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John 20:17-23

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Jesus Appears to His Disciples
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Silent Prayer

Jesus told Mary Magdalene to “Go and tell” the disciples about the resurrection.  When Jesus appeared to His disciples, He said in verse 21, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” We see right from the “get go,” right out of the shoot, right out of the tomb, so to speak, Jesus wasted no time in reminding His followers of what their life’s purpose was.  He had called them to be fishers of men and the death, burial and resurrection didn’t change that.  It literally made it possible.

In his book The Purpose-Driven Church, Rick Warren reports on a survey that found 89% of church members believe the church’s purpose is to “take care of my needs and those of my family.” Only 11% said, “The purpose of the church is to win the world for Jesus Christ.” (Page 82).

According to George Barna, in his book called, “Evangelism That Works,” most churches have only a small group of people who have a passion for evangelism. Barna asks 3 probing questions to churches like ours:
1. “Do people “own” evangelism as the heartbeat of the ministry?”
2. “Is evangelism deemed the highest priority of the church?”
3. “Have the people caught a vision for reaching nonbelievers that gives the church definition, energy and direction?”

He concludes by saying, “If not, the organization is not truly a church but is simply a group of people intrigued by religion.” (Page 129).

Family of God, let’s be honest about something.  Evangelism isn’t easy.  For a lot of us it is a scary proposition.  We have been commissioned to evangelize those who are not in Christ, yet often we shy away from friendships and involvement with non-believers.  Actions speak louder than words.  On a scale of one to ten how concerned are you about people who are lost?  On a scale of one to ten how do your actions show that you are concerned?  Do you sincerely believe that knowing Jesus is the best way to live and the only way to die?

In his book called, “Building a Contagious Church,” Mark Mittelberg points out that the evangelism value in every church tends to head south over time. He calls it the “second law of spiritual dynamics,” in which Christians, if left to themselves, move toward self-centeredness. If we’re serious about telling others the gospel, then we must fight this gravitational pull inward. In order to make sure that we don’t lose sight of the mission, we must purposely build into our DNA as Christians a lifestyle of evangelism.

In today’s text in John 20, we see the disciples were gathered together and were huddled in fear.  They had already heard Mary Magdalene’s report about Jesus being raised from the dead.  Even though they were excited to hear the news, they were still afraid.  They huddled behind closed, locked doors because there were rumors that the Jewish leaders wanted to start dealing with those who had followed Jesus next.

A Peace Message

Verse 19 tells us that Jesus appeared in their room all of the sudden.  His opening line was filled with words of peace.  Put yourself in the disciples’ sandals.  J  Don’t you think His words caught them off guard?  Not harsh words.  Not words of rebuke.  Not a demand for an explanation of “How could you have deserted me in my deepest hour of need?”  There was no scolding or shaming them.  Do you know what a relief that had to have been to them?

Some of you here this morning may have made a lot of messes in your lifetime.  You may be sitting in the middle of a mess this morning.  You may be afraid that Jesus has harsh and angry words for you.  Be assured this morning, He sees more than the mess you have made.  He sees one the Father loves and He is desperate for you to be relieved just as the disciples were that day.

I love the way Tenth Avenue North, the Christian musical group has put it in their song called “You are More.”

There’s a girl in the corner
With tear stains on her eyes
From the places she’s wandered
And the shame she can’t hide

She says, “How did I get here?
I’m not who I once was.
And I’m crippled by the fear
That I’ve fallen too far to love”

But don’t you know who you are,
What’s been done for you?
Yeah don’t you know who you are?

You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.

Jesus died to remake you and He rose to make sure you could be remade, so you could be at peace with your life no matter what your past looks like.  Maybe you’ve heard the expression that someone needs to make peace with their past.  Only Jesus can give you peace.  Just shortly before Jesus was arrested, He gave a similar message to His followers.  We read in John 16:33, “I told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Jesus wanted the disciples to know right away that their lack of faithfulness to Him didn’t change His promise of peace to them. He had offered peace and His offer still stood, even though they had failed Him.  Do you see amazing grace on display here?  You could define the word “peace” to mean “putting together that which is broken.” Jesus’ followers, people who had walked with Him day after day after day and got to see miracle after miracle which should have left them without any desire to ever walk away from Him. They were broken.  They had more proof than anyone that Jesus was the Messiah, and they still messed it up.  How frail we all are!  How imperfect we all are!  How broken we all are!  And Jesus’ message remains, “I can put you back together again.  Accept my peace.”

There are at least three dimensions to this peace.  Let’s call it a 3-D peace.

Peace with God-Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. You don’t have to fear standing before God at the judgment.  You don’t have to fear what God might want from you.  Once you are right with Him, you breathe big sighs of relief.

Peace in difficult times-John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

The disciples got a first-hand glimpse of peace in the midst of the storm.  When all hope seemed gone after the crucifixion, Christ came to give them His peace.

Peace with the past-Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  There is no secret stain in your past that can’t be cleansed by the blood of Christ.

Quit hiding in the corner.  Quit hiding behind the locked prison doors of sin.  Quit trying to lock Jesus out of your life.  Jesus wants to fix you, and He’s the only One who can.  Your spouse can’t fix you.  The right job can’t fix you.  Only Jesus can take the broken pieces of your life and make you whole.

A Personal Message
After Jesus spoke words of peace, He communicated another message.  This message, however, wasn’t just verbal.  It was physical.  Verse 20 tells us he showed them his hands and side.  The disciples had heard about Mary’s encounter with the Resurrected Jesus.  But Jesus wasn’t just going to stop at having His disciples learn about Him secondhand.  He came to them personally.

Jesus wants His followers to know Him in an up close and personal way.  He wants them to see what His love for them did to Him.  He wants to share Himself in a personal way with them.  In our humanness, we would try to hide our scars.  We’d try to hold our hands in a way so as to not call attention to anything that might make us look disfigured.

Jesus wasn’t trying to obtain sympathy or a pat on the back for what He endured.  He simply presented Himself to them in a way to remind them that though their relationship had taken some twists and turns and though they had deserted Him, He still wanted them to have full access to who He was and is.

When we sin and go through a restoration process, it’s not like God says to us, “Okay, well, that will cost you a few steps or a few years of spiritual growth.”  It’s not like a board game where you draw the “Go back twenty spaces card.”  Jesus will be just as intimate and personal with you as He was before the sin.

Notice what the second half of John 20:20 says.  After Jesus showed them His hands and side we read that the disciples were “overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”  When Jesus got up close and personal they responded with great joy.  When they experienced Jesus, the Risen Lord, personally there was a response from them that changed their whole attitude and outlook.  It made them ready to receive the next words Jesus spoke.

A Preparation Message
Notice in the John 20 passage that we read, Jesus delivered a message of peace twice.  The second message of peace was really a preparation for His commissioning of them to be His witnesses.  Look again at verse 21, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Not only did He want the disciples to know that their mistakes and past history wouldn’t be held against them and that He still wanted to be in a face to face intimate up close and personal relationship with them, but He also wanted them to know He believed in them.  He believed in them so much that He prepared them with a second message of peace in order to have their life’s purpose renewed.

It was like they were receiving a promotion.  Usually when you mess up you get written up, warned and possibly demoted, but Jesus was saying, “You followed me.  You deserted me, but now I am sending you.”  It was almost like they had to go through the failing and restoration process in order to be able to be authentic, credible witnesses to what the Resurrected Christ could do for someone.  Had they not failed, they wouldn’t have experienced the grace and peace that are at the heart of the Gospel.  Only in God’s economy can you mess up and get promoted!

I sometimes find that the most powerful witnesses for Jesus are the ones who thought they had messed up the most.  They are passionate about the message because they have experienced it in their own lives in a transforming way.

Jesus said He was sending the disciples and for our understanding this morning, He is sending us to take this message of peace to those who are still living in fear behind locked spiritual doors.

Paul explained our mission in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20.  He says, “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”

God is making His appeal through us.  If you are a Christian this morning, I ask you, who is God appealing to through your life?

Let me point out that Jesus sends us into the world in the same way the Father sent Him. (John 20:21) This has several implications.  How did the Father send Jesus?

a.  We must take the initiative. As Jesus went into the world so we are to go to others. We are not to just sit back and wait for others to come to us.  Post invites to church or your favorite Scripture on Facebook.  Call someone who is hurting and pray with them or let them know you are praying for them.  Wear a Christian T-Shirt.  Buy someone a Christian book or CD.  When people ask how you are doing, tell them you are “blessed and highly favored by God.”  Jesus stayed on the move.  He was always on the lookout for someone in trouble.  Satan is always on the prowl seeking who He can take down.  We must always be on the prowl for those we can pull up out of the mud and mire of sin.  Do something this week to take the initiative with people who need Jesus.

b. We must open our mouths. Jesus went about preaching and teaching everywhere He went.  We are to speak the truth like He did, in love with grace and full of truth.  How many faith conversations have you started recently?  Who are you currently “working on?”  Paul asked for prayer to be able to open his mouth in Ephesians 6:19-20.  He said, “19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”  In this the “year of prayer,” let us pray that God will help us open our mouths and be His witnesses.  What would it take for you to be able to say, “Could I share with you what Christ has done for me?”  Romans 10:14 “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”  We are the messengers, Christians.  It’s not hard to engage people in a spiritual conversation.  Spirituality is a hot topic.  Just asking someone “What does spirituality mean to you?” can start an amazing conversation.

c.  We must live the truth. Our lives have to prove that walking with Jesus is the best way.  If we go around grumbling and complaining or with a miserly, stingy attitude or go around passing judgment on people, we are sabotaging the mission God has called us to.  It would be like an Avon representative talking to someone about their product and saying, “It’s the best makeup you can buy.  I just don’t happen to wear it myself!”

d.  We must be prepared for rejection. Whenever I talk to someone about Jesus and what He has to offer, I am consciously aware that the message may be and often is rejected.  I get shot down more than I see results, but I can’t let that detour me or discourage me.

An Empowering Message
I’m sure many of you are sitting there are saying, “I just can’t do that.”  “I’m not outgoing.”  I’m not good with words.”  “I don’t have the confidence.”  It’s probably true.  You can’t, but hold on.  Look at John 20:22.  After Jesus commissioned them and explained their mission, He did something amazing.  “And with that He breathed on them and said, ‘receive the Holy Spirit.’”

Not only did Jesus entrust the message of proclaiming the gospel to the disciples and to us, but He has given us His Holy Spirit to enable us to do it.  When you share the message of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, you are not speaking it alone.  The Holy Spirit is with you.

Listen to what the Bible says the Holy Spirit will do.

He gives us the words to say. (Luke 12:11,12) God’s Spirit will give us words to speak.  We only need to be willing to open our mouths.

He convicts us, and our listeners of sin. (John 16:8) We don’t have to convince people that they are sinners in need of a Savior.  That’s the Holy Spirit’s job.

He converts a hard heart. (John 6:44) We don’t have to close the deal with anyone.  The Spirit will convert the sinner.

When the Holy Spirit is given room to work He will surprise us again and again by what He can do. We are not left alone! He has provided the help we need.

Wishing to encourage her young son’s progress on the piano, a mother took her boy to a Paderewski concert. After they were seated, the mother spotted a friend in the audience and walked down the aisle to greet her.

Seizing the opportunity to explore the wonders of the concert hall, the little boy rose and went through a door marked “NO ADMITTANCE.” When the house lights dimmed and the concert was about to begin, the mother returned to her seat and discovered that her son was missing. Suddenly, the curtains parted and spotlights focused on the impressive Steinway on stage. In horror, the mother saw her little boy sitting at the keyboard, innocently picking out “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

At that moment, the great piano master made his entrance, quickly moved to the piano, and whispered in the boy’s ear, “Don’t quit. Keep playing.” Then leaning over, Paderewski reached down with his left hand and began filling in a bass part. Soon his right arm reached around to the other side of the child and he added a running obbligato.

Together, the old master and the young novice transformed a frightening situation into a wonderfully creative experience. The audience was mesmerized.

That’s the way it is with the Holy Spirit. What we can accomplish on our own is hardly noteworthy. We try our best, but the results aren’t exactly graceful flowing music. But with the hand of the Master, our life’s work truly can be beautiful.

Friend, if you’ve been granted peace with God, and have experienced Jesus personally through salvation, then you have been prepared to be empowered to God and be His witnesses.  The post-resurrection message of Jesus is this:  “Get busy!”  “Start talking!”  “Go and tell” everyone you know that Jesus is alive and He has made a difference in your life both now and in eternity.  People are desperate for the beautiful music of salvation.

God is whispering to you today, “Don’t quit. Keep playing.” Feel His loving arms around you. Know that His strong hands are playing the concert of your life.

“Well, I just don’t know if I know anyone well enough to talk to them about Jesus.” If a house is on fire and someone is trapped on the 3rd floor and about to be burned to death and you are on the ground with a ladder laying there, would you say in your mind, “I really don’t have enough of a relationship with that person to help them?” Of course not! People are dying and headed for Hell, and we have the “Gospel ladder” to extend to them. We are being selfish if we don’t offer it, regardless of how well we know them.

Today’s message is for believers and non-believers.  If you aren’t yet trusting Christ for your salvation and you need peace with God and peace that will prepare you to accomplish your life’s mission and purpose, you can leave here today overjoyed, just like the disciples who encountered Him.  You can’t see Him, but Jesus is here.  He lives in the hearts of hundreds of people in this room and our lives have never been the same since we prayed a very simple prayer asking Christ to forgive us our sins, make us new and be the Lord of our lives.

If you are a believer, but you’ve been muzzled about your faith, hear the challenge.  We aren’t called to be silent witnesses.  Oh, there are times when our actions will speak louder than our words.  There are times when our good deeds will be seen by men and they will glorify our Father who is in heaven, but a witness’s primary means of communication is his or her verbal testimony.  It’s time to start talking Church of God!  It’s time to start talking, Christian!  It’s time to share the joy you know with those who need it!  This IS the post-resurrection message.

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