Forsaking Our Fears

John 20:19-23

April 18, 2004 | Brian Bill

The Discovery Channel recently did a story on the Top Ten Phobias that people have. Phobia comes from the Greek word for fear, but refers to a panic that is completely out of proportion to the perceived threat behind it.  Here are some of the top fear factors.

#10:     Necrophobia.  The fear of death causes some people to worry so much about dying that they have little quality of life.

#9:       Brontophobia is not the fear of brontosauruses; it’s the terror of thunderstorms.

#5:       Claustrophobia is the fear of being trapped in a small confined space.

#4:       Agoraphobia is the fear of open places.

#3:       Aerophobia is what I had when I was up in a plane with Scott Peterson.

#1:       Arachnophobia, or the fear of spiders, is the number #1 fear of people, affecting half of all women (it’s actually 100% in my household), and one out of 10 men.

I heard just this week that two out of three Americans fear that there will be another terrorist attack in our country before the November elections.  Here are two other phobias.  Can you guess their definitions?

Ecclesiophobia            Fear of church

Homilophobia             Fear of sermons

 If you have these two horrors today, you’re in trouble.  We’ve all experienced fear at one time or another.  One person writes that fear is “the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind.”  I like columnist Dave Barry’s perspective: “All of us are born with a set of instinctive fears – of falling, of the dark, of lobsters, of falling on lobsters in the dark…and of the words, ‘Some Assembly Required.’”

 One of the results of the resurrection is that we no longer have to live in fear.  As we learned last week, when Jesus appeared to people after He was raised to life, the lives of those who saw Him were never the same.  As the two followers trudged home to Emmaus, we discovered that:

  • Jesus is our companion.
  • Jesus wants us to have conversations with Him.
  • Jesus uses the Word to provide correction.
  • Jesus craves communion with us.
  • Jesus has commissioned us to share the good news with others.

 We pick up the story after these two believers bolt back to Jerusalem with the message of Jesus’ resurrection.  When they get there, they discover that Jesus has also appeared to Peter.  Luke 24:36 says, “While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” Please turn to John’s account of this encounter in John 20:19-23 as we discover five ways to forsake our fears.

1. Embrace His Peace.  

Take a look at verse 19“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’” The emphasis here is on the “first day” of the week, the same day Jesus rose from the dead.  The New Testament singles out Sunday as the single most important day in remembrance of the Resurrection.  Here are just a few examples.  Acts 20:7“On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.”  1 Corinthians 16:2“On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income…”  John writes in Revelation 1:10“On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.”  Warren Wiersbe writes: “The Sabbath commemorates God’s finished work of Creation and the Lord’s Day commemorates Christ’s finished work of Redemption, the ‘new creation.’”

When we read that the disciples were together, we know that Thomas was absent and that Judas had killed himself.  The two from Emmaus were among them, and there could have been more.  They are together, “with the doors locked for fear of the Jews.”  They are afraid because their leader had been arrested and crucified as a revolutionary.  Generally, if your leader has been killed, the authorities would be looking for you too.  On top of that, the body of Jesus was missing and since the religious authorities didn’t have it, and the Romans didn’t have it, the disciples were a likely choice.  And so they’ve barricaded themselves in a room.  The word “fear,” or “photos” in Greek, means to be alarmed, frightened and in terror.  It carries with it the idea of “flight.” Maybe they were planning how to escape from Jerusalem without being seen.

And then suddenly, without warning, Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you!”  This is yet one more application of Matthew 18:20 when Jesus said, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”  Somehow in His resurrection body, He was able to come through locked doors and He didn’t even knock.  Notice the plural “doors,” which meant that they had probably locked the gate into the house and the door to the actual room they were huddled in.  Nothing could keep Jesus out.  I wonder if the disciples’ first reaction was one of guilt and shame because they thought Jesus was going to rebuke them for their failure to stand with Him in His time of need. Luke 24:37 says that not only were they afraid of the enemies, but they were also “startled and frightened” when Jesus appeared.

Instead of blasting them, Jesus blesses them when he says, “Peace be with you!”  I’m sure this startled them because it wasn’t what they were expecting at all.  This greeting has a much deeper meaning than “what’s up, guys?”  In the Jewish culture, the word shalom is a state of wholeness and harmony that is intended to resonate in all relationships.  When used as a greeting, shalom was a wish for outward freedom from disturbance as well as an inward sense of well-being.  To a people constantly harassed by enemies, peace was the premiere blessing.  In Numbers 6:24-26, God gave Moses these words to use when blessing His people: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.”  

The New Testament describes at least three spheres of peace:  

  • Peace with God – that’s the vertical dimension.  Romans 5:1“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  This word can also mean, “to set at one again.”  
  • Peace of God – this takes place internally.  Philippians 4:6-7“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
  • Peace with others – when we have peace with God and we experience the peace of God, we can then extend peace horizontally.  Matthew 5:9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.”  We’ve learned before that Jesus didn’t tell us to be “peacekeepers,” but instead “peacemakers.”  This could be translated as “peace workers.”  It takes effort to bring conflict to an end.  When we work at giving grace and solving strife we are doing what God does.   

Isaiah 9:6 states that Christ would be the “prince of peace.” When Jesus was born, the angels proclaimed words of praise in Luke 2:14“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

Jesus offers you peace today but it’s different than the peace the world offers.  Our culture communicates that peace is the absence of something.  That’s probably what the disciples were thinking as they tried to lock out their worries and concerns.  Jesus provides peace as the presence of someone, even when we’re in the middle of a mess: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  And this peace extends into three dimensions.

  • I can be at peace with my past.  Some of us really need to hear this truth because getting past the past is easier said than done.  Friend, whatever is lurking in your past is forgiven if you’ve asked for forgiveness.  Allow His peace to bring wholeness as you claim the promise of Psalm 103:12“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
  • I can be at peace with my present.  What are you worried about right now?  Your marriage?  Your finances?  A health issue?  Jesus came to “bind up the wounds of the broken” (Isaiah 61:1).
  • I can be at peace with my future.  Some of you are fretting about the future and you don’t have to.  Ask Jesus to give you His peace so you can stop worrying.  Someone shared this verse with me recently from Psalm 30:5“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Do you want this peace or are you content to cower in the corner?  Don’t lock yourself behind thick walls.  Instead, embrace the perfect peace that He offers you.

2. Examine His Proof.  

Not only did Jesus proclaim peace, He also invited the disciples to examine the proof of His resurrection in verse 20“After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.  The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” Jesus demonstrated how His own body was now whole, after being broken, bruised and battered.  He showed them His hands and they saw the scars from the nails and then He pulled up His robe and showed them where the spear had sliced through His side.  This gave them a touch of reality.  They had heard from Mary and the women, they heard from Peter and the two guys from Emmaus, but now they could examine the proof for themselves.  

 Reflecting on this event, John writes in 1 John 1:1“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”  Think of how the senses were involved:  They heard with their ears, they saw with their eyes, and they touched with their hands.  Luke 24:43 says that Jesus even ate a piece of broiled fish to show that He was alive.  The sense of smell was even activated as fish fumes filled the air!

Christianity is not just a system of rules and regulations.  Nor is it a fairy tale.

Friends, a key way to forsake your fears is to examine the proof that Jesus is alive. Christianity is not just a system of rules and regulations.  Nor is it a fairy tale.  It’s a relationship with the living Lord Jesus.  When the disciples examined the proof, they were “overjoyed.”  This is reminiscent of what Jesus said before He died in John 16:22“Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”  Now that Jesus has been raised to life, you and I can have joy that will never evaporate.  Let’s claim the promise of Isaiah 25:9“Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us.  This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” 

3. Engage in His purpose.  

As we continue to look at this passage, it becomes clear that Jesus not only gives us peace and proof for our own sakes; He also calls us to His purposes.  We’ve been given a confirmation anda commission.  Recognizing that His followers are still fearful, Jesus once again declares in verse 21“Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  His peace is given so that we will be about His purposes.  We are saved in order to be sent out.  The word “sent” means to “be dispatched.”  In Luke 24:47-48, Jesus adds: “And repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.”  

The disciples are given a message that cannot be kept in a locked room.  Likewise, we can’t get too comfortable within the walls of this building or our own homes.  The gospel must go out, not stay within.  Someone put it this way: “Christianity doesn’t simply put out its sign and say ‘come.’  Christianity puts on its shoes and goes.”  That’s why Isaiah 52:7 focuses on feet: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation.”

The first use of the word “peace” in verse 19 was given in order to quiet their hearts.  This second “peace” was given in order to prepare them for a fresh statement of their purpose as initially given in John 17:18“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” and Matthew 10:16“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” Paul states our mission this way in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20“He has committed to us the message of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” 

Notice that Jesus sends us into the world in the same way the Father sent Him.  This has several implications. 

  • We must take the initiative.  As Jesus went into the world so we are to go to others.  We can’t just sit back and wait for people to come to us. 
  • We must open our mouths.  We are to speak the truth like He did.  
  • We must live what we say.  As Jesus demonstrated the validity of His message by what He did, so must we.  You may be the only Bible people ever read.
  • We must be prepared for opposition.  It shouldn’t surprise us when others laugh at us and ridicule us because of our message or our approach to living. 

4. Embody His Presence.  

Are you feeling a little overwhelmed?  Me too.  That’s why these next words in John 20:22are so important, And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘receive the Holy Spirit.’”  Jesus not only commissions us, He gives us the Holy Spirit as a companion so we can embody His presence and do the job He has for us to do.  We have an assignment and we’ve been empowered to accomplish it.  The Holy Spirit is not given just to keep us company, or to meet our needs.  

We see this by looking at the word “breathe.”  This is the only time it’s used in the New Testament but it appears at least four times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, where the word “breath” also means “spirit.”

Genesis 2:7“The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

Job 33:4“The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”

Psalm 33:6“By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” 

Ezekiel 37:5“This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.”

Friends, listen.  Just as God’s breath made the first creation, so likewise the breath of Jesus makes the new creation.  We embody the very presence of God because the Holy Spirit was given to all believers 50 days later at Pentecost in Acts 2 in fulfillment of Jesus’ words found in John 16:7“Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” When Jesus blew the Spirit on them it was a prelude to what would happen at Pentecost.

At this moment of greatest need the Savior promises to place His Spirit in each of us individually.  We are God’s housing.  Listen to what the Bible says the Holy Spirit will do. 

  • He gives us the words to say (Luke 12:11-12) 
  • He convicts us, and our listeners of sin (John 16:8) 
  • He converts a hard heart (John 6:44) 
  • He sustains us in the difficult times (John 14:26-27) 
  • He gives focus and substance to our prayers (Romans 8:26) 
  • He gives us the abilities to do what He has called us to do (1 Corinthians 12:7) 
  • He gives us Christ-like qualities (Galatians 5:22-23) 

When the Holy Spirit is allowed room to work He will surprise us again and again by what He can do.  We are not left alone!  He has provided the help we need.  I take great comfort in knowing that God doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the called.

5. Exclaim His Proclamation.  

The last verse of our text adds one final way to forsake our fears.  Look at verse 23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”This passage is difficult because we know that Mark 2:7 says, “no one can forgive sins but God alone.” 

We have some help in interpreting this by recognizing that the verbs are in the perfect tense.  Warren Wiersbe provides a helpful explanation: “Whosever sins you remit [forgive] shall have already been forgiven them, and whosever sins you retain [do not forgive] shall have already not been forgiven them.”  In other words, the disciples did not provide forgiveness; they proclaimed forgiveness (“Bible Exposition Commentary,” Page 393).  The NIV Study Bible explains it this way, “God does not forgive people’s sins because we do so, nor does he withhold forgiveness because we do.  Rather, those who proclaim the gospel are in effect forgiving or not forgiving sins, depending on whether the hearers accept or reject Jesus Christ.”   

If you tell people about this forgiveness you are extending forgiveness to them.  If they respond they are indeed forgiven.  However, if you don’t tell them, you are NOT extending forgiveness to them.  Then their sins will not be forgiven.  We can only declare what God has already done.  We proclaim the message of forgiveness; God performs the miracle of forgiveness.  


As we conclude this morning, let me summarize what we’ve learned: When we focus on our fears, we are paralyzed; when we focus on faith, we will be energized.   

Several years ago a submarine was being tested and had to remain submerged for many hours.  When it returned to harbor, the captain was asked, “How did the terrible storm last night affect you?”  The officer looked at him in surprise and exclaimed, “Storm?  We didn’t even know there was one!”  You see, the sub had been so far beneath the surface that it had reached the area known to sailors as “the cushion of the sea.”  The ocean may be whipped into huge waves, but the waters below are never stirred.

The waves of worry and the ferocity of fear cannot touch the one who rests in Christ

Have you experienced the “cushion of the Savior”?  The waves of worry and the ferocity of fear cannot touch the one who rests in Christ.  

What are you afraid of right now?  What causes your heart to race and keeps you awake at night?  I’d like to read some verses.  As I do, would you please close your eyes and allow God’s Word to minister His peace in the midst of your fears.  

Genesis 15:1“Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward.”

Exodus 14:13“Do not be afraid.  Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today.”

Exodus 20:20“Do not be afraid.  God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

Deuteronomy 1:21“Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” 

Psalm 3:6“I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side.”

Psalm 55:5-7, 16-17, 22: “Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.  I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!  I would fly away and be at rest — I would flee far away and stay in the desert…But I call to God, and the LORD saves me.  Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice…Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.”

Psalm 56:3-4“When I am afraid, I will trust in you.  In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.  What can mortal man do to me?” 

Psalm 91:4-5“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.  You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day.” 

John 14:27“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” 

 I wonder if you share one of my phobias called, faithophobia?  While I made up the word, some of us forget our faith and persist in focusing on that which causes fear.  It’s time to…

Embrace His Peace

            Examine His Proof

                        Engage in His Purpose

                                    Embody His Presence

                                                Exclaim His Proclamation

 Let’s move from fear to faith; from a locked room to a world in desperate need of peace and forgiveness. 

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?