“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” This is the opening lines of Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech titled “Freedom from Fear,” written in 1990 when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while still under house arrest.
The older I grow, the more I appreciate this statement because I have seen a great deal of destruction done on humanity out of fear. Franklin D. Roosevelt also said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
On a personal level, I have discovered that hidden fear is even worse. People often commit evil deeds out of fear that they don’t know they have. Parents can become too strict or too permissive due to fear. Children can be too rebellious or too reserved due to fear.
Anger can be a symptom of fear. Foolish decisions often come out of fear. Some people are flamboyant due to fear of rejection. Fear can also be crippling, causing indecision, discouragement, depression, shame, and even severe sicknesses.
Another debilitating condition is doubt. Doubt is hesitation at the intellectual level, just as fear is emotional. Let us address these two crippling human conditions based on today’s Scripture lessons.
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper. You are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you, and you are satisfied in God.]
The scripture lesson for this Second Sunday of Easter is from John 20:19-31. [Listen to the Word of the Lord.]
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 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 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:19-31)
[This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!]
As you have seen in the news, Burma is now back in the game of fear. Those who fear losing the power are casting fear on those subject to their power. It’s the game played by the sinful human throughout history between those who wield power and the powerless. Our hearts go out to the brave hearts who risk their lives for a better future and sustain the fight against fear.
Jesus was crucified by those who fear losing the power they held. The pop3ularity of Jesus had become a threat to their authority to control the nation. Caiaphas, the high priest said,
“You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (Jn 11:50).
They believed killing Jesus would silence the movement of Jesus Christ. They were right only at the beginning because Jesus’ disciples went hiding in fear. It says,
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” (v. 19).
They locked the doors because they fear the authorities. (When we read John’s gospel, we need to remember that John used the term “the Jews” to mean the authorities. The disciples, as well as Jesus himself, were Jews. So, John was not talking about a particular ethnicity but the autocrats.)
The first thing Jesus did to cast out their fear was by saying, “Peace be with you.” On the surface, it might sound like the common Jewish greetings of “Shalom!” but it was more than that because Jesus promised them a special kind of peace before he went to the cross. He said,
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it fear.” (John 14:27).
It’s the peace that can overcome their fear. So, when Jesus said, “Peace be with you,” the disciples heard it above and beyond the customary greeting of “Shalom!”
How is this peace given? In the context of John 14, Jesus promised them the Holy Spirit that would guide them, bring them peace, and help them overcome fear. Now Jesus delivered his promise through his breath.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (v. 21-22).
Jesus delivered the Holy Spirit through his breath. In fact, the word “Spirit” both in Greek (Pneuma) and in Hebrew (Ruach) means “breath,” “air,” or “wind.” So, the Holy Spirit means the “Holy Breath.” The breath of Jesus Christ, or the Holy Breath, is in the air for the believers to breathe in.
So, when you encounter fear, the first thing you need to do is breathe the Holy Spirit. Just as we have different radio frequencies in the airwaves that you can tune to, there are different spirits or “breaths” in the air. God’s spirit is in the air since Genesis. Even before the creation, the Bible says,
“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2).
How do you breathe in the Holy Breath? How do you tune in to the Holy Spirit in the noisy airwaves? The answer is simple—faith. I learned this from Elder Bill Bright, the founder of the Campus Crusade for Christ. You breathe with faith, and the Holy Spirit will fill you.
It makes sense, isn’t it? Since Jesus delivered the Holy Spirit through his breath, how would his disciples receive it except through their breath? What’s the difference between their breath and others? Their faith, especially at this moment when they saw the risen Christ.
It’s the same as prayer. What’s the difference between a believer’s prayer and a wishful mumbling? It’s faith, isn’t it? You and I who believe in the risen Christ have the faith that can tune in to the Holy Spirit among the noisy airwaves—or noisy spiritual waves.
Some people make the filling of the Holy Spirit too complicated. You don’t need to speak in tongues, bounce on the church floor, or hang on the chandelier to be filled with the Holy Spirit. All you need is to breathe the Holy Breath with faith—nothing more and nothing less.
So, whenever your heart is troubled, and you have fear, breathe the Holy Breath with faith. Better yet, do it in combination with prayer, and the peace of God will be with you. Paul said,
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Php 4:6–7).
The Holy Spirit does not just give us peace but also the power to do God’s work. God doesn’t just provide us with the peace to face our fear but also the power to transform the world and even judge the perpetrators. Jesus said,
“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (v. 22b-23).
That is a lot of power—a god-like authority. It means we could send the perpetrators to hell if we choose to. However, knowing what Jesus did on the cross—that he forgave those who crucified him, it’s unimaginable that he would be happy to see us not forgiving anyone, yet he gave us that power to choose.
It means that we are not at the mercy of the dictators, but they are at our mercy. We might suffer under them in this life, but they will be burning in hell for eternity. Even though it is our choice, it was not Jesus’ primary reason to send us into the world.
He said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (v. 21). The Father has sent him to do what? Quoting Isaiah, Jesus said,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19).
So, our assignment is for the poor and the powerless, not to judge the oppressors. Yet again, we are given the power to choose, and the fate of the tyrants is at our mercy.
Now, there’s another problem among the disciples—doubt. Doubt is a form of mental fear, inability to believe the unimaginable. It says,
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (v. 24-25).
Thomas’s doubt was a serious problem because people called him the Twin of Jesus because he was so close to him. Don’t you think it is pretty disturbing when your Twin brother doubts about you?
If you have the chance to read the Gospel According to Thomas, which was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, you will discover that Thomas took very applicable notes of Jesus’ words.
Yet, he was so focused on the practicality of Jesus’ teaching that he missed the prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection. So, he said that he wouldn’t believe it until he touched the crucifixion wounds on Jesus. Seeing is believing, isn’t it? However, Jesus said that believing without seeing is more blessed.
Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (v. 29).
Those who must see to believe lack imagination. Doubt can cripple your success. Jesus depends on these disciples to continue his mission. They have been trained for three years, and there is no time for them to doubt if they were to turn his mission into a movement.
To overcome the crippling doubt, Jesus said you must believe. Believe in what? Believe in the great cloud of witnesses. There are enough witnesses—in person or writing—over these two thousand years. Paul said,
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” (Heb 12:1).
There is no time to be limping with fear and doubt because we have to run the race set before us. It’s the race Jesus had run—the race “to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Let us run this race by overcoming our fear and doubt with peace and belief. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader. Amen! Bye now.