Scripture Reading: John 20:19-23
“If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” (John 20:23)
Upon commissioning His disciples to be His witnesses in the world (vs. 21-22), Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v. 22). The Apostles were given unique authority by Jesus. They were His special representatives as the early church was being founded. Some of them were the human writers of Scripture. The Holy Spirit superintended the writing of the Scriptures so that what was written was precisely what God intended. The Apostles were also given authority to found the New Testament church. They alone had this unique authority which was given to them by Jesus Himself.
We must understand the words Jesus spoke to the Apostles, “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld,” on two levels. First, the Holy Spirit empowered the Apostles to be instruments of God in founding His Church. The Holy Spirit spoke directly to them and through them. They were in a unique position. When they spoke the words of forgiveness, they received these words directly from God. Since the Apostles died, no one has such authority any longer.
But, on our level, we must understand that no individual Christian or church has this authority to forgive on their own. But individuals and churches are to proclaim the gospel message of the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. When we do so, we declare that those who believe in Jesus have their sins forgiven, and those who do not believe in Jesus do not. In other words, when we preach and proclaim the gospel to others, we are declaring the only way a person can have his or her sins forgiven.
Remember the context of this verse, Jesus commissioned His disciples to be His witnesses. They were to go forth into all the world and proclaim the gospel of grace. So it is with us; we are called to be the mouthpieces of God. We are to tell others the good news that their sins can be forgiven by believing in Jesus Christ.
Lord Jesus, give me opportunities today to proclaim the gospel of Your love and forgiveness to others. May Your Spirit lead me to those who are open to the message and give me boldness to tell them the good news of forgiveness through faith in You.
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