By LARRY BAKER
The man looked at me and said, “That was the most disillusioning experience I have ever had!” I could hear the pain in his voice and see the draining impact in his posture. The man across the table from me had taken a damaging blow in the rib cage of his soul.
I listened as he talked. “My adversaries had unleashed their most destructive energy on me. I felt abandoned. People had claimed to be my friends, but when the chips were down and the battle was on, they were AWOL. I kept asking myself, “Where are they?” Then he repeated his refrain: “That was the most disillusioning experience I have ever had!”
Jesus would have understood. Three years earlier he had chosen a dozen to make his journey with him. He had invested himself in them; had given personal attention to their needs and questions; had declared the good news of the gospel in their presence; had changed the lives of men and women before their eyes; and had worked his mighty works for them to see.
Then they made the final trek to Jerusalem. One betrayed him. Another denied him. The eleven, without exception, ran.
When we meet Jesus’ disciples near the end of John’s Gospel, they have scurried like frightened animals into the room where Jesus had shared Passover with them, had washed their feet, and had given the gift of the Memorial Meal.
Now: They have slammed and locked the door. They have shuttered the windows and drawn the curtains. When they speak, they whisper. Every creak of the floor and the voice drifting in from the streets tightens the muscles in their backs and marches new fear into their emotions. They are afraid of everything on the other side of those doors. Afraid of the world outside. Afraid of their uncertain future. Maybe, simply afraid of living.
It may not be hard for us to imagine ourselves in that room. Many lock themselves in and lock the world out when threatened or wounded or grieving. Many shutter themselves behind some grief they cannot let go, because of some pain they keep alive, some anger they fuel, some grudge they nurse, or some failure that embarrasses and haunts them. Those folk know how to block out the compassionate attention of friends and draw the drapes against the dawn. They know how to make the room of their life a tomb.
What would you have done if you had been Jesus? How would you have responded? Like my friend, with disappointment and disillusionment? Would we have responded with self-pity, feeling sorry for ourselves, thinking “It’s not fair what they’ve done to me?” With fiery anger, wanting to lash out and give them a piece of our mind? With a desire to retaliate and “get even?” With scathing criticism for their lack of character and courage? We might declare forcefully, “I will wash my hands of them.” Understandable responses, perhaps.
But Jesus responded differently. Take a look at John 20. Jesus lavishes gifts upon the men who had abandoned him. Part of the wonder of the scene is the timing. Jesus bestows the gifts, not in the moment of Simon Peter’s great confession, but after the disciples had refused to believe the report he was alive. Jesus bestows the gifts, not in the afterglow of the mysterious transfiguration, but in the aftermath of the disciples’ refusal to believe Mary Magdalene’s account. No. In the face of disappointing actions and reactions by his disciples, Jesus gives priceless gifts.
We might call them “resurrection gifts.” For Jesus, they are gifts given in the face of great disappointment. For the disciples, they are gifts received in spite of great failure. For us, they are unexpected gifts that equip us to live through and beyond dark hours and broken hearts and strengthen us for godly service.
Jesus’ first followers thought they were keeping enemies out, but they were locking themselves in. But the one who could not be kept in a rock tomb could not be kept out by a locked door. One of the great resurrection hymns has us sing:
Christ is risen, Christ is living, dry your tears, be unafraid!
Death and darkness could not hold Him, nor the tomb in which He lay.
Death has lost its old dominion, let the world rejoice and shout!
Christ, the firstborn of the living, gives us life and leads us out.
Larry Baker is director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Hardin-Simmons University.