“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:19-23)
What poses the greatest threat to the work of any Christian ministry involved in a contested field or controversial subject? I believe the answer is in John 20:19. Most versions translate the sentence as “fear of the Jews”. A few like the NIV translate the sentence “fear of the Jewish leaders” which is probably more accurate. How might we apply that today? I believe we are mistaken if we focus on the “who” instead of the “what”. Then what is it? Look at the text again. It was not the Jews, or the Jewish leaders. What does the text say? It was fear. Why do I say that? Well look at the context. What do the preceding verses say?
“Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:17-18)
So what were the disciples doing that evening? Hiding! Hiding behind a door – specifically behind a locked door. You see, fear caused them to forget what Jesus had told them about his death and resurrection, fear caused them to disbelieve the testimony of Mary, and instead they locked the door in fear of their lives. The threat was internal not external. And its just as true for us too.
I suggest fear is the greatest threat to any ministry working for justice, peace and reconciliation. Instead of focussing on our calling to be peacemakers, ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5), we are instead tempted to focus on the consequences, on possible criticism or attacks, on our image, on maintaining good public relations, on pleasing our donors, and so fear paralyses us into discussion instead of action, into doing things right instead of doing the right things.
So what did Jesus do? “…with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19). You know the most frequent command in the Bible? “Do not be afraid!”. Why, because fear is our default position. How do we overcome fear? How did the disciples?
“Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:21-23)
How did they overcome their fears? By encountering the risen Lord. His presence with them, his peace upon them, his Spirit within them and his calling before them. How do we overcome our fears? By encountering the Risen Lord!. His presence with us, his peace upon us, his Spirit within us and his calling before us. Let us pray.
“Risen Lord Jesus, may we experience afresh your peace today as we seek to be peacemakers, may we experience your forgiveness as we call others to be reconciled, and may we experience your Spirit’s power as we speak truth to power to those who resist. And above all, knowing that you are with us and will never leave us, banish our fears today and forever. Amen.