Constable Ken and Bob called the police station on their radio. “Hello. We have a case here. A woman has shot her husband dead for stepping on the floor she had just mopped.” The Supervisor on duty said, “Well, have you arrested the woman?” There was a pause, “Uh, no sir. The floor is still wet.”
Of what are you afraid? Some people are afraid of heights. Some are afraid of closed spaces. Some people are afraid of growing old—most of us have managed to overcome that fear, right? Some people are afraid of flying; some of Alzheimer’s, some people are afraid of pain, and almost everyone is afraid of death, most particularly a painful and lengthy death. Afraid of the dark, afraid of unknown, afraid of rats, or bats, or mice, or spiders—people have phobias about many things. What makes your heart fearful?
In our Scripture reading we see the disciples in a house with the doors locked because they are afraid. They are afraid of being arrested and crucified just like Jesus was. Since Jesus was crucified as the leader of an insurrection, they as his closest followers were on the most wanted list as well. So they were afraid of being rounded up by the temple police and then handed over to the Romans to be tortured and killed. It was a logical fear. They were not jumping at shadows when they locked the doors.
At the same time, there were strange reports going on. Women had reported that the tomb of Jesus was empty. Peter and John had gone to look at the tomb and they verified that the tomb was empty. And some of the women reported that they had seen angels, and some even said that they had seen Jesus himself. This news has electrified the disciples and a bunch of them are meeting together in this room. Was Jesus dead or wasn’t he? Were people seeing visions, or were they really seeing a person who was alive? The fact is they were not sure. They all wanted Jesus to be alive, but everybody knows that dead people don’t live after they have died. They knew when a body had been beaten and tortured as much as the body of Jesus had; that that body dies and stays dead. They were familiar with death. They knew all about violent deaths because of the frequent bloody clashes their people had with the Romans. And yet, this was Jesus they were talking about. Jesus very often didn’t fit into the usual rules.
And then, in the middle of their talking about it, Jesus appeared among them. Yes, but the doors were locked, so how did that happen? We don’t know! Apparently Jesus’s new resurrection body can do amazing things. But Jesus is in the room and notice what he tells his disciples, he says, “Peace be with you.” What did the disciples not have at that time? They did not have peace. They had anxiety; they had grief; they had confusion. Jesus says peace be with you! And then, as if to give them that peace, he shows them his hands and his side. How does showing his hands and side help them have peace? Isn’t he just reminding them of the horrible tortures that the Romans and Jewish authorities can inflict upon them? No, he was assuring them that it was he, Jesus who was standing there in their midst. And then he breathed on them and as they felt the breath of Jesus there was a sudden ‘aha’ moment for them. When they felt the breath, they knew that this ‘thing’ they saw in front of them was not just a vision, a ghost, or a hallucination. When Jesus breathed on them there was the sudden understanding that Jesus had indeed been raised from the dead. He had died and then he really had come back to life and he was alive right here in front of them.
Now let’s look again at the reading from Acts. The temple police, the same group the disciples had locked their doors against because they were afraid of them, the temple police had them in custody. The disciples were before the Jewish religious leaders and these are the same leaders they did not want to be in their power—but notice, now there seems to be no fear. The high priest has given the disciples orders NOT to teach in the name of Jesus. And Peter says “We must obey God rather than any human authority.”
According to the high priest’s words the disciples have filled Jerusalem with the teachings of Jesus and they have blamed them for the death of Jesus. Apparently now after the fact, the high priest and Jewish leadership do not want to take the responsibility for the death of Jesus whereas in front of Pilate they had said, “His death be on us and on our children.” But look at Peter’s response to them, “The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom YOU had killed by hanging him on a tree.” His response is right back in their faces. Wasn’t he aware they could have him beaten and whipped and even killed? And Peter continues, “God exalted Jesus at his right hand as Leader and Savior and we are witnesses to these things. Peter and the 10 others now have no fear of the Jewish authorities.
Notice another difference between the passage in Acts and the passage in John. In John these men are called disciples, but in Acts they are called apostles. But they are the same guys so how and when did their name change? Disciple means follower; apostle means one who is sent. Jesus told them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” “Now you are my apostles.”
So there is this remarkable change in these eleven men. On Easter evening they are afraid for their lives. Yet, about 3 months later they are absolutely fearless. They move from being terrified followers of a man who has been executed to be sent out by a man who has risen from the dead. They change from being confused about what in the world Jesus was trying to teach them to being confident of the message of Jesus to the world and not only confident but bold to proclaim this message.
There are several reasons why they have changed. First, they have seen Jesus and now they know that he has risen from the dead and he is now alive and with God the Father. Secondly they were now sure about the message of Jesus. Jesus came so that people could have repentance and forgiveness of sins. Through this repentance and forgiveness we can now be in relationship with God. This is nothing short of wonderful news. And finally they now have the Holy Spirit within them. The Spirit of God was living within their spirits; God Himself was filling their hearts. The end result is no more fear.
So what does this have to do with us and being able to overcome our fears? We like they, need to have a new perspective. We are not following a dead man. Jesus is alive. He is our Leader and Savior right now and through baptism and faith we have been given the Holy Spirit. Further, we have been entrusted with a message of hope for the world. People now have the opportunity to know God and live for him by repenting and being forgiven.
This new perspective and message helps us overcome our fears by helping us to focus on what is eternal rather than being fearful of what can happen to us. Our lives and hopes are not to be centered on ourselves or on the here and now. We cannot stay here in this life. We are all of us going to die. We are all of us going to go through troubles. Our lives will not be trouble or pain free. In fact the apostles about whom we just read all died violent and painful deaths but one for their faith and witness. Christ doesn’t promise we will not be persecuted. Christians are still being persecuted and killed for their faith around the world even today; last week over 200 died. Yet, Jesus says that he will be with us through it all. Jesus through the Holy Spirit lives within us and He has been through these valleys of trouble and pain and heartache and he will walk with us as we go through them and bring us safely into his heavenly kingdom afterwards. That’s the message of hope that we have. That’s the reason we can have peace that passes understanding; this is the reason we can live without fear. Jesus came back from the dead; he is really alive and He will bring us to our heavenly home. This is the message that the Apostles taught. This is the message and hope of Easter that we can share with the world. Alleluia, the Lord is risen!