Uniform 03.22.2015: Sent to Act


John 20:19-23

In the days leading up to World War II, a number of German theologians fled Germany. They could not stomach the way the church was changing under Nazi rule, and they knew that their dissenting ideas were dangerous. Some spoke out against Hitler until the threats to their lives and careers became too serious, at which point they sought peace and safety elsewhere. Karl Barth took a teaching post in Switzerland after refusing to make a pledge to Hitler. Paul Tillich went to New York to teach at Union Theological Seminary after he was removed from his position for speaking against the Third Reich.

When Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced opposition to his work and ideas from the Nazi government, he also went to the United States. But he quickly felt that leaving Germany was the wrong decision. Fully aware of the dangers and struggles that awaited him, he returned home on the last available ship to Germany.

Bonhoeffer took Christ’s commission seriously. “As the Father has sent me,” Jesus said to the disciples, “so I send you” (Jn 20:21). While many Nazi dissenters hid in locked rooms out of fear as Jesus’ followers did after his death, Bonhoeffer stepped out into the conflict and became an active part of the resistance. He acted through the conviction that being a Christian required him to do something.

Like the first disciples, we might also be more comfortable sitting in our locked rooms than facing our fears. Like the German theologians, we might make the difficult decision to leave home when our beliefs are undermined, our work is discredited, and we face real danger. Fortunately, few of us are faced with such impossible choices. But the reality that our lives are easier than the first Christians’ or those who opposed Hitler does not excuse us from action. Christ’s commission applies to all of us. He sends us all out into the world to continue the ministry God began in him. We have a responsibility to act.

But Jesus doesn’t send us out alone. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we find the courage and the authority we need to act as Christ’s disciples today. It was the Spirit that gave the first disciples the power and bravery to build the church. And it was the Spirit that helped bold disciples like Dietrich Bonhoeffer denounce the work of the Third Reich on its home turf. The Spirit wants to give us the same boldness. Will we go out and use it?


1. What do you think about the choice many German theologians made to leave Germany just before or during World War II? What choice might you have made in that difficult situation?
2. What do you think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s decision to return to Germany despite the danger he would surely face? What choice might you have made in that difficult situation?
3. How are we guilty of living out our faith in locked rooms rather than in public?
4. How can we be more courageous in fulfilling Christ’s commission to continue his work?
5. Where is God sending you? Are you willing to go? Why or why not?


“Biography,” kbarth.org, http://kbarth.org/biography/ [accessed 12 March 2015].

“Bonhoeffer: Timeline,” pbs.org, http://www.pbs.org/bonhoeffer/timeline.html [accessed 12 March 2015].

“Paul Tillich: Encouraging Leaps of Faith,” Existential Primer, http://www.tameri.com/csw/exist/tillich.shtml [accessed 12 March 2015].

Reference Shelf

In the Gospel of John, the Holy Spirit is known also as the Paraclete, one called alongside as comforter or counselor (14:16). He is also “the Spirit of truth” (14:17; 15:26; 16:13), reminding Jesus’ followers of the things Jesus had spoken (14:26), bearing witness to Christ (15:26), and guiding Jesus’ disciples in further truth (16:13). The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (16:8-11). He is the spirit of truth, opposite to the spirit of error (1 John 4:6). Essentially, the Holy Spirit is the continuing divine presence which became incarnate in Jesus Christ. Thus, the followers of Jesus are not left orphans by the physical withdrawal of Christ. Before his ascension, Jesus promised: “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you” (John 14:18). The Holy Spirit is the continued divine presence, known in Jesus as one who could be physically seen, heard, and touched (1 John 1:1).

The presence of the Holy Spirit in a human life is not characteristically evinced in some exotic way, like speaking in tongues, but in inner qualities of character and outward ministry.


Frank Stagg, “Holy Spirit’ in Mercer Dictionary of the Bible (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990) 385.

Bonnie Chappell is the editor of the Uniform Series Bible Study. She is a graduate of Mercer University and Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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