“Released From Fear”
June 19, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: Luke 8:26-39 Galatians 3:23-29 1 Kings 19:1-15a
Have you ever been afraid?
I’m not talking about scary movies where you might be afraid, but a part of you always knows that it isn’t real. I mean the kind of fear that comes from real life. You might have been afraid of a bully, or your boss, or cancer, or a number of other things. If you’ve been in church for a while, you have probably heard some of the things that the Bible says about fear and how we should trust God. But in the end, even those with the strongest of faith will sometimes be afraid. We begin this morning once again in 1 Kings 19:1-15a, only days after Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal.
19:1 Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”
3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.
If you remember, last week we head about how corrupt Ahab and Jezebel were and how they thought nothing of framing an innocent man just so that they could take away his little piece of land for themselves. They were both completely unscrupulous and utterly evil. And so, only days (maybe less) after Elijah witnessed fire from heaven consume God’s sacrifice, and the altar, and the water, and the dirt under it, Jezebel threatens that she intends to kill Elijah next, just as he had done to the prophets of Baal. And even though Elijah was the most powerful prophet in the entire history of Israel, and even though Elijah had just witnessed God’s amazing power in answer to his own simple prayer, Elijah was afraid and he ran for his life.
And then in Luke 8:26-39, we hear the story about Jesus healing a demon-possessed man that everyone was afraid of because of his great strength and unpredictable nature.
26 They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. 27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” 29 For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.
30 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.
32 A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission.33 When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.
38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.
At first, the people are afraid of the man who is possessed by demons. They were so afraid of him and what he could do, that the people put chains around his hands and feet and hired armed guards to watch over him. But he broke the chains, and drove off the armed guards, because of the strength of the demons within him. Perhaps this was something similar to the great strength that is sometimes seen when people are under the influence of PCP or other drugs, but however it happened, this scared the daylights out of everyone. And then the man made his home in a place of death, in the tombs outside of town, so that people would leave him alone. But Jesus isn’t afraid. Jesus commands the demons to leave the man and they obey. And when the people in town heard what Jesus had done, they were afraid of Jesus because they understood that Jesus had great power and it was a power that they didn’t understand.
And then in Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, he writes these words (Galatians 3:23-29):
23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Now, I know that I left you hanging on some of these stories, so let’s connect the dots.
Elijah is afraid, despite his intimate relationship with God and despite being a witness to God’s incredible power only days before, and he runs away and hides. And in the end, God quietly listens to his fears… and tells Elijah to get back to work.
The people who heard what Jesus had done for the demon possessed man were so afraid of Jesus’ power that they asked him to go away. Their fear caused them to push away the one man who could help them. Their fear caused them to push away the one man who could rescue them from death. The man who had been healed wanted to leave with Jesus, perhaps because he wanted to help Jesus’ ministry in return for what Jesus had done for him, or perhaps he was afraid of beginning a new life where people were still afraid of him. But instead of inviting him into the boat, Jesus transforms this man one more time by making him one of God’s first missionaries to the Gentiles.
In answer to his fear, Jesus tells him to get to work.
And Paul’s short summary tells us that before the coming of Jesus, human beings were prisoners to the law. In other words, they lived in fear of the law. Do what the law says, or die without God. But Jesus changed all that. With the coming of Jesus it doesn’t matter what other gods we might have once worshipped. It doesn’t matter that we are from a foreign country and we aren’t Jewish. It doesn’t matter if we are rich or poor, or anything else. Paul’s message is a message of belonging.
It’s okay to be afraid. It’s normal. Even Elijah, the most powerful prophet in all of scripture, was sometimes afraid.
But don’t let your fear control you.
Don’t let your fear push you away from Jesus.
Take your fear to God. Tell God how you feel. Tell God about your fear and trust him with it.
Because of God, we have nothing to fear.
Because of Jesus, we all belong.
We all belong to the same kingdom and we all work for the ultimate good of God’s kingdom.
But the message that God speaks into our fear is the same as it always was.
God quietly and patiently listens to our fears…
…and tells us to get back to work.
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