Don't be afraid

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Today we are studying John 6:16-21. The title for the sermon comes straight out of the passage, Jesus’ words to His disciples, “Don’t be afraid!” We are going to talk about fear, and what Jesus has to say about our fear. Please open your Bibles to the passage to follow along.
While we are turning to the passage, let’s review the setting:
Jesus’ disciples had just returned from ministering throughout Israel. Jesus had sent them out in pairs to proclaim the good news that the Kingdom of God was near. As they came back and wanted to share with Jesus about all the exciting things they saw God doing, crowds of people were coming to Jesus for healing. They could not get a break to talk with Jesus.
So, Jesus told his disciples to go with him across Galilee to get away together. They crossed the sea, but the crowds followed and found them on the other side.
It was getting late in the afternoon, so Jesus told his disciples where they were going to get food for all of these people. Jesus was testing them, knowing what he was going to do. He wanted them to fully comprehend the situation. They were in a place where there was no way to get enough food for all of these people. Well, they did find a boy with five small barley loaves and two fish, but what good was that?
Jesus did what only God can do. Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fish so that everyone—all 5000 men and all the women and children, as well—had enough to eat… and more!
At the end, Jesus instructed his disciples to gather up the food that was left over. From those five barley loaves, they picked up 12 basket-fulls of left-overs!
From 5 loaves and 2 fish, Jesus provided enough for everyone to have their fill, and more—one basket for each disciple!
Jesus was showing them what He had been saying, that He is the Son of God. He is God, and does the same things the Father does. Just as God provided manna for their ancestors in the dessert, Jesus provided for them!
The people saw Jesus provide for them, and wanted to make him king right then and there. Jesus encouraged his disciples to leave ahead of him while he dismissed the cowd.
John 6:16–21 NIV
When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

They were frightened

The disciples left in the evening, before dark. Matthew and Mark let us know that Jesus was coming to them shortly before dawn (i.e. between 3 and 6 AM). So, these men had set out to sail about 3 miles to their destination, but instead spent all night on the sea, rowing. They had already had a busy couple weeks ministering. Now, they were up all night struggling against a storm. They had to be exhausted!
Then, they see Jesus walking on the water! That is something you don’t expect and you never see. They immediately think, “Ghost,” and they are scared!
That is when Jesus says to them, “It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Matthew gives some more detail about this incident that none of the other gospel writers include. Turn to Matthew 14:27-33.
Matthew 14:27–33 NIV
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Wow! Peter was amazing! He went from frightened to stepping out of the boat to walk on water with Jesus!
But then he saw the wind and was afraid and began to sink.
Fear is a big part of this situation.
Before we dig into this, I do want to look at one other passage. This is not the first time that Jesus and the disciples were in a storm on the sea of Galilee. Please read Matthew 8:23-27 with me.
Matthew 8:23–27 NIV
Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
Another situation in which fear was the prominent theme, and how Jesus was working with his disciples in the midst of their fear.

Fear, Worry, Anxiety

We all deal with fear, worry and anxiety. Some of us more than others in different situations. Some of us more than others in general. But we all deal with it.
Fear is a God-given emotion. It is a good thing as intended. When you feel the heat of a hot object, your body instantly pulls back. When you see something falling at you, your heart beats faster, the blood starts carrying the oxygen to your muscles, your body tenses and you are ready to move quickly to get out of the way. Fear can be good.
Fear is also good in keeping us from doing wrong. That is the point of law and punishment. Fear keeps us from doing things we should not… sometimes.
However, ever since the first sin, fear has become bigger, and badder than it was supposed to be.
Genesis 3:9–10 NIV
But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

I was afraid

After Adam and Eve sinned, they hid. They hid from the God they had disobeyed, and did not instantly come when He called to them. He was the One who as a God of justice would discipline them, but He is also the only One, as a God of love and compassion, who could restore them. Instead of coming to Him, fear controlled them and they hid.

Fear controls and cripples us

Ever since that time, Fear, worry and anxiety have plagued mankind. We all struggle with fear beyond what it was orginally meant to be. Instead of being an emotion to help us, it has become an emotion that cripples us.
Who has not been woken in the middle of the night because something went bump? What is racing through you mind at that point? What is your heart doing? What are your first thoughts?
Who has not had a loved one that did not come home when they were supposed to arrive? What thoughts do we have?
We all struggle with so many fears, worries and anxiety. We worry about what people with think. We worry about injuries. We worry about long-term effects of situations. We worry about paying bills. We worry about getting bills. We worry about getting sick. We worry about dying. We worry about the weather. We worry about our plans not turning out the way we hope. We worry about traffic. We worry about mistakes we make. We worry about our bosses and coworkers. We worry about our kids. We worry about grades. We worry about making mistakes. We worry about our homes. We worry about getting things done. We worry about not doing enough. We worry about being too busy! We worry about… a lot of things.
In this day and age, I believe fear, worry and anxiety have truly gripped us. It has a strangle-hold on us. For too many of us, it ruins us, our relationships, and the ones we love.
How many of you are tired of being controlled by fear, worry and anxiety? What can we do about it?
Well, we try replacement thinking. Replace the thoughts with good things, or logic. Well, sometimes that helps, but all too often, fear does not listen to reason.
There is systematic desensitization. The goal here is to relax the body, the effect of fear, as a way to lessen fear, worry and anxiety. Focus on relaxing your muscles. Picture yourself on a tropical beach…
And, of course there is medicine. The medicine can reduce some of the fear, anxiety and worry. But it is only a mask and does not really deal with the issue. We are still controlled by fear.
Where is hope? Are we bound to living the rest of our lives in bondage to our fear?
I believe that there is a way out!

Do not be afraid

Do not be afraid. It is that phrase that we find in our main passage today, John 6:16-21. Jesus said it to his disciples. What is so significant about that phrase?
While “Love the Lord you God,” is the most important commandment in the Bible, the most often repeated command is do not be afraid.
Would God give us this command so often if there were no way out? NO! Hear God telling you and me there is a way out! We do not have to live this way anymore! Do not be afraid!
What I find significant about that phrase is this:

God knows me.

He knows that I am fearful. He knows that I worry, a lot. He knows my anxiety. He knows what is going on inside my heart.

God cares.

Even though He knows that I know the command to not be afraid, I still give in to fear. Yet, He still cares for me.
Jesus still came to the disciples when he knew they were afraid. He still comes to you and to me when we are afraid. He cares!

God has the answers.

When he comes, He says, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” He has the answers. He comes to us to give us what we need to not be afraid.
Some of you, like me, may be thinking, “Well, I have heard this before, and let me tell you, I tried. I cannot just give up being afraid.”
If that is what your are thinking, you are right. We cannot do this on our own. There is more to it than just declaring, “I will not be afraid!” We try that positive thinking, but it is superficial, and ultimately fear comes back.
So, why would Jesus say, “Do not be afraid?”
I think we need to keep in mind that this is not where Jesus started with His disciples, and it is not where we need to start.
Let’s go back to where Jesus started with His disciples. Let’s go back to the first time they were in the storm.
What did Jesus say to them on that occasion?

Why are you so afraid?

Jesus calmed the storm in Matthew 8:23-27. On that occasion, Jesus said, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” The disciples response was amazement, and asking, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
On this first occasion of being in a storm at sea, Jesus does not command, “Don’t be afraid.” No, He starts by asking them to examine their fear.
Why are you so afraid?
That is a good question.
To deal with our fears, we need to ask that question. “Why am I so afraid?” Of what is it, exactly, that I am afraid? What thoughts are going through my mind? What do I fear will happen? Why would that happening cause fear, and not another emotion? What is it that I want? What is it that I do not want? When we begin to ask and answer that question we will find that:

Fear reveals our hearts.

Fear always revolves around something that I love and for which I care. How many of us are worried that the West York Bulldog football team will lose this season?
We do not worry, or fear, or become anxious about things for which we do not care. Fear always revolves around something we love. Fear will reveal to us the things we love.
When we worry about our clothing, what do you think we are loving? Ourselves, and other’s opinions.
When we worry about our grades, or our kids grades, what is it that we are loving? What do we want? Why do we want it? Why do we want to get to a certain school? Why do we want to get a certain job? We love being financially set. We want stuff. We love the stuff that money from a good career can buy.
If we will take the time to ask the questions, we will find that fear reveals our hearts. It reveals what we really love, desire and pursue.
Jesus asks his disciples a really good question, one which we need to take the time to answer if we want to deal with our fear and be victorious. “Why are we so afraid?”
That is the question Jesus asked in the first storm. In the second storm, after Peter stepped out and started to sink, Jesus asked another good question:

Why did you doubt?

Peter was afraid. But when Jesus said, it is I, he found some courage—more than I would have! He actually stepped out of the boat and started to walk on the water! Wow!
But then, Peter saw the wind, and he grew afraid and began to sink. He cried out to Jesus, and Jesus saved him. But then Jesus asked him, “Why did you doubt?”
When we take the time to answer this question, we see that our fear not only reveals what our hearts love, it also reveals:

Fear reveals what we trust.

When I ask why I doubt that something will turn out, it is because of what I trust. If I fear for my kids grades, it is because I trust them to do their work, and to do their best. However, I also know that too many times, they have not done their work or done their best. So, my trust in them leads to doubt. Doubt leads to fear.
When I have fear about what people think, often times it is because I am trusting myself to perform up to their expectations. This happened just the other night at the Wyoming county fair.
I was fearful because I was trusting myself to recall, and impress this man. And, all too often, when put on the spot, I under-perform! My trust in myself is unworthy, therefore I doubt, and doubt leads to fear.
Fear truly reveals what we trust.
These questions that Jesus asked his disciples are where I believe we need to begin to break free from the fear that cripples us.
We need to not just deal with the effects of fear, by trying to relax.
We need to not just mask fear by trying to not be afraid by using logic.
We need to start to get to the heart of fear, and deal with it there.
The heart of fear lies in what we love and what we trust.
Do you and I want to break free? Then let’s begin!

Begin breaking free!

You and I do not have to live in bondage to the fear that cripples and robs us of the abundant life Jesus came to give us. We do not have to be afraid!
Most people want to be free from fear. However our own efforts are like trying to drive out of being stuck in the mud. The more we try, the deeper we seem to sink.
Along comes Jesus. He has what we need to deal with our fear. He doesn’t just tell us to deal with it. He doesn’t just say, ‘don’t do it’. He doesn’t say think happy thoughts. He doesn’t say just relax and take a deep breath.
He wants to lead us to real change. He wants to set us free.
Let’s begin breaking free. Let’s listen to Jesus and answer the questions. Let’s examine our hearts.
Why am I so afraid?
What is it that I want?
What is it that I love so much?
Why do I doubt?
What, or who, am I trusting?
We can be free. Let’s begin breaking free this week!
Psalm 139:23 NIV
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Read John 6:16-21; Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:47-51. Think about the disciples. They just finished a trip doing ministry. They tried to get awayf ro a rest, but ended up serving food until evening. They set out to go across the lake, but a storm came up, the wind was against them, and they were rowing against the wind and waves for at least 8 hours! (7 PM-3 AM being the minimum.) They had to be exhausted. Then they saw something that just doesn’t happen: Jesus walking on the water. They were terrified! Think of your own fears. Think of times when you were truly afraid. How does your physical condition play into your fears? How might the first line of Psalm 46:10 be a help to us as we seek to tackle fear/worry/anxiety?
Read Psalm 3. The context of this Psalm was David fleeing Jerusalem after his son Absalom gathered men around and had himself declared king. As David was fleeing, the bible records one man in particular who came out to slander and tear down David. David says, “How many are my foes!” Of what do you think David was afraid? What was he worried about? What did he do in verse 5? How could he do that? What makes one person lie awake all night, and another lie down and sleep? Outward circumstances are a real factor in our fear. But what makes a difference is what is going on inside. If we want to see triumph over our fears, we must see what is going on inside. Make a list with five columns. In the first column, make a list of the fears/worries that you face. In the second column, what is the outward circumstance which influences you toward fear? In the third column, what is going on inside? What is it that your fear/worry reveals about what you want, or don’t want? What you love?
Read Exodus 12:36, and then Exodus 16:1-3. It was only one month from the time that God miraculously brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. When He brought them out, they plundered the Egyptians. The slaves who had nothing, left with everything! God provided for them. Now, one month into their journey, after God had already shown his miraculous provision in getting them water, what are the Israelites saying? “You brought us out into this desert to…?” What was their fear? What did they do when they were afraid? They predicted that they were going to die. Fear makes us predictors. We know what is going to happen! Think back over your list of fears. Have you made predictions in the past when you were afraid? Are you making predictions now? In the fourth column, write out what your predictions are. If this happens, then… Now consider what the predictions do for you? Squelch or feed the flame of fear? How has fear effected your life and relationships? Here, the people are turning on Moses, the one who lead them out of Egypt. Have you turned on, or turned off, others because of your fear and predictions?
Read Psalm 4. In this Psalm I see two fears David mentions. In verse 2, I see fear of people (what they think and say about me). In verse 7, I see fear concerning finances/prosperity. When dealing with the fear of what others think of you, what do you trust in? Do you trust in your ability to do things in such a way that they will think better of you? When it comes to money/prosperity, do you trust your ability to figure out how to supply for your needs? Go back to your list. For each fear, in the fifth column write what/who you are trusting to work things out to get what you want. What are you trusting in to solve the problem so you won’t have to fear/worry any longer? Go back and Look at Psalm 4:8. Once again, David is lying down and sleeping. How could he do that? Who was He trusting regarding his fears?
Remember what Jesus said to the disciples in John 6? “It is I. Don’t be afraid.” What was the foundation for not being afraid? Read Psalm 46. Reread Psalm 46:10. We talked about David lying down to sleep when he was in fearful situations. Rest is important. But rest only comes as we Know that He is God! Rest comes because of who He is, and what He does. Read Psalm 136. Many of the Psalms refer back to who God is, and what He has done. Take time to reflect on who He is, and what He has done for you. Write your own Psalm about who He is, and what He has done—how His love to you endures forever.
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