CHAPTER 14 — THE LORD JESUS' FORTY DAYS.
RESURRECTION SCENES: THE APPEARING IN THE UPPER ROOM.
Of all the appearings of the Lord to His disciples in resurrection, there is none that eclipses the one that I read of tonight, in general interest, and likewise in the far-reaching character of the truth that is unfolded on that occasion. What a wonderful thing for the First-born from among the dead to appear in the midst of a company whom He owns as His "brethren." Next to His birth, and His death and resurrection, I think I might say it was the most wonderful scene that ever happened on earth. Think of it for a moment. The First-born from among the dead, the First-born of many brethren, is seen in the midst of His brethren; but on no account would I call Him our Elder Brother. No! My soul shrinks from that expression; because, although, in His infinite grace, He calls us His brethren, it ill becomes us to call Him Brother. He is our Lord; I think the lesson of the next Lord's Day may teach us that, when Thomas says to Him, "My Lord, and my God" (John 20:28).
Now I do not doubt that it was Mary Magdalene's testimony, as has often been said, gathered the disciples together. They did not believe her, to begin with; but through the day evidently credence sprung up that Jesus was risen. In the evening, therefore, when it was dark, and I suppose nobody could see them, they came together. They learnt on that resurrection day that Christianity, if they then understood at all what it was, was a thing altogether apart from the world. That is a great lesson to start with. And with doors shut "for fear of the Jews" and to shut out the world, we find them together. The Holy Ghost lets us know that what really filled their hearts was fear, but, thank God, it was not very long before the fear of man was cast out by the peace of God. When Jesus came in, it made all the difference. And it is true to this hour, when He comes in everything is altered.
Now the way that John presents the truth here, I need scarcely say, is most beautifully in keeping with the character of his Gospel. Luke records things that occurred this wonderful evening that John does not allude to. I do not want you to miss the meaning of each record. That is easily done by taking the statement God has been pleased to give us, by each evangelist, out of its place. Each is perfect in its place. In these addresses, however, I am not unfolding to you the particular character of each Gospel, but just seeking that we may see the whole situation from all its sides, as God has presented it.
God's object in recording these scenes is to give us a deeper knowledge of the Christ whom you and I know. I do not say you all know Him. There are many believers today who do not seem to know Him. They would not deny His existence, His love or grace; but still I meet many a saint who is not at home with Christ Their walk, ways, conversation, and whole manner of life show that they are at home in a different scene altogether. I believe the great point of these manifestations in resurrection is to impress upon our souls the blessed truth that an unchanged Christ is before our hearts. If you have travelled with Him through the Gospels, you will have learned much of His character. I will ask you, Have you done it? I do not ask you, Have you read your Bible, but, Have you travelled with Christ through the Gospels? Do you read them so as to put yourself in His company? You will never know Him otherwise; because the Spirit of God is not going to make revelations of Christ to you and me if we are lazy in perusing the record He has already given us of Him. I do not believe it for one single moment.
There is one thing God cannot do for us. God will not read the Bible for you, young brother. And God will not read your Bible for you, young sister. You will have to read it, and I shall have to read it, if we are going to learn Christ. Ah, you say to me, but Christ is now in a new place. I know. Christ is glorified. He is a Man in glory. As Man there in righteousness, He now shares with us all the blessedness of that place, and the Holy Ghost has come to' dwell in us and carry our hearts to Him where He now is. But I believe the more I learn what Christ was as He passed through this scene the more the Spirit of God will give my heart to know Him where He now is. All that God has given us in these precious Gospels, as well as the Acts and the Epistles, is to make our hearts acquainted with Himself. If I want to know you, I must live with you. And if you want to know me you will have to live with me. And it is exactly the same with the Lord. We have to keep His company.
Let us now see what took place this first evening. There are three evangelists who record this appearing of the Lord. In the last chapter of Mark's Gospel you have it simply referred to. There is no detail, and it is only Mark that tells us they had gathered together for an evening meal. "Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen" (Mark 16:14). Mark tells that the Lord rebuked them because of unbelief. That is to say, what was natural to the heart had come out, and the Lord rebuked it. The great lesson is this, the Lord Jesus does not like unbelief. He likes faith. That is what I get out of Mark's pen as regards this appearance.
There is a great deal more of the human side of things with Luke than with John. That is perfectly in keeping with his Gospel. You have the divine Person of the Son in John's Gospel, and truth connected therewith. In Luke we read that when the two returned from Emmaus and entered the upper room, they "found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them" (Luke 24:33). That is an important verse, because immense ecclesiastical fabrics have been built in Christendom, with an utterly rotten foundation, viz., that this company was only apostolic.
The eleven were there most certainly; but the added word in Luke's Gospel, "and them that were with them," shows that it was the general company of the disciples. I am inclined to think it was a large company, though perhaps not more than "one hundred and twenty," which is the number the Spirit of God tells us were gathered together for prayer in the first chapter of Acts. It was not, however, only an apostolic company, and that is a point of prime importance to bear in mind. That company had been gathered together from many parts, the disciples having heard, from Mary, the message sent to His brethren that morning by the risen Lord. Into their midst come the two from Emmaus with their news, and they are met by the testimony, "The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon" (Luke 24:34). It was manifest that Simon had seen Him, and had let the brethren know. But resurrection is a strange thing to the human mind; it is so out of the ordinary. Christ risen from the dead was a totally new thought to the disciples. To them Jesus was about to appear, in the same body in which He laid down His life, but now in a new condition altogether.
And now we read, "And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you" (Luke 24:36). That undoubtedly is the same apparition recorded in John 20:19. He comes into their midst, and the first word is, "Peace unto you." Ah, brethren, what a blessed thing it is to have the sense in our souls that there is a new era inaugurated, an era of peace. The first note struck among the company that belongs to the risen Christ is, "Peace unto you."
I daresay you have been struck with the way peace is spoken of in the New Testament. If not, notice the testimony with regard to the Lord before He was born? just go back to the first of Luke for a moment. Zacharias, filled with the Holy Ghost, says, the effect of the visit of the dayspring from on high would be "to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace" (Luke 1:79). That is the great thought before the mind of the Spirit of God through the mouth of Zacharias. Light and peace were coming in Christ. When He was born, as recorded in Luke's second chapter, you get, "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2:13, 14). What was specially connected with Christ was peace.
Then you know He was rejected, but, if you turn to the nineteenth chapter of Luke's Gospel, you will see how the subject comes out again. When the Lord was on His way up to Jerusalem, yea, to death, we read, "And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest" (Luke 19:37, 38). In the second chapter it was "Peace on earth." But that day has not come. The Lord has been rejected, and now the Spirit of God leads our souls to the spot where He is. "Peace in heaven." And that is the truth for today.
What is the next thing? The death of Christ laid the righteous basis of eternal peace. That wonderful work of redemption having been accomplished by the blessed Lord, we read of His "having made peace through the blood of his cross" (Col. 1:20). Let me here ask you, Have you peace? My dear friend, you are not in the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of God is not in you, if that is not the case. Why? Because we read, "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Rom. 14:17). What marks the kingdom of God? The blessed rule of grace, love, and goodness. "It is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." And if you have not peace, you are not in it. "Am I not then a Christian?" you ask. That is not for me to decide; I am only telling you where you are not. If you have not peace you are not in the atmosphere of resurrection. You have not touched what Christ came to effect and to proclaim.
He rises from the dead, and the very first word He says to the company is, "Peace unto you." It is a reign of peace, for He is the Prince of Peace, hence we read, "He came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh" (Eph. 2:17). Again, Peter speaks of "preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all)" (Acts 10:36). In Christ's death, burial, and resurrection I see that sin is put away, the power of the enemy broken, the history of the first man ended, and death left behind, completely annulled. As connected with Him risen we enter a new scene. It is the atmosphere of the Father's House. It is the holy sphere where the Son dwells. He says, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you" (John 14:27). What had filled His heart all through the pathway here? Peace. What is the first thing He says after He is risen from the dead? "Peace unto you." How do you get it? "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1). Christ is it. On the cross He made it. Risen, He proclaims it. In faith you receive it, and in the power of the Holy Ghost you enjoy it.
Not having yet received the Holy Ghost, the disciples at the outset did not enjoy peace that day, for we read, "But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit" (Luke 24:37). There are many believers, alas, today terrified and affrighted. Why so? They have not got Christ simply before them. "And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?" (ver. 28). The grace of the Lord here is excellent Are you troubled in your mind? Listen to what He says. Have you any ground for it? Have you any occasion for it? "Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?" Ah, brethren, this is Christ's way with the troubled. We see others troubled, and perhaps say, "Poor souls," but leave them still in their misery, making no great effort to help them. In all this we are not much like Christ. No, He ever stoops to put a troubled person at peace.
Do you think the Lord wants a person with a troubled mind in His presence? Never. And if you get thoroughly into His presence, you will neither have troubles, nor will "thoughts arise in your heart." Ah, my dear brother and sister, there is the secret of all our troubles. Instead of being simple, childlike, and resting in the calm of His presence and the perfect exhibition of His love, what a tempest do "thoughts" often produce. But when you are in trouble, and have these thoughts, how Jesus loves to draw near and say, "Peace unto you." He brings in, I repeat, a reign of peace.
Now carefully notice what He said to His disciples. "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself."
He invites them to be assured it is really Himself. Whenever you know His voice, and are sure that it is the Lord Himself that is dealing with you, depend upon it, your soul will get sweet peace too. "Handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have" (ver. 39), is then His command. Not a word about His blood. Oh, no. That precious blood, that life-blood of His had been given in atonement. As we read, "For the life of the flesh. is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul" (Lev. 17:11). Yes, His precious life's blood has flowed forth in death, the blood that cleanseth from all sin. That blood has glorified God. Well may the Spirit of God call it "the precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:19), for, indeed, it is blood whose far-reaching value has no limit. For the believer it quenches the flames of the lake of fire and opens the doors of heaven. That blood brings us nigh to God. We cannot overestimate the blood. Do not let us forget the untold value of the blood of Christ in this day, for the tendency all round about us is to make light of that blood. God forbid that you or I should fall into so grave an error, so deep a sin!
It was when the Lord Jesus was dead upon the cross that His precious blood flowed forth. It was the expression of sullen hate that led the Roman soldier to pierce His side; but the point of his spear brought out the precious blood of the blessed Son of God, which was the expression of His deep and wondrous love to us. That blood "speaketh better things than that of Abel" (Heb. 12:24), and it made peace. "A spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have," expresses the risen condition of the Lord. His blood He has given for us. The reason that His Church can, by the Holy Ghost, be united to Him in glory is, that He has given His life's blood for it, He has purchased and redeemed it, and everything is based upon His blood. Testimony to the blood runs, like a scarlet line, right through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. It begins with "the coats of skin" (Gen. 3:2) and closes with "the blood of the Lamb." There will be a renewed company in the millennial day who will fill the earth with praise, for they "have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:14), just as we can now sing, "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood" (Rev. 1:5).
The call of the Lord on His disciples to handle Him was to convince them of the identity of His Person, that it was indeed just Himself, risen, and again in their midst. "And when he had thus spoken, he showed them his hands and his feet" (Luke 24:40). This is very touching. Here were the marks of the nails. Here in His side was the testimony of death. "And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat?" (Luke 24:42). The object before His mind was plain. Wonder and joy were mingled in their minds, and I can understand the mixed state of their hearts. They were thrilled with joy, while hampered with unbelief and wonder. His words, "Have ye here any meat?" made the reality of His presence absolute to them. "And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them" (Luke 24:41, 42). All was now clear. Every mist of doubt rolled away as they saw Him eat.
It is very touching to notice the way God puts things in His Word. When the Lord was going to give them the most conclusive testimony as to the reality of His Person, He eats the broiled fish and honeycomb, which they had provided for themselves, to assure them it is really Himself. When you come to John 21, again there was broiled fish, but it was provided by Him to assure them that He cared for them. How rich and deep is the grace that ever provides that which will confirm our faith, and feed and sustain our souls.
Now why have we these details so specifically related to us? What does all this mean? It is the irrefragable proof that the Jesus of the Gospels and the risen Jesus is the same. And though eighteen hundred years have rolled by, He is the same in His tender love, sympathy, and grace as He was that day. Oh, to know Him better. You will find Christians today with a good deal of doubt, and with many "thoughts" in their hearts. I do not think, beloved friends, that such Christians are marked by great joy. Do you find them with an inward spring of joy always bubbling up? I cannot say that I do. Christ is not well known, because His company is not cultivated. The joy of His presence not being coveted, the sense of His boundless love is not known.
Now, my dear friends, I need not say these things ought not so to be. May God give you and me, therefore, to live more in the sunshine of His presence. We should seek to be like the little girl that got the prize for her rose-tree. She lived in an alley — poor little cripple — but strange to say she got the prize. Somebody was very much surprised, and came to see how it was. "Oh," said she, "I will tell you how it is. My room has three windows. I always put the rose-tree at that window in the morning which first gets the sun, and when the sun comes round, I put it in this window, and when it goes round to that window, I put it there. I always keep my rose-tree in the sun." Sensible child! My friend, you get into the sun of Jesus' presence and stay there. Keep in the sunshine of His love and grace, yes, keep yourself always in the sun. My young fellow-Christian, do not you be thinking of fruit, or leaves, or anything else. You think of Christ, all will come right then.
Let us turn now to John 20 again, and see what came out there. I do not doubt that God gives us there a picture of the Assembly on earth. We reach heaven in spirit, but as a matter of fact we are still on earth; God gives us there in a most beautiful way that which presents to us the Assembly as under the eye of God. It was the testimony of the truth that gathered them together. The Lord had said to Mary, "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." She carried the message, and its effect was that they were gathered together. We read, "Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you" (John 20:19). The disciples were gathered together, and observe, none but the disciples. There was not a Judas there, and Thomas also was not there. I think he missed the finest meeting of all by being absent. Do you know what kept Thomas away? I do not, but very little trifles often keep you and me from gathering together before the Lord. A very paltry thing will keep us away from a meeting. And that is often the time when the Spirit of God gives the most blessed view of Christ to the gathered ones. Thomas missed a grand opportunity. It is a lesson to you and me never to miss an opportunity of gathering with the saints of God if we have the opportunity.
The central truth of this first gathering is the glorious fact of their having Jesus in their midst. And that is just the Assembly. Perhaps some of you have not thought much about this. Where are you going next Lord's Day? I am going to hear so-and-so preach. Do you think that is what we have here? It bears no resemblance whatever to it. What I find here is this, a little company of those who were the Lord's gathered together, and the Lord Himself in their midst. Then He makes Himself known in a wonderful way. First of all He brings in peace, and then fills their hearts with joy. "And when he had so said, he showed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord" (John 20:20). There we get the secret of joy. There are four great things in John 19 and 20. The death of Christ, which is the basis of all blessing; then His resurrection, which is the proof of His victory over the enemy; then the Lord in the midst of His own people, saying, "Peace unto you;" and then the next thing is joy. On His side were death and resurrection: on our side are peace and joy.
All this is hinted at in John 14 - 16. In John 14:27 He gives them peace. In John 15:11 He gives them joy. In John 16 He says, "A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me: and, Because I go to the Father" (John 16:16). Their joy no man was to take from them (John 16:22), and their peace was to be as abiding as Himself, for He says, "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace" (John 16:33).
And now we further read, "Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you" (John 20:21). God expects us to be a peaceful company. If we go out in this world, we should have our "feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace" (Eph. 6:15). And does not God also expect us to be joyful? Assuredly, "Rejoice in the Lord alway" (Phil. 4:4), is the Spirit's command, "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (Neh. 8:10). Show me a joyful Christian, and I will show you a vigorous, healthy one. But supposing I find a Christian that is an everlasting complainer, that person is not happy, and has not his feet shod with peace. Where, on the other hand, a saint is going on in the gladness of the Lord's love, there is a powerful testimony. There is nothing like abiding joy flowing from the knowledge of Christ, to affect those round about you.
And now observe the character of the commission the Lord gives His own. "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you" (John 20:21). Where had He come from? The Father's house — the very atmosphere of peace and joy. Ere He died He had said to His Father in His wonderful prayer: "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world" (John 17:16-18). How did the Father send Him into the world? To be the expression of all the love, grace, tender goodness, and holiness too, of which the Father Himself was the spring. "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you," are wonderful words indeed, and it is an immense thing for each believer in the Lord Jesus Christ to bear them in mind. Remember He spoke them not to an apostolic company, but to all His own. You say, "I am going to heaven." It is quite true. Did you ever get the truth in your soul that you have come from it? This truth comes out in Acts 10. There Peter saw a great sheet coming down from heaven, and it went up again to heaven. What Peter saw inside that sheet was very wonderful.
In that sheet were "all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air" (Acts 10:17). That is just a figure of what you and I have been. But, touched by God, and born of God, we have come from heaven, even as through infinite grace we are going there. I do not doubt it is all a question of association with Christ; Christ is there, and we are quickened with Christ, and then, by the Holy Ghost, united to Him. Nevertheless it is a wonderful thing for the Christian to discover, "as is the heavenly [Christ], such are they also that are heavenly [Christ's]. And as we have borne the image of the earthy [Adam], we shall also bear the image of the heavenly [Christ]" (1 Cor. 15:48, 49). Hear it again. "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." Now do not you tell me that this is an apostolic charge. That is an easy way to avoid privilege as well as responsibility, and get away from the truth. Let us rather seek to get into the joy of our Lord's words. We come from heaven, and we are going to heaven. The Christian is a heavenly being. You most probably have heard the following story regarding the late Mr J. N. Darby. A worldly Christian once said to him, "What is the harm of hunting?" "Let me ask you a question before I answer yours," said this venerable servant of God. "What would you think if you saw an angel on horseback in a hunting field?" "Oh, that would never do, an angel is a heavenly being," was the immediate reply. "Exactly so," said J. N. D., "that is what I am, and what every Christian is. He belongs to heaven."
This is a most important principle. It is not the question, Is this wrong, or is that wrong, but this — Is that the kind of thing that suits a heavenly person? On the other hand, it is not that you have to go round trumpeting that you are heavenly. Those who do so usually illustrate the proverb, "The legs of the lame are not equal" (Prov. 26:7). The person that is in the enjoyment of what is heavenly, always has the deepest sense in his soul of how little he practically expresses this truth. The nearer we are to the Lord, the less we are in our own eyes. But the further away from the Lord we are, the bigger we become in our own eyes. Let us not forget this, "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you."
"And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost" (John 20:22). Now what have you here? Of course it was not yet the day of Pentecost, so it could not be the Holy Ghost as a divine Person come to dwell in them. What was it then? Christ the risen Man was here taking His place as the second Man, the head of a new race. He was from heaven, and here He is the last Adam. God made the first man, Adam, "of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul" (Gen. 2:7). That was for the earthly pathway here. Here is the last Adam, the second Man, alive from the dead. He had already told Mary to say to His brethren, "I ascend to my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (John 20:17), i.e., He was going to share His place with them. And now, what does He do? He carries into effect what He had promised them in chapter 14: "Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me; because I live, ye shall live also, At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you" (John 14:19, 20). He breathes His own triumphant risen life into them. It is the life of the risen Man, imparted, and to be enjoyed by the Holy Ghost As the second Man, the last Adam, He imparts His own life.
He is the First-born among many brethren, and they are one with Himself in His new place. It is all effected by the Holy Ghost. Here we get His breathing on them, and then the absolute gift of the Holy Ghost in Acts 2. "Both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren" (Heb. 2:11). But it is Christ Himself here associating His brethren with Himself, and communicating to them His own life and place before God as the risen Man. Hence we can understand the words it when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:4).
If you will now turn to Romans 8: for a moment, you will find that chapter gives us a great deal of instruction about the Spirit of God, which I would like to indicate to you. I have no doubt the truth that is taught by the Lord's breathing on them and saying, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost," is that which is unfolded in the first eleven verses of Romans 8. It is the Spirit as life. It is not yet the Spirit as power. This chapter gives you the two sides of the truth, with regard to the Spirit of God, the Spirit as life, and as power. It is the Spirit as life, nature, and moral power, in Christ, up to the eleventh verse, and then onward you have the Holy Ghost as a divine Person dwelling in the Christian, as power for the enjoyment of the new relationship with God, known as Father, and for all the pathway of holy life here below.
"There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace" (Rom. 8:1-6). Mark these last words. It is not the peace of the fifth chapter; that is, that sins are all forgiven and blotted out. But it is this, in the Holy Ghost we have life and peace. That which is true of us in Christ objectively is made true in you and me subjectively. He said when here, "I am the truth" (John 14:6). Why does it say elsewhere, "The Spirit is truth"? (John 5:6). Everything that belongs to me as a believer is true of me in Christ. That is the objective side of the subject. But the Spirit dwelling in the Christian makes it true in him experimentally, and Christ is really formed in him, and comes out of him in practical ways. Christ is my life, my peace, my joy, my redemption, my sanctification, yea, everything. Further, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus is our God and Father too, consequently, "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father" (Gal. 4:6). There the Holy Ghost is seen as a divine Person dwelling in the believer.
But here the Lord breathes on them, for they are to have life in the Spirit. In the second of Acts the Holy Ghost comes down and dwells in them, and makes everything good in them. Fifty days had to elapse before these disciples knew that wondrous blessing. I do not know that fifty minutes must necessarily elapse in your case and mine, after really believing in Jesus, before we receive the Holy Ghost. This is clearly seen in the case of Cornelius (see Acts 10). The Spirit of God gives us to know what it is to be forgiven, and to know that Christ is our life; and that He comes and dwells in the one who believes. The Spirit is life in you, and the Spirit is power likewise.
We now come to a passage that has in my judgment been sadly misunderstood. On it Rome and some of her daughters have built monstrous claims as to forgiveness of sins for eternity being in the hands of the Church so called — really the clergy. On the other hand Protestants have shrunk from its plain and simple teaching, and utterly neglected its use. The Lord said on this occasion to His gathered people, "Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained "(John 20:23). Now, that carries you of course a little further than the twentieth of John as to actuality. I do not doubt this instruction is both individual and collective. He so to speak says, "I will leave you in this scene to act administratively for Me." This, first of all, is connected with the testimony as to the forgiveness of sins which was to be preached in His name. I believe that not only those who heard the Lord speak were responsible, but that individually, you and I are equally responsible to carry to men the sweet knowledge of the forgiveness of sins. It is not a question of our remitting them for eternity. God alone can do that. It is this, we are in the scene where Christ is not, and knowing what He has accomplished, the evangelist is to go out, and every Christian should be such in heart, and proclaim the good tidings of forgiveness to men. Notice that this testimony is not put in the hand of preachers only. It was not a question of preachers that night. It was the Lord saying to the whole company, "Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them." When you know forgiveness yourself, you can speak of it as well as any other.
But there is more than that in, "And whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." The Church — the Assembly as such — has the administration of this, Carefully notice that which happened in Acts 2. Upon the one hundred and twenty disciples gathered together, the Holy Ghost came down on the day of Pentecost: Peter preached the same day, and said, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38). What happened? Why, three thousand people received the word, were baptized, and then came to the hundred and twenty, and practically said, "We would like to take our place with you," and they manifestly remitted their sins, i.e., took them upon the ground that they were forgiven of God, and gave them the right hand of fellowship. In the fourth chapter we find there were five thousand. Here was a small company upon earth — the Church of God — born of the Spirit, washed in the blood of the Son of God, indwelt by the Spirit of God, and so baptized into one body. They knew forgiveness and enjoyed peace, and when three thousand came and said, "We would be with you," they received them in the name of the Lord, they were brought in, and thus the Church of God was added to daily (Acts 2:47). Of the newly forgiven disciples we read that" they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). They walked in unity, joy, and gladness, which describes to us what was fellowship in that day.
It appears to me that the instructions of the Lord here might be administered to an individual, through an individual, or collectively by the Assembly, who on the one hand could say, "Come in," or on the other say," No, we will not let you in." Illustrations of this are found plentifully in the Acts of the Apostles. When you come to Acts 8, Philip doubtless thought he had got a great convert in Simon the sorcerer, and would have brought him in; but when Peter and John came down, they read his true state, as having neither part nor lot in the matter, and kept him out of the Assembly. The name of the Lord Jesus is the title for the simplest and lowliest that believes in His name, and seeks to walk worthy of it, to enter the Assembly, gathered to His name, and that name is the warrant for keeping outside its precincts every one that is not really walking in godliness.
What we have had passing before us manifestly describes what was a wonderful moment for the disciples. It was a great thing when they could go home and say, "We have seen the Lord." It is equally so for us. If we have seen the Lord, and got our hearts attached to Him, we shall be well fitted to pass through the scene for Him. And mark, it is that which lies open to every one of us. It is not a question of preaching. It is this, you have come from heaven, for, as a child of God, you belong to heaven, and you are commissioned by your Lord in this scene to be here for Him, and to carry to others the sweet news of His love and grace. My brethren, may the good Lord help us to spread them as we pass through this scene. If you and I fail to walk with our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, you may depend upon it, we shall lose blessing for our own souls, and be of little use to others. The Lord teach us, and lead our hearts more to Himself.