A woman went to the doctors’ office. She was seen by one of the new doctors, but after about 4 minutes in the examination room, she burst out of the room, screaming as she ran down the hall. An older doctor stopped and asked her what the problem was, and somewhat hysterically she explained. He had her sit down and relax in another room. The older doctor marched back to the first doctor and demanded, “What’s the matter with you? Mrs. Terry is 60 years old, she has four grown children and seven grandchildren, and you told her she was pregnant?” The new doctor smiled as he continued to make notes on his computer; he looked up and said, “Yes, yes, but I cured her hiccups, didn’t I?”
I suppose it is a natural thing to be afraid of being pregnant when one is 60. Right now in our society people are afraid of getting Covid-19. We have to wear masks and gloves and wash our hands. We are to stay at least 6 feet away from others so that we don’t by accident either breathe what they have exhaled or that they would breathe what we have exhaled. Why? Because we are afraid of getting this virus from which we have no protection. But people fear more than just the virus. Some people are afraid of heights or closed spaces. Afraid of the dark, afraid of unknown, afraid of rats, or bats, or mice, or spiders—and almost everyone is afraid of death, particularly a painful and lingering death. What makes your heart fearful? Is it possible to overcome your fears?
In our Scripture reading we see the disciples in a house with the doors locked because they were afraid; they were afraid of the Jews. The disciples themselves were Jews—so what does it mean they were afraid of the Jews? In the gospel of John, the term “the Jews” refers to the Jewish religious leaders. In our gospel reading Jesus had been arrested on Thursday night, three nights ago in Gethsemane, on Friday he died on the cross. The time now is Sunday night, Easter evening. Jesus had been crucified as the leader and instigator of an insurrection; they said that he was claiming to be the king of the Jews. Now typically what happened in an insurrection was the leader and the closest followers were killed. And since their leader Jesus had been crucified, these disciples could expect no less. So they were afraid of being rounded up by the temple police and then handed over to the Romans to also be tortured and killed. It was a logical fear. They were not jumping at shadows when they locked the doors.
At the same time, there were strange things going on. It was reported that the tomb of Jesus was empty. And some of the women reported that they had seen angels, and some even said that they had seen Jesus himself. Simon Peter and John had checked it out and they had also seen that the tomb was empty. Although this account doesn’t tell us, Jesus by this time has appeared to Mary Magdalene, to Simon Peter, to James his brother and he has appeared to those two disciples walking to Emmaus. We don’t know who all else has seen him; perhaps more. But the news of these appearances has electrified the disciples and a bunch of them are meeting together in this room. Was Jesus really dead or wasn’t he? Were people seeing visions, or were they really seeing a person who was alive? The fact is they were not sure.
And then, Jesus appeared among them. But the doors were locked, so how did that happen? We don’t know! But Jesus is in the room and he tells his disciples, “Peace be with you.” What did the disciples not have at that time? They did not have peace. They had fear; they had grief; they had confusion. Jesus says peace to you! And then, as if to give them that peace, he shows them his hands and his side. How does showing his hands and side help them have peace? Isn’t he just reminding them of the horrible tortures that the Romans authorities could inflict upon them? No, he was assuring them that he was really himself who was standing there in their midst. He breathed on them and said to receive the Holy Spirit. One of the things that happened is that when they felt the breath of Jesus it was a sudden ‘aha’ moment for them. When they felt and smelled his breath, they knew that this ‘thing’ they saw in front of them was not just a vision, a ghost, or a hallucination. When Jesus breathed on them there was the sudden understanding that Jesus had indeed been raised from the dead. He had died and then he had been raised back to life. Jesus was really alive different perhaps but really alive. Thomas wasn’t there but a week later he has his ‘aha’ moment as well.
Now remember with me the passage of Scripture from Acts. What was going on? We see Peter and the rest of the disciples standing in an open area in Jerusalem, speaking loudly to a crowd no less. He was identifying himself with the one who had been tortured and crucified; he was identifying himself as one of Jesus’ closest followers. So what happened to the fear? Why aren’t the disciples still afraid of being arrested and killed?
What has changed from Sunday night that first Easter day and this day some 50 days later? Certainly the outward circumstances had not changed. The Jewish religious leaders still wanted to stamp out any vestige of the religious movement Jesus had begun. So the disciples were certainly endangering their lives by speaking so publicly in Jerusalem. Yet, they clearly are fearless in their speech.
The outward circumstances had not changed. What had changed was inside the disciples. First of all, it was Pentecost and God had poured out the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. But it was not only the Holy Spirit. Peter told the crowd, “This Jesus God raised up from the dead and of that all of us are witnesses.” You see THIS also is a key component; now Peter and the rest of the apostles were witnesses to something monumental, something much bigger than themselves; bigger than their own self-preservation, bigger than their own fears. What is really important is to get this message out of what they had witnessed. The message is more important than not being killed. It is more important than not being hurt. What is the message that is so important? The message is that now there is a way to God. Now we have a way to peace with God, now there is a way to have repentance and forgiveness with God. Now there is a way to knowing we have eternal life and a realization that this life is only the first chapter, the introduction even to life. That’s the message they needed to get out. They needed to tell the message of this new WAY! And the way is Jesus! Remember Jesus telling his disciples that He was the WAY, the truth and the life? Did you know that before they were called Christians, followers of Jesus were called followers of the way? It’s true. This way was what the disciples were so excited about; this way was what they wanted everyone to hear about.
Right now fear is all around us. And as believers we do not want to act foolishly or recklessly. We do want to obey and heed what our medical professionals and political leaders have advised. Yet, we need to be careful not to let fear dominate our hearts. Perhaps just like the disciples did, we need to see something bigger than ourselves; perhaps we see something monumental; something bigger than our own problems, bigger than our own fears; perhaps we need to see something that the world out there desperately needs to hear. Do you and I see it? Do we truly see Jesus as the only way to God? Do we truly see how much God loves us through the life and sacrifice of Jesus? Do we see and really get it that this life is only the beginning, the introduction? Because when we do see it, when we see it like the disciples did we will be changed just like they were and God will use us to change the world around us.