Retreat or Advance
Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn. 20: 21-22, ESV).
In 1933, in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inaugural speech that occurred in the great depths of the Great Depression, he spoke these immortal words:
“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself-nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
President Roosevelt had seized the opportunity to take a challenging situation and to turn it to his advantage. Later, the world saw the same “fire” in his soul when the nation was faced with the infamous Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. President Roosevelt had rallied a nation through some of the most difficult times in our history.
Our scriptural passage today is a reflection upon Jesus’s model of “moving” his disciples from the “paralyzing effect of fear” into action to advance the gospel message. He repeats, “Peace be with you,” as he had spoken when he appeared to these his followers (Jn. 20:19). We certainly know that a repeated message in scripture implies a great deal of relevance and importance—especially when the source is Christ himself. He invites them to “shalom.” That is the whole fullness of their welfare, good health and safety and not just the absence of stress or hardship.
Here is the Great Commission in John’s gospel account. Jesus sends his disciples out to a world that's desperately in need of the "good news." He sends them just as he had been commissioned by the Father and gives them the Holy Spirit. We see the united appointment by the Godhead to help these disciples in this task. They are not alone, just as we are not alone in these days.
If you recall, this commissioning service happens in the Upper Room on the evening of the first day of the week (Jn. 20:19). It's the day of Jesus resurrection. We don’t have evidence of them “acting on this commission” until Pentecost some seven weeks down the road. After reading and understanding this scripture it helps me to know that Jesus is with me and he is patient with me to fulfill the role that he has called me too. Rome wasn’t built in a day. God uses time to leverage his commission advancement.
These days of COVID-19 follow closely to the days by which the disciples were being prepared to take the world by storm. Could we also see how God is building into our character that which is necessary to carry out the commissioning that he has called us to fulfill? Nothing happens by accident.
We ought to utilize this time of isolation to advance the kingdom of Christ. A revivalist pastor and friend of mine has stated, “I think because of this virus, the gospel may be going out stronger than ever before.” I believe he is on to something.
Prayer: Lord, take advantage of these days we are spending at home to build our character into your likeness. Prepare us as a mighty army to share the love that you have for your world. May we understand the times and know how to advance your gospel. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev. James Conley
Western Slope Ministry & Missions Facilitator