June 17, 2018
Pastor Jeff Struecker
Today, this is the grand finale of the sermon series that we’ve been calling Risk Takers. Now, if you’re not sure what we mean by that statement, I want to go back to the beginning. I’m going to give you a little summary of what we’ve talked about over the past several weeks, and maybe this will help you understand these moments in the Bible where a person was willing to take the risk, to put it all on the line for King Jesus.
If you’ll remember way back to the beginning with me, you heard many weeks ago about Abraham, this man who, when his family was in trouble, Abraham was terrified about how it was going to turn out. But God gave him the faith to confront his fears, and Abraham marshaled the men of his family and (get this) went to war against 5 kingdoms in one night, and God gave him victory over his sphere and over those kings.
You probably remember the story of a guy by the name of Caleb, who when they were getting ready to go into the Promised Land, Caleb said to Joshua, the leader of Israel, “Give me the toughest land. Give me the hardest battle. Give me the biggest enemy. I’m 85 years old [get this y’all], I’m 85 years old, but if God is on my side. I will be victorious.” And Caleb faced down his greatest fears.
Do you all remember the story of Gideon? Gideon basically had to be pushed by God because he was terrified, and in the midst, Gideon was able to conduct this daring night raid and to liberate his country against a vastly superior army. God gave him victory over his spheres.
You’ll probably remember that when everybody else in Israel was literally hiding in fear, David stood up and stepped forward and confronted the greatest warrior on planet Earth, and God gave that man victory. You remember the story of this courageous woman by the name of Abigail? -who was placed in this impossible situation. She was being pulled between her husband and the future king of Israel, this tug-of-war that was going on. Abigail stepped forward and met these terrifying circumstances, and in the process, she rescued her family. Or how about Elijah, who stared down 450 false prophets in one day, but not just them; he also confronted the king of Israel, and God blessed Elijah’s great faith because he was willing to risk it all.
Then we looked in the New Testament at a guy who, we don’t even know his name. -just a blind man who was called on the carpet in front of the religious leaders of his day, the most powerful people in his land. And he unashamedly, boldly spoke truth to power. Even when his own parents were terrified, this man was willing to stand up and to confront these religious bullies.
You remember the story of Peter, who had the faith to do what no one around him would do and stepped out of a boat and walked on water like it was dry ground. Last week, you heard the story of Paul, who was beaten within an inch of his life. Literally, they stopped beating him because they thought he was dead and threw him out of the city. Then this man got up and dusted himself off and faced his fears and walked right back into the same city and right back into the teeth of the very men who wanted him dead.
These are examples from the Bible of what it looks like to risk it all on King Jesus. I want to go back; I’m not going to put you on the spot because I’m afraid of the answers that I would get, but I’m going to go back to the very first sermon in the sermon series, and I want to remind you. If I were to ask you a question or poll you, I’m pretty sure nobody in the room would remember anything that I said, but I want to remind you of that first sermon.
Here’s the difference that following Jesus makes: First, following Jesus requires a radical change in your priorities. You don’t get to call the shots in your life anymore. Somebody else does. King Jesus does. And he may put you in some really sticky situations. Second, following Jesus demands total surrender. There’s no halfway in/halfway out here. It’s all or nothing. “Jesus, you got it all, whatever you ask of me.” And last, from that very first sermon in this series, it’s not a one-time thing. It is an every-day, get up in the morning, make the same commitment all over again, “Jesus, I’m all yours. Wherever you want me to go, whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it.”
Today, to wrap this sermon series up, I want to share with you a quote. This is a sentence that you can write down and carry with you, because today we’re going to struggle for just a second about how fears can control you and what fear can do to your life if you let it. So, here’s a sentence that I would like for you to write down:
Fear, at its very essence, will control you. If you give into your fears, it will enslave you, and when fear has that kind of authority, that kind of control, that kind of power over you, you’re not really living anymore.
The last phrase says real living is living a life without fear. So, for just a second, I want to challenge us about this statement. Okay, if this is true and fear has that kind of control over a person, how do you get to the point that you can live a life without fear? -because I’m telling you, you’re not even really living. That’s not the life that God created if fear is controlling you. So how do you get to the point that fear doesn’t control you anymore? How do you get to the point? Here is the thing that we’re going to wrestle with for just a second today: Where the peace inside of you is greater than the panic that’s going on around you. How do you get to the point where nothing can cause you to fear anymore because you are impervious? You won’t get off track. You won’t get intimidated. You won’t fear anything, not even the king of all fears, the fear that many people (most, if they were honest), would tell you they’ve struggled with a time or two… the fear of death.
I. Don’t be intimidated
Well, in order to figure the answer that question out, we’re going to look at Jesus, the master who demonstrated for us how to handle fear, and we’re going to look from a specific passage in the Bible in Luke chapter 13. We’re going to start in verse 31, and there are 3 simple statements from 3 very short verses in Luke 31 that help us learn what it’s like to live -to really live- because we’re living a life without fear. The first statement: Don’t be intimidated.
Alright, before we look at Luke 13, starting a verse 31, I just need to be honest with you. I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to theology, and I wrestled with this very idea: Does Jesus really, did he really have to deal with fear? Did Jesus really have risk? Did he have to face fears or risks the way that I do or the way that you do? So I went back and did a little Bible research, and I did some Bible word studies, and I tried to find a place in the Bible where it said, “Jesus was afraid.” You know what? I couldn’t find it anywhere in the Bible, but I did realize this: The statement that Jesus made more than any other statement in his life is, “Do not fear.”
So apparently, while he was on Earth, Jesus learned how to handle fear, but here’s what I really was struggling with this week: Can you really say that the God of the universe, the one who created everything, controls everything, sustains everything by his own power, does he really have anything to risk? Can you really challenge him? And maybe what I learned this week is, perhaps Jesus doesn’t experience risk or fear the way that you and I do, but maybe he’s modeling for us, how do you handle it when people are trying to intimidate you, when they’re trying to throw you off track? How do you handle fear?
So, here’s the story in Luke 13, starting in verse 31. Jesus is preaching and teaching in Galilee, and there’s a threat on his life. Luke 13:31 says it this way:
At that time some Pharisees came and told him, “Go, get out of here. Herod wants to kill you.”
Now, the best that we can tell at this point in Jesus’s ministry, the Pharisees are really honestly warning him. They’re not trying to trick him; they’re not trying to trap him. That will happen later on in the book of Luke. Right now, this is a very real threat. “Jesus, you’re going to die if you keep doing what you’re doing because Herod (King Herod Antipas) wants you dead.” And this is no threat; this is no joke. This is serious, and Jesus knows it’s serious because Herod is the kind of man who can not only make a proclamation, “I want that man dead,” he’s got the power to back it up.
In other words, when I was thinking this week, how do you and I figure out what it would have felt like if you would have heard this for the first time? -picture it this way: You have just been accused, tried, convicted and sentenced of a capital offence. Now the sentence has already been passed; a death sentence has been passed. You don’t have any chance at appeal. The President of the United States can’t pardon you, and if you really want to know the urgency in this passage, it would be like you’re barbecuing in your back yard when the neighbors come and yell over the fence, “The FBI is driving down the road. They’re here to take you away. You are going to die. There is no way to avoid it. Run as fast as you can. Drop everything.”
That’s the urgency that’s going on when Jesus gets this message, and it’s really raw for him because not long ago, Herod wanted another one of Jesus’s friends dead. Herod wanted a guy who was preaching about Jesus dead. And when Herod decided he wanted the head of John the Baptist, like that, John the Baptist was beheaded. Herod has the power to kill Jesus (or at least everyone thinks that he does), and Herod has made the message, has sent the proclamation, “I want that man’s head.”
When that happens, does Jesus get scared? Does Jesus get bullied? Does he get intimidated? No. In fact, Jesus handles this with total peace. He’s not worried about this guy, Herod. He’s not worried about the future. There’s a great quote from the famous roman leader, Marcus Aurelius, and Marcus Aurelius once said, “It’s not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live in the first place.” You start to fear, you let fear control you, and pretty soon you’re really not living at all. Fear is living, and it’s living out through your life.
So, the problem that most of us (let’s just be honest for a second, can we?) The problem that most of us in this room struggle with is the question of, What if? What if this happens to my family? What if this happens to my finances? What if this happens to my health or my marriage or my future? And when you start to go down that road, the “What if” road, it will make you crazy if you let it. Literally, it can make you insane. But the question of “What if” is all a struggle with control.
Basically, what you’re saying when you struggle with the question of, “What if…?” what you’re saying is, “I don’t have control over the storms around me. What happens if the storms do something terrible? I try to eat right and try to live healthy, but I really don’t have any control over my health or over the rest of my life. What happens if something catastrophic happens to my health? What happens if something happens in my family, and I don’t have any control over it? And “What if” can cause real panic.
So, listen up for just a second. The solution to the challenge of “What if”, the solution to the panic that fear can cause is peace. It’s peace with God and peace from God, and here’s the answer. It comes through surrender. It’s when you finally admit, “I really don’t have any control to begin with. In fact, the one who controls my life is not me. It’s actually the Son of God.”
So, I’m just going to put first things first. Look, we’ve got more sermon to do today, but to get the most important thing on the table first and foremost, if you are in this church for the first time or maybe the first time in a long time, and you’ve never really surrendered to Jesus Christ, if you’ve never surrendered your soul, then there is nothing that I can say to you that’s more important than this today. Right now, this very moment is the moment to nail this down. You surrender to Jesus at the soul level, and you find peace from God because the peace of God starts to dwell inside of you.
So, I’m going to pray for you in just a moment, and I’m going to pray that you right here, just between you and Jesus (I can’t do this for you. No one else can), but just between you and Jesus, you nail this down once and for all. Would you bow your heads? I’m going to say a prayer, and maybe somebody in this room will go from dead in sins to alive in Christ, from living in fear to finally finding freedom and peace through a born-again relationship with Jesus Christ, a prayer that sounds something like this:
If this is you, if this comes from your heart, would you silently pray these words to God and trust that he hears you? God, I am a sinner, and I’ve tried to control my life, and the more that I try to control it, the bigger the mess I make. So God, right here, right now, this is just between me and you, God. Nobody else can hear me; this is between me and you. Right now, God, between me and you, I am surrendering my soul to you, turning my future, turning my family, turning my finance, I’m turning everything over to you. God, whatever it is, anything that you ask of me, it’s all yours. I’m giving you control of it. I surrender it all to you right now, and the only thing that I ask in return is, would you move in? Would you take up residence inside my soul. Will you change me? Do for me what I can’t do for myself? Would you change me from the inside out?
If that prayer’s really, if that prayer was really sincere, God hears it. He honors it, and he can make you a new person right now. Amen.
II. Don’t get off track
The second thing, if you’re following along on this passage from Luke 13 that I want you to see is that, if you’re not careful, fear can start to get you off track. It can start to change your focus, and it can take you down a road that you really don’t want to go down. So, once you’ve surrendered to Jesus Christ, now the challenge becomes not letting anything come between you and Jesus. Listen to how Jesus responds when these Pharisees are trying to convince him, “Leave town, because you’re a dead man if you stick around here.” This is Jesus’s response in verse 32. He said to them:
He said to them, “Go tell that fox, ‘Look, I’m driving out demons and performing healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will complete my work.’
In other words, “Herod will not get me off track. He will not threaten me to the point that I fail to do what I’ve come to do in the first place.” Now, if you’re hanging around with Jesus for a second and he made this statement, “Hey Pharisees, you go tell that fox, Herod…”, you would probably want to know, what did he mean by that? Like, was he saying that Herod was sly like a fox? And probably there is an essence of that in the statement, but I’m convinced what Jesus is talking about in this phrase is a direct reference from the Old Testament.
It comes from Nehemiah chapter 4, verse 3. When Nehemiah and the people of Israel are so small and so frail, that when they’re trying to rebuild the wall in Israel, there’s a bunch of people that are living in the land, and they want to stop me Nehemiah. So, they start to threaten him. They start to get Nehemiah off track, and Nehemiah responds in chapter 4, verse 3 this way when they tell him, “Even a little fox could climb up your wall, Nehemiah,” and, “It’s so fragile that it would just tumbled to the ground again. Even a little fox would do that,” Nehemiah refuses to let anyone or anything get him off track.
What Jesus is saying is, “Herod has no power over me. His influence is tiny like that ‘even a little fox’ reference from Nehemiah chapter 4. I’m not worried about Herod and let me tell you why I’m not worried about Herod.” Look what Jesus says next. “I’m driving out demons. I’m performing miracles. You think the guy who has power to drive out demons and perform miracles is going to worry about or get off track because of somebody like Herod? That man can do nothing to me.”
But what’s crystal clear in this verse is the words that Jesus uses next. Jesus says, “I will complete my mission on the third day.” This is obviously a reference to how he died on the cross and 3 days later came up out of the tomb. “I will complete my work.” The word complete can’t be missed here because when you’re reading through the book of Luke, you’re going to see the word complete again, and you’re going to see it at perhaps the most significant moment in Jesus’s life.
He’s on the cross. He’s crying out to God the Father. He is about ready to give up his life on our behalf, and Jesus cries this statement out: “It is finished.” -the exact same word. It is complete. “Herod, you can’t stop me. No one (demons, disease…), nothing can get me off my mission. I will accomplish, I will complete the mission that God sent me for, and I will not let fear and I will not let anyone else get me off track.”
I do a lot of research on this. I study how societies over time and all over the world help boys go from becoming a boy to becoming a man. What’s the rite of passage in a Jewish bar mitzvah or in an Aboriginal walkabout? How do societies help boys become men? One of the most interesting examples of this is the Okiek people of an African tribe from Kenya. See, when a boy reaches roughly the age of puberty, the father helps him become a man. Here’s what they do: They separate this boy from his family, from all of his friends, put him in isolation for weeks or for months. They stripped him naked. They will mix ash with mud and bake clay in the sun on him so that he becomes, he looks like the ground around him, and he becomes camouflaged to the ground around him. They give him a knife, and they’ll send him into the bush alone. They expect him to confront his fears when he’s in the bush.
Now, if you know anything about Africa, if you know anything about the lions in Africa, lionesses hunt at night, and at night, when this boy is most terrified, when he’s facing his greatest fears, his father or the village elders will use some musical instruments, and they will create this roar from this extremely terrifying sound that a boy has never heard before. They’ll do it close to him, so that it will terrify him, and then they’ll watch him, and they’ll keep roaring at night until finally, this boy with just a knife is able to stand up to his greatest fears. Then, and only then, do they welcome him back into the village as a man.
But did you hear what I just said? The village elders and the boy’s father are close enough to him that they’re watching out for him. He feels like he’s alone. He hears the sound of this roar. He’s in the dark. He’s terrified. But his father is actually close enough to him that if anything bad happens, his father can protect him, and the boy doesn’t even know that he’s there. It’s only when he gets back to the village (true story) that the village elders show him, “These are the instruments that were used to make the noise that terrified him, to help him get over his fears.”
Listen, I don’t know what you’re going to go through tomorrow. It may feel dark; it may feel scary. But if you know Jesus Christ personally, you’re not alone. If you know Christ personally, you are not along. He is with you, helping you, close to you, will protect you. And when stuff roars around you, you don’t have to get scared, and certainly don’t let it get you off track. He’s got you in the palm of his hand. I don’t know what kind of father you had. He may have been an absolute train wreck, but if you know Jesus Christ personally, you’ve got a good, good Father who loves you, will never leave you and has got you in the palm of his hand, even when it gets scary.
III. Don’t fear death
So, listen to how the story ends because perhaps the greatest fear any of us will ever face is the line that you cross over and you can never go back from. It’s the fear of death, and as a follower of Jesus, you don’t even have to fear that. Jesus was confronted by Herod, who had the power to take his life, and Jesus wouldn’t let it intimidate him. He didn’t let it get up get him off track, because Jesus did not fear death. In fact, he was moving towards it. Listen to what he says in verse 33:
Yet it is necessary that I travel today, tomorrow, and the next day, because it is not possible for a prophet to perish outside of Jerusalem.
Jesus said, “I’m on a mission. I’m heading to Jerusalem. I know what’s waiting for me in Jerusalem.” He even makes it clear for us, “I know I’m going to die when I get to Jerusalem, and I am not afraid. The reason that I’m not afraid is because I know what happens after you die.”
You see, for most people, the real wrestle with death is that you can’t come back from this, and none of us really knows what it’s like 2 seconds after you die. So, what happens to me after I die? Jesus says, “You don’t have to worry about that.” In fact, Jesus does in C.S. Lewis’s words, “the impossible”. He takes death and makes it work backwards. Death is no longer the end for a Christian. It’s now the beginning. It’s the beginning of eternal life. It’s the beginning of being welcomed home in Heaven with God forever. You’ve got nothing to worry about.
Look, this is serious. This isn’t some little, “Oh, it’s a thunderstorm outside, and when I leave church, I’m going to have to drive through some strong rains. I’m worried about whether or not I’ll get home safely.” No, Jesus knows he’s going to Jerusalem, and he knows he’s going to die, and he is fearless in the face of it. I’m telling you, you can be fearless in the face of anything, up to and including death also. If you’ve got sincere faith in Jesus Christ, you’ve got nothing to worry about.
How did Jesus do this? How did he accomplish that kind of courage? Well, the answer is in Romans chapter 8. Romans 8 says it this way: “Jesus, the one who did not fear death, came to set people free.” Listen to this language. “He came to set people free from the law of sin and from the law of death.” Fear will hold you captive. Jesus came to set you free and to set you free from the law of sin. He came to set you free from the law of death. He conquered death. What do you have to worry about?
So, let me ask you again, if you knew the moment (like if I could prove to you today with 100% certainty the moment that you would die. Let’s say it’s 85 years old. For some of you who are 84 out there, don’t freak out. I’m just using this as an analogy), let’s say it’s 85, and I can prove to you beyond a shadow of a doubt you’re going to die on this date at 85 years old and you’re 15 or 35 in this room. For the next 50 years, do you live them differently? If you know beyond a shadow of a doubt nothing can touch me until I turn 85, do you live differently? I think you do, and that’s what Jesus is offering to all of us. Nothing, no one can touch you until God the Father is ready to call you home. So, what do you have to fear? Stop letting fear control you.
Probably the greatest warrior in American history was a Native American by the name of Tecumseh. Tecumseh was a brilliant warrior on the battlefield, but he was much more than that. He was a great voice for the Native American people. By the year 1810, Tecumseh was a brilliant organizer, a brilliant leader, and he formed this Confederacy of Native Americans. There were people from every walk of life who knew Tecumseh, and even his greatest enemies feared this man. In fact, the U.S. Army went to war against one man, against Tecumseh, to stop this man’s power.
Tecumseh had this magnetic personality, and many people were willing to follow this leader, willing to allow him to speak on their behalf, because of the way that Tecumseh lived his life. He made this very famous statement. I am 100% convinced he was right with this statement. Here’s what Tecumseh said: “When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear and when their time comes, they weep and pray for a little bit more time so that they could go back and live their life a different way.” Listen to what he says next. “Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”
Tecumseh basically said, “Here’s how it ends up with most people,” and I convinced that he’s right because I’ve been around death for decades. People, when they are at the moment that they know they’re going to die, they will be terrified, crying and begging, “God, give me just a few more moments. Help me to make something right. Let me go back and fix something that I messed up in the past.” In other words, “If I could go back and do it differently, I wouldn’t have done it this way, but now it’s too late.” And then there are those who can face even death with absolute peace. “I did the best that I could. Sure, I made some mistakes along the way, but I know what’s waiting for me. This isn’t the end. This is me going home. This is the beginning. This is God welcoming me into his Kingdom for eternity, and I’m looking forward to hearing, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’” If you can face death without fear, you can face anything without fear.
• I want to live fearlessly. Today, I surrendered my soul to Jesus for the first time.
– I have been living in fear about the future. Today, I’m surrendering my fear to Jesus and trusting him with my future.
+ I will live free from fear this week.
- What does a life lived to the fullest look like to you? Is it possible to live this kind of life if you’re living in fear?
- Read Luke 12:4-7. How can trusting God help you get rid of fear?
- Is it possible to fear and live free at the same time? Explain your answer.
- Have you really conquered your fears if you’ve never really confronted them?
- Explain how someone can overcome the fear of death.
- Be honest. Share with each other the fears that you are facing right now.
- Pray for Jesus to give you freedom over fear this week.