“Receive the Holy Spirit”
This is my fourth and final note on the resurrection account in John’s Gospel. In the first note, I highlighted John’s use of new creation imagery. In the second, I considered what his account of the resurrection says about our identity as dearly loved children of our heavenly Father. In the third, I reflected upon the personal call of the risen Christ on our lives. During this Easter season, we’re reminded that the risen Christ stands before us and calls us, “You follow me!” In this final note, I want to consider the gift of the Holy Spirit. Before his ascension, the risen Christ promised to send the Spirit. The Easter season culminates with the feast of Pentecost, when we celebrate the outpouring of God’s Spirit.
John reports what happened when Jesus first appeared to his disciples:
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.” (John 20:19-22)
Twice the risen Jesus blesses his disciples, “Peace be with you.” After the first blessing of peace, Jesus shows them his hands and his side. It’s really him. The visible stigmata of where he was pierced is a confirmation of what the prophet Isaiah promised long ago:
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
His chastisement has brought them peace. His wounds have healed them.The peace he now gives them is peace in the fullest sense of the Hebrew word “shalom.” It’s the fullness of God’s salvation, it’s perfect atonement and reconciliation with God, it’s complete healing and restoration, and it’s the fullness of life and joy in God.
After the second blessing, the risen Christ commissions his disciples, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you,” and then breathes on them and says, “receive the Holy Spirit.” They are made ambassadors of the peace of the risen Christ, commissioned in the abiding presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The peace of the risen Christ is received in the Spirit and the commissioning of the risen Christ is carried out in the Spirit.
The disciples receive the Spirit from the risen Christ, who fulfills the promises he made to them on the eve of his crucifixion. At the last supper, Jesus promised:
“But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” (John 14:26-27)
The peace of the risen Christ is truly given and received, and eternally abides with the believer, because the Holy Spirit has been given and received,and eternally abides with the believer. The peace is permanent, because the Spirit is eternally God. The abiding Spirit also equips the church in her mission by teaching and bringing to remembrance the Word of Christ. As we abide in the Word of Christ, we abide in the peace of Christ.
Jesus also promised that the Spirit would illuminate and empower the church’s witness to Christ.
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:26-27)
The Spirit’s witness to Christ is preserved in the writing of the Apostles. Their reception of the Spirit in the evening of that first day was for a specific Spirit-empowered ministry: apostolic witness and teaching, which is preserved in the New Testament. John himself received the Spirit and wrote this Gospel. He wrote it “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). Through the centuries, the church has been the embassy of the risen Christ because of the abiding presence and power of the Spirit, who testifies through the church’s Gospel preaching, so that the world may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing they may have life in his name.
At the end of this Easter season we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The risen Son of God sends the Spirit of God, so that we may know and abide in the life and peace of the risen Son of God, and so that we may be equipped and empowered as the embassy of the risen Son of God.