Fear Not Only Believe
There were two guys who were admitted to an insane asylum. One night they decided that they don’t like living in an asylum any longer. They get this crazy idea. Their minds were made up. They were going to escape!
In the middle of the night they manage to unlock the security window and climb up onto the roof. The last obstacle before them is a narrow gap between the buildings. Just across this narrow gap they see the rooftops of the town stretching away under the moonlit night... stretching away to freedom!
Now the first lunatic leaps across the narrow gap with no problem. But his friend froze in fear. He didn’t dare to jump. He was afraid of falling. So the first lunatic who made it across comes up with an idea.
He says, “Don’t be afraid! I have my flashlight with me! I’ll shine it across the gap between the buildings. You can walk along the beam of light and join me!”
The friend shakes his head, “Do you think I’m insane? Why you’re crazy enough to turn off your flashlight when I’m half way across!”
The phrase, “Do not be afraid,” stretches out across our Bibles from the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation. When God found Adam hiding among the trees of the garden after he sinned, He called out to him, “Where are you?”[i] Adam replied, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”[ii] After Abram defeated his enemies and blessed the priest of the God Most High, the LORD came to him in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”[iii] When God revealed Himself to Moses on Mount Horeb, “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”[iv] When Gideon perceived that it was the angel of the LORD that he had seen, he cried out, “Help me, Lord God! For I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.”[v] The LORD heard Gideon’s fearful plea and said to him, “Peace be to you; do not fear, you shall not die.”[vi]
In the New Testament, angelic visitations almost always caused the people of God to fall back in fear. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Joseph in a dream he said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid…”[vii] The angel bearing good news said to the likes of Zechariah the priest, Mary the virgin, and the shepherds living in the fields, “Do not be afraid…”[viii] When the Apostle John saw the Son of Man in all His glory, he fell at His feet as though dead. Jesus placed His right hand on John and said, “Do not be afraid…”[ix]
People are fearful of bad news. If given the choice, they would almost always ask to hear the good news before the bad news. Because deep down inside, we are afraid that the bad news will outweigh the good news.
An artist asked the gallery owner if there had been any interest in his paintings on display at that time.
“I have good news and bad news,” the gallery owner replied.
“Well,” asked the artist, “what’s the good news?”
“The good news is that a gentleman inquired about your work and wondered if it would appreciate in value after your death. When I told him it would,” said the gallery owner, “he bought all fifteen of your paintings!”
“That’s wonderful!” the artist exclaimed. “What’s the bad news?”
“The buyer was your doctor.”
What’s amazing is that when an angelic message or a disturbing dream or even a heavenly vision is delivered to the people of God, divine revelation follows hard after its fearful footsteps. In God’s economy, the seemingly fearful bad news comes before the divinely hidden good news. The Greek word for fear is phobos from which we get the word “phobia.” The problem is that fear causes us to go no further. Whether it means stepping across a narrow gap between buildings upon a beam of light or having a gallery owner sell all the artist's priceless paintings before his physician-predicted death, phobias paralyze people.
Jesus understood our fearful nature. In fact, the Gospel accounts, along with the Book of Acts, shows that he dealt with his fearful flock of followers with a trustworthy word. The remedy for fear is trust. Trust can only happen when one knows that he or she is loved and cared for. The perfect love of Jesus for his followers casts out all their fears. In Matthew 10:26 he said, “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.” In Mark 4:40, after he stilled the great storm, he said, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” In Luke 12:32 he said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” In John 14:27 he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” In Acts Jesus said to Paul in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.”[x] He also said to him, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.”[xi]
In the 1994 film, The Shawshank Redemption, Andy and Red are two prison inmates who have become close friends. We find them having a serious conversation in the prison yard. They reflect upon their imprisoned lives and how the penitentiary system has impacted their choices. The world of both men, as they knew it, seemed to have perished in prison.
Andy tells Red, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice really… Get busy living or get busy dying.”
As Andy stands up to leave, he turns around and asks Red, “If you ever get out of here, do me a favor.”
“Sure, Andy.” says Red. “Anything.”
“There’s a big hayfield up near Buxton,” Andy says, “You know where Buxton is?”
Red replies, “Well, there’s... there’s a lot of hayfields up there.”
Andy whispers, “One in particular. It’s got a long rock wall with a big oak tree at the north end. It’s like something out of a Robert Frost poem. It’s where I asked my wife to marry me. We went there for a picnic and made love under that oak and I asked and she said yes. Promise me, Red. If you ever get out... find that spot. At the base of that wall, you’ll find a rock that has no earthly business in a Maine hayfield. Piece of black, volcanic glass. There’s something buried under it I want you to have.”
“What Andy?” Red asks, “What’s buried under there?”
Before Andy turns to walk away, he says, “You’ll have to pry it up... to see.”[xii]
While the disciples were on the road that led up to Jerusalem, they were amazed and afraid as they followed Jesus. He told them plainly what was going to happen to him. Like Andy did for Red, Jesus let his fearful flock in on a secret, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”[xiii]
Like the inmate Red, the twelve disciples had no clue as to what Jesus was trying to tell them. The things that were about to happen to him remained hidden from them. Yet when this prophecy came to pass, they all scattered like sheep without a shepherd. Their dream world died with their leader. Their world collapsed around them. Their world ended at the cross.
The disciples were imprisoned by the “Powers That Be.” They were so fearful of a penitential world system made up of the Jewish religious establishment combined with the Roman military might and the angry lynch mob crying out for blood. With those odds stacked up against them, who wouldn’t be afraid? They lacked the will to act according to how Jesus trained them to be his appointed Apostles—to stand up for what they believed. To stay the course. To stay true to their cause. To stand their ground. But running from the garden and hiding out from the authorities, like Adam, seemed like the logical thing to do. It was a simple choice really… The apostles chose the latter. They got busy dying.
After Peter denied Jesus at the courtyard, he went out into the dark night and wept bitterly.[xiv] After Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, he repented, tossed the money back into the temple, departed into the night, and hung himself. The rest of the disciples went AWOL.[xv] They were nowhere to be found. They stayed clear of Jesus’ mock trial, hideous crucifixion, and heavily guarded tomb. In their own worldly way, all these men got busy dying!
While twelve men got busy dying in the outside world, one man got busy living from inside the tomb. It took two women to share the secret given them by an ex-crucified man they had just encountered on the morning after the Sabbath.
The women reveal their discovery with Peter and company, “There’s a garden tomb near the Place of the Skull. You know the Place of the Skull? Golgotha?”
Peter replied, “Well there’s… there’s are a lot of tombs out there.”
The women now lowered their voices to a whisper, “This garden tomb is located about a 100 yards west of Golgotha. From the Damascus Gate on the northern side of the Old City, you cross the main street and walk up a narrow path just outside the city walls. Promise us Peter. If you dare to go out… and reach the spot. At the entrance of a borrowed tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea,[xvi] you’ll find a large stone that has no earthly business being been rolled away. It’s a large hand-hewn stone. Jesus’ missing body was buried in that tomb.”
Peter demanded, “Where is Jesus’ body? Was it stolen? Is he alive?”
The women tell him, “You’ll have to go into the tomb and see it for yourself.”
The words of the women seemed to the apostles an idle tale. It was hard for them to believe it at first.[xvii] But if we are to get busy living for eternity, we would have to get up like Peter, run to the tomb, stoop down and look into it for ourselves.[xviii] Choose to enter the land of the dead that we may exit into the land of the living. Only then will our dead-end world come back to life in an amazing way. Jesus told us time and again, “Do not be afraid… only believe.”[xix] Amen.
[i] Genesis 3:9.
[ii] Genesis 3:10.
[iii] Genesis 15:1.
[iv] Exodus 3:6.
[v] Judges 6:22.
[vi] Judges 6:23.
[vii] Matthew 1:20.
[viii] Luke 1:13, 30; 2;10.
[ix] Revelation 1:17.
[x] Acts 18:9.
[xi] Acts 27:24.
[xii] The Shawshank Redemption (Castle Rock Entertainment, 1994) written by Stephen King, screenplay and direction by Frank Darabont.
[xiii] Mark 10:32-34.
[xiv] Matthew 26:69-75.
[xv] “Desertion,” From Wikipedia. In military terminology, desertion is the abandonment of a “duty” or post without permission and is done with the intention of not returning. “Absence Without Leave” (AWOL) can refer to either desertion or a temporary absence.
[xvi] John 19:38-42.
[xvii] Luke 24:11.
[xviii] Luke 24:12.
[xix] Mark 5:36.