Today is Pentecost Sunday, when we remember the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church as recorded in Acts 2. But here is a different way of looking at Pentecost from the Gospel of John....
Nicholas Herman, known to the world as Brother Lawrence, was a 17th century lay brother; his assignment was to kitchen duty in a Carmelite monastery in Paris. He was born to peasant parents in Lorraine in 1611. As a young man of eighteen, he suddenly awoke to the presence of God when, on a winter’s day, he looked upon a bare tree and thought of its approaching renewal. Herman subsequently served as a soldier in the Thirty Years’ War. The enemy captured him as a spy but he escaped hanging. Later, he received a severe wound in the leg and returned to his own village with a resolve never to be a soldier again. After this, he made the great decision to become a monk. Under the encouragement of his uncle who was a Carmelite, he applied and the order accepted him. He was forty years old at the time and served in various manual tasks until his death forty years later in 1691.
Brother Lawrence once said, as quoted in a little booklet entitled The Practice of the Presence of God,
The time of action is not different from that of prayer. I enjoy God with as great tranquility in the hurry of my kitchen, where frequently many people call upon me at the same time for different things, as if I was on my knees at the holy sacrament.
Nor is it in any ways necessary to be concerned with great matters. I put my little egg-cake into the frying-pan for the love of God. When it is done, and if I have nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself on the ground, and I adore my God who assists me in everything by His grace; after which I rise up more contented than a king….
Were I a preacher, I should preach above all other things, the practice of the Presence of God: Were I a teacher, I should advise all the world to it; so necessary do I think it, and so easy.
Staying in touch with the presence of God throughout every moment of every day should indeed be the life-long goal of every believer, though I am not certain it is as easy as Brother Lawrence suggests.
In our passage for today from the Gospel of John, we will see several important results of the presence of the risen Lord Jesus Christ in our lives.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:19-23)
As I have already suggested, we see here a few important results of the presence of the risen Lord Jesus Christ in the life of the believer. The first result is peace.
Is it not interesting that the first word the risen Lord Jesus speaks to his disciples in this encounter is “peace”? Perhaps that is his first word because he knows how much we need it. Then, as if that is not enough, Jesus repeats the same blessing, “Peace be with you!”
William Barclay notes that this was “the normal everyday eastern greeting”. However, Barclay says, it means far more than: “May you be saved from trouble.” It means: “May God give you every good thing.”
The first disciples had anything but peace after Jesus’ death on the cross. They were no doubt worried that they would be next in line for execution by the Roman authorities, at the instigation of the Jewish leaders. Furthermore, they must have lacked peace about the direction of their lives. What were they now to do? They had pinned all their hopes on Jesus of Nazareth and dedicated their lives completely to his service, giving up their jobs and even their families for a time. Now what were they to do since Jesus was dead?
However, then, all of a sudden, they see he is not dead. Jesus appears to his disciples while they are hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jewish leaders. Locked doors provide no obstacle to the risen Lord Jesus. He comes and stands among them anyway and speaks his word of peace.
Junior Seau was a passionate, fist-pumping, emotional leader and superstar for the NFL’s San Diego Chargers. In his 13-year pro football career, Seau made the Pro Bowl 12 times. He was also part of the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team. Sadly, on May 2, 2012, at the age of 43, Seau took his own life.
Seau’s death in northern San Diego County stunned the community who adored him for his service and outgoing personality. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, his former teammate and friend, Rodney Harrison, explained that in Seau’s last days he was desperately searching for peace. Harrison said:
He would tell me that the only time he truly felt at peace was when he was with his children or in the surf. He would say, “When I’m on those waves, it’s the greatest feeling. I have no worries, no stress, no problems. I just forget about everything.” Junior was always searching for peace.
Even the world’s most successful people still have a deep spiritual hunger, a restlessness that can only be satisfied in Christ. Like Junior Seau we are all searching for peace, but we will not find that peace in success or fame. It only comes by experiencing the power of the presence of the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
That is the first result of encountering the risen Lord: peace. The second result is joy.
After Jesus spoke that blessing of peace to his disciples, he showed them his nail-scarred hands and his sword-pierced side. We read that the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. That is, when they realized he had actually risen from the dead, that this same Jesus whom they had known for three years, whom they had heard preach and seen heal countless people, this same Jesus who had died seemingly helpless on a cross, had overcome the final obstacle: death. When they realized this, joy spilled over from their previously broken hearts.
Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision, reflected on his visit to a church in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, nearly a year after the devastating earthquake. The church’s building consisted of a tent made from white tarps and duct tape, pitched in the midst of a sprawling camp for thousands of people still homeless from the earthquake. This is how he describes the church and the lesson he learned in Haiti:
In the front row sat six amputees ranging in age from 6 to 60. They were clapping and smiling as they sang song after song and lifted their prayers to God. The worship was full of hope … [and] with thanksgiving to the Lord.
No one was singing louder or praying more fervently than Demosi Louphine, a 32-year-old unemployed single mother of two. During the earthquake, a collapsed building crushed her right arm and left leg. After four days both limbs had to be amputated.
She was leading the choir, leading prayers, standing on her prosthesis and lifting her one hand high in praise to God .… Following the service, I met Demosi’s two daughters, ages eight and ten. The three of them now live in a tent five feet tall and perhaps eight feet wide. Despite losing her job, her home, and two limbs, she is deeply grateful because God spared her life … “He brought me back like Lazarus, giving me the gift of life,” says Demosi … [who] believes she survived the devastating quake for two reasons: to raise her girls and to serve her Lord for a few more years.
What an example of what happens when a person experiences the power of the presence of the risen Lord Jesus Christ in their life! They overflow with joy despite the most miserable of circumstances. If Demosi in Haiti can overflow with joy, perhaps you and I can too.
A third result we see here from the presence of the risen Lord Jesus Christ is mission.
After filling them with his peace and joy, Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
How did the Father send Jesus? He did it in love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Jesus the Son is sending us in love, just as he the Father sent him as a love message to the world. The Father gave his Son, even unto death to bring us new life. Just so, we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves, even unto death, for the life of the world.
We do not have to go to the other side of the world to carry the message of Jesus’ love to those in need. We can begin spreading that message right where we are among our families and friends and co-workers and neighbors. We can begin here and now to sacrifice ourselves for the life of the world.
Joe Stowell writes this in his book, Jesus Nation, about how simple it can be to demonstrate the love and self-sacrifice of Jesus in everyday life….
Every day there are opportunities for each of us to reach out to others to demonstrate the excellencies of Jesus. There are family members, colleagues at work, and strangers that happen to intersect the trajectory of our lives who are waiting to be touched by a [follower of Jesus]. In fact, my recommendation is that you plan to commit one intentional act of [goodness] every day just to stay in shape.
It was six o’clock in the morning, and I had just finished my early run. As I passed the local Starbucks, I decided to stop in and get a couple cups of our favorite lattes and take them home to [my wife], who would be waking up. Since the café had just opened, there was only one other person in line in front of me. But it wasn’t your ordinary wait-in-line-for-coffee drill. The guy in front of me was in a tense argument with the clerk. In loud and no uncertain terms, the customer was complaining that all he wanted was the copy of the New York Times that he was holding in one hand while he was waving a fifty-dollar bill in the other. The fight was over the fact that the clerk did not have enough change yet to break the fifty-dollar bill, which made it impossible for him to sell the paper.
It dawned on me that this was an early morning opportunity to commit one intentional act of [goodness] by demonstrating the excellence of the generous spirit of Jesus. So I said to the clerk, “Hey, put the paper on my bill; I’ll buy it for him.” This immediately defused the tension, and the grateful New York Times guy walked away saying, “Thanks a lot. All I have is yours!” Which evidently did not include the fifty-dollar bill.
To my surprise, when the barista handed me my coffee, he said, “Mister, that was a really nice thing for you to do. This world would be a lot better place to live if more people were like you.” What he didn’t know was that if he really knew me, he probably wouldn’t say that.
His comments caught me totally off guard, and I knew that I could say something at that point that would point the glory upward…but nothing came. So I made some self-deprecating remark and walked out, haunted that I had missed a great opportunity to glorify God. As I was walking down the sidewalk, it came to me. I should have said, “Well, this world would not be a better place if more people were like me. But it would be a better place if more people were like Jesus, because he taught me how to do that.”
I turned around to go back and tell him that, only to remember that by the time I left there was a line waiting for coffee. It didn’t seem to me that it would be a great idea to break into the line and make a religious speech. My only conclusion was the thought that I was wearing my Moody Bible Institute hat. So I prayed that he would have noticed my hat. That he would always remember that Bible people do things like that, and that the world would be a better place if there were more Bible people around.
Your opportunity to demonstrate the love and self-sacrifice of Jesus may not come while standing in an early morning line-up at Starbucks, but there are countless opportunities for each one of us, in a variety of situations, to carry forth the mission of the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
However, if we are going to do that, and be effective in doing it, then we desperately need the fourth result of the presence of the risen Lord Jesus Christ in our lives; that is the indwelling Holy Spirit.
After giving to his first disciples their mission in life, Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Without the Holy Spirit of Jesus, we cannot carry out the mission of Jesus. We cannot demonstrate real love and true self-sacrifice without God’s help, without God’s power working in us and through us, from the inside out.
How does Jesus breathe his Holy Spirit into us today? Often it happens through reading the Bible, especially the Gospels and letters of the New Testament. Sometimes Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into us when we pray. Other times it happens while we are sitting in church, worshipping the Lord or receiving the sacrament. There are, perhaps, countless ways that Jesus can breathe the Holy Spirit into us. The question is: are we open and ready to receive?
Chuck Swindoll has written the following in his book entitled Embraced by the Spirit….
By the time I graduated from [seminary], I had many convictions and few questions, especially regarding the Holy Spirit …. But during a lifetime of ministry that has taken me around the United States and to many countries abroad, I have found that the work of the Holy Spirit continually keeps me off balance. I’m not alone in that. Those in church leadership seem afraid the Spirit is going to do something we can’t explain. I’ve found that disturbs many folks … but I’ll admit it energizes me.
I’ve come to realize there are dimensions of the Spirit’s ministry I have never tapped and places in this study about which I know very little. I’m on a strong learning curve. I have witnessed a dynamic power in his presence that I long to know more of firsthand. I now have questions and a strong interest in many of the things of the Spirit I once felt were settled. To say it plainly, I am hungry for more of him. I long to know God more deeply and more intimately.
I think that hunger is the key to unlocking a deeper experience of the Holy Spirit. If we are open, if we are asking the Lord Jesus to breathe his Spirit into us, then it will happen, perhaps in ways we do not expect and cannot fully understand, but it will happen. Then we will be empowered for mission … and for one thing more….
The fifth result we see here of the presence of the risen Lord Jesus Christ in the life of his disciples is forgiveness.
After breathing the Holy Spirit into his disciples, Jesus said, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Perhaps the most powerful gift we have to share with others as part of being representatives of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, is the gift of forgiveness. As we proclaim and live out the message of the Good News, we carry forgiveness of sins to others. Conversely, as we fail to proclaim and live out that message, we hinder others in receiving forgiveness.
Evangelist Luis Palau once wrote the following about forgiveness:
Years ago in Guatemala, a man came to me who had dishonored our Lord’s name. He was truly broken and had repented. Yet he was still without joy. It was obvious he needed to be assured that he was forgiven; otherwise Satan would have gained an advantage over him.
I did something then which until that day I had never done. I put my arm around him and said, “Brother, you’ve repented; your sins are forgiven. Let me pray with you.” And this broken, humble Guatemalan said, “Oh, thank you, thank you. Now I'm free!”
With tears running down our faces, we hugged each other. He was so excited, because a fellow brother in Christ had reassured him.
But this man should have been reassured earlier by his local church. When someone is obviously broken and repentant, the church must stand up and say, “In the name of the Lord Jesus, rejoice! He has forgiven you, and we forgive you too.” The assurance from such corporate forgiveness brings healing and joy to the entire congregation.
There is, perhaps, no more important part of any Christian worship service than the declaration of forgiveness that it is my privilege to declare as a representative of Jesus Christ. Though we can read about forgiveness in the Bible and hear it preached about in a sermon, we all need to have another human being look us in the eye and say, “Jesus loves you and forgives you.” This is the miracle experienced in the rite of confession in the Catholic Church as well as other branches of the Christian Church. However, I do not believe it is a miracle to be restricted to the proclamation of a priest or minister. Each of us, as disciples of Jesus Christ has the privilege of declaring God’s forgiveness to others.
Who is there, within your spheres of influence, that desperately needs to hear and know the forgiveness and love of Jesus Christ? Why not ask the Holy Spirit to give you an opportunity, even this week, to declare the love and forgiveness of the risen Lord Jesus Christ to that person?
When we experience the power of the presence of the risen Lord Jesus, the result is peace, joy, mission, the Holy Spirit and forgiveness. Those results are not something we can keep to ourselves. The power of the presence is something that simply must be shared.
 Richard Stearns, “Suffering and Rejoicing in a Haitian Tent Camp,” Christianitytoday.com (1-12-11)
 Joe Stowell, Jesus Nation (Tyndale, 2009), pp. 80-81
 Luis Palau, “Discipline in the Church,” Discipleship Journal (July/August 1983)