In John 20:19-29 Jesus’ disciples were engaged in a self-imposed quarantine. Instead of being triggered by fear of a pandemic like COVID-19, their lockdown was caused by fear of persecution.
It’s hard to blame them. They were still traumatized by witnessing their Master’s unjust arrest, brutal beating, and horrific crucifixion. Today we sometimes call those events “Good Friday,” but at the time there seemed nothing “good” about the cross of Calvary. The disciples were understandably devastated, gathered together behind locked doors because of fear of the Jewish leaders.
When you self-quarantine, you don’t expect any visitors. Especially if you’ve made certain the doors are firmly bolted shut.
However, Jesus can penetrate our locked doors, and He suddenly 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 frazzled 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 next 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 protégés? How did their fear-based self-quarantine unexpectedly become a launching pad for a powerful worldwide outreach?
The Master addressed four different snares that were holding these men in spiritual captivity, and perhaps you can relate to one or more of these snares today:
- FEAR – Not just once, but twice, Jesus told the disciples, “Peace be with you” (vs. 19, 21). However, when they “saw the Lord,” their fear and anguish were replaced with great joy. If you’re 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 follow Jesus and change the world were now left without a purpose. They had abandoned and denied their Savior in His hour of need, and now their distraught condition seemed to disqualify them from any significant usefulness in His plan. Nevertheless, Jesus reaffirmed them and re-commissioned them with fresh vision: “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (v. 21). What an encouraging story for us today. Even when we feel like total 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 this crucial need, Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v. 22). 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 have what it takes to 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. Yet that wasn’t the end of the forgiveness issue. He then went on to talk to them about their calling to extend His forgiveness to others. Notice that if you’re in some kind of spiritual prison today, forgiveness is likely 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.
Friend, 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, months or years before the coronavirus gave you an excuse. Like the disciples, maybe you were traumatized by experiences that have been hard to shake. But if Jesus could take these fearful men from the shadow of the cross to the glory of resurrection life, surely He can transform your life as well.
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! When you least expect, Jesus can appear to you through your closed doors. Right when you feel the least qualified or worthy, He can launch you into an incredible new beginning, ready to impact the world.
Great article, Jim!
Very timely for decisions I have to make. My friend John Colman started sending these and a real blessing.