Having once again blessed them with a declaration of peace and telling them, “I also send you” he gives them the greatest gift of all, the Holy Spirit.
John 20:22 NASB And when He had said this, He breathed on them and *said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
The best thing I can do to explain or define what the power of the Holy Spirit can do in a person is to show you how it exuded from Peter. You are going to have to read it, for it is effectively the entire second chapter of Acts. The result of Peter’s oration, in direct response to the leading of the Holy Spirit, was that about three thousand souls got saved that day.
“He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
It so easy to do, create a formula for success. The chief priests and scribes had done just that, and added reams of laws that not even they could keep. Perhaps Jesus in his own way had tried to show that creativity is not inappropriate, for he made mud from spit and had the man wash in the pool of Siloam, knowing full well that he was breaking Jewish law by doing it. He went against the grain of society and cleanliness laws just by speaking with the woman with the issue of blood; this was wrong on so many levels. And he spit in another mans eyes to bring about a healing. Good lord, he even ate with sinners.
He breathed on them this evening and said, .. Receive the Holy Spirit.
Is there any doubt what happened to them?
But do we see the dramatic results that we see in the second chapter of Acts? No. Don’t get discouraged. Jesus never said a prayer that did not get answered. He was God of course, but dependent upon the instructions of the Father by choice.
What happens next is mind-boggling, and would be completely unrelated if he had not said, “..as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
John 20:23 NASB “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”
“If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them;”
Had they heard something comparable to this before?
Matthew recorded this: Matthew 16:19 NASB “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”
We see another example in: Matthew 18:18 NASB “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
Ask yourself, why did Jesus go to the cross?
This of course has a multifaceted answer, but one of the answers that stands out was to, like the scapegoat, take all the sins, once, for all time, of the world.
Jesus Christ took them already, that makes John MacArthur’s assertion much more valid.
“This does not give authority to Christians to forgive sins. Jesus was saying that the believer can boldly declare the certainty of a sinner’s forgiveness by the Father because of the work of His Son …”
There is more to this quote but I cannot agree with it.
But that is only half the sentence. It continues with: “..if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”
The book of Acts makes a statement that brings clarity to this.
Acts 13:38-39 NASB “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, (39) and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.
Forgiven and freed because Jesus put himself on the cross. As a stand alone statement this idea of retaining someone’s sin is muddy water indeed.
“Jesus gave them the privilege of telling new believers that their sins have been forgiven because they have accepted Jesus’ message” (Life Application Study Bible)
Robertson’s Word Pictures states, The power to forgive sin belongs only to God, but Jesus claimed to have this power and right (Mar_2:5-7).
Mark 2:5-7 NASB And Jesus seeing their faith *said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (6) But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, (7) “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?“
We can take one of two approaches to this.
Only God has the power to forgive and He did this already. That being said and/or established then we have to decide what Jesus was trying to say. We may need to also ask, what was John trying to tell us as he conveyed what he saw and heard that evening for it implies that we have authority to proclaim forgiveness over people. (Really, that seems ridiculous considering the bloody sacrifice Christ made of Himself to gain our freedom.)
If we are going to believe that God gave the power of forgiveness to us, then what is our responsibility and reasonable method of approaching this?
Obviously Jesus took all sin on the cross.
I know of no better way of making this next idea clear other than to tell what I can remember of an old ranchers philosophy. Cattle tend not to be very smart and run themselves into fences many times over to get feed and water. Instead of consistently damaging the cattle you put them in an environment that has a fresh water supply and they will stay within close proximity.
So if I equate us to cattle and Jesus the water (He is!), then, in theory, we would not wander far from the water supply, and in reality no one would have to worry about us. But that never happens, and we get bombarded with sermons on sin. It is something that we have to deal with constantly.
Perhaps the problem lies in how we approach the inconsistencies of life (things we call sin). If Jesus took away the penalty for sin His actions apply primarily to those who accept the fact that He did this. Those who choose to stay outside of belief will not be judged for the sin, that is gone (the penalty/bondage was taken by Jesus voluntary actions), but they will be judged for not accepting the one who took the sin upon himself.
I cannot refute God’s word, and it says we are all sinners still.
“… the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (8) If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. (9) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (10) If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” 1 John 1:7-10 NASB
Our sins may not be so overt, like murder, or manufacturing drugs, but may be what we think of as little indiscretions.
I will tell one that recently challenged me. I attend several groups. One of them was a book study. In there we would read, stop after a period and attempt to discuss what we read. Often, after a painful silence (I refrain from speaking at times because I feel like I talk all the time,) I will bring up something that touches me deeply. After I expressed myself, keeping this personal to me, I was attacked verbally by one of the guys. I am not just being overly sensitive about this as a friend of mine picked up on the attack and verbally went after this guy. (I sometimes have to choose to not retaliate, because I can easily swing over into a rage, and I am not really that skillful at impromptu apologetics.) I left that group over the negativity and the personal need to return to John Eldredge’s Wild At Heart.I deemed that man unsafe and judged him unfairly. As I sat in a recent recovery meeting, where this young man gave his testimony, God spoke to me and said, “you judged him unfairly.” and he reminded me of what I had said in my heart. If I am going to be honest, this is sin.
What is sin? Missing the mark! As a former archery competitor I can tell you that from 80 yards out the “mark” seems to be about an inch wide. The overall size of the entire target is about 3 foot wide. My goal is to hit the three-inch spot in the middle. It is very easy to miss the center, but you have to go out of your way to miss the 3 foot wide target. If I hit the target while trying to hit the center, at least I am trying.
My judgment of this young man, meant that I was not even trying. When God spoke to me about what I had done I knew immediately that I had to take care of this. Moments later I went to my small group meeting and when it was my turn to speak I told them about what God had said to me. A week later I was able to get access to this young man and addressed my bad attitude toward him. He thanked me for that. I believe that this is what we are supposed to do.
Eventually Peter would write: 1 Peter 2:24 NASB and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
Jesus knew that Peter described had happened, but did they?
If they could have recalled what Isaiah had prophesied perhaps then his statement, “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” would make more sense. (By reading, not only John’s gospel but Luke’s as well, I was able to understand that He had walked them through the scriptures that spoke of Him.)
Isaiah 53:4-6 NASB Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. (5) But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. (6) All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.
I opened with “It is so easy to do, create a formula for success”. Is there a formula that we could use here? Maybe. If I start with a relationship with Christ as a basis, then start making efforts to hit the target, preferably the bulls-eye. If you miss, then pay attention to the voice of the Lord and He will tell you how to correct it. You don’t have to focus on SIN; focus on the giver of life, focus on hearing His voice, focus on Jesus Christ – the one that took your sins, and gave you his life.
If you are mess then it is time for you to get honest and get yourself into Recovery. Look, this is not about alcoholism, it is about your inability to fix yourself, something that you have tried for years, with no success. At what point do you admit that you are powerless and need accountability partners and people who are willing to walk through recovery with you.
You have provided good food for thought. Please keep up the good work.
Senior Pastor/Equipping The Saints