receive the Holy Spirit to empower their lifeand work in the world. The story also fulfills the promise that Jesus made in chapter 14 (the passage withwhich we started the week). In this encounter with the resurrectedChrist, the disciples receive the promised paracletos/Advocate -the Spirit of truth - to abide in them and unite them with theFather and the Son.

Jesus' words about forgiveness of sins may bring to mind John3:11-21, in which Jesus explains to Nicodemus that his purposeof coming into the world is to redeem it. Although verse 23 isoften interpreted to be about forgiveness of personal sins in thesense of moral infractions, the term 'sin' has a much broadermeaning here. Sin in this sense is the world's separation from God.The incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ are allfor the purpose of reconciling the whole creation to God. Sin inverse 23 may refer to continuing separation from God because of therefusal to believe in Christ's saving purposes or actions. Thereis, again, a connection to John3:17-21, which includes references to judgement for choosing tolive in the darkness of unbelief and evil. This does notnecessarily mean a future judgement, but indicates the outcome ofchoosing estrangement from God.

Through their witness to Christ's work of redemption andreconciliation, the disciples have a powerful message that canrelease people from the prison of unbelief and separation. Theretention of sin is the choice to remain in darkness and therejection of a life that abides in union with God. Forgiveness inthis context is more like releasing people so that they may haveGod's love abiding in them and experience the peace that Christgives to his disciples.

To Ponder

  • The presence of the Holy Spirit is described in various ways inthe New Testament. How helpful do you find the image of breath forthe Spirit?
  • What do you think it means for God's spirit to abide in humanbeings?
  • How do you thinkthe ideas of peace and forgiveness of sin arerelated?
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