Sermon May 31, 2020

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1447

May 31, 2020 John 20.19-23

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)


“Breathe On Us”


 19On 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.” 20When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”


Normally Pentecost is fifty days after Easter, or in the Jewish calendar, fifty days after Passover. But since we celebrated Easter twice this year, we are fast forwarding to get back on schedule! Welcome to Pentecost Sunday. Pentecost is the day we celebrate and remember the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples in Acts 2. People were gathered in Jerusalem on day to celebrate the Feast of Weeks, Shavuot, or the harvest festival. That festival celebrated two things, the summer harvest and the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. We will look to Acts 2 in the course of today’s message, but what I want us to do is note just a few of the biblical events when the Spirit of God, also known as the breath of God and even considered the wind of God, is revealed in the Scriptures.


  • The Breath of Life


The very first appearance of the Spirit is in Genesis 1 at the beginning of creation, but I want to look a little later in Genesis 2.7 where God breathed life into Adam.


“...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.”


In the Hebrew language there is one word for spirit, breath, or wind – Ruach. We determine which word to use in translation mainly by the context of the passage. In this case God breathed life into man to make him a living creature. Some say that God also breathed His Spirit or at least a spark of that Spirit into man with that breath. It is what sets humanity apart from all the other creatures God created. God “in-winded” us with a unique spirit, perhaps even this is where we received a soul. I like to think of this breath as an on-going gift, with each breath we take, until we breath our last. God continues to give us breath, to breathe into us the gift of life. If you have ever had the breath knocked out of you, you know what a gift it is to get that breath back. We sometimes say we got the wind knocked out of us.

What I want us to see is that God’s Spirit and breath and wind has been with us from the beginning of creation itself. But what we see time and time again is that God infuses us with that Ruach, that breath, in a variety of ways.

Genesis 2.7 says that God formed Adam out of the dust of the ground. Humanity was formed, fashioned, made, shaped, molded out of the earth. We are made from the stuff of creation, formed out of the ground, tied to the dust. We are fashioned in such a way that connects us to the dirt.


I remember when I was growing up as a kid we used to play in the dirt. One particular interest was marbles. We would draw a circle in the dirt and shoot marbles against one another. My favorite marble was the yellow jacket, I don’t know if it was yellow with black stripes or black with yellow, but it was cool. Playing marbles was a dirty game, only because we played it in the dirt, on our hands and knees, in the hot sun. We were not too concerned, in those days, with the potential problems associated with dirt. Today we are made to believe that we have to have every anti-bacterial soap and wipe available to survive, but in those days we just played in the dirt and if we listened to mom at all we might get that bar of ivory soap at the end of the day to scrape off a few layers. I guess when we are children we know better that we come from the dirt. I wonder if children are more susceptible to more sickness these days because they don’t get into the dirt like we used to. But that’s another story.

God breathed life into Adam. This is an incredibly generative story. Everything is created, humanity is formed, life is breathed into Adam and a garden is planted. Everyone should have a garden, a place to plant, a place to continue playing and working in the dirt, a place to be reminded that we are dust, but also a place to remember that God breathes life into us.


  • The Anointed Life


The second text today is from 1 Samuel 16.12-13,


12 And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.


You may recall that God told Samuel to go see Jesse because God has prepared a king among his sons. Jesse paraded at least seven sons before they got to David. For our purposes this morning we notice that the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David. He got winded! God breathed on him and he was anointed as king. Acts 2 has the same language of rushing wind. This is another way that God displays His Spirit. At creation He breathes life and in selecting a king He blows out His Spirit.


There are lots of cases where the Spirit or God’s breath is revealed in the Old Testament:


Psalm 33.6 “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.”


Isaiah 42.5 “Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it...”


Ezekiel 37 and the dry bones,

5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”


God creates and sustains and anoints with His Spirit. God gives life.




  • The Wind Blows Where It Wishes


When Jesus met with Nicodemus in John 3 He spoke of being born again or born of the Spirit.


5Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”


The Greek word for spirit, breath, and wind is also, as in Hebrew, one word – pneuma. It’s where we get our word for things like pneumatic tools. Air power is one of the best ways to power a tool! If you’ve had your tires changed or seen a NASCAR race and you hear that rivet sound on the wheels, that’s a pneumatic tool.

Jesus uses the word pneuma when He speaks to Nicodemus. I find it fascinating that Jesus compares the Spirit to the wind. Jesus, who knows His Hebrew and Greek better than anyone, plays on the words that we know as spirit, wind, or breath. The Spirit of God is mysterious, moving about like the wind. We know the presence of the Spirit like knowing the sound of the wind, but we cannot see the Spirit nor do we see the wind.

Jesus says that we are born again, born of the Spirit, born of that which breathes life into us, not just for physical breath, but now for spiritual rebirth! That same Spirit descended upon the disciples on Pentecost Sunday and their lives were forever changed.


  • The Utterance of Life


We shall not speak of Pentecost without hearing from Acts 2,


When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.


A sound – like the wind. A sound – like rushing wind. Remember David when the Spirit rushed upon him? What the Spirit gave on this particular day was the utterance of God’s mighty works. They were giving them the Word of God and soon after Peter stood up among them and preached Jesus crucified and raised up from the dead.

This is what God has given us as well, the Spirit of utterance to tell people about Jesus. We might not speak in another language or be heard in another language, but we certainly have the power from God to tell about Jesus. He has given us the utterance of life, the words of life.


  • Breathe On Us


We have arrived at our passage for the day, John 20. Hear again verses 21-22,


21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.


In John 20 we find the disciples locked in a house waiting in fear that the Jews would come after them as they had Jesus. In one sense they are lifeless, like Adam. They are paralyzed by their circumstance. As with Adam, God in Christ breathes new life into His disciples. Jesus gets into the locked room. No explanation is given, He just simply appears – He came and stood among them. “Peace,” he says. Be at peace. Two times He says, peace.

After He told them they would be sent as the Father had sent Jesus, then He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Here, as with Nicodemus, two words come into play. With Nicodemus is was wind and spirit. Here it is spirit and breath. He breathed on them. I have always wondered what that scene looked like. What did it look like for Jesus to breathe on the disciples? Perhaps he leaned over them like God over Adam. Perhaps he blew a puff of air that felt to the disciples like a cool breezy wind. Whatever the case, He gave them the Spirit of life, the power of God to do as Jesus did. And so they were sent.


These are all generative moments, from Genesis to John (and to Revelation), are life giving moments. The Genesis breath gives life. God breathes into the first man something unlike any other creature. The breath of Christ in John’s gospel sends the church. The breath of Christ gives the mission, the sending out, the Holy Spirit, the energy, the life. Everything in between are further revelation that God lives and breathes among us. He sends His wind of holiness and grace into our lives and gives us life. This is what is needed in our world today, the wind, the breath, and the spirit of life. God has sent His Spirit to us, the church, and we are called upon to let the wind blow through us, by following Jesus, by doing as He has commanded, and telling others through word and deed that Jesus lives.

This is all possible because of God. First, God has given us life, that is, the breath to breathe. We can breathe in and out, all of us can, believer and non-believer alike. God has given us life, like Adam, thus God has breathed into our nostrils. But that also means that God has given us something unlike any other creature – God’s breath, God’s wind, God’s Spirit. Secondly, God anoints us as His messengers, ambassadors, disciples. The Spirit has rushed down on us like a mighty wind calling us His own. Third, God has given us the Holy Spirit as comforter, teacher, and friend. That wind blows where it wishes and we do not know what the Spirit will do next. Let us pray that it is something to calm down the chaos of our world and light a spirit of new life in our midst. Fourth, God has given us His Word to utter – the message of the gospel and of all the Bible. We are no different than those first disciples on Pentecost Sunday because we too have the privilege of proclaiming good news. Fifth, God has given the church a new breath, the Spirit. He has breathed on you and I and we are refreshed and renewed for life in Jesus Christ.


It is the breath of God that sustains us through the darkness of this world, through the pain of loss and suffering, through the threat of danger and the despair of loneliness. It is the breath of God that brings us joy and pleasure, life and life abundant, energy and belonging, love and hope and faith.


The breath of God blows like the wind. The breath of God gives life. The breath of God breathes in and upon us, giving life and mission and purpose. May the Lord breathe on us and may we receive the breath, receive the wind, receive the Spirit. And may the church become a breath of fresh air to the world to bring healing and peace. Amen.

  June 2021  
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