NOTHING TO FEAR
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 10, 2020
16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
— John 6:16-21, ESV
My middle name is Franklin, named after my father, who was named by his father, in 1941. Obviously, Pop was a big fan of the President at the time, and he was not alone. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (I’m glad my middle name is not Delano) is the only US President to be elected to serve not one, not two, not three, but four terms.
While historians and political philosophers argue over his legacy, there is no debate about his strong leadership and superlative oratorical skills. Everyone knows his most famous line from his first inaugural address: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”
The context behind the quote included a great depression at home and a brewing world war abroad. People were afraid, they were very afraid, and they had a right to be afraid. People are afraid today, of a new and dreadful virus, of the ensuing economic difficulties, of whatever China may do next.
Fear is a part of every generation, every life, even every Christian’s life. But is fear really to be feared? Could fear be a something good that leads us to something better?
In this episode in John’s Gospel, the fifth of the seven great signs is shown. Jesus walks on the water. The presence of God and the word of God puts the fear of God into followers of the Son of God, until faith in God takes over. Here is what they learned from the Lord, and here is what we can learn from them:
Fear is a Gift from God
“They were frightened” (vs. 19), those twelve disciples, in a small boat on a medium-sized lake surrounded by large mountains. The cut of those rocks could whip the wind upon the sea in such a way that waves raise up large enough to sink a boat. Added to their seafaring fears was their scared faces when they thought they saw a ghost, walking on the water towards them. They were very afraid, and fear does not feel good.
Fear feels bad, but is fear a bad thing? No, fear can be a good thing, even a healthy thing, that God has given to us for our good. There are many phobias (the Greek word for fear found in this text) that help protect us and guide us through life.
Fear is a sign of good sense. I have a bit of acrophobia, which helps keep my feet on the ground and my hands on the rail when I am in high places. I have a big case of ophidiophobia, which is why I never became one of those snake handling preachers. I, like many others, suffer from glossophobia, which is the fear of public speaking, which makes me prepare incessantly and pray unceasingly to deliver sermons. Fear makes us prepare and put up safeguards that are simply signs of good common sense.
Fear is a sign of godly respect. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (ref. Psalm 110:10; Proverbs 9:10). “Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at his word” (ref. Isaiah 66:5). Healthy fear makes us listen to the right words from the right person for the right reasons, especially when that person is God and the source is God’s word, the Bible. The fear of God honors God and keeps us from committing sins that will do harm to others and ourselves.
Fear is sign for help. Fear can make you ask for help, especially from the Lord, who is always in the boat with you. Fear can make you place your hand on the rail, or take someone else’s hand, or put your hand in the hand of the man from Galilee.
Jesus’ disciples were afraid because Jesus had put them in the boat and sent them into the storm (ref. Matthew’s and Mark’s account). They had been in a similar storm before, but Jesus was in the boat with them. This time He was not, yet. They feared death, a healthy fear. They knew they needed Jesus to save them, a good spiritual observation. Then, Jesus showed up, and fear was conquered by faith.
Faith is a Gift from God
It was not a ghost, but God who came to the twelve in the boat. This fifth sign of John points once again to Jesus doing something that only God can do; therefore, Jesus Christ is God, Jesus Christ is Lord! Believe in Him! And they did, at least eleven of the twelve, as they brought Jesus into the boat and arrived safely at shore. Christ came into their lives once again, bringing faith in Christ with Him, and kindled it in His disciples.
Faith is a present from the Lord. Faith is primarily something God gives us to before we turn it back over to Him. Jesus will later reveal to His followers in John’s Gospel that they follow Him by the faith He first gives to them (ref. John 15:16). Paul wrote that faith is a gift from God (ref. Ephesians 2:8). Peter wrote that faith is a gift from God (ref. 2 Peter 1:1). James wrote that faith and every other good gift comes from God (ref. James 1:17). These are impeccable witnesses, so the case should be closed concerning the origin of faith.
Faith is the presence of the Lord. God is real, whether one believes in Him or not. But faith makes Jesus personal, in the boat, in your life. Faith is a humble, sometimes desperate, yielding control of your boat and your life to the Lord. The disciples obviously remembered this day when Christ came into the boat, as every Christian should remember the day Christ came into our lives, by grace through faith, took control, and conquered our fear of death.
Faith is the promise of the Lord. Faith is the gift that keeps on giving, through the inspired and enduring word of God (ref. Psalm 19, 119, Romans 10:17, 2 Timothy 3:16; etc.) God gives the gift of faith through the gift of His word, when we receive it, hear it, believe it, obey it. It was a word from Jesus, God incarnate, that inspired the disciples’ faith, calmed their fears, and brought them safely to shore.
Only One Gift Will Endure Forever
With a final word, Jesus conquered their fears with faith. “It is I; do not be afraid” (vs. 20). God gave the disciples a reason to fear by sending them to the sea. He gave them the faith to overcome their fears with His word and His presence. Faith endured after fear was gone.
In the original language, that phrase is only four words. A literal rendering is, “I Am, no fear.” Jesus Christ is Lord (the purpose of the seven signs and the seven “I Am” sayings in the Gospel of John is to demonstrate the deity and saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ). If you have faith in Him, in His person and work, then the day will come when you will have absolutely no fear, no fear of heights, no fear of snakes, no fear of speaking, no fear of death.
In every epoch of biblical history, God has come to His people in fear and given them faith. To Israel, Moses, and Joshua, God replaced fear with faith (ref. Genesis 46:3, Exodus 20:20, and Joshua 11:6). To Elijah, Nehemiah, and King David, God replaced fear with faith (ref. 2 Kings 1:15, Nehemiah 4:14, and Psalm 56:4,11). To Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, God replaced fear with faith (ref. Isaiah 44:8, Jeremiah 1:8, Ezekiel 3:9, and Daniel 10:12,19). To Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, the Apostle Paul, and the Apostle John, God replaced fear with faith (ref. Matthew 1:20, Luke 1:30, Luke 2:10, and Acts 18:9; Revelation 1:17.). To the disciples on that boat on that night, God replaced fear with faith in Himself and His word (vs. 19-20).
In every case and to every person God says, “I Am, no fear.” If you repent, believe, and obey the Lord Jesus Christ, the great I Am, God incarnate, the feeder of five thousand, the walker on the water, the Savior of the world; then, you have faith. And if you have faith, you really have nothing to fear, not the coronavirus, not death, not even fear itself.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org