(…continued) Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Free from fear, for one thing. The truth of God’s Word does indeed speak to all of our fears. In fact, one of the most often repeated phrases in the whole Bible is that simple little command, ‘Fear not,’ or, ‘Be not afraid.’ In one form or another, that little phrase appears 365 times in the Bible. Fear not. And why not? Because God’s Word speaks a word of comfort to us in our fear. God is our good shepherd, he is our refuge in times of trouble, he will watch over us both now and forever more, says the Bible. “Be not afraid,” said the angels to the shepherds, “For I have come to bring you good news of a great joy; a Savior has been born to you.” A Savior. One who will save us from our sins. Yes, says the Bible, there is One who is keeping score, One who sees your every sin, and who will, at the end of time, judge you. And you may well fear that judgment– except that in Jesus Christ you have a Savior who has died for you, and in him, God has forgiven you for all of your sins. And yes, we may well fear the death that awaits all of us, but, “Be not afraid,” said the angels to the women at the tomb of Jesus, “He is Risen.” And Jesus said, ‘Because I live, you shall live also;” and, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, for I have gone on ahead to prepare a place for you.” An eternal promise like that gives us a whole new perspective on all the other troubles along the way. And there will be trouble– illness, accidents, financial setbacks, troubles with loved ones, and whatever else might come our way.
In World War II as the bombs were falling on his city every day, including a direct hit on his church, German pastor Helmut Thielicke proclaimed to his congregation: “We need not fear the next minute, because we know Him who holds in His hand the last hour. He will be there for us and will save us, even if here in this world a bomb lands on our head.” Jesus told us that the truth he brings will set us free, and in his Word, there are promises enough to set us free from all of our fears.
But like the girl and the spiders, simply knowing the truth may not yet set us free. We do say in the Apostle’s Creed that we believe in the ‘resurrection from the dead,’ but that does not mean that you would not tremble in fear if the doctor said to you, “There is nothing more we can do; you have two months to live.” Death remains terrible and frightening. It is supposed to be awful, said Martin Luther, because it is God’s punishment for our sins. But still the Bible, “Be not afraid.” We have a hope and a promise that can move us beyond our fears.
We remain flesh and blood sinners. Our faith and trust will never be perfect. Our fears will remain, but we can grow in faith and confidence and strength. We do that by living in the truth that we already know. As we worship and say our prayers and read our Bibles, God’s Word gets a better hold on us. Then all those great promises that we know to be true and we have heard since childhood, have a chance to travel from our head into our heart, where they will give us courage and hope every day, in the midst of even life’s most difficult challenges. The Bible says “suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance builds character, and character produces hope.” It is in the living with what we suffer, and in looking to God’s Word at those times, that our faith grows and we become stronger.
The girl at the Fear Clinic with knew in her head that spiders did not really kill any of the people that she knew, but she could not get over her fear until she faced it and lived with it for a week. In the same way, most people know the story of Jesus rising from the dead, and that he offers eternal life. But only by living with that story, hearing it and living in it week by week, and then looking to it in times of trouble– only by all that, does it begin to take hold of our head and our heart. Then our whole perspective begins to change. The number of spiders in the world did not change because that girl went through treatment. She was able to get over her fear because her perspective on the danger changed. And your personal belief in Jesus may not change the world around you, and you will still face danger and illness and disappointment and death. But your perspective on all those things will change, and that will make all the difference.
From one perspective, all we have is this life and this world. But Jesus keeps opening our eyes to a larger reality. You have a soul, he says, and that soul is more important than this whole world. Even if you gain the whole world, it would not be worth it if you lose your soul in the process. The world is temporary, but your soul is eternal. Why would anyone want to give up something eternal in order to get something so temporary? This puts a new slant on whatever it is we might gain or lose in the few years we get on this earth. We will still do our best in the time that we have, but our gains and losses, our joys and defeats, our good fortune and our disappointments are all very small matters alongside that far greater hope. Face your fears with the help of Jesus and “Be not afraid.”
II Corinthians 4:18 — So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Colossians 3:1-2 — Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Matthew 16:26 — (Jesus said), “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”
Psalm 27:1 — The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?
O God, our defender, storms rage about us and cause us to be afraid. Rescue your people from despair, deliver us from fear, and preserve us all from unbelief. Amen.
—Lutheran Book of Worship (#82)