When we are locked in a room
(John 20:19-31 / April 19, 2020)
Well, if life before lockdown was only “ho-hum”, then life after lockdown is a resounding “humbug!” I imagine that like me, you are anxious to move about wherever you want. At the dinner table the other evening, we were talking about how nice it would be to just drive to some faraway place. One of our two younger girls’ eyes lit up and she said, “We’re going on vacation?” “No, we can’t.” “Why not?” “Because of the virus.”
Most five-year-olds don’t have the word “virus” as part of their working vocabulary. But they do now, and it’s not a word that evokes any sense of freedom or fun. I’m not entirely sure what goes through a five-year-old’s mind when they hear the word “virus”, but I do know they understand the concept of sheltering-in-place. They’re just more familiar with the term “time-out”. Little children don’t enjoy time-outs that hinder their movement, and neither do adults.
Our theme for today’s sermon is: When we’re locked in a room. Adults don’t get locked in rooms due to time-outs, rather if we stay indoors it’s usually out of fear. When my wife was growing up in Peru, there were periods when nobody would go out at night due to bombs being set off throughout the city by terrorists. So, let’s say you want to go to a movie on a Friday night with your friends, well you can’t. You have to stay at home.
The disciples imposed their own shelter-in-place scenario voluntarily. Nobody told them they had to stay inside, but like most grown-ups, the reason they did so was out of fear. John writes, “On the evening of the first day of the week, the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jews” (v. 19).
Although the disciples had heard the reports that Jesus had risen from the dead, they hadn’t yet seen him. So, you can imagine their apprehension. “Do we believe the reports and allow ourselves to be happy again? And even if they are true, what does that mean for our present situation? If they killed Jesus, who’s to say they won’t come after us?”
Now, I don’t know which fears paralyze you in life, but I’m very familiar with my own moments of paralysis. And what I’ve learned is that the greater prison is not being locked up behind four walls, but rather being locked in the prison of your mind, for our minds are often our worst enemies. When we are afraid in life, when we are unsure of what to do, when we allow our minds to engage in worst-case-scenario-thinking, our thoughts become a playground for the devil.
Doubt leads to fear. Fear leads back to doubt. It’s a vicious cycle. And this is the predicament the disciples are in. Which is why they don’t have peace. They have questions. They have concerns. They have doubts. They have guilt and shame and grief, but they have no peace.
It makes sense then that the first words Jesus says to his disciples are not, “Hey!”, “How’s it going?” “I’m alive!” “Long time, no see.” No. He says, “Peace be with you!” That is what the disciples needed if they were ever going to get moving again.
And here is a teaching moment that I don’t think we always grasp. When Jesus speaks his word of peace, he’s actually giving them his peace. RIght? God’s words do what they say. God said, “Let there be light”, and there actually was light. So, he says here, “Peace be with you”, and he gives them the Holy Spirit (v. 22). The Holy Spirit gives them faith to believe, and then they’re okay.
If only life were that easy, right? Well, in one sense it is. Jesus is the Son of God. His rising from the dead proves that. Which means my sins are forgiven, and so Jesus is going to come back to take me to heaven. What’s the problem? Well, the answer (and it’s a true answer) is nothing. And, at the same time, the answer is “me.” I am my own problem.
You see, in verse 31 John writes, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” That is the purpose statement for John’s Gospel. The reason John wrote down the things he did in his Gospel is so that we may believe, and that by believing these things about Jesus you may have life in his name.
But what if you don’t believe? Or what if you do believe as Thomas had once believed, but then when the rubber hit the road he doubted. Thomas wasn’t there that first evening, and so he still didn’t have the peace that the other disciples were enjoying. His mind was still stuck in analysis paralysis mode. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (v. 25).
Now, I don’t mean to be flippant, but if there were such a thing as a patron saint, I think Thomas would be the patron saint of the United States. Because we are so overly-focused on the need for physical proof. We are so smitten by the world of evidential science. “If I can’t see it,” we say, “then I don’t believe it.” Americans are good Thomases, and Christians tend to be good Americans.
I wrote down on a piece of paper as I read through these verses, “There is a doubting Thomas inside each and everyone of us.” He may show up under different circumstances and disguise himself with different stresses, but he’s there. Every one of us doubts God.
And yet, the words of Scripture keep telling me that Jesus is real and that he is alive. In the same way that for eight days the disciples kept telling Thomas that Jesus was alive. “We saw him!” they said. Thomas was skeptical. And that is why he had no peace. The antidote to fear is trust (faith). And the byproduct of faith is peace.
To the degree that you are convinced that Jesus is alive and active in your present life for your good, that is the degree of peace you will have. Now, how do we become convinced? How do we grow in our faith so that even in the worst adversities the peace remains?
We need to be in the same room as Jesus. We need to hear from Jesus. We need to receive his Holy Spirit which in turn produces peace.
Now, this is not mysticism. This is not superstition. This is the biblical teaching of the Means of Grace. When we read our Bibles, Jesus is present. Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1). The Word of God is given to us in the pages of our Bible. Maybe we need someone to lock us in our room with our Bible so that we actually open it and read it. A “time-out” from our Heavenly Father, if you will. Maybe we need to extend our shelter-in-place for a little longer (I’m kidding!). No, what we do need to do is remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. We do need to set aside time to spend with Jesus. That is the only way to “stop doubting and believe.”
So, open up your Bible this afternoon and read John, chapter 20. Open the door of your house and let some fresh air in. Stop doubting and believe. Whether you feel peace in your life, the great news of the Bible is that you have peace in your life. There is peace between you and God. Sin is no longer the issue. If it were, Jesus never would have come to his disciples, but he did. There was no distance of 6 feet between them. They were close, and he is close with you.
All your sins have been paid for and buried. The Bible actually says they were buried with Jesus in your baptism (Romans 6:4). And then it says, “just as Christ was raised from the dead … [so] we too may live a new life.” The past is the past. The present is forever new. If you’re living too much in your head during this stay at home period, get out of it, and get your mind focused on Jesus. “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed” (v. 29). Thank God, then, that you do believe. So, be at peace. Amen.