Personal Encounters With Christ
Tim Temple

Introduction

John, chapter 20, is what some Bible scholars consider to be the closing chapter of John's Gospel. They think that perhaps a little later he came back and added the final chapter because the conclusion of chapter 20 seems to be a benediction. The Lord willing, we will come to that concluding statement of chapter 20 in this lesson and move on to chapter 21 in our next lesson. In this lesson, we want to think about the personal encounters with Christ that took place on the day and during the week following the Resurrection of Christ from the dead.

A number of years ago Janice and I had some very close friends in Wichita Falls whose son disappeared. He didn't disappear in the sense of being kidnapped. He was old enough to be on his own, and he went out into the world to make his fortune, more or less. He went out sooner than they had hoped he would, and for several years, they had no idea where he was. They had lost all contact with him. They prayed that he was still alive. They didn't talk about it very much, but they prayed a lot.

The father of this boy was owner of an insurance agency, and after three years, one of his employees said, “Barry has not renewed his car insurance, and we wonder what we should do about that. Do you want to go ahead and renew it for him?” Barry was the son who had been gone for three years, and come to find out, he had been insuring his car with his father's agency all the time that he was gone. Right there in their own files was all the data about where he lived and all that kind of data that the insurance companies have. They were able to initiate a reunion with him, and little-by-little, the things that had brought about the separation were healed and cleared up. Today they have a very close relationship with that son and with the wife and two children he has now.

It is a wonderful thing to see something take place that you thought might never take place again—to have a relationship and then to lose that relationship, thinking that very possibly you might not see that person again until you get to Heaven, and then to have it restored.

Probably many of us know of stories like that, of relationships that we thought were over, and then we find that sometimes in a very surprising way and very suddenly that is relationship restored. If you are familiar with that kind of situation, you can understand how the disciples must have felt in John, chapter 20. Jesus had been crucified. He had been buried. He was in the tomb, and suddenly they discovered that the body was missing. Not only had they seen Him die, but now, according to the verses that we have looked at already in John, chapter 20, verses 1-18, they thought that the body had been stolen. It added insult to injury, and things just kept getting worse and worse.

That sets the stage for verse 19, which is the portion which we want to begin with in this study:

John 20

19Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.

Suddenly that relationship that they were mourning about having lost was beautifully restored. Here He was back with them again, as much alive as He had ever been. What an astonishing thing that must have been to them! By this time, He had already appeared to several others, but now He comes and stands in the midst of the disciples as a group.

Verses 1-10 talk about the empty tomb. Verses 11-18 is the encounter with the Teacher, where Mary Magdalene saw the Lord there in the garden in front of the tomb and said, Rabboni , which is being interpreted “teacher.” Then we saw the instructions that He gave her in verses 11-18.

That brings us to the third section of the chapter where we see the entrance of truth. Jesus had said earlier in this Gospel, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…”, so now the Truth, in the person of Jesus Christ, comes back to them, and they have the wonderful privilege of having this personal encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Assembling of the Disciples

We just read verse 19, which describes the gathering there, but let's look at it again because there are some things to notice particularly about that:

John 20

19Then the same day at evening, [the same day being the evening of the morning that He had appeared to Mary Magdalene] being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.

Notice that they were not gathered there joyously. Easter should be the happiest holiday that we have. It should be our favorite holiday because it commemorates the most wonderful thing that ever happened in the history of the world. It commemorates the fact that Christ's death on the Cross was validated. He was raised from the dead because the work of the Cross was finished.

Technically speaking, it was the work on the Cross that was the all-important act, but the Resurrection is the thing that really turned the corner for those first Christians and for the human race. The day in which that was validated in the eyes of humans and recorded for all of human history, on that first Easter Sunday, they were assembled, the doors being shut for fear of the Jews. The disciples must have been excited as they gathered there, even though they were fearful of what might happen to them by the religious leaders who had engineered the kangaroo court trial of Jesus and had gotten Him killed by the Roman government.

You can understand why they would be having the doors shut for fear of the Jews, but at the same time, there must have been excitement in the air because by now Mary had come and delivered her message of the risen Lord and the fact that He was going to meet with them. Luke records in chapter 24, verse 34, that Jesus had met with Peter by this time, and Peter was there in the room that night. No doubt he had shared his visit with Jesus. The two from the road to Emmaus had probably been there by this time and told that they had seen the Lord, so there was an aura of excitement in the room, but still most of them had not seen Him personally.

They did not know what the future held in terms of their relationship with Him. They didn't know what He was going to be doing now—if He was just going to be popping up here and there, or just what He was going to do. Suddenly, they realized that Jesus was in the room with them, even though the doors were shut. John has taken the trouble to specify that the doors were shut. It says, “Jesus came and stood in the midst…”, and the sense of that statement is that He was just suddenly there. He didn't knock on the door; He didn't rattle the door; He simply appeared in the room. He was with them suddenly, and everybody saw Him.

Then notice that He gave a greeting with which they were probably familiar: “Peace be with you.” That was a common greeting among Jewish people of the day. It was like saying, “Hi, how are you doing?”, or something like that, although it was full of deeper meaning than that. He just came and greeted them as though it were any other night, as though it was just like things had been before He was crucified, so it must have been an extremely exciting thing.

Jesus' First Gift to the Disciples

However, Luke tells us in his Gospel that they thought it was a spirit and that they were terrified. So in verses 20-23, Jesus gives them two gifts. We see Him coming into the room into their gathering, and then in verses 20-23, we see the gifts that He gave them. The first gift was the gift of the sight of Himself, just the fact that they were able to see Him. Look at verse 20:

John 20

20And when he had so said, [Peace be unto you] he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the LORD.

The first gift, as I said, was just the sight of Himself, not just so much that He was in the room, but the fact that He showed them His hands and His side, verse 20 says. It would be interesting to know what process He went through in showing them His hands and His side. It doesn't really matter, but it is obvious they could see the physical wounds that were there. There could be no question that it was their Lord. I love the statement at the end of verse 20, one of the greatest understatements in all the world: “…then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” I guess they were. What an understatement!

There are several statements like that in the Scripture that we read through without stopping to think about the significance sometimes. They were thrilled to death. Here was the Lord whom they had given up on. Peter had gone back to his fishing. The others had followed with him because they did not know what they were going to do. The women were going, not to see about the risen body, but to preserve the dead body. They were in the doldrums. They were in the pits. Everything suddenly changes. He is there. He gives visible proof that it is He. Then the disciples were glad when they saw that it was the Lord.

Luke tells us in his Gospel that He also took a piece of fish and ate it before them, and so there is even more proof than John refers to. When they realized who He really was, they must have remembered His words from three or four days earlier, which we talked about in chapter 16. Remember, He said to them in chapter 16, verse 26, “You will see Me again, and you will be glad.” When He said it in chapter 16, they probably had no idea of the significance of that statement. Hopefully, they remembered it as they saw it all come to pass.

This was what John was referring to in the introduction to His book in chapter 1. He said, “We beheld His glory, that which we have seen, which we have handled with our hands of the Word of Life, I am telling to you.” No doubt, John had this scene in mind as he reminisced about it later when he was writing that first chapter. But you know, there is a sense in which you and I can share in that same kind of thrill. I think that it is a sad thing that many Christians go through a significant portion of their life perhaps knowing the facts about Jesus without ever really seeing Him in that new sense that the disciples saw Him in here. Apparently, He didn't look very much different than what they had seen before in His earthly life. His wounds were still visible, so His body must have looked very much the same in other aspects as it did then, but they certainly now looked at Him in a completely different way.

It is an easy trap to fall into of knowing Jesus Christ, but taking Him for granted and not looking at Him in that way of coming to a real understanding that He died and was buried and rose again. I think that was what Paul had in mind when he wrote in Romans, chapter 10, verse 9, “If you will believe in your heart the Lord Jesus, and confess with your mouth that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

That verse is a verse that could apply to salvation, but I think that the sense of it in the context of Romans, chapter 10, is that the joy of our salvation, the realization of our salvation, and the fullness of our salvation comes from believing in our heart that God has raised Him from the dead. He is not just the head of some religious faith. He is not just a figurehead. He is a Person, but not only that, He is a Person who was dead and is now alive. That is the thrill that those disciples had that day and that is the thrill that we can have in a spiritual sense too, if we will stop and look on Him in the way that they must have looked on Him that day.

Jesus' Second Gift

That was the first gift that He gave them—the sight of Him. But there was a second gift that He gave, and that was the offer of the Holy Spirit in verses 21-22:

John 20

21Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.
22And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:

What we have in these two verses is a commission that Jesus gives. Do you see that? He tells them in verse 22 that they are going to receive the Holy Spirit, but in verses 21, He gives them a commission. The first thing that we want to notice about that commission is that it was a commission based on peace. I said a moment ago that this was a greeting that people used with each other, but Jesus says it again, and John specifies that He repeated it. His repeating of that phrase that was otherwise a greeting, was really an emphasis on the real meaning of it. Jesus said, “I offer you peace; I am giving you peace,” so it wasn't just an idle statement that might mean, “May you be free of trouble and may you have a nice day.” Rather, what He is saying is, “I am giving you peace. My offer to you is of peace.”

Someone has given the definition of peace as “the conscious possession of adequate resources.” If you will think of that as a definition for a moment, I think you will realize that is a very good definition of peace: the conscious possession of adequate resources. Think about that financially. If you have enough money (of course, there is a sense in which nobody ever thinks they have enough money) and you are consciously aware of that, then you have peace about whatever expense you have coming up. You know you have enough money to cover it, so you have peace about that expense. Maybe it is about the money you are putting away for retirement. Whatever it may be, if you have adequate resources, then you have peace about it financially. If you know, from a health standpoint, that you have adequate resources—you have enough of your medication on hand, you have a doctor who is competent in the field that you are having problems with—you can have peace about it. You can continue down the line and apply that to any area of life. What Jesus was saying to those disciples was, “I am offering you adequate resources for whatever you may face in life. Peace is what I am offering to you.”

He is going to commission them to do something for Him, but it is a commission that is prefaced by peace, by the realization of adequate resources. It is not a commission of strain. I think that there are a lot of Christians who think that they wouldn't honestly be able to say, “It pays to serve Jesus.” Many Christians, I am afraid, would say, “It hurts to serve Jesus.” They want to serve Him, but they think of it as a burden and a hardship. Jesus said, “I am going to send you out as the Father sent Me, but I am also giving you adequate resources. I want you to serve Me in peace, knowing that you will have adequate resources for whatever comes along.”

The Peace of Serving Christ

It is a peace of having a meaningful life. There is nothing more meaningful in the world than serving the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the peace of the certainty of victory and of usefulness to God. Paul wrote to the Corinthians in I Corinthians, chapter 15, verse 58, as He had finished talking about the Resurrection, and that is the key passage in the Scripture about the Resurrection, so in the same kind of setting, Paul said in the last verse of chapter 15:

I Corinthians 15

58Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

Nothing that is done for Christ is ever wasted. In our service this morning, we had the privilege of hearing the testimony of a woman who lives in San Antonio, but has lived all over the world with her military husband, and who has so greatly benefited from the Living Bible Studies m inistry. I will tell you that the people who sat in the printed page workroom and stapled those messages together, the people who collated them, the people who took them home and folded them and got them ready to mail, did not labor in vain because it was labor in the Lord. It was something they were doing to aid in the spread of God's Word, even something so humble as stapling pages or folding several pages together or putting address labels on. Those kinds of things are not wasted when they are done for the Lord.

We saw tangible proof of that and this afternoon, just as I was getting ready to lie down for a few minutes, the phone rang. It was a person in Georgia calling to give me almost that same message about how much the Living Bible Studies m inistry had meant to them, particularly the lesson they had just read. They went on for 45 minutes saying in various ways just how much that ministry meant to them. Again I say, the people who have been involved in producing those messages have not labored in vain. My dad, as he prepared those sermons in Isaiah that were being printed, I, as I prepared the messages of mine that have been printed, the labor of the people who typed them from the tape, the people who proofread—all of those various things have not been labor in vain.

The beautiful thing about that ministry is that it is done almost entirely by volunteers. We have two paid staff members and all of the rest of it is done by volunteers. The labor of the paid staff members and all of the labor of those volunteers is not in vain in the Lord, even though it may seem like very humble work. Whatever you are doing for the Lord is not in vain in the Lord. I think all of us, from time to time, have the feeling that surely what you are doing cannot amount to very much, but whatever you are doing for the Lord is not in vain.

I had the opportunity of having lunch on Friday with Dr. Paul Meyer, who is a Christian psychiatrist. We lived next door to each other in college, and we have kept in touch through the years. He happened to be in Dallas and I was in Dallas on the same day. It worked out that we were able to have lunch together, along with another mutual friend of ours. As I sat with his friend, who is a pastor of a large church in Dallas, and as I sat with Paul with this worldwide ministry, who has spoken to Promise Keepers and has written fifty books, I tell you I felt a little humble.

I thought, “Surely this little opportunity that I have out in west Texas, a little town of Abilene, can't begin to compare with this man who has this worldwide ministry.” But the Lord rebuked me about that; He brought me up short about that. He reminded me of what I had already prepared to say about our labor not being in vain in the Lord, which I had prepared a day or two before in planning what I would say about this chapter. He just hit me in the face with that. That is an important lesson, particularly in this day and time, in this society in which we live where bigness is everything.

I am thankful for Paul Meyer's ministry and the impact that it has had literally around the world. I am thankful for the impact that my friend who is Paul's pastor and who is a longtime friend of mine and the large successful ministry he is having there in the Metroplex, but let me tell you something: I am thankful for the ministry that He has given me here. On a human scale, it is a much smaller ministry, but it is not in vain in the Lord. If you are mopping floors, if you are cleaning up bathrooms for the Lord, it is not in vain. God is going to put that together and use it, and that is what He is saying to these disciples: “Peace be with you. I am going to send you out as the Father sent Me out, and you can have the peace of knowing that it is certain that it will not be in vain. However large or however small it may be, your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

Jesus' Commission Same as the Father's Commission

Then notice in the last part of verse 21, that it was the same commission that the Father had given to the Son. He says:

John 20

21…as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.

How did the Father send Jesus? He sent Him out of the place He had every right to be. Think how comfortable and happy Jesus must have been in Heaven, but the Father sent Him forth, and He had to give up a great deal to do what the Father sent Him to do. It may involve that for us. We may have to leave the place where we are comfortable and the place where we feel at ease and the place where we are happy with the things we have a right to.

That is not always the case, but many times it is as God sent the Son forth and the Son sends us forth. It may involve leaving our comfort zone in order to do the task that needs to be done. For Jesus, that involved not only leaving the place where He was comfortable and happy and content, but it involved facing ridicule from people who were much smaller people than He was. Can you just imagine how that must have felt to the Creator of the universe to have these puny humans spit in His face and pull the hairs of His beard out? That is mind-boggling. It is bad enough when one of your peers makes you suffer in some way, but when somebody who is a lesser creature than you causes you pain and suffering, that is a difficult thing, but sometimes God puts us in situations like that.

There was a doctor who used to come to Bible conferences here in Abilene when I was a little boy. He was a medical doctor, and he told the story of how he was a missionary in the South Sea islands for a number of years. He was lying on his back in several inches of water reaching up in his boat, trying to repair the inboard motor. He had to get in that position to fix it, and it was a dirty, hot, scummy business. This doctor was lying there doing that so he could serve Jesus Christ in the South Sea islands, and someone came along and said, “Buddy, you couldn't pay me enough money to do that.”, and this doctor, who loved Christ, said, “I'll tell you something, Buddy, you couldn't pay me enough money to do it either, but I am doing it for Jesus.” Even if He does send us into situations like Jesus had to face, it is well worth it. Jesus went despising the shame, but He did it for the joy that was set before Him.

Down Payment On the Holy Spirit

In verse 22, though, this commission involves the enablement for the fulfillment of it. Notice verse 22:

John 20

22And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:

In the beginning, God breathed life into Adam in Genesis, chapter 2. It specifically says that He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. In Ezekiel, chapter 37, it tells about the time in the future when God will breathe life spiritually into the regathered Israel. Here the resurrected Christ does the same thing to His disciples. He breathes into them, and He says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Luke tells us that when He did this, it resulted in their ability to understand the Scriptures. Their eyes were opened to all of the prophecies and the Scriptures that Jesus had referred to and that they were familiar with, but until this time didn't understand.

We don't have time to go into all the details, but if we were to compare this with what is going to happen in Acts, chapter 2, and do all the leg work that is involved, we would find that technically speaking what Jesus did here was to give them a down payment on the Holy Spirit. They did not receive the Holy Spirit in His fullness until the day of Pentecost, which was still several weeks away; but at this point, they received the down payment, we might say, on the Holy Spirit. Later, when the Holy Spirit did come on the day of Pentecost, they received the power of the Holy Spirit in all of its fullness.

Since that time, we receive the Holy Spirit when we accept Jesus Christ as Savior, and we have the enablement for serving the Lord in whatever circumstances He sends us into. We also, because of the Holy Spirit, have the ability to understand the Word of God. How could we hope to minister if we didn't have the Word of God and if we didn't understand the Word of God? The Scripture tells us that the natural man does not receive the things of God. They are foolishness to him and neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned. God has given us His Spirit so we can understand even the deep things of God.

There certainly is a place for technical education and for formal education in spiritual things—Bible college, seminary and those kinds of things. But at the same time, we don't have to depend on those things. For the person who doesn't have the opportunity and for the person whom the Lord does not lead into those kinds of education, any Christian can understand the Word of God and can make use of it in whatever kind of ministry God gives us because we have the Holy Spirit, which Jesus introduced to the disciples in this passage.

Let me ask you something. We are talking about this commission that Jesus gave these disciples, which has been passed on to us. Are you trying to do that in your own strength? It is so easy to forget about the fact that we have the Holy Spirit within us. Any time we sit down to read the Bible, we ought to pause for a moment and consciously ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes. We don't have to ask Him to come and be with us. He resides within us, and technically and theologically we don't have to consciously ask Him to open our eyes, but that prayer is as much for ourselves as it is anything else. Ask the Lord to make you aware of the fact that the Holy Spirit can give you understanding of this passage and then read it with the enlightenment that the Holy Spirit gives.

If you have done any intense Bible study, you know that that doesn't mean that God just automatically enables you to read it in outline form with illustrations and applications included. That part of it involves some meditation and thought and comparison of Scripture with Scripture; but the understanding of the message God gives through the power of the Holy Spirit and as we are faithful to do some spade work and to do some mental work, He will show us how some things fit together and amplify the points that are there. All of that comes because we have the Holy Spirit.

Believers to Go and Preach the Gospel

Verse 23 is a verse that is a problem text for some people, but I want to say that that verse tells us that this commission that Jesus gave the disciples also carries authority. Look at verse 23:

John 20

23Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

We have already seen in the Scripture that this cannot mean that Jesus is giving these disciples the authority to forgive sins. This does not mean that those who are the successors of the apostles, who in the Catholic Church today are called Bishops and Priests , have the authority as human beings to forgive other people's sins. The Pharisees had it right when they said in Mark, chapter 2, “Who can forgive sins, but God only?” When Jesus said to the man who had been let down through the roof by his friends, “Your sins have been forgiven you,” the Pharisees said, “He is calling Himself God, because who can forgive sins, but God only.” They were right. Only God can forgive sins.

What does this verse mean? I believe that it means we, as believers, have been commissioned to go into the world and preach the Gospel. Jesus clarified that later in Matthew, chapter 28: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel.” He was giving the framework of that same commission to these disciples here. He is talking about how they are to go into the world. As the Father sent Him into the world, we are to go in that same way, but our commission is to preach the Gospel. As we give the Gospels and see a person trust Christ as Savior, we have the authority from God to say, “Because you have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior, your sins are forgiven.”

Who among us would have the nerve to say that to somebody? If somebody came to you and said, “I am just not sure that God has forgiven me.” If you didn't have the Word of God, how would you have the audacity to say to another person, “Your sins are forgiven.”? Because John has written verse 31 of this chapter: “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”, I can take that verse of Scripture and, on the strength of that verse of Scripture, I can say to any one of you who have trusted Christ as your Savior,“Your sins are forgiven.”

I am not forgiving those sins, but I am telling you that God has forgiven those sins. If someone has not trusted Christ as Savior, I have the authority to say, “Your sins have not been forgiven”—not because I am not forgiving them, but because the Word of God says that the person who does not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ is condemned already because he has not believed in the only begotten Son of God.

Conclusion

That is the sense in which we and these disciples have authority in the area of sin—not that we can forgive sin, but we can confidently tell them that their sin either has or has not been forgiven, depending on what they have done with Jesus Christ. This is the commission that Jesus Christ gave to these disciples.

In our next lesson, we will see that things are going along so well. The disciples, as we have seen, are thrilled to death, and now Christ is giving them this commission. He is giving them the empowerment for it. He is giving them the authority to take His message to other people, but in verses 24-25, we are going to see that there is a glitch in the whole system. We will talk about that in our next lesson and leave you in suspense all week to see what the glitch was and what Jesus did about it.


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