Before we leave this idea, we should take the doctrine of safety in the Lord through trust in him to a greater extent. We know that we are safe from the fear of man, but what other snares does trust in the Lord save us from?
a. The condemning and controlling power of sin and the draw of temptation.
Let’s turn now from the snare to where we find safety. “Whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” a. Safe from the fear of man. How do we find safety from the fear of man in the trusting of God? First, we must remember that if we trust in the Lord then he is with us. And “if God is for us, who can be against us?” Second, if we trust in the Lord then we will be determined, and the fear of man will have a hard time creeping into our thoughts. We will walk in all his ways, love Him, and serve the Lord our God with all our heart and soul, keeping the commandments and statutes of the Lord. And God’s perfect love casts out fear. Third, we find safety in prayer which drives away our fear. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Fourth, since we find safety in the Lord we are prepared for the worst. We are not surprised when the fiery trial comes to test us. We don’t think it strange. We have trusted in the Lord and have found safety. Fear of man, when it rears its ugly is not surprising. We are ready to take on that dragon and slay it with the word. We don’t have to fall prey to it. We are ready.
b. Safe from the result of men’s anger. We could also read this as we are safe from the consequences of angering or offending people. First, the fear of man is usually not substantiated. It’s an illusion. We have assumed that there will be repercussions for our actions. But often there are none because God restrains our potential persecutors. God stops people from acting against his people. Second, the loss that we might experience at the hands of people will always be less than what we will lose because of our cowardice. We are safe in Christ. If God allows someone to hurt, that pain is less than what you would lose if you disobey Christ. Third, any loss we do experience is done joyfully when we trust the Lord. When the apostles were arrested and beaten they rejoiced because “they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” Ultimately, we must remember the words of Jesus, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
a. Is seen as good. The world and probably a majority of those that call themselves Christians see the fear of man as a virtue, it is good. Indeed, fear itself is not evil. God has created fear in humans to prompt action when in physical danger. And we are commanded to fear God. So the problem is not fear but the object of fear. Charles Spurgeon said, “Nothing can be worse than this sinful fear; it hath slaughtered its myriads and sent thousands to hell. But yet it may seem a paradox; fear, when rightly employed, is the very brightest state of Christianity and is used to express all piety, comprehended in one emotion. “The fear of God” is the constant description which the Scripture gives of true religion.” So we need to be careful not to fall into this trap. Fear of man is a sinful fear and will only lead us to hell.
b. Leads to greater sin. This trap is like a mousetrap with a door. They climb into the trap but as they go farther in the door closes behind them. The fear of man is a sin that usually leads to greater sin. In Exodus 32, we see Aaron caught in this trap as he bends under the requests of the people. He takes the gold from the people and creates an idol. Then he builds an altar to the idol. Then he declares a feast day for the idol and says the will be worshipping God. The trap was set and the door closed behind Aaron. The fear of man will often lead to a rockslide of sin that begins with the shifting of the smallest pebble.
c. Keeps some from Christ. The fear of man is what hardens many peoples’ hearts against Jesus. What will my friends say? Will my family talk to me if I become a Christian? Will I lose my job if I follow Jesus? The possibility of annoying someone or receiving ridicule or, at the worst, persecution is a trap too hard for some to look past. In the end, they would rather be numbered with the “defiled and unbelieving.”
d. Keeps some from testifying. The fear of man keeps many of God’s children from claiming to be God’s children. Remember Romans 10:10, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth, one confesses and is saved.” Jesus said to go into all the world and make disciples. That necessitates talking to people about Jesus. The fear of man causes people to think more about a person’s feelings than their soul.
e. Lowers dignity. The fear of man drives many to act in a way that they would normally not act or would want to act. David acted like a lunatic in front of the king of Achish because he was afraid of him. Abraham told Sarah to say she was just his sister because he was afraid of the people. Abraham had to be rebuked by the pagan kings.
f. Leads to vagueness. This is one of the signs that we see in the pulpit these days. How do you know that a preacher has fear of man? What he says is vague and ambiguous. He doesn’t step on anyone’s toes. He steers away from standing firmly on the word. Instead, you hear something that is more or less a pep talk with Scripture sprinkled in. They’ll use the Bible but take the edge off. They blunt the sword of the word of God so as not to offend. The word of God is offensive.
g. Keeps some from usefulness. They won’t speak up or take the lead in anything because they are afraid of what others might think or say. When you serve in the church you do become a target of criticism and lies. That’s just how it is. And so those that get a little taste of this then back down and stop teaching or serving in some capacity because they care more about what others might say than being obedient to God.
h. The cause of much weakness in the church. Why? Because fear of man is sin. If we tolerate it in ourselves and our leaders then we only contribute to the weakness. We must examine our hearts and actions. Why do you do the things you do? If it comes from the fear of man then you must cut it out and get rid of it.
As we come to the close of 2020 we could say a lot about it. We could talk about the virus. We could talk about the election. We could talk about the riots. We could talk about economics. We could talk about race relations and gender confusion. We could talk about the exodus of people from our church and the church as a whole. A lot of topics have been forced into the public arena this year. Whether we liked it or not, we are in the conversation.
As I was thinking about all the things, I wondered if there was a common theme running behind them all. The Bible tells us that we know the schemes of the devil. So I wondered, what old scheme has he used to stir up all this trouble? Is there a common evil amid all these issues? Is there a language that is being used? There has been.If you look at the secular media and, unfortunately, many Christian sources as well, you will find one idea being peddled. It’s fear. Not the fear of God, not rational fear of danger but fear of man. It’s the fear of man. But you already knew that, right? Think about it for a moment and I think you’ll agree with me. What has been the underlying ideology that has driven most of the issues and evil today? The fear of man. All the issues that have been brought to the forefront this year have all been driven by the fear of man. Intimidation is everywhere. Side with us, say that we are right, accept what we believe and doing is morally good or else! Say Black Lives Matter or we will punch you in the face. Wear a mask or we’ll yell at you and run you out of the store, or even arrest you. If you vote for this candidate you are the problem and will be dealt with. If you meet as a church then you are unloving and setting a bad example. If you don’t believe that there are 70+ genders and that a person can change from him to her to they whenever they choose regardless of their biology then you are hateful and phobic and you deserved to be silenced. We’ve all felt it this year. There is no wonder why domestic abuse and suicide numbers are up this year. Not only has the normal been changed but we are swimming in a flood of the fear of man. A culture can only go down this path for so long. Either it will implode or a different answer will have to come and replace the fear of man. Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Of course, Scripture has something to say about this. This is not new and the solution to the problem is older than the problem. On one side we have the fear of man on the other trusting in the Lord. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were to trust in the Lord. They walked with him and talked with him. There was trust. But that trust was destroyed by a lie and an act of rebellion and in its place came the fear of man and the sinful pair sewed fig leaves together to hide their nakedness from each other. The fear of man would be passed down through the ages but the cure to that disease has been passed on as well.
This Christmas, remember the good news of great joy. The Prince of Peace has come. The joy of the Lord has come and has taken up residence in the heart of God’s children. This joy cannot be compared to the joy that you can create on your own so seek the greater joy. Seek the greatest joy. Come and find pleasures forevermore.
If you have that joy, then go home and celebrate with your family this week. Feast and laugh and share in the strength that the joy of the Lord gives you. But then, look outward to those who are not prepared for this feast day. Share with those who do not know the joy of the Lord. Tell them the good news of great joy that is for all the people.
And for those of you who do not know this joy. Cry out to the Lord and he will be your strength. Ask him for his joy. Seek joy while it still may be found. Keep asking the Lord for joy to enter your heart until he gives it. Don’t give up. Keep asking. He won’t be annoyed by your persistence. He won’t turn you away.
Good News of Great Joy: How Is the Joy of the Lord Our Strength?
Part 5 of 6
Not the joy of earth. The joy of this earth comes from worldly pleasures and earthly possessions. Take away the source of pleasure, the joy disappears. It’s the law of diminishing returns. The momentary joy of drugs and alcohol quickly fades and is replaced by misery and the constant desire to regain the momentary joy. It’s a constant rollercoaster ride. If joy comes from possessions the joy is quickly destroyed once the item is destroyed. Or once the possession becomes our possession the joy you received from that item diminishes over time and it must be replaced by a new possession, and another, and another.
Joy from knowing the Lord. This joy is strength. This joy cannot be found in anything that is found on earth and cannot be taken away. This joy may start off small but continues to grow and overshadows all lesser joys. Its not dependent upon anything like fame or health, or friends, or riches. Some people lack everything that the world says will bring joy and yet, they have it in abundance. Those that have the joy of the Lord will find that even if a great tragedy may come into their life and their happiness is all but destroyed, and there seems like there can be no comfort in the suffering and sorrow, there source of pain has been transformed into a source of joy. The joy of the Lord is our strength. It makes us strong where sorrow weakens us. It builds us up where joy in sin tears us down. The joy of the Lord is a stronghold.
Good News of Great Joy: What is the Response of Joy?
Part 4 of 6
a. Repentance. When true joy enters the heart of a person the response of that heart is to feel the conviction of sin. The people wept because, in the face of the joy of the Lord, they were miserable wretches. They had no hope. Their God had told them how to have an abundant life and most of what they were supposed to do was left behind when they went into exile. They rejected the joy of the Lord. And now after hearing the word of God, hearing the Law being read and hearing what true life is like, what true joy is like, they weep. Take this back to Luke 2. When Jesus, who is the joy of the Lord and of the world, stepped into our universe, what was the response of those who truly encountered that joy? Repentance. They fell at his feet saying, “you are the Christ.” They came weeping and pouring perfume on his feet, wiping their tears of his feet with their hair.
b. Obedience. The second response was obedience. What time of year did this reading of the law in Nehemiah take place? It was the Feast of Tabernacles. This feast was commanded by God for the people to keep. The leaders say, “Hey, today is not a day of weeping. So stop that. Today is a day of joy.” That don’t tell them just go home and be happy. They say, basically, obey God.
i. Celebrate at home. This is a time feasting so go home and start celebrating. God told you to do that so, go do it. Don’t go home and weep, go home and celebrate that God provides and he saves.
ii. Generosity. They also say, don’t just think of yourselves, don’t just look inward, care for your family, and look outside of your family. Practice generosity. The poor that don’t have any food at home, they have nothing prepared to eat, share with those people. Maybe your neighbor didn’t think ahead and has nothing prepared to eat at home, share with those. When joy has come into the heart the response is to be generous. The greatest displays of generosity were shown when Christ came to earth and walked among men. The announcement to the shepherds of Christ’s birth was an act of generosity to them. Did a bunch of outcast shepherds deserve an angel army visit? Who were they? They were nobodies, that’s the point. And so what was the response of the shepherds? Generosity. They went about the town sharing with everyone what they had seen. The people that they told didn’t deserve the news but the joy of the Lord drove them to it.
a. It’s not always appropriate. As I said, joy in the Lord was not just for the shepherds and Mary in the New Testament but one of the greatest statements on joy comes in the story of Nehemiah and the restoration of Jerusalem. It was at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles when the Israelites were to celebrate God’s provision in the harvest and the rescue from Egypt. The law had been found and it was read out loud to the people from morning to midday. The result of hearing the law caused the people to weep. They saw the perfection of the law and how many laws that they had transgressed. Even the feast days had been forgotten. But the leader’s response to tell the people not weep. It was not appropriate for that day. The day was holy unto the Lord. God himself had set these days aside for celebration and joy, not for tears and weeping and so Nehemiah forbade them from their grief. The day was not set aside to sit around weeping. This was not the appropriate response at this time. God set aside the feast days so that the people might have fellowship with each other and with God. A child of God has nothing to fear and weep over when they are in his presence. His perfect love drives out all fear. And yet, we know there is a time for grieving because grief…
b. Is sacred to God. Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” God loves the heart that grieves over sins because that is a heart that is turning to him. Tears shed over sin are precious to God. We know that sorrow is sacred to God because Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn.” We should not think that sorrow is wrong or is something God hates. Yet, excessive sorrow that drives us from God or grief that springs from doubting God is what is unacceptable. But those that truly grieve will find that it…
c. Is comforted by God. Jesus said that those that mourn are blessed, “for they shall be comforted.” In Isaiah God says, “Comfort, comfort my people.” In Jeremiah God speaks of his people coming in tears and mourning but then he promises, “Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.” (Jeremiah 31:13). Remember that our Lord himself wept and found comfort in prayer with his Father and the angels ministered to Him. This comfort that is promised is a reality not just sentimentality. 2 Corinthians reminds us, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction.” If we grieve over sin, his mercy and grace bring comfort. If we have experienced the loss of friends or loved ones, he reminds us that he will never leave nor forsake. If we experience other kinds of losses God has promised pleasures forevermore. The comfort of God is abundant because Christ suffered abundantly.
a. The greatest. Joy is the pursuit of every human heart. Everyone wants joy and everyone acts according to what they think will bring it into their life. Even the most destructive of behaviors stem from a desire to find joy. Think about it. Alcohol and drug abuse are a search for joy. Our culture’s current obsession with gender and sexuality is rooted in the desire for joy. The push for banning anything that would be offensive to anyone (which is not possible) is a search to create and protect joy. Those who take their own life are searching for joy that they can’t find in this life. We all know that joy is the greatest. We all desire it above all things.
b. Deeper than happiness. The words happiness and joy are often used interchangeably. But in Scripture, we find that there is a distinction in joys. To make it easier to explain let’s separate the ideas of happiness and joy. Even in the English language, happiness is not a deep as joy. Happiness is what you experience when conditions are good. It is the outcome of when good things are happening to you or you think you are in a good place. Joy, on the other hand, is independent of our circumstances. Joy comes from within and radiates out. Happiness is an effect from without. If you go outside and the weather is warm and the sun is shining and you feel good, but in the afternoon when the clouds roll in and the temperature drops 20 degrees and a cold rain chills you to the bone and then you begin to grumble, what you had experienced earlier was happiness. Joy isn’t touched by the change of weather.
c. A goal of the Christian life. Just like God is a God of love or wrath or mercy, God is a God of joy. And like those other characteristics, the joy of God is infinite and perfect. Within the triune Godhead, there is perfect joy. God does not need anything external to himself to give him joy. There is an amazing verse in Zephaniah 3:17, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Have you ever thought of the joy of God?Since God is joy, one of the ends of the Christian life is joy. If we are growing in our faith and knowledge of God and becoming more Christlike then we will grow in joy. But many of us do not know a life of joy. Many Christians live a perpetually gloomy life. But why? Are we not told to not fear, to not be anxious about anything? If God is able to do the impossible and nothing is too difficult for him can he not give you joy?
“And in the same region, there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
The announcement of the birth of Jesus to shepherds was an announcement of great joy. The long-awaited Savior had come. This was not a day of fear. This was not a day for grieving and sadness but a day of joy. The savior had finally come.
Was there a reason for fear? We’ll the immediate circumstance of these shepherds would say yes. The shepherds were out in the fields in the darkness of night and all of a sudden, a glowing man appears. That would be enough to strike fear in the strongest of hearts. But once you realize what is standing before, your mind must begin to race. When an angel appears shining with the glory of the Lord, who knows what to expect next. Are they coming in judgment? Are you dead and they are coming to escort you to your eternal destiny? Why is this happening? They probably had the same reaction as Mary when Gabriel visited her. “She was greatly troubled at the saying and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” Mary and the shepherds did not know that the fullness of time had come. She was unaware that this time was sacred to the Lord her God. It was not a time to mourn or weep or to be afraid. It was a time to celebrate. It was a time of joy. The Prince of Peace had come. The embodiment of the joy of the Lord had stepped into the world. These ideas of joy and peace were not new concepts at the time of the birth of Christ. The Old Testament is full of calls to joy. The Psalms for instance repeatedly call for rejoicing in and unto the Lord. Joy because of what God has done was not a new announcement from the angels, but a call to rekindle the joy that should have been in the hearts of God’s people from the beginning.
One of the more memorable calls to joy in the Old Testament is found in the book of Nehemiah. I realize that Nehemiah is not a typical advent text, which is unfortunate because there are many parallels. The joy that would enter the hearts of the shepherds on that night and the people in Nehemiah’s day was the same joy that has entered the hearts of God’s children since he told Adam and Eve that the offspring of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head. Let’s read Nehemiah 8:9-10 and let us consider four questions about joy.