“Now this is what the Lord says – the one who created you, Jacob, and the one who formed you, Israel – ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
My Sunday school group is currently going through a series about fear and the role it should play in our lives. The very first lesson was all about our fear of the Lord. We are told over and over in the Scriptures to fear the Lord. Yet in passages like this one, we also find Him over and over again telling us to nor fear. Which is it? And what does any of this have to do with Advent? Let’s explore that together this morning.
The Scriptures place a lot of weight on fearing the Lord. We are told that fearing the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. It is the secret to being on good terms with Him. At the same time, all manner of problems are blamed on a lack of fear of the Lord. When we don’t fear Him, we won’t fear the consequences of transgressing His authority and sovereignty over not merely this world, but over our very lives. And when we don’t fear the consequences of working against Him, well, we’ll work against Him…and eventually face those consequences.
All of that is to say this: It is vitally important that we develop a healthy fear of the Lord in our lives.
Okay, but what does that mean? It means we respect who He is. He is the God who created the world and everything in it. That kind of not just power, but wisdom, should make us nervous to be around. Think of it a little bit like living in a missile silo…filled with nuclear missiles. Sure, you know that sitting the way they are, they don’t pose any imminent threat to you. But if just one thing went wrong…boom. God’s probably not going to smite you out of existence. He’s not capricious or evil. He not only describes, but amply demonstrates Himself to be slow to anger and abounding in faithful love. Yet when He is sufficiently provoked to anger…those aren’t the fun-to-tell stories in the Scriptures. We should have a healthy awareness of who He is and the power He possesses. And we should fear Him for us.
While He never wants us to lose sight of who He is and to grasp that appropriately, neither does He want us to be afraid of Him. We should not feel anxiety in His presence or an uncomfortable sense of the unknown. He has worked very hard to reveal Himself and His character to us. He wants to be in a close and personal relationship with us. He knows us and wants us to know Him. He wants us to be able to rest in His arms with complete contentment just like my youngest lounged on my lap while we watched a show the other night. He just laid there in total comfort and without a single care in the whole world. That’s how our God wants us to feel around Him.
The right kind of fear and draw us near to that point. The wrong kind can push us away from it. Part of why Jesus came was to deliver us from the wrong kind of fears. When we have fear of the wrong kinds of things in the wrong kinds of ways, this is a sign that we don’t fully understand who God is. Jesus came to reveal who God is at a level we previously had no means of grasping. He wanted us to understand more than anything else that God is love. And we can rest in God’s love just like a little child rests in the love of his mother and father.
When talking to the people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah, God told them to not fear (the wrong kinds of things in the wrong kinds of ways) because He had redeemed them. In other words, He had made them His over and against any claim that anyone else might try to make on them. With all of those other claims thus abolished, they needn’t have had any anxiety about the unknowns of the future. God was their redeemer, and He could see the future. Nothing about it would surprise them, and if it didn’t surprise Him, they didn’t have to be concerned by it. It’s like I have told my children on multiple different occasions: You don’t have to be afraid until you see that I am afraid. As long as I’m not afraid, you don’t need to be either.
If that was true for Israel, it is vastly truer for us. In Christ, God redeemed us not merely from some bad physical circumstances, but from sin itself. Death no longer has any power over us if we are in Him. Think about that. Sin and death are completely neutralized in Christ. Yes, we still experience their terrible effects on the world, sometimes painfully so, but this life is the extent of their impact. They won’t go beyond it. And we have infinitely more life beyond the century or less that we live here than we do within its limiting bounds. Because of that, we don’t have to fear anything but the Lord.
Think about it: everything you fear beyond the Lord is the result of sin of some kind. All of it. If there is a fear, and if that fear is not the Lord, then that fear comes from sin. I defy you to find an exception. And if sin’s power has been completely overcome by Christ, if we are in Him, then sin has no power over us, and so there is nothing to fear. That’s some awfully good news.
In the season of Advent, we are preparing to receive Christ in our hearts and in our lives. If we are going to receive Him fully, we need to order our fears rightly. So, in these waning days of the season, take a minute to reflect on the things you fear. Be as honest as you can be. What fears do you have that are ultimately disordered? Give some attention to the baby who was born for you and put them back in their proper place. Let this year’s celebration be one that unfolds without fear, but instead of trust in the love of the God who sent His Son for you.