May 23, 1999

John 20:19-23

The disciples were afraid of the Jewish leaders, and on the evening of that same Sunday [Easter] they locked themselves in a room. Suddenly, Jesus appeared in the middle of the group [saying, "Peace be with you."] He [...] showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they became very happy. [Jesus again said, "Peace be with you."]

After Jesus had greeted them again, he said, "I am sending you, just as the Father has sent me." Then he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone's sins, they will be forgiven. But if you don't forgive their sins, they will not be forgiven. [CEV]

Acts 2:1-13

On the day of Pentecost [50 days after Passover/Easter to celebrate the wheat harvest] all the Lord's followers were together in one place. Suddenly there was a noise from heaven like the sound of a mighty wind! It filled the house where they were meeting. Then they saw what looked like fiery tongues moving in all directions, and a tongue came and settled on each person there. The Holy Spirit took control of everyone, and they began speaking whatever languages the Spirit let them speak.

Many religious Jews from every country in the world were living in Jerusalem. And when they heard this noise, a crowd gathered. But they were surprised, because they were hearing everything in their own languages. The were excited and amazed, and said:

"Don't all these who are speaking come from Galilee? Then why do we hear them speaking our very own languages? Some of us are from Parthia, Media, and Elam. Others are from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, part of Libya near Cyrene, Rome, Crete, and Arabia. Some of us were born Jews, and others of us have chosen to be Jews. Yet we all hear them using our own languages to tell the wonderful things God has done."

Everyone was excited and confused. Some of them even kept asking each other, "What does all this mean?"

Others made fun of the Lord's followers and said, "They are drunk." [CEV]


1. When things "suddenly" change we tend to respond with anxiety and fear. When Jesus suddenly appears in a locked room after everybody knew he was dead it might be expected that anxiety and fear were present in the disciples. Jesus comforts them with his words, "Peace be with you." The anxiety and fear seem to change to happiness and rejoicing. Again, it is recorded, Jesus said, "Peace be with you."
     Was Jesus egging them on to see what the disciples had beyond happiness and rejoicing? Was Jesus reminding them that simply getting happy wasn't what the resurrection was about? Now that the disciples are not too anxious and fearful and not too happy and joyful there was learning to go on? What learning was this that Jesus needed their attention? What learning needs that straight-forward space available between fear and joy?
     Depending on how you read it there are one or two lessons to be taught. I suggest one. The mission of Jesus that needs to be picked up and carried forward -- the mission of Jesus that he specifically commissions the disciples to -- is that of forgiveness. As Eugene Peterson has translated this in "The Message," "Receive the Holy Spirit," he said. "If you forgive someone's sins, they're gone for good. If you don't forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?"
     Jesus' forgiveness of sins was the blasphemy that brought him to the cross. It is this gift that Jesus brought to the world, "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people, God send him to save them!" [John 3:17 CEV] Jesus saves through forgiveness of sins and commissions his disciples to be as radical in this as he was. Where forgiveness surfaces the Holy Spirit breathes.

2. The recounting of Pentecost has many aspects to it. Here I lift up what was told in the many languages -- "the wonderful things God has done." Among them is the wonderful intention to not condemn, but to save. Among them is the wonderful new life that becomes possible from forgiveness. Some desire to know where this will lead as it is too wonderful or too distant when compared with the world they have known. Some see this as a major breakthrough in their life. And some can't or won't believe this good news -- that forgiveness is possible and near and real and available -- and jeer an easy jeer, "You're crazy, you're drunk, you don't know anything -- the rule continues 'as you have been abused, so shall you abuse.'"

3. What would change in your life to be commissioned to forgive and not to have it left to you as an option? What would change in your life to continually affirm in every situation (language setting) that forgiveness is near and real?

Homepage | Sermon Prep