Faith to Face a Fearful Future
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, December 30, 2001
Copyright © 2001, P. G. Mathew
Ever since September 11, 2001, people of the world have become more fearful. Terrorists with explosives in their shoes are getting on board airplanes. You never know who is sitting next to you when you fly. It is good to keep an eye on your seatmate; he could be an al Qaeda terrorist, on his way to paradise! But fear was not introduced into the world on September 11, 2001. It has been with us almost since the beginning.
The Cause of Fear
We meet fear the first time in Genesis 3. Our first parents did not believe God when he commanded them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After listening to the serpent and his lie that they would not die, Adam and Eve became arrogant and disobeyed God by eating of the forbidden tree. Contrary to the serpent's words, they did die, first spiritually, and later, physically. This was the beginning of fear in the history of man.
We read about this fear first in Genesis 3:7-10:
Then the eyes of both of them were open and they realized they were naked. So they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord called to the man, "Where are you?" He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."
Fear came into the world through the sin of our first parents. Since then all people everywhere have been fearful because of this original sin. What are we all afraid of? We are fearful of God and his wrath against us. Sin involves guilt and punishment-in this case, a punishment that fits the crime of sinning against the infinite, true, and gracious God. That punishment is spiritual death, first. The Bible says we are born dead in trespasses and sins. There is also physical death as well as eternal death, which means separation from God forever. The opposite of everlasting life and blessing, eternal death is a cursed everlasting existence. This is what people are afraid of.
The Inescapableness of Death
The wrath of God, we are told, is being revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. That wrath results in an everlasting hell that all unrepentant sinners will experience in eternity. Can sinners get away from God by running and hiding in a cave? No. Adam and Eve did run, trying to hide among the trees. But they could not hide from God and neither can we.
In Psalm 139:7-12 we read about the futility of trying to hide from God,
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go to the heavens, you are there: if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you: the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
In Revelation 6:15-17 we see six different types of people, beginning with the highest category of society and continuing to the lowest, trying to hide themselves from the wrath of God and from the wrath of the Lamb on the last day:
Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! The great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"
These are quotations from Hosea 10:8 and Isaiah 2:19. Jesus himself spoke about this impossibility of hiding from God in Luke 23:30, also quoting from Hosea: "Then 'they will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!"'"
Sinners fear facing a holy God more than physical death itself. They would rather die than face God. But there is no escape from the probing eyes of God, even through physical death. Adam and Eve were discovered by the voice of God and examined by God. We read in Genesis 3 how they tried to shift the blame for their sin: Adam shifted blame to his wife and his wife shifted blame to the serpent. What they were really doing was blaming God, but it didn't work.
The Awful Fear of Unbelievers
However, hiding and blameshifting will not avail us on the last day. Every sinner is condemned already, according to the Bible, and is under the wrath of God. This divine wrath remains on him unless he trusts in Christ and is saved. So when you see an unbeliever, you must visualize divine wrath resting upon him, for he is a condemned man. Oh, such a person may speak with confidence, but inside he is full of fear. Such deep-down, inherent fear is part of the punishment for sin. The Bible teaches that the righteous are as bold as a lion, but not the unrighteous.
In Deuteronomy 28:64-68 we find the condition of a sinner who is gripped by fear:
Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods-gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant suspense, filled with fear both night and day, never sure of your life. In the morning you will say, "If only it were evening!" and in the evening, "If only it were morning!" -because of the terror that will fill your hearts and the sights that your eyes will see. The Lord will send you back in ships to Egypt on a journey I said you should never make again. There you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you.
This is speaking about the fear that grips all unbelievers even as they are partying and acting as if nothing is the matter. Their hearts are gripped by it, and nothing in this world can deliver them from it. Their trust in government, their trust in military power, their trust in investments, their trust in health, their trust in knowledge, their trust in their friends, their trust in their family, their trust in their beauty, their trust in their position, their trust in their popularity-all will prove to be utterly useless to deliver them from the grip of fear of death and of God. Unbelievers die in fear and their souls live on in hell, but in torment and great agony. At the final resurrection they shall be raised up with a physical body, fit for the life of hell. They shall be judged, condemned, and thrown into the lake of fire.
This is reality as explained to us by Jesus Christ throughout the Scriptures. We find John's description of it in Revelation 20:11-15:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
That is the fear we are talking about. No one can escape or hide from God; instead, everyone will be judged and condemned by him who is the Judge of all. Why do people fear? Because they are sinners and God must judge sin.
The Cross That Crushed the Cause of Fear
The second point is the cross that crushed the cause of our fear. Genesis 3, the chapter that speaks about the origin of sin, fear, and death, also reveals the way out of sin, fear, and death. In Genesis 3:15 we find the first gospel proclamation from the Lord God himself: "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel."
This verse speaks to us about two utterly different humanities: the offspring of the devil and the offspring of the woman. There is enmity placed between these humanities by God himself. The Bible refers to this distinction between two humanities several times. In John 8:44, Jesus told the Jews, "You belong to your father the devil." In John 1:12 we read, "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. . . ." So we see this distinction from Genesis 3 on: there are children of God and children of the devil.
Additionally, in Genesis 3:15 God speaks of the utter defeat of the devil by the seed of the woman, who is Jesus Christ, the son of Abraham, the son of David, the son of Joseph, the son of Mary. In Hebrews 2:14-15 we read that Jesus Christ the God/man came into this world to destroy the devil who holds the power of death "and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." That is the very purpose of incarnation.
As a result of Christ's death on the cross, certain people will be delivered from their fear of eternal death and the just wrath of God against sinners. They are delivered by Jesus Christ, who, by his death on the cross, crushed the head of the serpent and destroyed eternal death for us. The question is, who are these people? They are the elect of God the Father. They are those people who are given to the Son to save, as Jesus himself says in his great prayer found in the seventeenth chapter of John.
In John 17:6 Jesus prayed, "I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me, and they have obeyed your word." Here Jesus is speaking about, not the whole world, but a specific number of people taken out of the world and given to him by God the Father. In verse 9 he says, "I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours." In verse 24 he said, "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world."
That is why we are delivered from fear. This is what eternal life is all about. That is why Jesus said in another place, "Because I live, you also will live" (John 14:19).
Who are these people? They are those whom we read about also in John 1:12-13: "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision nor of a husband's will, but born of God." These are the children of God. These are the sheep of the Good Shepherd, for whom he laid down his life on the cross. These are the sheep who hear the voice of Jesus Christ and follow him.
Jesus Christ loved his church and gave himself for them. On the cross he became the sacrifice of atonement for his people and accomplished redemption for them. He who knew no sin became sin and suffered the wrath of God for them so that now everyone who trusts in Jesus Christ can be declared righteous by the Father. All the sins of his people have been forgiven-past, present, and future-because all their sin, guilt and punishment was laid on Christ, who bore them on the cross. At the same time, those who trust in Christ are given his perfect righteousness as a free gift. They are justified by grace through faith.
Therefore, fear no longer reigns in the hearts of believers. Delivered from the fear of sin and death, they enjoy everlasting peace with God. They are the ones who will gaze upon the face of God in perfect delight and enjoyment. They no longer fear that God will condemn them because there is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.
How can a just God justify the ungodly? We find the answer in Isaiah 53. There we read about the substitutionary atonement, the vicarious death of Jesus in behalf of his select people. Seven hundred years before the Roman crucifixion of Christ, Isaiah spoke of the Messiah's death on the cross for his people:
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; an the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all"
Faith by Which to Face the Future
This is the gospel which was revealed in Genesis 3:15 and this is the faith by which we can face the fearful future. Paul rejoiced in this gospel, and this is what he is telling us as of first importance, as we read in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5:
Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After than, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Not only did Paul have an intellectual grasp of the gospel, but it was the very foundation of his life. In 1 Corinthians 2:2 Paul proclaims, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." In 2 Corinthians 5:14 Paul makes this glorious declaration: "For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died in him." One died for all and therefore we all have died in him without dying the eternal death ourselves. Paul continues in verse 21, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
The gospel must be the foundation of our lives as well. That is why we must exercise our minds to grasp the gospel, that we might hope in it, stand upon it, and sing praises to God because of it. The cross of Jesus Christ crushed our sin, which was the cause of all our fear.
The Comfort of the Cross
We considered the cause of our fear and the cross that crushed it. Now we want to examine the comfort of the cross. The second section of Isaiah begins in the fortieth chapter. In Isaiah 40:1-2 we read, "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem . . . that her sin has been paid for," and in Isaiah 53 we are told who paid for our sins. PGM We did not do it, but someone else did: the Messiah, the Suffering Servant, the virgin's Child, the Immanuel, the Son of David, the Mighty God, the Prince of peace, the One who was pierced upon the cross. He is our sure Redeemer.
Throughout the Old and New Testaments we see God comforting his people. In Genesis 15:1 we read about a fearful Abraham who was facing destruction by four kings who were coming against him. God appeared to Abraham and said, "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward." To Isaac he said the same thing in Genesis 26:24: "I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you." To Jacob he said in Genesis 46:3, "I am God, the God of your father. . . . Do not be afraid. . . ."
Several times God told Moses not to fear as well. For example, in Deuteronomy 31:6-8 we read, "'Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.' Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, 'Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.'"
We find the same idea in reference to David. Several times God came to David and told him, "Fear not." For example, in Psalm 3:6 we find this glorious affirmation of David as one who trusted in the gospel: "I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side." What amazing fearlessness, boldness, and confidence in his God! Here were millions of enemies surrounding him on every side, yet he refused to be afraid. In Psalm 23:4 David states, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me." In Psalm 27:1 David writes, "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?" The answer, of course, is no one. In Psalm 34:4 David declares, "I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears."
All this confidence flowed to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David through the cross. There is no other way this comfort can come to a sinner except through the the cross.
We find this idea several times in Isaiah as well. In Isaiah 41:10-13 God tells us:
So 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. All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish. Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all. For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, "Do not fear; I will help you."
In Isaiah 43:1-2, 5 we read,
But now, this is what the Lord says-he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. . . . Do not be afraid, for I am with you . . . .
When we come to the New Testament, we find that Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was fearful. What did the angel tell him? "Fear not!" Mary herself was afraid, but the angel also told her, "Fear not!" It is sin within us that makes us afraid of God. But when God tells us, "Fear not" it means that there is a way that God is going to deal with our sin. As we read in Genesis 3, the seed of the woman shall crush the head of the serpent and set us free from our sin, fear, guilt, and punishment.
In Luke 2 we find that the shepherds were terrified. What did the angel tell them? "Fear not!" Peter was afraid, but Jesus told him also, "Fear not." In the book of Revelation John tells us that he was afraid and fell as though dead. Yet Jesus said to John, "Fear not!"
Paul learned as well what it means not to fear. Paul, the blasphemer and murderous exterminator of the Christian faith, who was redeemed by the great love and mercy of Jesus Christ, makes this profound declaration in Romans 8:31: "What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?" Paul was referring to the redemption God accomplished on the cross through his Son applied to us by the Holy Spirit. In verse 37 he says, "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
That is the boldness, the freedom, the deliverance from all fear that we have in Christ! Christ died for our sins and gave us faith to trust in him, and nothing in all creation is able to cut us off from God. We are gripped by the right hand of Christ and the Father, saved in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit forever and ever.
God Is Our Shield
As we read in Genesis 15:1, God came to Abraham and told him, "Be not afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward." Our God shields us from all our enemies. David gloried in this truth, as we read in 2 Samuel 22:1-3: "The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior-from violent men you save me." David had enemies just as Jesus himself had enemies. We have enemies also. But God will shield us, and there are no holes in his shield. Tens of thousands can rise up against us on every side, but we shall not be afraid.
Not only that, in Job 1:10 we read that God shields us from Satan. Satan understands this truth. That is why he asked God, "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?" There is a hedge, a wall of fire, around every child of God. So when Satan comes against us, we can say, "Thus far and no farther." We therefore have nothing to fear from Satan.
In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we find the profound concept that while we are not prevented from being tempted, we are shielded from falling into temptation. There we read, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." There is always a way out, always deliverance, always protection because God is with us. This is the faith that conquers all fear.
In Psalm 46:1 we read, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." There is ever-present help for us in our time of trouble-not in the past, not in the future, but now, when we need it-because God himself is our refuge and strength. The psalmist continues, "Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging." This is the faith by which we can face an uncertain, terrible future.
In Psalm 112:7 we read, "He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord." Faith leads us to God Almighty; therefore, we can have great confidence! Our faith is in the One who died and rose again, who has received all authority in heaven and on earth; in the One who is in heaven, who is with us here, and who is in us; in the One who guarantees our salvation; in the One who told us in Luke 12:32, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." What is the kingdom? It is eternal life. What is the kingdom? It is the ability to gaze upon his face all of our everlasting life. What is the kingdom? It is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
In Revelation 1:17 Jesus Christ told John, "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last." In other words, Jesus was declaring "I am Lord of all." Jesus continued, "I am the Living One; I was dead, and, behold, I am alive for ever and ever!" That is speaking about his crucifixion in time and history as well as his resurrection and ascension. Then Jesus added, "And I hold the keys of death and Hades," which means he has the authority to send people to hell and deliver them from hell.
This is the only faith by which we can face a fearful future. Those who have not trusted in this Jesus Christ, the eternal God/man who died on the cross will be gripped by fear.
What about you? Are you fearful of God's just wrath upon sinners? If so, I urge you to put your faith in Jesus Christ who, by his death, destroyed the cause of our fear. It is Jesus who said, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." That One is Jesus Christ; he is the One we need to fear. We need this kind of good fear, which consists in putting our faith in our God.
This Jesus, who died on the cross, is both Savior and Judge. No one can hide from him, run from him, or overcome him. Oh, people are going to try. They want to destroy Christ by throwing a grenade at his face and exploding him, if that were possible. But it is not. In Revelation 17:4 we read, "They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings-and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers."
If you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, you will be with those who make war against this Jesus Christ. All people are either with him or against him. But if you set yourself against him, I guarantee that he will defeat you. Therefore the prudent thing to do is to repent of your sins and trust in Jesus Christ alone. Psalm 76:7 says of God, "You alone are to be feared. Who can stand before you when you are angry?" The answer is, "No one." Every proud man, every unbeliever shall die, and at death he will face the reality of God's wrath. Then total fear shall grip him, and there will be no escape. But those who believe in Jesus Christ can face the future because we are not alone. We are in him who is Lord of all and we enjoy the comfort, the ever-present comfort of the cross, forever and ever.
Comfort is flowing today from the cross of Christ for everyone who humbles, everyone who repents, everyone who believes in the gospel. What is the gospel? That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, he was buried, he was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures, and he is Lord of lords.
You can live the rest of your life either in the grip of fear or in joy and great liberation from fear. Yes, we all must pass away from this life. But if we trust in Christ, we can say, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for I trusted in the one who died in my place on the cross. One died; therefore, all died. Therefore there is no more wrath, no more punishment, no more guilt. All is taken away by Jesus Christ. Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world!"
May God help us to trust in Jesus Christ his Son even this day so that we may live in courage and boldness all our lives, and face death itself with hope. Amen.
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Copyright © 2001, P. G. Mathew
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