Receiving the Spirit Jesus Promised

Pentecost and the Coming of the Holy Spirit to the Church in Acts

A sermon idea based on John 20:19-23.

The Big Idea

When Jesus’ followers, by faith, actively choose to receive the empowering Holy Spirit, the whole world gets turned upside down and God’s forever family grows!

John 20:19-23 NRSV

[19] When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” [20] After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. [21] Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” [22] When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. [23] If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

The second half of the Gospel of John concerns itself with the final week of Jesus’ life and his post-resurrection gatherings with his disciples. Within that section of scripture are several of the most intimate scenes of Jesus with his disciples.

First, the upper room setting in which Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and instituted the observance of communion.

Then, the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus embraced the will of God, even if it included putting God’s love on display via his cruel death on the cross.

After the crucifixion, we have several post-resurrection meetings between Jesus and his most devoted followers, one of which is the upper room scene that unfolds here (from which Thomas was absent, leading to his Sunday evening encounter with Jesus a week later).

And in this meeting, Thomas really misses out. He not only misses out on the first gathering of Jesus and.. the Ten… after his resurrection. He also misses the conversation in which Jesus issues a command to go with the promise he’d made not too many days before.

Back in John 16, Jesus promised that the Comforter would come and here, the risen Christ breathes on the… Ten… and gives them a command to follow up on his promise.

The command is simple: “Receive!” Receive the Holy Spirit. But the command follows a well wish of, “Peace be with you,” and then John’s version of the Great Commission in which Jesus simply says, “As the Father as sent me, so I send you.”

All followers of Jesus get to learn from the pattern revealed in this passage.

First, Jesus desires and brings peace to any space where he is received.

The gospel writer points out that the doors were shut “for fear of the Jews.” This must be understood as the Jewish Temple leaders rather than all people of Jewish ethnicity or nationality. After the death of Jesus, the Jewish leaders would certainly want to stamp out any remaining spark of Jesus’ movement, especially their leaders.

Second, the pathway to peace begins with embracing the Holy Spirit whom he has sent.

What matters most here is the command. It’s imperative. Receive! Take the Holy Spirit the very moment he is available to you!

Personally, I see Jesus’ command here as a stopover between his promise that the Comforter would come and the Day of Pentecost. He was pre-preparing his followers to be ready, on Pentecost, to take hold of what came for them – God’s indwelling, empowering Spirit!

And third, once Jesus’ followers receive the Holy Spirit and obey the command to go and tell everyone the good news about Christ, reconciliation (legitimate, eternal peace) comes to those who receive the gospel.

And if they said “Yes!” to this command? They’d be able to spread the message of God’s reconciling power and work among all people. They could announce, boldly and confidently, God’s provision for the forgiveness of sins in Christ.

And so, for us today, the question remains, If the Holy Spirit is freely available for the indwelling and empowering of any and all who choose to follow Christ, will we be obedient and receive (take, actively, not passively) the promised Comforter?

If so… If we will receive him… we’ll have the privilege of joining him in the reconciling of all things to God by announcing the good news of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection!


About the Cover Art: Photo by Ruslan Batiuk via Frepik. 


Recommended Resources

The New Interpreter's® Bible Commentary Ten Volume Set
  • Hardcover Book
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 10/20/2015 (Publication Date) - Abingdon Press (Publisher)

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