By Jared Warner
April 28, 2019
Willow Creek Friends Church
John 20:19–31 (ESV)
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
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, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 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.”
Jesus and Thomas
24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” 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.”
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.” 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.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
The Purpose of This Book
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.
Have you ever sat and wondered what the conversation of the disciples was that first Easter morning? Maybe I am the only one that does this sort of thing, because I tend to have an overactive imagination. I do not think this is a bad thing by any means, because it causes me to investigate things that some people just take at face value. What were the disciples thinking that first Easter morning?
Mary Magdalene and some of the other female followers of Jesus had visited the tomb in the early morning hours, and they had come running back to tell them all that the tomb was empty. Shortly after this, Peter and John ran to the tomb to investigate. Why was it only Peter and John? Did the other nine disciples not have their sandals on yet or what? And why did John need to let everyone in Christendom know that he won the race to the tomb? These are question that we really need answers for, but we will not know those answers until we can ask them on the other side of life’s veil.
They had heard of and some saw the empty tomb. They sat in that room wondering what had happened. What they saw did not really make sense to them either. The burial clothing was removed. Who would remove the burial clothing if they were going to steal the body? These are deep questions, questions that I have wrestled with along my journey of faith. Yet the only answers I find raise more questions. Peter and John returned explaining what they had seen, and Mary remained at the tomb. They left her there. The only possible answer running through their mind was that someone stole the body. This is a serious crime, because the tomb was sealed by the government, meaning if you messed with the stone covering the entrance you could face death. The men returned to the room and locked the door and they left Mary there.
Sometimes we fail to recognize the immense fear that earliest followers of Jesus faced that day. In today’s passage we get a glimpse into it. They locked the door for fear of the Jews. I want to stop right there and make a comment about John’s language. The Jews are not bad people, they were the very people we draw our spiritual heritage from. To hold any ill will toward a people group for any reason is not a testimony that is compatible with the teachings of Jesus. When John says, “the Jews,” he is referring to the religious leadership. The early followers of Jesus were Jewish people, all the disciples were Jewish. They worshiped and continued to worship at the temple and in the synagogues while Jesus ministered and after. The reason they stopped worshiping with the other Jewish people is because they were put out of the synagogues. This means that they were rejected by the community, they were no longer accepted. This rejection eventually leads to violent encounters where the leadership would work the masses up to the point people were willing to take up arms against fellow human beings over a different interpretation of how to live life. The followers of Jesus hid in a room afraid of their fellow countrymen. They were afraid because those very people had used their influence to take an innocent man to trial and allowed even demanded that that man be executed. What standing did they have?
They hid in the room, because they had already considered fighting. They had taken swords with them to the garden with Jesus. They had taken up arms, and Jesus himself told them to put the swords away. If their leader did not want them to fight for what they believed what were they supposed to do? They hid. Then they heard frantic knocking at the door and the voice of Mary. Mary was ecstatic, she was uncontrollable, was she being pursued, should they open the door or let her suffer fate? They had no idea what was going on. Eventually they let her in, and she excitedly told them a story that was beyond belief. She told them that she had seen the Lord, she had seen Jesus. And they locked the door.
They locked the door. They locked the door out of fear. They locked the door out of fear of their own friends, family, and their religious leaders. They locked the doors because they were afraid. They had listened to one of the greatest stories that any human being could possibly hear, Jesus had risen from the dead and Mary had saw him, had even touched him, and they sat there behind closed locked doors.
Mary saw this great thing early in the morning. The women went to the tomb before the sun even rose above the horizon. Peter and John raced to the tomb early in the day, probably before most of us even wake up. They returned to the room and locked the doors. Sitting there in that room for the entire day wondering about what was going on. These were men and women of strong faith. They had walked with Jesus for three years. They had heard him teach, they had seen him heal, they had even participated in these same things. They had watched as Jesus provided food for multitudes, they were at Mary’s house when Jesus had called her brother from the tomb, the tomb he had been in for four days. And they had listened to the testimony that Mary had provided. Imagine what was going through their mind. Imagine what you would think if you were sitting in that room with them. Imagine all of that and consider why the door was locked.
That locked door is what I have seen this week. That locked door is often the thing that is before me. That locked door. You have seen that door looming and casting its shadow over your life. That locked door is fear, doubt, uncertainty, self-righteousness, and many other things within our lives. That locked door is everything in our life keeping us from engaging the world just beyond. That locked door is in front of us. It is a barrier. Something that gives the illusion of safety and security but has become something that restricts and imprisons us. They sat an entire day behind a locked door out of fear, when their teacher was seen standing outside the tomb, they had laid him in three days prior. Their teacher lives, yet they sit behind a door.
I sat this week looking at that door as I contemplated this passage. Over past couple of weeks I had read or listened to the complete Gospel account, I had considered the amazing life of Jesus and the adventures the disciples had experienced as they followed him. And I sat looking at the door. These men and women had given everything for Jesus. They had left jobs, they had turned their backs even on family members to follow, they had devoted their lives to their teacher, and they sat that day staring at a door, paralyzed, unable to move or act. Fear had grabbed hold of their lives to such a degree they could barely breath. The door.
The sun had made its course through the sky. They had seen the rising and the setting is upon them. They had listened and retold all they heard and seen, and they watch the door. What will happen next. What do we do now? The air is heavy, thick, and stale as it often gets when a group of people are confined in a room. They sweat. Someone asks again, “Mary are you sure it was Jesus?” and they stare at the door. And someone checks the lock one more time.
They are watching the door, and out of no where someone says, “Peace be with you.”
I want to know why John is so careful and diligent to inform us that, “the disciple Jesus loved” won the foot race to the tomb, but he neglected to mention the numerous curses that were probably uttered the moment Jesus opened his mouth in that room. We have all been startled at least once in our life and know exactly what reaction we have. Imagine what reaction you would have had if you had been safely secured behind a locked door, the door you had been looking at all day, and have someone came in (not through the door) and say, “Peace be with you.” I have been known to jump out of my skin if a garden hose looks a bit to snakey in the yard.
Imagine the shock. Imagine the fear and relief. Imagine the shame. Imagine the tears and the laughter. Imagine the bump on your head or the bruise on your knee where you probably hit the table. Imagine. Because you know that feeling. Jesus startled them, he took them by surprise, he did the one thing they least expected. He found them in their place of fear, and he met them there.
He lifts his hands. He holds them before their eyes, he probably smirks in a way that they all recognized because he had caught them once again doing something that he disapproved of yet found funny. He stands there, and slowly they catch their breath. Slowly they recover from their shock and Mary probably bandages someone’s forehead. He stands there as they begin to smile at their teacher, as the tears begin to turn from fear to joy and he says to them again, “Peace be with you.” And adds, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
He then breaths on them. I do not know exactly what that looks like, but as I read this, I imagine that Jesus goes to each one of the disciples and takes them by the head and embraces them. Pressing his forehead to theirs. He embraces them, shares the air with them so to speak. Who knows, he might have had to give CPR to one of them. But he breathes with them in such a way that they know something very intimate and special is occurring. Something sacred and empowering. The man, their teacher who was once dead, is now clasping them and breathing words of encouragement to them. Saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Consider the scene. Consider the confusion and the fear. Consider the joy and excitement. Consider the door looming behind them locked. Yet the one they loved, the one they had left everything to follow found a way to be with them even though they had sealed themselves into a room cutoff from the world around them. Jesus came into the midst of their fear, and he breaths new air into that stale room. And he gives them a challenge. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold the sins of any it is withheld.” Imagine you are standing in that room on that day as the sun’s light dims behind the horizon and imagine the door.
There is a door somewhere in each of our lives. A door that is locked out of fear or maybe for some other reason. A door that is locked separating our lives from something we consider dangerous or threatening. There is a door, a locked door. CS Lewis in his book The Problem of Pain, says that the gates of hell are locked on the inside. This means that we are the ones that close the door, we are the ones that lock them, we are the ones that stand behind them hoping that whatever is beyond those doors does not enter. We are hiding behind the doors living in hell because hell is a place where we seal ourselves off from others, we find ourselves alone, isolated, and imprisoned. There was song that was popular when I was in college that says,
A court is in session, a verdict is in, no appeal on the docket today just my own sin. The walls are cold and pale the cage made of steel. Screams fill the room alone I drop and kneel. Silence now the sound my breath the only motion around. Demons cluttering around my face showing no emotion. Shackled by my sentence expecting no return, here there is no penance my skin begins to burn…I hear a thunder in the distance, see a vision of a cross, I feel the pain that was given on that sad day of loss. A lion roars in the darkness only he holds the key, a light to free me from my burden and grant me life eternally…I cry out to God seeking only his decision, Gabriel stand and confirms I’ve created my own prison. (Creed- My Own Prison)
I have locked myself in a room. Locked from the world outside, locked from others alone in a cage with only ourselves as company. Our fears, our efforts, our disgrace. We isolate ourselves. We shackle ourselves. We create our own prison and we dwell there in our own hell.
We lock ourselves into a room for fear of our own neighbors, our own friends, our own countrymen. We are not even afraid of the world we fear ourselves, so we lock the world out. Yet in our fear, Jesus meets us, he holds us close, and breaths on us saying “receive the holy spirit.” Receive the very breath of God and open the door. Forgive and its forgiven, release the burden because that fear, that bitterness that judgement we hold against others is keeping us within a locked room. And if we are in that room isolated from others we are prevented to serve. Jesus is sending us. He is sending us to bring hope and healing. He is sending us outside of our rooms to bang on doors and encourage others to open their doors too.
Jesus meets us in that darkest place. He is with us in the tomb, dwelling there in the darkness with us. He is beside us as we face our fears, as we encounter those areas of rejection and distress. He is with us in our personal hell. But he will not stay in that prison. He rolled away that stone and opened the door. He embraces us and tells us, “Peace be with you.” You do not have to stay imprisoned by fear. But embrace life. Unlock the door, forgive, and loosen the bonds that keep you. Live life loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others!
Jesus finds us in our locked rooms staring at the door, the door we locked. And he whispers to each one of us. What is he saying to you?