Receive the Holy Spirit
Sunday school lesson for the week of March 22, 2015
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson scripture: John 20:19-23
It is not difficult to envision the disciples in an upper room with the doors and windows locked and shut. Just a few days prior, their master had been horribly crucified. As his followers, they figured they would be next, so they were gathered in something akin to terror.
Then it was that Christ appeared among them! The first thing Jesus says is “Peace be with you” (John 20:19 and 21). And he has to repeat this after he shows his hands and side. But much more is going on here than simply a calming of the nerves of people who have seen a person raised from the dead.
Scholars inform us that the Resurrections is a validation of the ministry and death of Jesus. The things that have happened are in full accord with the plan of God. Jesus has taught and healed. He has revealed who God is and promised a continuing presence among the disciples through the Spirit. Then he voluntarily offers himself up to death.
To the world’s persistent “NO!” God has answered with and unstoppable “YES!” Despite the world’s disapproval, God approves of Jesus. The reign of God as preached by Jesus, the nature of reconciliation and the new life, the ethics of love, all these take on added meaning because of the resurrection.
To be sure, however, the disciples have not understood that death is to be part of God’s plan or part of what should happen to One sent from God. They look at the whole event as a defeat, and it made them doubt what they had thought about Jesus. It is no wonder that they were afraid. Then it is that Christ appears and grants them peace. We are told that the appearance of the resurrected One demonstrates that Jesus is in fact the One sent from God. Consequently, what Jesus had told them about his identity and about God and living for God are all validated by the Resurrection.
The Resurrection validates bodily existence
In addition to serving as validation of the message and identity of Jesus, the Resurrection also assures us that God values bodily existence. Jesus demonstrates that he is not a ghost by showing the disciple his hands and side. Thus, Jesus still has a body and clearly his body is no resuscitation of a corpse. Something much more significant has occurred.
Scholars tell us that in Christ’s resurrection, a new kind of existence is born. It is bodily existence and recognizable, but this is not a body like any other body people have ever seen.
Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 15:42ff. I will simply quote 15:42: “It’s the same with the resurrection of the dead; a rotten body is put into the ground, but what is raised won’t ever decay.” Paul is saying that this new body would be made by better material, material that is “imperishable.” But it is still a body (an identity.)
Thus, we understand that the risen Christ is the promise and demonstration of what believers will receive from God when they enjoy the fullness of their salvation in the presence of God.
Now, why was this affirmation of the bodily nature of Christ’s resurrection so important for the writer of John’s Gospel? His churches faced a teaching known as Docetism. The doctrine asserted that Christ was fully divine, but only seemed to have a body. According to scholars, Docetists said Jesus did not have a body because the holiness of God would be defiled by genuine contact with the material world. The letters of 1 John and 2 John are directed against this view explicitly. While on the other hand, the Gospel of John rejects it with what it affirms about Jesus, here about the risen Jesus. Jesus shows the disciples his hands and side, so they can see the marks of the Crucifixion. Therefore, they see that he is genuinely Jesus and truly bodily. The point for us is that God affirms the goodness of our whole selves, body and soul.
The Resurrection and the sending of the Spirit
After Jesus demonstrates that he is not a ghost by showing his disciples his hands and side, he reiterates his blessing of peace. No question, however, it is shocking to see the dead raised. The disciples must have multiple questions and/or thanksgiving. But immediately Jesus commissions them. Jesus says, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you” (20:21). With his work, nearly completed, Jesus’ final task is to commission his followers as he was commissioned by the Father. These disciples are being sent into the world as representatives (or agents) for Christ, just as Christ had been sent as God’s representative (or agent). These disciples are to work in the world and witness to the reality of God and the truth of Jesus’ words.
But in John’s Gospel, one of the essential notations is his empowering. God not only sent his Son, but also empowered him with the spirit. Scholars point that in Jesus, baptism the central event (from John’s view) was not the water baptism itself, but the anointing in the Spirit that came to Jesus. Our initial introduction to Jesus came from the prophetic words of John the Baptist. God had told John that “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit (1:33). Above all, we are told, Jesus is described as the One in whom the Spirit blows like a living spring, a source of life and refreshment and renewal that will be offered following his glorification (John 7:37-39). Therefore, to be commissioned, to advance the work of God as his agent, means being empowered as Jesus was empowered – acquiring the Spirit; just as Jesus was anointed and as Jesus promised.
So, Christ imparts the Spirit on his disciples by breathing on them. There is no doubt that when John speaks in this way he is thinking of God’s breathing life into Adam in Genesis. As God gave life to the world and to Adam, now Christ gives new life to the disciples. But, as the scholars point out, this is no ordinary giving of the Spirit. While the Spirit is a gift that every believer receives (Acts 2), Christ empowers the disciples with an extraordinary measure of the Spirit to fulfill their apostolic tasks.
Christ also gave the disciples extraordinary Authority. After Jesus had said, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he stated, “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven” (20:22, 23). Now, this does not mean that the power to forgive sins have been entrusted to any person or persons other than Christ himself. But it does mean that these disciples who know Christ best were authorized and empowered to forgive sins, or even to keep sin bound to a person. In this context, however, this power is primarily exercised through their preaching of the gospel. If the disciples knew that a person in truly penitent, they could with absolute certainty proclaim the forgiveness of Christ. But equally, if they knew that there is no true penitence, they could tell the person that until his/her heart is changed there is no forgiveness. Because these disciples have been commissioned by Christ; they now have the authority to take the Good News to the world.
The Spirit in John and Acts
There is much controversy in trying to reconcile the anointing of the Spirit given in John with the giving of the Spirit in Acts (Pentecost, Acts 2). The scholars themselves are divided as to explanation. Suffice it to say here that the coming of the Spirit marks the beginning of the church’s mission to proclaim the gospel to the whole world. One scholar points out that the story in Acts (2:1-4) unfolds in a different way than the text in John. In John, the disciples are given the Spirit in a way that sets them apart, even if the rest of the church will receive the Spirit. At Pentecost, however, all believers are given the Spirit and so share in that presence of God in their lives. And they are all given a gift to participate in the mission of the church. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus says.
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries.