Actually, I suspect that fear made them quite certain about what was going to happen next. I suspect they were convinced that there was a cross waiting for each one of them, too.
The people who wanted Jesus dead would come after them, right?
The people who considered Jesus a blasphemous and false king would surely have some tough questions for the people who followed him everywhere, wouldn’t they?
Wouldn’t they want to know if Peter and John and all the rest were co-conspirators in a grand and treasonous scheme?
Wouldn’t they want to know if there was a plot to start a populous revolution? Maybe they were planning on causing a scene at the Temple to stoke the flames of anti-Imperial sentiment among the Jewish people?
Come to think of it, hadn’t Jesus been stirring up trouble in the Temple just a few days before his arrest?
And for heaven’s sake, how much dirt did Judas have on them? If he gave up Jesus, surely he’d give them up, too; their names, their families, were the group met.
There was nothing good about the situation in which the disciples found themselves.
The door was locked, but they were exposed.
The disciples were is in danger. They just knew it!
The cloud of worry, fear, and tread hovering over the disciples on Easter evening brings to mind a scene from Israel’s biblical past.
It’s told, in the Book of Genesis, that there was a time, long ago, when Jacob—Abraham’s grandson and national patriarch in his own right—found himself alone with his worries on a fretful night.
Jacob was hiding also from an enemy who, he was convinced, wanted to kill him. Specially, he was hiding from his brother, Esau, whom he had wronged countless times and who, truth be told, probably did want him dead.
Locked up with fear, Jacob was just trying to get out of town. In the wilderness, he laid his head on a stone pillow…
And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the LORD stood beside him and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.”In the dream, God repeated a promise about Jacob’s family made first to Abraham.
“You’re going to have countless descendants,” said the Lord, “and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.”
And, then, in the dream’s last scene, God assured Jacob that this moment—this epiphany—wasn’t just an isolated event.
Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.That’s how Genesis records the story of Jacob’s Ladder, a story elevated in the hearts and minds of God’s people by Jacob’s response.
Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place—and I did not know it!”
Revelation transformed Jacob’s fear into confession.
“Surely the LORD is in this place—and I did not know it!”
I don’t believe I’ve ever led a Bible study or read Jacob’s story in a worship service without someone telling me how deeply his experience resonates with their own.
Yes, there are moments in life when we’re blessed with a calm assurance that we’re where God wants us to be and doing the work God wants us to do, but it’s often the case that we feel as though we’re just bumbling our way through life, uncertain even about who we are, much less what we should be doing.
How splendid is it, then, to come through such a season, to look back upon it, and to realize that God was with us all along, showing us mercy before we even knew to pray, blessing us before we even knew to say thanks, leading us when we thought that we were the one’s calling the shots.
Walter Brueggemann, my go to Old Testament scholar, describes the impact of Jacob’s Ladder like this.
“I am with you.” That, of course, is the intent of the ramp-ladder. Heaven has come to be on earth. This promise presents a central thrust of biblical faith. It refutes all the despairing judgments about human existence. A fresh understanding of God is required if we are to be delivered from the hopeless analyses of human possibility…God commits himself to the empty-handed fugitive (Jacob). The fugitive has not been abandoned. This God will accompany him. It is a promise of royal dimension…It is the amazing new disclosure of Jacob’s God, one who is willing to cast his lot with this man, to stand with him in places of threat. (244-45)The God who offers grace to the unworthy,
The God who gives direction to our hapless wandering,
The God who transforms fear into mission,
The God who shows up, This is the God of Abraham and his children, the God of Jacob’s Ladder, and the God who came to the disciples in the resurrected flesh and bone of Jesus on the first Easter Sunday.
Luke tells us that two travelers sought out Jesus’ disciples on the evening of the day that is history’s fulcrum. They said that they had just walked and talked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. They said that they knew it was him when they broke bread together. They said that his words set their hearts on fire.
And the disciples said, “Tell us something we haven’t heard because the same thing just happened to Simon Peter.”
A dizzying cloud of excitement, confusion, hope, and worry descended on the group. While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”And then Jesus had something to eat.
And then he began to explain just what was happening.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.Everything written about Jesus in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled, so he “opened their minds to understand the scriptures.”
And the disciples grasped the significance of what was taking place.
They realized that God was in this place all along—on the mount when Jesus preached, by the seashore where he healed, at the table in the Upper Room, in Gethsemane’s tears, on Golgotha’s Cross, the garden tomb, the Emmaus Road, and right here, right now. Surely the LORD was in these places—and the disciples did not know it!
But they knew it now and so do we.
Jesus—God in the flesh—transformed the disciples’ fear into confession, and he does the same for us.
Like the disciples, then, let us make resurrection shaped faith our own.
Let us be about the liberating power of repentance and forgiveness.
Let us know the grace of the God who loves sinners and makes of them saints.
Let us share what we have, and welcome strangers as friends, and break bread in Christ’s name, and go where he leads.
Let us be an Easter people.
And let us always, everywhere, and in all things give thanks to God for this Good News.
Thanks be to God. Amen.