The longer I live, the more convinced I am that most people are paralyzed or imprisoned in some way. No wonder the Bible tells so many stories about those who got healed of paralysis or set free from bondage and imprisonment.
When we read such Bible stories today, it’s easy to miss how these events apply to our lives. If we’ve never been physically paralyzed or lame, we can struggle to relate to the paralyzed man in Mark 2:1-12 or the lame man in Acts 3:1-12. And if we’ve never done jail time, we can assume there’s not much we can learn from Joseph’s release from an Egyptian dungeon (Genesis 39-40) or the supernatural prison breaks of Peter (Acts 12:1-19) and Paul and Silas (Acts 16:16-40).
But, you see, the imprisonment most people face today is emotional and spiritual rather than physical. They’ve been traumatized by their journey through life, whether through the consequences of their own bad decisions or through the unkind actions of others.
In John 20:19-29 Jesus’ disciples were locked in a self-imposed prison after experiencing the trauma of their Master’s unjust arrest, brutal beating, and horrific crucifixion. Today we sometimes call those events “Good Friday,” but there seemed nothing “good” about the cross of Calvary at the time. The disciples were understandably devastated, gathered together behind locked doors because of fear of the Jewish leaders.
Suddenly Jesus appeared to these shell-shocked men. Although preachers sometimes say, based on Revelation 3:20, that Jesus always knocks before entering our situation, that’s simply not true. This time He just came right on in, bypassing every defense mechanism in order to release these traumatized followers from their emotional bondage.
This is one of the most pivotal scenes in the entire Bible. It’s not an overstatement to say that the whole fate of the church and the expansion of God’s kingdom rested on what would happen in the lives of these shattered men.
The disciples had left everything to follow Jesus, believing that their lives would ultimately change the world. Now their dreams seemed to have reached a cruel dead end. Dazed and confused, they were very unlikely candidates for any kind of heroic, world-changing mission.
So how did Jesus turn the worst of times into the best of times for these emotionally damaged followers? He addressed four different snares that were holding these men in spiritual captivity:
- FEAR – Not just once, but twice, Jesus told them, “Peace be with you.” And when they “saw the Lord,” their fear and anguish were replaced with great joy. If you are feeling “stuck” in some area of your life today, it’s likely that fear is one of the things holding you back. Just as He did for the disciples, Jesus wants to penetrate your closed doors and replace your fear with faith, and your anxiety with His peace and joy.
- PURPOSELESSNESS – These men who had taken such bold steps to leave their careers and families in order to change the world with Jesus were now left without a purpose or a vision. They had abandoned and denied their Savior in His hour of need, and now their traumatized condition seemed to disqualify them from any significant usefulness in His plan. Nevertheless, Jesus re-commissioned and affirmed them with fresh vision and purpose: “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” What an encouraging story for us today. Even when we feel like failures, unusable by God, He can reaffirm our calling and give us a new commission to impact the world.
- WEAKNESS – In addition to a lack of purpose, Jesus’ disciples were suffering from a lack of power. A new commission would have fallen on deaf ears unless they also received new empowerment. Recognizing their need, Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In their own strength, they never would have been able to fulfill His majestic plan for their lives—nor can you or I. But, empowered by the Spirit, we can transform the world (Acts 1:8, Philippians 4:13).
- FORGIVENESS ISSUES – Jesus showed them His wounds, proof that they had been forgiven by His shed blood. But then He talked to them about their calling to extend His forgiveness to OTHERS. If you are in some kind of spiritual prison today, there’s a good chance that forgiveness is one of the keys needed to set you free. Perhaps you need to RECEIVE God’s full forgiveness of your past, releasing you from any guilt, shame, or condemnation. Or maybe you are still locked in emotional bondage because you’ve not yet forgiven someone who has hurt you. Either way, forgiveness is an indispensable key to your spiritual and emotional freedom.
I encourage you to read this list again, asking God to show you which of these four keys are needed to help you get unstuck and ready to fulfill your destiny as a follower of Christ.
Perhaps you’ve been hiding out behind closed doors for a long time now, traumatized by some experience that has been hard to shake. But if Jesus could take these distraught men from the shadow of the cross to the glory of resurrection life, surely He can transform your life and give you a new beginning.
Like Jesus’ disciples, you may seem like an unlikely world-changer today. But once He has freed you from fear, given you fresh vision, empowered you by His Spirit, and dealt with your forgiveness issues, your life can be amazing. You don’t have to wait any longer!