Monday, July 28, 2014

Be Not Afraid of Them

Life of Christ 118

          In our story today (Luke 12.1-12) we find Jesus and His Apostles traveling and preaching through Judea in the Autumn before His death. In the course of His travels He has encountered people who would have believed on Him except they were afraid of what the Pharisees would do to them, or to their family in response (see John 9 for an illustration of this). This fear of men, and of what they think of you or can do to you paralyzes spiritual progress in timid people. Jesus knew that His disciples would need to learn this lesson (Luke 12.1), and soon. After all, they would be leading the Church without Him in less than six months.
       Jesus gives them three reasons not to be afraid of what men can do. First, because God has more power than men do. 'Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him' (Luke 12.4-5).
          Logic, all by itself, will tell you that if you are forced to choose between two people to fear you should fear the one that can do the worst. For instance, if I played on an organized football team, I would rather line up against the Little Sisters of the Poor than I would the Chicago Bears. On a much larger scale that is the comparison which Jesus gives us. We fear men but the absolute worst that they can do is to take our life. God, who can do that as well, can also follow it up by sending someone to an eternal hell. He is the more powerful by far. In this sense, I don't have to be afraid when their guy comes into the ring. My guy is bigger.
          The second reason we don't need to be afraid of men is because God values us highly. 'Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows' (Luke 12.7).
          A few weeks ago my wife and I took a large group of children from our church to summer camp. We have a five year old son, and although he is too young for camp he had to go since both of his parents went. He likes to swim, and so during the boys' swim time I put a lifejacket on him and took him into the pool. There were probably 50 boys in that pool, and although I would gladly have helped any boy who was in trouble in the water there was only one boy that I kept my eye on constantly – my own son. Naturally, I value him more highly than I did any other boy there.
          As a believer in the claims of Jesus Christ I am a child of God (John 1.10). That makes God place an incredibly high value on me, and if He notices what happens to even sparrows then I'm absolutely positive He notices what happens to me. When I am placed in a fearful situation I am absolutely positive that I'm uppermost on His mind, and that He is paying complete attention to me and to my circumstances. Another way of saying this is that He will not let anything bad happen to me accidentally because He got distracted. He notices everything because He values me so highly.
           The third reason we don't need to be afraid of men is tied directly to the institution that has driven so much fear in Christians for millennia – the government. Jesus said here that God will help us when we stand before the authorities. 'And when they bring you unto synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say' (Luke 12.11-12).
          Unlike some, I do not believe this passage teaches that we shouldn't prepare a legal defense. Such a position violates, in my mind, much clear teaching from the book of Proverbs. But in context what it does teach is that I don't need to fear governmental authorities because God will be with me when I face them.
          God instituted government (Genesis 6, Romans 13), but often government goes haywire, and fights against God and right instead of for it. The past two thousand years of Church history is indisputable proof of this. I can hear what so much of American Christianity is saying in response: 'We live in America; we won't face persecution here. This one doesn't really apply to us.'
          Such a head-in-the-sand mentality ignores not only two thousand years of Church history, it also ignores the clear tenor of the times in which we live. The Constitution of the United States of America is just a piece of paper in our day, one already riddled with holes and shot through with violations. The guarantee of religious liberty enshrined in it is only as good as the moral fiber of our generation, and that moral fiber is shrinking as fast as an ice cream cone on a hot July day. The truth is that the normal, not rare or even unusual, but normal condition of God's people in Church history has been government tolerated or sponsored persecution. And that is a fact which we pampered American Christians will, sooner or later, and I think sooner, become reacquainted with.
          You would almost think God knew this ahead of time because He repeatedly mentions persecution in the New Testament. He tells us that it will happen (John 15.20). Not only that, but He tells us that it will happen more and more as we get toward the last days (Luke 21.12-13). He also tells us how to respond to it. For instance, we are to keep a good spirit while enduring it (Matthew 5.11-12). We are to show our persecutors favor and blessing. (Romans 12.14). Specifically, in reference to ourselves, we are to keep two things in mind while undergoing persecution. First, we are to rest assured that God loves us even while we are enduring it (Romans 8.35). Secondly, we find in our story today that we are not to be afraid of them.
          So many Christians live in fear of what others will do or say if they actually live out a bold Christianity. It is a fleshly and needless fear. Are you afraid to tell your buddies you got saved? Be not afraid of them. Are you afraid to ask your boss to give you Sundays off? Be not afraid of them. Are you afraid of the reaction of strangers while witnessing? Be not afraid of them. Are you afraid to minister in a certain way lest someone sue you? Be not afraid of them. Are you afraid to read your Bible at work lest someone think you're a nut? Be not afraid of them. Are you afraid to sing in the choir lest you hit a wrong note? Be not afraid of them. Are you afraid to take a strong stand against homosexuality lest you get fired? Be not afraid of them. Are you afraid you will be embarrassed, criticized, ostracized, ridiculed, laughed at, insulted, or persecuted in your service for the Lord? Be not afraid of them. 'God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind' (II Timothy 1.7).
the young man who complained to the police on
the basis that the flyer incited hate
          In Norfolk, England just two months ago a Baptist church put a flier on its marquee that stated 'If you think there is no God you'd better be right' printed over a picture of flames. The implication was clearly that without God you will end up a hell. A young man walking by was greatly disturbed by it, and called the police. They promptly began to investigate the 'hate crime' of putting up such a flyer. That is appalling enough, but what absolutely infuriates me, as a Baptist preacher, is that the pastor of the church immediately took down the 'offensive' flyer from his church marquee. His fear proved much bigger than his backbone.

          What Pastor John Rose of the Attleborough Baptist Church in Norfolk, England needs is the same thing you and I need: an unyielding surety that we don't need to be afraid of them. 

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