(Written to compliment a sermon on 1 Peter 1:17-21)
I’d like to talk to you a little bit about fear. Fear is a defense mechanism that is intended to keep us out of harmful or destructive situations. When there is danger, it is our sense of fear which prompts us to take precautions or to avoid the situation altogether. In that sense, fear is a very healthy and good thing. In fact, we call somebody who doesn’t have any fear, ‘foolhardy.’ We even have a saying about it, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” On the other hand, courage is taking action in the face of fear.
Even though fear is, I believe, something God gave us to help us avoid danger, sometimes our fears can be irrational. For example, I have a bit of the fear of heights. One time I had to go up in a lift bucket to work on high ceiling. That was one of the hardest things I ever did. Intellectually, I knew that there was no danger. I knew there was no way the lift could possibly tip over. I knew there was no way I could possibly fall out of the bucket unless I deliberately climbed over the side. Yet, in spite of knowing all that, I was terribly afraid. I had the shakes so bad that I could hardly do the work that required me to go up in the bucket.
And that is the downside of fear. Even though fear is intended to warn us and help us avoid dangerous situations, if we let it, it can also paralyze us. We call it the “Deer in the headlights” syndrome. The deer knows that the oncoming vehicle is dangerous. Yet, it’s so mesmerized by the headlights that it’s paralyzed. It stands there, immobile, until the vehicle hits it. In the same way, if we let fear control us, it can prevent us from taking the action we need to prevent being harmed.
Fear is an individual thing. Some things that scare me silly might not bother you at all. But there are other fears which are pretty universal. One of them is the fear of public speaking. I’ve read that speaking to an audience is the number one fear most people in the United States have. I believe it. Even though I’ve spoken and taught hundreds of times, I still get nervous when it’s my time to stand up front.
Perhaps the most universal fear of all is fear of the unknown. We like the illusion that we are in control of our lives. By definition we can’t control the things we know nothing about. So, we fear anything which takes us out of the familiar. For example, culture shock is a very real phenomenon. When you are first dumped off in a different culture, you have no frame of reference; everything is strange. And because you can’t recognize or relate to what you are experiencing, you don’t know how to act or respond. This induces a state of anxiety. In some cases it can become so severe that it immobilizes.
One of the greatest unknowns we face is death. Death is universal; unless the Lord returns first, all of us are going to die. But even though death is something which has been with us for thousands of years, and even though each one of us will encounter it, if we haven’t already, it’s something we know very little about. What happens to us when we die? What’s on the other side? We really don’t know. And because we don’t know, people fear death. They fear it so much that they will do almost anything to avoid it. To extend their lives a few months they will subject themselves to all kinds of horrible medical procedures and put their families into a financial bind to pay for them.
Yes, most people fear death. But it doesn’t have to be that way. One of the reasons Jesus came to earth was to break the power of death and, in the process, free us from the fear of death. In Hebrews chapter 2, verses 10 through 15 we read, “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.” And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.” Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (NIV)
I think it is significant that after Jesus rose from the dead, one of the first things He said to His disciples was, “Don’t be afraid.” Since Jesus conquered death, if we have allowed Him to become our Lord, we don’t need to fear death either. He’s been through it. He knows what’s on the other side. We can have confidence because He’s promised to be with us all the way.
Each week we gather to remember what Jesus did for us. The bread and juice which commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice remind us that Jesus loves us. In fact, Paul writes in Romans chapter 8, verses 38 and 39, “...that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NIV)
As we partake this morning, let’s remember that since nothing can separate us from Christ’s love, we don’t have to fear the unknown. Since Jesus rose from the dead, death has no power over us.