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.