Do Not Be Afraid
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Fear is very powerful. In the midst of crisis or calamity, it seems the only thing stronger than the event itself is the fear experienced by those in the midst of it. When two airplanes struck the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, it was not the airplanes that caused people to jump from the highest floors; rather, it was fear of a fiery and horrible death. For many teens, high school especially is all about fear—fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of loneliness. Right now, there are a lot of people in the Gulf region who are living in fear—maybe not for their lives, but certainly they are worried about what the continuing catastrophe will mean for their livelihood and their future. Fear is, sadly, a regular part of our daily lives, one that can overwhelm our spirits at any moment.
The life of a sinner is a life of fear. Simon, the man we know as Peter, shows us this all too clearly in our text. There he is, living his life the way he always does. He’s a fisherman, and of course he’d be working on his equipment after a long night of labor, no matter how fruitless that labor may have been. Then this Jesus commandeered his boat; and more than that, He told Simon how to do his job. Simon was an experienced fisherman; Jesus was a carpenter and a rabbi. Nevertheless, Simon did as Jesus said. And the results were beyond belief: two boats so full of fish that they were near to sinking. Simon fell to his knees in fear and said, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Peter had every right to be afraid, for God has an extensive track record of dealing justly with the sins of his people. He exiled Adam and Eve from the paradise of Eden when they succumbed to temptation. He drowned the world according to its sinfulness, sparing only Noah and his family from death. He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah in fire and brimstone. When the children of Israel spoke against God in the wilderness, He sent fiery serpents among them. And that is just the barest taste of the judgment of God on His rebellious and wayward children. Peter knew all of this; he knew that God is a righteous and holy judge. And through the great miracle he had just witnessed, Peter knew that Jesus was holy as the Father is holy. Peter could not stand in the presence of God.
Could you? Are you righteous before God? Are you sinless? Were Christ to return in glory at this very moment, could you stand before Him and bare your soul to Him and say, “Lord, I am worthy”? No. We could no more stand in the presence of Christ than Peter. The psalmist prays, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” No one could truthfully claim to be worthy to stand before God without fear of His righteous judgment. Before the fall, Adam and Eve could look God in the eye without fear. They knew what it was to be at ease with God; but even these two, once they had sinned, knew they would no longer see Him the same way. Adam told God, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” The face of God is too terrible for a sinner to behold, even for Adam and Eve who had already seen it. And we are their heirs, inheritors of their sin. Like Peter, like Adam, we must hide ourselves from His face or beg Him to depart from us. But in asking Him to depart from you, you are shoving away from you the very One who brings you forgiveness. We cannot keep Christ at a distance—indeed, we must not keep Christ at a distance—for a god who is far off is a god who does not care about you. Bette Midler had it wrong: God is not watching you from a distance. Your heart is the temple of the Holy Spirit; God is present here, and He is watching you, and He desperately desires to forgive your sins and remove your fear from you.
When you are weighed down, burdened, stuck in your sin, that is precisely when Jesus says to you, “Do not be afraid.” It is precisely when you believe you are unworthy of God and do not deserve to be in His presence that Christ comes to you and says to you, “Do not be afraid. I forgive you all your sins.” If you are comfortable in your sinfulness, you are not yet ready for this Word of blessed comfort. But when you know you are a poor, miserable sinner; when you know you are not worthy to stand before the holy and righteous God; when you bring all your sinsto the Lord and confess them—sins which you cannot get rid of yourself—it is then that He is gracious and merciful and forgives your sin.
You see, not only did Jesus tell Peter not to be afraid. He also Called Peter to be a fisherman of live people. In other words, He Called Peter to speak the same word of comfort to everyone else that the Lord first spoke to Peter. And after Peter and the other Apostles, He has also Called men to serve as pastors and shepherds of the flock, sinners like yourself, yet they also stand in the place of Christ to announce to you, “Upon this, your confession, I, by virtue of my office as a Called and Ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you; and in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins: in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
As the Apostle Paul once wrote, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” When you are weak in sin, it is then that Jesus makes you strong in the Word of forgiveness. As we have already heard, the psalmist prays, “If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” But then he continues, “But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I do hope.” When your conscience is weighed down beneath the burden of your sins, it is then that the net of Holy Absolution comes down and pulls you into this boat, the nave, the sanctuary, with Jesus. It is in this boat that you witness Him carrying your sins to the cross, bearing them there for you. It is in this boat that you witness Him dying on that cross the death you deserve. It is in this boat that you witness Him being laid in the tomb, which makes holy the tomb in which you shall rest. And it is in the boat that you witness Him rising from the grave, ensuring that you shall rise from your grave with Him on the last day.
“O Israel, hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is abundant redemption. And He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” Jesus is present here: present where two or three are gathered in His name, present in His Word, present in the water of Holy Baptism, present in His own body and blood of the Holy Supper. Jesus is here. Do not be afraid. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.