Summary: Jesus appears to the disciples on Easter evening and gives them the gift of the Spirit. Later Jesus appears to Thomas in order to quell Thomas’ doubts.
John 20:19-30 “The Gift”
Last Wednesday the Youth Discipleship class went to see the movie, “Heaven is for Real.” If you haven’t read the book, or seen the movie, it is about the experience of Colton Burpo. Colton was four years-old when his appendix burst and he almost died. During the surgery he supposedly was transported to heaven where he met Jesus, his grandfather, and a sister who died in utero. Colton survived the surgery and began to tell his parents about his experience.
A person would think that news of heaven’s reality would be welcomed. This was not the case in the small Nebraska town of Imperial. Colton’s father, a pastor, was almost removed from the congregation he served. The congregation’s attendance plummeted. School children taunted Colton and his sister Cassie, and several towns people ridiculed the Burpo’s. These events provoked Pastor Burpo to ask his congregation, “Why does the possibility that heaven is real upset you?” The answer people discovered is that if heaven were real, it would affect the way people lived their lives.
The empty tomb had shocked and troubled the disciples. They had spent the day trying to determine what the events of that Sunday meant. They knew one thing. Their lives would be changed and they were scarred.
FROZEN BY FEAR
The writer of John notes in verse nineteen that the disciples were hiding behind locked doors. Though they had heard Mary’s report that she had seen the Lord, they didn’t know what to do with that news. They still feared the Jewish authorities—believing that the authorities might choose to further neutralize Jesus’ rebellion by eliminating Jesus’ followers. They may have even been afraid to see Jesus. After all, they had abandoned him after his arrest, and Peter had denied him.
It is humiliating to admit that fear controls our lives, and determines the direction of our lives much more than opportunities do. The disciples were enchained by their fear of the Jewish authorities. So are we. Our fear of strangers keeps us from meeting interesting people. The fear of crowds encapsulates us in our homes. We are kept in the confines of our comfortable, little worlds because of our fear of the unknown. Perhaps FDR was correct when he said, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”
The natural thing to do when we are feeling anxious or threatened is to hunker down and lock the doors, to become focused on our own security rather than the risky mission to which we are called. The promise of this text is that Jesus cannot be stopped by our locked doors. Jesus comes to us as he came to the first disciples, right in the midst of our fear, pain, doubt, and confusion. He comes speaking peace, breathing into our anxious lives the breath of the Holy Spirit.
FREED BY PEACE
Jesus appears in the midst of his disciples. Locked doors are not a barrier to him.
One would think that to overcome fear, Jesus would give the disciples courage. He does not. Instead, he gives them peace—shalom. The peace that Jesus gives is not limited to the absence of conflict. Jesus’ peace is a wholistic peace. In a sense, it is an “everything is right with the world” type of peace. The peace comes in the person of the Holy Spirit.
The peace the Jesus grants us is one caused by his presence. We are not alone, and Jesus has promised to be with us always until the end of the world. We know what this peace is like:
• Some of us have faced daunting health issues, while experiencing a peace that passes all understanding because we knew that God was with us.
• Others of us have experienced overwhelming financial and vocational upheaval. We have been able to walk through these times because of God’s presence and the peace that it provided us.
• As a congregation we face the frustration and seemingly insurmountable obstacles to building a worship and community center. We are not immobilized by the situation or overcome by our fear because of God’s presence with us.
Our peace is not connected to our personal strength, though we certainly rely on the power of the Holy Spirit. Neither is our peace dependent upon our intelligence, the depth of our faith, or the determination of our personality. Our peace is based on the love, grace, and presence of God.
It is amazing how Christians have made the gospel self-serving, self-centered, and selfish throughout the centuries. Many read this story of Jesus and his disciples and believe that the peace Jesus gives is for them alone. The Holy Spirit is given to allow them to have spiritual experiences and feel close to God. They are blessed so that they can enjoy not only an abundant life and also an affluent life. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.