I told a friend once that if I have gone to seed on anything in Christian theology, it’s the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I’m about to qualify that. As essential an element in the Christian faith as it is, the resurrection of our Lord did not end the fears, settle the nerves, conquer the phobias, or break the chains with which the early disciples were bound. It took one thing more.
To be sure, when the Lord Jesus Christ walked out of that garden tomb on the first Easter Sunday morning, it settled a lot of issues. His identity was forever established. His claims were solidly substantiated. His promises had just received the guarantee of Heaven.
When Jesus arose victorious from the grave, His enemies were routed. His opponents were silenced (or should have been, had they been men of even a little integrity). His executioners were shamed. A bamboozled Satan and his imps were beside themselves with rage.
The resurrection of Jesus answers our questions, excites our hopes, and escalates our anticipation. It draws us back to the Scripture, back to the Church, and back to a new reality.
No wonder the disciples’ later preaching centered on the single key ingredient of belief in Jesus’ return from the grave as an essential element of saving faith. “If you confess with your mouth Jesus Christ as Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
Settle that–that Jesus actually died on that cross, that He lay in that grave from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning, then walked out whole and healthy–and so many things fall into place.
Everything, that is, except one. And we see it in the Lord’s disciples, as recorded in John 20.
“So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.'” (John 20:19)
Did you see that? They’ve locked the doors out of fear of the people who executed Jesus.
All right, that’s to be expected I suppose. At this point, the resurrection of their Lord was still just a rumor to most of them. But that should change now that He’s present with them, right? I mean, they see Him, touch Him, and know He’s alive. Everything should have changed for them at that moment. But did it?
“After eight days, His disciples were again inside…. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.'” (John 20:26)
Pause for a moment here. The Greek word translated “shut” is “kleio,” which means “shut, lock, bar.” It is in the perfect passive participle in both verses 19 and 26 and means “locked tight.” The disciples have shut the door and drawn a bar across it from the inside.
And that is my point: as vital as the Lord’s resurrection was and still is, and as much as it did in answering the disciples questions then and now, there is one thing it did not do and cannot do. It does not conquer our fears and get us outside the walls of our upper rooms (or church buildings) into which we have secured ourselves.
It took the Holy Spirit’s coming at Pentecost to do that. We read all about that in Acts 2. As God’s Spirit arrived and took up permanent residence inside those 120 disciples, suddenly they were empowered and gifted and driven into the streets with the gospel message.
The Holy Spirit blew that locked door wide open.
It was exactly as Jesus had predicted before His ascension. “But you shall receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
It takes more than answers; it takes power. We need more than promises and assurances, more than evidence and proofs, more than guarantees of our future and calms of our fears. We need Holy Spirit power.
We have a hard time believing and accepting this, it seems to me.
And so, we teach people what they ought to do, then wonder why they go home and lock the doors and pull the blinds. We hold witnessing classes and have to literally force the students to get into the streets to share their faith. We give conferences on reaching the city, conferences which are sparsely attended and fearfully received, and check it off our list as though we have made actual in-roads to the community. But our people are still locking their doors and hoping the big bad world doesn’t come after them.
Satan has done a number on the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, I’ll tell you that.
We’re like the trained elephant that was confined so long inside a small electrical field and taught not to venture outside. Once the electricity was removed and the danger is gone, the massive animal continues to live in fear of crossing that line.
Someone needs to tell God’s people that death is conquered, Jesus Christ is alive, the Holy Spirit is here, Heaven is just ahead, the Gospel is true, Satan is a liar, and humanity is waiting.
Take it outside, church!
“Go in this thy power.” (Judges 6:14) Don’t leave home without the Holy Spirit indwelling, accompanying, empowering, and directing you.
That was a needless thing to say, wasn’t it. The whole point of this message is that without the Holy Spirit we won’t leave home. We won’t even venture out the door. We will huddle inside and shudder for fear that someone should knock on our door and question us.
God help us to recover the essence of the Christian faith, the assurance of the resurrection, and the power of the Holy Spirit, and to once again take it to the streets.
Two key observations, then I’m going to ask for your input.
1) The Christian who knows the Lord Jesus (that’s redundant, isn’t it) and believes the Scripture and hungers to be used of God in the community, needs one thing more. He needs to shut himself away and pray. Empty himself and worship. Humble himself and wait on the Lord. Give all of yourself you can to all of the Lord you understand. Ask Him to forgive you, to cleanse you, then to fill you, and use you.
2) Then, when you are finished, regardless of how you feel, get up and leave the room and begin to share as the Lord leads you.
Note that we are not suggesting you wait for a feeling (or tongues of fire on your head or the gift of foreign languages to be given you) before you leave the room. The way I understand the Holy Spirit’s modus operandi, the power will be there when you get there.
Go in faith. He’ll be there.
Nothing will ever be the same for you thereafter.
(I know a preacher whose sermon on Simon Peter was titled, “From chicken-hearted to lion-hearted.” He was referring to the way the apostle changed from a fearful Christ-denier to a bold Christ-proclaimer. Pretty good title, I say.
Peter is a great example for us. His transformation seems to have occurred in three stages: the crucifixion of Jesus broke him, the resurrection reassembled him, and Pentecost (the Holy Spirit’s filling) empowered him. Each segment is so crucial, but one is incomplete without the others.)
(This sermon is a work in progress. Help us out. What comes to mind? Any personal illustrations? Any insights from your life or Scripture? Have I missed something? Got something wrong? This is the place and now is the time to say it. Thank you.)