What is at the root of fear? Human nature? Maybe it is just a part of the human experience? We fear that we won’t be taken care of. Clearly so many of us, young and old fear rejection, loneliness, insecurity, or being destitute. We can fear that people will look down on us. There is an emptiness within that can be the cause of all our fear.
This week we’ve been studying John 14:15-31 (starting with the first post here). Why did Jesus bring up fear? Because he has been talking all chapter long about how he was about to leave his disciples. He is preparing them for the deep emptiness that could grip them. He knows that in a matter of hours their world is about to be rocked. First, he will be arrested, then put on trial, beaten, crucified, and die. At that point they could easily have been feeling that they were utterly alone, their leader gone. I think it is also very possible in that moment, that the disciples are not only feeling alone, but perhaps betrayed not only by Judas, but also by Jesus. They were likely totally confused about how this amazing man who clearly seemed to be the chosen one to save Israel could be arrested. They could be wondering if they just gave the previous three of their lives to a lie. They could be feeling embarrassment, shame, or guilt. And worse, they could be next. If the soldiers arrested and killed Jesus, what would stop those soldiers from coming to get the disciples too?
They could easily have felt they were in a life and death situation, and thus there is a sense in which the disciples’ fear is justified. And Jesus knows this. Therefore in John 14 he is best seen as preparing them for the trauma that is just about to come knocking.
What is the solution that Jesus teaches us? The promise that God is with us, and his Spirit can live in us, and he gives us peace. He doesn’t say that he will take our fears and struggles away, but he says that he is with us, in us, and will give us peace! Remember that peace does not mean that life will have no trials, or that we are in control, as if we know what is going to happen. Peace means we have a deep understanding of whose we are, who loves us unconditionally, and that we will be cared for by God, even when we are in the middle of trials.
Have you ever seen a baby, cuddled in its mother’s arms, right in the middle of a loud room, with siblings arguing, and mess all around? And the baby is smiling, sound asleep. Why? It knows it is loved. The baby is cared for and his/her needs are met by their loving mom. They are not worried about the mess going on literally around them. Sometimes you see that little one wake up, look around, see the chaos and start to fuss. But the mom says, “Look here little one,” and the baby looks up at his/her mom and smiles again. It will be okay. Their eyes are on the one that they KNOW loves them and will care for them. We too can have peace, though we are not a perfect world, as we keep our eyes on the one who loves us.
So the message is clear: if we love him, we will show it by obeying him. We can and should do this even in the midst of the fear and struggle, not just because Jesus promises his peace, but also because he promises to be with us and in us.
Let’s talk a bit more about what it means in verse 17 that the Spirit will be in us, and in verse 23, that Jesus and the Father will make their home with us? What does that mean? How are we supposed to understand that? Are we supposed to feel something inside of us? Is Jesus saying that we should feel God inside us simply as emotional peace? Or is he saying that the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is physically within us?
I encourage you to look for the evidence in your life. We can know that the Spirit is truly within us because we will see changes in our lives. Paul would famously call this the Fruit of the Spirit. If the Spirit is within you, there are fruits that will grow from your lives. You can read all about it in Galatians 5. In my back yard, we have an apple tree, an English walnut, a peach tree, blackberries, and red raspberries, as well as a black walnut tree. As Jesus says, by their fruits you will know them. The apple tree shows us it has the biological raw material of an apple tree because it makes apples every year. We aren’t 100% sure what kind of apple tree it is, though. It certainly isn’t a red delicious or honeycrisp, because it never makes those kinds of apples. It only makes the one kind of apple that it is able to make, and we think that is likely Granny Smith, as its apples are tart. Likewise, when we notice the fruit of the Spirit flowing from us, we know that we have the Spirit living within us. Jesus said that the Spirit will bring us peace. Peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit. When we experience peace in the middle of situations that we should not be peaceful, then we can know the reality of the Spirit with us.
Here’s another example: when we obey Jesus, out of love for him, though we really don’t want to, then we know the Spirit is with us. Maybe some of you are anticipating family gatherings over the next few weeks, as we celebrate Christmas and New Years Day. You know there is that one family member who might bring family drama or politics or just has a tendency to rub you the wrong way, yet you treat them with kindness and gentleness and patience and love. Those are Fruits of the Spirit that give you evidence the Spirit is within you.
And we can hear his voice. But it means we have to listen. How many of us say that we can’t hear God’s voice, but we rarely take time to listen for him? We need to consider how noisy our lives are. What can we do to quiet our lives and stop and listen for God? We need to open time for quiet listening.
I wonder how many of us might actually say that we are scared to listen to God who lives within us, because when we hear what he has to say to us, it might be that he wants us to change?
Let us remember that God wants us to flourish in this life. No doubt an antidote to fear is to remember the truth that we have a hope of eternal life with him. But what we have heard in John 14:15-31 is that we can have peace from Jesus in the here and now, and particularly so because he, by his Spirit, lives within us!
As we look to the One who came, this Advent season is about remembering the one who came as a vulnerable baby. Jesus left heaven and became human out of deep, deep love for us and for our best. Long for more of Him. Sit with him. Get to know him. Don’t just read about him, but also look for him in your world. He is there. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to see him more, to open your heart to understand him more. Look for ways to sacrifice time to sit with him, to get to know him, as you do anyone you really love and long to get to know. From that place of intimacy with him, focus your hearts on who he is and who you are IN him, and in the midst of fears, peace will come.