“Fear Not”—One of Jesus’ Most Challenging Commands in 2017

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Fear is one of the most debilitating emotions known to the human race. It is unbelievably powerful. It penetrates the heart, poisons the spirit, and paralyzes the soul. It can affect you not only emotionally, mentally, and spiritually; but it can even affect you physically.

Most of us remember Franklin D. Roosevelt’s word to the American people as we became enmeshed in World War II: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I think Marie Curie expressed it better, and challengingly, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” Both are right. Fear causes nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror. Currie’s added word, we need to “understand more so that we may fear less,” has special meaning today.

I’m 82 years old, and I have not consciously experienced a time when fear has raged in such hurricane proportion. Fear is frighteningly palpable in our nation, especially since the election of President Trump. His recent executive order barring immigrants from seven nations have set the whole world on edge. Our citizenry is sharply divided. Because of our leadership position in the world, our fear is spreading. My church, The United Methodist Church, is sharply divided and our unity is so strained that it is difficult to find hope that our denomination unity will be sustained. In any gathering of United Methodists where serious conversation takes place, fear is the primary expression.

Into this maze of fear, it is helpful to remember that some form of “fear not” is one of, if not the most common address to us in Scripture.

Jesus spends much of the twelfth chapter of Luke reassuring and encouraging his followers in the face of possible catastrophic circumstance. “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more” (v. 4). “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life” (v. 22). And then in verse 32 comes one of my favorites words of Scripture, from Jesus himself,  “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (v. 32).

The experience out of which our most helpful counsel about fear comes is the angel ministering to Mary when she learned she was pregnant with the one who was to be the Savior of the world. Totally baffled and devastated, no word could have meant more, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God”(Luke l:30).

That is the dominant word in the birth narrative. It was spoken to Zechariah when he was terrified by the appearance of an angel in the temple: “Do not be afraid,..for your prayer has been heard” (Luke l:13). The shepherds, terrified when they were brought into the story, received the same word, “Do not be afraid;..I am bringing you good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10).

The angelic greeting comes with incredible consistency throughout the Advent story, the same greeting, the same command, repeated over and over again: “Fear Not.”

“Mary, don’t be afraid, because the Lord is with you.” Simple, but so profound. “The Lord is with you.” This is the antidote to our fear: faith in God who is actively involved in the lives of his people, a God who is present with us.

“Mary, don’t be afraid, the Lord is with you.”

God is still present and active in this world. God keeps his promises; therefore we don’t have to be overcome by the fears of the moment. We have the assurance of God’s promise of a future, a future where the lion will lay down with the lamb, swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. We have the promise of our Sovereign God who has proven his love and faithfulness over and over, and we can be assured that God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven; that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

Let’s seek to understand. Our destiny and God’s future for us is not determined by who our president is and what he does, or what might happen in our United Methodist Church. Overshadowing and exceeding all the circumstances flowing from those issues is our glorious destiny, made clear by Christ, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”

As we seek to understand that we may not fear, keep in mind how Jesus addresses us…little flock. What tenderness! We are his “flock”; he is our Shepherd. Let the angel’s word to Mary continually echo in your mind and heart, “the Lord is with you.”

Enjoy this entry? Get With Jesus in the Upper Room by Maxie Dunnam. In this seven-week study, Maxie Dunnam leads readers through John 13–17 to this most precious legacy of Jesus’ teaching, the distillation of His thought and message—what He really wants us to hear. We are His modern friends, to whom He speaks as lovingly as He did to His friends in the Upper Room.

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