The LordRev. Philip Miller | August 1, 2021
Selected highlights from this sermon
A breakthrough is the moment when everything changes. The old categories and ideas are shattered, and a whole new paradigm is born. The greatest breakthrough in all of history is when Jesus rose from the dead.
In this message from John 20, Pastor Miller explores a 4-dimensional breakthrough unlike any before or any to come. He will show us a breakthrough resurrection that neither Jewish nor Greco-Roman thought had categories for; breakthrough blessings greater and more powerful than ever before; a breakthrough confession which shakes the most doubting among us; and a breakthrough opportunity offered to every single person on the planet.
Breakthrough— rarely, but every once in a long while, breakthrough happens, and the world is never the same.
It’s the Wright Brothers’ twelve-second flight at Kitty Hawk, or when Albert Einstein publishes his theory of general relativity, or when Roger Bannister breaks the four-minute mile, or when Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce invented the silicon chip.
Breakthrough moments. Breakthrough is when everything changes. The old categories are shattered and set aside and a whole new paradigm emerges and is born. And often there is a cascade of breakthroughs. One breakthrough leads to other breakthroughs, and a rapid acceleration of change. Breakthrough.
The greatest breakthrough in all of world history took place when Jesus Christ rose from the dead. It actually shatters the old categories and gives birth to a whole new paradigm.
Benjamin Franklin famously said, “In this world nothing is certain except death and taxes.” And Jesus just overruled one of those. Now, if only He could do something about the other, you know? Amen? Amen, anyone? Yeah.
So grab your Bibles. We’re going to be in John, chapter 20 this morning, verses 19 down to 31. You’ll find today’s reading on page 906, wrapping over to 907 in the pew Bible there by your knees. And we’re going to see in the resurrection, the risen life of Jesus Christ, there’s a cascade of breakthroughs here, four of them that we will see in this passage this morning.
We’re going to see a Breakthrough Resurrection, Breakthrough Blessings,Breakthrough Confession, and Breakthrough Opportunity.
Those are our four things: A Breakthrough Resurrection, Breakthrough Blessings, a Breakthrough Confession, and a Breakthrough Opportunity.
Would you bow your heads as we turn to God’s oly Word?
Heavenly Father, we pray that this morning, as we pause and declutter from all the chaos of life, of all the things that vie for our attention, of all our worries and concerns, of all of our hopes and dreams, that in this moment as we open your Word and gaze upon the power of the resurrected Son of God, that this be a reality calibrating moment, that we see the world as it really is. May this be a moment of breakthrough into our world, breakthrough in our lives even this morning by the power of Jesus. And in His name we pray, Amen. Amen.
So, the first thing here in our passage that we see is a Breakthrough Resurrection, a breakthrough resurrection. Just to remind you of the scene we are in, we are on the very first day. Resurrection has happened in the morning. Mary was the one who discovered the tomb empty. Peter and John had run to the tomb and confirmed that it was indeed empty with their very own eyes. But Mary alone has seen the risen Christ. She has told the disciples all about it. “I have seen the Lord,” she says, but now they are about to see for themselves. It was evening in the opening scene here.
John 20:19: “On the evening of that day, the [very] first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”
Let’s pause for a moment. Can you imagine being there this evening? Here they are, scared to death, holed up in this room. The doors are locked so no one can come in. They are, no doubt, engrossed in conversation with each other, speculating about the events of the day. There’s so much they don’t know. And then, all of a sudden, unnoticed by them, Jesus slips into their midst and He just opens up with “Shalom.” “Shalom.” “Peace be with you,” the Hebrew greeting. And to prove that it’s really Him, He shows them His hands, the nail prints He had. He shows them His side where the spear was plunged in. Luke tells us that He even ate a broiled fish, just to prove He wasn’t a ghost. This is not a hallucination. No ghost, no, this is the resurrected Son of God. And in such an understated way now John reports: “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord,” in the same way that you are glad when your team wins the World Series, or something like that, right? “They were glad.”
Now this narration is straightforward enough, isn’t it? But I don’t want you to miss the breakthrough of this moment, because Jesus’ resurrection body broke all their categories. Jesus’ resurrection body broke all their categories. The Greco-Roman culture, like most cultures, had a concept of an afterlife, and both the Greeks and the Romans viewed the afterlife as an immaterial existence, a spirit world, if you will. They viewed the body as something that was weak and corrupting. Some even viewed it as evil. And so they believed that the afterlife, in the afterlife, they would leave their bodies behind and there would be no physicality. They would be transcended into the higher, eternal spirit-realm forever. This was their concept, so the Greco-Roman world anticipated an afterlife that was full of spirit beings.
But that’s not what we see here, is it? That’s not what we see. Jesus has an actual body. Now somehow He gets into the room while it’s locked, and we’re not told how that happened. Okay? There’s something going on there, but His body is physical. It’s material. It’s touchable, right? He eats fish. They can touch His scars. In other words, His life-beyond-death existence is one that is physically embodied. It breaks open the Greco-Roman categories. You see this.
Not only that, it broke open the Jewish categories as well. The Jews who believed in the resurrection, and not all of them did, by the way. The Jews who did believe in the resurrection believed it wouldn’t happen until the very end of time. And of course, Jesus’ resurrection here is taking place right in the middle of time, isn’t it? So that breaks the categories in and of itself. But more than that, if you look in the Old Testament at passages like Daniel, chapter 12, for example, you will see that the Jewish anticipation was that the wise and righteous would one day shine like the sun and the stars in resurrection glory. So the Jews believed, some of them, at least, believed in a bodily resurrection, but it was a resurrection that also involved transfiguration. It would transform the body into something radiant and effusive—effulgent and gloried. But Jesus’ resurrection here, His body, is relatively ordinary. Don’t you see that? He’s not shining, shimmering splendor. In fact, much of the time people don’t even realize it’s Him, right? Mary thinks He’s just the gardener. Those folks on the road to Emmaus—they don’t recognize Him for hours as they are conversing with Him.
So neither the Greco-Roman or Jewish thought categories fit what we see here in the resurrection of Jesus which is important for two reasons. The first reason is it explains first their incredulity. They were totally unprepared for what happened here. The resurrection utterly rocks their world, and it took them a long time to adjust to the realities of what had happened. But the second thing, the second reason this is so important is it explains why they couldn’t have made this up. They couldn’t have made this up. Historically speaking, if you’re going to make up something, if you are concocting a story of someone who came back from the dead, if you are a Greek or Roman person you would have written a story about a spirit being without a body. That’s what you would have come up with. If you were a Jewish person you would have written a story about a dazzling, shimmering and resplendent being whose body has come back from the grave, but neither of them, neither Jews nor Greeks nor Romans would have come up with this story. No, Jesus broke all their categories, all their categories. And this is true for you and me as well. In fact, my question for you is will you allow Jesus to break your categories? Will you allow Jesus to break your categories?
You know, it’s very cliché in our sort of late–modern Western culture to say things like, “Well, I prefer to believe in a god who is like this,” or “I can’t believe in a god who is like that.” In other words, we have our categories of how we think God ought to be, and we believe in Him only if He actually fits the categories we’ve already assumed ought to be. In other words, He has to fit our preconceived notions or we don’t believe in Him. And of course, if we do that then we end up believing in a god who looks strikingly like ourselves, don’t we? In other words, he tells us exactly what we already believe, and he affirms us in the life choices we were already planning to make. And any thinking person will quickly realize that when we do that, we’re not actually encountering the real personal, living God. No, we’re simply idealizing ourselves.
Now consider, what if the disciples had acted like we do, believed like we do, and sort of tried to fit God into their categories? What if they’d only believed in the resurrected Jesus if He fit into their preconceived notions? Well, they would have missed Him completely. Right? They would have missed Him entirely. He was breaking open their categories completely, and friends, that’s how it always is when we encounter the risen Christ. He blasts beyond the limits of our limited understanding. He shatters the confinement of our idols. He breaks through our reductionistic categories.
Our God, friends, is utterly free. He is truly alive. He is boundless and unfettered. And if we are to know Him as He really is, we must allow Him to break our categories. We must allow Him to surprise us, to shock us, to cross our will and assumptions. We have to allow Him the freedom to tell us things we don’t want to hear. In fact, it is this very breaking of our categories that tells us us that we are encountering the very real living God, and not just some figment of our imagination, you see.
So the question is, again, will you allow Jesus to break your categories? Will you allow Him to do that? It’s a Breakthrough Resurrection, you see.
Secondly, we see Breakthrough Blessings, breakthrough blessings.
Verse 21, “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’”
This resurrected Jesus is here. He’s alive forevermore, and He’s more powerful than He’s ever been, you see. And so His blessings now are breakthrough blessings that are flowing from His breakthrough resurrection, and there are four of these blessings here. I want to point them out quickly to you.
The first one is peace. He said it here three different times in this passage: “Shalom, shalom, shalom” —Peace be with you. This is a common Jewish greeting, of course, and it has both personal and cosmic dimensions to it. When you say “shalom,” it is a personal blessing. You are wishing peace and wholeness and well-being upon the person you are speaking to. “Shalom.” “I want there to be peace and wholeness and wellness in your life.”
But there’s also a cosmic dimension to this. The Jewish people believed that “shalom” was the thing that would typify the universe in the kingdom of God. And when God’s rule and reign is present on the earth, there is peace and shalom among all peoples everywhere. The universe is set aright. It is full of well-being. Shalom. So now, when Jesus says “shalom,” you see this has even more weight, on the lips of the crucified, buried, and resurrected Christ. This is more than just a greeting. It’s an announcement: The days of shalom are at hand.
The disciples have personally experienced now, shalom. They have been reconciled to the Father. They have peace with God, shalom with God, through Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection from the dead. They have been reconciled as children of God now and forever. Peace with God, shalom. And the shalom of the cosmos is underway because the shalom of the kingdom of God is coming. The King of kings and the Lord of lords is now ascending to the right hand of God the Father Almighty where He will be enthroned forever as He awaits His footstool, His enemies to be made His footstool, and then He will return and He will set the world to rights. This is the shalom of the risen Son of God. Shalom—peace.
The second blessing is the sending.
Verse 21: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
Just as the Father sent Jesus into the world on mission, now Jesus is sending His followers, His disciples, into the world on mission. Jesus said it this way in Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
So the resurrected Jesus, who is the conqueror of death and the Savior of the world, is now commissioning His disciples as emissaries to represent Him and proclaim His good news in all the world. And if they are going to do that, they’re going to need help, so the third blessing is the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit, verse 22: “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” If they are to be His emissaries, His ambassadors, they will need His power, and thus, the Holy Spirit.
Now, John is writing this well after the book of Acts is written and in circulation, and so he knows, and his audience knows, and we know that the Holy Spirit did not come down with wind and fire until the Day of Pentecost. So the question is what’s up with this breathing that Jesus does here? Well, there’s lots of debate, but it appears, it seems the most reasonable explanation to me, it appears to be a kind of symbolic enactment that prefigures and anticipates what is coming on the day of Pentecost, so that when the wind blows on the Day of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit comes in fire, they will remember what Jesus did here.
This is Jesus’ gift to them and it helps them in their mission. It comes with authority, which is the fourth blessing here, verse 23: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Now, at first blush, it almost sounds like Jesus is saying here that the disciples are free to whimsically give and withhold forgiveness based off of whatever they feel is necessary or whatever, you know, whoever pays them off, and that’s of course, not what’s going on here.
If you look closely, there are three parties involved in this. “If you (talking to His disciples) forgive the sins of any (that would be any other person), they are forgiven them.” That’s passive. It’s a passive verb. Who’s doing the forgiveness here? “They are forgiven them” Implication? By God, right? Because only God can forgive sins. That same construction is found in the second half of the verse. So what we have here is that God can only forgive sins, and those sins are only forgiven on the basis of Jesus’ substitutionary life, death, and resurrection, right? And now the disciples are being sent out into the world with the good news that if anyone would believe in Jesus, that He died in their place and for their sake, and bore all of their sin and shame on the cross, and rose again to make them right with God, His children forever. As they announce this message, Jesus is authorizing His disciples to pronounce forgiveness to those who respond in faith to the good news of Jesus because they are indeed forgiven by God.
He is also authorizing His disciples to pronounce unforgiven those who reject this good news of Jesus as well. See, in other words, they are His emissaries. They are His ambassadors. They are His legal representatives on Earth, if you will, authorized to represent the risen Christ. And it is this package now of breakthrough blessings that Jesus gives to His disciples. The bottom line and point is this, that Jesus’ mission will go on through His disciples by the Spirit. Jesus mission will go on through His disciples by the Spirit. And this is the mission, friends, that continues all the way down to this very day. It continues in you and me. Yes? We are Jesus’ ambassadors, emissaries, representatives in the world.
And Jesus says in Matthew 28:18–20, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Friends, we are Jesus’ ambassadors. We are Jesus’ emissaries in the world. We are His representatives wherever we go, and there is no “Plan B.” There’s no “Plan B.” So here’s the question: Will you join Jesus on mission in the world? Will you? Will you join Jesus on mission in the world?
The mission of Jesus, friends, is not just for pastors or missionaries, or so-called “professional Christians”. It’s for all of Jesus’ disciples, all of us. Every week we “go to be the church,” yes? We go to be the church to people far from Jesus, but near to us. We scatter to places where we live, work, learn and play, and we bring the light of Jesus wherever we go. And our lives, friends, are going to tell some sort of story. The question is, “Will you join Jesus on mission in the world?” Will you choose to do this?
We had a Breakthrough Resurrection, Breakthrough Blessings, and now a Breakthrough Confession.
Verse 24: “Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
You know, growing up in church, we had a name for Thomas. It was “Doubting Thomas.” And it’s because of this right here. His insistence, “I won’t believe.” He wouldn’t believe the disciples’ claim that they’d seen the Lord. Now, his reticence is quite reasonable actually. This is the first and only time in history someone has been resurrected to eternal life, never to die again, okay? So we can get where Thomas is coming from. He says, “Listen, I’m not going to take your word for it. I’ve got to see what you saw. I’ve got to touch it. I’m not going to believe unless I get that.”
Verse 26: “Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”
Isn’t this amazing? Jesus appears (snaps fingers) and makes a beeline for Thomas. It’s like He knew what was going on, huh? “Thomas, put your finger right here. See my hands? Put out your hand. Touch my side. Don’t disbelieve, but believe.” And just like that, Thomas moves from “Doubting Thomas” to “Believing Thomas.” “My Lord and my God!”
This statement, this confession here is like a theological earthquake. (chuckles) It’s a breakthrough confession. He says, “My Lord.” Throughout the Old Testament, God is referred to as the Lord, the Lord God, Adonai. He takes that title and applies it now to Jesus, and he says, “My God,” an unequivocal statement of the deity of Jesus Christ. Friends, this is the highest Christological confession in the book of John. And it wasn’t just academic for Thomas. No, it’s deeper and personal. “My Lord, my God,” because Jesus is risen as the divine Lord of all. You see that. Jesus is risen as the divine Lord of all. So friends, let’s not remember Thomas as “Doubting Thomas.” Let’s remember him as “Believing Thomas,” because it’s not where you start, it’s where you end that counts. Thomas reminds us that doubting, this is important, doubting is not the opposite of faith. In fact, doubting may actually be the soil in which faith begins to grow.
So here’s the question, friends. Will you invite Jesus into your doubts? Will you invite Jesus into your doubts? Some of you, it may have never occurred to you that it’s okay to doubt, that Jesus doesn’t run away from doubtful people, that Jesus presents and pursues, Himself, with doubting people. Right? Have you ever prayed your doubts? Have you ever brought your doubts before the risen Christ and said, “Hey, I’m stuck. Would you help me with this? Lord, help. I believe. Help my unbelief. I want to believe, but I’m stuck here. Would you help me?” Will you invite Jesus into your doubts, friends?
So Breakthrough Resurrection, Breakthrough Blessings, and Breakthrough Confession, and then finally here, Breakthrough Opportunity.
Jesus responds to Thomas’ confession in verse 29: “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” See, friends, Jesus here blesses those who will come to believe, but unlike Thomas, will not have the opportunity, the benefit of seeing the resurrected Jesus firsthand. And if you think about it, He’s actually blessing us, isn’t He? We who have come to trust in Jesus based on the witness and testimony of those first disciples, who have recorded these events in Holy Scripture for us. In fact, that’s what John says his whole Gospel is about.
Verse 30: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
John says, “Look, everything I wrote, every story, every conversation, every bit of narrative, every moment, every inflection point in this story, everything here points to Jesus to help you see that He is the Christ. This is the Greek word for the Hebrew concept of Messiah. He’s the Messiah, the Promised One, the fulfillment of God’s covenant and kingdom, and that He is the Son of God, the divine Son sent into the world to reveal the Father to us, to reconcile us to God so that we might become children of God forever, that by believing, we may have life in His name, in the name of Jesus because, friends, Jesus offers life in Himself to all who will believe. Jesus offers life in Himself to all who who will believe, and this, friends, is a breakthrough opportunity.
Life, real life, the life you were made for, the life that was stunted and lost and put to death through our sin and rebellion before God, the life that Jesus comes and embodies and lives out in front of us, the life that even death itself could not restrain, that that life, that abundant, overflowing, everlasting, ever-enduring life is on offer in Jesus to you and to me even now.
And so the question is, friends, will you dare to believe in Jesus? Will you dare to believe in Jesus?
You know, all along in this series through the Gospel of John, I’ve been praying that through this study of who Jesus is, we would see Him, that we would be arrested, captured, captivated by His life, that we would be attracted and drawn in, that it would be contagious. And I’ve been praying for some of you. I don’t know you, but I’ve been praying for you because you come to church all the time. You come to make somebody else happy, and you’re here, you’re doing your thing, but my prayer is that this would wake you up, that something would grab your heart, that you would awaken a longing for the life that only Jesus can give you.
I’ve been praying for you, that God, by His Holy Spirit would grab you and you would not be able to shake this or look away. So right now I want to invite you. If you’ve been kicking the tires, if you’ve been hanging around, today’s the day. Today’s the day to come into the light, to fall at the feet of Jesus, to say, “My Lord and my God,” that you might have life and be more alive than you could ever imagine.
How would I do that? It’s Simple. Simple as A, B, C:
A: We Admit. We admit that we are sinners, far from God, helpless on our own.
B: We Believe. Believe that Jesus has done everything to make us right with God when He died in our place and for our sake, and rose again to give us life.
C: We Commit. We commit our lives to Him, and say, “Come, be my Savior. Be my Lord. Be my everything.”
If that’s something you want to do, if you want to open your life to the light of Jesus Christ today, I’m going to pray in just a moment, and I’d like you to just repeat these words after me as I pray. As a matter of fact, if you’re here and you are a follower of Jesus Christ, as I pray, would you just say these words with me, just to make everyone comfortable. But if you are here for the first time praying this prayer would you just pray it? Repeat these words after me with all your heart and give your life to Jesus Christ. Would you pray at this time?
Wherever you are, just repeat after me:
Heavenly Father, I admit that I am a sinner. I have wandered far away from you. I’m helpless on my own and I believe that Jesus died for me, that on the cross He paid the penalty for my sin, and that He rose again to give me life. And I commit myself to you. I ask that you be my Savior, and ask that you be my Lord. I ask you to be my everything. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Would you do something for me? If you prayed that prayer today for the very first time, on the count of three would you just stick your hand up? Just one, two, three, stick it in the air wherever you are. Amen. (applause)
Welcome home! Welcome home! If you prayed that prayer, we have prayer partners here at the end of the service. Please don’t leave. Just come down. They’d love to give you a Bible. They’d love to connect with you. We’d love to celebrate this day with you, the day of your new life in Jesus Christ.
Amen? Amen! Praise the Lord. (applause)