I have a hard time watching baseball teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, not just because they are evil AL East empires with vast (and unfair) payrolls, but because I never know who the players are, since they don’t imprint players’ names on the backs of their jerseys.
In reading John’s gospel you’ll discover that he never mentions himself by name. Often he refers to himself as the beloved, or the one Jesus loved. Not that Jesus didn’t love the others ones, of course. Was it John’s humility that drove him never to identify himself? The name on the front of his jersey so much more important than his own that he refused to iron his on the back?
It’s a little comical here at the beginning of John 20 how the gospel writer doesn’t give his name but, perhaps revealing a competitive side to the first century pastor, claims to have beaten Peter in a footrace.
John 20:4 (ESV)
Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
I suppose Peter’s constant putting of his foot in his mouth must have slowed his gait. They were, of course, running to the tomb where the women said they saw Jesus’ body missing. He had defeated death and risen again like he said he would do. Fast forward a bit and we find Jesus’ followers hiding from the Jewish religious leaders.
John 20:19-22 (ESV)
19 On the evening of that day, the 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.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus comforts his followers and assures them that he is the man the Jews and Romans nailed to the cross. He commissions them just as he was commissioned by the Father. (Matthew in his gospel offers more details about this commissioning. See Matthew 28.) He gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift he promised he would give. And then he says something else.
John 20:23 (ESV)
“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
It’s interesting that some of Jesus’ first words to his followers after his resurrection involve forgiving others. The crucifixion and everything that accompanied it was horrific, but even in the midst of it, Jesus forgave. Could it be that in his statement here he is also expressing forgiveness for all his disciples who had abandoned him? They all had, to one degree or another.
Peter and John and the others would go on to tell the truth regarding the Jewish leaders’ guilt for having put to death the Messiah. “You killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:15 ESV). Yet they never did with any rancor, never with an air of superiority. They would preach a message of forgiveness, not that they had the power to forgive — that’s not what Jesus was saying here — but that in Jesus forgiveness was available.
Forgiveness, grace, mercy, pardon — this is the essence of the gospel. And just as the apostles never tired of preaching the message, neither will I.
As I have already, I am going to be limiting how much I post here at SWYW, because I’m working on a larger writing project, a story of deep betrayal and hurt and one of even deeper grace and healing. Would you pray for me that I might communicate with my pen what God wants me to say? I’ll need his encouragement to venture into the unknown territory of fiction.
May our lives be characterized by those who have received God’s grace.