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Today is the first Sunday after Easter. So I want to begin by asking you this question: what kind of people are we? Are we resurrection people? And by that, I don’t mean are we the walking dead? 🙂 What I mean is what are our lives like? How are we living? Do we live like resurrected people — people who have been made new? Are we people who can say we have experienced resurrection power and it infuses our hearts, our thoughts, our decisions and choices everyday? Or do we live like the resurrection never happened? Sure, we know all about Good Friday and we celebrate Easter faithfully. We are even aware of the power of the resurrection as a concept but the question is how is it making a difference in your life and mine?
Maybe you have experienced resurrection power at some point but as life takes its toll, you have forgotten what that means for you. Well, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Even the disciples did not understand the power of Christ’s resurrection at first, and they actually lived like it never happened…for a while at least. If you will turn with me to John 20:19-31, let’s take a look at what happened immediately after Christ’s resurrection.
John 20:19-31 (NLT)
Jesus Appears to His Disciples
19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Jesus Appears to Thomas
24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”
26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”
28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.
29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”
Purpose of the Book
30 The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.
This passage begins with “That Sunday evening…” What had happened earlier that Sunday morning before all this? Do you remember? The women had gone to the tomb. Mary Magdalene saw that the huge stone had been rolled away and she ran to tell the disciples. Then Peter and John ran to the tomb, overtaking each other in their haste, and they saw the empty tomb with their own eyes. The linen wrappings and cloth that covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying there but Jesus’ body was nowhere to be found. Bewildered, they went home. The only person who stayed was Mary Magdalene. She was standing outside the tomb crying when someone approached her and asked her why she was crying. She thought he was the gardener and said, “Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go get him.” At the moment, he called out her name, “Mary!” and she finally recognized that it was Jesus and she called out, “Rabboni!” Jesus told her to go tell the other disciples what she saw and to give them his message. And that’s what she did.
So all this happened on Sunday morning. The disciples had heard from Mary Magdalene that she had seen Jesus and she had a message from him to them. So how do you think they responded? What was the mood or situation like that Sunday evening? Were they happy and rejoicing that Jesus had risen like he said he would? No. Were they at least relieved that the tides seem to have changed? No. In fact, it was quite the contrary. They were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. They were fearful. What do you think they were afraid of? Many things, I guess. They could have been fearful that due to their association with Jesus, the Jewish leaders would get them arrested and crucify them too. Or perhaps because Jesus’ body was missing and the sealed tomb had been forced open, they were afraid that the Jewish leaders and authorities would accuse them of stealing Jesus’ body and come arrest them? I don’t know what they were fearful of exactly but we know they were afraid.
Then Jesus was standing among them suddenly and said, “Peace be with you. Shalom.” As he spoke with them, he showed them the wounds on his hands and his side. They knew without a doubt that it was him and they were filled with joy. Jesus even breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He told them, “Just as the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Okay, so all that happened. They saw Jesus and touched his wounds with their own hands. He breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit, and told them he was sending them out. Pretty powerful stuff. Then what happened? Eight days later, the disciples were gathered together again and the doors were still locked. Even after witnessing Jesus’ presence with them, they were still behind locked doors. They were still afraid. There was no immediate rejoicing or celebration. There was no sense of freedom to proclaim the good news to others. They were still hiding in a huddle behind locked doors. They were still held back by their fears. Fear of the authorities, fear of the religious leaders, fear of repercussions, fears about what lies ahead, fears about what others will think of them, fears about their own limitations and inadequacies. Like them, we all have an endless list of fears. Our situations may be different but we still experience the same fears.
Fear is something that lies at the heart of our human condition. We all face fear and uncertainty at various moments in our lives. As human beings, we get scared quite easily. Just think about the questions that often fill our minds. Most of these questions tend to be “What if…” questions. What if I lose my job? What if my relationship doesn’t work out? What if my family doesn’t understand? What if I get sick? What if my partner leaves me? What if I don’t belong? What if my friends turn away?
Fear causes us to tighten up, shrink into a ball, withdraw, pull away. That is our physical and emotional reaction to fear. And that comes from a scarcity mindset — what I mean is we start to think our options and resources are limited, we need to ensure our own safety, security and survival. We think, “We don’t have enough, we are not enough.” As I was preparing this sermon over the past week, God, as always, had to let me learn the lesson in my own life before I could preach about it. So when I talk about fear and the scarcity mindset, I’m actually talking about myself. But perhaps you might be able to identify with it too?
Two weeks ago, I was approached by the Pink Dot team and they asked if I would be willing to be featured on the pink dot documentary video this year. I readily said yes because I knew it was hard for them to find enough women who might be willing to do it, and I also wanted to contribute to pink dot as far as I could. While it’s truly an honor to be featured, I also struggled with the decision because of the increased exposure it would put my family and me under. The video this year is more gritty and raw than previous years’. As a pastor appearing on a pink dot video, I knew I had to be ready for some negative backlash and I was asking myself if I could handle it. But my bigger concern was for my family. At first, Junfeng asked if my sister might be open to appearing on the video with me. My sis was very sweet and wanted to consider and discuss it with me, even though both of us knew it would be unwise for her to do the video with me because she works in my former church, and there might be repercussions for her job. She asked me if I had any concerns about doing the video and I told her I honestly had two fears. Firstly, I was concerned about how my family would deal with the possible negative backlash from church friends and relatives. You know, my biggest struggle all along about being out was more about my family and how they would be implicated. I chose to be out (and a relatively public face) at a time when I was personally more ready to deal with the negative comments. But my family never chose this battle so it pains me when they have to answer on my behalf. And they often are the ones who get asked by relatives and church friends, etc. But I know this is an opportunity for growth, both for them as well as for me.
The other fear I had at the back of my mind was about job options. As you know, I’m currently working as a pastor on quarter-time pay with some additional support from individual members. This arrangement is up for review in July this year but to be realistic, it’s highly unlikely that FCC will be be able to transit to employing me full-time, and that is not for the lack of desire or intention on FCC’s part. That is just the situation we are in. I can’t be a pastor in any other church in Singapore so I was thinking my other job option is to be a counsellor since that is what my other degree is in. But unlike being a translator or accountant, appearing on the pink dot video will probably have some repercussions on my job prospects as a counsellor in educational institutions or family service centers. So I was struggling a little with this on Monday night. How important is it to be realistic and responsible for my own life/livelihood and where does faith fit into this whole equation? Where do we draw the line between fear, faith and being realistic and responsible? As I was trying to go to sleep that night, God reminded me about this sermon: “What does it mean to live in my resurrection power, Pauline? Are you operating from fear and a scarcity mindset — “How are my parents going to deal with this? What are my limited job options? Will we be safe from being hurt?” Or are you operating from faith in my infinite and life-giving power?”
God’s question jolted me and I told God that I trusted in God’s power and provision for my life, and peace filled my heart and I went to sleep. Throughout my life, I have seen how God has taken care of me, especially when I choose to follow God’s will and do things for the greater good. What about you? What fears are you facing in your life right now? Like the disciples huddling behind locked doors, have you experienced the resurrection but still live like it never happened? Or maybe you experienced the power of the resurrection in your life once so long ago but now you have forgotten what it means? God knows that we get frightened easily. That’s why throughout the Old Testament, God says, “Do not be afraid.” In the Gospels, Jesus also often says, “Do not worry. Do not be afraid.”
What about you? What does resurrection power mean to you in your life right now? Jesus may have appeared to you in his own way. Jesus may have proven his love and faithfulness at many junctures in your life but you may still be afraid. We all get scared sometimes. We all struggle with fear and uncertainty sometimes. So what do we do with this fear? Jesus exhortation to Thomas is to come and see, come and touch, come and experience. Once he reached out and touched, Jesus told him to put aside his unbelief, “Don’t be faithless anymore, Thomas. Believe!” Is Jesus telling us the same thing with regards to our fears and insecurities? Come and see, come and touch…don’t be faithless anymore…believe!
The faith that we are talking about here is not blind faith as some people may think after reading verse 29: Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” Jesus was talking about Thomas’ need for empirical evidence. He needed to physically touch Jesus’ wounds before he believed. He couldn’t rely on the accounts of others. He didn’t rely on his relationship with Christ and what Jesus had told him before he died. Thomas wanted hardcore empirical evidence. So Jesus was saying blessed are those who believe without seeing him physically. But that doesn’t mean we believe blindly. If Jesus was asking us to have blind faith, then John wouldn’t have said this in v. 30, “The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.” John was saying that they were writing all this down so you we may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that by believing in him, we will have life by the power of his name.
That we might have life. What kind of life are they talking about? Well, what kind of life did Jesus say he came to give? In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” So Jesus came so that we may experience life abundantly. I don’t think Jesus meant this in the material possessions kind of way. I think he meant so much more — abundance in our hearts, our spirits, our minds, our souls! If you go back a few verses in John 10, you will see Jesus talking about being our Shepherd — the shephed of our souls. He says, “The sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.” And in v. 14-16, he says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.” Remember how Mary Magdalene recognized Jesus when he called out her name? And she ran to tell the others?
So Jesus came that we may live abundantly. That means we know his voice intimately and he guides us in our lives, especially when we are afraid. And part of our purpose in this life is to help our Shepherd bring in the other sheep who belong to this sheepfold. And God will give us the power and resources to do that as we live out what it means to be resurrection people. The same power that raised Jesus to life is made available to us! That we might have life! So what is dead within you? What fears are holding you back? What does God want to revive in you? Can you hear the Shepherd’s voice calling your name? How can you live out the power of the resurrection fully in your life right now?
It’s interesting how God was so gracious to remind me about the abundance of God’s power just before I was approached by the pink dot team about the video. I had just been in Shenzhen two weeks ago and God showed me how God answers our prayers above and beyond even as we step out in faith. Last year when Yanmei asked me if I would go speak at the conference for Christian women leaders in China, I was honestly a little reluctant. Firstly, I was thinking about my own limitations. My Chinese is not that great. It’s not terrible but it’s not good enough for me to preach a sermon or to conduct workshops properly. Many of you were praying for me as I went, and I told you that God answered your prayers above and beyond my imagination. Some of you thought that meant I suddenly became very fluent in Chinese overnight and maybe I started speaking in tongues. 😉 That wasn’t really how it went down. My Chinese did improve enough over that weekend to have deep conversations with many of the women and for me to pray with them. But God answered my prayers for connecting with the women’s hearts through another amazing way. There was a Taiwanese female pastor who was praying for the conference. She hadn’t planned on attending but she was praying with us. Just one week before the conference started, as she was interceding for the conference, she heard God saying one last person needs to sign up. So she began praying for that one last person. Then she heard God telling her that last person is her. She was bewildered and asked God why? She didn’t see the need for her to be at that conference but she decided to obey and just registered. The organizing team was so excited when she signed up because she is fluent in English and they asked her if she would interpret for me during the conference. She truly was an answer to prayer because we are very similar in many ways — our love for God’s people, our energies, our pastoral approaches. Many of the women came to tell me how they could feel my words in their hearts and we saw God moving and transforming lives in that short weekend.
So God had showed me how abundant God’s power can be when we choose to put down our fears and limitations, and trust. Of course, when the pink dot video request came along, I still got scared and had to grapple with a number of fears before deciding to trust in God’s provision and power. I read this quote sometime during this week and it really encouraged me. Bethany Hamilton is a pro surfer with one arm and she said:
“Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. Courage means you don’t let fear stop you.” – Bethany Hamilton
What about you? Have you experienced God’s power in a real way in your life recently? Are you letting fear stop you? Have you forgotten what resurrection power is, and are you ready to trust God anew for the way ahead? So what is our Shepherd calling you to do? What greater good, what purpose is God calling you to? What fears, what limitations do you have to lay down so that you will go out in faith with the courage and resurrection power that God promises and abundantly supplies?
Let us pray.