I wrote previously about fear and how God’s perfect love casts out all fear. The followers of Jesus all feared when he was taken away by the Romans in the garden. They continued to fear while he was being mocked and beaten and hung on the cross. After he was dead and buried, they hunkered down in fear, meeting behind blocked closed doors for fear of the Jews. (John 20:19)
Even after Jesus appeared to them, risen from the dead in the flesh, the apostles continued to live in fear. It was not until they were filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of the Pentecost that they emerged out of their funk from behind locked, closed doors to preach the Gospel boldly in the crowded streets of Jerusalem.
As I continue to read through the Bible, now in the book of Acts, I see something else that I hadn’t seen before. In Acts 3 & 4, we see Peter and John healing a lame man and being hauled in front of the Sanhedrin and instructed to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. After Peter and John left, they gathered together again with the fellow believers in Jerusalem and prayed for boldness to keep speaking the gospel in the name of Jesus!
I previously observed that this change from fearful believers hiding behind closed doors to bold proclaimers of the Gospel on the crowded city streets happened only after they were filled with the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t Jesus appearing to them, risen from the dead, that overcame their fear; it was the Holy Spirit! But there is more.
The apostle, John, wrote, “Perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18) This was written by a man who, when the chips were down for Jesus, scattered in fear with the rest of the apostles. As Jesus tried to tell them of the need for him to die and be raised from the dead, something the apostles did not understand, he predicted they would all forsake him.
“You will all fall away because of Me this night…. (Matthew 26:31)
Peter might have pumped his chest with bravado as he protested that others might leave Jesus, but he would never leave. (Matthew 26:32-33) But, Jesus knew better than Peter knew himself. He predicted that Peter, though swearing allegiance at that very moment, would deny him not once, but three separate times. (Matthew 26:34)
So great was the fear that overtook the disciples that they scattered after Jesus was taken by the Roman soldiers. Even Peter, who didn’t scatter, but stayed back to witness the interrogation, beatings, mocking and humiliation to which Jesus was subjected, denied that he knew him… three times.
Fear is a powerful emotion. It can overwhelm us and cause us to stumble from the path that we know is right. How do we overcome fear?
When Jesus was present, the apostles were different men, one of them drawing a sword on the Roman soldiers when they came to take Jesus in the garden. (Matthew 26:51) But, with Jesus absent, suffering at the hands of those same Roman soldiers, the apostles cowered in fear and scattered.
Even after Peter and John went to the tomb, found it empty and “believed” (John 20:8), they were still fearful. When Jesus came to them after he had risen from the dead, he found the disciples behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews”. (John 20:19)
In that encounter, Jesus appeared to them, showed them his hands and his side, and spoke to them. He breathed on them and said to them, “receive the Holy Spirit”. Imagine that life-changing experience! Certainly that would have changed the demeanor of the disciples! Right?
In fact, it didn’t. Eight days later Jesus came to them again, and he found them, once again, inside and behind closed doors. (John 20:26) Nothing had changed.
Even after Jesus ascended to heaven, after spending about forty more days with them, speaking to them and confirming his words with signs (Acts 1:1-3), the apostles returned to the upper room where they had been staying. (Acts 1:12)
The apostles were not empowered by Jesus appearing to them, by him breathing the Holy Spirit upon them or by explaining to them everything that they didn’t understand. Even after all of that, the apostles remaining holed up in the upper room.
The apostles didn’t venture out with boldness until after the Holy Spirit came upon them and filled them. (Acts 2:2-4) Filled with the Holy Spirit, they drew a crowd (Acts 2:6) and stood up and addressed the crowd, and the crowd was “amazed and astonished”. (Acts 2:7) Peter, in fact, boldly addressed the “men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem” (Acts 2:14) demanding that they repent and be baptized. (Acts 2:38)
The same apostles who cowered and scattered when Jesus was taken and remained in hiding fearful of the Jews even after Jesus appeared to them risen from the dead became bold, courageous proclaimers of the Gospel after being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Love is from God (1 John 4:7), and God is love. (1 John 4:8) Those who are filled with the Holy Spirit are filled with love, and perfect love casts out all fear.
If we are fearful, we have yet to be filled with the Holy Spirit or have gotten out of touch with the Spirit of God, who is love.
God, please fill me with your Holy Spirit and drive out the fear lurking in my heart!
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“But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)
Johns packs a lot into these short verses, tucked into the first chapter of his Gospel that is profoundly full of other significant meaning:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. All things were made through him….In him was life, and the life was the light of men…. The true light…. was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him… he gave the right to become children of God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….”
These are some of the most profound and remarkable verses in all of Scripture. God became flesh, and He lived among the people He chose as His own, but they didn’t even recognize who He was. But those who received – who believed Him – He gave the right to become children of God.
I see two choices here: the choice of receiving Christ and the choice God gives us after receiving Christ – the right tobecome children of God. My Reformed friends might be tempted to overlook the import of this power-packed passage. I am little unnerved by it myself, truth be told. I don’t trust my own heart to make the right choices!
God lets us choose Him: “But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” But that isn’t the beginning of the story – or the end of it.
God chooses us. He gives us the right to become children of God[i], and He made that choice before the foundation[ii] of the world. We become the children of God not by blood descent, not by the will of parents or anyone else – maybe not even by our own will – but by God’s choice.[iii]
I do not have a systematic theology. I am not a theologian, and my understanding of systematic theology is limited, but free will has always seemed self-evident to me. It also seems eminently biblical. God created us in his own image[iv], and a primary characteristic of God is agency. We see in the story of Adam and Eve that God gave us agency too, by giving them dominion over the animals of the earth and in the choice to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The freedom to choose is also a necessary condition of love. God is love[v], and he created us in His image to reflect Him, to glorify Him and to love Him.
The point of an image is to image. Images are erected to display the original. Point to the original. Glorify the original. God made humans in his image so that the world would be filled with reflectors of God. Images of God. Seven billion statues of God. So that nobody would miss the point of creation. Nobody (unless they were stone blind) could miss the point of humanity, namely, God. Knowing, loving, showing God.[vi]
God created us to love him. Therefore, we must have agency/free will in order to be able to reflect back His love as He intended.
And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:5-13)
Reading through Luke recently this passage impressed in a way that hadn’t occurred to me previously. We often remember things out context, but context often provides a perspective that is lost when verses are read or remembered alone.
It seems that the ask, seek and knock passage is often remembered for the proposition that God will give us the good things for which we ask, seek and knock because a father doesn’t withhold the good things his children ask for. This seems certainly to be true, but there is much more going on here. If that is all we get out of this passage, we are missing the bigger picture and larger truth.
When I read back through the entire passage, I see a progression of intimacy that I had not seen before.
The Psalms are filled exhortations (encouragement, urging) to be thankful and praise God. We can easily gloss over the ubiquitous examples and urging to give thanks and praise to God and miss the essence and significance of thanksgiving.
The decades and generations that have passed have dulled our collective memory of the savage reality of the Civil War, the collective anxiety of a nation coming apart at the seams with no certain future. The Civil War divided families and threatened to undo the nation.
The Psalms were penned (many of them) by King David, who reigned at the acme of the Jewish nation. But David’s life was a rollercoaster of ups and downs. Continue reading →
“[T]he mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject[i] itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so…. (Romans 8:7)
[C]reation was subjected[ii] to futility[iii], not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free ….” (Romans 8: 20-21)
Life and death, the universe and all the “stuff” that is, ever was and ever will be are “in God’s hands”. That is another way of saying that God created everything. God is timeless and immaterial and has created all that is material out of nothing, including us.
But the material world, the world as we know it, is passing away, even from the moment it was created!
And that is all part of God’s ultimate plan, though we, being only part of the material creation, have a hard time seeing it.