LIVING IN SURVIVAL MODE
TEXT (vs. 19): “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’”
This morning, I’ve decided to share some of my past history with you, and open a few pages of my earlier years and a few of the not-too-pleasant things that happened to me when I was in school.
I tended to get picked on a lot. For some reason, it seemed like I had a permanent “kick me” sign attached to my back. Of course I had my friends and acquaintances, and I never had problems with them; but it always seemed like I was convenient fodder for those who needed somebody to pick on. All I really wanted to do was to blend in and be a normal kid; but for some reason, that wasn’t to be my lot in life, at least in those early years.
When I think of what I was like, the more modern terms of “nerd” and “geek” seem appropriate. I was not athletic at all; in fact every attempt I ever made at doing anything in that area wound up in dismal failure. I used to hear “you run like a girl” or “you throw like a girl” quite a bit. Even in the early years of my childhood, I was always the last one picked for any team, even when it included both boys and girls.
So I was not a jock in any sense of the word. Instead in middle school and high school, I played in the band—the tuba was my instrument. I also liked doing the audio/visual stuff, and I could fix a movie projector with the best of them.
As I think back to those years, I can remember so many stories, and so many things people picked on me and teased me about. I was a “bully magnet” so-to-speak. I can’t even count how many fists and elbows met with my body as I walked down the hallway. And if I was to recount individual stories, we could well be here all day.
But I learned to cope. In my own way, in my own style, I learned how to survive. I hated violence and conflict, so I became adept at avoiding it—partly because my dad was such a pacifist, and partly because I was in no way a fighting machine. Even to this day, I try to avoid conflict and strife any way I can.
I became very good at survival. For instance, before I would walk down the hall in school, I would wait until I saw a member of the faculty approaching. I would wait until they were about ten feet away, and then I would walk out in front of them so I would be in their full view should someone come up to me and start something. I also knew which doors to use, where to go and not to go, and even places to go that would provide me with some type of safe sanctuary if needed. And of course, timing was important too—when it was and wasn’t safe to move about.
Now I’m not trying to say that my high school years were entirely bad, I had good times too; but from the time I got to school until the time I left, I was in “survival mode.” I was vigilant, I was very aware of what was going on around me, I knew who was around me, and I always knew what time it was.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think that everybody knows what it’s like to a certain degree. I think that everyone has had to go into “survival mode” during their lives for one reason or another.
I also know that bullying is a problem in all schools, otherwise there wouldn’t be legislation being passed to outlaw it. I don’t know how much good it will do, because someone would either have to be caught doing it, or the person being bullied would have to report it. I tried reporting it once, and that was a big mistake I never repeated. For the most part, I just kept to myself and suffered in silence.
As I studied our text for today, a flood of bad memories came to mind when I read verse 19: “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews…” And the scene is even repeated a second time in verse 26 which tells us that “…the doors were locked.”
The disciples were in “survival mode.” They were scared. They were terrified. They were hiding from the Jews! And when you consider what they had just experienced, it’s no wonder that they were in “survival mode.”
The Jews were supposed to be God’s people. The Jewish officials were supposed to be God’s representatives on earth, and act according to his will.
But just think about what these so-called “fine church people” were responsible for doing. Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, the Messiah promised in the Hebrew Scriptures, he had come. They should have been overjoyed! The one who was long hoped for, the one that God promised had finally arrived!
But where was the rejoicing? Where was the happiness? Even though many of the average citizens were happy to see him, the Jewish officials were anything but happy. They tried to discredit him; they tried to trip him up with words; they tried their best to trick him; they tried to make him look bad to the public. And when nothing else worked, they beat him, flogged him, and put him to death like a common criminal.
The only thing Jesus had done was to help people. He fed them, he healed them, he cast out demons from them, and he even raised them from the dead. He correctly identified himself as being true God; and for that, the Sanhedrin felt that he was worthy of death. He needed to be gotten rid of.
And then, to top it all off, they started a rumor—a completely false lie. Matthew 28 verses 11-15 records this: “While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say, his disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep. If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.”
The disciples didn’t know what to do. When Jesus was alive and with them, he seemed to be able to handle himself when he was faced with adversity. He had a commanding presence; and even though they had been in situations which were scary, they had a sense of security and well-being with Jesus around.
But they had seen just what these Sanhedrin bullies could do. They saw Jesus in what they thought was a helpless and hopeless situation. As far as the disciples were concerned, all hope had been abandoned when Jesus breathed his last.
And then there were these women. As far as the disciples were concerned, they had taken leave of their senses. They were reporting that Jesus had risen from the dead and that they had actually seen him. It was foolish as far as they were concerned; they knew he had died and had been put into the tomb.
But the tomb was empty. That they knew. But what happened to the body? They were being blamed for stealing it. That lie had been told and it was being spread, but they didn’t know who was behind it. Surely the Sanhedrin and probably the whole Roman army as well would be searching for them, looking for this missing body. As far as they knew, what happened to Jesus was going to happen to them as well. They were scared. They were afraid. And so it’s no wonder that they went into a type of “survival mode.”
We don’t have to think back too far to see that this is most likely what was going on with Peter when he denied Jesus. Peter vehemently denied being a disciple of Jesus, or ever having known him. It seems rather ludicrous to us to think that Peter felt threatened by a servant girl; but Peter had witnessed what had happened. He knew the wrath of the Sanhedrin had been incurred, and that they were capable of some pretty violent stuff. So it’s understandable that Peter would sort of automatically go into “survival mode.” This doesn’t in any way excuse him for denying Jesus, but at least we have an idea as to why he did it.
So here are these disciples, in “survival mode,” shaking in their sandals behind tightly locked doors. A week goes by and they are still there. They probably figured that they would let things cool off a bit, and then maybe head out for different country where they could live out their days in peace and feel relatively safe from those Sanhedrin bullies.
But Jesus has other ideas for them. And the first order of business is to dispel any doubts in their minds about his actual physical resurrection from the dead. This wasn’t just some “spiritual awakening” in their hearts, this wasn’t just an example of his message living on, this was actual, physical proof that he had conquered death and the grave, and that he was actually alive again! And just so there would be no element of doubt, Jesus even gives Thomas physical proof that he was indeed alive by allowing him to actually touch the wounds from his crucifixion, which up until know the other disciples had only seen. Before anything else could happen, before the Gospel could be preached to the world, this doubt had to be completely erased.
Both times he appears, Jesus greets them with the phrase “Peace be with you.” It sounds simple enough, but it accomplished two major things.
First, Jesus knew the fear that was in their hearts. He knew that they were in survival mode, fearing the Jews. To calm those fears, they needed the peace that only Jesus could give. Their troubled hearts would be calmed simply by his living presence amongst them.
Second, the message of peace was the whole focal point of his coming to earth. At his birth, the angel choirs sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good-will toward men.” Even the Old Testament Scriptures record that the Messiah would be called: “Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Peace was his name, and that’s what he came to bring.
Verses 22 and 23 of our text explain this peace: “And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’”
This peace of the Gospel is the forgiveness of sins which Jesus offered. The disciples were to be the ambassadors of this message. Not only did they experience that forgiveness for themselves, but it would be for all who would through faith believe in Jesus Christ as their Saviour.
As we look at ourselves and the world around us, we can see the influence of sin as clearly as the disciples did. The sinful actions of the Jews struck fear into their hearts. Their own sins also condemned them. We can see exactly the same thing.
How often have we doubted that Jesus is really with us? Have we ever thought that maybe faith in Christ is not enough to save us? Have we maybe questioned whether or not Jesus actually rose from the dead? Have we ever doubted that there is life beyond the grave?
Jesus comes to us the same way he came to his disciples. He says to each of us: “Peace be with you.” He doesn’t want us to come to him in “survival mode,” but in “full faith mode.” Survival mode might keep our earthly bullies away from us, but it can’t get us to heaven.
When we come to Jesus in “full faith mode,” trusting him as our Saviour from sin, we know that we will also defeat death and the grave just as he did. We will know that peace he came to bring. Therefore, we can fully believe him when he says, “Peace be with you.”
Thankfully I’m not in high school any more. Even though my “survival mode” when I was there seems like such a distant memory, yet those memories came flooding back as I prepared to go to my 40th high school reunion several years ago. I actually wondered if those same bullies would be there, and I had a pit in my stomach as I walked in. It had been so many years.
But when I got there, I had to laugh. I saw a lot of the same people I knew and hadn't seen in years, but there was no threat or bullying. I just wondered where all these old people came from! And yes, the huge problems I felt back then all seem so trivial in the adult world. But I can understand what people experience.
Some people who have not been able to cope with school bullying have brought guns and weapons into the schools and have killed innocent people. That’s so sad and tragic when something like that happens. Instead of “survival mode,” they have instead chosen “death mode.” They look at everyone as their enemy; and the only peace they reckon they can find is to remove themselves from the world and take as many with them as they can. Without Jesus, there is no hope, no future, and no real peace.
For those of us who find ourselves in “survival mode” in this world, we have the words of the apostle Peter in our Epistle lesson for today which give us true hope and peace. In I Peter 1 we hear God telling us: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (vs. 3, 6-9)