16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
Every generation or so human cultures seem to have a period of time in which they redefine themselves. By redefining themselves I do not necessarily mean that they change everything about themselves, but they reexamine what they find to be important to retain and what they defining feature should be pursued. This happens in pretty much any type of culture within societies. Business redefined their core beliefs and mission statements whenever there are significant leadership changes. School districts examine what has worked and what they need to do better when new leadership is hired. Even churches reexamine themselves as newer leadership emerges among them. It is healthy to take time to slow down, look at what has been going on and what goals for the future might be and consider how to proceed to accomplish our future goals. This process is not always a comfortable task to accomplish. When we examine what has been done in the past and consider what changes we might make as we walk into the future people can begin to push back. They were comfortable doing things the way they were, maybe they do not understand the significance of why the changes need to come about, or there may possibly be a change in structure that would change how influential a segment of the population might be.
Changes can be stressful. Changes are difficult to implement and even more difficult to continue to work toward. Last week I mentioned that systems like homeostasis or a state where there is no conflict, where everyone has a place and things can proceed with little dissention. Change disrupts homeostasis and forces us all to find a new normal.
Imagine for a moment the first century church. For decades the faithful followers of the Christ followed the teachings of the original apostles. Men and women that walked with Jesus, spoke directly with him, ate meals with him and witnessed the many miraculous events. But one by one the apostles were martyred for their faith as first the Jewish people drove them out of the Holy City, then the Gentiles began to place blame on them for disasters that fell upon various cities or political figures. One by one they were taken from the earth leaving only stories. As the church expanded across the empires and the faithful grew beyond the ability of the apostles to personally lead each gathering they began to write letters to encourage their disciples to continue to walk in faith. Those letters were collected together to form what we now know to be the New Testament. There are many theories about how the books of scripture were chosen. Most of those theories are not based on any fact what so ever, because the books of scripture were being used for centuries before anyone actually made a list of which were sacred and which were not and oddly enough the list that all the various ancient churches used are the very books we read today, with very few exceptions. There was really only one criteria that was used to determine the worthiness of a letter to be included as sacred writing within the church, was it written by an apostle or a direct disciple of an apostle. Of the books of scripture we read in the New Testament there is really only one book from which the authorship is questioned, that is the Letter to the Hebrews. But the question with that letter is not if an apostle wrote it but which, there are some that believe James wrote it and others believe it was Paul, because the writing style could be either.
So the end of the apostolic age was quickly approaching, change was staring the church in their face. The majority of faithful truly believed that Jesus would have returned by this time yet he had not. The faithful began to have questions and doubts. That is the purpose of the epistle especially the Epistles of John. John was the last of the apostles, he was the final eye witness that could verify the stories that were shared that encouraged the disciples to believe in the hope of Christ. At this time he was old, to be honest in ancient cultures he would have been considered ancient somewhat of an oddity. He no longer went by the title apostle because he felt he was no longer able to be sent out to minister because his joint hurt, his hands shook, and his eyes were failing. Now the church knew him as John the elder, he was the most respected of all men among the community of Ephesus, and he was the voice that encouraged the energetic youth to slow down and consider what was emerging before they rushed into the future.
There were many things that were emerging during this transformational period of time. Some of the more erroneous ideas were spoken about in other letters, but some were still gaining strength. The church was at a place where they were going to have to decide what is right and what is wrong. Where to walk and where to stand. Friends we are at one of those transformational periods today. We have been walking through one of these transformational periods for most of your lives, it has been building and building until suddenly all among the church at this point in time question where the future actually resides. We are in a cloud of unknowing, only able to see a dim silhouette of what stands before us. But well respected leaders are interpreting that silhouette in different ways and the faithful seem to rally around the various ideas and seem to exclude any and all differing interpretations of what the future holds.
These transformational periods are extremely difficult. It nearly ripped the early church apart and it is nearly ripping our contemporary church as well. But John the Elder, the apostle that saw the church from the very beginning into the changing age speaks great comfort to those of us in the midst of change.
He begins today with two incredibly powerful words, “We know…” We do not really get a full understanding of what the word know means in this context because in English know can mean so much. In the ancient Greek language the concept of know is not connected to any opinion but only the observable facts, and of all the senses sight is the one sense that stands above all other things. “We know…” John says. We have observed this, and we know it to be true in every imaginable way, we experience it, perceive it afresh every moment of our lives, and just when we begin to doubt we observe it again. We Know Love.
That is the number one thing that will get anyone through the most difficult time in their lives, that is the number one thing that will get a community through the major changes that every community faces as the culture seems to reexamine what it will be defined as. Love. We know love. They do not know love, but we know it by this, that he laid his life down for us. That is the most basic of the Christian faith. The simplest and purest form of Christianity is Love and we know love by the example, the very vicarious humanity of Christ taking on human form, living and dying for us. Sacrificing the glory of heaven for a moment to live among mankind to show us how to truly be human as God created us to be. We know this, because we have seen it.
John tells these “little children”, these disciples that were not even alive at the time that these events happened that he saw this happen, he faced the persecutions and the exiles because he knows it to be true, and he knows it because of love. So right there in the very face of change, a change that threatens to rip the very fabric of their known existence in two, John tells them in essence, “Go back to the beginning, go back to what we know for certainty and let us start from there. We Know Love because he gave his life for us.”
This is why it is so extremely important to slow down and start from the very beginning, get to the core of what and who we are as individuals and as a community before we even begin to approach anything else. If we lose track of what we know, we lose everything. Every form of Christianity begins right here, Love. The love that God has for us that we can have a relationship with him because of the sacrifice that Jesus made to lift us back into communion with God once again. Then John goes on to say, “We know love by this, that he laid his life down for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
Love God, Love Mankind. The purest form of Christianity. Before one can even begin to contemplate any other issue we must start at this place. This is why Trinitarian incarnational theology begins with Jesus before they try to explain anything else because it is in Jesus that we know anything. It is in Jesus that we begin to understand God and humanity and what love really is all about. Jesus came and gave everything to and for us, and we ought to do the same for others.
John continues to drive the basics of Christianity home as he says, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” If any verse in the bible could knock us off our feet it is this one. What is meant by the “world’s goods” are things like money, jobs, abilities to create, economics, time, and pretty much anything we consider property. Let that just sink in for a bit. John says We know Love because Jesus sacrificed his life for ours and we should do that as well, and to for others to know that same type of love if we see a need and we have any sort of resource available to us to help that person and we do not act we are not followers of Christ.
The church as John was writing this letter, stood on the threshold of a new era. Everything that they once knew was drawing to a close and the future seemed dim before them. They had to move forward into this unknown somehow, and john says stay with what you know. Love people with everything you have and show them through actions the love of God that was shown to us through Jesus. Today we face changes that really pale in magnitude to what they faced in that day. They faced persecution to such a degree that they would literally embrace one another at every meeting because that may be the last time you ever see a friend. They faced so much yet they gave all they had so that as a community they would survive. Our troubles are quite frankly inconveniences, yet the future is still unclear.
Every day you can read reports and essays about how the younger generations are leaving the church, everyone claims to know the answers in how to maintain the faithful. Very few actually tell us where the youth are going. They are seeking out groups that know who they are and live it every day. People want to gather around those that love people for who they are and are not ashamed to be who they are. So many people are reading these articles and coming up with plans to reach out to the target audience yet in the process they have forgotten the most important thing, which is simply love. Love the Muslim person not because they are Muslim but because they are human, treat them as you would anyone else and as the relationships grow between the two of you God will eventually open the door for you to share your faith. Love the drug addict, the alcoholic, the exotic dancers, the car salesmen, the lawyers, the janitors, the teachers, the preachers, the managers, and the stay at home moms. Love everyone as if they are just as important and just as worthy of the love that God has shown you, and let God direct your way. We do not have to convert anyone to faith, but if we are followers of Christ we must love one another or we are liars.
I know it isn’t easy, that is why we need constant encouragement from each other. That is why we need this time of worship to feed our spirits so that we can continue to love those in the world that do not know the God that loves them. We need each other so that we can keep one another honest and help one another discern the directions that God is opening before us. We need this time of communion as Friends to help us center down, putting all the distractions off to the side for a while, and just focus on the most basic of faith, love for God and love for mankind. As we enter this time of open worship I pray that we will examine what is most important and how we know what that is. And as we examine this let us each allow God to put away the justifications that we have made and just get right back to the center of Loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit and Living the love of Christ with others.
1 John 3:1–7 (NRSV)
3 1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
4 Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
There is something that every human being seeks no matter who they are, where they are from, and what they believe. Every human being seeks acceptance into a community. You may not agree with that statement because you have a friend or an acquaintance that always seems to withdraw from any community they seem to come across, but I stand by my statement because everyone seeks acceptance somewhere. They may find it in the halls of academia, they may find it in the research labs and scientific journals, they find it in national identity, at the local pub, places of employment, or even the solitary cabin at the end of a treacherous mountain road. They seek acceptance somewhere even if that acceptance seems somewhat antisocial. They seek some place where they can be seen as little or as much as they desire. It is this reflexive drive for acceptance that often mold us into the people that we become, because as humans we seek some sort of hemostasis, or equilibrium where there is little conflict. The problem with this sort of ingrained desire is often we settle into some position that may not be reflective of who we actually are.
People have studied this human desire in many ways have watched how communities have developed different roles and places for their members, yet through all of this study through all of the desires of homeostasis often we are left in a void. We desire acceptance but we cannot find it so we pursue a different path. For some this path can be physically destructive because the only place they find acceptance is through addictive behaviors, we may question why someone chooses a life of alcoholism or drug addiction but the answer is often found within the community they reside, how they were treated, where and when they received any emotional feedback, and what behaviors were promoted by the stimulus. Others find that their only avenue for acceptance of any kind is being the victim of others, or possibly as being the smart kid in class. Within these communities little by little people fall into places and roles unoccupied by others. Warriors, athletes, popular, smart, bums, and junkies are all roles that are filled. We say there is not a cast system in western civilization and we would be right but the only way for people to move out of the shadows of those who came before them is if they have an opportunity to express and potentially find a different role.
Why am I talking about sociology? Why am I discussing anthropology? Because these are the very things that God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus overcome. John is often regarded as the Apostle of Love, for a very simple reason, he speaks about love all the time. John was one of if not the youngest of the disciples, which is why we rarely hear him speaking up within the conversations in the gospels but he was right there among the inner circle observing. He listened, watched, and was pretty quiet for someone who was known as a son of thunder. But because he was quiet when he spoke it probably carried a lot of weight, because everyone who knew him could tell that the words spoken came with much thought. I say this because the style of writing that John uses is much different than the other gospel writers, it is almost as if John wrote on a different plain than everyone else, that seemed to cut through to the very heart. And at the heart, at the very core is this strong desire to be loved and accepted.
I mentioned that John was probably one of the youngest of the apostles, but he was also the oldest as well. Tradition states that John lived to the end of the first century and probably died around the year 98. That is approximately sixty years after the crucifixion of Jesus. He saw the formation and struggles of the early church, he experienced the first wave of persecutions, and died as an elderly man. Because of his long life John played different roles within church, he was an apostle and an elder, he was one sent out and he was one that stayed and shepherded a flock. It was during this time as an elder that the writings of John emerged, later in his life after the ambition of youth had passed by and all he could really do is sit with a dear friend and speak words of encouragement to the ones who could continue to run in the race, while his friend transcribed his words.
After years of work and observation, after years of exile and persecution John spoke these words to the church, probably while he lived out the later years of his life in Ephesus. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God: and that is what we are.” Just think about that verse for a moment. “See what love the Father has given us…” This goes way beyond just the visual senses, John is asking us to contemplate, consider, pay attention to, understand, and experience what he is talking about. He is asking us to use every aspect of our being, to visualize and feel the words and the idea of love. But he asks us to explore even deeper by saying, “See what…” He is asking each of us to imagine and visualize what type, what way, how massive and deep, and how Great the love of the Father has given us. The massive and gracious love that does not take into account any worthiness of the individual that is receiving the love but a love that is given out of total selflessness. Can you see it? Can you imagine it? Can you experience it?
It is extremely difficult to imagine this massive love of God for us because we are trapped in these humanistic systems, the systems observed by sociologists and anthropologists, the systems that assign roles to individuals based on factors within the community. And that is not what God’s love is. The love that God gives forfeits all rights and privileges and gives totally to benefit someone else. John wrote about this love often: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.”(John 3:16), “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.”(John 15:13), and “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (1 John 3:16). Love is sacrifice, love is giving everything we have for someone other than ourselves without strings attached. Can you imagine it? Can you experience it? All of this was given so that we could be called Children of God.
That brings something else into the mix. When cultures seek homeostasis often the roles that individuals play within that culture are predetermined by the previous generations and by a crazy thing called birth order. Each of us experienced this at some point. Our parents filled a certain role so we are expected to fill the same roles, our older siblings were one way and often we are expected to be the same. These roles are the starting point from which we build our lives. My sister was a runner so I must be a runner. Their father was an alcoholic and they are expected to be as well. We can either live in the role given to us or we can break out and find a new niche within the community usually by some sort of battle to obtain dominance. The battle for the first chair in band, the competition to be first in class, and campaigning for elected office are all battles to overcome the role we perceive society placing on us and our desire to obtain something greater. These are not always bad things, but what John is saying is that we have a different identity our place is determined on a totally different dimension, a dimension that the world does not and cannot understand because our father who loves us so deeply and massively gave so selflessly that we are not of this world any longer but are part of the family of God. Accepted without any conditions.
John begins this section of the letter calling us to imagine this deep immense love because often we can forget our true identity and sink back into the roles the world wishes us to be placed in. John calls us to see, to remember, to examine the vast love of God and our relationship with Him because we can easily be distracted by the things of the world that are antichrist. He pleads with all that will listen to see.
There is great power in what John is calling us to participate in, to examine our lives in the light of God can greatly change our perspective. We are children of God. Children. How often do we forget that we are children and not adults of God? We are ever growing, continuously learning to look at things just a bit differently so that maybe we can understand. We are stubborn children that sometimes need to learn manners, we are fit throwing toddlers wishing for our own ways, we are a children that will give a gift just because, a child that will do anything to get you to laugh. We are children filled with giggles, tears, snot, and skinned knees. We grow but we are not yet fully mature. We make mistakes and we amaze our Father all in the same day and sometimes at the same time. See what love the Father has given us?
But the world does not understand this, because they do not know Him. That is one of the saddest of all statements in scripture. That we are not fully known because they do not know from whom we come. They do not see, they do not experience, they have not tasted the greatness of God’s love so the world cannot understand us, and they do not know Him. The question then is why do they not know him?
This is a painful question to ask because that directly reflects on the children of God. Are we reflecting the light of Christ to the world? In the world we live under that shadow of those that came before us, in Christ we live in the light of those that came before. Are we casting a shadow or reflecting light? John goes on to speak of purity and sin, lawlessness and righteousness these are all things that relate to growth and relationship. Often we will look at others and see something we perceive as a form of sin and we begin to judge. Before we do this I want us to stop and consider something, we are children and we do not know everything. The fullness of our own life is not yet revealed so why are we so quick to judge others? With each child a parent must teach and train differently at times a stern voice is all that is needed but at other times discipline must take a different form. It is different for every child and it is different at any moment. But slowly and progressively a child learns and matures. Slowly and with persistence a child begins to take form and become the amazing individual they were created to be. The same process goes for us as God’s children. We are revealed as he reveals himself to us. And the world can only see him if we then reveal Him to them.
Everyone is looking for acceptance and a place where they can live as themselves. But the world often restricts people from living out their full potential. But as children of God we are freed from the trappings of the world and revealed in Christ. See What Love the Father has for us? Step by step, moment by moment, slowly and consistently moving us from where we began to where we will be. Children of God.
John closes this passage with a powerful statement, “everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.” This last verse asks us to examine what we are focused on. He calls us to explore the vastness of God’s love, he then shocks us by saying that the world does not know us because they do not know him, which then challenges us by asking why they do not know him if we are to reflect him in the world, then this closing statement today reveals to us why we often do not reflect Christ, because we are focusing on the wrong things. Do what is right as it is revealed to you is what John is urging us to do. He walked with Jesus for three years, he learned from the very mouth of the teacher, he participated in the holy rhythm of life that Jesus himself lived, and John even took on the role of brother when Jesus left Mary in his care. John had seen persecution, and he experienced exile, and through all of this he says do what is right no matter what the cost. How do we know what is right? How do we know what sin is? How can we reflect God to a world that does not even recognize us? It all comes down to knowing Him, experiencing the love of God and exploring life with God in the rhythm Jesus showed us. All that we have to do is Love God, embrace the Holy Spirit and live the love of Christ with others. Live a lifestyle of worship, prayer, and service not because they deserve our attention but because they are loved by God. We should selflessly give to them because God gave himself for us and that is true love that is true acceptance. See what love the Father has given us: that we should be called children of God. Let us focus on that, focus on doing right just as Jesus did, living our lives giving, serving, and encouraging because those around us are also children of God just waiting for us to see them.
John 20:19–31 (NRSV)
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
(Lk 24:36–43; 1 Cor 15:5)
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.”
Jesus and Thomas
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
The Purpose of This Book
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Last week we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord and King from the dead. We contemplated the question, “what if we actually believed in the resurrection and if so how that would affect the way we live.” I gave us a couple of options to consider, do we kneel before an empty tomb caught somewhere between forgiveness of sins and life, or do we live as conquerors with Christ in his kingdom? I want us to consider this again as we reflect on this passage.
I find these questions difficult to answer even though my professional status within our community is as a spiritual leader. Because I know in my mind that that tomb is empty and it is empty for a reason, yet this happened so long ago. Could we possibly be following some invention of man? Yes, I doubt at times. Doubt is an important part of our faith because doubt should drive us to seek answers. It is only when we dwell in the doubt allow the doubt to consume us where we have trouble. Every single one of Jesus’ disciples doubted. Peter and the disciple that Jesus loved, who we assume to be John though he humbly does not name himself as that disciple, both saw the empty tomb and they went back to the house wondering. They saw the grave cloths that once covered their lord. They knew the ones that wrapped their beloved teacher in those cloths, it might be that those very men were in that very same house and they asked them for a testimony. They sit confused and in doubt. They believe in an empty tomb yet that does not comfort them. They sit there behind locked doors worried that the darkness all around them will take what little hope they have away. They kneel at the empty tomb caught somewhere between, in limbo, a very real purgatory a place between heaven and hell.
The knowledge of an empty tomb does not move them to action. It just adds to their fears, will they have to give an account to the temple official as to why that tomb is barren? If so they face very real problems and they have absolutely no answers. As every moment passes the doubts rise, the fears mount, they remember the teachers of Jesus yet they do little to comfort them because they saw him die and now they do not even have a body to point to as the source of the teaching. The words spoken by their teacher are as seeming empty as the very tomb Peter and John left Mary at.
Mary has a very different experience. She came back with some crazy tale in their eyes. They left her weeping at the tomb, they left her there without an escort weeping, and she returned to the house after going throughout the city excitedly telling everyone that would listen that Jesus was alive that he had spoken to her just outside of the tomb. Peter and John are both contemplating how big of jerks they were for leaving her and wondering if the grief had broken this woman. They allow the knowledge of her past to reenter their minds, she was a woman of great sin…she was once possessed by demons…could they have returned? They sat there looking at her, everyone else was crying and here she was sitting there telling them he was alive, and reminding them of His teachings.
Their teacher is dead, the tomb is empty, they have a friend that had a questionable background that is raving like a lunatic and we wonder why they were sitting with the doors locked. They are bound, they so want to believe but the story just seems so supernatural that they cannot even begin. “Remember that day at my brother’s funeral,” Mary says, “Jesus told us that He was the resurrection and the life, remember that Martha, and what did Jesus do just after he wept with us? He stood at the mouth of the tomb telling Lazarus to wake up. Remember? Look over there! Look at my brother, he was in the tomb for four days and Jesus called him out. He was dead. Martha and I both helped prepare the body, and you were all there and witnessed our grief.” She continued to talk and everyone nodded with agreement, but it was one thing for a living man to call life back into the dead and quite another for a dead man to raise himself.
For hours this had continued. Mary went to the tomb before the sun rose, now it is evening, for an entire day they had sat there with the knowledge of an empty tomb and the fear continued to mount. They sat, stood, paced, they checked the doors again and again, and they jumped at imagined sounds because they knew that the darkness was going to overcome what little hope remained. Suddenly, a voice startled them all. Right there in the center of the room a man tells them, “Peace be with you.” A man that was not there just a moment before, they just checked the doors, they were secure yet a man got in, then they look at him. He lifts up his hands. They see the marks, the marks where nails once occupied. Those mark hands slowly move to his side and they each stare in amazement as the wound from the spear is revealed to them and they all fall to their knees. Again the man says, “Peace be with you.”
They rejoice! Mary is right This Is Jesus! The tomb is empty and there is life. He has risen. He laughs and jokes with them and then he says, “As the Father has sent me so I send you.” The laughing stops. Confusion again settles in. And Jesus walks around to each of them embracing them, and breathes on them. Each one present feels the breath on their face, they breathe in as Jesus exhales before them. Their minds race back to the very dawn of time and they remember the story of their first father and the breath of life that God gave them, they remember the story of the fall, the separation from God that their fall from grace ushered in, and the death that resulted from it. Jesus with his nail scared hands gently touched them brought his face close to theirs and breathed. This is not the breath of a phantom, there is warmth in the embrace and humidity in the air that is hitting their faces. Death no longer held this man, the curse of Adam did not hold him. Life now occupies the body that was once dead, buried and sealed behind a stone. Life is being breathed back onto the ones that were caught somewhere in between. “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He says to them.
Do we get a glimpse into this passage? Do we see the power of the words? In the beginning God breathed life into the clay formation of Adam and he lived. Adam and Eve our first parents once walked with God in the Garden of Eden, the very Garden where the Tree of life and the tree of knowledge stood. The garden was the kingdom it was the place God lived in communion and love, it was the very place that He created to bring pleasure to himself, an outpouring of the great love and joy that flowed from His very being. In that place He created life, and that life was transmitted through breath.
Then sin entered the Garden because mankind sought to take for themselves the gift of knowledge. They looked at the fruit and saw that it was good, they reached out and took what was not given, and suddenly everything changed. What was once living became death. There were two trees one knowledge and one life. They took knowledge, they ate of Sophia and could not handle it. One could say that this is an image of the Trinity. Where humanity tried to harness the power of the Spirit of God, or wisdom without that being given. We were not ready and be in the presence of the raw spirit kills. Consider the first born of Egypt during the plagues, consider those that happened to touch the Ark in ancient Israel, consider the tongue of Zachariah when he questioned God. The Spirit of God is wild it is only tamed and reigned by God himself it is not something to be mastered by man. They ate the fruit and set forth a dangerous chain reaction. They sought knowledge but did not have wisdom. Without wisdom death enters. The affects are still felt today. Read any scientific journal or health magazine, a generation ago they said one thing was healthy and in the next that very thing causes death. A multitude of people took believed in the knowledge of man and as a result they face agony.
But Jesus breathed on them, and says receive the spirit. Receive what was once stolen. Be restored. For in the body of Jesus the Spirit of God was tamed and through Him life returns, creation is redeemed, and reconciled.
Receive, this word is one of deep meaning. Its usage can mean: Take hold of, grasp, obtain, benefit, collect, select, believe, experience, cause to experience, put on, and do. Those very things was the things we as humans try to do through our own efforts, and Jesus breathed on the disciples and told them, “if you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any they are retained.” What is he saying? Though humanity tried to take what was given, I have restored it and have tamed it so that humanity can experience it. We tried to steal the spirit and it brought death, and Jesus tamed the spirit so that those of us in Him can then use that spirit to restore. This is a very powerful essence we wield. It can bring death or life. It can restore or destroy. I failed to mention one possible meaning of the word we translate as receive and that is to exploit.
Exploit. This is the knowledge of man. The use of knowledge to rule over others. The misuse of knowledge to gain what is not ours or to control what is not ours to control. Forgive or retain, exploit or experience. Kneeling at an empty tomb or feeling the breath of life. Do you believe in the resurrection and if so how does it affect your life? Jesus stood there among his disciples in a room that was locked out of fear, he said to them peace be with you, he embraced them and breathed on them and then challenged them. Will you join him? Will you believe in the resurrection or just look into an empty tomb. Will you receive and pass on the gifts of grace or exploit? Will we live lives that will encourage others to take steps toward God or will we bar the gates of heaven? Will we be a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others? That choice lies in each of our hearts and in the collective of our community. But this experience in the room changed everything about the disciples. They once stayed behind locked door out of fear and then they ventured out. And their testimony remains with us even to this day and just as Jesus breathed on them they breath on us and say “Peace, receive, and believe.”