There is a phrase that appears in scripture more than any other. It is not the phrase don’t sin, or start repenting, or watch out, or don’t do this or eat that. It is none of these. It is a phrase that occurs more than 365 times. It’s a phrase in the Bible that is repeated more often than there are days in the year. And that phrase is Fear Not. Fear Not.
What God has to say to you and to me this day in the midst of our vulnerability is Fear Not.
In the book of Genesis, soon after God calls Abraham, he and his wife Sarah experience a terrible famine. They have no food or drink. In the midst of their hunger, Abraham ends up in a horrific battle in which he must rescue his nephew from tyrants. And it is in the midst of the anxiety of hunger and battle that God says to Abraham, “Fear not Abraham, for I am with you.”
Years later in the book of Exodus, through the actions of evil Egyptian Pharaohs, the chosen people of God suffer tremendous oppression and hardship. The people are forced to work long hours for no wages. They see the waters of the Nile turned into blood; the land consumed by frogs, the air filled with gnats and flies as one plague after another strikes.
Parents search to find words to explain to their children why locusts fill the air and why hail destroys the land and people. And after all of this, the people finally escape Egypt, hopeful that Moses will lead them into safety. As they flee the land, thousands of chariots and quantities of weapons of mass destruction are aimed at the fleeing people. It is at this point that God speaks to His people, “Fear Not, I am with you.”
Years later, in the book of the prophet Isaiah, the chosen people of God have lost it all. Their land has been taken over by an invading army. Their homes have been destroyed. Their places of worship are no more. Friends and family members have lost contact with one another as hoards of people are hauled off by marauding troops into a foreign land. The people have lost everything, a place to live, a means to make a living, and the support of extended family members and friends.
It is at this point of utter despair that God speaks to His people and says, “I, the Lord your God hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, Fear Not, for I will help you. Do not fear, for am I with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you….”
In the New Testament, Peter, whose life had been spent fishing, reels with uncertainty and confusion. He is confronted with a world in which nothing seems predictable. Everything he had learned to count on seems shaky. And it is in the midst of Peter’s turmoil and soul-searching questions that Jesus says to Peter, “Fear Not.”
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says to His disciples, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body…Consider the birds of the air, they don’t sow or reap and yet God feeds them. Can any of you add a single hour to your life by worrying? If God clothes the grass of the field…how much more will he clothe you…Fear Not, little flock. I am with you.”
Over and over and over throughout the pages of scripture, which is a story about our fragile lives, God says, “Fear Not, I am with you.” Throughout the Bible, whether dealing with death, fear, anxiety, anger, numbness, confusion, hunger, despair, or economic devastation, God says, “Fear Not.”
Although I know it can be a challenge to let go of fear, this is precisely what God asks us to do in this and any time of uncertainty. And let us remember Jesus’ words to his followers and to each of us. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”