Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Luke 2:9c (Robertson translation) And they became terrified.
The shepherds immediately assumed they were in extreme danger. Our fall in Eden has made us sinners who fear every Heavenly messenger as a herald of wrath.
Don’t miss the beautiful thought conveyed in Gabriel speaking to scared men. When people were most terrified about God, Jesus came to comfort us.
Fear, one of our strongest emotions, can paralyze, as any heart patient can tell you. For those who believe God exists, the worst of all fears is the fear of God’s wrath. No terror could be more frightening than thinking God is our foe, angry at us, wanting at any moment to pour out His wrath on us.
For atheists, the scariest thought is the possibility God actually might exist. C.S. Lewis confessed that when he was an atheist, this was by far his worst fear.
Some people refuse to become Christ-followers because of fear. They dread the thought of having to try to live the Christian life. They fear it would make them miserable. This deception ranks as one of Satan’s worst lies.
Imagine entertaining the wild notion that following Jesus is misery. Unbelievers won’t use these precise words, but it’s exactly what they mean when they say, “I would have to give up too much to follow Jesus.” In other words, being God’s enemy makes us happy; being His friend makes us sad.
Hellish slander! God is not a demon. Don’t dare paint Him as one. God is good. In fact our English word “God” means the good one. Our good God more than fills the vacuum of whatever piddling things believers have forsaken.
Through the centuries the theme of believers has been, “I gave up nothing to follow Jesus.” Paul the Apostle forsook fame, position, prestige, and heritage to follow Jesus. How did he assess the transaction? The KJV gives his words extra wallop. “I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them dung, that I may win Christ” (Philippians 3:8b). (Dung is a sermon prop we can live without!)
Following Jesus is always the best way to live. The Prodigal Son, tired of his wayward, rebellious life, finally said, “I will arise, and go to my father” (Luke 15:18a). Why don’t more unbelievers do the same today? Because they have no concept of God as a Father. They wrongly assess who and what He is.
The Bible tells us the innermost nature of God is marked by four traits. One, “God is spirit” (John 4:24a). We humans are also spirit beings. Therefore, since He and we have spirit natures, we can relate to Him, and know Him personally, and interact with Him.
Two, “God is light” (I John 1:5). He shines light into the darkness of our existence. Jesus is our Teacher, our life-coach, the One who shows us the wisest way to live, and who leads us down the best paths.
Three, “God is love” (I John 4:8). He does not have to force Himself to love us. We do not have to be good enough to conjure up God’s love. He loves us because He loves us. God is love. It’s who He is and thus what He does.
Four, “God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). He by nature opposes whatever is anti-God. He punishes sin. Hell is hot forever. His wrath is real.
Sadly, many unbelievers wrongly conceptualize God as only consuming fire, and even their understanding of this trait is very skewed. They believe the God of the Bible is mean and capricious. They say, “If God is the way Scripture says He is, I’ve sinned too much. I might as well give up. There’s no hope for me.”
Whoa! Time out! Back up a moment; rewind this tape. God, being consuming fire does punish sin, but not due to cruelty. Leaving sin unpunished would be the worst unkindness of all.
Sinners should shudder not at the thought of God, but at the foolish notion of deciding to enjoy sin. To be happy in sin is the surest way to stay in sin, which is the worst way to live, for it leads to everlasting condemnation.
If we find Heaven in sin, we’ll find Hell in eternity. The last thing we need is unholy happiness, counterfeit joy. Back to C.S. Lewis again. He had spent his whole atheistic life looking for real joy, but was never able to find it. When he found Jesus, he finally found joy. He titled his autobiography “Surprised by Joy.” He was shocked to learn that God could be good news, not bad news.
Why are unbelievers gullible? Why do they easily and quickly buy into Satan’s slander of Jesus? When we clear away all the clutter and underbrush, and finally reach the bottom of people’s slavish fear of God, we find sin.
Billy Graham said his world-wide travels taught him guilt is universal. Sin is our nemesis, our ultimate culprit. In the beginning, Adam did not fear God. They took daily strolls together in Eden. Once Adam sinned, he feared God, and hid. Sin makes spiritual cowards of us all. The devil intensifies our fear into terror. The message of Christmas is, Jesus came to release us from our slavish fear of God.
Herein lies the key to accurately assessing the difference between bad fear versus good fear. Wrong fear drives us away from God. It alienates us from Him. Good fear causes us to run toward Him, seeking reconciliation.
We do need to have reverent fear, a wise and holy respect. The seraphim in Heaven (Isaiah 6:2) worship God perfectly. Having six wings, they show reverence for God by using two wings to cover their eyes, show humility and modesty by using two wings to cover their feet, show willingness to go instantly at God’s command by using two wings to hover. They are creatures who perfectly balance adoration and reverential fear.
We humans need to find this delicate balance. We must avoid sentimental love that sees God as Santa Claus. We must also avoid terror, fear which torments us. Jesus came to drive this kind of fear out of us (I John 4:18). Paul said, “God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness” (2 Timothy 1:7a).
What Jesus offers us is an ultimate blessing, because whom we are terrified of we cannot love. If our spouse fears us, he or she cannot love us. If our children dread us, they cannot love us. They might obey, but they won’t love. Satan loves to deceive us by drawing a hateful, spiteful picture of God. The evil one knows we’ll not love God if we believe the fear-mongering lie.
Jesus came to destroy this pernicious lie. Thus, it should be no surprise that on this special occasion at Bethlehem, on the night of all nights, the angel’s first words to our race dealt with this very problem.
Luke 2:10a But the angel said to them: “No longer be afraid.”
“Fear not” is the message of Christmas. Revere God, but do not be terrorized. He kindly drew near to us that we might lovingly draw near to Him.
Do not miss in your own life, in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, this blessed aspect of our beloved Savior’s nativity. God give you His peace. Know Him. Enjoy Him. “No longer be afraid.”