19 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.’ 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
In the early 1930s, when the threat of war in Europe increased, Otto Frank and his family tried to emigrate to England or the USA from Netherlands, but these attempts failed.
On May 10th, 1940, German troops invaded Netherlands, and five days later Netherlands surrendered. Soon after Nazi occupied the country, Anti-Jewish regulations followed. Jews were allowed into fewer and fewer places. Otto’s two daughters, Anne and Margot had to attend a Jewish school and he and other Jewish businessmen lost their businesses.
When another attempt to emigrate to the USA failed, Otto and Edith, his wife, and two daughters decided to go into hiding. Otto sets up a hiding place in the rear annex of his firm. In November 1942, Hermann van Pels and his family joined the hiding place. For more than two years, eight Jews lived in the secret annex.
In hiding, they had to keep very quiet, were often frightened and passed the time together as well as they could. It’s well known that they were helped by the office workers, Johannes Kleiman, Victor Kugler, Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl. These helpers not only arrange for delivery of food, clothes and books, they were the group’s contact with the outside world.
Shortly before going into hiding, Anne Frank received a diary for her birthday. She started writing straightway and during her time in hiding, she wrote about events in the secret annex and about herself.
From her diary, this quote is my favorite.
“Look at how a singly candle can both defy and define the darkness.”
As we prayed for victims of Holocaust and peace in the world, once again, I hope to remember them by reading Anne’s words in her diary.
II. The door locked by our fear, anxiety, disbelief or despair.
Here is another famous hiding story that was written in the Bible about the Lord’s beloved disciples.
After Jesus’ crucifixion, hiding behind locked doors would be the only thing the disciples of Jesus could do. As you can imagine, they were shameful, anxious and fearful. According to John 20:19, “the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.” There was no hope for them who followed the crucified Jesus.
It was Easter evening, the first day of the week, the day of the resurrection, the day they saw the empty tomb, the day Mary Magdalene announced, “I have seen the Lord.” But the disciples were gathered in the house, the doors locked with fear.
Jesus’ tomb was open and empty but the disciples’ house was filled with panic-stricken people and the doors locked tight. The disciples severed themselves and their lives from the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. Their doors of faith had been closed. They had locked out Mary Magdalene’s words of faith, hope, and love. They left the empty tomb of Jesus and entered their own tombs of fear, doubt, and weakness.
Now, this story asks us, “What is the closed place of our life?”, “What keeps us in the tomb?”, and “How long have we been in that tomb without hope and faith?”
Maybe, like the disciples, it is fear. Maybe it is an unexpected accident, disbelief, or the conditions we place on our faith. Maybe it is an inexpressible stress about parental life, married life or school life; or sometimes people press you with their own expectations or some complain; or sometimes depression due to the unaccountable works pushes you to lock your door. It seems to go on forever or takes too long to get out from it.
“Sometimes I think we have more faith in our fears than we do in God, in the Risen Christ. Have you ever been locked in by your fears?”
III. The risen Christ comes through the door locked by our fear to give us peace.
But the risen Christ appeared among the people who hid themselves in the house. John 20:21 reads, “Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you!’” to the people who locked the door to hide.
Jesus’ greeting, “Shalom; Peace be with you,” is a conventional greeting, but it has an additional function in this scene. The gift of this peace to the disciples, who have locked themselves away for fear of the Jews, is explicit evidence that Jesus is risen indeed, and the risen Christ brought the peace among them.
It is a different peace. No one could say, “peace be with you”, and no one could give them joy at that moment of great fear. It was the peace of the risen Christ who overcame death. Only the Risen Christ could say, “Peace be with you” in this story of the locked door from fear.
I remembered my very first week in the US in July 2008. There were neither family nor friends in Chicago. I had a friend studying in Harvard Divinity School then, but it’s too far to meet him, since neither of us had a car.
I stayed at the three-bedroom apartment alone for a week waiting any news from the outside. It’s my first emotional experience in the US. It’s anxiety, loneliness and fear.
I couldn’t open my e-mail account for a week, so I wasn’t aware that there was a community dinner for the international students every night before the semester would start in September. At the community dinner, I could meet the people and make friends. After a week, fortunately, one of the roommates from India finally arrived at the apartment, and the next week, the third roommate, a Jewish-Christian from New York, moved in. I couldn’t forget his first greeting to me when he opened the door. He said, “Shalom, my friend.”
It was such a simple message but so had a comforting spirit in it.
Regardless of the circumstances Jesus shows up bringing peace, offering peace, embodying peace. Regardless of the circumstances Jesus shows up bringing life, offering life, embodying life. Life and peace are resurrection reality. Indeed, the life and peace (peace and life) of the risen Christ enables us to break through those circumstances.
He said to those who had hid themselves beyond the door locked with fear, “Shalom.”
IV. The risen Christ sends us into the world with the Holy Spirit.
In verse 21 Jesus repeats the greeting, “Peace be with you,” and commissions his disciples into the world. He breathes the Holy Spirit onto them in verse 22, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” With the Spirit’s authority, the disciples are empowered to forgive sins to continue Jesus’ sacrificial ministry in and for the world. This means the power of God’s gracious love will continue to overcome the powers of sin and death and bring new life.
The verb, “to breathe” is emphysao in Greek which occurs only here in the New Testament, and its usage clearly evokes the description of God’s breathing the breath of life into the first human in Genesis 2:7. Jesus’ breathing the Holy Spirit on his disciples can be described as the second creation for the continuing work of God in the world.
And, these words are a direct echo of his commissioning proclamation at John 14:26-27.
“26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
The risen Christ reminds his people he would give the Holy Spirit so that they could be witnesses of the resurrection and evangelists for this good news that Jesus was risen indeed. His promise was fulfilled in his resurrection.
But this commissioning was proclaimed when the people were in great fear. The risen Christ commissions the people who hid themselves beyond the locked door because of their fear of Romans and other Jews, and because they thought they would be persecuted or killed. I believe this verse tells us about our weakness and the risen Christ’s power.
I remember Paul who confessed in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, “‘my grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
When the disciples were at the house and locked the door because of their fear, they could not think about their commissioning, or to speak of peace. But the risen Christ empowered them and sent them into the world.
This is the power of the risen Christ. The risen Christ has remained with us to continue the work of God with those who know their weakness and God’s power to bring the peace. When we know our weakness, we can totally depend on God’s power. When we meet the risen Christ, the fear will be gone and we can be sent into the world like these disciples who had hid beyond the locked door with fear. The risen Christ gives us his peace, his breath, his life, and then sends us out even when we are weak or in fear.
We are free to unlock the doors of our lives and step outside into His life. His grace is overflowing.
As those who have been called by God for God’s mission for the world, we have to meet the risen Christ who gives us the peace the world cannot provide; we have to meet the risen Christ to be sent into the world; and we have to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to continue the works of God. And we have to meet the risen Christ to bring the good news that Jesus Christ is risen indeed to those who still doubt the peace, life, love, power, and hope in the risen Christ.
We would sometimes work with our fear, weakness and wounds, and sometimes we try to imprison ourselves beyond the locked door. That should not be the end or destination of our life. Rather, that will be a sign that we have to wait for the risen Christ’s appearance in our life, and that will be a chance to meet the risen Christ for our recovering in his peace.
Friends in Zion, I hope you to remember the passage saying, “ ... 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.”"
I pay for our life and mission that comes from the risen Christ’s peace, empowering and commissioning, so we can help the world to discover the Risen Christ and experience the new life in Him again. Amen.