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Locked in a Room With Open Walls 
By Dr. Todd B. Jones
05/15/11

FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, NASHVILLE
DR. TODD B. JONES
MAY 15, 2011

Locked in a Room with Open Walls
Psalm 16
John 20:19-31


A few months ago my mother-in-law showed up in my study between the services, and I could tell from the look in her eyes that all was not well. "Connie," she said, "I've locked my keys in the car with Tally in the back!" (Tally is her Australian shepherd.) We all do things that just annoy the fire out of us, and for my mother-in-law that morning, this was one of those things! As we talked we learned that she had left the sun roof open on this sunny day so Tally would have plenty of air. That is all Connie needed to hear! As soon as worship was over, the two of them went out to the parking lot, and wearing high heels and a skirt, Connie climbed up on the hood of the car, scaled the windshield and dropped through the sunroof to unlock the door and retrieve the keys. I have smiled ever since at the sight of the Pastor's wife upside down in the car with her legs sticking up in the air out of the sunroof of the car! (She has since corrected me that she entered feet first, but why let the facts get in the way of a good story?) We were locked out of a car with an open sunroof.

That is quite different from the disciples the evening of the first Easter. We are told by John that the disciples were gathered in a house behind locked doors; doors they intentionally locked because of fear of their own people. They must have been not just frightened, but defeated and despondent as well behind those locked doors. It was the end of a horrible week in which they saw their leader, Jesus, the One they had hoped would be their Messiah, horribly tortured to death on a cross. All of them had forsaken Jesus and fled when the Roman soldiers took Him away. One of their number had betrayed Jesus for money, and now Judas was gone as well. Suicide. There must have been a lot of blaming going on in that room, and a whole lot of bitterness to add to the fear that filled the room. Imagine how Peter felt after all his grand declarations of loyalty and courage, and then his three-time denial. With a sense of failure everywhere, they locked themselves inside this house.

And suddenly, without warning, something amazing happened. John does not tell us how, maybe because he did not know. To this fearful, defeated, blaming band of failures, the Risen Christ appeared. Jesus came through their locked doors and rejoined the very friends who had forsaken Him.

Jesus stood among them, showed them His hands and side, so they presumably would know who was before them. And Jesus said not once, but twice, "Peace be with you." He will say the same words in another eight days to Thomas when finally they meet face-to-face. "Peace be with you." Whenever and wherever Jesus comes, He comes bringing peace to our anxiety and fear. Paul knew this. To the Ephesians he could write, "For He himself is our peace."

On this night, with the disciples having deserted Jesus, leaving Him to suffer a terrible death, you might expect someone else to come saying something very different: "Where were you? What kind of friends are you? All I did for you and look what you did when I needed support!" But not Jesus. Jesus comes and brings peace. Always. It is what He had promised in John's Gospel earlier: "Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give unto you. Not as the world gives do I give unto you. Let not your hearts be troubled; neither let them be afraid."

I am reading a wonderful book right now called, The Greatest Game Ever Pitched. It tells of the July 2, 1963 game between the San Francisco Giants and the Milwaukee Braves. The game lasted sixteen innings, and the same two Hall of Fame pitchers threw for the entire game. One was 42-year-old Warren Spahn. The other was 25-year-old Juan Marichal. Both were masters of their art; both very fine men. Years later, Marichal, who grew up in poverty in the Dominican Republic, was asked his philosophy of pitching. "Relaxation and confidence," he said. "When you relax, you can do better. If you're tense, you can't work with your body. When you have confidence, you can relax." Marichal to this day is a believer, a devout Christian. "Relaxation and confidence." Is this another way of saying, "Peace"? "A peaceable person does more good than a learned one," said Thomas á Kempis. That is why they never called Jesus the smartest person who ever lived. Instead, they called Him the Prince of Peace. Seek Jesus' presence early and often. He is our peace. And may "the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the love and knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord."

Secondly, note that Jesus the Risen One enters this locked house and brings not only peace, but forgiveness. "Receive the Holy Spirit." Jesus said, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

Note that the resurrected Christ returns first and foremost to the ones who had disappointed, forsaken and betrayed Him. Built right into the Gospel, from the very beginning, is forgiveness. They had all failed Jesus, just as we have all failed Him time and again. And to them, as well as to us, Jesus always comes forgiving, and never ceases to offer this gift that is most central and most crucial to the Gospel.

Remember when Jesus was in Capernaum, at the house with tiles on the roof, and four friends want to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus? Only the house is full and they cannot get their friend in through any door. So they climb the roof, hoisting their friend on his mat, lift off the tiles, and lower him through the roof to Jesus. Remember Jesus' first word to the paralytic? Not, "Rise, take up your pallet and walk." Jesus says that eventually to the man. But Jesus' first word is this, "Your sins are forgiven." This is Jesus' most treasured and abiding gift. It is why Jesus suffered and bled on the cross. The Good News of Easter is not just the news that death cannot hold Jesus, but also that Jesus returns to His betrayers and forgives them. This is the freedom of the Gospel! We need not be trapped by our failures. Indeed, I have learned that Jesus comes to us at the point of our worst failures and at that very point speaks the word that forgives. "The glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness," said William Blake.

Of course, receiving forgiveness calls us to offer that same mercy. Remember our Lord's Prayer? "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." The Church at its best is a forgiving community, a community of grace. I always recall, and seek never to forget, Jesus' word from the cross: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Peace and forgiveness. These are gifts Jesus always gives, ones Jesus' people can always claim. Do you need a word of peace today, or one of forgiveness?

Best of all, though, Jesus comes through the walls of this locked house to breath on His disciples. "He breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" This is Pentecost for John. Jesus breathes on His people just as God the Creator breathed the world into being at creation's dawn.

And as Jesus breathes upon His frightened, discouraged followers, He sends them out in faith. He gives them purpose. He calls them to mission and ministry. "As the Father has sent me, so do I send you." This is the call of Jesus to all who would be His disciples. We are the extension of Jesus' ministry on earth.

Jesus gives us what we need to be His disciples. He gives us peace. "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. Not as the world gives, do I give unto you." Jesus offers forgiveness. "Father, forgive them," He said, "for they know not what they do." "Your sins are forgiven." And Jesus offers to us a reason to live. "As the Father has sent me, so do I send you."

Breathe on me, Breath of God;
Fill me with life anew
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.

AMEN.
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