Fear will make you do strange things. It will make you do terrible things.
Fear can make you hurt others. Ultimately, it will hurt you more than anyone else.
Zach Williams has recorded a song titled “Fear Is A Liar”. To date, the official has over 22 million hits. It captures well the destructive nature of fear.
It’s also true that fear functions as a God-given self preservation mechanism. The great quandary which confronts us requires us to discern between real and imagined fears.
As Jesus prepared for his return to heaven at the end of his earthly ministry, he told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) This promise forms a wonderful bookend to the events of Jesus’ birth.
Jesus was born into an environment filled with fear. His parents had made a long journey to Bethlehem out of obedience, and fear, of the occupying Roman legions. Although Judea experienced relative stability under the rule of Rome and the 33 year reign of Herod, it wasn’t exactly peace as we know it. Many people sought a return to true Jewish independence and purity of worship. While Herod maintained order with an iron hand.
Fear consumed Herod the Great. He was paranoid about protecting his throne. He killed family members. He executed his wife and his brother. He had his sons killed. He believed in eliminating all potential competitors to his power.
Consumed by fear Herod lashed out creating an environment of retribution and fear.
It wasn’t only family. Rebellions and revolts were not unusual during the reign of Herod. His commitment to extinguish these revolts kept him in the good graces of Rome. Like other provincial rulers of the time opposition was met with violence and usually death. By modern standards, Herod was a monster.
Life was cheap when it came to maintaining the peace and the power.
Then Jesus, the Messiah, the King of the Jews, arrived. Herod recognized the threat. He murdered all boys under the age of 2 in the village of Bethlehem.
Jesus was born in this world or fear. Jesus lived in this world of fear. Jesus’ parents fled to Egypt to protect their son’s life.
When we apply the titles of Isaiah 9:6 to Jesus, ‘Prince of Peace’ isn’t just filling in space to provide cadence. Herod had every right to fear Jesus. Jesus was born to become king. Jesus was born not only to replace Herod, but to replace Herod’s environment of fear with and environment of peace. Significantly, in contrast to Herod, Jesus wasn’t ever proposing to maintain peace through violence. He maintains peace through peace.
Thirty-three years later, Herod the Great is long dead. Jesus himself is about to die. But while Herod’s final days were filled with increased paranoia, Jesus could approach death and promise his followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”
Fear isn’t dead.
Fear is real, and sometimes it’s healthy.
But fear is often a liar. And when fear festers it fosters hurt and turmoil.
I’m not suggesting that all Jesus followers just need to “think happy thoughts” to solve all our problems. I am suggesting that we need to take seriously Jesus’ mission to bring peace to the world, including to our world.
The apostle Paul explains it this way in Romans 8:14,
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”
May the love and peace of Christ overcome your fears this Christmas and in the year ahead. May you find refuge in the arms of your Father and strength in His Spirit. May you find joy in your adoption as a child of God.
Coincidentally, the sermon topic scheduled for this week complements the topic we’ve been discussing on Wednesday night. Any basic introduction or overview of the Gospel of Luke will mention two themes that Luke gives special attention compared to the writers of the other Gospels: the poor, and women.
Luke doesn’t do this by including lengthy diatribes on the status of women in Jesus eyes, but by simply including them in his accounts. Like the other Gospels, Luke still focuses on the ministry of Jesus and the Twelve, but he’s more deliberate in mentioning the presence and work of women.
My sermon focused on Joanna. She’s an easy person to miss since we’re not told very much about her, but since her husband managed Herod’s household (v3), she must have had a significant degree of social standing. She was apparently willing to risk her social reputation in and around Herod’s court by leaving that behind and following Jesus as he traveled from village to village. Jesus had rescued her from illness or demon possession and in return she committed her life to His ministry.
The Herod mentioned in this verse is probably Herod Antipas (since the events take place in Galilee). This is the same Herod who imprisoned and executed John the Baptiser. He also interviewed and mocked Jesus prior to his crucifixion (Lk 23:5-12). The father of Antipas, Herod the Great, had earlier killed all the infant males in Bethlehem in an effort eradicate the threat he believed Jesus posed to his position as king.
Joanna would have known Herod’s fear/hatred of Jesus and the fate of John the Baptiser, yet she took the risk and accompanied Jesus on his travels. Her acceptance of Jesus’ call is no less dramatic than that of any of the apostles (Lk 51-11; 27-31). She not only left the social circle of the royal court to follow Jesus, but also supported his ministry financially. And despite these sacrifices, she receives only the briefest of mentions, while the men are treated as heroes.
One of the lessons we can learn from Joanna, is her commitment to following Jesus, despite her lack of public recognition. Luke also mentions her presence at the tomb of Jesus as one of the women who discovered his resurrection. Despite any obstacles she encountered during the intervening period she remained faithful to her Saviour. She demonstrates endurance and persistence.
We all face the temptation of becoming demoralised when we persistently work at something and receive no recognition for our efforts. We can easily find ourselves considering the gifts God gives us and seeking a bigger stage on which to exercise them. Paul’s words in Galatians 1:10 provide an important reminder for us, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
When we find ourselves limited, because of our gender, or location, or some other reason, we face the choice of whether to focus on the limitation, or the opportunities available to us within that limitation.
It was recently pointed out to me that the first step in the serpent’s temptation of Eve was to remove her attention from the innumerable blessings God had given her to instead focus upon the single restriction. I believe this continues to be a strategy of Satan that women have to resolve as they serve God within the church.
But Satan uses this strategy on all of us. I could sit around lamenting that I’m not working for a larger church, or in a bigger city, or closer to Christian college that would give me more opportunities to share my “incredible wisdom” and “awesome speaking skills” God’s given me. Or I can work in my current situation to share God’s love and Good News with everyone with whom I come in contact.
Joanna reminds us that we can work just as effectively for God away from the limelight as we can in the limelight. While many people want to deepen their pockets by raising their profile in the Lord’s work, Joanna supported the ministry of Jesus out of her own pocket. The crucial point in this whole story is that Jesus called her… and she followed, and served. Although I believe the NT does place some restrictions on the roles of women in the church (see here) it’s crucial that we recognise that Jesus called women as well as men. Jesus relied on the support of women, as well as men. The church needs to equally equip, commission, and acknowledge the work of women in God’s service.
Joanna may not have a book of the Bible named after her, but she was rewarded on that Sunday morning as the angel, in person, declared to her and the other women the Good News of a risen Saviour.
- While some people struggle with the urge to lead the church, others struggle to develop the willingness to serve. To what extent do you think this is a gender issue?
- Do you think I’m making too big a deal over the couple of things we’re told about Joanna, or is this a reasonable application?
- Have you experienced Satan directing your attention from opportunities to limitations? What are some other limitations he uses in addition to gender & location?