God’s Purpose Realized Even During the Covid-19 Lockdown
Author: Pastor Sion
Do you remember the COVID-19 lockdown period? It wasn’t easy being locked in our homes, not being able to go out, not being able to meet our family and friends, not being able to go to church, not being able to go to our place of work, not being freed from kids and their online learning, not being able to go to school, not being able to go to Costco or Asian markets or favorite restaurants and cafes. Boy, did I miss a bowl of pho, Korean BBQ, hotpot, sashimi, and Vietnamese iced coffee during that long period. And I missed the days of going to fun places with the kids and even just going to Costco on a weekly basis and browsing new items without worrying about getting in and out quickly. What made the lockdown more difficult was that I didn’t know when it would end and when I could finally get out of my home safely.
Two thousand years ago, there was a time when believers were in a somewhat similar situation. Like us, they were locked in their homes. They cowered behind closed doors, hidden from the Jewish religious leaders who had crucified Jesus and wanted to arrest them and put an end to the new Followers of the Way of Christ or Christian movement. While they were locked in for different reasons than our situation, God used that time and accomplished His purpose by reaffirming the disciples’ calling and their mission. Likewise, God desires to accomplish His purpose for us as well during this time. Even though we may feel that we are just trying to pass time quickly and wait for COVID-19 come to an end, God will use this time to achieve what He wants to do. As Romans 8:28 reminds us, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
How will God use this time of lockdown and cause all things to work together for good for us who love God and are called according to His purpose? I believe that answer lies in Luke 24:36-53. Many things happened in just one day of the Easter Sunday that was the day of Jesus’ resurrection, and they were recorded in the final chapter of the Gospel of Luke. In Luke 24:1-2, here corded the appearance of the angels who announced the good news of the resurrection to several women who followed Jesus. In verses 13-35, Jesus appeared to the two distressed and disappointed disciples from Emmaus and explained to them that all the Scripture pointed to Christ—His suffering, death, and resurrection. After explaining to them the Scripture, which ignited their hearts with passion, new purpose, and excitement, Jesus revealed himself to them briefly, which strengthened their faith in the resurrected Christ.
In Luke 24:36-53, the resurrected Jesus appeared to all disciples who had locked themselves in, filled with grief over death of Jesus, fear of arrest by the Jewish religious leaders, and confusion over the reports of Jesus’ empty tomb and the Emmaus disciples’ witness to their encounter with Jesus a few hours earlier. To these disciples, Jesus appeared. But when He did, it was clear that their belief in His resurrection was insufficient. Why? When the resurrected Jesus stood amid them and said, “Peace be with you” (verse 36), their immediate reaction to seeing Jesus in a physical form was to be frightened, troubled, and doubtful, thinking that they were seeing a ghost. Instead of being overjoyed at seeing Jesus and hearing His voice again, they were startled and scared. The word “startled” suggests that the disciples were caught off guard, as though they never expected to see Jesus. If Jesus was really alive, as they acknowledged, why would His appearance be such a surprise? If Jesus greeted them with peace, why were they frightened, the very opposite of peace?
The disciples thought Jesus was only a ghost, a spirit, and they were frightened of ghosts. They did believe that He was alive in spirit and in their hearts, but it was difficult for them to accept that He was physically raised from the dead. So, they did not really believe that Jesus was present with them in their midst when He appeared to them. The disciples thought they really believed in the resurrection, as they said in verse 34: “The Lord has really risen and has appeared.” But they did not truly believe it. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus later appeared to the eleven disciples as they were eating, and He rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen (16:24). Belief should be accompanied by practice. If belief and behavior do not match, it is often belief that is inadequate. Even though the disciples said they believed in Jesus’ resurrection, their actions proved otherwise.
To these doubting and unbelieving disciples, Jesus graciously gave physical evidence for His resurrection in the subsequent verses. In addition to standing before them in His living body, Jesus encouraged His disciples to touch Him and to see that He had flesh and bones and invited them to look at His hands and feet in verse 40. Finally, Jesus ate some of the fish that they were eating, providing the proof that His body was, indeed, a real one. Notice the change in the disciples’ mood after that. Before Jesus gave the physical evidence, they were startled and frightened in verse 37, and troubled and doubting in verse 38. But once they grasped the evidence He had provided, in verse 41, their troubled spirits turned to joy and their doubt turned to amazement.
Through His physical appearance, Jesus proved that He was not only alive but was with them, in their very midst. He would be even more present with them, and in them, through His Spirit, but this was the promise of what was still to come. The resurrection of Christ is so much more powerful when we come to realize that Jesus whom God raised from the dead is not only alive but present with us, by means of His Spirit. May we come to grasp His presence in us even right now. By being aware of His presence, let us live our lives during this period not with fear, anxiety, and stress, but with a deep sense of security, comfort, and peace.
After giving physical evidence to His literal resurrection, Jesus gave to His disciples the biblical evidence for what had taken place and for what was yet to happen in verses 44-49. As He had explained to the disciples of Emmaus the real meaning of Scriptures hours earlier, Jesus illuminated the minds of the whole group of disciples so that in all the Scriptures they saw Christ. Jesus explained to them that the Messiah had to suffer, that He should rise again on the third day, and that the ultimate purpose of all this was that the good news of repentance and forgiveness of sin should be proclaimed in His name, based on His work of redemption and through His saving power. And although this proclamation must first take place in Jerusalem among the people of Israel, it must also be made known to all nations, to all ethnic groups, and to all peoples over the whole world.
Here, Jesus said nothing new to His disciples. He was simply reiterating to them what was already written. He illuminated their hearts and revealed to them the Scriptures. Like the disciples who received this illumination of Scripture from Jesus, let us pray that God will continue to give us the wisdom, revelation, and understanding to know Him better. Just as Apostle Paul prayed for believers in Ephesians 1, let us pray for each other for God to reveal Scripture to us so that our knowledge of God will grow deeper.
In verse 48, Jesus explained that the responsibility of preaching the good news rested upon those who were witnesses of His death and resurrection. They and other believers after them would have to go out into the world as the messengers of God to preach what they had seen, heard, and experienced. We are also witnesses to His death and resurrection, as God has already revealed to us the Gospel message, and we have gladly received it. We, like the apostles, have seen the works of Jesus in our lives; we have also heard His words guiding us; we have experienced in our hearts the meaning and the value of the Gospel. So, we too, should bear testimony concerning the good news of Jesus Christ. We must be Christ’s witnesses.
The way the witnesses were to go out and preach the gospel was to be empowered by the promised power of the Holy Spirit. In verse 49, Jesus said, “And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” If being empowered by the Holy Spirit is necessary for us to carry out our calling and mission to proclaim the Gospel, how can we be empowered by the Holy Spirit? Well, let us examine what Apostle Paul, one of the greatest empowered witnesses of Jesus, did.
In Ephesians 6:19-20, Apostle Paul asked the Ephesian church to pray for him so that he could proclaim the gospel boldly. I wouldn’t have guessed that Paul was lacking in boldness, but he knew his own weakness and asked for prayer in that area! He asked the Colossians to pray that he could make the gospel clear in Colossians 4:4. Again, I would have thought that Paul of all people could make the gospel clear! Yet he knew that he must depend on the Holy Spirit when he proclaimed the gospel. He also asked for prayer that God would open doors for the word.
If Paul needed prayer for these things, how much more should we be praying for the Holy Spirit to empower us and provide openings so that we can proclaim the Gospel to those who are lost? He who commanded the disciples to be His witnesses also commanded them to witness only in the power that He would provide because He who commands is He who enables.
In verses 50-53, we find that disciples who were formerly distraught and hopeless because of the death of Jesus are now described as transformed. Notice the change that Luke describes here. These once hopeless disciples are now characterized by praise. And these followers of Jesus who only days before were cowering behind locked doors, hidden from the Jewish religious leaders who had crucified their Lord, are now persistently, publicly praising God—in the temple, the very headquarters of Judaism. I pray that we will also experience the same transformation that the disciples had during this time. And I am convicted that we will during this lockdown period because it is God’s desire for us to be transformed.
To conclude, I believe that we need to undergo the same change of heart, mind, and action that the disciples of Jesus experienced in Luke 24. In spite of all that we know about Jesus and the Scriptures, we do not really believe them. What we say we believe, or our belief system — our creed, so to speak — may be post-Pentecost, but our practice, our conduct, and the way we live our daily lives are pre-Pentecost. We live more like the disciples lived in the beginning of Luke 24 than like they lived in Acts 2. The facts we know, but do we really believe them? The power we profess, but do we really practice it? The Gospel we hold, but do we really live with it?
Remember the mission our Lord Jesus Christ has given us: Our mission, or the purpose of our lives, is to proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name to all the nations. And the way we fulfill that mission is through the power of the Holy Spirit.
I believe that preparing for us to do this is precisely how our Lord has been at work while we have been locked in our homes. Like His disciples who needed an encounter with Christ to strengthen their faith in the resurrected Christ who was present in their midst, like the disciples who needed illumination and correct understanding of Scriptures to know their purpose, calling, and mission, like the disciples who needed to await to be clothed with the promised power of the Holy Spirit to empower them to be effective witnesses, like the disciples who needed God to transform them by turning their hearts’ doubt, sadness, unbelief, and fear to worship and great joy, God will also accomplish all of these things in us during this time.
So, continue to read, study, and meditate upon Scripture. Pray for His illumination. Pray for Him to fill you with wisdom, revelation, and understanding. Continue to pray for God to encounter you— an encounter that is undeniable, like the encounter the disciples had with the resurrected Jesus — so that you may know that He is ever present with you. Desire, pray, and wait for God to empower you with His Spirit, the greatest gift He will give you, so that you may be clothed with power. And when the COVID-19 lockdown ends, we will be willing, empowered, and ready to go out and fulfill our mission and calling by witnessing our Lord Jesus Christ.
Author: Pastor Sion