4. Fear Not

Studies in Isaiah 54: 4. Fear Not!

Isa 54:4 “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.”

It’s about Redemption:  History can be a curse. Guilt so often hangs over us. Shame follows us. We wonder if the past will mar the present and blight the future. In the following verse there is an amazing statement: “the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer.”  A year ago I found myself writing a series on ‘redemption’. Mostly we think of redemption as something the Lord does just when we come to Him but the truth is that every day of our lives, He is redeeming us. There are three things about redemption we should note.

1. An Ongoing Process: Very well, the first is that it is a process, an ongoing process. It started when we first turn to Christ and it will only be completed when we stand before him in heaven. It involved us being forgiven, our guilt being removed (i.e. us being justified), us being adopted into God’s family, and being empowered by His Holy Spirit to live new lives.

2. Change: But then next, second, it is a process whereby Christ is working to change us; it is a process with a purpose. This process seeks to deal with our past in such a way that as much as possible the past will not inhibit who Christ is seeking to make us become today. Yes, often the memory of past failure remains but Christ uses it in the transforming process as both a reminder of what not to do again, and as a deterrent to keep from that particular failure. However, once we see the whole picture that we are laying out here, although it should humble us, that failure will no longer act as a weight that limits us today.

The Goal of Perfection: Very often we see this process of change as about moral or ethical behaviour but it is very much greater than that. Jesus once declared, Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48) When something is perfect is cannot be improved upon, it lacks nothing. That is God and that is what He wants to work into our lives. There is nothing He thinks, says or does that can be improved upon. Is that true of you and me? Right!  That is why we need Him to work this process out in us.

My Lacks: Let’s consider how we fall short of perfection and so need to make it a goal to which we let Him draw us.  First, my lack of knowledge; there is so much I don’t know (about you, for example, and if I did know more it would mean I would have a better attitude towards you!) I need Him to teach me, inform me, bring me knowledge and understanding. Second, there is strength, mental, physical and spiritual.  I need constant replenishing and refreshing and rest.  Even when I am fully charged and refreshed, third, I need more grace, more wisdom, more insight, more everything else to cope with you, others, circumstances, difficulties, etc. etc. than I have got.

Therefore there are times, when running on my own resources, which may be good at times, that I still get it wrong and may react defensively, or with hostility. I may be unsure of myself and may therefore feel bad (guilty) about how I handle life, or maybe I allow myself to be hurt by your dealings with me. I need constant help to remind me of the truths of God’s love and provision. We could expand these things considerably but they provide some starting thoughts for the idea of our lives being a process of change.

3. The Cross: Now we are considering three things, we said, about redemption and the third thing is that redemption is all about the Cross. Through his work on the Cross, Christ paid the price for our sin. His death, for all the wrongdoings of my entire life, satisfies justice and so I am freed from the Judge’s sentence of death that such a life of sin deserves. He has bought my freedom by taking my punishment; the guilt has been dealt with. That is what redemption means – buying us back from the guilt and the sentence of death.

Now that act of redemption is applied to my life the moment I turn to Christ in surrender and repentance. From that second on, I am freed and as far as God is concerned from that second on I am His justified son. But the reality is that I still have free will – He never takes that from us – and so as I work my way through life, I make decisions and, even as we noted above, sometimes, because I am not yet perfect and am inadequate for the task of living blameless in this fallen world, I get it wrong.

The apostle John understood this: “My dear children, 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, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) The goal is that I don’t sin, but if there are occasions when I trip over my feet and blow it, the moment I acknowledge my failure and confess it, seeking His forgiveness, it is there for me – because of what Christ has done on the Cross.

Back to the start: Very well, let’s apply all this to our starting verse: “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.”  We said that the past can be a curse if we let it, and so for Israel, just as with us, there is the memory of the past lurking there, of their failures and standing before them, so to speak, is Almighty Holy God. They need serious reassurance.

Reassurance: Is God going to smack us for our past? No! Is He going to hold up our failure for display to the whole world? No!  Is He going to humiliate them for their failures? No! Instead He is going to so move that the blessing they will experience will completely over-shadow and obliterate all the past. That is what is so incredible about redemption: God never changes in His determination to do whatever needs to be done to draw us back onto the right course, to draw us back to Him, to heal up the past, bless us in the present, and present hope for the future.

That is as much true for us today as it was for them then. We could add various caveats about the time He sometimes takes to work these things through, but let’s just stick for the moment with the basics: God IS in the process of redeeming you and me and so we don’t need to worry about all the negative aspects of this verse – no fear, no shame, no disgrace, no humiliation – all we need do is rejoice in the wonder of what He is doing in us – working us towards the perfection that will be ours in heaven, a life of ongoing change that is getting better all the time. Yes? May it be so! Hallelujah!

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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!

 

1. Fear or Afraid

Meditations on “Fear Not”:  1. Fear or Afraid

Ex 20:20    Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” 

As I have been reading the Bible just recently this thought about “fear not” or “don’t be afraid” has been crossing my mind.  I remember hearing one Bible teacher saying there are 366 ‘fear not’s in the Bible, one for every day of the year and an extra one for leap year! I assume he is right, I’ve never counted. It depends a little what version of the Bible you use. For instance, the NKJV usually has “do not fear” whereas the NIV has “do not be afraid”.  So let’s have a couple of weeks pondering this area of God’s word.

The two words are very similar; when you ‘fear’ or are ‘afraid’, you are scared, fearful, frightened, anxious. However, when we come to ‘the fear of the Lord’, which we’ll look at in the second study, the Message version points out well the sense behind fear in that context in our verse above: “Moses spoke to the people: “Don’t be afraid. God has come to test you and instil a deep and reverent awe within you so that you won’t sin.”

Now what is interesting in that verse is that on one hand they were told to not be afraid because they were to have this deep fear of God within them. No fear because you have fear? Well yes, as we will see when you have this deep awesome respect for God, you will realise you don’t have to fear or be afraid of anyone or anything else.  Really that sums up what this series is all about, I suspect, but we’ll need to see it again and again before we really take it in. This is the thing about ‘meditating’, it means to chew over so that you can digest and absorb the words so that they become part of you.

So in this series we’re going to look at both the ‘fear of the Lord’, and a number of places,  times and instances, where we are told not to be afraid. I am going to try and keep the length of each one down so that they are just slightly longer than what we often refer to as our ‘short meditations’ but considerably shorter than what have tended to become our usual longer ones.

It is worth briefly noting in this opening consideration, the fact that the word ‘fear’ comes up over 450 times in the NKJV, over 330 times in the NIV, whereas ‘afraid’ comes up 205 times in the NIV and 214 in the NKJV. i.e. approaching 800 times this meaning is used in some situation or other in the NKJV suggesting a somewhat important subject to consider, although we will restrict ourselves to considering just some of the ‘fear not’ references.

Fear occurs in a number of varying contexts, for example, “Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place.” (Gen 20:11) i.e. no respect for God there in Gerah, a situation that was to be changed. There is also the command through Moses to his people: Fear the Lord your God, serve him only.” (Deut 6:13) However when we come to the Christian life in the New Testament we find, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 Jn 4:18) The awesome respect for God has been tempered by the love of a Father who sent His Son to die for us. However much there is this ‘fear of the Lord’, we will see, He encourages a life that is otherwise absent of fear. Hallelujah!