Sunday School Lesson – “Jesus Empowers His Followers” John 20:19-23

VERSE DISCOVERY: John 20:19-23 (KJV, Public Domain)

“I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.”  That was the promise that God spoke through the prophet Joel, (2:28).  Ezekiel 36:26 tells us, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you…”

What God foretells through His servants, the prophecy’s that came forth, involved a part of Him (“my spirit”), coming to live on the inside (“within”) the heart of those that belong to Him.

How often had that been told to the Jewish people of old?  For generations, His promise had permeated their culture and had been passed from mouth to mouth testifying of His great promise that He wants to move into the lives of His people.

This promise of an outpouring traveled with them through wars and disobedience; through times of favor and times of disappointments.  Exile even dispelled them from their land for a time, but it could not dispel them from God’s promise.

In times before, they experienced God’s power at work in many different ways.  Now, Jesus was ready to take things to another level in bringing His people closer to that pouring out promise; one that would bring about great power, wonders, and deliverances.  Jesus was ready to breathe on them a part of Him; moving upon and in His people, the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

By the time we get to this lesson in Scripture, the deed to crucify Jesus has transpired.  He had been scourged, thorned, spit on, nailed, and pierced.  The earth shook; the body was wrapped and put in the grave, and He rose again.

Things would never be the same for His kingdom and ministry.  A new level of empowerment was on the horizon and Jesus was ready to place His stamp of approval on these men that would authorize them to work in His promise.

Jesus Appeared to His Followers

John 20:19 “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.”

Have you ever had someone sneak up on you?  I mean they just seemingly appear out of nowhere and startle you.  It’s a pretty unsettling feeling of being caught unawares.

Now imagine how the disciples who were “assembled” behind closed “doors” felt when they received the surprise of a lifetime; Jesus, their friend, their teacher, their Savior – He, who days before, had been killed and murdered at the insistence of the “Jews,” now stood before them.

To say they were completely shocked doesn’t do it justice.  If it were me, I would be completely freaked out.  Can I take your mind back for a moment when they were being tossed about in the midst of the sea, and saw Jesus walking on water?  Their response: “They were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear,” (Matthew 14:26).

At that time, they had no just cause to believe He was a spirit.  They went off the basis that it was the only logical reason that allowed Him to walk on water.

Here, they would have a very good reason to spaz, so to speak, a bit over His sighting.  Not only do they know for a fact that Jesus had been crucified, but they have heard reports that He is no longer in the tomb Joseph of Arimathea donated for the cause of His burial.

Certain women went to the tomb and pondered how they would roll the stone away only to arrive and find it had already been moved (see Luke 24:1-3; Matthew 28:1-2; Mark 16:1-4; John 20:1).  The news had spread to Peter and the rest.  Reports from the travelers on the road to Emmaus said, “The Lord is risen indeed…” (Luke 24:34).

Not only is He risen, but He is standing before them speaking, “Peace be unto you.”  Though the speaking of a greeting of “peace” was customary among the people, Jesus spoke with the intent of calming the raging storm of emotions these men were dealing with.

When Jesus appeared to them the Bible tells us, “they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit,” (Luke 24:37).  Jesus then asked them, “Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:38).

So, Jesus speaks “peace” to them.  Isaiah 26:3 says, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.”  Jesus had to refocus their troubled thoughts to see the miracle that stood before them now.

Yes, they were in troubling times.  Yes, they were dealing with confusion and disappointment, but Jesus had to calm the turmoil inside of them so that they could accept the great thing that was about to take place.  Therefore, Jesus draws them toward “peace.”

John 20:20 “And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.”

“And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side.”  He showed them proof!  Physical evidence that He had indeed risen was right in front of their faces.  Remember, according to Luke 24:37 they thought He was a spirit, but Jesus showed them the evidence in His glorified flesh.  Later, He invited Thomas to, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side…” (John 20:27).

If you will allow me, just look at how many of their 5 senses were involved to establish that Jesus was alive in the flesh:

  • Seeing – they saw Jesus. To many, we would assume, that this would be enough, but with fear running rampart they believed that He was a spirit.
  • Hearing – Jesus spoke and questioned them. Again, in the mind’s eye of their panic over what they were witnessing; what they were hearing could be attributed to a spirit.
  • Touching – This is where the real convincing begins. When one can physically feel the flesh; feel the bones underneath, it can’t get any more real than this. Jesus wasn’t afraid to be closely examined by them. He urged them to get in there and feel the proof for themselves.
  • And if perchance you want to add smelling and taste (no they didn’t smell Jesus or taste Him) but on the “third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead,” (John 21:14); Jesus invited them to “come and dine” with Him (John 21:12). The fire was going, and the fish were frying, Jesus was partaking and invited them to do the same.  And from there, as they say, the rest is history.

Jesus, beyond a shadow of a doubt, showed with many evidences that He was in fact risen and alive.

“Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.”  When they really saw that this was, in fact, their risen Lord (minus the fish fry at this point), they were overjoyed.  Where they were feeling devastated and in deep despair, now they saw hope.  That’s something to get happy about.  When they got past the shock and really “saw the Lord” for who He is, their spirits were raised, and they rejoiced.

Don’t let despair keep you from seeing Jesus.  Even when one is suffering and feeling the burden of this world pressing on them – Jesus is there.

Jesus Breathed on His Followers

John 20:21 “Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.”

“Peace be unto you.”  Jesus again speaks “peace” to His gathered disciples; words repeated to bring comfort to the disciples confused hearts.  Yes, on the night of His arrest they fled and left Him on His own.  They abandoned Him, but He has not forsaken them.

Now, He stands before them speaking “peace.”  Once Jesus speaks “peace” over you, don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise.  One way the enemy will try to stop us is to keep us in a state of feeling like a failure, of feeling there’s no possible way Jesus can use us now.  We have messed up is what we claim, and we can’t see beyond our own faults and shortcomings to do a mighty work for Him.

Their failures were not hidden from Jesus.  Do you know how I know?  He died on the cross alone and they fled just as He said they would.  He knew it ahead of time.  But their job wasn’t to die on the cross.  And, despite their previous failures, Jesus still had a mission for them.  He said, “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” 

Please Note: Sometimes we may feel too gone in our mess, but if you are here and alive today you still have purpose.  God can still use you to make a positive impact for His kingdom.  Stop focusing on the failures of yesterday!  Start focusing on the mission of today!  Jesus wants to “send” you!

The “Father” sent Jesus with a purpose; with a mission.  Now, Jesus says, “So send I you.”  In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus further defines their “sending;” their mission and their purpose.  He says, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…”

At other points during His earthly ministry Jesus sent the disciples out on mission trips, so to speak, to heal, set free, and preach the kingdom of heaven (see Mark 6:7; Matthew 10:1 and Luke 10:1).

Just because Jesus won’t physically be with them anymore, they are to still be men on a mission.  Their lives are not to be filled with mindless idleness.  They must work the purpose wherewith he “sends” them; as do we.

We are all called to go out and get involved with His ministry and “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,” (Mark 16:15).

What is Jesus calling you to do to help the kingdom of God?  Where is it He wants to “send” you?  Don’t ignore the call or cower in fear.  He will empower you, as He did with these original followers, with what you need to make a difference, as our next verse tells us.

John 20:22 “And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:”

“He breathed on them.”  What is the significance of Jesus breathing on His disciples?  In both the Hebrew and Greek, the word “breath” is the same word for “spirit.”  Jesus is the only one with the authority to impart the Spirit in such a way, for Matthew 28:18 tells us, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.”

“Receive ye the Holy Ghost.”  After Jesus spoke to them, He wanted them to “receive” what was necessary to carry out their sending tasks with power.  Think of it this way, different vehicles are designed different ways, but one thing they all have in common is they need a source of power to run on to make their “going” successful.  For some, the power may come from gas.  For some, diesel.  And for others, their power source may be electric or a combination of several sources.  But none will move or function the way they were designed without receiving power.

The same is true for Christ’s followers.  The “Holy Ghost” is our power source.  He steps in our life and fills it from the inside out.  He leads us, guides us, strengthens us, and empower us to do the works of God.  When we “go” into the mission and purpose He has designed for each us, we need Him fully working on the inside of us in order to do it the way He wants us to.    

Therefore, Jesus “breathed” on them to empower and anoint them.  Most believe this was just a partial filling, or in preparation of, or a symbolic act to what would occur fully and completely at Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4.  Jesus was bestowing on them a great gift that would enable them to work mightily for Him.  Without the Holy Ghost, the task ahead would be fruitless and without power.  Zechariah 4:6 plainly declares, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.”  Man can try to operate in his own power but won’t have the effect for God’s kingdom Jesus did.  This mission must be infused with power from on high!

Before His ascension, Jesus spoke to those gathered around Him, and said, “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence,” and “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth,” (Acts 1:5, 8; emphasis mine; compare Luke 24:49).  They needed to be fully immersed in Him, fully filled with His Spirit to operate fully in the ministry He was sending them into.  One cannot work the Spirit’s work without the Spirit.

Later in Acts, when the events of Pentecost were unfolding, Peter, during his sermon, boldly spoke, “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.  Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed for this, which ye now see and hear,” (Acts 2:32-33; emphasis mine).  The very promise of the Holy Ghost which Jesus spoke to them to receive, Peter said, we have received.  They have been empowered by His Spirit and it was shown before all there that day.

John 20:23 “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.”

The Gospel message they and us carry is powerful: it’s the Good News that Jesus saves.  Those who believe and accept this message, and are saved, can find joy in knowing they are forgiven, their “sins” are “remitted unto them.”

This was the climax of all Jesus sought to do on the cross: to save mankind from their sins, to restore them back to fellowship with God.  Those anointed, filled, and empowered by the “Holy Ghost” have the privilege to pass on this eternal-life saving message.  They have no power of their own to forgive sins, but they can open the word of life and lead others to the One who can.

At the same time, those who refuse will “retain” their “sins.”  If they refuse to let Jesus wash away the impurities of this world that stains their soul, it will remain with them into all eternity.

Despite popular beliefs, there are NOT many roads to heaven.  Jesus very clearly stated, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me,” (John 14:6).

I cannot overemphasize those two words “NO ONE!”  That means no exceptions.  That means no matter how good one thinks they are, if they have not gone through Jesus, if He has not cleansed them from their sins, they will not walk those dirty feet on His heavenly streets.

The disciples, as well as we, are empowered with the Holy Ghost to get that message across.  We all need to be empowered with His Spirit to do His work!

PDF Printable Sunday School Lesson Pack (With easy to read instructions following the P.E.A.R.L. format on how to conduct each lesson with areas for adding personal notes): Sunday School Lesson – Jesus Empowers His Followers

Suggested Activities:

Draw the Scene: Jesus Empowers His Followers Draw the Scene

Blank Journal Pages: Blank Adult and Kid’s Journal Pages Use these blank Adult and Kid’s journal pages to emphasis or bring out any portion of the lesson for your specific class or audience.

Memory Verse: Jesus Empowers His Followers Memory Verse

Word Search: Jesus Empowers His Followers Word Search  Answers: Jesus Empowers His Followers Word Search

Crossword: Jesus Empowers His Followers Crossword  Answers: Jesus Empowers His Followers Crossword Answers

Word Scramble: Jesus Empowers His Followers Word Scramble  Answers: Jesus Empowers His Followers Word Scramble Answers

How Many Words: Jesus Empowers His Followers How Many Words

“Blowing Tube Craft” A simple craft to demonstrate breathing or blowing.  Simply roll up a piece of construction paper long ways and tape.  Cut the top and bottom off to make even.  Attach ribbon, tissue paper or I used cut up streamers and tape on the inside of your tube.  Some should be longer than the tube to help with blowing.  Decorate with crayons or stickers. 

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Bubble Play: Hit up your local dollar store or make homemade bubbles for students to demonstrate Jesus breathing on His followers.  What fun!

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