Fear of the World
Practical Faith Series
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Sandra and I were talking a little about reading the newspaper these days and you can only bear to read so much of it because it’s full of so many murders, or so many disasters or so many problems that we face. She said that it’s easy to become almost overwhelmed with it so that you don’t even want to read the newspaper. I can see myself, that if you even begin to contemplate some of the difficulties that you meet in business, or some of the difficulties that we face in our own day-to-day life in the world it’s fairly easy for the moment to be thrown off-balance and to become preoccupied with the powers of the outside world and to actually lose your perspective. It’s very easy to find your own mind preoccupied with what power the government has, or what power other people have, or what power customers have or what power even evil people have.
It seemed to me that there is something wrong in either whistling a little tune pretending that it isn’t there or in simply not reading the newspaper. I said to Sandra, “Well, I think in some ways we have to set our mind not on things upon the earth but things in heaven where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” But I sense that that isn’t simply a trick of refusing to look at the things that are there. There’s surely something more than that to deliver us from fear, because it certainly is God’s will that we should not walk in fear, and that we should not actually even have a moment of fear — even a moment when either there’s something wrong with the car. We might not call that fear but still, there is a little tremor that goes through us. There shouldn’t be a moment of fear at that, nor should there be a moment of fear when we discover that the finances are not what they seem to be, or when we find the income tax people wanting to do an audit, or we find some legal authority coming at us on some subject or other. It seems at that moment there should not be a moment of fear at that time.
Then my own eyes went to of course, the basic reason why that is so — and it’s in John 16:33: “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” And we know that that is true. We know that before the world was ever created, God crucified not only us in his son, Jesus, but he crucified the world. And it’s because of that, that God can say he was in Christ reconciling the world to himself because God ,in Jesus, put all the circumstances and all the powers of evil that would destroy his will for us, he put them into Christ, he destroyed them there and he remade them. In fact, Jesus has overcome all those forces and all those powers.
We know that he manifested that — for instance, see John 20:19: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews,” — this was after Jesus’ crucifixion of course — “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” That was obviously Jesus overcoming the world. So they put nails in his hands, and they put a spear in his side, and blood and water ran out, so they knew they didn’t even need to break his legs because he was dead. And then a few days later, Jesus is there in front of the disciples showing his hands and the holes still in them, and his side and the hole still in it. Then a few days later, he’s eating fish with them to prove to them that he’s not just a ghost.
So obviously, Jesus did overcome the world. In other words, the world could do its worst to him but it did not end his life. It did not stop his life. I think we know that and say, “Yes, we know that Jesus has overcome the world. We know that there’s nothing that can happen in the world that he has not already destroyed and the sting of which he has not already removed.” We know that and we must try to remember that.
I think it’s easy for us to get into that old battle again of thoughts, “Yes, I must remember that Jesus overcame the world. Yes, I know that there’s something wrong with the car but let me remember that Jesus has overcome the world. Now, he’s overcome the world but remember that verse: Jesus said, ‘In the world you have tribulation but you will have peace because I’ve overcome the world.’ Yes, Jesus said I have overcome the world. He has overcome the world. He has overcome the world.” And we get into that kind of mantra or auto suggestion battle where we find ourselves almost trying to win a verbal argument with ourselves.
Actually, what we’re doing is we’re putting against the powers of evil, we’re putting against them flesh and blood which of course can never beat them. And what we’re really trying to do is to brainwash ourselves, to fill our thoughts with the fact that Jesus has overcome the world and hope that somehow, that will blot out not only the thoughts of evil, but will blot out the evil itself. I think it’s deeper than that.
I think the answer to fear of the world is deeper than that. And I think it’s connected up with the things we’ve been talking about. Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” When Jesus overcame the world before its creation as the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, when he overcame the world, we were in him. We were created in Christ Jesus. We were in him when he overcame the world.
Or you remember 1 Corinthians 12:27, “You are the body of Christ and individually his limbs.” We are part of Jesus and when Jesus overcame the world we overcame it too. That’s just a fact. There is nothing that the world can do to us that can destroy God’s will for our lives. Indeed, there’s nothing that the world can do to us that God does not allow to happen because he knows that the effects that the world has in mind for it will not come about. The effects that world has in mind for it is our destruction. It is the absolute removal of the possibility of God’s will being done in our lives. God knows that whatever the appearance may be that now, is no longer possible.
In other words, it’s a bit like Joseph, you remember, and his experience where he says to his brothers, “You meant it for evil to me but God meant it for my good.” (Genesis 45) And that seems to me to be the situation we’re in. We are part of Jesus and Jesus has overcome the world. He has destroyed its’ ability to destroy us. He has destroyed its ability to derail God’s will for our lives. He has destroyed its ability to spoil God’s plan for his son’s life in us. That’s just a fact. We are in Jesus and we have overcome the world.
It’s not a matter of us saying, “Yes! Whoopity-whoo! I’ll whistle! I’ll say, ‘I’m happy! I’m happy! I’m happy! Because yes, I’ve already overcome the world. I’m really strong and I’ve overcome.” No, it’s not that game. It’s simply a fact It’s just a fact. It’s just a simple fact — we are part of Jesus. You and I are bits of Jesus and Jesus himself is in us. That’s what he said, you remember, “You in me and I in you.” (John 14:20) Jesus is in us. It is us who have overcome the world, there is nothing that the world can do to us that will stop God’s will taking place in our lives.
And it seems to me therefore, the answer to the fear of the world is not “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-A” — it’s not whistling a little tune. It’s not even trying to brainwash ourselves into a kind of mantra, a kind of verse from scripture, “I have overcome the world. I have overcome the world.” It’s not that. It’s simply being real. I mean, to use that phrase that is popular, “Get real.” It’s really getting real. It’s refusing to play Satan’s games.
If you reflect for a moment — even the fact that it is a game that is obvious to you — the way it works — or for a second, or at the most, for half an hour, you fear the thing and then you get yourself gathered together. Actually, a week later you laugh at it because it’s all over and nothing really happened that was serious. So we refuse to play Satan’s games. We refuse to listen to his first cry of, “Fire, fire, fire!” or “Abandon ship!” We refuse to listen to the momentary deception and the lie. We refuse to allow our emotions to be panicked and we simply stand steady and solid. We are part of Jesus.
We look at the waves straight in the face and the waves are meant by Satan to create panic in our “beasties” like a little mouse. But we look at those waves and we stand solid because we are in Jesus. Jesus is in us and he, of course, made the waves. He makes them obey him. Therefore, he has overcome any apparent power they have to drown us or to destroy God’s will.
I felt there were three important examples that we should look at — and that one was the first. The first was actually, in a way, the more serious because it was apparently the ability of the waves to destroy. So maybe you’d look at it. It’s Acts 7:54, “Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.’ But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
And I think it’s a plain example of the world thinking that God had failed Stephen because, after all, he died. And it seems to me it’s popular with us today to take the same approach to say, “Well look, he died. Where was his God?” Yet, it’s obvious from the words there, even the final words, “and he fell asleep,” it’s obvious that to Stephen it was no horrifying terror-stricken experience at all. It was very comforting, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” And then he says, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And then he says, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” It’s obvious to anyone reading those words that Stephen was not all taken up with his own death and he was not all preoccupied with the pain he was experiencing. In fact, he seems to have experienced no pain and the dying was not a terrible retching and a crying out in panic. It says, “And when he had said this, he fell asleep” — just like that.
I got a glimpse of it sometime last week. It seemed to me that death is going to be a very easy thing. I suddenly saw that our dear Father — who will not quench the flickering torch, and who knows all our infirmities, and who has been with us for so many years, and knows the first moment our little hearts feel fear — has all that arranged. The last thing that he will do at that moment is to leave us in the darkness. The last thing he will do at that moment is to allow us to
experience any fear of infinite spaces, or any fear of the unknown. The last thing he will do at that moment is to allow us to exist even for a second in some kind of limbo. Rather, it will be like Stephen’s experience. It’ll just be a moment you’re looking there — even if it has dear hearts like our own around us and dear friends to comfort us – and the next moment will be so much brighter, and will be so much warmer, and will be like coming into a wonderful party with all kinds of dear friends around us.
It seems that God, our dear Father, who knows every weakness in us, and who knows all our infirmities, will ensure that our passing into life will be as easy, and as joyful, and as free from our own fears for ourselves as Stephen’s was. So it seems to me that even if it is death, we look at it with confidence. What is dying? Jesus is dying — a part of Jesus. This part of his limb that is called Sandra, this part of his limb that is called Irene, this part of his limb that is called Ernest, this part of his limb that we are is dying? No, it cannot die. It has already died once and shown that it was just as alive as ever — so this time it will be no different.
So it seems there’s no place for fear even when it seems that the world has ended our lives. Actually, all it’s done is open the door into the life that we’ve been looking forward to for so long. But it does seem in all other situations, Jesus has overcome the world. Often, he will not allow it to go to the point of death though finally he will out of love for us so that we may be with him.
Acts 16:16-40: “As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by soothsaying. She followed Paul and us, crying, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.’ And this she did for many days. But Paul was annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, ‘I charge you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.
“But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the rulers; and when they had brought them to the magistrates they said, ‘These men are Jews and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs which it is not lawful for us Romans to accept or practice.’ The crowd joined in attacking them; and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
“But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and every one’s fetters were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’ And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out and said, ‘Men, what must I do to be saved?’ And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their wounds, and he was baptized at once, with all his family. Then he brought them up into his house, and set food before them; and he rejoiced with all his household that he had believed in God.
“But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, ‘Let those men go.’ And the jailer reported the words to Paul, saying, ‘The magistrates have sent to let you go; now therefore come out and go in peace.’ But Paul said to them, ‘They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now cast us out secretly? No! let them come themselves and take us out.’ The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens; so they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. So they went out of the prison, and visited Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they exhorted them and departed.”
There’s no reason to be in fear of authorities whether they’re police, or tax authorities, or whether they are customers, or our suppliers, or the customs people, or anybody because Jesus has overcome the world and he is able to do this kind of thing when necessary. He is able to do this kind of thing for us and whether it happens as dramatically as this does or not, we are in Jesus and we are part of him, and he has overcome the world’s ability to derail his Father’s plan for our lives and there is no reason for even a moment of anxiety, or a moment of fear. So it seems to me that our victory over fear of the world is the reality that we are part of the Savior, that we are part of him himself and that the world cannot destroy him — and cannot even prevent him doing what God has planned for him to do in us.
So for us, it is irrelevant what the apparent power of other people have to spoil our lives. It’s an irrelevance because Jesus himself has destroyed that power in them and has overcome it. And it’s the same — if you would just look at the last one — it’s Acts 9:32-43 — and of course all these miracles were done with the same attitude in the disciples, in the name of Jesus Christ.
“Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints that lived at Lydda. There he found a man named Aene’as, who had been bedridden for eight years and was paralyzed. And Peter said to him, ‘Aene’as, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.’ And immediately he rose. And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.
“Now there was at Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him entreating him, ‘Please come to us without delay.’ So Peter rose and went with them. And when he had come, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping, and showing tunics and other garments which Dorcas made while she was with them. But Peter put them all outside and knelt down and prayed; then turning to the body he said, ‘Tabitha, rise.’ And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and lifted her up. Then calling the saints and widows he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner. “
Obviously Jesus manifested his victory over the world right there, and they were able to overcome death in another person and they were able to raise a person who was paralyzed. And so it is with us — Jesus is in us. I think where a lot of this gets contorted is where we think we have the right to heal everybody that needs healing, or we have the right to pray for everybody that dies. I think that’s where we lose the whole truth of the matter. The truth of the matter is that Jesus is the one who is living in this world. He is the one who has this body and these hands. He alone can decide what he wants to manifest of his victory over the world. He alone can determine who he wants to heal or who he wants to raise from the dead. He alone has that right.
We don’t even have to think about that. Our only place is our preoccupation with him. Our realizing moment by moment, “Lord Jesus, this is your life, these are your hands. I do not even live — I have been crucified. It is no longer I that live but it is you that lives in me. This is your life. Lord, that’s reality.” As we dwell deeper and deeper in that reality it seems to me fear of the world fades away in the distance. Then he, himself, is able to overcome the world in the instances and in the ways that he chooses.
Sometimes it will be by allowing Stephen to fall asleep in absolute peace and rest even in the eyes of the world it’s death. Sometimes he will raise Dorcas from the dead. Sometimes he will heal Aeneas and make him well. Sometimes, he will open the prison doors. Sometimes he will speak to the magistrates and influence them so that they’ll free us. Sometimes he will work around the circumstances so that they do not bring about what Satan intended. But always, he, himself, has the control of the world in his own hands.
What we do need to be very clear about is when we look in the waves and look in the face of the people who are angry with us, and look into the circumstances that seem to be falling apart — we look right through them and into his face and we see, “Lord, we are in your hands. We are not in their hands. We’re in your hands. This is your world. This is my Father’s world and it is under the control of my Savior who loves me.”
Let us pray. Dear Lord Jesus, we thank you for making us part of yourself. We thank you Lord, that this is your life, this is your body, these are your hands and everything that this person that has our name meets are circumstances and situations that you have already passed through your hands. There are things that you have already overcome. And we thank you Lord, that though all around us may be afraid, though a thousand may fall out our side and ten thousand at our right hand, yet it will not come near to us — to bring about the same results in us — because you, yourself, have control of the situation and the circumstances and have overcome the world. So Lord, we do thank you that there is no reason for even a moment of fear — even when it concerns mighty powers and governments, you, yourself, are in control and have overcome the world. We thank you, Lord.