Act 5 – The Church
Sermon Series: The Drama of Scripture
By: David Paladino – April 7, 2019
Text: John 20:19-23
Main point: Jesus commissions us to be the Father’s Spirit-filled “sent ones” by leaving the closed rooms of fear and familiarity to walk through the open door of opportunity to the outsider.
The passage I want to look at to center us in Act 5—John 20:19-23—is no different. It presumes we have read and know Acts 1, 2, 3 and 4. I love this passage this passage as a glimpse into Act 5 because it sits at the turning point of Act 4 and 5. It is the hinge that swings the church into existence—it’s the church’s origin story.
Turning points in history are known for iconic moments captured in a photograph or video but because those iconic photos recall a whole narrative of background that led up to the moment and what changed after. Some examples: MLK’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” Berlin Wall coming down, Tank Man, BlackLivesMatter
This is the same thing that is happening in our passage, John 20 that we will look at in a moment. John is using iconic language and summoning all the history that goes with it in order to say something profound to his readers.
So, to hear John well, we need to do a quick recap of some important turning points in OT history—these are from Acts 1, 2, 3 and 4: Gen. 1 and 2, Ez. 37, Joel 2.
John makes a point earlier in this same chapter to tell us it’s the “first day of the week” (v. 1). Mary even mistaken Jesus for a gardener which is a strange detail at face value to include (v. 15); why would John want us thinking about days of the week and gardens?
This is creation-language, Genesis 2 language – we are witnessing a new creation! A new creative work is needed! These Jewish men are afraid of outsiders and the leaders of their religion who moved against Jesus and pushed to have him crucified. It is not a good time to be associated with Jesus.
Their locked doors is more than just the space they are in, it symbolizes that they are not yet who they need to be. They are afraid of being associated with Jesus and they don’t know what to do. They are hiding out hoping for the best. But if Jesus didn’t show up, the church would have been still born.
What happens? Jesus comes into their midst (the doors were locked!). He says, “peace be with you” two times. He shows him his hands and side: he is the Lord who was crucified and resurrected and comes to them in a new physical existence that can walk through walls yet his appearance is recognizable to them. His presence and works makes them glad.
After showing them that he was a messiah who didn’t just come back from the dead, but passed through death to the other side into a new form of existence, a new creation—no one ever did that! These Jewish men and women now see that he has been vindicated. He then breathes on them. This is the same word as in our Genesis 2:5-9 passage.
John is really giving us another angle on Pentecost. John’s gospel was written later so many theologians believe that Pentecost would’ve been a well-known event that John would not have to reference directly. This gives him the ability to connect Jesus’ resurrection to his re-creation of his disciples through breathing on them.
Via Peter’s sermon, the gospel went to the Jews gathered in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost in Acts 2:
- by Acts 8 Phillip is preaching the gospel in Samaria and to an Ethiopian eunuch;
- by Acts 10-11 Peter is being led to Cornelius, a god-fearing Roman Centurion, who converts, along with his whole house (Peter also undergoes a “re-conversion” of sorts in being led through a vision to set aside the Jewish food laws);
- by the end of Acts 11, persecution arises in Jerusalem which pushes the Christians out and the gospel is spread to Antioch
There is a lot packed into v. 23 that might seem troubling to our ears about forgiving and not forgiving sin. One way to think about this is that when we follow Jesus as Lord and have his Spirit in us, we are given more authority—we offer salvation in Jesus’ name and also the consequences of rejecting the message; it was like this with Jesus’ followers: bless those as people of peace who receive you and wipe the dust of your sandals off as a signal of judgement for those who reject you (Luke 10:1-12)
Sin actually reduces and compresses our humanity. We become less and less if we’re enslaved to its power. God know this and wants to elevate us to who we were really mean to be and this can only happen by being recreated through receiving the Holy Spirit. We are then freed to live out the grand biblical story and through his people God wants to heal the world.
The anti-biblical narrative begins when humans fall in Genesis 2 and has persisted. It is what scripture calls the “powers” – those spiritual forces opposed to God. They also operate the minute after the church is born, moments after this very passage we’ve been looking at. Members of the early church act selfishly and false teaching arises almost immediately around whether new converts need to observe the Jewish law (see Galatians).
The rise of “non-place.” This can be thought of as places that allow us to escape demands and stay in control. Previously, these were places like hotels, airports and highways. The danger in our present day is that these places have been shrunken to fit as an experience we can have on our phone.
We now have access to a “non-place” that is tailored to our exact wants and emotional needs that we can carry around in our pocket. We stay in control while our personal desires are fulfilled in this non-space with a swipe and a press of our fingers. There are little to no barriers, difficulties or limits to our freedom. We can have total freedom, flourishing and satisfaction with our devices and a global economy.
Now however, the danger is not that we colonize a receiving culture; the danger is that the culture is colonizing us. We are shaped far more by our access points to the secular gospel via our phones and technology than by any other source.
The secular gospel preaches that you will reach your fullest actualized self when you have freedom in the economic and sexual sense (think Tinder) to have and buy what ever you desire. Through education, technology and freedom, humans will achieve utopia. This secular gospel is the anti-biblical story of our time. This is the upside down world to the fifth act of scripture’s drama.
Michael Goheen, who wrote the book, The Drama of Scripture, from which we have derived the themes of this sermon series observes that the church’s ability to respond to its calling is hamstrung by “a low spiritual state of the church, a lukewarm love for Christ, a sickly worldliness, and a lack of prayer.” We are creating a new breed of cultural Christianity that befits our age of optimism, it is a Christianity that feeds on “self satisfaction that comes from comfort, compromise with capitalism, and accommodation to the consumeristic spirit of our age.”
- Embrace quiet and good work. This operates on many levels, but start with turning off your phone each day for an hour when you are awake. Work towards one day a month and then one week a year with your phone off. Consider using the Divine Hours at work and pray the midday office.
- Work to dismantle the effect of “peerarchy” (as opposed to hierarchy) in our culture. By disengaging with social media, make some time to ask God what his word is for you for a given day, week or season. Look for a small window to pray each day in the midst of your day. Read some scripture and find a few verses that really are speaking to you.
- Be open to talking about your faith. We need to be able to talk in an honest and vulnerable way about Jesus’ work in our lives. This will lead us into being spirit-filled people.
Resources used in preparing this sermon:
- Strange Days: Live in the Spirit In a Time of Upheaval by Mark Sayers. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2017
- This Cultural Moment podcast, see thisculturalmoment.com
- The Gospel According to John by D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.
- The Challenge of Jesus by N. T. Wright. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1999.