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, kept his distance from Jesus in fear with the rest of the apostles.
When Jesus tried to tell his disciples of the need for him to die and be raised from the dead, they did not understand. Jesus predicted John and all the other disciples would forsake him, and they did.
“You will all fall away because of Me this night…. (Matthew 26:31)
Peter pumped his chest with bravado as he protested that he would never leave, (Matthew 26:32-33), but Jesus knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. He knew that Peter 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. Though Peter stayed back to witness the interrogation, beatings, mocking and humiliation to which Jesus was subjected, Peter 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? How did John come to say that perfect love casts out all fear?
When Jesus was present, the apostles were different men. One of them even drew 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’ bravado turned to fear.
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”. Certainly that would have changed the demeanor of the disciples! Right?
It didn’t. Eight days later Jesus came to them again, and he found them, once again, inside and behind locked doors. (John 20:26) Nothing had changed.
After Jesus ascended to heaven, after spending forty more days with the apostles, 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) They remained shut up and cloistered.
The apostles were not empowered by Jesus appearing to them. They were not empowered by Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit upon them or by explaining to them everything that they didn’t understand. 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) Filled with the Holy Spirit they stood up and addressed the crowd, and the crowd was “amazed and astonished”. (Acts 2:7) Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter 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 in fear of the Jews even after Jesus appeared to them risen from the dead did not become courageous proclaimers of the Gospel until they were 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 are not been filled with the Holy Spirit. If we are fearful, we are not filled with love. If God is love, the Spirit of God is love, and perfect love casts out all fear. .
God, please fill me with your Holy Spirit and drive out the fear lurking in my heart!