Dear radio friends,
The risen Lord Jesus Christ has commissioned His church to spread the gospel over the world, so that the sheep for whom He died might be gathered and His kingdom come. The risen Lord Jesus Christ calls His church to preach the gospel of the resurrection — of a living and risen Savior. The risen Lord Jesus Christ calls us to preach the forgiveness of sins by grace as sealed in His resurrection. Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, calls us to missions.
On the evening in which He arose from the dead, Jesus appeared to His disciples, and He said these words, as recorded in John 20:20-23: “And when he had so said (namely, Peace be unto you), he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” These are the verses that form our meditation today under the theme: Even So Send I You.
Our first impression might be that the Lord Jesus is making a mistake here. He has appeared on the evening of His resurrection to His disciples. And He says, “I send you.” It is very plain that He is sending them to the great and glorious commission and task of the missions of the Christian church; to be His representatives and to go throughout all the earth to gather the church to Himself; to be the instrument whereby all those for whom He died would be at last brought into His sheepfold.
We might think that the Lord has made a mistake. Even so send I you? Does He have the right group? Are they able to do this, this group of 10 disciples (one is missing — Thomas, at that point, did not even believe that the Lord was risen)? There are a handful of other disciples with them, but they are in hiding for fear of the Jews. The 10 disciples who had followed the Lord throughout Galilee that night were wondering, perhaps, if they should even call themselves disciples, let alone apostles. A disciple is a follower. An apostle is one who is sent in another’s name to accomplish his work and task. The disciples might have thought, “The better term for us is deserters, vain boasters,” for they had all forsaken Him.
And, besides, what had these disciples ever been able to do on their own? Throughout the Lord’s ministry, as they followed Him, what had they ever gotten straight? What had they ever been able to accomplish without Him being present right there to correct and to help them?
But this is no mistake. The Lord is standing in the midst of His church, even as He stands now as the risen Lord in the midst of His true church. The eye of the flesh may look at that church and say, “What can they do?” And, “What is going to come of it if they simply go forth with the Word of God?” That is especially the case today. People are discouraged with God’s Word. They believe that God’s Word is not adequate, it is not able to get the job done, so to speak. We need, now, to market the gospel in different ways if we are to expect Christianity to succeed. There might be many who say, “The church as it is cannot accomplish this task.” But then we need to come back to these words of the risen Lord on this night: “Even so send I you.” There is no mistake. For the Lord is standing in the midst of His church, the church that He has redeemed with His own blood, and the church in whom He will give the Holy Spirit. He says in verse 22, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” And He breathed on them.
The church, possessing the word of the risen Christ and now indwelt by the Holy Spirit, that church is the instrument of God for missions. The Lord is calling to missions.
Let us come under the reality of that word for a moment, shall we? “I send you.” The risen Lord commissions us, the church, to this work. It is the risen Lord who is calling us. Now, that is important to notice. Throughout His appearances, for forty days before He ascended into heaven, Jesus repeatedly stressed this commission to missions. There is our text that takes place on the evening of the resurrection in which He is sending forth the church to missions. There is the parallel passage in Luke 24:46-48, where the Lord again makes it very plain that they are to begin in Jerusalem and then spread throughout all the earth preaching the gospel.
In the next chapter of John (21:1-11), the Lord calls His disciples who had gone back to fishing and instructs them again that their task now is to be preachers and to carry the Word of the gospel. Then, just before the Lord ascends (Acts 1:8), He tells them again, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
If all of this is not enough, we have the words of the great commission in Matthew 28. Open your Bibles and read that passage: Matthew 28:18-20. From this passage it becomes plain that the Lord is commissioning the church of all ages to the work of missions. He says, I am with you, even to the end of the world. I will be in you to the end of the world. He is speaking to the disciples as they represent the church of all the ages. And to that church of all the ages He says, “Go ye, therefore, and disciple the nations; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”
It was the burden of the risen Lord to be sure that His church understood that He now commissioned them and called them to missions. Missions is the call of the New Testament church — the church that is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets; the church that manifests itself in the preaching of the gospel, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the exercise of Christian discipline; the church that is instituted by the Lord Jesus in the offices of pastor, elder, and deacon. The church of Jesus Christ has a mission from the risen Lord. He sends us to be His representatives, to bring His Word, to preach the gospel even to the ends of the earth.
Now it is crucial that we hear that calling from the lips of the risen Lord, that we never take the attitude toward missions, “Well, that is nice, but it’s not really so important.” If we do, then our heart is out of sync with the heart of the risen Lord. The heart of the risen Lord was that His church go forth zealously in the cause of missions.
It is the risen Lord who gives this commission. That is significant. For as the risen Lord, He commissions us to bring the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. The resurrection of Jesus Christ proclaims the gospel of peace, peace with God through the forgiveness of sins. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only the joyful announcement to the church of Jesus Christ that there is new life, there is everlasting life, in Jesus Christ. But the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which we joyfully proclaim, is the message that there is forgiveness with God. That is first. The truth of forgiveness with God is before the truth that your body shall be raised when Jesus comes again.
The resurrection of our Lord that we proclaim brings the deepest need to our heart, namely, the assurance that our sins are forgiven. The resurrection is the proof that our sins are forgiven. It is the proof that the cross was successful. In the passage that we read in John 20, when our Lord appeared among the disciples and said, “Even so send I you,” perhaps you noticed that, before He sent them, Christ showed them His hands and His side. He showed them the marks of His crucifixion. The point is that the risen Lord is the proof that His crucifixion has attained the forgiveness of sins. You will find that throughout the book of Acts. Throughout that book the apostles, Paul and Peter, proclaim, on the basis of the resurrection, that there is forgiveness of sins. For instance: Acts 13:38, 39, where the apostle Paul stands in the city of Antioch and, concluding his testimony that God has raised His Son from the dead, he says this: “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” This is the message of the gospel: the forgiveness of sins in the cross of Christ. How do we know that the cross of Christ actually succeeded in attaining the forgiveness of the sins of God’s people? We know that because the Lord is risen. A risen Savior declares a successful cross. If the Lord had remained in the grave, then it could only reflect back on the cross as a failure. But He is not there. He is risen! Therefore the assurance that His work was successful is ours. What was that work? That work was the forgiveness of sins.
Note also with me what the Lord said to His disciples in John 20. After He said, “Even so send I you,” and after He had given to them the Holy Spirit (He breathed on them and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost), He said these words: “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” That passage has been tortured by the church in the idea that the church has the power in itself to perform absolution of sins. No, this is something that Christ does through His church, in His name. It means this: That the church, as it proclaims the gospel, has the power to proclaim in the name of Christ that all those who by grace believe in Christ, their sins are remitted, they are released, they are released from the responsibility to pay for their sins. They have the great, beautiful truth of forgiveness. And all those who remain obstinate and reject the gospel, their sins are retained. They are under the obligation yet to pay for those sins. At the end of their life they will have to pay for their sins. If someone says, “I don’t believe in Christ,” then the gospel, the church, declares to him, in Christ’s name, that in death he will pay for his sins. He will begin eternal payment in hell. But when someone, by the grace of God, hearing the word of the risen Lord, says, “I’m sorry for my sins, I hate those sins. O God, help me to fight those sins,” then the church, in the name of the Lord Jesus, declares to him today that he may know that the debt of his sins has been paid. When he goes over Jordan, he shall be with the risen Lord. This is the message of the risen Lord: There is forgiveness of sins in Him.
It is the calling of the church now to proclaim that gospel. It is not the calling of a group, not the calling of an organization, but the calling of a church to proclaim that gospel. Jesus, here, is addressing His church, His disciples. Jesus, further, uses official language. He says, “As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” That word “send” in the Scriptures refers to divine sending and divine authorization. There is a divine commission, and the commission here is given to the church. The church receives the call that the church performs through the preaching of the gospel.
Although that is true (that the church is called to preach the gospel), nevertheless, we must understand that the whole church is involved in this glorious work. We all participate. We are not all preachers. There are the offices that Christ has given to the church. And He has made some to be preachers of the gospel. But all are to be living members of the church, so that, when they hear the preaching, that word does not just stay within them. That word goes on in their life, in how they live, in how they speak. That word goes on in how they deal with their neighbors and how they act on the job. That word goes on when they have the opportunity to speak of the hope that is in them, when they have the opportunity to witness of their faith.
The church, through the preaching, and then through the life of her members as they live out that word, is called to the work of missions.
We need to be enabled to do this because we cannot do this on our own. We have no strength of ourselves. That is what is so beautiful here. When He breathed on His disciples, Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to qualify and to equip them for their work.
He gives the Holy Spirit to the church, and the church, with the Holy Spirit, delves into the Holy Scriptures, understands the Scriptures in the light of the confessions of the church in ages past. The Holy Spirit has been working in the church, and so the church has studied the Scriptures and has come to understand them. And now the church preaches those blessed Scriptures.
We must be glad as church that we are set apart by the Lord to this great and glorious task of missions. We read in verse 20, “Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.” We must be glad today, glad in our own salvation. The wonder of our salvation by grace alone must simply thrill our hearts and reach down to the bottom of our hearts. Out of the gladness of knowing our salvation we are to go forth in the work of missions. We must be glad in what God calls us to do. We must say to the Lord as His church, “We will gladly go.” We must say, as believers and as members of the church: “I am thankful and glad that the Lord gives me this calling, this opportunity to be a witness of Him in my life, in my words, in my deeds.” We must not say, “Well, all of this has nothing to do with me — just little ol’ me. It’s not my duty, it’s not my responsibility.” Oh, no! The risen Lord sent His church. The word is preached. You hear that word, and now you must live that word and speak of the word that you heard.
As a church we must not say, “What’s the use? No one wants to listen. We’re not getting anywhere.” No. There must be gladness — a great happiness that we are given this blessed task, this great privilege, to go forth into the world and preach the everlasting truth.
The response is not only gladness, but it ought also to be peace. The Lord said twice, “Peace be unto you.” The Lord said “Peace” to them because they were afraid. The Lord knew that. So He pronounces the great blessing that comes from the forgiveness of sins. The great blessing is first of all peace, peace with God. It is out of a peace with God that we preach. It is out of a peace with God in our hearts that we witness. And that is our message, too. This must sink down into our hearts. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have forgiveness.
This is the greatest message in all the world: Peace with God in the forgiveness of sins. Peace with God if I go through hardships. Peace with God if I am diagnosed with cancer. Peace with God when I awake in the morning and when I go to bed at night. Peace with God during all the day. Peace with God in every circumstance of my life. Peace when I look out into the world. Peace when I look at the church. I know that my Lord Jesus Christ reigns, the One who died for me, and has pronounced that I am forgiven. Christ is in control. And, therefore, peace. It is out of this sense of peace that the church goes forth in the task of missions.
Finally, we must respond with zeal — great, enthusiastic zeal. We will want to go. If the church of which we are a member minimizes missions; and if we, as individual believers, say, “Well, this whole idea of witnessing is not so important,” then we need to look into our heart. We must not look around us. But we need to look at ourselves and at our hearts. Do you know what God has done for you? Do you know the promises of God, do you love His truth? Do you hear the word of the risen Lord? Then there ought to be zeal. There ought to be gladness and happiness and willingness to go forth with this glorious gospel of the risen Lord.
And if there is not that in the church of which you are a member, and if there is not that in your life, repent. For the risen Lord commissions us today: “I send you. I am with you. I give you My Word. I give you the Holy Spirit. I will build my church. I will send forth the preaching of the gospel. I will send forth a word of witness in your life and in your testimony. Now go.”
Let us obey this Word. Let us obey this as the church and the preaching of the gospel of peace. Let us obey this by maintaining pure, sound, biblical doctrine vibrantly and lovingly taught. Let us obey this in our life by living and speaking of the Word of our risen Savior. And as we do so, let us do it in this confidence: It is the Lord alone who, by His Word and Spirit, accomplishes the gathering of the church.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Holy Word. We pray that it may enter today into our hearts. We thank Thee that we belong to a risen Savior. And we thank Thee that He so clearly tells us what we must be doing as His church. We pray that all objections and all hindrances to this calling may be wiped away from us and that we may go forth with zeal and in confidence in Thee. In Jesus’ name do we pray, Amen.