After His resurrection, Jesus made a dramatic appearance to the disciples. What did Christ say, and how can His words help us today to overcome fears and doubt?
[Darris McNeely] Shutting a door puts us into a space that is ours. We shut doors for many reasons. Every night, we shut the doors to our homes and lock them. Every time we leave our cars, we shut the door and lock it down. We don't want intruders coming in and stealing what we have or attacking us. Locking a door is a wise and prudent exercise, it's second nature to us, something we do multiple times every day. Shutting doors is also a metaphor for avoiding unpleasant and pressing problems. We can shut people out of our lives when there's conflict. If it's easier to avoid those messy interpersonal problems by just shutting them out. We can deal with fear and doubt and other emotions by shutting them out of our mind. We can choose to fill our life then with a lot of other busy stuff to distract us from dealing with matters we feel are too big. Those mental and emotional giants. Shutting a door can be an illusion. If someone really wants to break in, they can usually find a way. And there are some people we can't completely shut out of our life. If we think we can shut the door on fear and doubt, we fail to understand a basic aspect of life. Sooner or later, we must face our fears.
In the days after Christ's crucifixion, the disciples were shattered and disoriented. Christ had been betrayed to the Jewish leaders, arrested, scourged, and killed by the Romans. They ran and left Him to suffer alone. And the hours after His resurrection and the evidence of the empty tomb and sightings by others, they were still afraid, and they had shut themselves into their room. Did they fear the Jewish authorities would hunt them down in a final effort to destroy their group? Did they think they would be accused of robbing the body from the tomb? Or had the powerful doubt that it entered over the days since His death so clouded their hearts they could not recognize the truth of who Jesus really was? Whatever the cause, they were going to have to confront reality. Reality then came through the door and the walls of their room in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In the evening hours the first day after His resurrection, Jesus appeared and stood in the middle of the room, announcing his presence with the words, "Peace be to you." That reaction was terror and fright. They thought they had seen a spirit. Jesus said to them, "Why are you troubled? And why do doubts rise in your hearts?"
Mark's gospel tells us Jesus issued at that point a stern rebuke as they sat at their table, He said, "He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen him after he had risen." Jesus knew their hearts and the fundamental problem they faced. It is all too human to doubt and to fear. Stretching out His hands Jesus said, "Behold my hands and my feet that it is I myself. Handle me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." Still they did not believe even as they looked upon the hands and feet where the nails had been driven at His death. And a joy began to build within them even as they remained bewildered.
John's account tells us that Jesus opened the conversation with the blessing, "Peace be with you." As they looked upon Him and talked among themselves, He said, again, "Peace to you, as the Father has sent Me, I also send you." And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. Then, as if to give them something else to consider, He asked, "Have you any food here?" So, they gave Him a piece of boiled fish and some honeycomb and He took it and ate in their presence. He then breathed on them and He said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained." The disciples would forever remember this moment as an awakening to the power of the Spirit of the Father and Christ, a promise to be with them in proclaiming the powerful message of repentance, belief, and reconciliation to the world. When men would not hear the gospel the disciples could know they had done their job and turn their attention to others who would hear and allow the gospel to change their heart.
Here Jesus began a critical part of their preparation for the mission ahead. It was instruction in the scriptures that he fulfilled through His life, His death, and His resurrection. He had taught much of this during his ministry, but they did not fully understand. He now began to open their understanding to comprehend the scriptures. He said, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in Law of Moses and the prophets of the Psalms concerning me." They were to be witnesses of His words, predicting He would rise from the dead the third day because it was now a day of judgment on the world.
They were to preach to all the nations the message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It would begin in Jerusalem, where they would be given power from on high. "Behold," Jesus said, "I send the promise of My Father upon you." Jesus gave them the cure for their doubt, unbelief, and hardness of heart. It was action. They could not forever stay behind shut doors and hide in upper rooms. They had to get out and preach the gospel to the world. The church and the gospel would not be confined. They had to confront the world with the gospel and prevail. They had to knock down the gates of hell with a gospel of God. Christ had conquered death and the powers of the world. He gave the disciples their defining mission. "Go into all the world, preach the good news to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But if anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe, they will cast out demons in my name, and they will speak in new languages. They will be able to handle snakes with safety and if they drink anything poisonous, it won't hurt them. They will be able to place their hands on the sick and they will be healed."
For the church it has always been the preaching of the gospel that provides the energy to move forward against all obstacles. Christ as the head of the church, which is his body, gives that power. The Holy Spirit is a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind. It heals the human heart and gives purpose and meaning. The passion to take the gospel to the world by that spirit dispels fear. When the church knows who it is, its real identity and its mission in the world, its reason for being, there's no room for doubt. The church is a spiritual body. Its mission is to preach the gospel and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that were commanded by Jesus. They would have to wait in Jerusalem until Pentecost, the full seven weeks away, then they would receive the power of the Spirit as the indwelling divine nature. Jesus would then begin the work of using the church, continuing what He began during those years on Earth, but there was still much to be done. While they waited, they would receive for their preparation and training. There remained one critical element. Relationships would need to be restored. The church would need a high level of unity as they face their world with the gospel, they had to restore trust in one another. This would happen on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. There, they would meet Jesus to learn about reconciliation and love.