søndag 27. desember 2015

No more fear

I have noticed more and more that people are afraid. On Facebook. In conversation. And the more we have, the better life is, the more we seem to be afraid. Norway is one of the safest countries in the world to live in. And yet we are afraid. Afraid of everything. Afraid of the smallest little thing that could possible upset our “perfect existence”.

Just have a scroll through Facebook. Fear! This threat or that threat you need to be aware of. Look at the newspapers – fear pours out of them constantly – look at this terrible thing, look at that terrible thing, look at this to be worried about. Newspapers discovered long ago that fear sells. And they’ve been using that tactic ever since.

Why? Why does fear sell? Why do we seem to want to be afraid?

All of us have different presenting fears. If I went around this room and asked each of you what you are afraid of, really afraid of, and if you were honest, I’d get a number of different answers. Especially our unspoken fears. Fear of death, fear of being sick, fear of losing a job, fear of a secret being discovered, fear of Islam, or the oil price falling, fear of the future, fear of losing a loved one, fear or of failure, or of looking like an idiot, and probably one of the biggest fear of rejection – fear that people will see through façade to who I really am – and they won’t like it. And we never seem to get rid of fear entirely. We can’t shake it off. When we deal with one fear – another rises in its place. It’s like the mythical Hydra monster – you cut off one tentacle, and two more grows in its place.

Why do we like scary stories, thrillers, horror movies? Why do we like scaring our kids? Why do we have this need to be afraid? Even when there’s nothing to fear – like here in Norway – we are afraid!

It’s as if a festering boil or a poisoned heart pumping out fear into us. There is a root cause to our fear. And when we turn to God’s Word we find out why. The Bible exposes that root cause.
The root of our fear is this: we are enemies of God, cut off from our Creator, from our Father, alone in the world. And so we are afraid. We are afraid of everything around us. Things that threaten us, because we are alone. But the big fear which we never speak of – the elephant in the room which everybody ignores – is this: what if we are cut off from God forever?
The fundamental underlying cause for our fear of everything is our separation from our Creator. It is a deep scar in our souls. A festering wound of fear. We are separated from God, cut off from our Father. And so, like a young child lost alone in the forest, we are afraid. And what if we can’t find our way back home? That’s why we fill our lives with things to be afraid of – because that covers up the real fear that we want to ignore – what if we can’t get back to God?

But it’s Christmas! Why all this talk about fear and death. Lighten up man!

Well, Merry Christmas! Because this Christmas message brings not fear but comfort and joy. Because CHRISTmas is about the Christ: our Lord Jesus, who came to earth as a baby, grew up as a man, and died to take our place in order to bring us back to God. Christmas means that we never have to be afraid. The gospel, the Good News that we celebrate at Christmas, is the antidote, the cure, to fear.

To kill our fear, to be unafraid, we need two things: truth (or revalation), and love. Because our fears land in two groups: we fear the unknown – something unexpected coming in – and we fear the known – something expected actually happening. The gospel deals with both the fear of the unknown and fear of the known. The gospel is revelation – that is telling us the truth so the unknown becomes known.
The gospel is love – that is telling us that the known does not need to be feared because our Father loves us.

So this morning we’re going to deal with our fears! First we’ll see how the gospel we celebrate at Christmas deals with our fear of the unknown by revealing the truth about God and about us. Secondly, Christmas teaches us to be afraid of only ONE thing (instead of everything): God Himself. And thirdly, Christmas teaches us to not be afraid of God, because he loves us.

1. The gospel we celebrate at Christmas reveals True Truth

Lk 1:1–4 Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. 2 They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. 3 Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honourable Theophilus, 4 so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.

The Christmas story, the beginning of the gospel, and beyond, everything Jesus said and did – I just want to remind us that the Christmas story is true truth. It really did happen. Because revelation is worthless if it’s a lie.

If it’s a lie, if it’s not true, then it’s useless to combat fear – it just makes us more afraid! “What if it’s all a lie?” Shudder.

I want to blow fear out of our hearts this morning. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we do not need to be afraid! We stand on truth. True truth. Luke, the doctor, carefully researched everything, finding out what Jesus really said and really did. And he says “you can be certain of this truth, the truth about”.

But to see this we cannot start on Christmas morning – who would really believe the story of the virgin birth. Nice one Joseph – you had sex with her before marriage and now you’re claiming a miracle from God to avoid being stoned. Yeah likely story!
No, we need to start with Jesus being crucified, dying, and then rising from the dead. Because without the resurrection, well Christmas is just a fairy-tale.

But Jesus’ death by crucifixion, and his resurrection, is the event in history which has more historical evidence than any other. Non-Christians like Suetonius, Roman historian (120AD), Pliny the Younger, Roman governor (110AD), and his friend Tacitus, Roman historian (100AD), Mara bar Serapion, prisoner (70AD), Thallos, Roman historian (55AD), Josephus, Jewish historian (60AD) – they tell us Jesus had an unusual birth, that he did great miracles, that he was killed by the chief priests and sentenced by Pilate, that within 12-20 years of Jesus death and resurrection Christianity had spread across the whole known world. So much so that the Emperor of Rome began persecuting the Christians. Something huge, momentous, happened in Jerusalem in 38AD. People gave their lives for that something. They would rather die than give up their faith. What other than what we read in the gospels could make people do that?

The evidence from non-Christians, biased against Christianity, is so strong. If Christ did not rise from the death, what then happened? It must be something equally momentous. And no-one can explain it away.

Also we have to be very, very careful of standing two THOUSAND years later and saying to Matthew and John, Jesus disciples “you didn’t see what you saw and wrote about – you were mistaken!”. How do we know? This changed their lives. And Mark and Luke carefully investigated the facts soon after they happened. And we’re going to come years later, from thousands of kilometres away, and say, naah, not true. Based on what? No investigation. No travel. No eye-witness reports. All the things the Bible writers did.

The Christmas story is not a fairytale like Father Christmas. Jesus showed by rising from the dead that he was no ordinary child. That he was in fact, as we heard last week, the God-Man, the Messiah, the promised rescuer King. He really was born of the Virgin Mary. Joseph wasn’t just lying! Jesus really was a miracle child.

These are facts, facts that you can build your life on. If your life is built on Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, your life is unshakeable. It is true truth.

As Colossians 3:3 says “our life is hidden with Christ in God” and Eph 2:6 “we are seated in Christ in Heaven”. Our life is secure. We are in Christ, in heaven, right now. There is no safer place. Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid. Our faith is true truth, and our lives are secure.

The gospel we celebrate at Christmas is True Truth.

2. Christmas teaches us to be afraid of only one thing: God

Luke opens his gospel with the miraculous birth of the prophet John the Baptist, followed by Jesus. John, the one promised who would prepare the way for the Lord. This fulfils the last words of the Old Testament found in Malachi 4:5 “Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the LORD arrives. 6 His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

As we’ve seen through Isaiah, God getting involved with us doesn’t always end well! In Luke 3:7-9 we read John’s warnings to the people: When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? 8 Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. 9 Even now the axe of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”

The coming of Jesus brings fear. Because the elephant in the room has made himself known! He’s broken through. When we are confronted by God it can be very scary indeed. We’ve gone along pretending to ourselves that “I’m God” – scary when the real God comes along!
John Chapman, an Australian minister, was being shown around the Houses of Parliament in London by a friend of his. As a joke, he sat down on the Queen’s throne – his friend went absolutely white “Get OFF before someone sees you otherwise we’ll BOTH be in serious trouble”.

As we read through the gospel of Luke, those of you in the Bible studies will know - we see a truly remarkable man. One with awesome power, truly terrifying power. We see the demons, evil spirits, trembling before him, so afraid. We see even his own disciples, dearly loved friends, terrified after he speaks to a storm and it obeys him. Who is this man?

This is the power of God on display. Only God is feared by the evil spirits. They would not fear an angel – they too are angels, fallen angels. But their Creator? Yes. They fall down at his feet screaming in terror “What do you want with us Jesus, Son of God.”
Only God can command creation to obey him. Only God has power over death. All this Jesus does. And he does it just with a word. No magic formulae, no incantations or hubble bubble toil and trouble. He speaks. It happens. He doesn’t even call on God the Father, he does not cry out “O Great Jehovah”, he does not say “in the name of… “. It is his power, his authority. Only God has that power.

It is unsurprising that when people understand who Jesus is, they are afraid. Turn to Lk 5:4–9 When he [Jesus] had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.” 5 “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” 6 And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! 7 A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking. 8 When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.”

Who is Jesus? He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Saviour (Rescuer).
He is the one who should be feared, the one with great authority, because he is Almighty God, holy and perfect.

Proverbs beings with these words “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. The song Amazing Grace has these words in the second verse “It was grace that taught my heart to fear”.
We must be afraid of the only thing that we need to fear, and that is God. Nothing else matters. He has control over all other things – our future, reputation, health, time of death, finances, everything. The only thing that matters is our relationship with him.

So if you’re not afraid I pray that the Holy Spirit by grace will teach your heart to fear. Not the the little distractions that we fear – but the almighty holy God, a consuming fire. He is what we must fear. Amazing grace. It was grace that taught my heart to fear God.

Christmas means we need to be afraid of only one thing: God.

3. Christmas teaches us to not be afraid of God, because he loves us

Those of you who know the song Amazing Grace will know what comes straight after Twas grace that taught my heart to – and grace that fear relieved. God has come looking for us – but there is good news. He did not come as the warrior King on his white battle horse, sword flashing out of his mouth, robe dipped in blood, crowns upon his head, ready to strike down all who are not with him, wipe out sin and evil once and for all. No, that is how Jesus will return. That’s coming. But he came as a baby, in poverty. Not in power, but weakness. Not in judgement, but in salvation.

And the great, momentous news of Christmas is that the way to know him is open, and open for everyone. Because in announcing Jesus’ birth each time an angel appears he says these words “Don’t be afraid”. Don’t be afraid. This is good news!

Lk 2:8–15 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

This is GOOD NEWS says the angel. The Saviour, the Messiah is born. Jesus is the Messiah (Hebrew) or Christ (Greek) which means the Promised Saviour. He is the one promised in the Old Testament, the first part of the Bible, the one who will rescue us all from sin and death. Christ is not his surname but his job description. Jesus: saviour of the world! If he had a business card, that’s what it would say.

And look at v14: this saviour has come to bring peace. Peace, not first peace between people groups – that’s by product of the gospel – but peace between us and God. Peace. No fear.

As we read through Luke we see this terrifyingly powerful man – meeting the demon-possessed and rescuing them, allowing a prostitute to touch him at a dinner party and forgiving her sins. Calling a tax collector down from a tree and saying to him “Zaccheus, today I will eat at your house”. The crowds hated these sinners, but Jesus shares in their shame, indeed he takes their shame. He stands in front of them, before the crowds, and lets the crowds hate him instead. Remarkable. He takes our place, takes our shame, our blame.

This is the message of Christmas. God loves us, and seeks us out. If we are lost children in the forest having run away from home, God is the Father who seeks us out searching through every bush and rock until he finds us. We do not need to be afraid!

And if you are afraid, look to the cross! 1 Pet 3:18 For Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.

What love is this! Here is the promise of Christmas fulfilled. Our Saviour has come to rescue us. He has dealt with our sins. The way is open. Come as you are, to Jesus.

Brothers and sisters. Do not be afraid. You are secure in Christ. God is not angry with us. Peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased says v14 – and he is very pleased with his Son, and all who belong to him.

We allow ourselves to be afraid. Do not give in. Talk to yourself. Remind yourself of the gospel. Fill you mind with Christ. Know that he loves you as you are. Even when you sin. Even when you fail. Even when you fall short. He loves you as you are.

I just want to end with a story that Immanuel told me. He had a terrible time travelling through the Sahara desert, he broke his leg, he was in such pain, and he was almost set alight – murdered – because he was slowing everyone down. I asked him if he was afraid. He said “I was not afraid, God was with me.”

Merry Christmas!