Mass shootings. Abducted children. Exploited women. Random violence. Political correctness. Foreign threats. Domestic terror. All of these issues seem to be foisted upon the child of God with such rapid-fire succession that it takes your breath away. The gospel you sang about on Sunday seems to evaporate into mist by Monday’s commute. Even the in the midst of Bible study there remains a gnawing sense of dread. The thought of venturing out into the neighborhood or marketplace which used to excite you only compounds your sense of helplessness and anxiety. Making eye contact with the driver next to you at a stop light is obviously forbidden. Attending a once-favored concert or taking the children to an amusement park now forces you to think like a Navy Seal or survival strategist. In short, you live in a culture of fear. How are Christians to think while swimming in such murky and intimidating waters?
In the opening pages of his helpful book on the topic of fear, author and biblical counselor Ed Welch says this: “Fear is the perfect problem. No doubt, it can be paralyzing and painful. When it comes, your goal is to get rid of it immediately. By its very nature fear tells you to run rather than face whatever is causing it. The problem can be life-dominating. But it is ideal in this: God reserves his most persuasive, beautiful, and comforting words for fearful people. If you are familiar with fear, and we all are, get ready to hear something good.” (When I Am Afraid: A Step-By-Step Guide Away From Fear and Anxiety, p. 1)
Indeed, there is good news for the trembling believer. Let’s examine two passages of Scripture that deliver a shot of gospel-centered hope directly into our fainting hearts:
“For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, ‘Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken” (Isa. 8:11-15).
The context of this passage centers upon the threat of Assyrian invasion, an assault which would be devastatingly bloody. Previously, in chapter 7, the attitudes of the people of God were revealed: “When the house of David was told, ‘Syria is in league with Ephraim,’ the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind” (Isa. 7:2). Into this culture of palpable, visceral fear the Lord Almighty speaks and commands Isaiah to “not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy” (Isa. 8:12). Instead of clamoring for earthly alliances in which to find protection, Isaiah was to reject finding his security and peace in earthly powers. The Lord goes on to tell Isaiah where fear finds its proper resting place: “But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, let him be your dread” (Isa. 8:13). As the well-known Proverb states, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of [wisdom]” (Prov. 1:7). We should take note of the fact that Peter calls upon Isaiah’s verbiage to describe the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 3:15). Revering, honoring, and submitting to the supreme lordship of Jesus Christ is where we find sanctuary: “And he will become a sanctuary” (Isa. 8:14). Our Lord told us who to reserve our fear for: “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” (Matt. 10:28). To this end, Paul says that judgment is the jurisdiction of the Lord Jesus: “On that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 2:16). For the trembling believer, the only One who deserves our fear is also the One who died in our place to bring us to the enjoyment of his glory. Do not prostitute your fear to the temporal evils of this world. Rather, go in reverence and faith to the One who rules over every nation and you will find him to be a sanctuary for your weary soul.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Ps. 27:1-4).
If you could ask only one thing of the Lord when an army, war, and violently evil people were gathered at your doorstep, what would it be? If you are like the faint-hearted people we met back in Isaiah 8, you might ask for a fighter jet or a nuclear warhead. In a refreshing and surprising turn of thought, the psalmist transcends all such earthly sources of security and wisely uses his prayer for the most important thing: “that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Ps. 27:4). In short, he asks to be granted unfettered access to God for the purpose of worship. All of the psalmist’s confidence and hope are grounded upon his seeing and enjoying the beauty of God. This is strong medicine for the fearful saint. Where do we find hope and confidence in the midst of impending trouble? Paul clarifies the source of our hope: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Where do we see and savor God’s glory? In the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus is our sanctuary. Jesus is our refuge. Jesus is our hope. Jesus is our source of joy. Jesus is the conqueror of our greatest enemies: sin and death. Jesus is the One who assures us of life after the grave. Jesus is the One who rules the nations today. Jesus is the One who will rule in eternity. By faith in him alone, we can have confident hope in a culture of fear.