Be Afraid, But Fear Not

Text:  Matthew 17:1-9

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

Today, we should be afraid.  No, I take that back, we should be ‘very’ afraid.  At first glance, our Gospel reading leaves no other option for us, other than fear. 

Now, this may come as a shock to all of us since we have been so greatly comforted by the message of Christmas and Epiphany over the last several weeks.  In other words, I suspect that you have been comforted hearing that Jesus became one of us when He put on flesh and was born into a stinky stable.  Comfort was also delivered to you when you heard that Jesus came not only for the Jewish people, but that He came for all the people of the world.  And who can forget the comforting message of last week?  Christ Jesus became one of us when He took on all that has gone wrong with us – our sins – by plunging into the Jordan River and being baptized with sinners in a sinner’s baptism!   

Today though, you and I are jarred out of our comfort by hearing about Jesus being transfigured on the top of a high mountain.  But should this Gospel reading really drive us to fear?  Should we be afraid of Jesus transfigured like the sun?  Should we be afraid of the divine voice of God the Father speaking from heaven?  Yes, we should; we should be very afraid. 

Dear friends, Jesus’ face that showed like the sun, His clothes that became dazzling white, the appearance of Moses and Elijah, and a bright cloud upon that high mountain, certainly scared the disciples to death.  It made their bones rattle; their stomachs tightened with fear; in their terror, they threw themselves upon the ground, realizing that they stood face to face with the holiness and glory of God. 

Terror and fear are the way that it is with sinful people in the presence of God – or at least it should be.  Consider this, every time a person in the Bible encounters an angel – which is a mighty warrior of God – they are driven to fear and must be told, “Do not be afraid.”  It is this way not only with Angels, but it is this way with the Lord as well.  Take for example our Gospel reading from today or the prophet Isaiah, who wanted to die when he was in the presence of God. 

With all of this stated though, we live in a time where the fear of God is minimized or eliminated altogether.  In other words, we seem to be afraid of almost everything else in this world, except God.  We are fearful of our neighbors, we are fearful of our bosses, we are fearful of ISIS, and we are fearful of mass shooters.  And there is more!  We are fearful of: spiders, car accidents, the flu, clowns, hail, nasty weeds, and cancer.  Our actions, our conversations, and our faces reveal this fear – even though we tell ourselves that we are brave, tough, and calm North Dakotans.  It is different though when it comes to the Lord, for when we talk about the Lord our faces hold steady while we resist this notion of being afraid of Him.  We flat out say that we are not afraid of the Lord God!  Why is this?  Maybe it is this way because we just can’t handle being afraid of one more thing; therefore, we strip God of His majesty in our minds and bring Him down to our level where He is tame and manageable.  Or, maybe we really are afraid of God, but pretend to be courageous. Regardless of the exact motives, there is a temptation and a desire among Christians, especially in America, to strip the holy awe from the Lord God.  This happens when Biblical miracles are rationalized away, when sin is rarely mentioned, when God’s wrath is cast aside, and when Christ’s divinity is downplayed. The end result is obviously that mankind attempts to stand bravely over the Lord without fear and in control.

These tactics to reduce the fear of God certainly do come from church goers; however, pastors are equally guilty.  Pastors are tempted to relax reverent church services, to chill out in their preaching by softening their language, and to ultimately be careful not to cause discomfort to church goers.  To do otherwise, would ruin the potential of growing the church and it would most definitely goes against what the culture thinks the church should be about: comfort, ease, and tolerance – a no trigger zone.

Simply stated, we Christians and pastors do not want to be uncomfortable in the church and we especially do not want to have any degree of fear.  We would rather the Lord be on our leash, so that we can lead Him around and keep Him underneath our command.  This is safer.  Bluntly stated, we would rather have a harmless tame lap dog than a mighty God that causes us discomfort and fear.   

Our Gospel reading from today shows the exact opposite of our North American twenty-first-century desire.   The Gospel reading shows the fear and trembling of the disciples in the face of glory.  Keep in mind that we have heard how the baby Jesus was born unto us; we have heard how He came for the Jews and the Gentles; we have heard how He came into the waters of dirty sinners.  Yes, we have heard all of this and it has delivered us comfort, but now today we must hear that Jesus was transfigured.  We must consider that Jesus is not in the same league as us.  In other words, we must realize that even though Jesus identifies with us, that He is not completely like us, for He is God in the flesh and He cannot be tamed or diminished.   

Dear friends, repent.  It is time to confess and come clean that we have been afraid of almost everything, except the Lord.  Repent, for we bow in fear to everything else – things that cannot destroy our soul – but then treat the Creator of our souls as a harmless lap dog that is connected to our leash.  Repent; do not be afraid of that which cannot destroy your soul, but rather, save your fear for God, who holds your entire life – body and soul – in His hands. 

Peter, James, and John at the transfiguration of Jesus were afraid and had every right to be afraid.  We too, when we consider our Gospel reading from today, should be afraid – we should be very afraid, for we are not God but mortal man. 

This fear though is actually not a bad thing.  In our society we have been taught that fear is bad and we have been taught to be fearful of fear; however, this fear in which the disciples displayed in our Gospel reading from Matthew is actually good.  In other words, we ‘should’ fear the Lord because we have no ability to manipulate Him. We ‘should’ fear Him for we cannot control Him.  We ‘should’ fear Him for His own sake.  To fear Him is to acknowledge, understand, and respect that He is the Lord and we ourselves are not, that He holds our entire life – body and soul – in His hands.   

Not only is this fear of the Lord healthy, good, and true, it is also the beginning of wisdom.  In other words, this fear is not the end of us, but the beginning.  The fear of the Lord hushes us and it stops us in our tracks with silence.  It reduces us to poor miserable sinners – beggars.  It positions us in attentiveness, so that we can hear another word, and not simply a word, but the Word made flesh – Jesus Christ.  That is how it should be: when God speaks, mankind is silent.  You see, the mighty, majestic, tame-less, transfigured Lord Jesus Christ came to the petrified-in-fear disciples, laid hold of them, and said, “Arise and do not be afraid.” 

“If you were to have only four words of Jesus, I think these would be the ones to have.  ‘Arise!’ is the resurrection word.  Get up, you who have been struck dead by your fear of death, plowed into the ground by the weight of sin in the heavy atmosphere of God’s glory. “Arise! And fear not!’”[1]  These words are not just another command, but words that grant us faith and peace and yes, comfort. 

Dear Baptized Saints, the fear of the Lord must always come before the comfort in the Lord.  Also, comfort in the Lord does not come by us diminishing the Lord’s glory, as so many attempt to do, but rather, comfort comes by the way of gift, by the way of Christ’s word spoken into the ears and souls of those silenced by His presence.  Comfort is given, not acquired through manipulation.     

“This is [all a part of] God’s plan in bringing about the fear of him in you, in striking you to the ground by conscience, by law, by affliction.”[2]  Otherwise stated, the fear of the Lord must be given to you and me so that we are ground into the fine dust of repentance.  In repentance and silence, and with our mouths silenced in the fear of the Lord, we are then granted ears to hear.  “Out of sinners, [Jesus] calls a saint; and out of death, life.”[3]  Therefore, dear friends, you who sit in silence, you who have confessed your sins before the Lord almighty, you who fear the Lord, hear with the disciples today, “Arise, do not fear.”  Yes, arise, do not fear.  Jesus is not deadly to sinners like me and you, for the transfigured-powerful-glorious-Christ came down the high mountain and with all splendor, supremacy, might, and determination went to Golgotha, where He suffered your sin, died your death, and rose for you. 

Arise, do not fear, you are forgiven.  Neither death nor fear nor anything in heaven or earth can hold you anymore.  Jesus came to the disciples and held them with a promise; Jesus comes and lays hold of you with that very same promise. 

Arise; do not fear; walk through life at the hand of the all-powerful Lord, Brother, and Friend – Jesus Christ who holds you now, tomorrow, and into eternity. 

Arise; do not be afraid, for the Lord is with you and for you.

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

[1] John Sias, “Sermon for the Weds. of the Transfiguration of our Lord,“ (Accessed, January 16, 2016).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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