By Ryan Shaw
So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 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 retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:21-23
John’s resurrection and commission passage were taken as an eye-witness of the events. Known as the “beloved disciple,” John experienced a very close and intimate relationship with Jesus, different then the other disciples.
John’s gospel predominantly reveals Jesus as the One in whom the very mission of God is manifest. He is the Word made Flesh, revealing the Father, fully equal in every way to the Father.
“As the Father Has sent Me, I also send you!” (vs. 21) Jesus manifests the Father to the world. Now, He invites us to follow His example, revealing our subsequent responsibility as those sent out by the Son to the world.
Jesus was sent by the Father to show the world what God the Father is like. Human nature is longing to “see” the Father – though they are not aware of it.
Much heartache in the world is caused by the same root problem – seeking fulfillment outside the only place it was intended, through experiencing the greatness, glory and love of the Father, expressed through Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, “He that has seen Me has seen the Father.” He was sent so that all humanity might see exactly what the Father is like. In like manner, believers are sent into the world to reveal the beauty, holiness and attractiveness of Jesus.
When the world comes into contact with believers there ought to be a realization that they have seen Christ. This brings with it a sense of shame as we acknowledge we are not yet what we are called to be.
“Receive The Holy Spirit” (vs. 22). Jesus next provides the empowering necessary to be faithful to our calling of revealing the Father and the Son. We become deeply aware that in and of ourselves we cannot accomplish this calling.
Jesus’ action of breathing upon them with the promise, “receive the Holy Spirit” revealed the Spirit could only come upon them in fullness through Him.
It also revealed the only way to fulfill the commission itself is to do so in the power of the Spirit. Jesus is reminding His disciples that His own means of revealing the Father was through the empowering of the Holy Spirit.
Though fully God, Jesus laid down His divine power to accomplish His work on earth. He relied completely upon the fullness of the Holy Spirit working through Him. The entire ministry of Jesus was one of fellowshipping with the Holy Spirit and responding with power and authority.
Jesus did this to provide an example to us as this is also the only way that we can be faithful to God. We are sent out as His ambassadors in the same ministry He possessed, having access to the same Spirit empowering Him every step of the way.
It is this empowering of the Holy Spirit alone which enables us to reveal Jesus to the world as He truly is. It is this same empowering that brings people to a choice which produces either a forgiveness of sins or a retaining of sins.
“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; and if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (vs. 23) The type of forgiveness Jesus is referring to is being set free from the bondage of sin in life.
These are free from the guilt, power and presence of sin corroding and corrupting their lives any longer. They are free from the eternal consequences of sin.
The opposite of forgiveness of sins is retaining of sins. Forgiveness is freedom from sins while retaining of sins means slavery to sin. A person whose sins are retained are still bound by sins’ power over them. They have no vision of God and no motive for life related to God’s love.
All people globally who have received a living witness of Christ, are in one of these camps – those whose sins have been forgiven or those whose sins have been retained.
Believers are commissioned by Jesus, empowered by the fullness of the Holy Spirit, to help humanity respond in the valley of decision. As people make a choice based upon hearing the word of God, believers using Jesus’ authority, forgive or retain sins, according to the choice the people make.
For the person who sincerely repents of their waywardness and trusts in Christ, their sins are forgiven, no matter the nature of them. Another person stands defiantly against Christ as the multitudes did, saying crucify Him. To that individual “their sins are retained.”
Our primary calling is to preach Christ crucified and resurrected, drawing people to consider His rightful Kingship and make a choice of how they will respond.