Skeptic to Evangelist in 4 Easy Steps
Topic: Evangelism Passage: John 20:19–20:31
Augustine Shared these thoughts on his Conversion:
I was weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when I heard the voice of children from a neighboring house chanting, "take up and read; take up and read." I could not remember ever having heard the like, so checking the torrent of my tears, I arose, interpreting it to be no other than a command from God to open the book and read the first chapter I should find. Eagerly then I returned to the place where I had laid the volume of the apostle. I seized, opened, and in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell: "Not in revelry and drunkenness, not in licentiousness and lewdness, not in strife and envy; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts." No further would I read, nor did I need to. For instantly at the end of this sentence, it seemed as if a light of serenity infused into my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away.
Title: Skeptic to Evangelist in 4 Easy Steps
Outline of the Text
1. Jesus appears to the 10 disciples (19-23)
2. Jesus appears to Thomas (24-29)
3. John explains why he’s written this book (30-31)
Skeptic to Evangelist in 4 Easy Steps
Jesus starts out with unbelieving skeptics.
1. Jesus gives them revelation of himself.
2. Jesus gives them evidence proving who he is.
3. Jesus commissions them to spread the gospel.
4. Jesus empowers them to spread the gospel.
They begin to testify.
This is the process: Not just that the disciples went through. But Mary Magdalene went through a similar process. The men on the road to Emmaus and later the apostle Paul went through this process. Modern day apologists, Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel, went through a similar process. And for many who come to faith today, this is the process they go through. This may be the process you went through in your conversion…or the process you’re going through. Perhaps you’re on step 1…still unbelieving, but ripe for the revelation of Jesus Christ. Perhaps you’re on step 3…You’re convinced. You’re believing. You know that Jesus as commissioned you, but you haven’t yet begun to testify.
If you’re like me, you may be a little afraid of sharing your faith with unbelievers. But keep this in mind. Jesus is the great evangelist. He is the one that changes hearts…and he lives in you. We just mingle with sinners and look for him to open up doors for us to share the good news.
As we go through this text, we’re going to look at the 4 Steps Jesus went through to take a skeptic and turn him into an Evangelist.
Jesus starts out with unbelieving skeptics.
• Mary Magdalene: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him.” (20:2)
• Men on Road to Emmaus: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21)
• 10 Disciples (Thomas being gone, Judas being dead)
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…
• They’re scared. And they’re locked away in the upper room.
• They’re afraid the Jews will come back for them…and find some room on Calvary for a few more crosses.
• These are skeptics that need some serious convincing.
• That’s exactly what Jesus wants: If you’re going to convince the world of the truth of something as radical as the resurrection, it is very helpful if you start with faithless skeptics who are strongly opposed to believing. The more opposed, the more skeptical the better. You need a Paul who is executing Christians or a Thomas who says, “I will never believe.” Or 10 disciples locked up in a room, scared out of their minds.
• If you can get some of these guys to faith, then you’re argument will be pretty convincing.
• Sometimes we run into hardened skeptics, who just refuse to believe… And there is an appropriate time to turn and shake the dust from our feet as Paul and Barnabas did in Acts 13:51.
• But in your witnessing, don’t be too quick to give up on the skeptics…because Jesus often loves to save them!
1. Jesus gives them revelation of himself.
19 Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
I imagine the disciples are a little freaked out right now. They locked the door for a reason. They didn’t want any surprise guests. When Jesus appears he has to calm them down. He says, “Peace” or “It’s ok.”
But also in doing this he is giving them a revelation of himself.
1. Jesus is the prince of peace!
• He’s the king’s son who came to pay the price and acquire for the king’s subjects true peace.
• Isaiah 9:6 says the messiah will be called the Prince of Peace
• Through Jesus we now have peace with God.
• When the resurrected prince appears, the first thing he says is “Peace be with you.” Not just “calm down” but “peace to you”. I did it. I conquered death, your great enemy, and now I give you peace.
• Repeats this phrase 3X: “Peace be with you.”
o 19 + 21: 10 disciples
o 26: 10 + Thomas
• I am commissioned by Christ to say the same to you who believe this morning: Peace be to you!
o The war is over; the battle is one; Satan no longer has claim on your soul; you are now at peace with God
o But what is this peace based on?
• Grounds of Our Peace - PLECS
o Power of God: power to save us
o Love of God: he cares for us and makes all things work for our good
o Election of God: He has chosen us for himself. If we are his, then no one can take us out of his hands. No one can take from us His peace.
o Cross of Christ: Jesus paid the price for our sin so we can be recipients not of God’s wrath, but of his love
o Sovereignty of God: Everything goes according to his plan. He will never slip up and lose you.
• By his power, his love, his election, his cross, and his sovereignty…he gains for us peace. And he proves himself to be fit to wear the title: The Prince of Peace.
2. He also reveals himself to be The Savior
20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
• His hands and side: These show the marks that authenticate his identity…not just as a man who died by crucifixion…but as the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, as the lamb of God who dies for the sins of the world.
2. Jesus gives them evidence proving who he is.
• Jesus shows them his hands and side as evidence to prove 2 things: It is him raised from the dead. And it really is his body raised from the dead.
• Note: Jesus has a real body with hands, feet and a side. In other passages the resurrected Christ eats food with the disciples. This is not the ghost of Jesus, but the resurrected body of Jesus.
• Gnosticism: We are battling Gnosticism here, which denied the true humanity of our Savior...in denying his humanity, they also deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus…if Jesus didn’t have a body, then he couldn’t really rise from the dead. But here Jesus is proving that he is a real man who physically died a real death and whose real body really came back to life. Jesus gives evidence by showing his hands and his side. Thus, he equips us not only to preach the gospel, but to confirm and defend it – with evidence.
• Once the disciples see the evidence they know it’s Jesus and the text says that they are glad!
TRANSITION: Jesus brings his followers to the point of believing and then he commissions them to spread the good news.
3. Jesus gives them purpose by commissioning them to spread the gospel.
21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
I am Sending you
o By someone: Jesus by the Father, We sent by Jesus
o To someone or something: We’re sent to the world
o For some purpose: To proclaim the gospel, the good news that Christ died, rose and now saves all who believe on him
John’s Version of the Great Commission
Matthew 28:16-20: 16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
4. Jesus gives them powers to spread the gospel.
Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. (22)
o We only see this one other place. In the garden of Eden, when God breathes life into Adam.
o Genesis 2:7: “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”
o Similarly Jesus breathed into us and the Spirit has filled us and given us life…not just physical life like Adam received but spiritual life…eternal life.
• Big Question: What happened next?
o What happened here at this point? What happened after Jesus breathed on them? Was this a mini-Pentecost with some people getting filled with the Holy Spirit? It seems odd for Jesus to say “Receive the Holy Spirit” when Pentecost isn’t for 50 more days.
o There’s a couple theories as to what is going on:
1. Nothing: Jesus was just speaking forth of what was going to happen on Pentecost.
• This was the way Jesus connected his life and ministry to the events that occurred on Pentecost.
• Jesus wanted the disciples to know when the Spirit came on them that this was the “Spirit of Christ”, that the Holy Spirit came to indwell them and they received the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ command.
• This is the view of his excellency, Dean Davis, as well as John MacArthur.
2. At this point, Jesus gave the disciples a little Spiritual Boost.
• Pentecost isn’t for 50 days
• So maybe the disciples need the Spirit to come on them in a special way to help get them to Pentecost where the Spirit will be in them.
This is the view of John Calvin: “The Spirit was given to the Apostles on this occasion in such a manner, that they were only sprinkled by his grace, but were not filled with full power; for, when the Spirit appeared on them in tongues of fire (Acts 2:3) they were entirely renewed. And, indeed, he did not appoint them to be heralds of his Gospel, so as to send them forth immediately to the work, but ordered them to take repose, as we read elsewhere, ‘Remain ye in the city of Jerusalem till ye are endued with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49).”
• What I call a “spiritual boost”, Calvin describes as being “sprinkled by his grace”.
Theory 1: Seems to make the most sense of the text.
• It would seem odd for Jesus to breathe on them and say “Receive the Holy Spirit” and then for nothing at all to happen for 50 days.
Theory 2: Seems to make the most sense of Pentecost.
• Why would Christ say “Receive the Holy Spirit” if he wasn’t referring to the great day of Pentecost?
• Also, it makes sense that at sometime before the ascension, and definitely before Pentecost, that Jesus would make it clear that he was the one sending the Holy Spirit and he would be the one to issue the command for them to “Receive the Holy Spirit”.
My Take: Not to be overly democratic, but I think both are true.
• Primarily, Christ was referring to the indwelling of the Spirit that would come at Pentecost.
• But I think he probably gave them a little something right then and there to wet their appetites for Pentecost and to give them strength to carry them through the next 50 days.
Transition: And now we get to the most controversial verse of the text, verse 23. Catholics and Protestants have battled over this verse for 500 years. And once and for all, I will now put the controversy to rest.
Just like when you’re jumping off the high dive you got to get a running start, I want to start at verse 21 and read through verse 23…mainly because verses 21 and 22 set the context for verse 23.
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. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Notice the progression here:
Jesus is sending them to preach the gospel. He breathes on them and says to receive the Holy Spirit. So what follows in verse 23 has to do with proclaiming the gospel in accordance with the direction of the Holy Spirit.
On the Face of It: If you just look at verse 23 and don’t consider the context of the passage or the context of the rest of the New Testament, you might go running out to some priest to try and get him to forgive your sins. It looks like Jesus is giving the disciples the ability to randomly or at will forgive sins.
Catholics have used this verse to justify their doctrine of absolution where priests are said to have the right to forgive sins. In Catholic churches, people go into the confessionals to confess all the gory details of their sins to the priests. And the priest with no mention of the gospel, tell these people, “Your sins are forgiven.”
• Why are your sins forgiven? Because the priest said so.
• Let me tell you this. If your faith is in the authority of man to forgive your sins, then your sins are NOT forgiven.
• Romans 1:16 says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation [the power to attain forgiveness of sins] for all who believe.
o For who? Not for those who go into a box with a priest. But for those who believe!
• Who believe in what? Not in the authority of a man who calls himself Father or Pastor, but in the authority of Jesus Christ who grants the forgiveness of sins to all who believe in him.
• Look to Christ. That is where you will find forgiveness of sins.
• Eph 1:6-8: He has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us.”
We must keep some things in perspective:
1. No one’s sins can be forgiven apart from faith in the finished work of Christ.
2. No pastor or priest can forgive your sins. Our peace with God, our justification, the forgiveness of our sins comes not by the word of a priest or pastor but by faith in Jesus Christ.
• Romans 5:1-2: 1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
• Dean Davis: “In this case, the Pharisees got it right: Only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7). And he does so through simple faith in Jesus. There is not a single example in the New Testament of any apostle or elder absolving a man of his sins, nor is there any explicit command to do so (unless you want to read John 20:23 that way). Nor is there any commandment, or any instruction, from the apostles to future elders on this matter.”
• In scripture, the only man we see forgiving sins is the God-man, Jesus.”
i. Matthew 9:2: Jesus says to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”
ii. Luke 7:48: And he said to the woman who anointed Jesus feed, “Your sins are forgiven.”
3. Your sins are forgiven at the moment of saving faith.
• Acts 10:43: Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
4. ALL sins are forgiven at the point of faith.
• Col. 2:13-14: 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our sins, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
• It is God who nailed your sins to the cross.
• It is God who has forgiven all your sins – past, present and future.
5. We do not actually forgive the sins, but we declare them forgiven based upon faith in Christ’s work.
• The NASB says it this way: 23 If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”
• It says, “Their sins have been forgiven them”: signifying that we are not the ones granting the forgiveness, but rather we are given the authority to acknowledge the forgiveness that has already happened.
John MacArthur: explains that is critical that we have the authority to proclaim forgiveness
“Now can you imagine if we didn't have this power? Could you imagine the Lord saying...now you go out there and you preach the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit...and we go to some guy and say, "Man, here's the gospel," and we fire it away and give him the whole shot and then he prays and he says, "Christ come into my life and I believe." And then he says, "Well did it happen?" And you say, "Well, I don't know...you know, one of these days you'll die, you'll find out." No, you've got to be able to say, "Brother, on the basis that you confess Christ, I say to you your sins … are...forgiven." … Praise God that Jesus not only told us what to do and gave us the power to do it, but thirdly, He said, "Now you can tell them what's been done."
What then does John 20:23 mean? It means we can proclaim this message: Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, or you will be forgiven. If you believe, your sins are loosed; if you don't, they are retained.”
• Your sins are gone. Be assured. As far as the east is from the west he has removed our transgressions from us.
This is what the apostles actually do. They proclaim the forgiveness of sins. They do not go around telling people, “I forgive you.”
• We see John doing just that in 1 John 1:9: John doesn’t say, “I forgive you sins.” Rather he declares the forgiveness of our sins.
• 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
• And in Acts we see the apostles doing just that. You want to see this charge in action? Paul doesn’t say “I forgive your sins,” but in Acts 13:38-39, he says:
38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.
Transition: Jesus does this process with the 10 disciples:
1. Jesus starts out with unbelieving skeptics.
2. Jesus gives them revelation of himself and evidence proving who he is.
But Thomas isn’t present. Notice the patience of Jesus as he goes through this process of revealing himself all over again with Thomas.
Jesus repeats the process with Thomas.
24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.
• I had a teacher in Junior High that always said, “You miss school. You miss out.” And he had a sign on the wall saying just that. I always questioned that. Maybe you miss school, but think of all the other more interesting things you could be doing instead of sitting in his classroom.
• But Thomas truly missed out. Jesus appeared to the disciples. Thomas wasn’t there so he missed out. Jesus gave the disciples peace, faith, hope and purpose, but Thomas missed all that so he’s still filled with anxiety and emptiness.
• I want to say this gently, “Come to Church”: Meet with the body. When we miss meeting together, we miss out. When we gather, we come together in eager anticipation that Jesus will visit us. As he said, “Where 2 or more are gathered in my name, I will be there in their midst.” Don’t miss out…when Jesus comes!
• William Hendriksen: “Thomas was one of the twelve apostles as originally chosen. He should have been there [in the room that night]. By not being present he had missed the joy of seeing the risen Lord, and of hearing him speak words of peace. Indeed, he had missed the peace itself. It is evident from verse 25 that he had no peace. He was wretched, nervous, restless.”
Thomas missed out: The other disciples know it and they’re trying to fill him in, to catch him up. Trying to share a little of the glory with Thomas that they had experienced themselves.
25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”
• I’m sure they told him other things as well. He breathed on us. He said “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He showed us the marks of his crucifixion.
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.”
• Mark my words, “I will never believe.” I don’t care what you say, how many witnesses you bring forth, unless these conditions are met I refuse to believe.
• Words. Words. Words. Thomas has had enough words. He wants proof. He wants to see. He wants to touch.
• Other doubters are now believing and testifying:
o The 10 are all testifying that Christ appeared.
o Mary Magdalene and some other women
o Disciples on the road to Emmaus
o But despite the testimony of all these witnesses, Thomas says, “I’ve got to see it to believe it.”
• And Thomas remains a skeptic for another week.
• So Thomas has been doubting for 7 more days. I imagine he’s had it with all the resurrection stories. And I imagine his fellow disciples have had it with all his skepticism. Something has to happen. This has to come to a head.
• 1 Week Later: You have to know there are 8 Days in a Week. Let’s count them together 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. When the Jews counted days they included the current day in the count. We would call that 7 days or a week later, but the Jews including the current day, refer to it as 8 days. [VERSE 26]
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.”
• Jesus came back for Thomas: He didn’t have to. He could have said to himself, “I gave Thomas lots of witnesses. If he doesn’t believe them, then that’s his own fault.” But he doesn’t. He comes. He bears with Thomas’s weaknesses.
• Struggling with Doubts: How often have I too struggled with doubts. I have felt many a time like that man whose son had an unclean spirit. He cries out to Jesus in Mark 9:24, “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.” Jesus had compassion on him, and here Jesus has compassion on Thomas.
27 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.”
• What does Jesus do for God’s doubting children? He reveals himself to them and he gives them faith to believe.
• Look at how tenderly Jesus condescends to Thomas’s level. He speaks to each of Thomas’s demands:
1 Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, 2 See my hands
2 And put my finger into the place of the nails, 1 Bring here your finger
3 And put my hand into his side, 3 And bring your hand, and put it into my side
4 I definitely will not believe 4 And no longer be unbelieving but believing
Instantly Thomas Believes
28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
• Similarly to Mary Magdalene when Jesus simply says her name. The lights come on. Faith is birthed!
• Despite all his earlier protesting, Thomas instantly believes.
Jesus gives Thomas a Gentle Rebuke for Disbelieving
29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
• Jesus knows that in future centuries there will be hundreds of thousands of people who will need to come to faith based on the testimony of others. Few people have Jesus make an actual appearance for them like Jesus did for Thomas. So Jesus gives Thomas a gentle rebuke…
• And then he honors those who believe without having seen.
• John, the writer of this book: He is the only one of the disciples who believed before he saw Jesus. In chapter 20 verse 8, John gets to the empty tomb and the text says “he believed.”
• It doesn’t say Peter believed. And we know that Thomas and the others didn’t. But John did!
• In saying this, Jesus also honors future believers who will later come to faith based on the testimony of scripture and the witness of other believers.
• Those of you here today who are followers of Christ. Jesus is speaking about you. He says, “Blessed are you!” You didn’t see the resurrected Christ. You didn’t lay your eyes on the scars in his hands and feet. You didn’t put your finger into his side. And yet you believe! This is pleasing to the heart of Jesus, and so he would say to you today, “Blessed are you for you have not seen and yet you have believed.”
TRANSITION: This is how the process goes when Jesus transforms the heart of a skeptic. He gives…revelation…
And then what happens…
They begin to testify.
• Mary: “I have seen the Lord” (20:18)
• Men on Road to Emmaus: “The Lord has risen indeed.” (Luke 24:34)
• 10 Disciples: “We have seen the Lord” (20:25)
• Thomas: “My Lord and my God.” (20:28)
Thomas’s Statement: One of the greatest proclamations of the deity of Jesus Christ.
“This is probably the clearest and simplest confession of the deity of Christ to be found in the New Testament. The two highest words, “Lord” (used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the divine name “Yahweh”), and “God”, are used together and addressed to Jesus in recognition of his glory. Jesus accepts this worship without hesitation.” – Reformation Study Bible
• This is very different from the response John gets in Rev. 19:10 and 22:9 when he starts worshipping an angel. The angel tells him very pointedly: “You must not do that! ... Worship God.”
John records the life of Jesus and all these stories of people – who initially do not believe - coming to faith in Jesus.
• Purpose of Book: And now finally, after telling us these conversion stories, John tells us why he’s writing this book. (20:30-31)
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 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.
• We are purchasing 600 books of John for this neighborhood. Why are we doing that? ïƒ Pure and simple so that our neighbors might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing they may have life in his name.
• We want this process to happen all over again for our neighbors:
o Many of them are skeptics.
o Through the reading of God’s Word, we hope that Christ might reveal himself to them.
o That they might believe and that they might also go on to proclaim his gospel.
These steps are steps that Jesus does. So what do we do?
1) Let’s embrace the Great Commission.
a. We have the honor of being a people SENT by Jesus into the world.
2) Let’s embrace the great gift of life in the Spirit,
a. for without him it is certain we can do nothing
3) Let’s embrace the sweet simplicity of the biblical Gospel,
a. Our sins are forgiven upon condition of simple faith in the divine Person and all-sufficient work of Christ.
4) Let’s embrace (and study) the evidence.
a. The incredible storehouse of evidences confirming the truth of the Gospel.
b. In witnessing, share the evidences.
5) Let’s embrace Jesus himself.
a. As our Lord and our God, and trust in Him to work within and without, so that, co-laboring with him, we can fulfill our great calling as a people sent out into the world.