Updated: Apr 23, 2020
by Samantha Shrauner
There are people that I have spent years praying for.
I’ve earnestly gone before God and begged him to save them. In some seasons, my faith is strong and I have brought them before God daily. In other seasons, I can barely muster the energy. What difference will it make? Does God hear, or even care?
Our circumstances may be different, but every one of us will come up against something that tempts us to wonder if God is present and active in our lives. We have seasons of doubt when we wonder if our faith means anything at all. Tragedy or sorrow tear into our lives and bring us to the end of our strength. We read the news and we’re tempted to despair when we see the depth of depravity in the world. When life knocks the breath out of our souls, where can we go?
The resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday cuts through the darkness of our lives with pure and brilliant light. In every storm that knocks us about and every desert that leaves us dry and empty, the resurrection stands as the centre of our hope and the rock on which we stand.
By looking back at the resurrection, we can trust that God is faithful in every circumstance of life.
In John 20:19-21, ten disciples encounter the risen Christ for the first time. In the space of three verses, their lives change dramatically. Whether you’ve known Jesus for decades or this is your first encounter with him, the risen Christ offers peace, certainty, joy, and purpose. Focusing on this passage, we’ll see how the resurrection offers an anchor in the midst of our turbulent lives.
Fear Turns to Peace
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” John 20:19
The disciples have experienced three devastating days. On Thursday night they were there when Jesus was arrested. On Friday morning his death sentence was announced. By Friday afternoon he was dead, having suffered a cruel and humiliating execution. On Sunday morning the tomb was empty, but this fact was not enough to overcome the weight of what had come before. The disciples were afraid.
In the lowest moment of their lives, Jesus comes to them. He does not chastise their lack of faith or criticise their fear. Instead, he offers them his peace. They do not need to muster faith inside themselves and overcome the terror they have experienced. They need to see the risen Jesus and draw near to him as he gives them his peace.
There will be times when fear overcomes us and we are filled with panic. When those times come, our fear is not enough to lock out the risen Lord. In this verse we see that Jesus comes to those who are fearful and extends peace to them. This is the Christ in whom we place our trust, and in times of fear we, like the disciples, can go to him and spend time in his presence. In a fallen world with fallen hearts, a feeling of peace may elude us. There are sweet times when fears are tangibly lifted and we are filled with supernatural peace, and there are difficult days when our fears remain after heartfelt and pleading prayers.
When we cannot feel the peace of Christ, we can still put our trust in the Lord who defeated death to make us whole, and we can look forward to a day when fear is fully defeated.
When fear overwhelms you, anchor your soul in the risen Christ.
From Doubt to Certainty
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. John 20:20a
What the empty tomb alluded to, Jesus now demonstrates explicitly: he has actually risen from the dead. By showing the disciples the wounds in his hands and his side, he provides tangible evidence that he really did die. Without his death on the cross, there could be no resurrection from the dead.
Jesus appears alive to his disciples bearing the marks of his execution so that they would know with certainty that he has defeated death.
Can we, so far away in time, have the same certainty that the disciples enjoyed? How can we be sure when we cannot see Jesus alive and in person? For those of us who have not seen evidence of the resurrection personally, certainty comes from the credibility of eyewitness testimony. While writing about Jesus’ death, John pauses from the narrative to add this note: “He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe” (John 19:35). John wants his readers to know that he is writing about things that he personally witnessed. Our knowledge of the resurrection hasn’t come through the grapevine travelling from person to person with details lost and embellishments added. Our knowledge of the resurrection comes from disciples turned apostles who stood in a room with Jesus and saw his hands and his side.
In moments when doubts creep in and your faith feels shaky, remember the evening when men who doubted turned into men who knew with certainty that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The resurrection is a historical fact that we can trust with the same certainty, because we have the testimony of those who saw and experienced the events themselves. When doubts raise questions that threaten to undo what you believe, turn to the facts of history and anchor your soul in the risen Christ.
From Grief to Joy
Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. John 20:20b
The state of our hearts profoundly affects our physical wellbeing. Grief robs us of physical strength, while deep joy has a heartening effect that increases our courage and our strength. At the end of The Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character Christian despairs as he faces death. His companion Hopeful twice gives him reasons that he need not despair, and both times encourages him with the words “be of good cheer.” (1) It seems that what Christian needs most is courage or strength, but the author John Bunyan shows that a glad heart is a strong heart.
True joy brings with it both courage and strength.
The disciples have known profound grief, and now in the physical presence of Jesus they know true joy. This is not a joy that depends on circumstance or the ups and downs of life. This joy is solid and secure forever because of what Jesus has accomplished in his death and resurrection. In the upper room on Thursday night Jesus had said to his disciples, “you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). In the years to come these disciples will know hardship, persecution, and suffering for their testimony about Jesus. Through it all, Jesus’ promise endures: no one will take your joy from you. The disciples will share their faith with courage because of the joy that they have known. They are glad in the presence of the risen Jesus, and their joy gives them strength for the days to come.
When the sorrows of the world weigh you down, think of the resurrection. Jesus was dead and buried, and then he rose again to life. The grief of Friday has given way to profound and lasting Easter joy. Instead of a funeral, we have a wedding feast to look forward to. Perhaps these weeks of isolation have robbed you of joy and strength. There is much to lament, but the joy of Easter remains. When grief is heavy and your strength is gone, remember the joy of the resurrection and anchor your soul in the risen Christ.
Forward with Purpose
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” John 20:21
Having strengthened the disciples with peace, certainty, and joy, Jesus sends them forward with purpose. This is the same purpose that Jesus came to the world: to rescue fallen humanity from the devastation of sin and death. Jesus testified about himself, made the final payment for sin through his death, and rose again to life. Now the disciples will go out and testify about what they have seen. On the face of it, going out to tell stories may seem like an insignificant mission. Acts 26:18 gives an insight into the deeper reality of what it means to share the gospel. The Apostle Paul is speaking before a king, and he describes his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Jesus sends Paul to preach to the Gentiles, “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” The testimony of the apostles is a message with profound spiritual implications. God will use their witness to save sinners from death and invite them into abundant life.
The work of Christ is finished and forever sufficient; now the work of the disciples will begin: to go and share what they have seen.
In every generation the church is called to carry on the mission of the disciples. We testify about Jesus Christ and his saving work, pointing back to the witness of the disciples recorded in the New Testament. At the centre of our faith stands the resurrection and its promise that we will have the same victory over death. There are days when the story feels stale and we wonder if it makes a difference to tell people one more time about what Jesus has done. We can rush through the memorised words to tick a box when we lead Sunday school or study the Bible together. When the gospel loses its grip on our hearts, remember the power and the love that God demonstrated through the resurrection. Anchor your soul in the risen Christ, and pray that God would stir your heart again for the mission that he has set for his people.
The resurrection changes everything. When ten disciples encountered Christ raised from the dead, Jesus offered them his peace in place of their fear. Jesus gave them certainty in place of doubt and joy in place of grief. Jesus sent them to share his victory with the world. You and I can meet and know the same Saviour. He is trustworthy and steady and true in every circumstance of life. When peace is fleeting, doubts are growing, joy is failing and purpose is ebbing, cast your mind on the resurrection and anchor your soul in the risen Christ.
(1) John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, (Philadelphia: J.W. Bradley, 1859), 318-320. Accessed on Google Books.