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Following Jesus: Fear and Forgiveness

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

— John 20:19-23 (CEB)

Easter night. By now, the Disciples have heard the stories of the women who had gone early that morning to the tomb a hundred times. The men who had seen Jesus on the road to Emmaus have returned to Jerusalem, and have told the others their stories.

“Jesus is risen,” was the resounding message.

Yet, fear was still the motivating factor for the disciples. They were locked in a room. Waiting for the Romans to come for them. Surely, they would be next.

There has to be a million questions running through the minds of the disciples at this point. Surely, this Jesus was more than just a man, but he was Messiah. And, Messiah meant the restoration of Israel. But, Rome is still in charge.

Jesus, they are not yet realizing, didn’t come to overthrow a political entity. It wasn’t about a land or even a particular type of people. Rather, Jesus had come to institute a new Kingdom. A Kingdom that wasn’t dependent on land or borders.

“Peace,” he proclaims to his followers. And, that is what he proclaims to us.

Peace. Not an absence of conflict, but rather a process where crooked is made straight, missing is found, and broken is repaired.

Fear had caused these followers to lock themselves into a room. Yet, Jesus comes in, proclaims peace, and then sends them out. Sends them out even though they were still afraid.

Fear is not sin. Fear is a natural human reaction when life is in danger. The problem arises when we decide to order our lives from the place of fear–when we decide that the right response is to lock ourselves in our rooms. However, Jesus doesn’t call us to lock ourselves in our rooms.

Or behind huge walls.

Or behind a giant military complex.

Or behind the doors of beautiful sanctuaries.

wpid-Photo-1-Şub-2013-0233.jpgNo, Jesus sends us out into the very world from which we try to insulate ourselves. He breathes on us the power of the Holy Spirit. A power that is to be used to forgive those who need forgiveness. To forgive even the Roman soldiers who hammered the nails. To forgive even the religious leaders who lodged false accusations.

The christian faith is not intended to be lived out on Sunday mornings in padded pews. Christian faith is lived out in the highways and the byways. It is lived out in the homeless shelters and the corporate offices. It is lived out in the “safety” of the west and the “risk” of the east.

To follow Jesus is to leave the locked room of safety behind. To follow Jesus is to go into every man’s world. It is to proclaim, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that our fear has been turned into forgiveness.

Resurrection Diaries: Thomas

Dinner was awfully different tonight.  The food was the same: lamb, flatbread, cucumbers, olives.  But, what a strange occurrence.

We were in the main room of the house.  The table had been laid out as always.  All of us in our usual seats.  For fear of someone wandering in, we had the doors locked.  Still not sure what the authorities—Jewish or Roman—are thinking about us.

As we talked about the events of the last few days, and wondering if the stories of our friends having seen Jesus were really true, Thomas made the most outrageous statement.

“I’ll believe it when I see it.  When I can push my finger through the holes in his hands and feet, and can shove my hand into his side, then—and only then—will I believe it.”

Well, finally, someone said what most of us were thinking.

And, then, Jesus showed up.  In the room.  With us.  Door was still locked—I checked it myself.  But, there stood Jesus.

“Hey, Thomas,” he said.  “Come over here, put your hand here.”  He pulled back his robe to reveal the spot where they had shoved the spear into His side.

Thomas did, and then let out a holler unlike any I’d ever heard.

“It’s Him!”

“Really, guys, it’s HIM!”

———

Aren’t we all a bit like Thomas?

Others had seen Jesus.  The women, some of the men, Cleopas and his friend had seen Jesus.  Eyewitnesses to the resurrection.  Yet, Thomas isn’t so sure.

Maybe it was a vision.  Maybe a dream.  Maybe a hallucination.  But, actually Jesus?  Not sure.

He challenges the others.  Maybe they’re even growing a bit tired of Thomas’ verbal doubts.  And, then, Jesus shows up.

Can you hear the laughter of the others?  “See, Thomas, we told you!  We told you that He was alive!  You didn’t believe us, but I guess you do now!”

But, I can relate to Thomas.  At some point in all of our lives, we will doubt.  We’ll doubt the trustworthiness of God.  We’ll doubt the promises.  We’ll stand on the edge of the road, looking at the empty—but blood-stained—cross where our dreams were killed, and there we will doubt.  We’ll be forced to admit that our hopes and dreams are dead, and our prayers will go unanswered.

And, then, into the room, walks Jesus.  Smiling.  Laughing.  Comforting.  And, gently scolding.  Jesus.

In that moment, our doubts are erased.  Our fears are calmed.  Our hope is restored.  The trustworthiness of our God is proved.

Yet, doubt isn’t a good thing.  It’s a real thing, but it’s not good.  Doubt says that our God isn’t big enough to overcome our problem.  To doubt is to deny the goodness and grace of God.  It’s to deny the very resurrection.  To doubt is to say, “God, You can’t handle this.”

To doubt is to make you the lord of your life.  It’s worshiping at the altar of self.  It’s idolatry.

So, what do we do?

I’m reminded of the story of the Israelites.  Time and time and time and time again throughout the Old Testament, God’s chosen people are given the command: “REMEMBER.”  Read the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy and count the number of times this command is given.  Read the Psalms and see how often remembering is a part of the worship of the Israelite people.  Read the Proverbs and see the wisdom in remembering.

Remember!

This command isn’t meant to be taken in a philosophical, “Yep, God is good all the time” kind of way.  It’s a command to write down what God has done for you.  It’s a command to write them down.  To recite them to your family.  To teach them to your children.  To talk about them on your way to school and work and church and Wal-Mart.  To listen as your children recite them back to you.

“Hey, Dad, remember that time that God…”

Remembering only works when you are an active participant in the process of remembering.  You have to say it out loud.  You have to repeat it.  You have to write the story.  You have to tweet the good news.

You have to be aware of the miracle.  Don’t write things off to coincidence.  Quit calling it fate.   Stop ignoring the miracle within the mundane.  God is working.  He is moving.  He cares about the big things and the little things.

A couple of years ago, we were in Colorado Springs doing our Discipleship Training School with Youth With A Mission.  One particular Tuesday, I was craving a hamburger.  I could almost taste the meat and the cheese and the mustard and the pickle.  I remember driving my friends crazy because I kept talking about how good a hamburger would taste.  The next day at lunch, we had hamburgers.  Now, I had no idea what was on the menu.  I just knew that the day before I told God that hamburgers sounded really good.  I could call that a coincidence.  But, to do so would be to assume that God doesn’t care about hamburgers, and He doesn’t care about me.  So, to this day, we talk about the day that God cared enough to provide hamburgers.  And, friends, these weren’t just frozen patties.  These were hand-crafted, flame-broiled, with bacon, thick and juicy hamburgers.

Because, God cares about my wanting hamburgers, and He cares about Thomas’ doubts.  He cares enough to provide hamburgers, so I can trust Him with things like airfare, and my kid’s health, and beds to sleep in.

And, so, we remember.  We write it down.  We talk about it.  We rehearse it.  We tell each other the story.  And, we remember the goodness of God.

Thomas, we are told from Church tradition, travelled to India.  It is believed that he baptized several people in the town of Muziris, India, and served as a missionary to the people of India.  He is known as the Patron Saint of India.

Thomas’ response to seeing the wounds of Jesus was to proclaim boldly that he was no longer the lord of his life.  Instead, he trusted God’s goodness to restore and renew and resurrect.  And, he went about the rest of his life proclaiming that message of the Gospel of the Kingdom.

You can read the full story of Jesus revealing Himself to Thomas in John 20:19-29.