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John 20:19-23 Sermon Notes

By December 3, 2023Sermon Notes

USA Women’s 4×400 team has long dominated track and field world stage – They had won seven of last eight world championships, dating all way back to 2005 – As you can imagine, they were highly favored going into World Championships in Budapest this past August – But they didn’t even make finals – They were disqualified in preliminary round because of a failed exchange, a bad hand-off

When it comes to relays, exchanges are everything – You can have all best runners but, if you cannot make a good exchange, you will not even finish race – And so, as you can imagine, relay partners spend a lot of time practicing exchanges

Speaking very generally, key to a good exchange is running in sync – It’s running together – It’s matching form – It’s mimicking movement – It’s two people learning to run as one – And, usually, it is latter runner who conforms herself to former – A good exchange means everything

Through month of December we are going to focus on Great Commission, an exchange of sorts, in which Jesus passed baton of His mission and His ministry to church

Most famous reference for this exchange is Matthew 28:19-20 – It is hallmark verse for Great Commission – But, in truth, it is just one of many examples in Gospels where Jesus communicates this idea that He is, in a very real way, handing off His mission and ministry to church

This morning we are going to look at one of those other examples in Scriptures: John 20:19-23 – Now, before we jump into passage, let me tell you where it fall in John’s Gospel – At this point in John’s Gospel, Jesus has already been crucified and He’s already been raised from dead – His disciples, shocked by news of empty tomb and fearfully of retribution by Jewish religious leaders, had gathered that very Sunday night, a mere twelve hours after Jesus’ resurrection, in a home in Jerusalem – That’s context of our passage this morning

Let’s read passage: Read John 20:19-23

So we see clear commissioning statement in verse 21 – Jesus says, “…As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.

Up to this point in John’s Gospel, Jesus is said to have been “sent” by God more than forty times – Jesus has clearly been characterized as “the One who was sent” – But now John wants us to see a shift – Jesus is not just “the One who was sent” but also “the One who sends” – Jesus is passing baton

Church will be an extension of Jesus’ mission and ministry – And this is, indeed, a shared, cooperative commission for church – Every “you” and every command we find in this passage is plural in Greek, not singular – It is literally, “I am sending you all” – We are sent together – And, far from being a subcategory of church’s purpose, this reality of being “sent” is at very heart of discipleship to Jesus[1]

Just as Father sent Son as an agent of salvation, so Son sends church as an agent of salvation – And while there are certainly differences in way Jesus and church operate as agents of salvation, if we are going to make a good exchange, we must take note of similarities – If we are next leg in this mission and ministry of Christ Jesus, then we must look back to see what kind of race He ran so we might match His form, mimic His movement – And conform ourselves so as to run as one with Him

That’s what I want us to do with rest of our time this morning: to identify three ways that we, church, are to reflect Christ as we endeavor to carry on baton of His mission – Namely, that we are to engage with mission of God physically, purposefully, and powerfully – We are going to look at these principles as we find them here in John 30 and also in John 1

Let’s start first by looking at engaging mission of God physically

If you drive around town this time of year you will see nativities sprinkled in lawns throughout city – We pass by most of them without a second glance, without pausing to consider what we are really looking at

This is how John describes what we are looking at in John 1: “And the Word became flesh (He took on a physical body) and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

When we look at a nativity, we are peering into possibly greatest and most profound mystery of Christianity: that the all-knowing, all-powerful, immortal Creator of universe came physically to earth to dwell among His creation – That the Holy Maker of man became, Himself, a man – And not just a man, but a helpless baby, born to a virgin and her fiancé, who fed and swaddled and burped this little God-Baby while He grew in wisdom and stature

And this God-Baby grew up into a God-Man who would go on to hang on a cross to atone for our sin – His real, physical, sweating brow received a thorny crown – His real, physical, callused hands received sharp nails – And His real physical, fleshy side received a pointed spear – He bled real, red human blood so as to atone for our real, red human blood

And then, after three days, that real, physical heart, started to beat again – Those real, physical lungs started to breathe again – So that, when Jesus showed up among apostles in John 20, He actually proved His identity by showing them His resurrected body, wounds on His hands and on His side

And what’s fascinating is that Jesus’ physicality was so fundamental to his disciples’ understanding of who He was, that they were not moved to gladness until He showed them his body: Read John 20:20

In His mission to save us from sin and death – In His mission to restore us to fellowship with Himself – God didn’t just call down from heaven; He showed up on earth – God’s method for mission was not simply mouth to ear but shoulder to shoulder and hand to hand – Nativity reminds us that God chose to leave His heavenly place of safety and security and enter into our world with all its evil, pain, dysfunction, and sorrow – Father sent Son physically – And so Son sends church physically

That might seem like common sense but, in a world of text messages, social media, Zoom calls, and even virtual reality “church,” physicality of Great Commission can no longer be assumed[2]

Technology, for all its benefits, can disturb and confuse the physical nature of Great Commission – I’m not opposed to technology – I acknowledge it’s benefits – I acknowledge that, used properly, it can be a useful tool for church in fulfilling Great Commission – But we cannot let technology strip Great Commission of its physicality – As Father sent Son physically, so we are sent physically

So, what does it look like for us to be sent physically?

First, and this is something that can get overlooked, is that we must take care of our bodies – Not worship our bodies, but take care of them – Because it is in them that we live out mission of God physically

Robert Murray M’Cheyne, who lived in early 19th century, was one of Scotland’s most powerful preachers in history, but he died at the age of twenty-nine, partly because he did not take care of his body – And it is reported that, as he was dying, he said, “The Lord gave me a horse to ride and a message to deliver. Alas, I have killed the horse and cannot deliver the message.”[3

God has given us a body and He has given us a message – We cannot, by our willful neglect, kill body – God, in His sovereignty, has numbered days rightly and, unless Lord returns, we will all die – But we should not be guilty of willful neglect – Getting appropriate sleep, exercise, and nutrition is a component of glorifying God in our bodies and of having a long-term vision for Great Commission – First way we can engage with mission of God physically is to take care of our bodies

Second way, and it’s not profound, is to be with people

In May, U.S. Surgeon General released a nationwide advisory titled “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation” – Advisory stated that about half of US adults experience measurable levels of loneliness and that loneliness can be as bad for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day – Report acknowledges that people are digitally more connected than ever before, but that those connections are not truly meaningful[4]

Listen, if there is any group of people that is equipped to confront issue of loneliness, it is Christians – Not because we are out to solve loneliness epidemic, but because we worship a Savior who came physically, and we obey a Savior who sends us physically – We show up when others don’t and won’t

Our commission requires and our circumstance begs that we be with people – Have you met your neighbors? – Do you know your coworkers? – Have you introduced yourself to other students in your classes or at gym? – When that moment comes when you have a chance to move forward toward another human being and be with them physically, or withdraw away from them into safety of your self, what do you choose? – Make the choice to be with people – We must engage with God’s mission physically ­– That’s first key point this morning

Second, we must engage with God’s mission purposefully

This is what John has to say about Jesus’ purpose in John 1: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men…The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world…to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:4, 9, 12-13)

Jesus’ mission had a clear purpose – He came to us as life when we were dead in our sin – He came to us as light when we were blind in our rebellion – At end of day, Jesus did not come to be a wise teacher or to reorder society or to establish a government or to become poster boy for our personal or corporate agendas, however righteous we think they may be

At end of day, Jesus came so that all who would humble themselves, turn from sin, and trust in Him to make them righteous before God could be born again as children of God into an everlasting Kingdom

And so it is that, as Father sent Son purposefully, so Son sends church purposefully Read John 20:23

This can be tricky passage to interpret, but helps to remember two things:

First is to remember audience – “You” here is plural – Jesus is speaking to apostles, collectively – Apostles would be founding members of His church – And, as time went along, this authority to give and withhold forgiveness would be extended to local church (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 5:3-5) – This is a shared, cooperative commission

Second is to remember missional context – Jesus is commissioning church here to carry on His mission and ministry on earth which, as we have just seen, is primarily about forgiveness of sin and restoration to God

So, here’s how we are to understand John 20:23 – In carrying on Christ’s mission to forgive sin and restore to God, church now exercises derived authority from God to pronounce forgiveness or lack thereof through proclamation of Gospel, baptism, making disciples, and church discipline[5]

God alone has power and prerogative to forgive sins – But, as His appointed agent of salvation in this age, the obedient, Spirit-led church becomes vehicle through which He continues to carry out this work

Here’s what that means practically for us as we think about Great Commission as a church – When we proclaim Gospel, we present hearer with two options: to trust in Christ for forgiveness of sin or to reject Him – If they trust in Christ, we have authority and imperative to assure them that their sins have been forgiven, to baptize them, to incorporate them into life of Christ’s body, and to call them to grow in holiness[6] – If they reject Him, we have authority and imperative to warn them of destructiveness of sin and eternal condition apart from Jesus[7]

Not because we have direct authority to confer those kinds of benefits or impose those kinds of consequences, but because we have a derived authority to do so – Father sent Son purposefully – And so Son sends church purposefully – How do we engage mission of God purposefully?

First and foremost, we must maintain God’s purpose – The mission of church, and your mission as a member thereof, is not to make nice people nicer, or to make irreligious people religious, or to make marginalized or oppressed people exalted and free – Mission of church is to reach lost, to make disciples of Jesus, to baptize them into life of church, and to teach them to obey everything He commanded – And, I’m convinced that, if by God’s grace we are faithful to do that, people will inevitably become “nicer” and “more religious” and more committed to justice

Are we maintaining God’s purpose as a church? – Are you maintaining that purpose individually? – Or are we drifting? – First, we must maintain God’s purpose

Second, be intentional

If you have a mission to educate your children, or to lose weight, or to learn a musical instrument, or to keep your lawn green, what will you do? – You will devote significant time and energy toward it – You will build it into your schedule – You will not passively sit back and hope it happens, you will take action – It will increasingly become gravitational pole around which everything in your life begins to revolve

If church’s mission is to make disciples of Jesus who live for glory of God then we will devote significant time and energy toward that end – We won’t just sit back passively waiting, hoping something happens – We will begin to take action to pray for lost, to build trust relationships with non-believers in our spheres of influence, to share Gospel, send out missionaries, to support other evangelistic ministries in our community – And we’ll do it together

So I would just ask you, are you doing some of those things – Not are you doing all of them – Not are you doing them perfectly – But are you being faithful to pray for lost, to build trust relationships with non-believers, to share Gospel

If not, here’s simple place to start: identify one or two people in your sphere of influence who don’t know Jesus – Invite them into your life and your home – Pray consistently for them – And decide early to make spiritual conversations a part of your relationship – Be intentional

We must engage with God’s mission physically, purposefully, and powerfully

John writes in his prologue: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)

Jesus, the eternal Word made flesh, was God – Our ever-expanding cosmos was made from nothing through HimHe is light that shines in darkness that cannot be overcome – He proved His power by signs and wonders He performed throughout His life and ministry, most profoundly in His resurrection from dead

And He proves it yet again here in John 20, where John tells us that disciples were hiding behind locked doors when Jesus, in His physical body, came and stood among them – How does that happen? – I don’t know – It’s fascinating – But what’s even more fascinating is that, after appearing among them, Jesus confers His power to them

In a display that reminds us of God breathing power of life into Adam in Garden of Eden, Jesus breathes power of Spirit into His disciples in this shuttered room (John 20:22) – And it is precisely this power of Spirit that compels and empowers church to be agent of God’s mission in world – It is precisely this power of Spirit that authorizes church to forgive sins and withhold forgiveness

Now, here’s what we have to remember about power of Spirit – It would be easy to talk about power and to naturally envision big muscles, a booming voice, and decisive command – But that’s physical power – And Spirit gives spiritual power

And, like we talked about several weeks ago, this spiritual power is not harnessed by bowing up, it’s by bowing down – Abiding in Spirit is fundamentally assuming a posture of surrender in our heart – It’s about being emptied of this idea that we have power or ability to effect spiritual outcomes so that we can be filled with His exclusive power to do those things – We must, like dog with His master, go belly-up – That’s where spiritual power is at

And that’s a great relief for me when it comes to this endeavor of sharing my faith and making disciples – Because sharing my faith is one of those endeavors that makes me incredibly aware of my weakness, my inability, my insecurity, and my lack of faith

From conversations I’ve had with many others, I’d guess it might be that way for you, too – If you’re with me, then here’s what we have to remember: we are in good company – Apostle Paul wrote to church at Corinth saying, “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Cor. 2:3-5)

Anybody remember picking teams in gym class? – Big, strong, fast, confident kids always got picked first, right? – Small, weak, slow, timid kids always got picked last – But when it comes to Great Commission business, I’m convinced that Paul would’ve picked all the last kids first

He would’ve said, “I’ll take Unassuming” – “I’ll take Weak” – “I’ll take Not Very Eloquent” – “I’ll take Timid” – “Give me the one who knows and believes and has been transformed by simple Gospel and has just enough courage to share it” – “I’ll take that person” – Because, when Holy Spirit demonstrates His supernatural power as they share about Jesus, no one in room, including that person, will be able to attribute power of what they have just said to any human being – That’s power God has given His church

Here are two practical applications for engaging with mission of God powerfully:

First, it’s to know, believe in, and be transformed by true and simple Gospel message – You and I cannot go and make disciples of Jesus if we do not know Gospel – We might make disciples of ourselves, but not of Christ Jesus – If we are going to make disciples of Christ Jesus we must know Gospel of Christ Jesus – We must grasp it and it must grasped us

If you don’t have confidence that you know core truths of Gospel and how to share them with someone else, I’d encourage you to do some work to come up with a clear, simple, biblical answer – One tool we have started using as a church to develop our Gospel fluency is a tool called “Two Ways to Live” – You can find pamphlet in information panel that’s hanging on wall by stairs – Grab one, take it home, and just learn basic theology, language, and imagery of Gospel so that you can be prepared to share Good News of Jesus – Salvation is bound up in Gospel message of Jesus – God has told us what that message is – But it’s up to us to know it

Second thing most of us probably need to do is to reframe our thinking – Most of us are wired to run away physically/mentally/emotionally when we get scared – We want to avoid situations where we feel weak or out-of-control – That’s normal

But over and over and over in Scripture, consistent idea we see is that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness – If we want to engage in mission of God powerfully, we are going to have to learn to override desire to run away from fear and discomfort of sharing our faith – We are going to have to learn in those situations to love weakness and faith that must be exercised in face of fear – We must reframe our thinking

[1] Rodney A. Whitacre, John, vol. 4, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 1999), 479.




[5] Whitacre, John, 483.


[7] Gary M. Burge, John, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 561.