“The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and you’re now invited to belong to it.”
Found in John 20: 19-23
Trauma. It leaves you numb. At first. Like you’re not quite sure if what has happened has truly taken place, or if it’s just a bad dream. A dream you hope with all your heart you will awaken from. And the feeling of things eludes you, like your heart has gone to sleep. And it is the sick feeling in the pit of you that seems to guide your whirring thoughts. You swing between wanting to run and wanting to hide. But both would take an energy you just can’t seem to find. So going through the motions you choose with every rise and fall of breath just to keep on breathing. Because it’s the bravest move you’ve got right now. Just breathe you tell yourself. Just fill your lungs with air and maybe your heart will live again. Beat again. feel again. Maybe you’ll wake up and discover it’s all untrue. A terrible dream. A nightmare.
It was the bravest move they had, these men, these followers of Jesus. Continuing to breathe in the dark.
In the night.
‘On the evening…’ John 20:19
Evening. The evening that closed in around them, enveloping the room they’d taken refuge in together; refuge from the events of the last few days, refuge from the Jewish leaders, refuge from the mob of angry voices.
But there was no refuge from this nightmare. It happened. They crucified Him. Him. He who had calmed the storm. He was gone. Now only storm remained, around them and within them.
Fear. It creates it’s own reality of heightened senses and whirling thoughts. You can lock the doors, but you can’t drown out the beating of your heart or the memory of all that led you to that place. Now every sound outside, every whisper of the wind and shriek in the night, it took them back.
Back to the look in His eyes.
‘On the evening of that first day of the week.…’ John 20:19
It was the first day of the week. The first day of forever. Jesus resurrection had taken place that morning, but the dawning of hope takes longer than the dawning of day. For Jews night comes before day, the evening is the beginning of the following day, not the end of the last one.
They were in the new week already. The first day of the first new week after the crucifixion. The first new week of forever. A brand-new day had dawned, Jesus body was absent from the tomb, the women had seen angels, Mary had even said she’d seen Jesus. Eternity was now. A new creation week had begun…
…But still, here they were. Huddled together behind closed doors. Locked doors. Captive to fear, captive to the belief that it was all undone. Seeing is believing after all. They had seen Him whipped, tortured and strung up between Heaven and Earth. They had seen Him die, the few of them that had had the courage to stay. But now all courage had left them, seeped out of their veins through the cracks in their faith.
The news they’d heard from the women of the empty tomb fell against their ears like a distant call in a thickening fog. They couldn’t comprehend the meaning of these words all strung together. Their ears still rang with other sounds, the scraping shrieks of crowds shouting ‘crucify Him’, the jolting noise of nails piercing flesh, the reverberation of thunder as darkness had rolled over Jerusalem, cloaking the Light of the world with the weight of the world, as He hung, lifted up between Earth and Heaven. Rejected by both.
Just a week ago crowds had shouted His name with praise. They (the disciples) had thought they were riding a wave of victory; the palm branches, the praise, the prophecies fulfilled, the crowds shouting…
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!” John 12:13
Everyone was on their side, hope was on their side. Anything was possible. He was a King. Then.
Then, how quickly it all changed. “Blessed is the king of Israel!” they had shouted…
…“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.’ John 19:14b-15
Above His cross the sign could be read in three languages… ‘JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.’ John 19:19
He was a King. Then. And all their hope, their ambitions, their idea of what His Kingdom would be, died with Him. And now, hope was nowhere. Darkness was everywhere. It was night. It didn’t make sense, how did it end this way? It wasn’t supposed to end this way! He was… the Messiah. We thought.
‘On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together…’ John 20:19
They were together now, but only on the outside. In that moment in the garden and in all the moments after that one they had completely fallen apart. No one had held together, no-one had stayed together, each fled, each ran, each succumbing to self preservation. Eventually.
The darkness in men had taken Him that night from the garden. The garden where it all began. Just a handful of nights ago, a lifetime ago, millennia ago. They’d taken Him, put Him on trial, tortured Him and crucified Him. And they, His closest friends, where had they been?
The darkness in them deserted Him. They had fled (Matthew 26:56b). In shame (Mark 14:50-52). And now their shame mingled with fear, and their fear mingled with grief, and their grief mingled with doubt, and they wondered if they’d ever awaken from this nightmare. How did it end this way? It wasn’t supposed to end the way! He was… the Messiah. We thought.
And Peter. He was still back there in the dark. Feeling. Fraying. His words replayed in His mind, the words he’d spat so quickly, the words that gouged out hope. I don’t know him! I am not! I don’t know what you’re talking about! Where was he when He needed him? Retreating. Cowering. Lying. Dodging.
And the rooster it crowed so loud. Dismantling.
The coals that night had smelled like a Kingdom burning down. And his heart that night had felt like his world was spiralling down. Falling. Failing.
‘’On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear…’ John 20:19
Fear. It can unravel us, undo us, reduce us to a churning, whirring nothing. It can leave us breathless, gasping, drowning. It can take our breath away, this feeling out of control, out of our depth, out of the boat and under the waves. It can paralyse a soul this fear.
But the opposite of fear isn’t courage. The opposite of fear is breathing. Continuing to breathe in the dark. Because when fear is at it’s worst, your breath is all you’ve got. Courage takes presence of mind. Fear takes that away.
Fear is at its root, is one simple thing. A distraction from the face of God. The antithesis of belief, of trust, of faith, of living in the breath of God. When Peter’s eyes had been on Jesus he had been empowered to walk on waves, when he let the waves draw his gaze from Christ’s, he began to sink. He walked on waves until he began to fear them. Fear creates it’s own reality, its own eventuality. Our faith can be strong and free, until that faith gets shaken. Until everything we thought was true gets undermined. Until we sink beneath the waves. For fear.
And that’s where they were, despite all the news of the empty tomb, the angel sightings, the message Jesus sent to them through Mary. The doors were locked for fear.
One of them, one day soon would write ‘Perfect love casts out all fear’ (1 John 4:18). But not this day. They had seen Perfect Love nailed to a cross and all their hope buried in the tomb with Him. How could perfect love cast out this fear?
Less than a week ago He had told them not to be afraid, knowing that they would be. That He would be. Crucified. That night (just after their last Passover meal) He had said ‘Peace..’
‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’ John 14:27
Peace. Where was His peace now? In the grave? Hanging on the cross? Suspended there between Heaven and Earth? There was no peace on Earth. Not in their hearts, not in this room, not in their nation. Not in this whirling world of pain. There is no peace on Earth. Not this Earth, right now beneath our feet.
It had been so easy to hear His words and believe them, when He was there, present in His words, present with them. But now? Now on the other side of the violence of the cross, doing violence to all their hopes? Peace was nowhere. Hope was nowhere.
There was no path. Not future. No Kingdom. No King. Fear, shame and doubt whirled in their minds mixing with swirling questions and broken aspirations. Their stomachs churned. How could they live in this Kingdom now? How could they repeat the words He had said, His teachings. Every word would remind them of His death, every teaching tainted with disappointment and despair. Hope dashed makes the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12).
It’s impossible to see the road ahead when our minds are shrouded in fear, fogged in despair, stumbling in doubt. Fear and despair are the great usurpers of freedom, the destroyers of hope. The dismantling of a Kingdom come.
A Kingdom undone. For fear.
There can be no Kingdom without a King.
‘On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders…
…Jesus came and stood among them…’ John 20:19
Perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).
Behind their doors locked for fear and their souls scarred with shame, behind their hearts emptied by grief and their hopes shattered by despair, He joins them. There.
They say nothing, until He speaks. They cannot. Shock takes your words, your thoughts, your voice. He speaks first. Like He did in the beginning. He, whose voice they last heard saying ‘It is finished’ (those who’d had the courage to stay) He now begins with… Peace.
‘On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’’ John 20:19
‘Peace be with you’ He says. Peace like a storm calmed, Peace like an ocean stilled. Peace like saying ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10 ). Peace on Earth. This earth. Right now beneath our feet. Peace.
He is God standing in their midst. God standing there with wounds, the scars of His love for us.
‘After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.’ John 20:20
From before all time began He had been journeying to this point. Walking towards the torment of the cross, walking towards it and now through it. On the other side of death He stands, whole, alive. With them. Casting out all their fear.
‘The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.’ John 20:20
Could it be true? Could this be real? Is seeing believing? Scales fall from eyes and veils lift from hearts. Light begins to dawn, hope stretching gold into the sky. They begin to see for the first time. They see who Jesus really is, who He was all along. Not just a worldly Messiah to win their wars, not a religious Messiah to win their arguments, not a political Messiah to rid them of Rome, but here, now He stands: The Son of Man, the Son of David, the Son of God, Elohim Himself in human sandals, YHWH walking in the midst of humankind. Emmanuel… God with us.
He is God. He is here. He is… alive!
Laughter and wonder wash like waves around the room. And now, over the bubbling white-water rivers of the disciple’s joy He speaks ‘peace’ once more.
‘Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! ’ John 20:21
Peace. It doesn’t mean quiet. It doesn’t mean the absence of war or the presence of equilibrium. Biblical peace, ‘shalom’, it means completeness, wholeness, welfare, harmony and tranquility. Everything restored to it’s right place. It means life brimming with fullness and fulfilment, fully filled with the healing, mending, restoring love of God.
When Jesus said that night ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you’ (John 14:27) He knew it was a gift He could not give without the cross.
There was never going to be the possibility of restoration, wholeness and completeness without the cross that breaks the shackles of all our fears and failures, the chains of humankind’s reaching for everything that is not the love of God; reaching for the dark.
It was always going to be this way, this walk, this path, this cross. From before all time began His grace was there waiting for us, because the cross was there waiting for Him. Waiting for the Creator of the Universe to die for the creatures He created. He became our ransom so He could then become our peace (Micah 5:6). The “punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5
The cross isn’t a religious icon, a theological principle or a symbolic gesture. It was personal. It was something that happened to a person. Something that happened to a Human being. That Human being just happened to be God. And that cross just happened to change everything.
Through His death our peace is found, through His suffering our Imago Dei humanity is being restored.
And now God, in Jesus once more (as in the beginning of time) stands before humankind and commissions them into this partnership with Him. But instead of our original Genesis commission to ‘Be fruitful and increase, fill and subdue’ (Genesis 1:28) Jesus says,
‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ John 20:21
From the beginning He had said to each of these disciples, ‘follow me’. And they did. Now He says it in a different form: Go with me…as I was sent, ‘I am sending you’. He has just shown them the wounds we gave Him, like the wounds we still give each other, the scars God now carries because of our existence.
This is now their calling, our calling, the new human calling, the picking up of the cross and walking the long journey in company with Him. The journey of learning to live a ‘given’ life, a life that puts selfishness aside and loves, no matter how much it costs. He had said all this before, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 10:38, Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23). But arms-length metaphors run down a life, like water over a ducks feathers. Now they realise. He meant every word. He lived every word. Dying.
‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And was there a silence when this realisation hit them? Did the gravity of this declaration plant their feet on earth?
And Peter. Standing there among all the rest. Did his gaze waver? Did his eyes wander from Jesus’ face just as they had that night in the storm? Peter had followed. He had followed right out there onto the waves. And he’d followed right into the courtyard of the High Priest. That night.
But that night.
The rooster it had crowed so loud. Dismantling.
Who was he? A fisherman.
End of story.
Peter knew he didn’t have it in him. He didn’t have what it would take.
To be sent. Like Him.
Peter still didn’t understand. Like the rest of us. We human beings have always had it wrong, from the very first day we thought we could exist without Him, self sufficient. Empty. The day we thought we could go it alone, on our own. Thant we had what it would take. The day we reached for the knowledge of darkness alongside light. All our attempts to be fully human without God reduced us down to dust and mud. Ashes to ashes dust to dust. From where we came, we will return… unless.
Unless a seed falls to the ground (John 12:24), unless a heel crushes the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15), unless God Himself provides a lamb (Genesis 22:8), unless a shoot from a stump springs forth (Isaiah 11:1), unless a King rises from the line of David (2 Samuel 12-16), unless God makes a new covenant with humankind (Jeremiah 31:31)…
…Unless God Himself makes all things new (Revelation 21:5).
And now here God stands again with human beings, not in a garden, but behind their locked doors. With us, behind all our brokenness.
And God has always known that we didn’t have what it takes. Without Him.
So God now does once more the thing He did at first (Genesis 2:7). The thing He did in the very beginning. Of us.
Because this is the new beginning. Of us.
We didn’t begin with a loud bang. We didn’t begin with a “Let there be- and it was so”. We didn’t begin with words at all.
We began with mud.
And breath. His Breath.
Spoken words created everything else in all of creation, but with us, God stands silent and reaches down into all our fears, all our disillusionments, all our despair, all our breaking brokenness, all the thousand ways we betray Him and ourselves again and again and again.
And He finds no words to revive us into being. Just His touch. Personal. Just His breath. Close. Once more…
‘And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ John 20:22
There was a silence when we began. The quiet rise and fall of lungs filling with air, the whispered hush of a breath drawn in and a breath exhaled. Like the quiet life of a splitting seed awakening in the earth. Like the one true Kingdom dawning, deep in human hearts.
Breath. It was there at the beginning in the forming of us (Genesis 2:7) and is here now in the restoring of us. This breath of God, it has always been the one thing that made us different from all the animals. The one thing that could save us from ourselves and restore us to ourselves.
His Breath, His Spirit re-oxygenating our consciousness, re-humanising our beating heart. Hearts once beating out of time, now beating in time to His. The drumming, rolling beat of a Kingdom on the move. The anthem of a new world dawning. Breathe! Receive! Revive! Fill your lungs with breath and your heart will live again, beat again, feel again. Wake up and live!
Just breathe. In Him.
And with this breath Jesus stands on the shore of all of humanity’s brokenness, corruption and fear and He turns back the tide, the tide of all our human failings and falling, the tide of all our violence to this earth and on this earth. He breathes on His disciples ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ and they are restored to life: His life. His life that has been through death and come out the other side of it. New.
They are restored. Made new. They now have the opportunity to live. New. To begin to grow in wholeness and completeness, to become fully human once more. A new creation. Not just a renewed creation as it was with Seth, with Noah, with Abraham, with Israel. Not renewed, not patched up, not fixed up, not covered up. But new.
God is making all things new (Revelation 21:5).
‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!‘ 2 Corinthians 5:17
Everything we lost in the first garden, is now restored in Him.
Peter had been right when he finally knew he didn’t have it in him. He didn’t have what it would take. He didn’t have the path straight. Because what it takes for us to wholly be ourselves is Him. We humans will only ever find ourselves fully alive, when we find ourselves fully alive in Him. We will only ever know how loved we are when we find ourselves in His love.
Peter and the Disciples are now empowered by Jesus, by His Spirit dwelling in them, with them, to partner with Him in His new creation project for this world. He had said that He was sending them (verse 21) but He does not send them where He does not also go. With them. In fact, apart from Him, they can achieve nothing. He is now the source of all life and hope, healing and fulfilment. He had said all this before (John 15:4-5) but now He has made it real by His Spirit.
This road that Jesus has been on, He is now calling us to join. The road He has been walking since before all time began. The road of grace. The road of restoration for this whirling world in pain. He is making all things new.
There is now a new covenant between humankind and God. A new partnership building His Kingdom together. It is now not just our vocation we are partnering with Him in, but His. His Breath in us, His Holy Spirit in our hearts empowering us to complete His work with Him. His will being done on earth, as it is in Heaven.
His Kingdom come.
‘And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’’ John 20:22-23
His vocation of forgiveness, His vocation of reconciling the world to God is now our human vocation.
‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.’ 2 Corinthians 5:17-19
New creation is now. Christ’s work brought us back to God, now our work is to continue His. As He was sent, now so are we. Send to be the light in a darkened world. Eternity is now! Breaking in everywhere through the cracks in all our broken hearts. He is restoring us through His breath once more, so we can partner with Him in the restoration of this beautiful broken world.
Night is over. The new day has dawned. There is a Kingdom advancing.
A Kingdom with a King.
‘On the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together…’
Just breathe. In Him.
‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!‘
2 Corinthians 5:17
Jesus’ invitation to new creation life is freely available to everyone who wants it. Everyone who asks Him.
We alone don’t have what it takes. Because what it takes is Him.
Ask. And you will receive… seek Him and He will be there. Right there with you. As He is already.
References, Notes and Credits
All Biblical quotations are from the NIV Bible UK version (NIVUK) unless otherwise stated. Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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