For those of you here who know me well you might have assumed that I’m not much of an outdoors person. If you have, you’re right! Don’t get me wrong I enjoy a bit of camping when the sun is splitting the trees, someone else has built the tent and I have running water. So, it might come as a bit of a surprise when I tell you that a few years ago while I was still in school, I was an RAF cadet. I loved it. We could get flight experience and I was able to fly gliders here in Newtownards from the airfield. Saint Mark’s really does stand out beautifully from the air. For me it was a real focal point and I used to work out where everything else was. So much did I love the RAF, that I decided to go for my next promotion to Cadet Sargent. To my shock, I was told that I would have to complete a survival course which would include camping out in the Mourne Mountains. You could say that the trip went well if you discount the getting lost, falling into a river, losing the tent and eventually having to be rescued. As you might have guessed, I didn’t get the promotion. What has always stuck with me though is the survival training. In an extreme survival situation, you have three main priorities; air, water, food. They say you can live for 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water and only around 3 minutes without breathing. Breathing is something we always do, most of the time without even noticing or thinking about yet we can’t overstate its importance to our survival. It’s undeniably vital.
With that thought in mind, I want us to shift our attention to today’s passage. Our context is that Jesus has just died on the cross. The disciples would have been in a state of shock and grief at what they had just witnessed. They were also fearful for their own wellbeing should the people that killed Jesus turn their sights on them. I can never quite fully get my head around just how they must have been feeling. They had seen first-hand Jesus do the impossible. They had heard Him giving the most awe-inspiring teaching. They believed He was the promised messiah who would rescue Israel, the one who they had all been waiting for. Now all hopes were dashed and the disciples were lost, confused, disappointed and afraid. But into the midst of this despair suddenly Jesus is standing there amongst them. What a turn of events. What a shock that must have been. What an unbelievable moment. What Jesus does next though is so interesting and so crucial to our lives as Christians that we really need to take note. He says to them ‘” Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”’ We’re then told that after he said this ‘he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit’ (John 20:21-22). He breathed on them.
What I found fascinating here is that his action parallels back to what we saw at the very beginning of creation itself. In Genesis chapter 2, when God is creating humanity, we read in verse 7 that ‘the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.’ What we’re seeing is God breathing the breath of life into the one created to be His image bearer on Earth. And, of course, we know how the story continues. Man rebels and sin enters the world, separating us from God. That sin must be dealt with. That’s why Jesus had to come and that’s why Jesus had to die.
That’s why it’s so crucial, that here on the first day of the resurrection, we see Jesus breathing on the disciples and saying, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ This represents a new beginning, a new season. The Father is breathing out new life through Jesus so that we can bring that same new life to the world. Today as we come to believe in Jesus we to receive the Holy Spirit and become a new creation in Christ. The Holy Spirit is as vital to our faith as air is to our bodies.
It’s important now to look at what Jesus said just before he did this to the disciples. He said, ‘As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you’ (John 20:21). So, in the same way that the Father sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus is sending us into the world as His messengers and representatives. This is our commission as believers. You’ll notice here that Jesus isn’t asking, He is making a statement. There is a clear expectation on His part that the disciples will go out and impact the world around them. This same expectation rests on us as believers today, each of us is being sent out. But what do we do and how do we do it?
The truth is as we look around us we see a world in pain. We see suffering, greed, sickness, death and hatred. But ultimately what we see is a world desperately crying out for and needing the love of God that can only be found in Christ. A love that is too great, too powerful, too transformative to keep to ourselves.
On the cross Jesus achieved a total victory over sin and death. It is now our privilege as believers to implement that victory. After all, the Gospel isn’t good news to those who haven’t heard it and that’s exactly why we must proclaim it. Proclaim it as loudly as we can. The world desperately needs to know that Jesus came into this world and that in His great love He went to the cross and he died and in doing so He took upon himself the sins of the entire world and paid their price in full so we could be reconciled with God. We need to tell them that death could not hold Him, that He is risen and that He will return. They need to know that this is for them, that they are loved and no matter what they do or what is done to them, He is standing with open arms. All they have to do is accept Him. In doing so, they will receive hope, freedom and unconditional love alongside the assurance of eternity. They will step into their true destiny as members of His family.
Furthermore, as He went about His ministry, Jesus took a stand against darkness and inaugurated the Kingdom of God. 1 John 3:8 tells us ‘The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.’ We see this played out throughout the Gospels as Jesus heals the sick, raises the dead and casts out demons. He fought against prejudice as we see in the parable of the Good Samaritan, social exclusion as we see in His acceptance of outcast, hypocrisy as we see in his words towards the religious leaders and greed as we see in the parable of the rich fool. But more than just destroying the works of the devil, He is launching and building the Kingdom of God. The word Kingdom comes from the words King’s domain. So essentially, He is bringing lives and situations out of darkness and into His light and putting them under God’s rulership. He replaces exclusion with acceptance, judgement with forgiveness, greed with generosity, doubt with faith, hatred with love and death with life. Now that Jesus has returned to heaven, this work doesn’t stop. It’s now our job. Jesus is telling us to take a stand against evil and darkness and to shine brightly for Him. To partner with Him as we seek to bring lives, communities and situations under His rule and reign. To see God’s truth, purposes and love brought into the midst of them. To see them truly transformed.
Finally, Jesus also revealed the Father. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that ‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.’ Jesus Christ and everything He does is the perfect representation of the Father and through Him the Father is revealed and His heart manifested. If we were to tie a rope around a miracle and follow it back to its source we would find ourselves at the very heart of the Father. A heart that has an unimaginable, indescribable love for each of us. The heart of the God who heals, the God who saves, the God who sets us free. What we need to do now is to pursue the Father’s heart. We need to seek after greater intimacy with Him, to always be striving to go deeper in our faith because as we do this our heart will increasingly be aligned to His heart. We’ll begin to see situations through His eyes and feel the way He feels. This then will enable us to more effectively reveal Him to the world because when people encounter us they’ll be pointed directly to God as His heart flows through us.
This is a commission I look at and I know I simply can’t do it. That we can’t do it. The truth is we can’t achieve any of this by ourselves. It simply isn’t possible. And that is exactly why, as we read in our passage, Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit. To try and be effective for God without the Spirit is like getting in your car when it has no petrol. You’re only going to get as far as you can push it, which wouldn’t be far at all. We must be totally reliant on the empowerment and the guidance of the Holy Spirit if we want to impact this world for Christ.
The truth is that the same power that raised Christ from the dead lives inside each of us (Romans 8:11) and that same power wants to see every person, every situation, every community and every nation transformed through us by the love of God that we see revealed in Jesus. At times the mission will seem too great, it will seem impossible. Jesus is saying to us now as He did to His disciples in Matthew 19:36, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’ All things are possible. We have a God who is all powerful, unstoppable and completely loving. Ultimately there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome, no barrier too great, no person too lost, no situation too impossible that it cannot be touched and transformed by the indescribable love of God. Just as when I flew over our town and Saint Mark’s was a focal point, I am thankful that over the past 200 years it has been a beacon for God’s love and hope and I know that it will continue to shine as an even greater beacon still as we move forward together, united in Christ and reliant on the Holy Spirit, as we proclaim the Gospel and seek to see the Kingdom built.