There is a reality show on TV called the Fear Factor. The participants are challenged to conquer their fears across many things and then one person wins a good amount of money. The “activities” include, staying in closed spaces, being with disgusting creepy crawly creatures, eating rotten food and many times worms, staying under water for a long time, doing stunts at high places, doing things on moving trucks etc etc. Overall it is about making money by overcoming fear. Good idea isn’t it? The show also gives an idea about what human beings can be afraid of. It is a fascinating area of study. So you know the topic of today’s sermon.
This is the third sermon on the topic of Edging God out. We have been discussing on the topic if what prevents us from experiencing God’s Presence, Abundance , Love and Grace in our lives. We have examined two issues, the issue of our own ego, and one of the things that causes that, namely Pride.
We defined Pride as something when we start thinking more about ourselves than we ought to. We saw that the antidote to Edging God Out through Pride is Exalting God Only, through true Humility.
Today, we are going to examine another characteristic that causes us to Edge God Out. It is called Fear.
So let us start with the basic question. Is fear a bad thing? I guess all of us know the answer. Like pain, Fear is also a gift from God. Without fear we would end up doing unimaginable things. We would get into dangerous situations, we would end up hurting ourselves and others if we do not have the feeling of fear. So fear is given by God for a purpose.
The Bible clearly tells us to fear God. Psalm 111:10 (NKJV) 10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever. Proverbs 14:26 (NKJV) 26 In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, And His children will have a place of refuge. After having spent 12 chapters of the book Ecclesiastes in lamenting the meaninglessness of things around us, King Solomon concludes the book thus Ecclesiastes 12:13 (NKJV) 13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all. So fear of God is something that we are all asked to exhibit. The reason is simple. When we fear God, we are more likely to stay out of trouble.
So, when does fear become a bad thing? How does fear end up being toxic? Fear becomes toxic when it is of men. Proverbs 29:25 (NKJV) 25 The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe. Jesus wraps this issue of whom to fear and whom not to fear nicely when he says Luke 12:4-5 (NKJV) 4 “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!
So what is toxic fear? You know some examples. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of being overlooked for a position, fear of future, fear of being alone, fear of inadequacy.. the list can go on and on. There is a latest in this list it is called FOMO, fear of missing out. It became so prevalent that in 2013, Oxford dictionary included this as a formal word, and defined it as “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media.” It is understood that most of the social media addictions are due to FOMO. Statistics show that almost half to three fourth of teenagers are badly affected by FOMO. Sometimes, FOMO happens even without social media. Why was I not invited to a particular event, or party or something like that.
Why does this happen? Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges say that “The root cause of toxic fear is a life built on a lie that tells us we are not safe playing things God’s way and we are going to miss out on something good. It is FEAR. False Evidence Appearing Real”
Let us look at Bible character to understand this better. Let us take Pontius Pilate. What is your opinion about Pilate? Is he a good guy or a bad guy? Was he a confident man, courageous man? What opinion did you hold of him?
Actually, initially when I heard the story of Pilate, I had thought of him as a strong, confident, courageous and evil ruler. After all he was the governor of a Roman province and he was the one who sent Jesus to the cross. But as I studied the events more, my impression about Pilate changed. Want to know how? Let us look at some of the instances. The story of Pilate is told in all the four Gospels. Let us look at the narrative by Luke first, given in Luke Chapter 23. You would notice that the first reaction from Pilate is to dismiss the case because he cannot find anything wrong with Jesus’ actions. And then when the crowd insists that he is stirring up people even in Galilee, he decides to send Jesus to Herod, who was the governor of Galilee. Herod also does not find anything wrong in Jesus’ actins and hence he sends him back to Pilate. Pilate examines the case again and finds nothing wrong with Jesus again. He even argues Jesus’ case with the chief priests, rulers and the people. Luke 23:13-16 (NKJV) 13 Then Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, 14 said to them, “You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people. And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him; 15 no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him. 16 I will therefore chastise Him and release Him“. After this he tries once more to establish Jesus’s innocence (v 22), but finally gives in.
We see a little more elaborate version of this story in John Ch 18 and 19. Here again Pilate first asks them to take Jesus back and deal with Him as per their own law John 18:31 (NKJV) 31 Then Pilate said to them, “You take Him and judge Him according to your law.” . And when pressed on by the Jews to make a decision, he repeats thrice that he cannot find anything wrong with Jesus (John 18:38, John 19:4. John 19:6, and continues to try to release Jesus (John 19:12). But he finally gives in.
The account in the book of Matthew gives some more insights into Pilate’s dilemma. Initially Pilate is really impressed with Jesus. Matthew 27:14 (NKJV) 14 But He answered him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly. This gets confirmed when his wife tells him about her dreams. Again we see that Pilate really tries to save and release Jesus, but finally gives in.
So let us analyse Pilate’s decision. Why did he give in despite being so convinced that Jesus did nothing wrong? When I study this story, all that I can find in Pilate is a man who wanted to do the right thing, but ended up doing the wrong thing. What made Pilate do the wrong thing, despite being convinced about the right thing? What do you think Pilate is driven by? Pilate is driven by fear. He feared that the crowd might break into a riot. He feared continued enmity with Herod and used this opportunity to become friends with Herod. He feared that he might lose his position and power because the Jews sort of threatened him when they said that if he lets Jesus go, he will not be considered Caesar’s friend anymore. John 19:12-13 (NKJV) 12 From then on Pilate sought to release Him, but the Jews cried out, saying, “If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.” 13 When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus out and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Pilate’s fear hits the peak when he hears that Jesus is the Son of God. John 19:7-8 (NKJV) 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.” 8 Therefore, when Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid,. Do you see fear of men playing a big part in how Pilate ultimately arrives at his decision? Fear of men can make us overlook truth. Fear of men will make us crucify the Son of God.
We can be critical of Pontius Pilate. But think about ourselves. Are there not times when we know what is the right thing to do, but did not do that because of some kind of fear? Aren’t there times when we end up doing the wrong thing, knowing well that it is wrong, because of peer pressure or FOMO?
So we have established we can and actually do Edge God Out through fear. So what is the antidote? The antidote to Edging God out through fear is the other EGO, Exalting God Only through replacing fear with God grounded confidence. There are many WhatsApp messages going round stating that there are 365 references to “fear not” in the bible. While it is comforting to know that there is a “fear not” for each day of the year, deeper studies indicate that this number is an exaggeration. There are some 80 odd direct “fear not” messages and another 30 odd similar messages like “do not be afraid”, “do not fear” etc. So even if it is not 365, it is still a sizeable number of times that God is telling us not to be fearful. Hebrews 13:5-6 (NKJV) 5 …… For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we may boldly say: “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”
All of you know the song “The battle belongs to the Lord”? The inspiration for that story is from 2 Chronicles Chapter 20. This chapter gives us an illustration of what can happen when we replace fear with God grounded confidence. King Jehoshaphat’s story starts in Chapter 7. He has actually a roller coaster ride in his faith. But the bible says that overall he walked in the ways of David. In 2 Chronicles chapter 20 we see the event of Moabites and Ammonites coming to war with Jehoshaphat. People come and tell the king that a great multitude is coming against him. And as in any human being’s case, his first reaction is fear. The King is afraid. But the fear actually drives him to the right place. 2 Chronicles 20:3 (NKJV)
3 And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. Then he goes on to seek God’s help. Though he had a great army, he admits his weakness and fear and confesses that he cannot do anything without God’s help. 2 Chronicles 20:12 (NKJV)
12 O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” And beautifully enough, God’s answer comes to him clearly. 2 Chronicles 20:15 (NKJV) 15 And he said, “Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! Thus says the LORD to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. The Battle Belongs to the Lord. Simple confidence in God. And we know the result. 2 Chronicles 20:29-30 (NKJV) 29 And the fear of God was on all the kingdoms of those countries when they heard that the LORD had fought against the enemies of Israel. 30 Then the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, for his God gave him rest all around. Everlasting peace, when we replace fear with God grounded confidence.
So this morning, let us take a few minutes to examine our hearts. What are we fearful of? What fear drives our day to day decisions and walk with God? Are we edging God out because of fear? Is our fear caused by us Edging God out? Can we replace that fear with God grounded confidence? Can we trust in Jesus’s words John 14:27 (NKJV) 27 Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
Let us pray
Benediction: May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.