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Sophisticated Fear & Simple Faith: A Christmas Reflection

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“There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear. If we are afraid, it is because we fear punishment, and this shows we are not yet perfected in love.” – 1 John 4:18

“Perfect love, we know, casts out fear. But so do several other things—ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity. It is very desirable that we should all advance to that perfection of love in which we shall fear no longer; but it is very undesirable, until we have reached that stage, that we should allow any inferior agent to cast out our fear.” – C.S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night

“A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Children of Húrin

 

The birth of Jesus Christ. Those five words bring me joy. I welcome the kingship of Jesus. I eagerly make the Lord’s Prayer my own: Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done.

The Christmas story, however, introduces us to a king who saw it quite differently. “When Herod the king heard this [the news of Jesus’ birth] he was troubled.” (Matthew 2:3)

Troubled. In the original Greek, the word is ταράσσω. It describes “acute emotional distress.” That’s one way of defining fear. Herod was afraid. The authority and kingship of Jesus was not good news to him.

In the Bible God’s love is never set in opposition to his authority. They stand together. God’s love is expressed through his authority, and those who love God welcome his authority into their lives. Nearly everyone is pleased with the idea of a loving God. Enthusiasm diminishes when the topic is God’s kingship and authority.

If you have seen the beauty of God in the Bible, then you have rejoiced in his authority. You’ve sensed his love in his authority. He has power over demons, disease, and stormy seas. He understands what no one else does. He can do what no one else can. The authority of Jesus can’t be obstructed, not even by death. He conquered death, and that’s why his love is so wonderful: He has the authority to love, and no one will prevent him.

But this also means he has the authority to love as he sees fit. He works according to his perfect wisdom. He doesn’t gather opinions because he doesn’t need them. He comprehends all. He doesn’t ask for permission, just as a painter doesn’t ask the canvas what it wants to portray. God’s love would be impotent without his authority, and his authority is completely shaped by love. For “God is love.” (1 John 4:16)

The authority of God rattles the hearts of many. Herod was rattled. So was Pontius Pilate, the governor who questioned Jesus before his crucifixion. When God’s authority is felt, the natural response of sinful mankind is to push back. “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” said Pontius Pilate. (Luke 19:10) Pilate asserted his authority over Jesus. Jesus corrected him. “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” (Luke 19:11)

Jesus came to bring us the love of God in a radically powerful way. Jesus was also sent to inaugurate the movement of God’s kingdom into this world. Love and authority. The people of God treasure his love and joyfully welcome his authority. Come, King Jesus, come.

If you are a Christian, you’ve likely met few fellow believers who encouraged you to question God’s love. But you’ve probably met many who have encouraged you to question his authority.

There are many Christians who do not drink deeply from God’s love. They are cold to his Word. They live in a fog of fear. I’m not talking about fear in general. I mean a particular kind of fear that betrays a foundational lack of trust in God. A kind of fear that is perpetually dismissive of God’s authority. A fear that reduces God to a subject to dissect rather than a treasure to behold. When you meet fellow believers who live in this fog, you should love them, invite them into your presence, and care for them. But don’t take your cues from them. Don’t imitate them. Don’t learn your way of life from them. Don’t enter their fog.

It is not a sign of Christian spiritual maturity when someone makes a practice of questioning God’s authority over their life. It’s a sign of spiritual maturity to joyfully welcome God’s authority. It is wonderful to study God’s Word, but studying is not the aim. Savoring and treasuring God’s Word is the aim. Knowing a lot about the Bible is not necessarily a fruit of spiritual maturity. Loving the Bible, however, most certainly is. Find other believers who love the Bible, and savor God’s Word with them.

Celebrity culture, secular humanism, and popular Christianity have created a toxic combination. The eyes of modern Christians are not drawn to the example of simple, faithful endurance in Christ. The quiet widow who loves and trusts God is not showcased. The simple old man who refuses to abandon his hope in Jesus is not set forth as an exemplar. Instead, modern eyes are directed to the sophisticated fearful.

We are encouraged to learn from those who have made a name for themselves by venting their doubts, dissecting doctrines, and questioning the relevance of the Bible. The sophisticated fearful attract book publishing deals. The quiet widows and simple old men live in obscurity, continuing to ardently trust God even after a lifetime of pain and hardship. God has always had a way of working in obscurity. His Son was not born in a palace, but a stable. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was not a member of the sophisticated fearful. She was a simple Jewish girl who trusted God and joyfully welcomed his authority over her life. “And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’” (Luke 1:38)

The Christmas story introduces us to Joseph and Mary, a group of lowly shepherds, and three wise men. They all shared something in common: Simple and genuine trust in God and worshipful hearts that welcomed God’s authority over them. They treasured the good news of Jesus’ birth. It was joy to them. But there was also king Herod “and all Jerusalem with him” who were deeply “troubled” by the kingship of Jesus. (Matthew 2:3) Fear dressed in sophisticated unbelief is still just fear. It needs to be driven out by the powerful love of God and genuine love for God.

The Bible teaches us that sober self-examination is an act of love and a practice of the spiritually mature. “Let a person examine himself.” (1 Corinthians 11:28) “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” (2 Corinthians 13:5) Does your relational presence with others convey simple faith or sophisticated fear?

Do you welcome God’s authority over your life like Mary? Do you desire the simple faith of Joseph who “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him?” (Matthew 1:24) Are you a fellow spiritual traveler with the lowly shepherds who were “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” after beholding Jesus in a manger? (Luke 2:20) Would you journey with the three wise men who “rejoiced exceedingly” and “fell down and worshiped” Jesus as their King? (Matthew 2:10-11)

Or does the news of Jesus’ all-encompassing authority and unyielding kingship over all creation trouble you? If it does, don’t consider your fear an immovable wall. Treat it as a door through which God is inviting you in. Embrace God’s love for you in his authority over your life. Repent of your efforts to be your own savior, your own master, your own lord. Abdicate the throne of your life and give it to the rightful King. Trade your sophisticated fear for simple faith.

Let’s celebrate God’s love this Christmas. We should rejoice in it as we feast and smile and exchange gifts. May we all long for God’s love to grow in its influence over us, driving out more of our fear.

But let’s not be foolish. God’s love stands with his authority. His love is expressed through his authority. Mary and Joseph, the lowly shepherds, and the three wise men were not repelled by God’s authority. They joyfully welcomed it into their lives. God’s love for them and their love for God moved them toward God’s kingship and authority, not away from it.

Celebrate Jesus this Christmas not simply because he loves you. Celebrate Jesus because his love frees you to joyfully welcome his kingship and authority into your life. If that doesn’t feel like joy, it’s not because his kingship is undesirable. It’s because you’re failing to see his immense love expressed in his wonderful authority. Don’t be like Herod. Be like Mary and in simple faith joyfully say, “I am the servant of the Lord.”

About the Author

Ryan McCoskey is the Pastor for Preaching & Vision here at The Seed Church.

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