“Afraid Yet Filled with Joy!”
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday ~ April 19, 2020)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
You probably don’t disagree with me when I say that Easter was different this year. For many of us, it was less hectic; less travel; less cooking; and less commercial. Yes, we did miss, for sure, our family gatherings, our big Church services, and our usual Easter activities. Yet, nothing can take away the joy of the Risen Christ.
A friend of mine sent me an email this week that made me laugh from the bottom of my heart. In his email, he attached a drawing of the tomb of Jesus in the background, and Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John standing just outside of the tomb on Easter morning with the caption: “He’s not in there! Oh, wait – He has changed His status to “Risen!”
I believe the resurrection of Christ is indeed “a change of status.” It’s a change in our own status too. It’s a constant change; a never-ending change as we experience every single day the life of the Risen Lord. No wonder that the good news of Christ’s resurrection had such a great impact on the lives of Christ’s early disciples, and it should have as much influence on our lives today. The resurrection of Christ was and will always be a turning point for Christ’s followers.
I truly believe that Easter this year carried a special significance to the Church around the world. It speaks to our circumstances today and address them like no other. For one reason, our circumstances today are similar to those of the early followers of Jesus. They were fearful back then as much as we are today. They were locked in their homes as we are. They desperately needed a message of hope as much as we do today. And it happened. On Easter Sunday, Jesus is raised from the dead and the scene shifts.
So as we hit the second half of John chapter 20, we get to the evening of the First Easter Sunday. That morning Jesus had appeared to Mary Magdalene as John tells us in John 20:1-18. But now Jesus appears to all the disciples (the eleven apostles) at once.
John 20:19 states, “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Notice three important things here: the doors are locked; the disciples are frightened; and Jesus comes to them and stands in their midst.
Those three facts John gives us in chapter 20 tell us three things we can know about how the risen Christ deals with us today.
First: We Can Experience God’s Presence Amidst Uncertainty
John 20:19 states, “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them.” Yes, we can experience Christ’s very presence in the midst of our uncertain times. The disciples did and we can do today.
Second: We Can Experience God’s Truth Amidst Doubt
“After He said this,” John 20:20 says, “He ‘Jesus’ showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” Too often we use our doubts as a barrier while God wants to use our doubts as a bridge. Allow your doubt about God, to begin a discussion with God.
Third: We Can Experience God’s Peace Amidst Chaos
John 20:21-23 says, “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ 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.’” We can experience God’s peace amidst chaos.
The disciples are terrified. They are hiding. They are confused and exhausted. It is into this context that the Risen Christ appears to the disciples.
Did you notice the first thing Jesus say to the disciples? Jesus didn’t say, “Where were you?’ or “Why did you abandon me?” No. He graciously says, “peace be with you.” Then John gives us what I think one of the profound statements in scripture, he writes: “Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” Of course there is absolute delight in seeing Jesus risen from the dead but I think the rejoicing happens partly because in saying “peace be with you” Jesus is saying “I forgive you, you thought you were no longer my friends but you are still my friends. You’re forgiven. Our fellowship is restored.”
Then Jesus does something else; something that is really astonishing. John 20:22 tells us that “Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Jesus breathes on His disciples. This is a scene that takes us back to Genesis chapter two when God created the first man, Adam. Do you remember how does God bring Adam to life when He is created from clay? He breathes on him. We read these words in Genesis 2:7, “Then the Lord God formed a man[ from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
Only the Creator God can give life to something that is dead. The disciples in that locked room are dead and lifeless, and they are being given a new Spirit. Jesus breathes on them and says, “receive the Holy Spirit.” Christ gave new life to His disciples.
As I said earlier, Easter was different this year. It was less commercial and less materialistic. I feel that God is calling us back to the true meaning of Easter. We may be still locked in our homes, but filled with joy because we have seen the Lord. Yes, amidst our uncertain times, we can experience the presence of the Lord. Amidst our doubts, we can experience the faithfulness of God’s promises. Amidst chaos, the peace of Christ is offered to us. Hallelujah. Amen!
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