The knock at the door startled him.
Peter turned inquisitively. The noise was harsh and deliberate as if the person on the other side needed his guidance right this instance.
He opened the door to find two men standing there; each with a look of concern. “Peter, we’re glad to see you. Something awful has happened. Tabitha is dead. Please come at once!” (V.38)
Peter’s face faded. He had heard about Tabitha. She lived in Joppa. Joppa was kind of a rough place. It was well known its history of pirates, the repeated reconstructions from various city wide fires, and being nothing more than a pawn whose people were thrown back and forth between political dynasties. It wasn’t a huge city. A fishing port. A place with plenty of trouble.
Tabitha had tried to fix that. In Joppa she did what she could to help. Scripture says, “She was always doing good and helping the poor." I imagine that was a host of things – Picking up day old bread from the local bakery to distributed to the poor. Cooking up a pot of soup to deliver to the sick. Taking up a collection to help those who could barely afford to pay rent. Tabitha loved her Lord and she loved the people of Joppa with heart full of love. In fact, her name – Tabitha – and its Greek translation “Dorcas” – both meant “gazelle” -- an excellent description of one who bounding with gazelle like
Unfortunately Joppa was about 12 miles away from where Peter was staying in Lydda. That’s why the disciples were so frantic. There weren’t any local pastors around yet. They couldn’t just text message for some help. No one could Facebook status Peter updates on how she was doing. Peter wasn’t able to Skype in with a last second devotion before she had passed away.
It was all too late.
But because this woman was so loved, the people needed him. They needed Peter to comfort them. They needed Peter to remind them of their faith. They knew Peter had so many words of Jesus committed to his heart and they wanted to hear those words as they ready for what would be a rather large funeral.
As they traveled to Joppa, I imagine that Peter was a bit nervous. This wasn’t some bit player in the Joppa church. She was very well known. She had had an impact on so many lives. What could he say to comfort them? How could he assure them it was ok? What words of Jesus would he use for his sermon – he didn’t even have the New Testament yet to review what Jesus had said!
They arrived at the house. Tabitha’s body had been already washed and placed in an upstairs room. (37) She was attended to by the widows that she had once herself attended. Her dear friends whom she had helped through rough times. The poor widow who depended on Tabitha to help feed her family. The elderly widow who depended on Tabitha for some kind of social interaction. The now healthy widow whose bed Tabitha spent long hours besides reading Psalms in order to comfort her.
By the way, this is proof that she had really died. The people working with her body hadn’t felt a pulse. They didn’t stop because her lungs were moving. As they put on one of her prettiest dresses, their hands brushed against the cold texture of her skin. As nicely as they did her, ordained her neck with jewels, and put makeup on her face, they couldn’t hide the fact that this life filled woman was now nothing more than a sack of dead bones.
As Peter walked up the stairs, he was by a blur of emotions. There was wailing. Cries of “Why did God let this happen Peter?” Hands from the left and the right were reaching out to receive a hug. Woman after woman shoved blankets in his face – they hysterically rushed through their stories of how Tabitha had helped them, of how they would miss her, of how this was such a terrible thing to have happen.
As Peter took it all in – I imagine his stomach churned. (I know that’s what happened to me the first time I was in the room while someone had died.) And as a Pastor -- Peter needed to have all the answers and he needed them quick. There wasn’t time for him to heal, he needed to provide words of healing so he could remove the pain that the hearts of all of these women were feeling.
Peter needed a moment. He had the two men clear the widows from the room. He was left alone with the lifeless body of this dear woman.
What would Jesus do? He always had known what to say. He always had known how to help. In fact – Peter had seen him handle similar situations before. In Jairus’ bedroom – as emotions were even higher of the death of a young girl – Jesus reached out his hand and opened her eyelids. In Nain – hordes of people had gathered to mourn the burial of a young man – Jesus had stopped the procession to give the man his life back. At Mary and Martha’s house, the funeral was already over – and only the bitterness at God was left. 4 days Lazarus had been in the tomb – when Jesus opened the tomb and Lazarus came walking out.
This situation was so similar. Pain. Sadness. Mourning. It was similar and yet – different.
There was no Jesus.
...Or was there?
“Surely, Peter, I will be with you always to the very end of the Age.” (Mt. 28:21)
Peter knelt to the ground and prayed.
“O dearest master, my Lord, Jesus. You promised to be with me. I believe it. You have power over death. I have seen it. You are always merciful. I know it. Be with me now. Be powerful now. Be merciful now. Give Tabitha her life back. Amen.”
Slowly Peter blinked. He took a deep breath. He went up to Tabitha’s bed. He looked into her peacefully closed eyelids.
“Tabitha,” he said, “Get up.” (v.40)
No matter how long it was in actual seconds and minutes, I imagine it seemed like an eternity for Peter. His words hung there like a puff of smoke – slowly dissipating into the air.
Then, Tabitha opened her eyes. She was alive.
Next it says, Seeing Peter she sat up. I imagine it was kind of quickly too. “Hey wait a second, Peter!?! I thought you were still on earth? Where’s Jesus? Where’s the angels? Where’s the glorious heavenly music? I don’t see the streets of gold – this is…this is my bedroom? I’m back on earth. God has given me my life back. God isn’t done with me yet. God has a plan for me to serve him. Oh how thrilling. Here, come and give me a hug now Peter. And reach over and grab my sewing set will you? I want to make you a nice a new tunic for all your trouble – a servant of God can’t do his preaching without a nice tunic, don’t you agree?”
The curve’s of Peter’s smile must have connected with the tears falling from his eyes. God did it. God had raised her from the dead!
Peter took Tabitha downstairs and the gasps between cries turned into gasps of amazement. The tears of sadness turned to tears of joy. The wailing turned to laughter. Jesus had done it again. He had destroyed death. He had brought Tabitha back to life. And many heard these news and many believed in the Lord.
This story is amazing isn’t it? It takes one of the saddest things that happens on earth and totally turns it around. But here’s the deal: This isn’t Pinocchio where Geppetto’s love miraculously gives Pinocchio life and turns him into a real boy only because the original author thought it’d be a really neat twist--a commentary on how people live forever through memories.
This story is real. This resurrection is real. This resurrection is joyous. There’s two important things for you to remember from it:
What was the first thing that Peter did when he was faced with the terrors of death? He didn’t whip out his travelling medical kit. He didn’t frantically search the room for a defibrillator. He didn’t get out his phone and WebMD a cure for death. He didn’t start crying hysterically because he knew there was nothing he could do. Check out verse 40. He got down on his knees and prayed. He postured himself before his all powerful and merciful Lord.
Our world is scared of death. Thousands of dollars are spent on healthy eating programs, organic foods, exercise programs, and doctor visits. We want to live. We don’t want to die.
Sometimes it gets personal. Someone you love gets sick. A friend gets into a car accident. The news reports a string of murders. You get a bad report from the doctor. Everywhere you go you are reminded of death.
When that happens posture yourself in front of the cross. Bow before your Savior. Get on your hands and knees and pray to your Lord. Pray confidently like you're talking to your old friend – because you are! Surely he is with you always to the very end of the age.
Be confident that he will be able to save you from death. Because he has already destroyed it!
Julianna, my sweet wife, hates spiders. Actually bugs of all kinds, but especially spiders. The other day one of them had made its way into the home. She screamed, but then she gathered her senses, picked up a shoe, and she fought that spider in Mortal Kombat. She smacked him again and again and again and again and again. I think she killed him about sixteen times.
That’s how Jesus killed death. It’s exactly how Jesus killed your sins which would have caused your eternal death. He squashed Death like a bug. He destroyed it.
It’s amazing how that’s not what it looked like would happen. He hung on the cross and breathed his last. His heart stopped beating. His brain stopped shooting nervous throughout his system.
But three days later – his lungs breathed again. His heart beat with a purpose. His brain was on eternal hyperdrive!
Jesus defeated death. He said ENOUGH OF IT! He says the same for you too.
It’s why the Bible says what it does about death. We read it as our verse of the day from 1 Corinthians 15:55-56: "Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Posture yourself at the feet of the cross and you will find comfort. You will find life.
Does it ever happen to you that the first time you read a story, you totally miss something? Then the second time you see it something jump out at you before that wasn’t there before? Ever seen the movie Inception? I’ve seen it about 5 times and I’m still not sure I totally know what’s going on.
Take a look at our story again. Did you notice that Tabitha wasn’t the only one who came back to life that day? That’s a pretty big miss isn’t it? Look at the story again. Look at verse 42 says that This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. The message that Peter taught – about Jesus Christ, our Savior who died to save us from our sins – was yet against substantiated by a fantastic miracle – and many put their faith in Him. Their spiritually dead souls had come to life!
Have you heard of Isagenix? It’s some kind of meal replacement system that apparently does wonders for your body. Sometimes on Facebook five out of the first ten story updates are nothing but pictures and testimonials from my friends about how this product saved their life. I can understand why they are so excited! Isagenix may cause them to live longer.
But eventually they’ll die.
You have someone way more powerful than Isagenix – someone who has power not just over fat and cholesterol – someone who has power over death itself.
Isn’t that a good enough reason to pass on the message of your Savior? Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies. Whoever lives and believes in me, will never die.”
How can your friend believe if you don’t tell him? How will your kids know if you don’t teach them? How will your husband know if you don’t insist on bringing him to church?
But they might get annoyed with me!
I’ll tell you what - it’s worth them getting annoyed. “Yes, I’m insisting on you coming to hear the message of Jesus. You getting annoyed at me right now is totally worth having you rejoicing with me in heaven.”
I know that’s what Georg thought.
I’ve told you about Georg before. He was a friend of mine down at a nearby retirement home. He was 98 years old. For three years he came very faithfully to our Friday morning Bible studies. He answered questions. He listened and slept sometimes – but he loved hearing about Jesus. It was what gave him strength. He loved to tell me stories about growing up in Austria. He told me funny anecdotes about immigrating to America. He told me stories of bravery during WWII. He told me tear jerkers about his wife who had passed on.
One weekend, Georg didn’t come to Bible study. I thought he might just be sick, so I didn’t think anything of it. The next week he wasn’t there either so I went to his room to look for him. The third week I asked the director – she passed on the word that Georg had died.
I teared up. But I also smiled. Because as nice as it was for Georg and I to spend time together on earth – now he was spending eternity--eternity together with his wife and Jesus in heaven.
Jesus is "the resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies. Whoever lives and believes in me, will never die.” Posture yourself before his cross. Present his message to the world.
Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
“‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.
Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.
But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”
After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”
Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
Hebrews 10:1-7; 17; 22
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll--I have come to do your will, my God....Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.
Therefore...let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
“Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29)
Last week was Easter! IT WAS AWESOME! The breakfast was delicious. The flowers smelled sweet. The church was full. The dresses were beautiful. The music was inspiring. Most important of all we heard the foundational message of our Christian faith: Christ is Risen! HE is risen indeed!
You went back to work. Your boss filled your desk with things to do. The pollen took over the city of Raleigh. Traffic was hazarodous as always. Coworkers were rude as always. Your family wasn’t very kind as always. The news was filled with more sad stories of humanity’s sinfulness.
Did it appear at all like Easter was a mirage? Did it feel like it’s a nice story, but how could the message of Easter – Christ risen and sins forgiven – be real.
Did you at all start to doubt?
In today’s lesson we’re going to her a story that literally took place one week after Easter. While some of the disciples were undoubtedly still filled with the Easter Gospel, others…at least one, was filled with doubt.
Here's the story of Doubting Thomas.
“Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came." Maybe he was out getting some food. Maybe he was out for an evening walk to clear his head. Maybe he was returning the Old Testament scroll he had been searching for signs of Jesus’ return to the local Hebrew Library.
Whatever the case. Understand this: Thomas missed it! He didn’t get to see Jesus on Easter Sunday. He didn’t get to experience the initial joy of seeing the Lord alive and well with his fellow disciples.
So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
Can you imagine how excited they were to tell him? “So there we were sitting around in doom and gloom, frightened of the Pharisees, and talking about how awful it was Jesus had died, when BAM! There he was. Jesus. He looked just like him. The piercing eyes; the kind smiles; the gentle beckoning. At first, we thought it was real (I mean, I believed it more than Andrew did) but we thought he was a ghost. Then, he had us touch him. His wounds were right where the nails had been. The spear mark was right where John had seen it go into his side. He ate some food for us and it didn’t fall on the floor like it would if it were a ghost. Sure enough – Mary’s best fish recipe disappeared as fast as it does when Peter eats it. Thomas it was amazing! We saw the Lord. He’s alive!”
Instead of believing them. Instead of jumping for joy. Instead of joining in the celebration with his brothers who hours earlier had been as dismal and unbelieving as he had been, Thomas doubted.
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Ever seen a magic trick before? If you’re like me, then the only reason you are watching magic is because you want to turn to your friends and tell them exactly how they did that trick. You want to prove it wrong. So…when Carl the Magician asks some kid to examine an egg and make sure it’s an ordinary egg, before he changes it into a real live baby chick, you start thinking, “If only he had asked me to examine it, then the trick wouldn’t have worked.”
Thomas felt like that. He felt that his friends had been duped. Or that his friends were duping him. He wanted to examine this supposed resurrected Lord of heaven and earth, because he doubted their story. He doubted their sanity.
He doubted Jesus.
He made his demands. He wanted to “See the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and put his finger where the nails were, and put his hand into Jesus’ side, then, (and only then) he promised that he would believe”
Ever felt like Thomas? Not just about a story that your friend told you, but about God’s Word? Ever doubted that Jesus is real? Ever doubted that Jesus didn’t exist? Ever doubted that this is all one big, useless, irreverent, irrelevant, cruel, and useless joke!?! (Everyone is keeping their necks stiff. Don’t want to be caught admitting to doubting Jesus in church.)
I’ll start us off then. I doubt. Yes, the supposed Pastor, the leader of this congregation, the “Professional Christian” struggles with doubt.
“Really? You think in Baptism sins are washed away? It’s just water and a few words. Do you see any sins washing off the child? Can’t see them. I doubt it.” “And Communion. Some bread and wine, yes. But Jesus’ body and blood? You can’t see it. I doubt it.”
“I’ve never actually seen a dead body rise from the dead…how can you tell that poor widow that she will see her husband again?”
Didymus, Thomas’ second name, means twin. Did you know that? Sometimes I feel like Thomas’ long lost cousin. I doubt.
Do you too? Are we triplets?
If so, then join me in panicking, because we are doubting God. The incredible, Almighty, Divine master of the Universe, who never lies, and in fact, cannot lie, and for whom nothing is impossible has been told, “I doubt it,” by measly peons like us.
That’s a terrible thing.
Because what happens when humans doubt each other? What if you saw a story on the news and you tell your friends all about it and they say, “I don’t think so. I doubt that’s what happened.” Don’t you get incredulous? “I saw it with my own two eyes. I swear.” They still doubt. Then you start yelling, “I mean it. I absolutely saw it. How can you doubt me?” Then, we pick up our bags and leave in a huff.
Is that how God will react to us? He should. How many times has he told us this stuff. How many times has he assured usof his love. How many times has he told us the exact truth of what he has done.
And yet we still doubt God!?!
God should shout at us.
He should leave us.
He should let us stew in our unbelief and eternal misery.
But God doesn’t.
He doesn't act as an impatient, angry, sinful human being, but as the loving, compassionate God who came down and died for our sins of doubt. Take a look at what Jesus did for Thomas. A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
Again – it’s the same amazing love as last week. Only this time Thomas isn’t just ignoring all of Jesus’ miracles, all of the Old Testament prophecies, the reports of the women, and Jesus’ own words –Thomas also had ignored his comrades in the ministry.
Jesus should call Thomas out and fire him from the Twelve.
But he doesn’t. He makes a second appears. He makes himself visible to Thomas. He comes in peace.
Then He, the Almighty Risen, taking orders from no one, God of the universe, responds to puny, sinful, Thomas’ three fold request. 27 He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hands and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
And Thomas? Well. He’s convinced. Doubting Thomas – becomes Seeing Thomas becomes Believing Thomas. But not just a “believe that Jesus is alive.” It’s greater than that: Thomas said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
Brothers and sisters – Doubting Thomas was convinced. Are you?
Here’s the deal. God is coming at you. Today. Tomorrow. Everyday. He comes at you again and again patiently, reassuring you. God comes at you again and again –patiently, lovingly, reassuring you.
He wakes us up from our stupor by splashing the water of baptism over us – providing tangible evidence that we’ve been buried and risen with Him. He invites us to stretch out our hands and take and eat, and taste and drink and taste that all of our doubts and fears are groundless. He speaks softly in his Word. He says, “I love you.”
How wondrous that our risen Lord doesn't waste his best strength upbraiding us for littleness of faith. Instead, he pours his best efforts into up-building us: fanning dying embers into a roaring blaze.
It’s as if Jesus comes into the room a second time, a third time, a fifty-seventh time – to tell you yet again: “Yes. It’s true. I died for you. I rose for you. Through faith in me, you are forgiven. Stop, doubting, but believe.”
If you’ve found yourself repeating Thomas in his doubts of Jesus, may God also cause you to join Thomas after seeing Jesus yet again, “My Lord and My God!”
Remember our second lesson for today. James 1:6 says, “Do not doubt, because the one who doubts is like the wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” It’s like being a surfer on a wavy day. You might stay afloat for awhile, but then, you fall in. Maybe you get back up on your own, but you’ll lose your balance again. In fact, if you surf much like I do, then you’ll spend 99% of your time on this great sea of your life, doubting. Drowning.
How do you stop? Wince really hard? Tied a red ribbon on your finger? Lock yourself in your room never to see or run into anyone or anything that might make you doubt?
Scripture says, “Doubting is like being tossed by the wind.” Scripture also says that he who stands on God’s Word – stands on a Rock. (Mt. 7:24) A solid rock. A rock that gives us firm footing. A rock that keeps us afloat. A rock that saves us from drowning.
A rock that gives us confidence.
So. Go to Him. If you have doubts, go to God.
Don’t turn on your smart phone and ask Siri, “How do I know if God is real?” Then, listen to her read to you a capitalized and unpunctuated post from YahooAnswers.com and call it good.
Go to God! Pray to Him for courage. Pray to him for confidence. Run to your Bible and hear his gentle voice – “God loved the world (and you) so much that he gave his only Son that whoever believe in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” Join us in church to hear his powerful Word – “Sanctify them by the truth O Lord. God’s Word is truth!” (Jn. 17:17) Feel the gentle waters of your Baptism --- cooly touching you, gently consoling you -- “Your sins were washed away. You were made holy. You were made right with God…in the name of the Lord Jesus!” (1 Cor. 6:11) Approach the Lord’s Table to hear his confident word, “This is my body given for you. This is my blood given for you.” (1 Cor. 11:24-25) Then, taste his body broken for you. Taste the bitterness of his blood – shed for you. Find God right where he promises to be – in His Word – in his visible tangible word – Baptism and Lord’s Supper – Find God and be confident.
Is your child afraid of the dark? Maybe you too were once afraid of the dark. I was too. But, do you know what helps with that, a lot? Knowing that just down the hall—no matter how many times you run there for help, no matter how many times you scream out of fear, no matter how many times you shed tears because you doubt you’ll make it through the darkness alive…
…your parents – are right there waiting for you. Ready to assure you. Ready to wipe away your doubts.
That’s God. Always there. Always waiting. Always ready to assure you that I’m alive. I saved you. I love you. Amen.
Easter is here. Little girls are wearing colorful Easter dresses. Houses are decorated in light pastel colors. Neon colored Easter eggs are sitting on the dining room table. There’s candy and bunnies, and marshmallow, sprinkled baby chickens. The greatest time of year is here.
It's scary isn't it?
Now you might be thinking, “Pastor, I think you’ve got Easter confused with Halloween. There are no zombies or werewolves at Easter. I mean, I’m scared that someone might eat the ears off of my chocolate bunny, but that’s about it.” No…Easter isn’t scary.
Did you know that the very first Easter was very scary? Especially for Jesus’ own disciples.
Today we’re going to take a look at why it was scary for them, why it might be scary for us, and how Jesus calms all those fears.
We’re taking a look at John 20:19-23. This is the account of what happened to the disciples on the first Easter Sunday. A disciple is a follower of Jesus. It’s also a special term used to denote twelve men who were hand selected by Jesus to learn from him and grow in faith by him. They loved him. They followed him. He was their leader.
Only a few days earlier, he had died.
So can you imagine their state of mind? Take a look at verse 9. On the evening of that first day of the week…the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders…That’s not even a full sentence and already we’ve learned a lot. Take note of a few things to better understand the disciples state of mind.
“Evening of that first day of the week.” This gives us a time frame for when this is taking place. The last day of the Jewish week was Saturday. The first day was Sunday. Jesus had died on a Friday. So this means that Jesus has been dead for three days now. The disciples have now spent the better part of three days dissecting Jesus’ death: They were leaderless. They were directionless. What would become of them? Why did they spend all that time following him? They feared for their future.
I imagine they were exhausted. It’s hard to be that level of stress for that long a time. The exhaustion would have only increased their jumpiness.
Take a look at just how jumpy they were. It says, “the disciples were together with the doors locked…”
Now why do you lock your doors? Ever been to a shady looking neighborhood at night? Maybe you click the lock shut. Guys, if you don’t want your honey to see you uneasy, you do it real sly like.
The disciples locked the door for the same reason They were scared. Not just cover their eyes scared, but lock the doors scared.
But it wasn’t just because of their future without a leader. Scripture says, “The doors were locked for fear of the Jews,” that is, the Jewish religious leaders who had been behind Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, and death.
If these men did that to Jesus, what would they do to his followers? If they didn’t lock the doors and stay quiet, maybe the door would break down any moment with Roman soldiers slaughtering every last one of them. They locked the doors in fear. They didn't want anyone to get in.
Except…someone did. When the doors were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them.
Now you might expect the disciples to be joyous. Afterall, their leader was back. But far from it. In fact, Luke tells us that their first reaction was one of fear -- a greater fright than before.
Why? Here's three reasons:
Fear of the Supernatural. After all Jesus had died! If they were looking at Jesus right now, then he must be some kind of ghost or a zombie. It was as if they were stuck inside of an Alfred Hitchcock horror film. They were afraid of the supernatural.
Fear of the Insane. Because if it wasn’t a ghost, then what? A hallucination? Hard to believe that the same hallucination would come upon all of them at once, but perhaps each of them individually thought that they might be going insane. Was a straight jacket OR the Shalom Insane Asylum in their future?
Then, there was the scariest option of all: This was all real.
Because, if it was, well, the last time that many of them had seen Jesus, was with quick glances over their shoulders as they ducked between trees. He had been arrested and they had run away.
They had abandoned them. They had hidden. They had stayed away. They had let Jesus die on that cross. Peter, one of their more vocal members, had at least made it to Jesus’ trial, but when he was there he didn’t support Jesus at all.
He had pretended that he didn’t even know him.
If this was the real Jesus then, then a real miracle just happened and he really was the Son of God. What would He say to them?
Hence their final fear. The Fear of Failure.
Perhaps they could hear Jesus' voice scolding them:
“You ignorant fools. You traitors. How dare you abandon me? How could you let me die? After all that time I spent with you – three years I was your friend – three years I instructed you – you promised to never leave me and then, at the first sign of trouble – you leave me all alone! You pathetic excuse for human beings. I will destroy you with hellfire from my Almighty Father in heaven.”
The disciples trembled. They had failed.
I asked earlier if Easter made you afraid. Maybe it doesn’t. But if not, what does make you afraid?
I was watching a show on Hulu called “Solitairy.” It’s a Reality TV show in which they lock you into a room and you stay all by yourself for a long time. On one episode they do an experiment. They turn off all the lights and the computer animated voice tells them to begin describing their greatest fears.
It was interesting. No one said “snakes.” No one said “spiders.” No one said “clowns.”
Repeatedly. Repeatedly everyone’s greatest fear was FAILURE! Failures in the past resurfacing or failures in the future.
How big a role does failure play on your fears? Do you have any failures that you are dealing with this Easter? Failure to have enough money. Failure to keep that job. Failure to find a job. Failure to make your marriage perfect. Failure to make that relationship turn into marriage. Failure to stay healthy. Failure to keep your promises to your kids.
Failure to God? Because that's a whole other level. This is where the reality of Easter gets real scary. Because if Jesus really rose, then he also really died for the very real reasons that he said he died. He died for your failures before God. He died for your sins.
That’s hard to face. It’s extremely frightening for humans beings to face their failures. It’s why on Fear Factor they have people eat bugs or bungee jump off a building. Those things are scary. But not as scary as listing all your failures on national television. Can you imagine that as a challenge? “Now tell everybody our deepest, and darkest failures. Don’t minimize them. Don’t blame others. Own up to them. Face them.” No one would do it.
Maybe that’s why so many prefer to think of Easter as a fairy tale. It’s why the world loves candy, chickens, and fluffy bunnies. They are a good distraction from the scary reality of Easter. Because the reality of Easter begins in a graveyard and ends with God coming back to face all those who have failed Him.
It ends with God coming face to face with you.
Back to that tense locked room again. The disciples are shaking with fear. Their fists are clenched. Their hearts are beating. Their minds are racing. All of their eyes are on Jesus.
He speaks, “Peace be with you.”
Not, “You fools.” Not “You failures.” But “Peace.”
Remember who’s talking!?! This is the guy who claimed to be the Son of God and then, when he died, he came back to life. Three days earlier he had been dead. Many saw him die. The soldiers took his body down. Men wrapped him in cloths for burial. They placed his body in a tomb. Soldiers guarded the entrance.
Yet…here he was alive. It’s impossible. It’s a miracle. It’s a God thing!
Understand then who it was speaking peace to his disciples: It was God himself! The one whom the disciples had wronged, the one whom the disciples had failed, the one who had the power to destroy them, just spoke peace to them. He had forgiven their failures.
But it almost seems too good to be true.
Jesus gives the disciples plenty of reason to believe him. He showed them his hands and side. He let them touch his flesh. He let them examine his bones. He let them tangibly feel the very wounds that three days earlier had been formed by nails and a spear.
The disciples were overjoyed. This was no fake. This was reality. They were really seeing the Lord and they were really forgiven.
They must have shouted: Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
Look at what Jesus closes with. 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’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
This was another encouraging word for the disciples. Soon – Jesus would ask them to preach this good news. Soon they would be arrested. Soon they would be standing before courts and soldiers with the authority to kill them.
They needn’t fear. Jesus would be with them. The Holy Spirit would be with them. God the Father, in charge of the whole plan, would be with them!
Why would they ever need to fear again? They had had ENOUGH!
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
How can Easter drive out your fears? What does the Easter message mean for you? Three things to take home in your heart this week:
1) At Easter, God speaks Peace
You might be frightened to approach God. You might be scared because of your past to get involved at church. You might be nervous to really dive into this God thing because your past failures really do haunt you -- and you don't know how God will react.
Does today's lesson give you an indication?
Scripture says this, “When you were dead in your sins…God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.”
This means that when you approach God in confession, when you approach God with your sins, when you approach God with your failures, God forgives. He is at peace with you.
Now God isn't at peace because suddenly he decided sin isn't that big of a deal. It is! If you reflected on Good Friday, you understand that our sins caused Jesus to die a gruesome death on the cross. That's how big of a deal it was.
But we do have peace with God because of Jesus. Because of his death. Because of his resurrection.
2) This Easter Peace is Real.
The other day was April Fools Day. I was reminded on my Facebook feed that you've gotta be careful of your sources when reading headlines on April Fools Day. I read that Aaron Rodgers -- my beloved Green Bay Packer Quarterback -- had been traded to the archrival Bears.
My heart skipped and then I saw where the story was coming from -- The Onion.com
What is the source for this message of Easter? It's God's Word. Inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit -- he caused the very men who saw these things about Jesus to write them down for us. These men told the account of how Jesus was seen in various times, in various places, by various people. In fact, at one time over 500 saw Jesus at once!
To combat this story, all the bad guys had to do was find the dead body. If they got it out of the grave all this resurrection stuff would have stopped.
The Easter bunny’s story isn’t as impressive. Here’s some real chocolate and some real jelly beans – they really taste like blueberries.
Jesus says this to you today: “You really did fail. You really did sin. But I really did die. I really did rise. Through faith in me, you really are forgiven. You really will live in heaven.”
3) This Resurrected, Real Jesus is With you.
Financial struggles? God is with you. Broken relationship repair? God is with you. Reconciling with a spouse? God is with you. Looking for a job? God is with you. Sick? God is with you. In the Hospital? God is with you. Past failures? God is with you. He forgives you because of Jesus. Your future? God is with you. He will guide you in Jesus.
1 John 4:8 says this, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”
There is no other perfect love than this: Jesus died for your sins. His perfect love rose from the dead. The message of Easter drives out fear. It says, “In Christ I am forgiven. In Christ, I see the reality of my forgiveness. In Christ, I know God is with me every step of the way.”
What do I have to fear? Christ is Risen; He is risen indeed!
I Witnessed an example of this the other day.
I met a woman from a far away country who didn't know much about Jesus. Honestly she was kind of scared to find out about Jesus and about God. She said that she had done many wrong things. She had cheated on friends and as a result had been called many awful names.
She was frightened to hear what God might call her.
I told her about Jesus. I told about his life. I told about his death. I told of his resurrection. I told what Jesus means for her.
She said, "This is amazing. God loves me that much. I feel different. I feel loved. I feel….brave."
“There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear.”
Today is Easter. Today Jesus says, “Enough Fear!” There is no need for fear anymore. And we believe it. We believe it because Christ is risen; He is risen indeed! Amen.