Summary: Because Jesus Christ has conquered death and paid the price for our sins, we can live lives free from fear.
“Do Not Be Afraid!”
World events seem to crowd in upon us. Tragedies, catastrophes, and crises seem to descend upon us without any let-up. All too often when we turn on the news we hear of another terrorist attack, like the one that killed 200 people in Madrid, Spain just over a week ago. Violent crime is turning our inner-cities into ghettos of fear and anger. Pornography and obscenity are infiltrating our homes and seeking to undermine basic family values. In some places in this country, county courthouses have more applications for divorce on file than applications for marriages. Every day thousands, literally thousands, of unborn babies are senselessly slaughtered; young ones who are offered up as sacrifices to a false god whose name is “choice”. Renegade judges have embroiled our country in a controversy over what constitutes marriage, is it really just one man and one woman? It seems as if Satan is having a heyday, it seems that he is having his way with this world. No wonder many people are asking, "Is anyone in charge? Is God really in control of the events of today? If He is why doesn’t He do something about it?"
It might surprise you to know that we are not the first generation to ask these questions. In fact, the Apostle John, in the 1st century, may very well have asked similar questions. John was the last of the apostles. By the time he had reached eighty years of age, all the other apostles had been martyred for the cause of Christ. When the Emperor Domitian came to the throne of Rome, John was serving as the Bishop to the church in Ephesus, but he was immediately exiled to Patmos, a little barren island in the middle of the Aegean Sea. He may have thought he was doomed to live out his days there, without ever again being allowed to preach, or travel, or minister. Those were the days when Christians were being persecuted all throughout the empire. They were being thrown to the lions; they were being bound up in animal skins and thrown into the sea; they were being ground up in millstones; they were being used as torches to light public gatherings. Domitian had ordered that Christians had to make a public stand as to whether they would say, "Jesus is Lord," or, "Caesar is Lord." If you got the wrong answer you were tortured and then you died a painful death.
Now, in the midst of that outbreak of persecution, John was worshipping the Lord on his little island prison, when suddenly, the Holy Spirit gave him a vision of Jesus. Although it had been sixty years since he had seen Jesus in the flesh, John knew who He was. Yet Jesus was different, John had never seen his Lord this way before. This is Jesus in all of His risen and ascended glory. This is the Son of Man shining forth in all the brilliance of God’s own power and might. And John writes,
“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand upon me, saying, "Fear not, I am the First and the Last, and the Living One; I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I hold the keys of Death and Hades."
These words of Christ spoken to John in the 1st century are also spoken to you and me today. Jesus said, "Fear not. Don’t be afraid." These were words of comfort and reassurance that John needed to hear. These are words that you and I need to hear as well. Especially in these days when many Christians take a look at the world around them and are very much afraid.
When Jesus said these words to John, the first thing He meant was, "Don’t be afraid of me." John was afraid of Him. He fell flat down on his face as though dead. This is what happens when sinful people come into contact with a Holy God. It happened with Moses, it happened with Joshua, it happened with Isaiah, it happened with Ezekiel, it happened with Zechariah, it happened all throughout the Scriptures to many people, and here it happens to John. The first thing Jesus does is He reassures John, saying, "Don’t be afraid." By this he means that John has nothing to fear; God is our friend, not our enemy; he is for us, not set against us. This is true, it’s true for John, it’s true for us as well. But it is only true because of what Jesus had accomplished by His death and resurrection.
Sinful people like you and me are, as Paul writes in Eph 2:3, “by nature objects of wrath” Without faith, we are blind, dead, enemies of God. I saw an artist’s rendering of this once and it has stuck with me ever since, to illustrate the point that sinful humans are by nature blind, dead, enemies of God. He drew a skeleton, standing upright, with some of the tattered grave clothes still hanging from its bones; dead. The skeleton had a blindfold wrapped around its eye sockets; blind. In the skeleton’s hand was a sword, and it was shaking it toward the heavens; enemies of God. That graphic said it all. That’s who we were before God chose us. Without God, that’s who we are. This is a very clear picture of the Old Adam that is in all of us. The sinful nature that is continuously at war with the Holy Spirit. It manifests itself in our daily lives, it shows itself when we commit open acts of rebellion against our God. When we imagine we are the masters of our own destiny, when we stubbornly choose to ignore the parts of God’s Law that are inconvenient, and when we intentionally disobey hoping that God isn’t looking; it is that sinful, dead, blind, condemned skeleton within us waging war with the God who loves us. This rebellion is doomed to fail. If we persist in this insurgence unchecked, we have every reason to be afraid of God. For He is a God of justice, and He will punish sin.