Summary: God frees his people from the control of fear.
During the height of her popularity, Ann Landers received about 10,000 letters each month, nearly all of them from people burdened with troubles. Someone asked her if a particular problem predominated the letters she received. Her answer was, “Fear.”
We must discover in our hearts the power of fear because it leads us so quickly away from God, especially that particular idolatry called “the fear of man.” Alluding to Proverbs 16.6, Puritan pastor John Flavel observed: “By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil; by the fear of man they run themselves into evil.” And William Greenhill: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, but our fears are in the name of man.”
Pontius Pilate vividly portrays the power of fear. Three times he affirms Christ’s innocence, yet in the end he gives way to pressure from people, and gives over Jesus to crucifixion. May God use his example in our lives to cleans our souls of fear and set us free!
[Read John 18.38-19.16. Pray.]
I think Edward Welch chose brilliantly the title for his book on overcoming the fear of man: When People are Big and God is Small. Maybe you can relate to his personal awakening to this problem when he was a high-school senior: “I had always been shy and self-conscious, controlled by what my peers thought (or might have thought), but I never considered it seriously until the day of the awards assembly. I was up for an award, and I was scared to death I would get it!
“The auditorium bulged with over two thousand high-school juniors and seniors. From the back, where I like to sit, it seemed a good mile or two up to the platform. All I could think of was what my classmates would think of me while I walked to the front. Would I walk funny? Would I trip going up the stairs? Would one person – I prayed it would not be a girl I liked – think I was a jerk? What about those who were also nominated or who thought they were deserving? What would they think of me if I won instead of them? What would I ever say for a brief acceptance speech? ‘God, please don’t let me get this!’ I prayed.
“After a number of lesser awards were announced, the vice principal went to the podium to introduce the winner. He began with a short, somewhat cryptic biographical sketch. It did not sound exactly like me, but it was generic enough to fit. I was starting to sweat, but I sat motionless for fear that someone would think I was getting interested. Finally the announcement came: ‘And the winner of this year’s senior award is…Rick Wilson.
“Rick Wilson! I could not believe it! Of all people. No one even thought he was a candidate!
“You can imagine my reaction. Relief? No way. I felt like a total failure. Now what would people think of me? They knew I was up for the award, and someone else was chosen. What a loser I was.
“Immediately my mind began spinning out justifications. If I had worked at all this year, I would have won. I certainly had the potential, I just didn’t want to win. I’m a late bloomer; when I get to college, I will show them. I was ashamed to go back to class. Pitiful, isn’t it?”
Dr. Welch describes well the deceit of the heart. Many fear success, for it would put us on display; yet we also fear failure, for then we are shown to be less wonderful than we had hoped. The Bible mentions often this heart-struggle. Almost 600 verses contain the word, “fear” and related synonyms. One of the profound comments comes through the prophet Isaiah: “And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. [So God promises to restore and revive his people, to protect and deliver them. Then he says,] ‘I, I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass, and have forgotten the LORD, your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth?’” (Isaiah 51.11-13).
“Our help is in the name of the Lord, but our fears are in the name of man” (William Greenhill).
John 19 tells the story of Pilate. History preserves his name through the creeds of the church: “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate….” Who is this Pilate, so infamously remembered? What about his character led him to condemn one he knew to be innocent? What would God have us learn and who would he have us be and what would he have us do as a result of this Scripture?