A Gift, A Commission and A Burden

Again Jesus said,  “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that He breathed on them and said,  “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  John 20:21-23.

Wow!  What a heavy responsibility to put on the disciples, and I bet they didn’t really grasp the significance of it at the time.  They were probably just too overjoyed to see Jesus alive and well to register anything much beyond that fact.

The instructions, however, are pretty heavy as John records them here.

First, we get a condensed version of the great commission—Jesus sending His disciples to the world to find those who will respond to His message.  The wording of His marching orders single out a truth we must acknowledge first before we go off to work for Him.  Notice the phrasing in the command,  “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Taken in the context of His life’s work and how He approached saving the world from itself there’s no other way to read this other than to accept a non-combatant, do-no-harm-to-anyone, and working from His standard method of opening up the gospel to whatever place He entered.

Remembering how Jesus approached His ministry on earth is vital for us to understand when we put forth efforts to do the same.  He is our example for what is and isn’t required.  When He came to the world there were no armies marching, no fanfares, parades or anything the world celebrates as power to bring His kingdom to power.  Instead our Master showed concern for relationships, restoring people who were broken in either body or soul—or both at the same time, and generally preaching the Good News of the kingdom of God.  In the gospel of Matthew we see a theme Jesus develops as He taught the people.  This theme focused on the message,  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at near.”  Matthew 4:17.

Everywhere we look in the gospels Jesus gives us hints through stories, illustrations by healing and miracles, and a living example of His kingdom’s decorum.  When we read the word “repent” most of us have a visual of someone who’s been a great sinner coming down in humility to the alter to receive salvation.  But the word is a military term which means “about face!” or turn 180* and march in a different direction.  In other words our entire focus changes when we receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  Think about His words to Pilate,  “My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. (Peter tried that remember by hacking off an ear which Jesus replaced)  But now my kingdom is from another place.”  John 18:36.

Expanding on this notion of the Lord’s army refusing to take up worldly arms in order to conquer it, we must recognize how diametrically opposed this modus operandi is to the norm of world takeovers.  As I typed this, Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians wandered into my consciousness, so let me quote it for it fits here:  For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.

What are the weapons we fight with then?  If we can’t use political muscle, human authority, or any form of weapon the world might imagine to threaten the rest of humanity into capitulation, then what the heck is left?  I think Ephesians 6:10-20 spells them out quite well.  Our best defense (represented by the armor) is to know truth, have our hearts protected by Christ’s righteousness, being always ready to travel for the gospel of peace, building up our faith in Christ so that we cannot be struck by the arrows of doubt and despair, a full knowledge of salvation to protect our minds from hopelessness, and finally the word of God, which is in John’s words Jesus Himself.

A belt holds the sword, the garment together and keeps things generally in order so the robe doesn’t get in a soldier’s way  and tangle the sword or shield.  A helmet protects the head from being bashed in by heavy objects or cut by a sharp instrument—such as another sword.  Need I go on?  Think of the practical applications of a soldier’s gear and then see how that works as weapons against the evil one.

Nowhere in all the words of Jesus did He command us to fight for our rights to worship freely nor was our efforts to spread the gospel based on military or political power.  The gospel is about bringing peace to the world not creating more wars for it to fight.  Paul warned Timothy not to get caught up in foolish arguments or quarrels because a good soldier doesn’t allow himself/herself to be entrapped by civilian affairs.  The world’s “civilian affairs” center on temporary priorities while those concerned with the gospel focus on the eternal.

Next Jesus breathed on them and said,  “Receive the Holy Spirit.” I’m pretty certain this is where C. S. Lewis took the significance of Aslan’s breath being powerful for the Chronicles of Narnia.  Quite a few of the things that happened in those books in any miraculous way started with Aslan breathing on the children.

Lastly Jesus gives the disciples a burden heavier than most imagine.

Choosing to forgive or not a person’s sins takes wisdom beyond normal human fickleness.  When it comes to another person’s salvation, our understanding of forgiveness is essential—no, heavier than that, imperative to the practice of something which plays with eternal life or death.  In other words, we can’t afford for someone to go with the mood they’re in that day, whether or not they ate something that didn’t agree with them or a whim.  Christian history is riddled with examples of powerful men in the church abusing this sacred trust.  Some, though not all, did so with a careless disregard for those they condemned—for believe me more people have been sentenced to hell by the “church” than probably deserved to be.

I’ve watched pastors or elders who held a biblical bias for judgment condemn the weak and thus harden them to the voice of God by sheer stupidity and love of power.  On both sides the hearts were hardened because grace and mercy were ruled out as standards of judgment.

I’ll speak my heart on this and let it go.

The only people who should remain unforgiven live in the camp of the unrepentant.  If we are to forgive anyone who asks 77 times (in one version) or 70×7 (in another), then what do you think God’s preference is concerning forgiveness?  A person who refuses to repent doesn’t desire forgiveness and such a gift of grace would be wasted on them.  In fact, it would do them no good except to may be enable them to do more wrong.

I’m pretty sure the disciples understood this fact because the gospels each record Jesus’ teaching on eager forgiveness.  Jesus’ warning also comes on the heels of most of these instruction,  “You will be judged in the same way you judge—only it will be pressed down and shaken together for you.”  The bottom line is God will not put up with any kind of harsh attitude towards sinners.  If He came to seek and save that which was lost, we can have no other attitude if we claim to follow Him.

In all three of these commands, Jesus desires our hearts to be transformed by His own mission to earth.  Paul declares Jesus gave the apostles the ministry of reconciliation.  The great commission was not a declaration of war as the world understands it, but a declaration of peace.  If we create peace in the hearts and minds of those who come to Christ and teach them the ways of peace, what happens to the wars and strife in their circle of influence?  It ceases to be—at least these people won’t be the direct cause of such (which means they will not instigate strife, however, others might to oppose them).  The only true peace mankind will ever know will be brought about by the power of God; the best weapon against hate is a love stronger than death.

Our Commander is the Resurrected One, the first fruits from the dead and the source of love.  Guess who won the day…


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2 Responses to “A Gift, A Commission and A Burden”

  1. tlc4women Says:

    It is such a responsibility isn’t it? I read about a woman once who forgave the man who murdered her son. I think about her love for humanity. I wonder if I could? Could I get past the anger to forgive? Yet, this is exactly what God did. It makes me realize how small I am and petty with things that really don’t matter and how I need to increase love in my life to overcome my selfish nature.

  2. jonnysoundsketch2 Says:

    We’re all works in progress aren’t we…

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