Unlocking The Doors Of Fear

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio, Sanssouci Picture Gallery, Potsdam

John 20:19–31
Christ Appears to the Disciples (Thomas Absent)

19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

Christ Appears to the Disciples (Thomas Present)

26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The Purpose of John’s Gospel

30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.


Have you ever been paralyzed by fear?  The disciples certainly were after the crucifixion of Jesus.  It’s easy to understand.  They surely felt the terror of a similar fate for themselves, but they also must have felt orphaned and alone.  It’s powerful to understand how His return to them vanquished their fear.

As Ken Kovacs writes in his book Out of the Depths:

It’s precisely in such a context that we hear Jesus’ words to his disciples. God will not allow fear to have the last word. In fear the disciples try to hide themselves from a world that resists all the implications of the life-changing, liberating power of resurrection. But fear can’t hinder the new life Jesus extends to us! Resurrection life acknowledges the fear, but does not allow the fear to divert or destroy what God is doing through Jesus and through us. We’re given a truly remarkable image here. I love the way the resurrected Jesus appears within the locked room and stands among them there; he stands within the confines of their fear; he appears and stands in their place of greatest fear and says, “Peace be with you.” Even locked doors can’t keep him out. Christ’s boldness overcomes every barrier we try to erect in fear. We’re not meant to live behind locked doors. Within the confines of all our fears, Jesus continues to stand among us, unlocking our prisons of fear, and saying, “Peace be with you.”

The place of fear can become the place of presence, the place of peace, the place of resurrection. The text tells us that their fear was replaced with rejoicing at the sight of his presence. That’s what resurrection can do. That’s what the resurrected Lord continues to do.

How is fear the opposite of love?

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Logo

John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

Ken Kovacs

Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


 Peace Which Passes Understanding

St. Paul exhorts the Philippians (4:6-7) not to be anxious about anything but to make all their concerns a subject of thankful prayer to God, promising that if they do so “the peace of God which passeth all understanding” will keep (lit. “stand guard over”) their hearts and minds. The thought echoes Isa. 26:3: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee,” and takes up Jesus’ exhortation to have no concern over practical needs because “your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things” (Matt. 6:24-34). The peace Paul speaks of passes all understanding both in the sense that it is inconceivably great, beyond human capacity to comprehend (cf. Eph. 3:19, 20), and also in that it is far better than any “peace” which human “understanding” could bring. Notably, it is a peace which is found in the midst of trouble, not by escaping from it.

Commenting on Job 9:4 (Vg) in which Job observes that God is “wise in heart and mighty in strength. Who has resisted him, and had peace?” Wyclif says that “we are to see by this description of peace that it is achieved by conformity of [one’s] will to that of God.” He goes on to say that peace is not, as one might expect, a matter of temporal quietude free from attack or hostility; rather, it is just when the battle is raging most fiercely that one is most likely to experience the benefits of being at peace with God (Sermones, 4.25). A later Wycliffite writer takes up the theme, “þer be trew pees and fals pees, and thai be ful diverse”—true peace being grounded in God, false peace grounded in “rest with our enemies” when “we assent to þem withoute aʒen-standyng” (Arnold, ed., Selected English Works of John Wyclif [1871], 1.321).

In George Herbert’s “The Sacrifice” the O Vos Omnes hymn is developed with Christ drawing a contrast between himself and Barabbas: “And a seditious murderer he was: / But I the Prince of Peace; peace that doth passe / All understanding, more than heav’n doth glasse” (117-19; cf. Ruskin, Unto This Last, chap. 3). Herbert’s poem “Peace” makes the point that the “Prince of Peace” himself had no peace: “He sweetly liv’d; yet sweetnesse did not save / His life from foes” (25-26), and that he won peace for others at the expense of his own struggle and death (cf. A Priest to the Temple, chap. 34). In Vaughan’s “Peace” the poet speaks of a peace which is not to be found in this life, but in “a Countrie / Far beyond the stars,” sentiments echoed in an early 20th-cent. American sonnet by Joyce Kilmer, written while the author was soldiering in France during World War I (“The Peacemaker”). Aldous Huxley thinks hints of such peace can be derived from art: “Even from the perfection of minor masterpieces—certain sonnets of Mallarmé, for instance, certain Chinese ceramics—we can derive illuminating hints about the ‘something far more deeply interfused,’ about ‘the peace of God that passeth understanding’“ (Ends and Means, chap. 14; cf. Wordsworth, “Tintern Abbey,” 96). In Black Boy Richard Wright tells of an unsuccessful application of the traditional interpretation in the home of his grandmother: “Granny bore the standard for God, but she was always fighting. The peace that passes understanding never dwelt with us.” Recalling the prophetic promise that in the days of the Messiah peace shall flow “as a river” (Isa. 48:18; 53:5), Margaret Avison writes that “Word has arrived that / peace will brim up, will come / ‘like a river and the / glory … like a flowing stream’“—an unprecedented, unimagined grace (“Stone’s Secret,” 20-22).

David L. Jeffrey, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992).

ART:  For a deep dive on The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio (1601-2), see HERE