Pastor Mike preached this message about a month ago, just before the COVID-19 outbreak. A message we need to hear. -JB
A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:37-40)
According to Mark, the disciples were afraid of drowning. What are you afraid of? Fear comes in many shapes and forms. Fear is very personal. Fear that causes one person minor discomfort might cause another to hide in the closet, run away or even faint. Most behavioral textbooks talk about the “fight or flight” instinct, but there are really 3 options, “fight, flight, or fright”. When faced with something truly scary – we might stand and fight; we might run away; or like a rabbit, we might freeze, hoping the danger won’t notice us.
According to PhobiaList.com the are 100s of fears. Here a few from the top 15 phobias. Keep in mind these are all recognized by the medical community as real fears –
Claustrophobia– Fear of confined spaces;
Dentophobia– Fear of dentists;
Glossophobia– Fear of speaking in public;
Arachnophobia– Fear of spiders;
Acrophobia– Fear of heights; and as a sign of the times we live in,
Nomophobia– Fear of being without your mobile device.
Here are a couple of the more unusual phobias.
Arachibutyrophobia– Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth
Chorophobia– Fear of dancing;
Ecclesiophobia– Fear of church.
Notice that each of these fears ends with the suffix “phobia”. This comes from the Greek word “phobos” which in scripture has 2 contradictory meanings – fear and reverence. The first meaning, “fear”, is exactly what you would expect, but the second meaning, “reverence”, is a little surprising. We can easily find examples in scripture for both fear and reverence definitions. A good example of fear comes from this morning’s Gospel lesson. The disciples were afraid they were going to drown. But, we are also told over and over again to fear the Lord. This doesn’t mean we should be afraid and run away. It means we should treat God with reverence.
Sometimes we are afraid because we have learned to be afraid. For example, some of us are afraid of doctors and dentists. We have learned that they often give us bad news – a cavity or a serious disease. We have learned they use sharp tools – drills and needles. We have learned they often do tests that involve a lot of poking and prodding and are, at the best, embarrassing, and, at the worst, painful.
We are also afraid of the unknown. We are afraid of change because it forces us to step away from what we know into the unknown – moving to a new town, changing jobs, or doing church differently. In general, we humans are only afraid of 2 things, the things we know and the things we don’t know. Yes, we are a fearful people.
Just to be fair, there are things we should be afraid of, like lions and tigers and bears, like spiders and snakes, like clowns, and really tall people. :)
A couple of months ago, during Advent, I was reading something that talked about the phrase “Do not be afraid.” The article mentioned that 3 times in Luke’s Christmas story we hear those very words, “Do not be afraid.”.
First, in Luke 1:13 an angel appears to Zechariah and says, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.”
Then just a few verses later, in Luke 1:30.
And then in Luke 2:10 an angel appears to the shepherds and says, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
This got me wondering, where else do the words, “Do not be afraid.”, show up in scripture? As it turns out you can find those words throughout scripture in both the Old and New Testament. In most cases when you hear those words, it is a message from God to His people – sometimes from God directly, sometimes from God through His prophets, sometimes from angels, from Jesus, and from the Holy Spirit.
Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds all had good reason to be afraid. Even though we can find several different accounts of angels in both the Old and New Testaments, angels were not a common, everyday kind of experience.
Zechariah was just performing his priestly duties and the angel appears out of nowhere in a place where nobody, other than the designated priest, should have been. Mary was likely at home alone when the angel appears. The shepherds were accustomed to quiet nights watching their flocks with the occasional wild animal to fight off. I’m relatively certain they had never seen the night sky glow, never seen figures in the sky, and never heard voices coming from everywhere and nowhere at the same time singing praises to God. Imagine yourself in any of these 3 situations. Would you have been afraid?
As surprising as the angels appearances, the news they brought was even more surprising. Zechariah and Elizabeth were old, a child was going to be a huge change for them; Mary wasn’t married yet and this pregnancy could potentially condemn her to life as an outcast; the shepherds were called to be the first witnesses to God-made-flesh, they left their flocks, walked off the job just to see this wonder. Imagine yourself in any of these 3 situations. Would you have been afraid?
Let’s look at a few more examples.
For 40 years Moses led Israel, away from Egypt, through the desert, toward the land God had promised. Then, just as they were about to cross the Jordan into the promised land, just as they were about to step into a land filled with big, scary enemies, right when they needed a strong leader, Moses says, “I’m not going with you.” Moses, the only leader most of Israel had ever known. Moses, just when they needed him most, won’t be leading them. Imagine yourself standing in the crowd, would you have been afraid? But, God’s words don’t stop there.
He gave Moses more to share. Through Moses, God says, “The Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy all of those big, scary nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the Lord said…Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of [those who occupy this land], for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Then Moses calls for Joshua and in front of all Israel says, Deuteronomy 31:7: “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance.”
Fast forward to the New Testament. Starting at the end of John 13, Jesus says He is going away, in fact going someplace where the disciples cannot follow. Then in the beginning of John 14 Jesus tells His disciples, “Do not [be afraid]…My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?”
Then later in the same chapter Jesus says, John 14:27 NIV – “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.” The disciples had left everything they had known to follow Jesus. They left jobs, friends, and family. They had spent 3 years on the road learning from Jesus. Now Jesus says He is going away. The disciples are facing major changes without their leader. Would you have been afraid?
Moving on to the book of Acts, chapter 18. The Roman Empire was ruled by a series of absolutely brutal men. Augustus was emperor when Jesus was born. In an effort to remove the threat of a Jewish king, Augustus killed all of the baby boys in and around Bethlehem. Tiberius was emperor at the time Jesus was crucified.
Tiberius was followed by Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. These last 3 emperors blamed all of Rome’s problems on the Jews and the offshoot sect called Christianity and began to openly persecute them. Most of the worst atrocities committed against Christians occurred during the reign of these 3 men. In Acts 18 we find that Claudius has ordered all Jews and by association, all Christians, to leave Rome. So Paul, afraid for his life, left Rome and went to Corinth. This is the background for these words from Acts 18:9
Spiders and snakes are not very cute or cuddly and, for most of us, they have a high “ick” factor. You may not like spiders and snakes, but they likely are not what keep you awake at night. So, what are you REALLY afraid of? Are you afraid of losing your job, not being able to pay your bills, not having enough food? Are you afraid of being alone, forgotten, insignificant? Are you afraid of failure?
Scripture tells us, over and over again, do not be afraid. But why? When there is so much to be afraid of, how can we not be afraid? Let’s go back to the examples I used.
Moses tells Israel, “Do not be afraid or terrified”, why? “for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Moses tells Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged”, why?, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
The angel tells Zechariah, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah”, why?, “[God is listening and] your prayer has been heard.” The angel tells Mary, “Do not be afraid, Mary; [God is watching and] you have found favor with God.” The angel tells the shepherds, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news” The angel tells the women at Jesus’s tomb, “Do not be afraid…he has risen. [He is not gone. He is still with you.] ”.
Jesus says, “Do not [be afraid]…My Father’s house has many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you?”
Jesus also says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid because my peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”
Isaiah 41:10 NIV – “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Throughout scripture God tells us, “Do not be afraid.” Why? Because HE IS WITH US! Romans 8:31 NIV says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Going back to the Gospel lesson, the disciples were afraid of drowning. What does Jesus say to them? He says, “Where is your faith?” The unspoken words are, “Do not be afraid for I am with you.”
Here, in a nutshell, is the definition of faith. It is the belief that God is with us.
This is why my word for 2020 is “Fearless.” There is nothing, not mass shootings, not hateful speech, not racial unrest, not war, not disease, nothing that our God cannot handle. Failure, loneliness, enough food, clothes to wear…no worries, God is with us. Just in case you missed it, hear God’s words again, “Do not be afraid for I am with you.” Or as Jesus says, “Have faith.”