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There’s a lot of fear in our world today. If you asked people what they are afraid of their first answer would almost surely be Covid 19. But why? They might say, “Well, I’m afraid I might get it.” And that’s a concern, but is that really what you are afraid of? You have had different kinds of viruses before. What makes this one different? What are you afraid of, really? Isn’t it that the media keeps referring to this flu as deadly? Isn’t it because it reminds you of your mortality?
The writer to the Hebrews says that we were all held in slavery by the fear of death. Paul reminds us why. It’s not just fearing the how – fear that it might be painful, or that it might involve a protracted illness that robs us of all dignity. How often don’t people say, “I hope I just die in my sleep?” It’s more than how it might happen, or a fear of the unknown. Paul says that the sting of death is sin. And the power of sin is the law. The reason for our fear is that deep down we know that we have to appear before God, and we know what our sentence should be. God’s law condemns us. John says, fear has to do with punishment. That’s the real basis of fear. We know we have to answer to God, and we know that we deserve his punishment.
Paul says, you did not receive a spirit of slavery so that you are afraid again, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we call out, “Abba, Father!” If you are able to see God as your Father, as the Father who welcomed his prodigal son back home with rejoicing; if you realize that you are not a slave who is dragged before God because you have done something that deserves punishment, but that you have been brought before God because, despite what you have done and what you deserve, he has chosen to adopt you as his child; His perfect, overwhelming love for you drives out your fear. It moves us to cry out to him Abba, Father. Instead of running from God in fear, we are moved to run to him the way a child runs to their parent calling on him for help and protection.
When you feel yourself being overwhelmed with fear, being enslaved by fear again, remember that you are not a slave. You have been set free. Jesus paid the price. He purchased you with his own blood. The Father has adopted you as his own dear child. Through the Scriptures the Holy Spirit has enabled you to see this; to see that God is not sitting in heaven just waiting for you to do something wrong so that he can punish you. No! He is treating you as his beloved child, disciplining you when necessary, but always in love, always with the goal of making sure that you remain his dear child for all eternity.
When we face difficult times Satan will always try to instill doubt in our hearts and minds. He wants us to think that we are so bad, so sinful, that God is just going to rip up our adoption papers and send us away from his presence forever. He tries to get us to question whether we really are God’s children. We might wonder, “How do I really know that I am God’s child and that he really does love me and want me to be his forever child?”
Paul says, The Spirit himself joins our spirit in testifying that we are God’s children.
How does that happen? Some people will tell you that it has to do with feelings. They say, “You know you are God’s child and that he loves you when you feel the Spirit.” Or they might say that you know for sure you are God’s child if the Spirit gives you the ability to pray or speak in tongues, or if he gives you the gift of healing. But those are very dangerous teachings. What if you can’t speak in tongues. What if you just don’t feel the Spirit or the love of God? You would conclude that God doesn’t love you and that you must not be his child.
Through Isaiah in the Old Testament God said, to the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. (Isa. 8:20 NV) And the rich man who thinks that someone coming back from the dead to warn his brothers will save them is told, `They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them. Luk 16:29
The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children through the means of grace, through the Word (the law and the testimony, Moses and the Prophets) and through the word of God connected with the Sacraments. No matter how you feel, or what gifts you have or don’t have, when you remember your baptism you hear God saying, “I have written your name on the adoption certificate. You are my own dear child. Your sins have all been washed away.” When you come to the Supper you receive the very price Jesus paid to set you free from the slavery of sin and the fear of death, his body and blood given and shed for you. Every time you hear the Gospel, the good news that Jesus was punished in your place, the Spirit is testifying that you are God’s child. What a gracious God we have that he reminds us that what gives us the confidence that we are his children are the things he has given us, things that touch all our senses, and not to our subjective feelings or our own abilities.
What’s so great about being adopted as a child of God? Pauls tells us, if we are children, we are also heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. We are in God’s will! He’s not just some rich uncle somewhere. We aren’t in line to inherit perishable things that can be lost, or stolen, or that wear out and decay. We are heirs of God. We are in line to inherit everything he has. Peter says, It’s an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade– kept in heaven for us. (1 Pet. 1:4 NIV) At our baptism we were united with Jesus. We are heirs together with him of the full glory of heaven that he already enjoys.
But what’s that part about suffering? Since we suffer with him. What does that mean? Jesus made it clear that those who believe in him will be taking up a cross. He said, You will be hated by all people because of my name. We certainly experience that in our world today as so many try to say that Christianity is the cause of all the world’s problems, or that Christians are the problem because they are the most intolerant and unloving people, because we point out sin and say that Jesus is the only way of salvation. I’m sure you have experienced some form of hatred or persecution because you confess Jesus as your savior. But Jesus remind us, whoever endures to the end will be saved.
Paul certainly experienced hatred and suffering because of his faith in Jesus and his proclamation of the Gospel. He was thrown out of almost every Synagogue in which he ever preached. He was beaten with rods, stoned, and jailed. He says that he weighed these things on a scale. Earthly suffering, including death, on one side of the scale, and on the other side of the scale, eternal glory. His conclusion was that the weight of eternal glory far outweighed everything else. Eternal glory was obviously worth more than any bad thing, or even any good earthly thing, that could be put on the other side of the scale.
In fact, Paul says, creation is waiting with eager longing for the sons of God to be revealed. It wasn’t just human beings who were affected by sin. The curse of sin affects everything. Animals die, plants and trees die, there are earthquakes, and floods, and destructive storms. Everything in all creation, animate and inanimate, everything Paul says, is looking forward to the time when Jesus comes again in glory. Then it will be clear who the sons of God really are. Everyone who has ever lived will be raised from the dead. The angels will separate everyone into two groups, sheep and goats, believers and unbelievers. Everyone will hear Jesus say to those who were adopted by the Father through baptism and kept in faith through the means of grace, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you. (Matt. 25:34 NIV)
The fear we see throughout the world is real. The amount of fear is not surprising because there are so many in our world who are still in bondage, slaves of the fear of death. What a blessing that, through the Gospel in word and sacrament the Spirit testifies in your spirit that you have nothing to fear. God has adopted you as his own dear child and made you an heir with Jesus of eternal life in glory. When you feel fear rising in your heart, when you are tempted to doubt, do what a child does. Run to your Father for comfort and safety. Listen to his calming voice as he speaks to you through the word and Sacrament.
But don’t stop there. Once you are comforted and your fear is removed, tell others that God sent Jesus into the world to free them from fear, even the fear of death. Tell others that God wants to adopt them too. Tell them that God’s perfect love drives out all fear.