The night was cold and dark as ten frightened men huddled together in a dimly lit room. John slammed the heavy wooden door and threw the long iron bolt noisily into its socket. It is 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.” The disciples are gathered in the house, the doors are locked.
Can you imagine what that must have been like? I mean here they were still reeling from the cruelty and violence they had witnessed just three short days before when their Lord and Master was arrested, and beaten, and tortured, and nailed to a Roman cross to suffer an agonizing death. They are still concerned that if they are found and identified they might be next to face a similar fate. And now on top of that they are uncertain and confused about reports of the empty tomb and of Christ’s resurrection that the women had brought to them earlier that morning.
How would you feel? Do you think there would be a flash of fear floating through your veins? Do you think a dollop of doubt would make its way into your mind? Do you think that the specter of death might loom large in that room?
The disciples of Jesus were locked in a room on that first Easter evening as we hear the story from John’s gospel. But something amazing happened. Into this dark room of fear, doubt, and despair that the risen Christ came. Though the door was locked, in his newly resurrected and glorified body that was no longer subject to time or space, Jesus appeared and unlocked the doors that the disciples were hiding behind. And this morning we want to take a look at 3 of those doors that the risen Christ unlocked, not just for the disciples, but that he can also unlock for you and me.
First of all Jesus Unlocked the Door by removing fear.
There are people who pay money to get scared silly on wild rides at an amusement park. There are people who pay money for parachute lessons and then jump out of an airplane. More power to ’em. But usually fear is not something we sign up for. Fear either jumps up quickly or sneaks up slowly. Either way it causes great stress and distress.
Fear caused by outside evil or by inside evil is not what we typically want. But it happens. It’s real. It’s there. I don’t know about you. Maybe I’m just foolish or naïve, but I don’t sense a lot of fear from external factors. I lock my truck. I protect my passwords. Lock the house. I avoid dark alleys at night. I trust that homeland security, law enforcement agencies, and the military will prevent bad guys from bashing down the church doors. The real source of fear for me comes from inside. How could I do such stupid things and say such hurtful things when I know better? How can I face God and God’s people? The fear caused by guilt is awful. It’s a ball and chain. It’s like being locked in a room, and the door has no knob and no key hole.
That’s what the disciples must have felt like on Easter evening and a week later when hiding behind locked doors in a house in Jerusalem. On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews … Fear. They had heard reports of Jesus’ resurrection from the women who went to the tomb, from Peter to whom Jesus had appeared privately, from two other followers who had been walking to a village called Emmaus. While all of that was exciting and mind boggling, they still had to reckon with two sources of fear, one from outside the doors of that room and the other from inside the doors of their hearts.
Externally they were worried that the religious leaders would get Roman storm-troopers to bash down the doors and do to them what they did to Jesus. Internally they bore all kinds of guilt for not believing, not understanding, not supporting Jesus in his dying days.
But all of a sudden with the doors locked … Jesus came and stood among them, and everything changed. Jesus came with the Easter miracle and Easter message. He said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hand and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you!”
Peace is more than an absence of loud noises. It’s much more than that. It’s the assurance of a “not-guilty” verdict in God’s courtroom. It’s the message of love so amazing that it drives out fear. It’s the calming and soothing reassurance that, “Yes, you’ve goofed it all up by your sin, but God no longer counts your sin against you.”
After they beheld the risen Christ, these disciples were emboldened to step out of their comfort zones, to come out from behind locked doors and to fearlessly and courageously proclaim the Gospel to a lost and dying world, even under the most adverse of circumstances. In fact, virtually every one of them would end up laying their lives on the line for Jesus in some way or another, something I’m sure they would have never dreamed of doing before the risen Christ appeared to them and dispelled all their fears.
That peace, which Jesus won for the disciples outside the doors of that room, he now miraculously brought inside that room by his divine power to appear there without needing a key to get in. That peace, which Jesus won for the disciples outside the doors of their hearts, he brought inside their hearts by the divine power of his word. He himself is the key.
That peace Jesus brings into your heart and mine. He does not need a key to open the door of our heart and drive out fear. He is the key with the power to win peace with God for us outside of our hearts on that hill called Calvary and with the power to open our hearts and remove fear.
So let me ask you: What fears do you have right now, my friends? Whatever they might be, Jesus has the answer for them. Are you afraid of death? If so, then listen to Jesus as he says, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” Are you afraid of being alone? If so, listen to Jesus as he says, “Surely, I am with you always, even to the ends of the earth.” Are you afraid of the future? If so, then listen to Jesus as he says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Are you afraid of lacking the necessary provisions of life? If so, then listen to Jesus as he says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these other things will be added unto you.”
And Jesus didn’t just unlock the doors of the disciples’ hearts. He propelled them out the doors of that room to tell others so they, too, can be released from the grip of fear. Jesus gave his disciples keys to unlock the doors of the hearts of others. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
And today by the power of the Holy Spirit those keys are in your hands and mine. Jesus removes fear from our hearts and unlocks those church doors so we go without fear to friends and acquaintances to tell them what they need to hear most.
Secondly Jesus unlocked the door by removing doubt.
It may have come in a high school physics class. It may have jumped off the pages of a biology text. It may have popped into your mind after a conversation with a roommate or friend … doubt. Did it really happen? I’m not talking about landing on the moon in July of 1969 or a reported media stunt by a celebrity craving attention. I’m talking about the resurrection of Jesus. Even faithful Christians can have doubts pop into their minds, “Is it really true?”
And if we have doubts about his resurrection, then other questions can come up. What about his other miracles? Then, what about the other truths of the Scripture or the promises of God? Doubt is disturbing. It’s like being locked in a room with the floor shaking, making you feel unsettled and uncertain, and the door has no knob and no key hole.
That’s what Thomas must have felt like. He had heard the reports. When the other disciples told him that they had seen the Lord, he declared, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it”. Doubt. How can it all be true?
But all of a sudden, though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
The next thing the Bible writer tells us is that Jesus turned to speak to Thomas. If you did not know this Bible account and had never heard it before, what would you expect Jesus to say? “Thomas! Oh, you of little faith! If I told you once, I told you a dozen times. I came to Jerusalem to die for sinners and to rise again to prove it’s true. I did that. It’s true. It’s real. How much wax did you have in your ears? How many miracles did I perform with you standing right there? You know that none of those were sleight of hand tricks. How does a lame man, whom everyone knows was crippled from birth, get up and walk? How does a leper, whose skin disease everyone knows is incurable, get a clean bill of health? How did Lazarus, whose flesh had already begun to decompose and stink after four days in a tomb, come walking out smiling and smelling like a rose? Thomas, I did not need a key to get out of my tomb, I did not need a key to get into this room, and I don’t need a key to get into your heart to remove doubt.”
But Jesus didn’t say that. Instead, he just showed Thomas his hands and feet and said, “Stop doubting and believe.” I’m real. I’m alive. My payment for your sins is real. Because of what I did God loves you and always will.”
Then Jesus, still standing in that room, worked another miracle. He peered across the centuries and he peers into your heart and mine, sees us locked up and shaking with our doubts and says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. Jesus does not need a key to open the door of our heart and drive doubt out. He is the key with divine power to pay a price big enough for all our sins, with divine power to come back to life from the dead, and with the divine power to drive doubt from our hearts.
His miracles are verifiable on the pages of Scripture, miracles seen and attested not by a few but by thousands, and the Scriptures, cover to cover, are verifiably true – so true that both internal and external evidence and especially the power of the Bible’s message on our hearts give us the certainty to ward off any goofy notions about Jesus, give us solid ground to stand on, and unlock the door of our hearts, removing doubt.
Finally Jesus unlocked the door by removing death.
We go to funerals to comfort those who have lost a loved one. We go out of care and concern, out of love and loyalty, expressing fellowship and friendship. But it’s hard. We don’t like to see other people hurting because of loss, and we don’t necessarily like the reminder of our own death. Death seems so final. It’s the end of our life on earth. Death seems so confining, especially if you have ever witnessed a casket being closed, then lowered into a hole in the ground, sealed with a cement slab on top and six feet of dirt.
The disciples of Jesus knew he was buried, not six feet under, but laid in a cave and sealed in there by a huge stone. His death seemed so final, so confining.
But all of a sudden, though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” His resurrection from the dead made all the difference in the world. Jesus did not need a key to get out of his tomb. He did not need a key to get into that room. And he did not need a key to remove death from the list of experiences the disciples would have to go through. Oh yes! They would die physically, but not eternally. That’s what he told Lazarus’ sisters even before he called Lazarus out of his tomb, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though the dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26).
And that’s what he tells us. The apostle John was there in that room on Easter evening when Jesus removed fear from the disciples’ hearts. He was there again a week later when Jesus removed doubt from Thomas’ heart. He personally saw and touched and talked to the living Lord Jesus. That’s why he adds a special ending to this chapter just for us. “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
So Jesus holds the key, doesn’t he? Or maybe it would be more appropriate to say that Jesus is the key, the key that can unlock the door removing fear and replacing it with peace; the key that can unlock the door removing doubt and replacing it with faith; and the key that can unlock the door removing death and replacing it with the life; abundant life, eternal life.
After this encounter with the risen Christ these disciples were never the same. I wonder, one week after Easter, is your life any different? Where are you living? In the freedom and joy of resurrection or behind locked doors. How is your life different after Easter? And if it isn’t what are the locked doors of your life, your heart, your mind? Did the story of our Lord's resurrection change your life in any way? Or do you simply go about our business, content to leave Easter where we had found it - inside the church where we had worshipped?
May I challenge you on this Sunday following the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection to take hold of this key – this living key, this living Savior - and cling to Him ever-so-tightly and ever-so-tenaciously understanding that He is the one and only key that unlocks the doors of fear, the doors of doubt, and will one day unlock the most important door of all for you, the door to eternal life with him in the glory of his heavenly kingdom.
Easter changes people’s lives. Easter unlocks the doors!