We're in a series where we will see how the gospel of Jesus affects every area of our lives. Each post will look at how the truth of the gospel changes how we view a certain aspect of life and its implications in our lives.
Welcome to Holy Week, as Christians around the world remember and celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus on Good Friday and Easter. As I've been preparing for my Easter sermon, I was reminded of how surrounding the story of Jesus' death and resurrection is the tale of two distinct pictures of the disciples.
On one side we see the disciples controlled by their fear. They're paralyzed and incapable of doing anything good because of it. The soldiers show up with Judas the traitor in the garden of Gethsemane and the disciples scatter. One disciple (Peter) grabs a sword and tries to defend Jesus. But I guess fishermen weren't trained in sword fighting and Peter ends up cutting off a guy's ear. Jesus rebukes Peter, heals the guy's ear, and the disciples run. They abandon Jesus in one of his most trying moments.
And not only do they desert Jesus rather than defend him, they are almost no where to be found. Their fear of the soldiers and religious rulers made them incapable of staying near or helping Jesus. Their fear overtook them, and led them to abandon their master. One disciple (Peter) does follow the crowd of soldiers from a distance, hoping to find out what's happening.
But soon, even his fear cripples him. A slave girl (think the lowest of the low in the social hierarchy of the day) asks Peter if he is a follower of Jesus. Peter denies it. It's not a soldier, not a Jewish leader, not even a peer who asks Peter if he knows Jesus; relatively she's a social nobody. Yet Peter's fear consumes him again and he denies knowing Jesus a second time. Finally Peter's terror reaches a boiling point and he denies Jesus a third time, even calling a curse down on himself (essentially saying publicly, "I swear on everything holy that I do NOT know this man."). And his fear leads him to do what he had just promised Jesus he would never do (Luke 22:31-34): deny and abandon him.
After Jesus’ death, the fear continued. The disciples cowered in a locked room, terrified that the Jewish religious rulers and Roman soldiers would come after them next. They'd all but forgotten that Jesus had said he'd have to die and that he'd rise again. So they succumbed to their fear, they locked the door, and they lost hope.
But then something happens and they become completely different people. The fear is gone. These men are nearly unrecognizable from the disciples we see prior to the resurrection. The gospel has come and these same men are transformed! The gospel leads these disciples from crippling fear to fearlessness.
Soon after Jesus' death and resurrection (the essence the gospel), his disciples are known for their boldness, their fearlessness, and their courage in Christ. When they see the resurrected Jesus and when they finally understand the gospel, it changes them!
Acts 4:8, 13 describes this. "Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders’...Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”
Now through the gospel, we're given the Holy Spirit. Peter is empowered by the Spirit and instead of running away, what does he do? He preaches with boldness. He stands before the same people who accused and convicted Jesus and he preaches the gospel to them! And it isn't just we readers who notice something is different. The rulers are astonished. I love this next part. It says that the rulers recognized that they had been with Jesus!
The gospel changed the disciples, not just in this one instance but for the rest of their lives. The fearlessness that came from the gospel didn't end in Acts 4 but continued. Church history teaches us that all but one of the disciples were not only persecuted (think whipping, imprisonment, torture) but also killed for following Jesus. The only disciple that wasn't martyred was John (they tried to kill him by boiling him in oil but somehow he survived so they exiled him to live as a prisoner on an island).
So what happened? What turned this crew of terrified cowards into fearless martyrs? The answer: the empty tomb!
The good news (that's what the word 'gospel' means) of Jesus' death and resurrection destroys fear. Fear of man. Fear of uncertainty. Fear of the suffering. Fear of the enemy. Because Jesus rose from the grave, even the fear of death loses its sting! Because Jesus conquered death itself, his followers are freed from its power over them. Through his death, Jesus destroyed "the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver[ed] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery" (Hebrews 2:14-15). The disciples are a great example of this: men who moved from slavery to their fear to being delivered by the gospel and having freedom over their fear.
As Christians you were once slaves to fear (you couldn't help but be fearful). But now through Christ, you've "received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory" (Romans 8:15-17).
Through the gospel, God has "not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline" (2 Timothy 1:7). Because God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The LORD is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6).
In Jesus' death and resurrection, his love was demonstrated and given to us. And his love fills those who believe in him. "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18). Through the gospel we no longer have anything to fear. Jesus' perfect loves is driving it out. We no longer worry about the penalty for our sins because we know it's been paid for in Christ.
When we read stories of the disciples' changed lives, we don't have to think, "I could NEVER do that!" In Christ, we've now been give the same Spirit that empowered them to be fearless in the face of persecution and death. We believe the same gospel and have been freed from the same slavery to fear. We know our savior has defeated sin and death once and for all and that the effects of his victory are given to us. Now in Christ, we have the same gospel that changed terrified cowards into fearless martyrs!
SPENCER PETERSON / COMMUNITY LIFE PASTOR