Demonstrating God’s Love Together
“In the six week interlude between Resurrection and Ascension Jesus made his identity so obvious that no disciple could ever deny him again … Jesus overwhelmed the witness’ faith, anyone who saw the resurrected Jesus lost the freedom of choice to believe or disbelieve. Jesus was now irrefutable…But what about the others? Very soon his personal appearances would come to a halt. The church would stand or fall based on how persuasive these eyewitnesses would be for all – including us today – who have not seen. Jesus had six weeks in which to establish his identity for all time. (That he did so) offers the most convincing evidence for the Resurrection” (Philip Yancey – The Jesus I Never Knew)
From Fear to Faith…
On the evening on the first Easter Day there were few celebrations. Rather there was much scratching of heads; ‘What on earth is going on?’ Personally, the disciples had been bereaved, spiritually they’d been deflated, physically they were under threat. All these rumours of sightings of Jesus, suggestions that he was somehow still around, jut seemed to add to their unease.
Then ‘Jesus came’, just like that, and everything changed. He came with reassurance (‘peace be with you’) and evidence (‘he showed them his hands and his side’).
That journey from doubt, fear, confusion to faith is a much travelled one. Many people here still pass along it from time to time. Who among us doesn’t have questions, fears, anxieties? Who wouldn’t love the kind of reassurance and proof that the disciples had here?
Proof is much sought after in our scientific, material age. Jesus offers it. He doesn’t just ask people to trust him he suggests they touch him. Faith is not believing the impossible, it’s not even trusting against the odds. It’s being prepared to submit to the truth, however extraordinary it may seem.
Yet Jesus doesn’t come as a cold analytical figure, slamming his irrefutable facts down on the table and saying ‘there you go – now sort yourselves out!’ He comes with understanding, gentleness, reassurance. He knows your doubts, fears and questions … and meets them. No wonder ‘the disciples were overjoyed.’
Opening the Doors….
Having transformed their attitude, Jesus then set about changing their behaviour. With this new found confidence it made no sense for them to be cooped up in a locked room. They had nothing to fear, or at least nothing that was not easily trumped by the joy which was now their experience. More than that they had every reason to get outside … they had an extraordinary, life changing, world changing story to tell.
The second time Jesus says ‘Peace be with you’ the meaning and, I suspect, the tone is different. Before he was reassuring frightened people, now he’s motivating renewed people. As you move on from here, he’s saying, wherever you go, whatever you face, peace will be your companion. And go you will, because he is sending them out, the proper response to witnessing and experiencing the resurrected Jesus, is to unlock the doors and go.
Power to Forgive…
As they leave Jesus ensures they do not go alone. In a very real sense he wants them, and they need, to take all the encouragement, all the certainty, all the faith, from this room into the hostile world outside. Jesus knows he can’t always pop up in front of them in every situation and so he gifts them his presence by the Holy Spirit. It’s as if he’s saying take me with you, in this way, and you need never be further away from me than you are right now.
There’s always that scene, at the beginning of a James Bond film where ‘Q’ shows him all the gadgets and gizmo’s that he’s going to be equipped with for this particular mission. You know that some time in the next 2 hours he’s going to be in a situation where that exploding watch or jet propelled pen is just the thing he needs to get him out of a tight spot. Here, the specific attribute that having the Holy Spirit gives to them which is highlighted is the power to forgive. It’s strange, because you might think they would need some great defensive quality – to help them withstand the undoubted dangers they will face. Or maybe something particularly persuasive, so that they could communicate the same certainty of faith that they have experienced in this room. But no, Jesus knows that what will help them to build his kingdom out in the dark and dangerous room beyond this locked door is the ability to forgive; the power to set people free from their past, to grant them a new beginning.
And so for us, potential modern day disciples, perhaps we need a renewed certainty, an injection of faith which living in a scientific world has sucked out of us as we have become reluctant to count as real, hard evidence our own experience of the risen Jesus and our confidence has drained out of us.
Or perhaps we are confident enough of what we believe but still unsure if it can withstand the harsh world outside, maybe we need to take off the locks and fling open the doors, to take our faith public.
Whatever is the case we certainly need more of God’s Spirit, empowering and strengthening us. And also, finally, if what’s holding us back, like so many of those first disciples is guilt, frailty or a feeling that we’ve messed up before and so are reluctant to get our fingers burnt again, then remember what Jesus offered as a first priority – forgiveness, the chance to start afresh.