John 20:19-23 - On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you." And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld."
"How can that man forgive my sins?" That's a question I've heard from several people, pointing at the pastor up front in the church. It's a good question. How can a mere man claim to forgive sins? Can I really breathe a sigh of relief after the words, "I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"? Or is it just play-acting, wishful thinking?
The story we have today answers that question. Jesus has risen from the dead, and practically the first thing He does is to visit His disciples. Why? To hand over to them the great blessing He has won for all on the cross—the forgiveness of sins. He proves His identity by showing them the scars from that cross. And then Jesus commissions them.
He sends them out into the world, the same way the Father sent Jesus into the world. They will be Jesus' representatives and do His work, just as Jesus did the Father's work. And what is that work? Why, to forgive sins—to set people free—to heal their hearts and souls and bring them into the joyful freedom of the kingdom of God.
And so He breathes on them. You probably remember how God created Adam and breathed His own breath into him, and Adam became a living man. Now God is making something new; He is making not just one, but many people who will go out as living messengers of the living God. The symbolism here is based on a pun in Greek; the word for "breath" and the word for "spirit" are the same word. When Jesus gives them His breath, He gives them His Holy Spirit, to live in them and give them the power and authority to do what God wants—including forgiving sins. And that Spirit continues to live in us today—God Himself, inside us.
This is why you can be sure that when the pastor speaks those words of forgiveness, you are in fact truly forgiven. Jesus has promised. And you, too carry this awesome responsibility and privilege of forgiving sins, just as all Christians do. If you find yourself facing a frightened, shamed, and guilty person who is grieving over a sin he or she has committed, you can comfort them with the good news of Jesus. You can tell them that everyone who trusts in Jesus is forgiven, and that includes them. Your words will be just as true as the pastor's—because Jesus has promised.
THE PRAYER: Dear Lord, thank You for Your wonderful gift of forgiveness. Please comfort me with it, and help me to comfort others. Amen.
This Daily Devotion was written by Dr. Kari Vo.
1. How do you feel when the pastor at your church announces forgiveness?
2. Have you ever had the privilege of announcing forgiveness yourself? Tell about it, if you wish and if you can do it without breaking confidentiality.
3. What do Jesus' scars mean to you?
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