Sunday, October 22, 2006

“Nothing to Fear”

Hebrews 2:5-15[1]

Fear is a powerful force in our world. It affects just about every area of our lives. Politicians use fear to get people to vote for them and not their opponents. We use fear of punishment in our schools and our homes to keep our kids “in line”—i.e., acting like we want them to act. I dare say many people would say that they pay their taxes only for fear of getting caught! It should come as no surprise that fear takes root in religion as well. For many in our world, the only reason they practice their faith is the fear that if they don’t they will suffer eternal punishment.

One of the best illustrations of fear can be found in the “Lord of the Rings” films. From the very beginning until the end, fear casts a tangible shadow over much of “Middle Earth.”

Of course, the very source of fear in this tale is Sauron the dark Lord. Sauron is at least twice as tall as any tall man. The power of his one ring enables him to brush the fiercest warriors aside as if they were so many toy soldiers. Then there is Sauron’s army of Orcs, a race of tortured and mangled Elves. They inspire fear just by their very appearance—they embody violence itself. They are brutal and vicious and they destroy everything in their path. Sauron’s commanders are the Ring Wraiths, men who fell under his spell and became half-dead, half-living. They utter a scream that renders even the bravest leaders of men helpless, scurrying for cover like frightened insects.

I think the widespread and seemingly indestructible power of fear in Middle Earth makes the significance of what the heroes of the Lord of the Rings accomplish stand out all the more. As Sauron’s army is defeated, the cloud of fear begins to roll back so that the light of day can shine through again. After the ring is destroyed, all Middle Earth is finally freed from the terror that Sauron had imposed on them. As they gather to crown Aragorn king of all the free men of Middle Earth, the sun is shining brightly, his people standing tall and free in the fresh air, not a hint of fear on their faces.

That’s what the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says Jesus did for us. By taking on our sufferings and by his death, he set us free from fear. The Scriptures say he set us free from the “fear of death” (Heb. 2:15). In the biblical world-view, the fear of death is the most potent of all fears. In a very real sense, the Bible views death as a kind of cosmic power that holds us all in its grip—just as it does sin or evil. Most of us probably don’t view death in that way. There are some of us who fear a lot of things more than they fear death. But point of the promise that Jesus set us free from the “fear of death” is that he set us free from all fear.

This is what the incarnation of Jesus was all about. He came as one of us; he took on flesh and blood and all that goes with them and shared our humanity. He did not hesitate to relinquish his claims, rights and position to become like us. Jesus took on the burdens of our existence in order to set us free from the chains that bind us—to break the power of fear over us.

Because of Jesus’ life and death, sin holds no more power. There is nothing you can do to make God love you any less; there is no sin you can commit that can separate you from God’s love. And because of Jesus’ death, death itself holds no more power. Where once death meant being cursed to a kind of non-existence and brought only despair and grief, Jesus’ life now inspires us with hope and joy.

Because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we get a taste of God’s new world right now! And this not only means that we get to experience a new kind of life. The fact that Jesus breaks the power of fear and death means that God’s new world is already breaking into this world.[2] There is a sense in which Jesus’ life and death rolls back the cloud of fear and death and sin not just for us but for all creation. All the powers of evil that have held humanity enslaved are broken. Because of Jesus, we have nothing left to fear!

Unfortunately, for many that good news falls on deaf ears. Fear has become so ingrained in our religion that they simply cannot accept the idea that we have nothing to fear! They acknowledge that God loves us and that Jesus died to save us. But they still live in fear that they if they somehow fall short in their Christian living they will fall into the hands of an angry God!

That is not the good news of the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ! The good news is that we have nothing to fear! The good news is that there is nothing we can do to make God love us any less! We can live our lives in the light of a new day, breathing the fresh air and standing tall as we follow the steps of our Savior and Lord, doing justice and loving kindness and walking humbly with our God!

[1] A Sermon preached 10/08/06 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson TX.

[2] Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 182.

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