Christianity 201

June 2, 2020

The Disciples in Lockdown

Today we’re also featuring a new (to us) writer. A.K. Francis has been writing fiction for more than ten years, but more recently started writing faith-focused articles as well. During the time of pandemic, that writing moved into a series titled In The Valley of Fear and Solitude which began in the Old Testament and has worked its way to the New. Click the links in this paragraph to read more, or click the header which follows to read today’s article at source.

The disciples behind closed doors

As we edge our way out of lockdown, it seems an appropriate time for a probably last blog post on faith in isolation. For today’s edition I have chosen two stories that are very similar in their structure and story from Acts and the end of the Gospels respectively.

The first story (from the gospels) is that of Jesus first appearing to his disciples after His resurrection. The disciples are together in a room with the doors locked, out of fear of the Jewish non-believers around them. Earlier that morning, some of their women had been to the tomb and found the place empty – it is unclear whether they believed in the resurrection from this or not. Jesus is suddenly in the room with them. He speaks to the disciples and encourages them. Then he is gone. Later he appears again and seeks out Thomas, who had been absent previously and had said that he would not believe the resurrection story until he saw the walking talking, and scarred evidence in the body of the risen saviour.

The second story is near the beginning of the book of Acts. The disciples are again in an upper room, with the doors closed. This time the room is suddenly filled with flames and wind as the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus had promised, swept through the room and entered each disciple. They begin speaking in other languages as that spirit enabled them, and then leave the room to spread the word about Jesus to those in the city. As it is the festival of weeks, the city is full of Jews from across the then known world – making their languages essential to their message being understood. At first, their audience take them for drunks – but then are persuaded – and over 1,000 converted to belief in Jesus.

What are these stories telling us about isolation…and its end?

1. Wait, prayerfully and in hope.

In both these stories individuals are alone and waiting for something. At Pentecost (the second story) it is highly likely that the disciples were meeting in prayer at time when the Spirit came upon them. In the first story there may have been prayer, but there was certainly fear – enough to find the key for the door. In both of these stories God comes and meets with the disciples in their time of need – and builds them up for the next step in His plan. At both points they are in a place of loss – of Jesus on the cross in the resurrection story, and of Jesus to heaven in the Pentecost story – and in both places they have been given the promise of God’s presence – Jesus spoke of His resurrection prior to his death, and spoke of the Holy Spirit as a helper who would come after he had ascended. Both of these events show the joy of the disciples as they celebrate the fulfilment of these promises. Jesus also made a promise ‘to be with you always, to the very end of the age’ to the disciples and all His followers, when he ascended.

I do not think it is pure coincidence that the period of lockdown has fallen over the season in the year where churches focus on these events and celebrate them. Here is a message of waiting on the Lord, calling out to Him in hope that he is working his purpose – and then seeing the promise of His presence among them fulfilled – in resurrection and in the Holy Spirit. That spirit is still available to us today, the promise ‘to be with you always’ remains open to us. In our isolation we can lean on these fulfilled promises, and call on our saviour to face the fears of the world outside.

2. God meets us in the place of lockdown fear

In both of these stories, God walks among His disciples and strengthens them in their hour of fear and isolation. As I have mentioned throughout this series, there seems to be a big message in the Bible that it is often in our times of fear, loneliness and imprisonment that God walks among His people to strengthen them for His work in their lives and the lives of others. Here it is no different. Jesus steps into a room full of his mourning and terrified friends – at the point when they are most confused, doubtful and afraid – and turns their lives around. At Pentecost, the disciples are changed so much that they go outside and tell of Jesus’ resurrection – risking their lives as they have not yet done. This is the real starting moment of the church – it comes out of God strengthening His people in isolation and sending them out into the world.

In our time of isolation, it has perhaps been a challenge to be away from church, but perhaps this has allowed us as churches and individuals to spend more time away from the bustle of the world with the God who loves us, learning from Him about how we can be advancing His kingdom. As we face the fear of having to leave what may well have become the safe space of our home, I think it is good to stop, reflect and take time to let God walk into our lives, revealing how we should be working for His glory to come out of this time of fear and suffering.

3.Be built up, question, be sent out.

These two passages create a great image of what discipleship in isolation could look like. Here the groups of disciples have met in isolation and alone, here Thomas feels safe to question the judgement of others about the resurrection of Jesus, and to gain an answer from Jesus himself. Here the disciples experience the Holy Spirit as a gift for the first time as they turn to God in prayer and expectation. And out of these two events, one after the other, and the lessons that come from Jesus in them, comes the knowledge of God and the strength of the Spirit to go out into the world in confidence to share the message they have been given with those around them. To face death potentially, for what they now believe is the truth.

Thomas, as he recognizes Jesus, and proclaims him as his Lord and God, is told:

“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen me and yet have believed.”

John 20 v 29

This is a wonderful reassurance for Christians living today, who have not seen Jesus in the flesh but who believe in Jesus as their saviour. In our times of isolation, we have had an opportunity to explore faith online and in our greater times of quiet and solitude, and numbers of those viewing church services online would suggest that people are looking to explore faith. Today, we should take these stories as pointers to ensuring we are being built up and sent out to His glory. The world outside the comfort of our Christian homes, and the privacy of our internet browser, is scary, and we, and those exploring faith, will need the strengthening of the Spirit and human encouragement in the challenging months to come. But I pray that these months have been, and will continue to be, the start of something of a renewal of faith in our world.

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