April 18, 2023

Peace be with You

A few years ago, after a big transition in my life, I was going through an emotionally and spiritually down time. When I feel down, I don’t want to see or talk to anybody. I usually shut myself in and avoid going out. One day, when I was reading a book in my room, I heard someone knocking on our front door.

It was a family friend, stopping by to say ‘hi.’ But I wasn’t in the mood to see anybody. I was also still in my pajamas. I heard her coming in and talking to Jubilee, my youngest daughter downstairs. Jubilee also just came home from school so she didn’t know that I was home either.

I didn’t want them to know that I was in my room. You know what I did? I hid in my walk-in closet. I heard Jubilee coming upstairs and into my room. I tried to be as still as I could. Silence… then she burst open the closet door. She saw my clothes were moving because I didn’t close the closet door tightly.

There I was, sitting in my walk-in closet with an awkward smile in an awkward position.  Jubilee said, “What are you doing?” I really wished I could tell her that I was praying in my closet, like in the Christian movie, ‘War Room.’ Instead, I said, “shhhh.” Jubilee left my room shaking her head.

When we go through a challenging time, we tend to lock ourselves in. It can be our grief, fear, shame, guilt, disappointment, hurt, anger or anxiety. And frankly, we tend to stay away from even church for the same reason.

“They won’t understand how much pain I’m in.” “I don’t want them to know that I failed my marriage.” “I don’t want them to know that I failed my school,” or “They will judge me if they find out what kind of an addict I am.” We all have weaknesses we want to hide, and sometimes, we run away from people or the world. We lock the world out or we lock ourselves in.

In today’s passage, v. 19 we see the disciples of Jesus lock themselves in a room, frightened. It was the Easter Sunday evening. Do you remember what happened on that day?  Early that morning, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw the body of Jesus was gone, so she ran to tell the disciples. Simon Peter and John went to the tomb together and found the tomb was empty.

And after Peter and John left, Mary Magdalene met the risen Jesus. She again ran to the disciples and told them that Jesus had risen from the dead and that she had seen the Lord. Not only that, according to Luke 24, earlier that afternoon, two disciples who were travelling to Emmaus, met the resurrected Jesus on the way and came to tell them what had happened on the way.

But here these frightened disciples were, hiding together behind the locked door instead of going out and looking for Jesus. What were they afraid of? John says in v 19 that they locked themselves in for fear of the Jews. Who could blame them? Their beloved teacher was betrayed by one of their brother-like friends, suffered, and then shamefully crucified by Roman soldiers and Jewish religious leaders only two days ago.

Even though some people claimed that they saw the risen Lord, their fear was overshadowing them. Now they might be accused of stealing the body of Jesus as well.  However, was it the only reason they were hiding in the locked room? Could it have been that they locked themselves in for other reasons, like shame or guilt?

In Luke 22:33, we see how Peter proudly and confidently told Jesus, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” But a few hours later Peter denied Jesus three times.

It wasn’t just Peter. All of the other disciples fled Gethsemane terrified when the Roman soldiers came to arrest Jesus. None of them stood for Jesus when He was flogged and mocked. They helplessly watched Jesus carry the cross and die on the cross far away.  Maybe they felt guilty of what they had done to Jesus.

They were ashamed of how much of a coward they were. They betrayed Jesus. They denounced their teacher, their friend. So now, they locked the door, telling themselves they were keeping the Jews out when they could have been actually keeping themselves locked in out of guilt and shame.

But then Jesus did what He always does for anyone locked up in his own shame: He breaks into their shame. In the midst of these friends who abandoned Him for their own lives, Jesus appeared and stood among them. He entered the locked room, bringing three gifts: gift of Peace, gift of Purpose, and gift of Power.

Jesus’ first word to the shocked and doubtful disciples was “shalom.” “Shalom” or “Peace be with you” was a common Jewish greeting, wishing overall wellbeing. But in the context here it surely meant far more than just a superficial greeting. When Jesus said “Peace be with you,” it was more like “It’s all right.”

Jesus was offering them peace which was invitational, forgiving, and affirming. He was the Peace. He never mentioned about their past actions, their betrayals and denials. He didn’t ask, “Why did you deny me?” “Why weren’t you there for me?” Instead He affirmed and touched their broken hearts with peace.

For the past couple of years, the whole world was in fear of Covid-19. Unimaginable pandemic, unexpected death, social distancing, isolation, loneliness, violence against certain groups of people, and then the war in Ukraine and Russia, economic crisis, mass shootings, and on and on.

What are you afraid of? Afraid of loneliness or rejection from people you care about? Afraid of illness, aging or death? Afraid of retirement or poverty? Afraid of gun violence or accidents or random stranger attacks?

And what are you ashamed of? Ashamed of your temper or addiction? Ashamed of your physical appearance? Ashamed of your broken relationship? Ashamed of lustful thoughts? Ashamed of what you don’t have? Ashamed of your past?

My fear is that my children might not know Jesus intimately and personally; that I am not being a good pastor. I have fear of terminal illness, fear of failure, fear of criticism, fear of losing someone I love. I’m also ashamed of my sinful desires like desire to please other people instead of pleasing God.

Jesus walks right into our fear and shame just like how He appeared in the midst of the scared and ashamed disciples. He is offering us the peace that the world cannot give or understand, and He is offering Himself to us. He is, indeed, the Prince of Peace.

Are any of you still hiding in your locked room? Are any of you experiencing the dark night of the soul? I pray that the very presence of the risen Lord Jesus Christ fills you with a real sense of peace and freedom. Believe that you are free from the bondage of sin, fear, shame, and guilt when you hold unto Jesus’ nail-marked hand.

After saying “Peace be with you,” Jesus gave a great commission to the disciples, saying “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” This Great Commission is the God-given purpose for the church and for all of us. Jesus also said in v. 23 that “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” What does He mean by “if you do not forgive them they are not forgiven”? This phrase is a little tricky.

We have to be very careful with this verse. It doesn’t mean that we or the church are given authority to forgive or not to forgive. We’re not the judge. What He is saying is that it is our responsibility to share the Gospel to our neighbours, to those who don’t know God’s forgiveness, so that their sins may also be forgiven by God.

If we, the followers of Christ fail to bear witness, those people around us will lose an opportunity to grasp the knowledge of God and the amazing grace of God. We’re keeping them from experiencing the peace, forgiveness, joy, and love of God we have been given.

Jesus is giving us responsibility to share the love of Christ to people around us; your unbelieving family members, your friends, your neighbour, and your co-workers so that they can also join the heavenly banquet with us.

In a way, this task seems like mission impossible not only for the timid disciples but also for us. How can Jesus send us, who are broken, scared, and troubled, to the world as the Father God sent Jesus? How can we carry out this mission of God? How can we live out the purpose of our new life?

Maybe it is not as unrealistic or impossible of a mission as it seems. Here, the risen Jesus gives us another gift to turn mission impossible into mission possible. It is the gift of Power, the power of the Holy Spirit. V 22 says that Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The Spirit was unleashed into the world in a new way and the disciples were entering into a new phase in their life with God, but it was not yet the time of their active witness, as it would be from the Pentecost Day on.

As we know from reading Acts chapter 2, on the Pentecost Day, the lives of these disciples had changed upside down. They were not the same people who hid in a locked room or who went back to their old life without knowing what to do.

The Holy Spirit has the power to change; a power to transform the weak to the strong, the unfaithful to the faithful, the sick to the healed, the loser to the victor, the timid to the brave, the foolish to the wise, and the lost to the ambassador of Christ - just like how the frightened and ashamed Peter was transformed to a fearless apostle of Christ?

Have you received the gift of the Holy Spirit? How has it changed you and your life? The gift of the Holy Spirit is not only speaking in tongues, healing or prophesying but also hospitality, generous giving, sharing words of wisdom and encouragement, teaching boldly about Christ’s love, forgiving others as we are forgiven, and loving your neighbour with Christ-like love.

On that Easter evening, the resurrected Jesus brought three gifts to His disciples. And today, the mystery of Easter continues, and the risen Jesus brings us very special gifts. The gift of Peace. Jesus is the Prince of Peace who gives us true peace that worldly things, like success and retirement savings OR that people, like your spouse or children, cannot give.

In the midst of your lowest point, in the midst of your most lonely place, in the midst of your fearful moments, in the midst of your painful times, Jesus is there stretching his nail-marked hands out to you. His peace is real and surpasses all understanding.

The gift of Purpose. Jesus commissions us to be ambassadors of Christ in this world. He calls us, ordinary men and women like you and me, for the extraordinary work of God.

The gift of Power. The power of the Holy Spirit is already working within us. I pray that each and every one of us experience the power of the Holy Spirit who is able to mold us and renew us to be more like Christ in our daily lives. As Jesus said 2000 years ago to the disciples, I believe Jesus is telling you today, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  Amen.