Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has been quoted widely for his description of the two kinds of churches that will not be able to reach the refugees of our increasingly secularizing and sexualized culture:

“The first is the church that is so scared of people that we scream at them in anger and condemnation. If we see ourselves as people who are “losing” a culture rather than people who have been sent on a mission to a culture, this is how we will be. If we do not love our mission field, we will have nothing to say to it (emphasis added).

“The second sort of church that will fail these refugees is the church that gives up, or silences, its convictions because they’re not popular. This too is fear. Jesus gets right at the point of guilt, the part the person is protecting, and calls the person not only to repentance but also to forgiveness and freedom (Jn. 4:16)” (emphasis added).  (See the whole article here

The gospel appointed for the first Sunday in Easter from John 20:19-31 speaks to both of these fears.  It is the story of Jesus’ resurrection appearances to the disciples behind locked doors “for fear of the Jewish leaders” (20:19).  John points out that Thomas was not there and that a week later when he joined them, they were still behind locked doors (20:26). 

This gospel practically begs us to imagine ourselves in their shoes and ask, “To what extent are we, as an Easter people, living behind locked doors?”  What does “living behind locked doors” represent for us?

  • Living an increasingly diminished and constrained witness in fear of persecution on the one hand and the desire to “fit in” on the other?
  • Retreating from the mission field rather than loving it?
  • Closing our hearts to God’s promise that we would do “even greater things than Jesus did” (Jn. 14:12)?
  • Surviving every day in our own strength rather than drawing upon the peace and power of the risen LORD?
  • Settling for Christianity without the power of the Holy Spirit?

This is not the quality of life and ministry for which Jesus suffered and died for you and me.  His resurrection and appearances in John 20 are a clarion call to be an Easter people living beyond locked doors!

In this gospel, Jesus demonstrates four ways he moves us beyond locked doors and into his larger life.  First, he breathes on them the Holy Spirit (20:22). The word used for breathed on (emphysao) is the same word used in the Greek Old Testament to describe God’s action when he formed man and “breathed into his face the breath of life and the man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7; cf. Ezek. 37:5-10, 14).  When Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, it was the beginning of a new creation.  In the same way that Adam himself was incorporated into God’s new creation, so Jesus’ disciples are being incorporated by the breath of the of the Holy Spirit into the fullness of God’s new creation—the full inbreaking of his reign, the kingdom of God!  The Rev. Dr. Rod Thomas observes in his commentary on this passage:

“The Spirit is now unleashed into the world in a new way and begins to bring about new life where he finds faith.  The disciples enter into a new phase in their life with God, but it is not yet the time of their active witness, as it will be from Pentecost on.  Thus, it would seem John is describing the conception of the Church, and Luke (in Acts 2) the birth”[1](emphasis added).

Secondly, the risen Christ imparts to them and us his peace.  The three times Jesus speaks “peace”, it is not just a greeting but a Greek word invariably used to translate the Hebrew word for peace, shalom.  Shalom means well-being, fulfillment, and wholeness. Jesus gave his shalom three times (20:19b, 21, 26) to drive home the point that you and I are completely whole in Christ and have nothing to fear.  His peace enables us to view our heavenly Father as one who wants to bless, strengthen, guard, and pour out his favor upon us!

Thirdly, the gift of peace leads to a new perspective. “After he said this [Peace be with you], he showed them his hands and side.  The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the LORD” (20:19-20).  Later, when Jesus invited Thomas to touch his wounds, Thomas gained a radically new perspective and confessed, “my LORD and my God!” (20:28) Jesus’peace and wounds remind us of his victory and his ever-present love (Romans 8:35-39). No confusion or chaos in our culture can ever obscure what he suffered to defeat and trample Satan under foot (Hebrews 2:8-9).

Finally, Jesus gave them a new purpose: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.  And with that he breathed on them and said ‘receive the holy Spirit’” (John 20:21-22).  The verb receive (lambano) means literally, “seize it, grab hold of it!”  It is as if Jesus were saying, “Grab hold of the commission I received from the Father to heal, deliver, and preach good news with power. Because I go to the Father and give you the Holy Spirit, now YOU will pray for the sick and see them healed.  Now YOU will bring forgiveness and reconciliation to broken relationships.  Now YOU will feed multitudes.  Now YOU will set captives free from bondages and addictions.  Now YOU will move mountains with your prayers.”

What a commission for you and me!  What a purpose for life lived with power and authority!

Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!  As our risen LORD, he is calling us, his Easter people, to live a life conceived and born from our repentance, our confession of faith in Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit; a life of perfect peace, a new perspective, and a purpose that will last for this lifetime.  

May we be Easter people living that larger life beyond locked doors!

[1] Whitacre, R.  John: The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove IL: IVP, 1999) at 481, 482.

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