John 20:22 (part 2)-23
Jesus Breathed On Them
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

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

The believers at this moment started sharing in Christ’s Resurrection power. This was merely a prelude of more power to come.

This passage shares striking similarities with Pentecost: coming of the same Holy Spirit, same sound, same recipients. Pentecost was an unparalleled day of empowering, but that does not negate the awesome reality of this day’s anointing. The disciples’ Resurrection Day anointing made it possible for them to be prepared to receive the Pentecost blessing.

Resurrection Day provided the disciples power to subdue themselves. Pentecost provided the power they needed to subdue the world. After Pentecost they were able to attack strongholds of Satan’s world.

When Jesus was ready to ascend, He told the disciples, “I am sending you what My Father promised. As for you, stay in the city until you are empowered from on high” (Luke 24:49). They were able to obey Jesus’ command to “stay,” because of this Resurrection Day anointing.

This is humbling. Our preparations are as dependent on God as our results are. Not only “revival” comes from God; the power to “tarry in prayer” does too.

In our preaching on revival, we are quick to remind people Pentecost was preceded by believers being in one accord in prayer for ten days. Are we maybe guilty of unintentionally advocating a works-ethic when we do this? It was the Holy Spirit who made it possible for believers to pray in one accord for ten days.

We know revival is preceded by much prayer. What prompts this praying? The Holy Spirit. We know revival is preceded by holiness preaching. What prompts preachers to do this? The Holy Spirit. Never boast of our accomplishments. We must seek God’s power for everything we do.

John 20:23 “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Grievous error has plagued the Church due to misinterpretation of this verse. One errant view is, since these words were spoken only to the eleven Apostles, the authority conveyed to them can be transmitted only by them to their designated successors. This has resulted in a priestly class, confessionals, penance, etc.

Jesus’ words were not limited to the eleven (or the ten; Thomas was absent). This was spoken for all Christ-followers. This awesome privilege containing huge responsibility was given to the whole Church.

We are sent into the world to deal with grave spiritual matters, everlasting destinies. We grapple with the root of mankind’s diseases. Our calling is to be doing something constructive about the world’s most serious problem.

Politicians can deal with taxes. Accountants work with finances. Judges handle legal matters. Christians are to delve into the ultimate human issue – sin.

God alone can forgive sin, but His forgiveness reaches only to those whom we touch with the Gospel. God has no bearers of forgiveness other than Christians. If we do not take His forgiveness to sinners, they will never receive it. If the Church fails in this God-given task, the people we neglect will suffer forever as a result.

Don’t be surprised our task is of staggering worldwide proportions. We are Ambassadors for Christ, whose assignment was to die for every person on the planet. Jesus came to deal with a whole wide world blasted and blighted by sin.

The angel told Joseph to name his son Jesus, meaning YHWH saves, because the child would “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). John the Beloved said Jesus “was revealed so that He might take away sins” (I John 3:5).

Jesus “has appeared one time, at the end of the ages, for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26). Jesus said, “I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthews 9:13).

His work against sin has become our work. We are sent to spell out terms of forgiveness: repentance and faith. This message always remains the same. Our task is to proclaim it to all, knowing it can produce two opposite effects. As the same heat softens wax and hardens clay, our message becomes to some “a scent of death leading to death; but to others, a scent of life leading to life” (2 Corinthians 2:16).

Our calling is to proclaim faithfully the message of salvation in Jesus alone. If sinners do not meet God’s terms, we must speak to them a word of doom, and tell them they are unforgiven. If a person truly repents, we can say he or she is forgiven.

We might hesitate here, wondering, “What about hypocrites?” Only sinners themselves know whether or not they have repented and trusted in Christ. Our declaration of forgiveness assumes certain apparent conditions to be true. If sinners lie to us about their repentance and faith, the problem is entirely inside them.

G. Campbell Morgan often applied this principle to specific cases. When people came to him to receive Jesus, Morgan asked, “Do you repent? Do you trust Jesus?” If they answered yes, he would say, “Therefore your sins which are many, are all forgiven in the Name of the Redeemer.” If a person refused to repent, Morgan would say, “Your sins are not forgiven, they are retained, they remain with you.”

Morgan’s methodology reminds us we are to carry not only a message of forgiveness, but also a spirit and atmosphere of forgiveness. Sinners must sense in us what has already been decided in Heaven. How does a sinner “sense” God’s forgiveness? In their own spirit, of course, but also through other believers.

Saul of Tarsus met God on Damascus Road, but was devastated for three days and three nights. He began to heal only when Ananias came with a word of blessing (Acts 9:9-18). Paul told the Corinthians to comfort the repentant sinner, “otherwise, this one may be overwhelmed by excessive grief” (2 Corinthians 2:7).

It is a privilege to be able to take the message of forgiveness to the lost and dying, to people bound by sin, which begets despair and fatalism. Sinners can become so bogged down in the quagmire of sin that they fear they can never be rid of its condemnation.

Guilt is universal. It clings to people and poisons them. It drags them down unless a nail-scarred hand lifts it from their heart. We Christians have the privilege to tell sinners how the load of their sin can be removed and washed away.

We literally hold in our hands the keys to God’s Kingdom. We possess the knowledge that unlocks the gate leading to Heaven. Like a pharmacist, what we do with what is on our shelf, can determine whether a person will die or be healed.

When the Earl of Essex was in good standing with Queen Elizabeth, she gave him a ring and told him if he were ever in trouble, all he had to do was send her the ring as a sign of his appeal, and she would come to his aid. Later he was arrested for rebellion and sentenced to die.

Elizabeth signed the death-warrant, but waited with tears for the return of the ring, which would be the sign of a request for clemency. The Earl entrusted the priceless ring to the Countess of Nottingham to deliver to Queen Elizabeth.

The Countess’ response perfectly illustrates the gravity of our task. She did not have the authority to condemn or forgive the Earl of Essex. That power belonged only to the Queen. However, the Earl’s forgiveness or condemnation could not be carried out until the Countess decided one way or the other. She chose to hide the ring. The Earl of Essex died.

I fear we believers repeat the Countess’ example too often. We are sent into the world, charged with an awesome responsibility. We hold in our hands the power of life and death, of forgiveness or condemnation, of Heaven and Hell. May God breathe into us the Holy Spirit, thereby empowering us to do what we are supposed to do.