John 20:21-22 (part 1)
Great Commission #4
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Jesus spoke the Great Commission, or Great Assignment, at least five times. A man once told me it was given only once, but was written down five times. No. Each command was unique, distinct. Jesus meant to get this message across.

Matthew (28:18-20) says, “make disciples of all nations.” Mark (16:15) commands, “preach the gospel to the whole Creation.” Luke (24:47) says, “repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” John (20:21) emphasizes “As the Father has sent Me (Jesus), I also send you.” Acts 1:8 gives the geographic mandate, Jerusalem (our city), Judea (our state), Samaria (our nation), and to the ends of the earth.

Jesus obviously verbalized the Great Assignment often. This lesson highlights John’s remembered version of the Great Commission.

John 20:21 (Holman) Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

Jesus, having already given the disciples one benediction of peace (v. 19), now bestowed on them another. The first endowment was for their own individual, personal wellbeing. This second gifting was a trust to be transmitted to others. The disciples were to be unselfish with the peace they received and enjoyed.

They were to carry God’s peace locally house to house (Luke 10:5), and globally to the world (Isaiah 52:7). Henceforth believers would be ambassadors sent by their King throughout the earth to sue for peace. This remains our mandate as Christ-followers, to plead with sinners to end their hostility against God.

We must tell unbelievers, due to what Jesus has done, their spiritual war can end. They are welcome to come home to the Heavenly Father in peace. In a world opposed to our holy God, we go forth to win converts of peace for the Prince of Peace, and to plant churches as peaceful Kingdom outposts and embassies.

Before the beginning, God the Father delegated to His Son a worldwide responsibility to promote peace. Jesus has called us to share this task with Him as partners. The whole lost planet has been placed on the shoulders of Jesus and us.

Jesus’ blood-bought purchase of redemption is done, but His assignment to save a lost, dying world remains in effect. Jesus did not say, “My Father sent Me.” Instead, He used the perfect tense, “has sent,” indicating his mission had not ended. It was not over. His work is now carried on by His Holy Spirit working in us.

At Calvary, Jesus substituted His body for our bodies. Now we are to substitute our bodies for His body. In Galilee He spoke through His own vocal cords. Now He speaks through ours. In Jerusalem, He walked on His own two feet, but now uses ours to run His errands. Jesus uses our hands to do His ministry.

The tragedy in this is, I know myself well. How can self-centered me become Jesus incarnate? It is impossible until we grasp the message in verse 22.

John 20:22 After saying this, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Knowing the disciples would fail alone, Jesus imparted to them what they would need to succeed, the Holy Spirit. Before this moment, our assigned mission was impossible to fulfill, but when Jesus breathed on us, He started a new world.

Jesus blew on His followers as an outward token of His inward gift to them, the Holy Spirit. The mission and power were His. He transmitted both to us.

Unless we let God breathe His Spirit into us, we have no chance of being Christ’s body in a significant way. But if we become lungs into which God exhales, the oxygen of Christ’s life can be carried to every corner of our being.

Jesus gave us the mightiest gift of empowerment sinners could ever know. Can anything be stronger than God giving us God? The word used here is the same term used to express God’s giving life to Adam. God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and Adam became a living being (Genesis 2:7).

The word “breathed” is also the same verb used at the valley of dry bones. God said, “Breath, come from the four winds and breathe into these slain so that they may live!” (Ezekiel 37:9). God’s in-breathing caused a collective physical resurrection, life from death. This is the kind of power Jesus has bestowed on us.

God’s in-breathing to convey physical life serves as a picture in nature to remind us He also gives spiritual life. Every breath a Christ-follower takes from Earth’s atmosphere should be matched by a corresponding breath taken from another world. The former is no more essential to our physical well-being than the latter is to our spiritual power.

When my son John was born, as he took his first gasp of air, our Christian doctor, James Seese, said, “Learn a lesson from this, Preacher. Your son’s breath was not inside himself. He took it from the atmosphere, from God’s air.” The same is true of us spiritually. Our every hope for physical and spiritual success is derived from God ongoingly breathing into us His air.

God breathes spiritual life into us. Nicodemus had to be born of the Spirit to be born again (JN 3:5). Without the Holy Spirit, sinners would perish in the shadow of the Cross. We are so depraved that Jesus’ blood is not enough to woo us. The Spirit has to make us want Jesus; when He in-breathes us, spiritual life becomes ours. This power that overcame our largest obstacle, our pre-conversion spiritual death, is offered to us by Jesus to accomplish His ongoing mission.

Every Christ-follower should want this mission-accomplishing, God-breathed power. We have the right to it because Jesus paid the price to bestow it on us. It is part of our birthright as believers. We ought to desire what is ours.

Hopefully we are weaklings tired of being weaklings. Surely we do not want to spend our lives as spiritual wimps. We desire for the rest of our days to be the best of our days, our most productive years, yielded totally to the Spirit.

Two years after I surrendered to preach at age 15, God called me to preach. I was in Pastor Loren Robinson’s study at First Baptist, Chaffee, Missouri, going over my sermon notes for the evening message in a youth revival. While praying, I heard the organist, my future wife’s cousin, playing, “Holy Spirit, Breathe On Me.” I sang it as a prayer: Breathe on me, breathe on me, Holy Spirit, breathe on me; Take Thou my heart, cleanse every part, Holy Spirit, breathe on me.

During this musical prayer, God called me to preach, and I surrendered. The call endured. I wish I could say the same about the surrender. If the spirit of contrition and yieldedness I displayed in the Pastor’s study that night had remained constant, my ministry would have had untold crownings of God’s blessings on it. “Lord, help me pray the prayer over and over again; make it persist each time. You made the call stick. Make the spirit of humble surrender stick.”

Two truths in our text are essential to our having God’s power. One, notice the word “receive.” It literally means “take.” Action must precede possession. Passivity won’t do. Receiving is as conscious an act of the will as giving is.

Jesus’ hand stretched out to give is thwarted unless our hand is stretched out to take. Automatic power would be quickly taken for granted. By having to receive, to take, to ask, we are constantly reminded where the power comes from.

We need God to make us conscious of our need to receive. Believers are strangers in a foreign land, citizens of a foreign world. We are out of our natural environment, like a land animal diving deep into water. Since we belong to Heaven’s land, and are forced to live outside our element, we had best, before we try anything, be wise “deep-sea divers.” Prior to diving, take “the breath” you need. We won’t go far in our mission without a heavenly tank of renewable air.

The first step in Spirit living is to take it. We consciously took Jesus at conversion. Seek to do the same with the Holy Spirit every moment of our life.

Two, spiritual success hinges on keeping our focus on the One who did the breathing. Keep your spiritual eyes on Jesus. He gives the Holy Spirit. The Son, as much God as the Father is, is the Author of this Gift. The Holy Spirit is sent from Him. Thus, when we come to take the power, come to Jesus to receive it.

The Spirit diverts attention away from Himself, turning us toward Jesus. This verse forever associates the Spirit with Jesus. The two are separate, yet One. They are distinct, but the Spirit is one with Jesus and an extension of Him.

After the words in our text were spoken, whenever believers sensed Holy Spirit power coming on them, they knew Jesus was nearby, breathing on them. I wonder if the people in this room later used the sound of breathing to encourage one another whenever they would become discouraged. Maybe, 50 days later, at Pentecost, when “Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from Heaven” (Acts 2:2), someone said as it began, “Listen, I think I hear Jesus.”

We do not know if this happened, but we do know when Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, he preached a whole sermon about Jesus. Amen! Keep everything focused on the Son who bled and died that we sinners might live.