Greetings Narrow Gate,
I pray you each are enjoying this spring season. It seems as though we are being given a fresh start after a season of Covid. I pray this new beginning continues.
Let me harken back a couple of weeks to Easter. We serve a risen savior. Our God's tomb is empty. We are living at a time in history that is unrivaled for complexities and challenges. It is a good time to be alive and a follower of Jesus Christ. We have a lot to do. Its harvest time.
We pick up where we left off after Easter week. Jesus was crucified and he died. But Jesus rose on the third day just as he said he would. But even the disciples are not up to speed yet on all that has taken place. They are still scared. Fearful for their own safety and the safety of their families and the other followers. Wherever they go, the doors are locked. They are fearful of that knock on the door, announcing that the Romans or the temple guards have come for them.
Today our scripture is John 20:19-23, beginning with verse 19,
"On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!'"
Now, it is not said anywhere in this text or the notes, but I believe that Jesus startled this group that evening. My guess is that they were discussing the empty tomb. Some were beginning to hope that he had indeed risen. Some where too afraid to hope for what seemed impossible. Others were still just overwhelmed with all of the emotional ups and downs of that long weekend. I'm sure that they were all exhausted. Everyone of them was also, probably, reflecting upon their poor behavior over the weekend, how they each, had disowned and abandoned Jesus while he went to the cross.
Suddenly, there is Jesus right there with them. "Peace be with You!" This is a very common, normal greeting among Jews of that time. It's like us saying "What's up?" today. But I also believe that Jesus being, his loving, forgiving and considerate self, he was also allaying his close followers' fears regarding their personal failures over the weekend.
Jesus' empathy and care for his followers was still important to Jesus. It was a priority. He knew, though his weekend was the toughest of all, that his friends had suffered too. He was concerned about them. Because he loved them. Just like he loves you.
I also believe that Jesus is reminding the disciples and all those present that his peace is a different kind of peace from worldly peace. Jesus' peace is a lasting peace where the believer, now reconciled to God, can have a peace within their own spirit, even though they live in a world filled with chaos, turmoil and conflict (sound familiar?). Let's look back in John to 14:27,
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let you hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
Jesus knew that the doors were locked and that his friends were afraid. He knew their troubled hearts, burdened by the guilt they felt for abandoning Jesus, their doubting of Jesus, even their unbelief. Yes, some of the disciples still didn't believe. Jesus was letting them all know this, that all was forgiven. Because they had work to do. Now was not the time for them to be timid nor afraid, or wallowing in grief and guilt. This is what we need to hear today. Now is not the time for us to be timid or afraid, or wallowing in grief and guilt. What Jesus had just accomplished had changed the history of the world.
I believe that many of us, as we near the end of Covid-19 (hopefully and prayerfully), we too are a little weary, worn out, rattled, emotionally drained, maybe even scared out of our wits by what is happening in the world around us. Jesus is saying to all of us, just what he told his friends on that evening. "Peace be with you!" John 20:20,
"After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord."
Overjoyed and relieved, those in the room began to relax, and for some, for the first time, they really started to believe.
Belief is a funny thing. There are degrees of belief. Most of the disciples are in the early stage where belief is made up more of a hope. But then, by seeing the scars on Jesus, true belief begins to take hold. You can't fake scars from terminal injuries like that. He really had been dead. But now he's alive. He has risen, just as he said he would. John 20:21-23,
"Again Jesus said, 'Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.' And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."'
The disciples had to be shocked. Just a few minutes earlier some of them didn't believe that Jesus was even alive. Now he's standing in front of them sending them out. Out to where? For what purpose? What's this about a Holy Spirit? It sounds vaguely familiar. It should, back in John chapter 14, verse 26, just before our earlier verse in 14,
"But the Counselor (capital C), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you."
The disciples and other followers will need a teacher after Jesus leaves and goes back to be with his Father in heaven. They also need a Reminderer (my made up word), that part of the person of the Holy Spirit that reminds the disciples of all the things that Jesus said.
Now I can't speak for you, but I can wholeheartedly admit to you that I need a Reminderer with a capital R. I need the Holy Spirit reminding me of a great many godly things constantly. I was just talking with some neighbors over the weekend. In our discussion I realized that I had been calling a new neighbor (for two years) Keith, when his real name is Marshall. I had been calling him the wrong name for two years. I definitely need a Reminderer.
For me, this passage awakens the senses, the part about Jesus breathing on them. Was he just blowing on them replicating the wind? Or was he actually blowing a temporary blessing of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples? What did his breath smell like. I know what my breath smells like after a year in masks. Have you ever picked up an old mask, and upon realizing its funkiness, just thrown it away? I have, I have too many masks laying all around.
Imagine, having Jesus breathe on you?
Don't miss the point though. If Jesus is sending you out, he is going to equip you with everything you need. So as surprised as the disciples may be that Jesus is sending them out, you may be as equally surprised that I am sending you out as well, as the pandemic comes to a close. Do not fear, the Holy Spirit will equip you too.
"As the Father has sent me, I am sending you"
No excuses, please. It is time for the harvest. We are blessed to live in this critical time, the tipping point for eternity. Our actions could have a direct impact upon the timing of Christ's Return. Forget the worldly concerns, look to the spiritual, everything is spiritual, see the unseen.
China is a problem yes. But China has in its midst the largest underground church of Christian believers in the world, and its growing. Pray for them. These fellow believers are brave and true, and facing evil and hardship. As are new believers all around the world. Pray for them too.
Remember that Satan and his worldly minions want you to feel alone and isolated. Do not buy the lie.
It's a great time to be alive. We serve a risen savior that calls us to mission. Just like John and all his buddies. Now is not the time for doubt and excuses, now is the time for prayer and action. Ask God, through his Holy Spirit, what he wants you to specifically do. He'll tell you. May God bless you all.
Do no harm, do good and stay in love with God.
Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor The King.
and Harmony UMC