Since meeting the serpent in the Garden, humanity has been prone to hiding in fear when God approaches. Is it our relative nakedness – both spiritual and emotional – that drives us away from His presence?
And yet, at every visit, God repeats, “Do not fear!” He said it to Abram, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac, Jacob… The list goes right through the Old Testament. Finally, at Jesus’ birth the angel choir bursts on stage with a mighty, “Fear not!”
When God or an angel enters human sight, the inevitable opening line is, "Do not be afraid." Why is this? Is it the brightness of the new arrival in comparison to the darkness on Earth? Is it the unexpected nature of the appearing? Is the human fear justified?
After Jesus’ mission on earth was finished and He stood ready to return to Heaven, His parting words were, "I am with you always." What happened between the "Do not be afraid" heralding Jesus' life on earth and His "I am with you always" farewell? How was it that He no longer needed to say, “Do not fear?” How did Jesus replace the fear of God’s appearance with longing for His presence?
Jesus was a beacon of God’s love. He revealed the true nature of God’s character to the world through His compassion for the broken and His desire to seek justice for the downtrodden. Jesus was God in humble human flesh. Children flock to Him and yet demons flee at His command. What manner of love is this?
To know Him is to love Him. To know who He is without desiring Him is to be truly terrified. The demons believe in Jesus and yet tremble because they do not desire a loving relationship with Him. Jesus revealed in relationship the joy of knowing God. Between His “Do not fear” entrance and His “I am with you always” exit, Jesus’ threw His arms open and embraced humanity – broken and fearful as it was – saying “It’s only me!”
Jesus, took his disciples well beyond their “faith pay grade” by walking on water in front of them. They panicked, screamed and looked for somewhere to hide. Jesus soothed his disciples saying, "Do not be afraid" ... "Its only me." what does this imply about His relationship with the disciples? They had become comfortable with Jesus’ human nature but when divinity peeked through He had to remind them who He was.
During our spiritual journey, we all experience things that take us beyond our “faith pay grade" which scares the "Do not be afraid" out of us. Just when we thought our relationship with God was fully embraced in the gentle arms of Jesus an new unexpected experience of faith shocks us. Something – a Bible verse, a youth rally, a sermon, a personal retreat, a prayer group – it can be anything. Something approaches us, walking on the water, and we hit the deck in fear and trembling. It is then that we need to know we are not alone.
When we Christians begin to speak to a nonbeliever about our faith, we often begin with a "Do not be afraid" statement or setting. A chat at a cafe. A conversation that uses "real life" stories. Our goal is to lead people from a "Do not be afraid" introduction to a joyful "I am with you always" experience. The temptation is to take them to the last page before they’ve read the book. A butterfly helped from its cocoon will never fly. The struggle develops strength and readiness for the next stage. Like Jesus, we need to stay close enough for them to know who we are through the entire journey.
It is only by maintaining a healthy and long-term friendship that we can get to the "it's only me" phase with our young-in-the-faith friends and family. When they have that spiritual experience that challenges their faith, how can our presence be a reassuring and comforting one? Our “it’s only me” will only calm them if we mean something to them.
The disciple-making journey is a gentle process of handing them over to Jesus. Our reassuring “it’s only me” is heard less and they begin to hear, “it’s only Jesus.” And when they hear that, when they hear “It’s only Jesus” and they relax – then we know we have done our job. They have Jesus and us for eternity. Then we can decrease while He increases. Our friend in the faith continues hand in hand with Jesus and we seek out another to whom we can say, “Do not be afraid.”
Be patient. Jesus took more than three years of daily relationship before He moved from "Do not be afraid" to "I am with you always." Surely there were many “it’s only me” moments before they relaxed into His presence.
Be patient. Be authentic. Be loving. And be present. Your example will speak volumes to those walking with you between "Do not be afraid" and "Jesus is with you always."