Today's subject applies to everyone here. At some time, fear has gripped each of us. Perhaps a loved one lingered in the balance of life and death and you were inundated with fear, uncertain of their survival. Maybe one of your children experienced a crisis that brought a dreadful unsettling alarm. Perhaps there was a time when you were frightened by a bully; and then, maybe fear assailed you when you didn't know where your next paycheck would come from. The apostle John said, "fear has torment."
Whatever your fears are one fact is certain; you aren't alone, everyone has encountered it. And Jesus knew we would. Sixty years after His crucifixion Jesus appeared to John on the Isle of Patmos and made His greatest statement regarding His conquest of fear: "Fear not! I am the First and the Last. (18) I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades."
Think about who is saying these words.
This is not a little child looking into the face of a parent and saying, "It's okay, everything will be alright."
It isn't a grandparent trying to assure us that we will be fine.
And it's not even the President of the United States telling us that the government will come to our rescue.
The One admonishing us to "fear not" says He is the "First and the Last . . . [the] Living One [that] was dead, but behold [He] is alive forever and ever" . . . He is the One that holds the keys to the afterlife! You see, it makes all the difference in the world who tells you to "fear not." Jesus has conquered everything.
(Transition) But even though Christ has vanquished the greatest enemies of life, it still doesn't prevent us from forgetting His words. Fear girdles the globe.
I. The Scope of Fear
Awhile back, a report noted that up to 77% of a person's thoughts are negative. It's no wonder, because children raised in the average American household hear the word "no," or they are told what they can't do nearly 150,000 times by age eighteen. It's not always wrong to say, "no" but parents should exercise caution or it could negatively program their children.
It's understandable that certain fears are more prevalent than others, but modern man has taken fear to a new level. Psychologists have translated our fears into phobias. A phobia is an exaggerated or abnormal fear of something. Some of the phobias people experience are incredible. For example:
Mysophobia is the fear of dirt. No child is afflicted with this fright.
Nyclophobia is the fear of darkness.
Hematophobia is the fear of blood.
Acrophobia is the fear of high places.
Xenophobia is the fear of strangers.
Hydrophobia is the fear of water.
Taxophobia is the fear of being buried alive—not the fear of being taxed to death.
Necrophobia is the fear of the deceased.
Claustrophobia is the fear of confined places.
Algophobia is the fear of pain.
Photophobia is the fear of light.
Phobiaphobia is the fear of fear.
And my favorite is, triskaidekaphobia. And this is the fear of the number thirteen.
This is only a partial enumeration of an unending list of fears. As strange as some of these fears are, it's evident that many people suffer from psychosomatic illnesses. One doctor stated, "there is an epidemic of fear and worry in this country."
(Illustration) Some years back I preached near Clemson University. During that month, the campus was plagued with a flu epidemic that struck 4000 of the 11,000 students. When sicknesses are described as epidemic, they've spread far and wide. This describes the plague of fear that's infected people today—it's reached epidemic proportions.
Fear is no respecter of persons. It grips people of the Middle East that are constantly threatened with terrorism, to those living in the famine-riddled nations of Africa who are wondering where their next piece of bread will come from, and it affects the troubled Wall Street investor. No one is immune from fear.
Despite its widespread influence, the Bible says Christians can overcome it. And we can overcome it because Jesus vanquished it! There are two words that recur in the Bible with an unremitting presence. Those two words are, "fear not."
When God directed Abraham into a new way, He said: "Fear not, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward" (GEN 15:1).
He spoke the same words to comfort Isaac: "Fear not, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase your descendants." (GEN 26:24).
God used these words to encourage Joshua when he battled Ai saying: "Fear not; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land" (JOS 8:1).
In Isaiah 41:10 the Lord said: "do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
And God used those words to comfort every Christian in 2 Timothy 1:7 when He said: "God did not give us a spirit of [fear], but a spirit of power, of love and of self‑discipline" (2TI 1:7).
You can eliminate 99% of your fears when you understand God is all-powerful, good, and He never loses control of anything. He won't allow you to suffer more than you can bear; He won't allow anything to touch you without it first passing through His hands; and He always "makes all things work together for you good" (ROM 8:28).
(Quote) I don't know who authored it, but I like the quote: "Fear knocked at the door, faith answered, nobody was there!"
(Transition) I want to take a few minutes to discuss our conquest of fear.
II. The Conquest of Fear
David said in Psalm 27, "The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?" Hey, those are strong words that David uttered. How could he be so confident? Here's how: David's fears vanished when he looked into God's face and saw the light he needed for guidance, the grace he needed for deliverance, and the refuge he needed for protection. That's what dispelled David's fears.
And we can make the same pronouncement! When we draw near God we can declare with David that the Lord is our light, our salvation, our refuge, and our strength. The presence of Jesus dispels fear.
(Transition) So what is it that people fear in life? Let's mention three fears that are common to men.
1. People fear the mysteries of life. We wrestle with fear when we're faced with perplexity or when we face the unknown. We are all pretty much alike. We want clarification of dilemmas and mysteries. But that doesn't always happen.
Sometimes we think if we could only know our future or unravel life's mysteries we could live above fear; but that's incorrect!
Freedom from fear doesn't hinge on deciphering our dilemmas. It doesn't depend on us cracking the code of mystery. It depends on trusting that God will"never leave nor forsake us." He wants us to remember that His ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than ours and that He's always leading us.
God said in Isaiah 55:8-9, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. (9) As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." The message here is, God is never mystified. He's always in control. He always has a plan. So we can trust Him.
(Illustration) I can remember going into my grandparent's house as a little boy. At times, they would have a giant gig-saw puzzle, with all its tiny pieces, scattered on their dining room table. I'd look at that and think, ‘Wow! I know it's possible to piece that together, but I could never do it.' I'd stare at the box cover and envision the end product. Days would pass and as my grandparents worked on it, along with an uncle or aunt that passed by the table, the mission would be accomplished. And it was most always completed one piece at a time.
Sometimes our life seems like a jigsaw puzzle that's been dumped out of the box. And we think, ‘Lord, how will I ever put the picture together!'
Do you know how I was taught to piece together a jigsaw puzzle? The first step involved being brave enough to open the box and pour out the pieces. From there you find the corner pieces, with their two straight edges, and set them in place. After that, you set the sides of the puzzle and then work inward.
Occasionally my dad would hand me a piece of the puzzle that, to him, was an obvious placement. I would twist and turn it against other pieces until I finally found the correct position. Over time, the puzzle would be assembled.
Life is like that. No matter how overwhelming the puzzle of life appears, God is the One that placed it before us. And our first order of business is to deal with what's inside the box—that is, what's inside your heart. Jesus must be the Lord of your attitudes and desires.
Next, be certain you set the four corners of your life—faith, hope, love, and righteousness. Then work with whatever pieces of the puzzle God places into your hands. You may twist and turn them for awhile, but God will guide you.
Sometimes, when you're stuck, He will send somebody along that says, "Hey, that piece there goes there." And it will! In the end, regardless of the difficulty, the final picture will be more wonderful than whatever preconceived picture you had in mind. So "fear not," it's coming together!
2. Secondly, people fear difficulty. Difficulty and pressure can be overwhelming. And there are many tough challenges to bear today.
Single mothers struggle to raise their children.
People struggle with financial problems.
Young people are concerned with where they will continue their education, who they will marry, and what occupation awaits them.
Everyone is concerned about how high gas prices will soar.
The bottom line to this message is this. Jesus is still in control! He will be there to help us no matter what we have to face.
(Illustration) Many years ago a European school teacher told her class the story of Jesus calming the storm. She described, in detail, the story of Jesus and the apostles dealing with contrary winds. The kids were captivated by how Jesus rose from His sleep and silenced the storm. Later that day a blizzard arose and when school dismissed the teacher practically had to drag the children through the tempest. It was frightening. In the midst of all the difficulty, the teacher heard one of the youngsters say: "We could certainly do with that chap Jesus here now." (George Truett, Twenty Centuries of Great Preaching, The Conquest of Fear.)
That little boy got the point—Jesus transcends all difficulty! He can master any situation!
(Transition) Let's take a closer look at this incident of Christ calming the storm because the Sea of Galilee often describes what our life looks like.
Jesus Calms the Storm
The Sea of Galilee was notorious for storms. They could appear unexpectedly. Even today, it is normal for tempests to terrorize this lake even when the sky is perfectly clear. There is a geological explanation for this.
(Example) The Sea of Galilee sits more than 600 feet below sea level and is surrounded by tablelands. Then, a mountain range appears just beyond those tablelands. Besides that, there are rivers that flow into the Sea of Galilee that act like funnels that draw violent winds over that lake. That's why the Sea of Galilee is susceptible to storms. Since several of the apostles were fishermen they understood how quickly storms could appear on Galilee, but they launched out anyway. Sure enough, a storm arose and despite all their seafaring skills they failed to steady the ship. That's when they called on Jesus. But to their surprise, He was asleep! Their boat was reeling, death appeared imminent, and Jesus was sleeping! They couldn't believe it! And when they awoke Him they said, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown" (MAR 4:38)?
Their problem was, they forgot His words before launching: "Let us go over to the other side" (4:35). He had assured them of a successful mission, so it didn't matter how much the boat rocked and reeled or how loud the storm howled, they were going to make it.
As soon as He lifted His hands and spoke the Word, the waves subsided, the ship settled, and peace prevailed. Mark says when this happened the disciples were "terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!" (MAR 4:41). I like that. The storm was over, the winds had ceased, the lake was peaceful but they were "terrified!" And why shouldn't they be?
Who should they fear more, the tempest or the One that calmed it?
Who should be feared more, Pharaoh's militia or the One that parted the Red Sea and swallowed the militia?
Who should be feared more, the Joshua's enemies at Ai or the One that stopped the sun, lengthened the day, and gave Joshua the victory?
The Bible says, "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." There is nothing to fear with God on our side.
(Transition) Then there's another great fear that terrorizes people—it's death.
3. People fear death. Some people are so afraid of dying they can hardly live. They refuse to fly in airplanes because they might crash.
(Example) Some years ago I met a man that would hardly eat anywhere but his mother's kitchen because he feared being poisoned. I'm serious! He didn't want to eat at restaurants or any other place but at home.
One man said: "I am a frightened child in the face of death." (IBID, Truett.)
This isn't how the apostle Paul lived. He said, "to be absent in body is to be present with the Lord."
The only person justified for fearing death is the unsaved, because after death there's no second chance, no reviving hope, for rejecting Jesus Christ as your Savior. There's no forgiveness for the final rejection of Christ. All opportunity for salvation is lost.
Jesus said in Revelation 21:8: "But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."
Jesus took away the fear of death three days after the Cross when He stood outside the empty tomb. Death didn't conquer Christ; Christ conquered death! And He's remained victorious over the grave for 2000 years.
There is no need to fear mysteries because Christ is your wisdom.
There is no need to fear being abandoned because He is a "friend who sticks closer than a brother" (PRO 18:24).
There is no need to fear being defenseless because Hebrews 13:6 declares we can: "say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"
There is no need to fear when you are without strength: "For nothing is impossible with God" (LUK 1:37).
(Illustration) I heard the story of a psychologist that had a unique manner of applied therapy to his clients. After an initial discussion with the patient he dismissed them with the following directive: Go home and read the Psalm 23 seven times a day for one week. The doctor reported that many of his patients never returned. Let's do that now. Repeat Psalm 23 with me:
The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.