(Originally written 5 April)
Good morning, everyone, no matter your faith or beliefs. Since it’s Sunday, I want to bring a message of faith.
Today I want to focus on a subject that all of us, no matter our beliefs, must face. There are at least 400 mentions of this in both the OT and the NT, with a few different intended meanings, and it’s something that all of us know well.
Why fear? Psychologists build models of human behavior, and we have done so with emotions. The most accepted model of emotion includes: fear, anger, disgust, sadness, joy, and surprise/interest. Generally, we agree as well that the most powerful of these is fear. Fear can trigger the “fight or flight” response, it can paralyze, and it is often at the root of many psychological maladies like depression and hostility. A professor of mine once said that he could boil down any client he’d ever had in his counseling office to two statements: “I’m hurt” or “I’m afraid.” I’ve come to believe that he was largely correct.
In our current situation, there is fear everywhere, giving birth to anger, disgust, sadness, and other emotions. Because emotions motivate actions, we have the impulse to act in ways that verify the fear we feel, amplifying it further. If we can get away, we will – that is our first impulse. But what do we do if we can’t run, if there isn’t anywhere to go?
In the Bible, the word translated “fear” has many meanings but they can be roughly grouped into two categories. In the Old Testament especially, “fear” is often meant as “reverence,” a realization of how much more powerful God is than we are. The Psalms are full of this kind of “fear”. But today, I am talking about the second category, an emotion that occurs when we are threatened by something that we believe can hurt us in any way. We “fear” the big test and we “fear” the rabid dog – different “hurts”, same fear. The word in Greek is where we get our word “phobia.” In Matthew 10, Jesus says:
“So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (v. 26-31).
Jesus had just informed the Twelve that they were to preach a message to the region that was not going to be welcome. He knew how fear worked – the disciples would be more worried about saving what they already had – their lives, their comfort, the way of life they knew. Jesus wants us to go “all-in” on this? So how did Jesus help them manage? You have to go backwards in time a little, to the beginning of his speech.
“Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” (v. 1).
They had just received a direct gift from Christ, power that could only come from Him, and power that would surely terrify the entire Jewish nation, and power that none of them had ever believed they would have. It probably felt to them like Jesus was telling them to fight the lions in the Coliseum with a magic spoon. So He reminded them in Mt 10:26-31 of three things:
1) He reminds them of the absolute truth of what they are proclaiming. Telling them “in the dark” doesn’t mean because of shame or self-consciousness, it means that the Jewish nation was “dark” – blind to who He was. Jesus wasn’t starting some secret society or lurking in some hideout. He was telling them that no matter what anyone said or did, they possessed truth that was eternal. Even today, we must remember to cling to the Truth, no matter what storm rages around us and what fear it tries to create.
2) He reminds them that all we are and all we have only means something in light of that Truth. Do not be afraid of being killed – really, Jesus? That’s pretty scary if you ask me. Jesus wasn’t saying that it’s wasn’t – otherwise why bring it up? He knew that fear of death is powerful. So He showed that this life and eternity are different, and that the days we live here are about preparing the way for the new Kingdom by inviting people into it. He showed them that the truth they proclaimed wasn’t about changing this material world, but about the new Kingdom of God. Jesus told them that there is only one source of fear – “the One.” In the original language, this is just a pronoun. So did Jesus mean God or someone else? If Jesus was referring to God, it would be the only place anywhere in the Bible that God was directly referenced in such a way without a clear reference for that pronoun in the same verse. No, he was referring to the evil one, the ruler of this earth, and the author of fear. Today, the message is no different – fear is not of God and never has been. It is the perversion of reverence, a lie that Satan uses since the beginning, to get us to take our eyes away from Truth.
3) He reminds them of their eternal value. In His words about sparrows and hairs on our heads, He reminds them that they are beyond the value of all creation, no matter how far our rebellion has taken us from Him and no matter how much distortion our rebellion has created in this world. “The One” wants to convince us that there is no way back – we are too far away, and God has left us out here to perish. Jesus reminds them that their value in God’s eyes has never changed, no matter how painful the journey back to God becomes.
Today, it’s never been about the virus. That is natural, a part of this earth and the way it works. It has always been about who you will serve. Is fear your master? Then you will run and hide, you will lash out in anger, you will descend into despair. God, however, is the Master of fear, exposing it for what it is, and comforting us in the midst of it. This breeds courage, boldness, and confidence, as it did in a handful of ordinary men surrounded by an unbelieving and hostile nation.
Stand on the truth.
Know what that truth means for you eternally.
Know that your value to God is priceless.
And do not be afraid.