Everyone has difficult times in their lives, whether it is grief, economic difficulties or health problems. Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought tremendous shocks to all areas, including Indonesia. The economy slumped, health was threatened, social interaction was limited and countless lives were lost. We see businesses going bankrupt, hospitals overwhelmed with patients, increasing unemployment and other bad effects. But what tortures us the most psychologically is that COVID-19 can threaten us anywhere and anytime, and we don’t know how long this pandemic will last. Worry, anxiety and loss of our sense of security make us lose calm and peace. In order for us to live our lives well, we need something that can sustain our lives better
Brothers and sisters, our reading today in John 20 describes how the disciples also experienced great shocks in their lives. They experienced two big challenges. They lost Jesus, their leader and teacher. This Jesus, who was their mainstay, died helplessly on the cross like a big-time criminal. Secondly, the disciples were under political pressure and threats. They were fearful that the Jewish leaders who had arrested and killed Jesus would find them. These are the reasons why they held meetings in houses with tightly locked doors. But in the midst of great fear and anxiety, we find there are several important messages from this text as valuable lessons for us today.
1. Jesus wants us to have peace
The Lord Jesus understood that the greatest human need is for a sense of calm or peace, even though in this world it is very difficult to find true security or peace. We are often deceived by a false sense of calm offered by the world, that if you are beautiful or handsome, rich, famous and have abundant assets, then you will have inner peace. However, the facts on the ground present a different reality. We often see actors, actresses, public figures, politicians, businessmen and those who are established and comfortable by the world’s standards, involved with various addictions, such as sleeping pills, sedatives, alcohol and narcotics. It seems people with abundant wealth, exorbitant popularity and amazing achievements are not happy. Some even end their lives in tragic ways. The reason is because they don’t have true peace.
The source of true calm and peace is not from this world, because this world is cursed (Genesis 3:17) and the pursuit of this world will lead to nothingness. The Bible says clearly that the world and everything in it is moving toward destruction. True peace will occur when the human experiences an encounter with the true God, and sins are forgiven.
Because Jesus knows human needs, the first greeting given to the fearful disciples is “Peace be with you” (vs 21). Sisters and brothers, Jesus longs that in the midst of the chaos of this world, God’s peace will keep and guard our hearts and minds. For it is only this peace that does not come from the earth that can permanently reside in our hearts. God’s peace cannot be stolen or taken by anyone, nor can it be influenced by situations or conditions. Only the Lord Jesus can give true peace. Only the Lord Jesus can pacify our souls in the midst of various storms and chaos in our lives.
Are you willing to accept this peace from Jesus?
2. Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit
The next message that also gives us joy is that Jesus gave his Spirit to his disciples. We read in John 20:22, about how Jesus met his disciples and breathed on them with his Holy Spirit. This is the fulfillment of what he had promised in John 14:16-17, 16:7-14, promises about the Spirit of God who provides comfort, who strengthens and who empowers the disciples.
When the disciples had not yet received the Holy Spirit, they experienced fear and anxiety, giving up easily. The Bible tells how they scattered when Jesus was arrested, then many gave up and returned to their old lives and professions.
Why did the disciples give up so easily? The answer is because the disciples had not yet received the Holy Spirit. That is why when Jesus met them, Jesus gave his Spirit to strengthen and sustain them.
For our brothers and sisters who work as health workers, these years have been tough, dealing directly with COVID 19. Even developed countries with high quality medical services and equipment have been overwhelmed by these challenges. We have heard testimonies from many of God’s children who almost gave up and were desperate while facing this difficulty, but when they turn to God, truly the Spirit of God provides strength and support. (Isaiah 40:31).
We often experience difficulties in our lives, such as illness that is impossible to cure, or a business experiencing decline, losing a loved one and other problems. There are many things that make us want to give up or despair, but by asking God we will get new strength from God’s Spirit. The Spirit of God not only accompanies us, but also enables us to keep walking and even running in fulfilling God’s call in our lives.
Are you willing to receive the Holy Spirit?
3. Jesus wants us to be his witnesses
The next message from the Lord Jesus to his disciples is tell them to be messengers of God to this world. The disciples were living witnesses of how Jesus lived life, served everyone and preached the good news. They were witnesses of how Jesus died on the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. They were the first to experience Jesus rising from the dead. They were living witnesses of all these events, and they were given the task of sharing these experiences with the world.
My dear sisters and brothers, the mandate to be a witness of God was not only for the apostles at that time, but also applies to us today. We have a responsibility to tell what Jesus did 2 000 years ago, and what God is doing today.
We might ask, can I? The answer is of course yes, because the Holy Spirit was also given to us.
Will there be people who believe my message? It is the Spirit of God who will act on the message within the listeners. The important thing is just to do it. Remember, my brothers and sisters, this witnessing task is a commandment, not an invitation or an option.
There are at least two ways for us to be witnesses of God.
First, we can witness verbally.
This means that we tell our neighbours that God loves humanity, in spite of the sin that humans choose. God’s love for humans meant that God came into the world, becoming human in the person of Jesus Christ, to provide a way for forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ death on the cross, then whoever repents will have their sins forgiven and be adopted as children of God. This message can be conveyed through spoken or written language.
Secondly, we can witness through our lifestyle. This means our overall behaviour reflects God’s truth in our lives with everyone who interacts with us. This is what is called an open gospel, which means that our lives truly reflect the life of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us ask for the power of the Holy Spirit to move us to really witness, so that people turn to the truth of the gospel. May the Spirit of God enable us to witness for the glory of God. Immanuel.
—Natanael Sukamto, pastor of GITJ (Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa) congregation in Sembaturagung, Pati, Central Java, Indonesia.