One summer night during a severe thunderstorm a mother was tucking her small son into bed. She was about to turn the light off when he asked in a trembling voice, "Mommy, will you stay with me all night?" Smiling, the mother gave him a warm, reassuring hug and said tenderly, "I can't dear. I have to sleep in Daddy's room." A long silence followed. At last it was broken by a shaky voice saying, "The big sissy!"[i]
Everybody’s afraid of something—some danger either real or imagined. The good news is that Jesus comes not only to calm our fears, but to bring us to a point of real peace. He doesn’t simply soothe us as a mother reassuring her child, but empowers us to live in victory. At the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples are hiding out, fearing that the same ones who arrested and crucified Jesus might come after them next. Suddenly, Jesus appears among them and says, “Peace be with you.”[ii] Then, almost immediately later, he says it again. Later, the next day, he does the same thing and again says, “Peace be with you.”[iii] Three times in eight verses, Jesus says these three words, which in Hebrew is simply, “Shalom.”
Like the Hawaiian “Aloha,” this greeting can mean more than one thing. It can mean both “hello” and “goodbye,” and, “I wish you peace.” But Jesus’ word to the disciples is more than simply a salutation or even a heartfelt desire. Jesus is imparting peace to them, just the same as He spoke peace to the wind and the waves and calmed the storm. This peace is a gift that is ours to receive as well, when we’re hunkered down and hiding out.
How does this peace take hold? It’s a mere sentiment without the activating force Jesus bestows when He says, “Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22).” When the Holy Spirit enters you, God transforms your life in such a way that you not only feel peaceful, but you become peace. Just as Jesus was Peace in the flesh, so the believer who is filled with the Spirit also embodies peace, not just for herself but for others. Instead of personal peace, it’s meant to be shared.
Jesus’ next statement flows from that kind of peace and peacemaking love. “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven (John 20:23.” The disciples had a lot of people to forgive. For example, there were the Romans who crucified Jesus, the Jewish leaders who arranged it, Judas who betrayed Him, and Peter who denied Him. Not to mention that they all needed to learn to forgive themselves for abandoning Him. Perhaps you have a long list of people who you need to forgive, too. Jesus forgave the whole world’s sins when He hung on the cross, and now He gives you the ability to do it, too. God’s grace is ours when we receive it, but God expects us to extend that same grace to others. Greedy grace is when you receive God’s forgiveness and are unwilling to share it. But grace is meant to be shared.
I have read many commentators who say that in the above verse, Jesus gives believers the authority to grant God’s forgiveness, or to withhold God’s grace from people. As if somehow we can determine who God will forgive! Nothing could be further from the truth! God’s grace is GOD’S grace, and God gives it to all who receive it. In fact, the story of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35) tells us that you can’t call yourself a Christian if you are ungracious to others. So, if Jesus isn’t giving us permission to refuse grace to people, what is He saying?
When you withhold forgiveness, you’re hurting yourself as much as the other person, if not more. You are the one keeping yourself in bondage. In His resurrection power, Jesus grants real peace to your life. This can only take hold with the Holy Spirit at the reins. If the Spirit is in control, you are naturally going to give the same grace you have received. In fact, you can’t have peace unless you do. So, when Jesus says, “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven.” He is saying that not only are they set free, but you are as well. When He says, “If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven,” He reminds you that to the same degree that you keep others bound, you yourself are bound. Grace is something you must receive if you want peace, but you’ll never have peace until you become a giver and not just a receiver.
Finally, Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you (John 20:21).” The Lord turns personal peace and greedy grace into our mutual mission. In the Greek, Jesus literally says, “I am sending y’all.” All of you. Not one of you is excluded from the mission of God. In the beginning of John’s Gospel, Jesus brings light and John the Baptist testifies to that light. Now in in the final chapter, Jesus says we all are called as witnesses to the light. Jesus, the Lamb of God, takes away the sin of the world—and YOU are a voice crying in the wilderness. You can know some peace by receiving God’s grace through Jesus. You can only know ultimate peace when you share God’s grace by giving it to others. I’m reminded of a saying I learned as a child, “Love is a basket of five loaves and two fish. It’s never enough until you start to give it away.” Peace and grace work the same way. Too many Christians want Jesus to simply comfort us like mom in the storm. But peace and grace are real things to receive and give—if only we’ll trust the One who does the giving.
[ii] Quoted scriptures are taken from the NLT.
[iii] Jn 20:19, 21, 26.