|"One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, "Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you." (Acts 18:9-10)
By Bishop Robert Hayes
You may be familiar with the words spoken by Jesus from the cross, statements commonly known as the "Seven Last Words." No one knows who first collected those seven phrases from the Gospels and put them together. Why don’t we also give emphasis to a collection of the first words by our resurrected Lord from this side of the tomb?
Wouldn’t it be helpful if, after our Good Friday meditation, we turned to what the risen Lord said—and still says—to his people?
Peace be with you
From John 20:19, we learn the resurrected Jesus went to his disciples, behind locked doors, and greeted them with these words: "Peace be with you."
These first words of our risen Lord amaze me!
In that room were the 11 men who left him alone to face the trumped-up charges and the ugly death of a Roman cross. They were the 11 men who deserted him, denied him—and who then were hiding, fearing for their lives.
When I ponder you or me standing in for Jesus, I seriously doubt we would have spoken as he did.
His greeting of "peace be with you" was more than just a conventional salute. The greeting carried with it the assurance of the deep peace Jesus promised the disciples when they were together at the Last Supper. He offered a peace fearless and reassuring.
Those words from this side of the empty tomb conveyed this to those frightened disciples: Because Jesus lives, death or calamity no longer is to be feared. We, too, can be assured that, just as Jesus triumphed, so will we.
After calming the disciples, who were cowering behind the locked doors of the Upper Room, Jesus said to them, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you" (John 20:21).
Later, he met them in Galilee, where he said, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19).
And his parting words to them were: "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). With these words, Jesus called the disciples to action. They could not know he was alive without wanting to share that news with others. So he sent them out from behind locked doors. Jesus sent them forth from his ascension to bear witness to what they had seen and heard.
These two words—bear witness—represent the heart of the Christian faith!
Notice more than one Gospel writer testified to this word from the risen Lord.
"Receive the Holy Spirit," Jesus said, in the Gospel of John. In the first chapter of Acts, Luke wrote that the disciples were anxious about future success and the coming of the kingdom. Refuting their fears, Jesus said, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you" (Acts 1:8).
With his parting words, Jesus wanted his followers to be assured that the power they would receive was enough—more than enough—for any contingency and for every emergency.
What do Jesus’ words mean for you today?
Jesus meets you daily, at your work, in your home, in your church—in every ordinary place, just as he met his disciples after his resurrection. He says, "Fear not," in a world both terrified and terrifying. He says, "Bear witness" at work, in your home, and in your leisure time. He says, "Receive power," which helps Christians in all ages do what otherwise would be impossible and unbearable.
He speaks to all his saints, martyrs, and pioneers in every generation. His extraordinary words are for ordinary people like you and me. And his continuing message of comfort (Peace be with you)… his message of challenge (Bear witness)… his message of commission (Receive power)… assure me, indeed, he is with us "always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).
(This is reprinted with permission from "Strength for the Journey: A Devotional Guide," by Bishop Hayes. A second printing of the devotional collection has provided additional copies. Sales support a special scholarship fund for Oklahomans pursuing careers in ministry. Contact the Department of Communications, 405-530-2075. )