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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