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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:The risen Christ breathes His Spirit on those He sends
Text:John 20:21-23 (View)
Topic:Christ's Kingship

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2010 Book of Praise

Bible Translation: NKJV

Hymn 31:1,2

Psalm 51:4

Hymn 56:1,2,3,4  Baptism Tobias Martin John Byl

Psalm 96:1,2,4

Hymn 23:5,6

Psalm 87:4,5

Read: John 20

Text:  John 20:21-23

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is not that hard for us to picture the situation.  Over the past few days the world of the disciples had been turned on its head with the betrayal, arrest and crucifixion of the Lord Jesus.  During those terrible times, the disciples had abandoned their Lord and scattered.  Now they had come back together and were in a house, perhaps in the same room where they had celebrated the Last Supper a few days earlier.  They had a lot to talk about and a lot to think through.  Peter and John had seen the empty tomb.  Mary Magdalene had excitedly told them all that  she had both seen and spoken to Jesus.  Simon Peter had also reported that he saw Jesus, and recently two men from Emmaus had excitedly told them that Jesus had walked and talked with them.  The disciples and all those in the room with them must have been wondering:  what was going on?  Feelings of wonder, amazement, excitement and fear were coursing through their veins.  They could not fully understand it. They could not fully grasp what had happened that past Friday, nor could they fully understand what they were hearing this Sunday.  And now they had all come together. 

But they were afraid and they locked themselves away from the outside world.

But then suddenly, in spite of a locked door, Jesus Himself appeared and stood among them.  And when He came, He did not chide them for running away from the Garden of Gethsemane.  He did not point to the locked doors in disappointment, nor did He say anything about the fact that the disciples were fearfully hiding from the world.  But what He said was this:

“Peace be with you.”


“As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

And then He breathed on them, and said to them,

“Receive the Holy Spirit.”

And so it was that not only did the Lord Jesus come to show that He was truly risen from the dead, but He also explained to His disciples what they were to do about this, that they were to go out and to tell the world that Jesus is alive.  But the Lord also promised them something else.  As they went out, they would not go out alone, but He would give them the promised Holy Spirit.  It was in the power of the Holy Spirit that they were to go out and bring the good news that Christ has risen to the ends of the earth.  And so I preach to you the gospel concerning the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ under the following theme:

The Risen Christ breathes His Spirit on those He sends.

  1. The disciples commissioned.
  2. The disciples strengthened.


1. The disciples commissioned.

The disciples were a motley group of men.  They were diverse, somewhat mismatched, from different backgrounds and so hardly ready or able to be united together and go into the world to preach the gospel of their risen Lord.  One, Matthew, had been a tax collector, and had collaborated with the Roman making himself rich by taxing his fellow Jews.  Another, Simon, was a zealot who had done all he could to oppose the Romans and had supported those who killed them.  Then there were a number who were Galilean fishermen, seen by some as uncouth and uneducated.  And then there was Simon Peter, often a spokesman for the other disciples but who had, a few days before, denied his Lord three times.  And so the disciples were a motley group of people, hardly able to band together – let alone go out and tell the world about a Saviour who had died on a cross but who was now alive again.

And even more, on the first Sunday after the Lord Jesus had been crucified, the disciples were scared.  The doors were shut, they were locked and bolted for fear of the Jews.  But the disciples had come together because they had heard some rather strange news.  Not only had they been told that the body of the Lord Jesus was missing, but some were insisting that He was now risen!  And then, as they were talking about these things, suddenly Jesus was there, right among them!  How He did this, they did not know, for the door was locked and clearly no one had stood up to open it.  But He was no ghost: He showed them His hands and His side that it really and truly was Him, the same Jesus whose hands had been nailed to the cross and whose side had been pierced.

And standing among them, the Lord Jesus greeted them, and He said to them,

 “Peace be with you.”

“Peace be with you.”  In itself, the greeting of Peace was not unusual: this was the common greeting used amongst the Jews.  Whenever they met one another, the Jews would say “Shalom” or “Peace” and whenever they departed the word “Shalom” would be spoken once more.  But when the Lord Jesus said “Peace be with you” to the disciples that Sunday evening, this was more than a common greeting.  For the One who spoke these words to His frightened disciples was the One who had come to make peace.  It was for the sake of true peace that He allowed Himself to be crucified on the cross.  And so now, seeing His disciples together on the evening of Easter Sunday He said, “Look at my hands!  Look at My side!  I did what the Father had sent Me to do so that you might have peace.  Through My suffering, death and resurrection that which you have expressed in hope for so long has now been fulfilled.  On account of Me, you may have peace.  Peace with God and peace with one another.”

But this was a peace that Christ had obtained not just for His disciples.  This was a peace that now had to be proclaimed.  And so the Lord Jesus continued and He said to them,

“As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

“As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”  That is the message that Christ came to give to His disciples when He first met them on the evening of Easter Sunday.  And with these words we have the calling not just for the disciples but for the whole church.  This is what we must be busy with and this is what we must pray for.  The gospel, the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection, and the peace that is ours in Christ Jesus must be preached and proclaimed throughout the whole world.  Indeed the missionary command is so central to who we are and what we are called to do that it is mentioned in all four gospels as well as in the book of Acts.

  Matthew 28:18-20,

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

And Mark 16:15,16,

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.  He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

And Luke 24:46-49,

“Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  And you are witnesses of these things.  Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”

And Acts 1:8,

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

In all four of the gospel accounts as well as the book of Acts, therefore, the parting command of Christ to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth is emphasized.  This then is not a side issue for the New Testament Church, for us, but it must be an abiding command that changes who we are and what we do.  We are called, therefore, to be missionary people and our churches are called to be missionary churches.  The Scriptures teach us that the work of mission – whether that is in countries far away or here in own city – the work of mission is not a side issue for a few people to get excited about.  Rather the work of mission and the desire to have the gospel proclaimed to all people is an integral part of the church’s DNA, of who we are and what we are called to do.  The Scriptures teach us that we as churches are not simply called to be bastions of the truth, living as little islands in the wider community.  Rather, we are called to be a light to those wider communities, to be a salt to this earth, and to bear witness concerning the good news about the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The reason why the Father sent His Son into this world is that He might be lifted up, crucified for our transgressions.  And the Lord Jesus Christ did that, He died and He rose again so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  And so what the disciples were called to do, and what we as Christ’s church must still continue to do is to tell the world, both those in faraway countries as well as those living in our own city, living in the same street and working at the same job, to tell the world that salvation is only to be found in Jesus Christ who died for sin and who rose again so that in Him we might have life.

And so we are called to proclaim the work that the Lord Jesus Christ had accomplished through His death and resurrection.  And Christ sends His followers to do this in the same manner that the Father had sent Him.  The sending that He received from the Father, He now passed on to His disciples – who would now be called apostles, sent ones.  The apostles, then, were not expected to begin something new, but to carry on the work that the Father had given to the Son, bringing this work to the next stage now that peace between God and man had been restored.

And then, having sent His disciples to carry on the work the Father had given to Himself, Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  We will see this further in our second point.


2. The disciples strengthened.

The Lord Jesus had not yet finished with His disciples when He commissioned them to out and preach the gospel.  Verse 22,

And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus breathed on them, and by breathing on them it was as if He was saying, “What I have in Me, I give to you.  The Spirit of life who is in Me, I now give to you so that you might have life in Him and so that in His power you might go and do the things I command you to do.”  There is, then, a close connection between Christ breathing on His disciples and saying, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”  When Christ gave this missionary command, He declared that His followers were no longer mere disciples, but apostles, sent ones, commissioned to preach the good news of salvation. 

But the One who sends is also the One who equips.  When Jesus spoke these words, sending them out to preach the Gospel, He knew their hearts.  He knew their weaknesses.  He knew their limitations.  Jesus saw the locked door.  He could smell the fear in the room.  He knew that the last thing these disciples wanted to do right now was to stand on the roof top and shout for all the world to hear that Jesus Christ is Lord.  They could not do it!  However, this would not stop Jesus.  And so He said to the disciples, “I am sending you out in the same manner as the Father has sent Me out.”

And the manner in which the Father sent the Son was in the power of the Holy Spirit.  And now Christ says to the disciples, “As the Father has sent Me, so I also send You.”  Just as the Father sent the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit, so the Son now anoints the disciples with the power of the Holy Spirit.  The disciples were to share in Christ’s anointing because they shared in His sending.  And that is why the Lord Jesus breathed on them, effectively saying, “You are now my ambassadors, going forth in the strength of My power.”  The disciples may be hiding behind locked doors and be severely lacking in and of themselves to preach Christ in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.  But at the time that Christ would command them to leave that room and begin to preach, the Power which brought Jesus through His death and resurrection and brought Him to the right hand of the Father, that is the power of the Holy Spirit, would enable the disciples to preach as they were commissioned to do.

And so the significance of Christ breathing on the disciples and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit” was that at this time He declared that they were now commissioned to be His apostles to continue the work the Father had sent Him to do, and that they would do this work in the same Power that He had, through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit was not yet poured out on them in His fullness:  that would happen 50 days later on the day of Pentecost.  Before that would take place, Christ must first ascend into heaven and be seated at the right hand of God.  As the Lord Jesus had previously told His disciples, in John 16:7,

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth.  It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.”

But the significance of Christ’s breathing on the disciples and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit” was that in this way  Christ anointed the disciples to be His apostles and declared that the sending of the Holy Spirit would be to empower His church to proclaim the gospel of peace and so gather the nations into His Kingdom.

The promise of the Holy Spirit reminds us first that the work of mission, both at home and amongst the nations, is central to the church’s calling and second that this is done not in our own strength and power but through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And so we may go out with boldness and so we may call the world to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing they may have life in His Name.  The message that is preached and the message that we may bring to the world is a sure message.  It is a message of hope and a message of salvation to all who believe.  But the wrath of God remains on all those who refuse to believe in the glorious message of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And so the Lord Jesus went on in John 20:23 to say,

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

That means, as the gospel is preached, the Kingdom of Heaven is opened to all who believe that God has really forgiven all their sins for the sake of Christ’s merits, but the Kingdom of Heaven is closed to all unbelievers and hypocrites and the wrath of God and eternal condemnation rest on them as long as they do not repent.

And so the message of the gospel, the message that we are called to have preached here in church and the message we are called to bring to the whole world is an urgent message, an urgent call that must go out to all people here in our hometown, our country and to the ends of the earth. 

The work of mission is what Christ had directly in His sights when He revealed Himself to His disciples on Easter Sunday.  The Lord Jesus Christ revealed Himself so that the – and we – should not be afraid, remaining hidden and locked away from the world, fearful that the world might attack and destroy us.  But He gave us the Spirit of power so that we might go into the highways and byways of the world and proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord.  May we take courage from the Holy Spirit given to us and proclaim the good news of salvation until the complete number of God’s children, from every tribe, tongue and nation, is brought into the loving embrace of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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