The Cross Deals With Our… Fear
by Jay Parsons
The Cross Deals With Our Fear
1. The Cross Deals With Our... Fear
t has often rightly been pointed out that “Don’t be afraid” is the most common command in the Bible. Normally, we find this phrase on the lips of an angel, or coming from God himself. It seems obvious to say then, that we need to keep on being told not to fear. Just by noticing how often this phrase occurs we can are led to a simple conclusion – that we human beings are a fearful bunch. Fear is an emotion that is to do with our anticipation of a real or perceived danger. It comes when something bigger than we can handle looms over us. This emotion is so strong that it has a physical effect on the body. It brings on the dry mouth, the butterflies in the stomach, the sweat on the palms. We can start to have irregular breath, and sometimes we even feel nauseous.
This of course means that the emotion of fear is a gift of God’s grace to us. Without it, human beings would be in big trouble. If heights, fire, snakes, and spiders held no fear at all for us, we would have gone extinct long ago. People who aren’t afraid of things they should be afraid of are idiots, and they don’t last long without getting into trouble. So some fear is good, but fear can of course have a negative side too. If left unchecked, fear overwhelms people and cripples them. If fear is not overcome by something else, then the person who is fearful will never be able to go forwards.
There is certainly no greater fear than the one that is common to all human beings – the fear of death. Death is the thing that hangs over us, and if you think about it, pretty much all other fears are connected to it. We fear snakes for their venom that kills us, we fear heights for the falling, and we fear fire for the burning. Isaiah 25v7 describes death like a great funeral shroud that hangs over all of our heads, waiting to fall and cover us in darkness. That’s a pretty terrifying image isn’t it? We know that death looms over each of us, and that fearful thought, no matter how hard we try to suppress it, just keeps on returning to haunt us. As the 19th Century Preacher, Charles Spurgeon, said, in our imaginations “we feel a thousand deaths in fearing one”. In our minds and hearts we are enslaved to fear of death. What then does the cross of Christ say to this greatest of our fears?
Hebrew 2v14-15 says, 14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
This verse reminds us that the purpose of the Christmas was Easter. That the incarnation of Jesus was for the crucifixion of Jesus. The Church Father John Chrysostom understood v14 like this: “[the author of Hebrews] points out the wonder that, by that through which the devil prevailed, by that was he overcome. By the very thing which was his strong weapon against the world – Death – by this Christ smote him. In this he exhibits the greatness of the conqueror’s power. Do you see what great goodness death has wrought?”
On the cross, Jesus went to war with our most fearsome of enemies – Satan with his mighty weapon of death. And he won a crushing victory. By and through his death, he broke Satan’s great sword which hangs over us. Jesus conquered death by death. The implication of this defeat of Satan and death, is found in v15. The writer tells us that we are freed from the fear of it. Jesus Christ, through the cross, has set us free from this greatest of fears. Consequently, if he has freed us from this fear, is there anything else he cannot handle? What else then is left to frighten us? We can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’ (Hebrews 13v6, quoting Psalm 118)
Jim Elliot was a missionary to South America. The people he was attempting to reach with the gospel of Jesus were known for being a warlike people, who posed great danger to him and his friends. It would have been easy for them to give into fear and stay at home, but driven by love these people, and confident in the Lord, they courageously went to them. The tribe eventually turned to Christ, but not before Jim and his friends were speared to death. A tragedy? Not at all. A tragedy would have been if they had given into their fears and stayed at home. Before this terrible event, Jim Elliot wrote this.
“I pray for you, that all your misgivings will be melted to thanksgivings. Remember that the shadow a thing casts often far exceeds the size of the thing itself (especially if the light be low on the horizon) and though some future fear may strut brave darkness as you approach, the thing itself will be but a speck when seen from beyond. Oh that He would restore us often with that ‘aspect from beyond,’ to see a thing as He sees it, to remember that He dealeth with us as with sons.”
The shadow a thing casts far exceeds the size of the thing itself. Death itself is a shadow that casts itself long and wide over us, enslaving us to fear. But Jim Elliot knew, that because of the cross of Jesus, a shadow is all it is (as are all other things we are tempted to fear). That is why death held no fear for him, and why he could act so courageously, laying down his life for the sake of others. For him, and for all those who are trusting in Jesus Christ, we can have that aspect from beyond, to see it as He sees it. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus has broken death’s power over us. He has been through it, and now he promises to be with us as we go through it. Wonderfully then, we can say with the Psalmist, that even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23v 4). The cross deals with our fear.