Last night the country celebrated an ancient tradition of pagan origins. We call it Halloween. The ancient Celtic people called it Samhain. October 31 was the last day of the Celtic year. For the Celts that day was a time when the veil between the living and the dead was thin and ghosts could walk among the living for purposes of good and evil. The people built massive bonfires, performed ritual sacrifices to the gods, did fortune-telling, and wore costumes made from animal skins to disguise themselves from ghosts who had an evil desire. This Celtic practice began about 2,000 years ago. It was a festival and time of anxiousness and darkness. It was a time for people to be afraid.
Being afraid is a universal human trait. All humans, regardless of country, culture, or century experience the sense of being afraid. It is the third human emotion expressed in the Bible. The first human emotion was joy. We find joy first expressed in Chapter 2 of Genesis. The man was alone and engaged in naming the animals of God’s creation. Then God brought the woman to the man and the man said, “’Finally! One like me, with bones from my bones and a body from my body’” (Genesis 2:23). The man was joyful. The second human emotion was shame. The man and woman had just eaten the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (Genesis 3:7). Shame entered the lives of the man and woman. The third human emotion was fear. After eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, “The man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” 10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid”” (Genesis 3:8-10).
The first human expression of fear was to be afraid of God. Sin came into creation and the first effect was to give us a sense of shame toward one another and a sense of fear of God. The man and woman who at first were naked, unashamed, and comfortable in one another’s presence felt the inner need to separate and cover themselves. Then sin gave the man and woman the inner need to separate and hide from God. The man and woman covered themselves with leaves to dispel the shame and hid among the trees to put an end to fear. But their actions did not work because the cause of their distress was sin. Man and woman learned they cannot solve sin or the effects of sin. Fortunately, God had a plan.
So at about the same time the Celtic people were burning bonfires and dressing in animal skins, God sought to put an end to the separation between Him and humanity. God entered the world dressed not in the skins of animals but in the flesh of a human, a man, named Jesus. In his coming, Jesus sought to address sin and the effects of sin, particularly that of being afraid. Today, I would like us to look at the work of Jesus to change our inner need or desire to be afraid.
We encounter the first instance of Jesus confronting fear in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 5. Jesus encountered a fisherman named Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “’Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’ 5 Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’” (Luke 5:4-8). Simon had witnessed a miracle only possible by the presence of God. Simon feared God.
Fear is a funny thing. Whatever we fear has not yet happened. Did you know that? Whatever we fear has not yet happened. Allow me to illustrate. Suppose you are driving along, you get distracted, and inadvertently drive through a red light. You realize your error as you make it through the intersection and then fear takes over as you spot police car at that same intersection. You fear being pulled over for your mistake. You have not been pulled over, but you fear being pulled over. A few moments later, the police car is behind you with it’s lights on signaling you need to pull over. You no longer fear being pulled over by the police because it is happening. But you now fear an interaction with the police and possibly getting a ticket. We fear what has not yet happened.
Simon was fearful not because he was in Jesus presence, in the presence of holiness. Simon feared judgment that would come from being a sinful man before God. Simon feared what could be coming and wanted to escape judgment. However, Simon could not hide in the boat and could not run from Jesus’ presence. The only option was to ask Jesus to leave Simon’s presence. “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” It was at this precise moment that Jesus began to teach Simon why he had come. Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid.”
“Do not be afraid to be in my presence.” The Apostle John witnessing this scene would later write that Jesus did not come “into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17). Jesus wanted to restore Simon’s relationship with God and to teach Simon how to help others be restored in their relationship with God. Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people” (Luke 5:10). As we read earlier, the man and woman hid for fear of being in fellowship with God. Jesus, God in human flesh, had come to drive away that fear and restore fellowship with God.
Jesus then began to teach people about the blessings of restored fellowship with God. Jesus taught Simon, whom he would call Peter, and the other disciples these blessings of restored fellowship with God. Jesus said: “Blessed [literally “Congratulations to you who”] are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:3-12).
Restored fellowship with God changes the person. With God we are made humble, merciful, reverent, repentant, compassionate, peace loving, and righteous. The need to be fearful is removed. The restoration of a relationship with God is to be blessed and receive the kingdom of heaven, comfort, inheritance, fulfillment, mercy, seeing God, being called God’s child, and being rewarded in heaven. Jesus replaced the fear of being in the presence of God with the blessing of being in God’s presence. He did not make this change by one little degree at a time as though we come into God’s presence with small incremental changes. Jesus changed the situation all at once.
How did Jesus explain the transformation from fear to blessing? Let’s look at a portion of a parable Jesus once told for an answer to that question. “21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ 22 Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times [or seven times seventy]. [Jesus said], 23 Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’” The man in debt feared the king. The man feared his wife and children would be sold into slavery and it still would not be enough to get the man out of debt. What the man fear had not yet happened so the man promised to make good on the debt by working hard and paying the debt back in installment payments. If you have ever had a mortgage or credit card debt you can relate to this man’s circumstance. You pay and pay for years in the hopes of getting yourself out of debt. All the time you fear the consequences if you are unable to pay.
The king saw the man’s circumstances. Jesus said, “27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.” Jesus continued the story but the key to the story is found in three powerful words, “canceled the debt.” The transformation for the indebted man occurred when the king “canceled the debt.” In one single act of mercy, the king forgave the man’s debt of ten thousand bags of gold. The man went from fearful of the king to being blessed by the king. He was in a word, the king saved the man.
Jesus was teaching Simon and his other disciples that forgiveness, canceling of the debt, is the key to transformation of the human spirit before God because forgiveness removes the fear, the dread, of what it means to be in God’s presence. The Apostle Paul wrote, “19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus], 20 and through him [Jesus] to reconcile to himself [God] all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated [separated] from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he [God] has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his [God’s] sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:19-22a). The debt, our debt, was paid by Jesus.
Fear and separation from God, the effects of sin, were removed from us through the horrible instrument of the cross. Paul said, “13 When you were dead in your sins …God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). We moved from death to life as Jesus moved from life to death. We became whole as Jesus body was pierced on the cross and we became clean as Jesus’ blood ran down his body staining his skin. The scene on the cross is gruesome and the process of our reunion with God is hard for us to imagine. There is not one of us here who would allow our child or family member to go through the ordeal of the cross for any reason. Yet, God did, and Jesus did, because of an overwhelming love for one another and an overwhelming love for us. What did God ask in return for canceling the debt? Simply, that we would love and follow Jesus, and that we would love one another.
To help remind us of the mystery of the transformation from fear and separation to forgiveness and reunion, Jesus gave his disciples the simple elements of the bread to eat and a cup from which to drink. Jesus wanted his disciples then and his disciples today to feel the blessing of being in God’s presence. Jesus did not want his disciples to be afraid nor does he want you and me to be afraid.
The song writer offered to us these words of the bread and cup.
“Do you believe in me? And in the words, I say? And in Him who sent me from above? Do you believe in my love?
I’ve tried so many ways to show you my love. And to show who I am. Sometimes I wonder if you’ll ever learn or if you understand.
Do you believe in me? And in the words, I say? And in Him who sent me from above? Do you believe in my love?
This is my body that is broken for you. Never forget what I’ve done. This is my blood that is shed for you. This is what makes us one.
Do you believe in me? And in the words, I say? And in Him who sent me from above? Do you believe in my love?”
“Do not be afraid.” Jesus’ love has canceled all your debts and has restored your fellowship with God and with one another. This is the good news of the Gospel of Jesus. Come and receive, and then share with those who are afraid. Amen and Amen.