13. Right Perspective

Meditations on “Fear Not”:  13. Right Perspective

2 Kings 6:16     So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

I have to confess that this is one of my most favourite stories in the Old Testament. Elisha is a man of real revelation, and he has been helping his king: “The man of God sent word to the king of Israel: “Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there.” So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places.” (2 Kings 6:9,10) Understandably, “This enraged the king of Aram” (v.11) who enquires and finds out what Elisha has been doing, so sets out to capture him at Dothan (11-13) and we read, “Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.” (v.14)

Now Elisha has a servant who gets up the next morning and goes up on the city walls and is scared silly when he sees the city is entirely surrounded by the enemy army and runs and tells his master. It is this point we find our verse above. Now I suspect the servant, at this point, might be a little confused and so Elisha prays, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (v.17) The story doesn’t end there but I’ll leave you to look it up if you are not familiar with it.

Here is the point: Elisha knew that he was surrounded by all of God’s resources, His angelic army and they were there on his behalf. That was the reality of that situation. Are you and I aware of the realities of our situation. Let’s consider some of them.

First, God has said He will never leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5) He IS with you now this minute, whether or not you feel His presence. Second, He is there on His business which is to work in your life to bring good to it and that good means changing you into the likeness of Jesus: “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” (Rom 8:28) and He does that so that we may “be conformed to the image of his Son”, because we are, “predestined …called …. Justified …. glorified.” (v.29). Wow!  Third, His presence is always with us because we are now indwelt by His Holy Spirit and so we, with the apostle John, should remember that, the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 Jn 4:4) Now all of that is about the Lord, His purposes and His presence and we haven’t gone near the resources that Elisha knew about so, fourth, we should also remember the Lord’s angelic forces, described as, “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Heb 1:14) Now we are probably not aware of their presence but, we are told by God, they are definitely there.

Now just in case you need a couple of bonus truth to counteract the lies from the enemy that either God isn’t on our case or doesn’t have the resources for the job, may I remind you (and recommend they are memorized) of the following: “He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber …. The Lord watches over you.” (Psa 121:3,5) and “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary.” (Isa 40:28) Hold the truths of this study and be secure in what they tell us. Amen? Amen!

With that, I think we will bring an end to this short series, for in earlier studies I made reference to God’s redemptive work and I believe we should move on to consider that next.

12. Safe with me

Meditations on “Fear Not”:  12. Safe with me

1 Sam 22:23    Stay with me; don’t be afraid. The man who wants to kill you is trying to kill me too. You will be safe with me.”

This ‘fear not’ is not spoken by the Lord but focuses us on truths spoken by Jesus. This one is David’s response to a young man named Abiathar who came from a family of priests that Saul had just had put to death because he (wrongly) felt they were disloyal to him: “But …. Abiathar, escaped and fled to join David. He told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord. Then David said to Abiathar, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family.” (v.20-22) David’s response is significant, especially when we parallel it with Jesus.

Stay with me; don’t be afraid.” The ground of security that he is offering this year man, the reason he need not be afraid, is David himself. He will protect this young man.  When we come to Jesus we know that he likewise, as the Son of God, will protect us and will never leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5). As his followers we become children of God and come under the umbrella of God’s protective will.  Now I put it like that because His will does not necessarily mean protection from hardship or even death. The apostle Peter was delivered from prison (Acts 12:5-10) and yet the apostle James was killed on Herod’s orders (Acts 12:1,2). Tradition has it that Peter subsequently was martyred as were ten of the twelve apostles with Jesus. Nevertheless we may know the provision of grace and security in the Lord’s love. When David says, “You will be safe with me,” (v.23) he speaks the same words Jesus speaks to us, even if it means death, for us that is not the end, there is glory to come.

“The man who wants to kill you is trying to kill me too.” Identification.   Listen to Jesus’ words: Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Mt 5:11,12) and Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (Jn 15:20) There Jesus shows us there is a long tradition of this, first when we consider the prophets of old who almost always received opposition, and then Jesus himself, who received it from the various religious groups throughout his ministry, and then through the religious and civic leaders at the end, bringing about his death.

Here in the West we may be privileged not to be suffering the persecution that some of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world are suffering, but we should realise that it is not uncommon for God’s people and Jesus warned of this a number of times: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me, (Mt 5:11) and, “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another,(Mt 10:23) and “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” (Mt 24:9)

It is not part of the ‘peace and comfort’ package that most Western Christians expect, but it is the truth, and may come in the West where there are already early signs of it. However, we should always hold on to the truth that the Lord is with us in whatever happens, and his grace is there for us in it. This is a teaching that should also sharpen our awareness that death is not the end. Amen.

11. It’s not too late

Meditations on “Fear Not”:  11. It’s not too late

1 Sam 12:20    Then Samuel said to the people, “Do not fear. You have done all this wickedness; yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.

I think this should be a good follow-on from yesterday’s consideration about Gideon. There we noted that failure need not be the end because the moment we turn back to the Lord He is on our case to redeem us and our circumstances.  Samuel’s words in our verse above suggest something important: there is a difference between getting it wrong and then turning away from the Lord. Let’s be clear about our position as Christians today. 

The apostle John wrote, “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ.” (1 Jn 2:1) i.e. as Christians we do not have to sin; in fact, he is saying, I don’t expect you to sin. However, as a good pastor I know that we are often frail and have the tendency still to trip over our feet, if I may put it like that, and get it wrong. If we do make these one-off blunders, Jesus is there to bring us back and restore us and that verse (1 Jn 1:9) we mentioned yesterday still applies – confession is needed.

Be quite clear, there is a distinction between a one-off failure (which may be repeated) and settling in to going the opposite way to God. “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,  who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” (Heb 6:4-6) That we believe refers to apostasy, a complete turning away from the Lord which annuls all He has done for us.

The circumstances running up to our starter verse above, were that Israel had asked Samuel to appoint them a king over them. This had annoyed Samuel because it indicated that the people were dissatisfied with the Lord, but the Lord told him, to go ahead and appoint them a king – who turned out to be Saul. OK, says Samuel now, this was really a mistake on your part – which the Lord in His grace has gone along with – but just because you now have a king that doesn’t mean to say that you have lost your relationship with the Lord – He is still there for you, so make sure you are still there for Him!

The Bible speaks of spiritual warfare, of the presence of Satan who, given the chance, seeks to undermine our faith and our relationship with the Lord. Now when we get it wrong, fail, make a mess of things, and sin, he comes along and rubs in our failure: “You’ve so messed up, call yourself a Christian, God can’t love you when you’re like that, in fact He won’t love you at all because you’ve turned away from Him. It’s clearly a waste of time trying to be this super-spiritual character you’ve been trying to be. Give it all up,. Forget this Christian rubbish!”

And so it goes on. We may not recognise it’s his voice and we put it down to self-condemnation, but it doesn’t make it any better. The battle is on! We need to turn back to what the Bible teaches us – God is for us and when we have failed, Jesus is there at the Father’s side interceding for us, while sending the Holy Spirit to convict and comfort you and get you back into a right way of thinking and living. Failed? It’s not too late to say sorry and get back on the track of blessing. Amen? Amen!

 

10. There is a future

Meditations on “Fear Not”:  10. There is a future

Judg 6:23    Then the Lord said to him, “Peace be with you; do not fear, you shall not die.”

The temptation is to follow through the many encouragements given to Israel not to fear their enemies as they went into the Promised Land – Deut 1:21, 3:1,2, 31:8, Num 3:21,22, Josh 10:8 but we have, in a sense, covered these by the previous study. We move on to pick up another of these ‘do not fear’ times that reveals something different, over which we will need to spend some time.

Judges is not a glorious book, but it does convey a very strong message, perhaps summed up in verse 1 of chapter 6: “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites” Throughout Judges there is this constant cycle of disobedience, followed by the discipline of the Lord, and then repentance. So here they are under the yoke of the Midianites and a prophet comes and declares, “I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.” (Jud 6:10)

A grim situation: under pressure from an enemy and condemned it seems by the Lord – but it never ends there; the Lord is always working to redeem His people. So He sends an angel to talk to Gideon, who is hiding away from the enemy while threshing out his wheat (v.11). The angel calls him a “mighty warrior” and declares that the Lord is with him. Gideon struggles with this and so the angel puts on a little power display (6:19-22) and Gideon is scared stiff!  It is in this context that our starter verse comes: “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”

Now check out the dynamics of this situation. Context: failure by Israel, oppression by the enemy, condemned by God. Possible interpretation: God is bringing His judgment on this people and they may all die. Reality: God has seen the potential in Gideon and is coming to do what He so often did, raise up a man or women to deliver His people. That ‘condemnation’ we referred to, is in fact simply an assessment of the truth of the situation and when the Lord said, “You have not listened to me,” that was not a statement that said, “and so you have no future”.

Gideon’s assessment of their situation was that the Lord had left them: “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (v.13) i.e. all the signs are that we are on our own and because of that we are in trouble.

God’s assessment of their situation:  It is clear from the whole book of Judges that again and again God waited until Israel came to their senses and repented, but the moment they did, He was there in the business of redeeming them. Now we will carry this thought on in a separate series on Redemption but for the moment simply note that when we mess up in whatever way it is, as soon as we turn to the Lord He is there in the business of redeeming us from the anguish of our mess and delivering us into a new start. Satan will be there telling us that God has written us off, but the testimony of the entire Bible is that the Lord is constantly and continually seeking to redeem our circumstances and us in them. The path from failure always involves repentance: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) That confession is the gateway to blessing – forgiveness and cleansing and then a whole new future ahead. Hallelujah!

9. Victory Assured

Meditations on “Fear Not”:  9. Victory Assured

Num 21:33-35    And they turned and went up by the way to Bashan. So Og king of Bashan went out against them, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Do not fear him, for I have delivered him into your hand, with all his people and his land; and you shall do to him as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who dwelt at Heshbon.” So they defeated him, his sons, and all his people, until there was no survivor left him; and they took possession of his land.”

It is perhaps so obvious that it hardly needs saying, but every time the Lord says, “Fear not” or “Don’t be afraid,” He gives a reason.  The above verses occur when Israel is moving northwards, up the east side of the Dead Sea, to prepare to cross the Jordan and enter the land near Jericho, but to do that they had to pass through or near the lands of various other rulers. Some of them they were told not to touch, for example in respect of the Ammonites, they were told not to attack them (see Deut 2:19), but others, possibly ones the Lord wanted chastised, as in the case above of Og, king of Bashan, they are told to defeat. Some of those were ones openly hostile to God and His people.

For example, they had already defeated Sihon, king of the Amorites who had rejected their friendly overtures and attacked them (Num 21:21-24, also Deut 2:26-36), and so the Lord reminded them of this when they are confronted by the large army with Og. Studying the travels up the east side of the Dead Sea by Israel, we observe different approaches: enemies who just attack them, people they are told to leave alone, and people they are told they will triumph over because the Lord is with them.

The overall lesson of this is that there is no ABC of spiritual warfare. We do what God tells us to do, and no more, for every situation and every enemy is different. When we are attacked spiritually, we need to seek His will to know how He wants us to respond. Sometimes it will be to remain silent and sometimes it will be to speak words of wisdom and grace. When we are confronted with enemies (and everything that is sin-based, ungodly and unrighteous is an enemy of Jesus to eventually be subdued and overcome – see 1 Cor 15:24,25 – and they are all around us) our intent should not be to randomly lash out at every wrong thing we see, but to seek the Lord to know what He wants us to do about the things He puts on our hearts as matters on His agenda to be dealt with.

Where He does place before us enemies that He wants to overcome, it is not with the weapons of the ways of the world – political maneuvering, slander, malice etc., – but the ways of righteousness, truth, the word of God, and prayer (see 2 Cor 10:4,5) and wisdom and grace (see Col 4:5,6) and faith. These are His provisions for us and we can feel completely secure in the knowledge that He has given us everything we will need. Note and memorize 2 Cor 9:8, Phil 4:19, 2 Cor 12:9, Phil 4:13.

But the big lesson, in the midst of this, is that when we move at the Lord’s bidding we need have no fear of that enemy. Yes we are to be “as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove,” (Mt 10:16 Message version) constantly exercising and expressing the grace of Jesus, but we are not to be fearful, remembering that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power,” (1 Cor 4:20) His power. So when He says, “Fear not,” we can rest secure in that! Hallelujah!  His will means our security. Hallelujah!

8. The Future

Meditations on “Fear Not”:  8. The Future

Gen 46:1-4    So Israel took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.  Then God spoke to Israel in the visions of the night, and said, “Jacob, Jacob!”   And he said, “Here I am.”  So He said, “I am God, the God of your father; do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will put his hand on your eyes.” 

We move on from Isaac to his son, Jacob, now renamed Israel. Much has happened in his life. He has had a big family, apparently lost one of the younger sons, his favourite, Joseph, who now, it appears, has amazingly become the equivalent of Prime Minister of Egypt and who has been overseeing the handing out of food to avert the worst effects of a famine stretching across the whole of what we might call the Middle East.  Because the famine is still harsh, Joseph invites Israel to come with the whole family and settle in Egypt until it is all over.

Now those are the basics of the story, the facts of what had been happening, but there is always a spiritual dimension to every person’s life (even if it is just to reject God). Jacob was originally known as a twister, out for himself, planning and scheming and building his prosperity by devious means and had become a very wealthy patriarch over a big family. He is the boss of the family (almost a small tribe) there in Canaan, but now the circumstances and his very powerful son are encouraging him to leave all that and settle in this foreign country – where he will not be the boss.  It seems the sensible thing to do but he would naturally have qualms about it. His relationship with God so far has been a little tenuous, even though he had had a painful encounter with Him in the middle of the night and had had his name changed from Jacob to Israel. They had settled in or near Bethel in the middle of the country (see Gen 35) and so now set of southwards for Egypt.

When they come to Beersheba in the south, Israel presents sacrifices to the Lord. In return, it seems, the Lord appears to him at night in a vision and reassures him: ““I am God, the God of your father; do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there.” (v.3) No doubt Jacob would have been told of God’s promises to his grandfather, Abraham, and his father, Isaac about becoming a nation, and now that is reiterated. But it doesn’t finish there: “So He said, I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will put his hand on your eyes.”  (v.3,4) Whether he realises it or not, this is a subtle declaration that after his death Israel will be returned to Canaan, and that happened.

Now what we have here is the Lord reassuring Israel with another of our ‘fear not’s and the basis of it is that God knows the future and is in charge of it and so Israel can rest secure in that. He has started to make the move south to go to Egypt, he has committed his way to the Lord in a sense as he offers a sacrifice as he is about to leave Canaan and now the Lord reassures him that he has taking the right path.

When God speaks into our lives about the future, we too can rest assured it is all in His hands. He is for us (Rom 8:31) and will never leave us (Heb 13:5) and will always be working for our good (Rom 828).  With these truths firmly established in our hearts, we too need not fear the days ahead. It does not guarantee that they may not be tumultuous, but the above truths (and they are true) can reassure us. Hallelujah!

 

7. Covenant Reassurance

Meditations on “Fear Not”:  7. Covenant Reassurance

Gen 26:24    That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.”

Life had been somewhat tumultuous for Isaac. For twenty years he had failed to be a father and his prayers seemed to go unanswered. Then his wife conceived and bore him twins, twins who will be in constant competition, one of them a schemer and the other oblivious of the significance of his family background. Then his father died, and he is now the patriarch, wandering in Canaan. A famine comes, and he goes to Gerar, in the south, where he gets in trouble with the king, just like his father had done before him. Eventually, “Abimelech said to Isaac, “Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.” (v.16) Affluence can make others insecure.

So he wanders the Land with his flocks and herds and finds shortage of water so, “Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham,” (v.18) but the locals claim the water is theirs, and this is repeated again and again, until, “He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarrelled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land.” (v.22) He has every right to feel insecure and wonder whatever is going on in his life, but then the Lord turns up.

That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.” And so we find another, “fear not’ or ‘do not be afraid’ situation, but what is the reason he is given not to be afraid?  It starts out simply, “for I am with you.”  Yes, but what does that mean? You are with me, but my life circumstances are confusing and questionable.

Ah, we need to see the words before that: “I am the God of your father Abraham.  Ah, this starts to make sense. His father would have told him of all the dealings he had had with the Lord, the unseen One who had called him to leave his homeland and travel nearly a thousand miles to Canaan, with a promise that He would end his childlessness and make him into a great nation (Gen 12:2) and would give them this land (Gen 12:7). Then there had been a most solemn covenant made (Gen 15:9-20) that the land would be for his descendants.

There it was, a solemn covenant, a solemn promise accompanied by ritual, whereby the Lord declares this land will belong to the descendants he is yet to have. Once made it will stand and so Isaac will know of it and his children will know of it and their children and children’s children will know of it. That is why, Isaac, you can rest and be at peace in the midst of these confusing circumstances and not be afraid of them, of kings, of the peoples of the land, and of the future. The present circumstances may appear confusing, but God has promised a good outcome.

Similarly, for you and me, we have a new covenant (Lk 22:20), promised centuries before, (Jer 31:31) and now part of New Testament teaching (e.g. 1 Cor 11:22, 2 Cor 3:6, Heb 8:6,8,13, 9:15, 12:24) that Jesus died on the cross to take our sins to enable us to be justified and become Holy Spirit empowered children of God. That is our covenant in which we can be secure, so that whatever the circumstances, we know these truths do not change and thus we are part of God’s family and God is for us in them. Hallelujah!