By Rolland "Blue" Withrow
“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.”
The above words are from the first paragraph of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first Inaugural Address on March 4, 1933. He was speaking to a nation full of distrust in its government, disillusioned in the face of extremely high unemployment and on the precipice of despair confronted by the two-headed Cerberus of Depression and Dust standing guard in front of the gates, not of Hades, but of Prosperity. President Roosevelt’s words made no bones about naming the common enemy, Fear.
Eighty-seven years later our nation and our planet finds itself pushed once again almost, it seems, inexorably toward another precipice by that old enemy, Fear. When I awoke this morning, I felt that instinctual urge to fight or to flee. Combat with the Enemy began before I could even turn back the sheets or open my eyes.
Then the Holy Spirit reminded me that perfect love casts out fear. When next I opened my eyes, several thoughts came quickly together to form the outline of what you will be reading next. Those thoughts began with several questions, followed by several examples of the answers to those questions and pointed toward what I believe is the heart of the matter. When God speaks to me before I’ve had my coffee, I know that my routine is going to be interrupted. And so it has been. The first three questions were these:
Whose love? What does the children’s hymn say? “Jesus loves me, this I know…” That Bible that tells me so says this, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Whose fear? Ours
What fear? Death. “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”
The next three questions I contemplated were these:
Looking up at my ceiling with dawn’s early light barely illuminating the room through the mini-blinds there were no bombs bursting in air and no broad stripes and bright stars. Just smooth white texturing and a handful of examples that were brought to mind. Taking them in Bible order seems to make both chronological and stylistic sense, so let’s go back to the Israelites who were taking it on the lam out of Egypt. The scene is this.
In front of them is a body of water that must have staggered their collective imaginations. Today the Red Sea is about 169,000 square miles in area and just a whisker under 10,000’ deep at its deepest point. Behind them is the entire Egyptian land army, complete with chariots and cavalry. That’s what they saw. That’s what Moses saw.
The Israelites kept on looking at what they saw. Moses looked into his heart at the promises God had given to him and listened to what God told him in response to the Israelites faithless bellyaching. “Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea…” After getting his instructions, Moses (and all the rest of the Israelites) saw the pillar of cloud and the angel of God moving from point to rear guard.
Then what did Moses do? “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea…” And the rest, as they say, is history. Dry Israelites and dead Egyptians.
Next, we come to a young, ruddy-faced Spirit-filled shepherd boy who had already been anointed as the next King of Israel. Oh yeah, he was the lead guitarist and primary vocalist in a one-man band that played mostly to a crowd of sheep. King Saul calls him in for an audition, likes his style and gives him a permanent gig as an armor bearer/court minstrel.
Enter those pesky Philistines and their own Man Mountain, a guy from Gath named Goliath who was over 9’ tall. That’s what everybody, including David, saw. The rest of the Israelites could not take their eyes off of nor divert their attention away from this intimidating, fear-inducing specimen of combative manhood.
David, on the other hand, asked a question. “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” italics mine. If any question about where he was looking exists after that challenge, all doubt must surely fade when David later tells Goliath, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of King Jesus (my translation of LORD) Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have defied…All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that King Jesus saves; for the battle is King Jesus’ and he will give all of you into our hands.”
Without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. That’s we he did.
The third and fourth examples are a kind of 2-for-1 deal found in the Book of Daniel.
You know all the parties involved. Four Israelites named Belteshazzar nee Daniel, Shadrach nee Hananiah, Meshach nee Mishael and Abednego nee Azariah and a King I hope to have a visit with in King Jesus’ kingdom someday, Nebuchadnezzar. These four young men from Israel’s royal and noble families were the crème de la crème of captive café society in Babylon. They were described as being “without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand and qualified to serve in the king’s palace.” I daresay they knew on which side of the plates to put the forks.
Jealousy often leads to worse evils and so it was in the case of these four young foreign stars of courtly life in Babylon. I’m not sure why old Nebby wanted to go and build an image of gold that was 90 feet high and nine feet wide and then have everyone in the world bow down and worship the thing, but that’s what he did. Now, I think even a blind miner would be able to see something like that. And, in case anyone might have any second thoughts about the bowing and worshiping part, there was this alternative that he threw in: get tossed into a blazing furnace!
Everyone did as told. They looked, they bowed and they worshipped.
But, as Lee Corso is often quick to say, “Not so fast, my friend!”
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were holdouts. And some jealous nitpickers spotted them and ratted them out to King Nebby. This news did not sit well with King Nebby and he blew a gasket. But, he must have liked his 3 provincial administrators from Jerusalem because he explained the rules again and gave them a second chance. I don’t imagine there were many mulligans like that in Babylon. They in their turn politely declined the king’s offer, apparently operating under the principle that when you are already worshipping and serving the Most High God it’s bad form to share the love with an idol, even if it is 90’ tall. So, Nebby got more steamed up than he already was, had the furnace heated up seven times hotter than normal and had some of the strongest (and, as it turned out, most unfortunate) soldiers in his army tie up the lads and toss em in the furnace wearing all of their courtly party regalia.
I don’t know what Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were looking at before they got tossed into the fire, but I’m pretty sure where their unsinged eyelashes were pointing once they hit the flames. Right straight at that fourth man who looked like a son of the gods. Hmmm…I wonder who it was.
King Nebuchadnezzar sums it all up pretty well for us when he says, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God…for no other God can save in this way.”
Now, let’s move on a king or two, and down the road quite a few years to the time when Daniel was an old man probably in his 80s. There was a new sheriff in town then. And he wasn’t even a Babylonian. Darius the Mede was appointed King of Babylon by Cyrus The Great, King of Persia.
There is almost certainly great value in reviewing the career of Daniel in the courts of Kings Nebuchadnezzar and his unobservant and proud son, Belshazzar. I encourage you to do so now by reading Chapters 1-2 and 4-5. Consider that, in Chapter 1, Daniel was probably only a teenager. By the time we read about him in Chapter 6 he is a very old man. A very respected old man, for Darius appoints him to be one of three men who were responsible for overseeing the doings of the 120 satraps (like governors or mayors) throughout the kingdom. Now pay attention, please, to verse 3. “Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.” I don’t know about you, but this scene seems very much like what the next guy we’ll be meeting here in a bit ran into when he seemed to be in line for a big promotion.
Chapter 6 is, to me, one of those diamond verses in the Scripture. I like to think that Jesus felt close to it also. This is power politics fueled by jealousy and envy at its very pinnacle of disgustingness. Faced with another directive to worship a non-god, Daniel continues his routine of praying with windows open toward Jerusalem three times a day. When the perpetrating satraps and governors point out Daniel’s disobedience to the decree they duped Darius into issuing, check out Darius’ response to the situation in verse 14 and see if that doesn’t remind you of someone stuck in a similar kind of predicament a few centuries later.
In spite of his own sentiment in the matter, the King relents and Daniel is thrown into a den of lions. On his way down he could hear Darius’ good wishes. Then a stone was brought to seal the opening to the den. Whatever Daniel saw before that stone was brought to cover the opening, everything probably went black the moment it was slid into place. But, I bet he could hear the deep, low rumble of those hungry lions.
Darius didn’t have a very peaceful night at all and when he got up he hurried to the lion’s den and…now, think about this. He called out to Daniel in an anguished voice! And look what he asks Daniel. I think we are seeing a man teetering on the brink of a conversion.
The bad guys get their just desserts, and Daniel gets an opportunity to witness to God’s amazing grace and power. And to the presence of that ‘fourth man’ here called God’s angel. By the time we get to verse 25, I’m pretty sure we find a convinced man issuing a second and much better decree to the world.
Daniel saw the lions, looked to his God, and waited. And look at the result. A rescued prophet and a convinced and praise-filled King.
Now we come to that fifth example in that original handful. I’ll give you three guesses at who it is and the first two don’t count. And, I’m not going to point to any one instance. Rather, I’ll ask you to draw upon the Holy Spirit’s guidance in considering what our Lord Jesus saw, where our Lord Jesus looked and what our Lord Jesus did. Throughout his life’s ministry and all the way to the cross.
When you’ve taken some time to do that, you can turn the page and come to the very heart of the matter to which I made reference early on.
“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,
“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”
Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.
I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
Our rest is in His work.
Our peace is in His life and death.
Our hope is in His resurrection.
Finally, brothers and sisters, our flesh cannot win the battle against its own fear of death. But, our faith into Jesus Christ brings us, by God’s loving grace, into oneness with Jesus and thereby sharing with him in His death (and all its implications for us) and in His resurrection and in that resurrection’s victory over the last enemy, death. His life and perfect love for us triumphs over our fear. In Him is our victory, nowhere else. Reckon it so.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
So, do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
 1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But, perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.
 Jesus Loves Me - lyrics by Susan Warner, sister to Anna Bartlett Warner who wrote the music to the hymn.
 John 3:16
 Hebrews 2:14-15
 Exodus 14:10-31; paying particular attention to verses 13-14, 16, 21 and 26-27
 1 Samuel 17:1-50; paying particular attention to verses 37 and 45-47.
 Daniel 1:4
 Daniel 3:1-6
 Daniel 3:28-29
 Daniel 6:20
 1 Corinthians 15 NIV and used with permission hoped for
 Hebrews 3:1-6, 14-16; Hebrews 10:8-25
 Romans 5:1-5; Ephesians 2:11-18; Colossians 1:15-23
 Acts 23:6, 26:4-8; John 11:25-26; Romans 3-5; 1 Peter 1:3-5
 1 Corinthians 15:26, 56-57; 1 John 5:4
 Isaiah 41:10