Do Not Be Afraid
Today’s message is based on four words. Words that are important many places in the Bible, including in passages that speak of Christmas. Words we heard last month as we celebrated Advent. The words? “Do not be afraid.”
Concerning Christmas, those words were told to the virgin named Mary. One day, she was visited by an angel of God. The angel told her she had been chosen by God to give birth to the one who would become the Savior. Remember what else the angel said to Mary? “Do not be afraid.”
There certainly were reasons Mary might have been afraid. The angel appeared to her without warning. The suddenness of it must have been frightening. Plus, Mary was not yet married, nor did she have any plans to be intimate with Joseph, to whom she was betrothed, or anyone else before she was married. How was she going to conceive. And being pregnant before being married would cause all sorts of problems with her family, her friends, and Joseph. Mary probably had planned to have a quiet life, but that would definitely not happen if she was to be the mother of the Savior of the world.
Mary must have had some fears, but the message to her from God, delivered by an angel, was, “Do not be afraid.”
Three months after that, Mary’s pregnancy was evident to all, including to Joseph, who was understandably distraught. He had not been intimate with Mary, so apparently she had been unfaithful to him. That led Joseph to the decision to end his relationship with Mary. But then he received a message from God, given to him by an angel. The message? “Do not be afraid.”
There certainly were reasons Joseph might have been afraid. While he did plan to end his betrothal to Mary, he wanted to do it quietly so she would not suffer any more than necessary. Would he be able to end things quietly? And if he changed his mind about ending the relationship - if he decided to stay with Mary - he would likely be ridiculed for being stupid enough to go ahead and marry an immoral woman.
Joseph must have had some fears, but the message was, “Do not be afraid.” He was not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. He was not to be afraid of his role of helping to raise the Savior of the world.
Six months after that, on the night of Jesus’ birth, some shepherds were visited by an angel from God. The angel’s sudden appearance and the fact he was surrounded by the light of the glory of God caused the shepherds to be filled with fear. Remember the message given to them? It included the announcement the Savior had been born. It began with the words, “Do not be afraid.”
In the report of Christmas, the words “do not be afraid” are important. But you know what? It was not just at Christmas those words were spoken.
For instance, in the Old Testament Book of Joshua, that message was given many times to Joshua, the one who took over following the death of Moses as the leader of the people of God. Over and over again, he was told, “Do not be afraid.”
There were reasons Joshua might have been afraid. He was replacing Moses, who had been a great leader. And it was to be Joshua’s role to move the people of God into the Promised Land, which, at that time, was inhabited by strong people in walled and fortified cities. That was happening after 4o years of wandering in the wilderness, which might have caused a sense of excitement, but it might have dulled the senses and expectations of the people of God.
And this. While Moses had been a great leader, there were many times when the people he led had argued against him, threatened him, rebelled against him, and disobeyed him. Joshua was likely to face the same things.
Joshua very likely had fears, but again, the message, over and over again - the message from God - was, “Do not be afraid.”
Another New Testament example centers on Timothy, who was a young minister. Timothy had been converted to faith in Christ by Paul. It was with Paul’s blessing that Timothy was a minister.
One way Paul encouraged Timothy was the writing of two letters, which we know as I and II Timothy. In II Timothy, Paul wrote, “For God did not give us a spirit of fear.” That is another way of saying, this time to Timothy, “Do not be afraid.”
One reason Timothy might have been afraid is alluded to in I Timothy. It is that Timothy was young. That might have hurt his confidence. It apparently caused those who were older to disregard his words.
But the message was the same. “Do not be afraid.” Paul wrote, “Let no one despise your youth. Instead, set everyone an example in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. Have a spirit of power and self-control.” Again, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid to do what God has called you to do.
Over and over again - and these are just a few of the more than 300 examples in the Bible, two more of which we will consider in just a bit - one of the messages from God in the Bible is, “Do not be afraid,” which leads to the question, “Do we have things facing us that might cause us to fear?”
You think? There is the threat from North Korea. There are criminals all around us. There is no guarantee the economy will remain strong forever. If we are healthy, will that last? If loved ones have been lost, how can I overcome grief? I bet there are some tests coming up for you who are students. Spiritually, there at least seems to be a disregard for Christian thought and morals in many parts of our society. Is persecution coming?
There certainly are reasons we might be afraid. But listen. The message is the same for us as it was for Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and Joshua and Timothy and so many others in the Bible. The message is, “Do not be afraid.”
That is taught many other places in the Bible, including in two passages we will consider next, one from the New Testament, the other from the Old Testament.
The New Testament passage is in John 14.
In John 14, Jesus was talking with His disciples toward the end of His earthly ministry. This came shortly before Jesus’ arrest.
In the conversation, Jesus worked to prepare His disciples for what was soon to happen, which would be His arrest, some trials, a sentence of death, and His crucifixion and burial. Jesus worked to prepare His disciples, which He did in several ways, including the promise of a place in Heaven for all who follow Him, the encouragement for His disciples to keep His commandments, which would prove their love for Him, and the promise of the Holy Spirit coming to them to be their Counselor in His absence. A helper to continue teaching them and reminding them of all the Lord had said to them.
Then comes verse 27 of John 14.Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled. Neither let them be afraid.” In other words, “Do not be afraid.”
It is important to understand the word “peace.” In the context of John 14:27, it does not mean the absence of trouble. That was certainly true for Mary and Joseph, who did face ridicule. And for the shepherds, who still had sheep to tend to. And for Joshua, who still had people to lead. People who were still not easy to deal with. And for Timothy. I doubt he had as good a congregation as this one is. I imagine he had many issues with which he had to deal, including age discrimination.
And it was true for the disciples, who were about to see their leader mistreated and killed and buried, knowing they, too, might be in danger simply because they were associated with Jesus.
It is true for us as well. Life brings many and varied problems to us.
But still there can be peace. Peace from Jesus. Not the absence of problems, but the ability - the spiritual, God-given ability - to survive and overcome whatever problems are faced. Peace that sorrow, danger, and suffering cannot destroy. Peace that kept Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and Joshua and Timothy strong. Peace that would keep the disciples strong. Peace that will keep our faith in Jesus alive.
“Do not be afraid.” That was the message of Jesus in John 14:27 in the New Testament. It is also taught in Psalm 23 in the Old Testament.
Psalm 23 is one of the most famous passages in the Bible.
It opens with calling the LORD our “shepherd.” That is an expression of the loving care God provides for us. As earthly shepherds were known for watching over, protecting, and helping their sheep, so does God help His sheep. Those of us who are Christians.
Part of God’s shepherding is, according to the Psalm, making sure we have good food and safe water, in many cases physically, and for His people, spiritually.
Another part of His care is the restoration of our souls. That refers to being restored from the negative consequences of sin. That will happen for all who repent of their sins.
Another part is being led in paths of righteousness. Paths we are to follow for His glory. Paths He will show us so we never have to wonder how we are to live.
That is how Psalm 23 begins. It ends with two promises for His people. The promises are goodness and mercy now and Heaven later.
But listen to verse 4. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”
Many of those words speak of troubled times, which David, the author of the Psalm, himself experienced over and over again.
“The valley.” That brings to mind a low, sad, discouraging time.
“Shadow.” As in a less-than-bright time.
Shadows can be scary. I remember many years ago I was jogging one night. At one point I ran under a street light. Everything was fine until the light was behind me. Suddenly, something was right in front of me. I jumped in fear - until I realized it was my shadow. That was not my finest, bravest moment, but shadows suggest scary times.
The valley. Shadow. They bring troubled times to mind. So, too, does the word “death.”
Of course, death for a Christian should not be a scary thing in a spiritual sense because of the promise of Heaven, but it can still be unsettling physically or mentally since anyone near death has never before experienced it. Death is certainly sad for the loved ones and friends left behind.
And notice the word, “I.” That word suggests being alone, which can be especially scary when going through a troubled time.
But listen what David went on to write. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death [which he did as he faced personal, family, and foreign problems], I fear no evil.”
Why?” For Thou, O LORD, art with me.” Wow. Even when every other person abandoned him, either physically or he just felt that way, God was still with him. It was God’s presence that kept David from being afraid.
David continued, “God, Thy rod and Thy staff…”
That is what shepherds carried with them. The rod was the straight part that was used to beat away predators. The staff was the curved part that was used to reach around a sheep to lift it to safety if it happened to get off the right path or near dangerous water.
“God, Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.”
They are comforts because, LORD, You are willing to beat away any problems I have, whether they are physical, emotional, or spiritual problems, or personal or family or foreign problems. And You are willing to bring me back to where I need to be if I happen to get out of line.
“Do not be afraid.” Those four words are found over and over again in the Bible, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. How good it is to read in the Bible how many of those who were told, “Do not be afraid,” followed that teaching.
Mary did. She did give birth to Jesus.
The shepherds did as they not only met Jesus, but joyously told others about Him.
Mary and Joseph followed the teaching, “Do not be afraid.” They followed it together. They did raise Jesus
Joshua did as he did lead God’s people into possession of the Promised Land.
Timothy did as he continued his ministry.
The disciples did as they went throughout the known world, boldly proclaiming Jesus as the Savior.
David did. He relied on the LORD’s love and guidance.
We, too, are told, “Do not be afraid.” We, too, are to obey those words. That can and will happen if we, as did all the others mentioned in this message, will do what we are called to do in the last verse for this message.
Psalm 31:19. “O how great is Your goodness, O LORD, which You have laid up for those who fear You.”
Wait. Do we hear it? Now we are to be afraid.
That seems to be what the verse teaches, but listen. The fears referred to earlier - the sudden appearances of angels and difficulties and enemies and seeing Jesus suffer and people not listening or death - were all related to physical fear. In Psalm 31, fear is instead a sense of awe. “O how great is Your goodness for those who are in awe of You.” Those who have total respect for You. Those who are determined to do all they can to avoid hurting You, not because they are afraid of Your anger, but because their love for You is so great, the overwhelming desire is to please You.
“How great is Your goodness, O LORD, which You have laid up for those who” respect You and love You. For those who trust in You.
The call? Fear God. Love Jesus. Respect the Holy Spirit. Be in awe of all God is. Do that. The result will be His goodness. Goodness that will help us achieve the challenge, “Do not be afraid.”
There is a song on Christian radio called No Longer Slaves. Here are some of the words, with some paraphrases. They fit well with today’s message.
I’m no longer a slave to fear
For I am a child of God.
From before I was born,
God, You have chosen me.
Lord, Your blood flows through my veins.
So I am, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
No longer a slave to fear.
I am a child of God.
I am surrounded by the arms of the Father.
We have been liberated from our bondage to sin.
Our fears are drowned in perfect love,
So let’s say aloud,
I am a child of God
I’m no longer a slave to fear
For I am a child of God.
Trusting God. Loving Him. Respecting Him. That is how you and I can hear and obey the call, over and over in the Bible, “Do not be afraid.” May we be as successful in that as were Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and Joshua and the disciples and Timothy and David, and so many more. Amen.