Pastor Jeff Needleman, New Beginnings Church
So, Ned and Ted are inmates in a lunatic asylum. They want to escape and decide the best way is to jump across a narrow gap to the building next door. So, when no one was looking they tiptoed to the nurse’s station and abscond with a flashlight. Later that night, when all is dark, they sneak up five flights to the roof.
Ned takes a running jump and easily makes it over the three-and-a-half foot stretch to the other side. But Ted discovers he has an incapacitating fear of heights and freezes. So Ned says, “Listen, I’ll shine the flashlight across the buildings and you can walk along the beam! EZ PZ!” But Ted says- “What? Do you think I’m crazy? I know you’ll turn off the flashlight when I’m only half way across!”
Fear is universal -frightfully so! When I think of the word fear, two statements from my beloved Sci-Fi books and movies immediately come to mind! The first is from Dune: I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
And of course Yoda speaking to young Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Fear is the path to the dark side-fear leads to anger…anger leads to hate…hate leads to suffering.” It seems we all battle with fear because… well, we’re all afraid of fear.
Fear has been a part of the human existence since the very beginning… dating back to Adam and Eve! Fear is a constant theme in Scripture. The ESV Bible mentions it 437 times! Of those, 291 say “do not fear”. Why does it say “Fear Not” so many times? Because we all suffer from fear! We’re scaredy cats!
Fear, real or imagined is defined as a distressing emotion of impending danger, pain or evil. I’ve found 46 synonyms for fear, 46! Here’s just a few: angst, anxiety, despair, dismay, dread, horror, panic, scared, terror, agitation, the creeps, distress, fright, nightmare, trepidation and a cold sweat!
Everyone, regardless of how brave they may seem, is afraid of something. We have a fear of death, commitment, pain, betrayal, illness, financial setbacks; of rejection and being hurt. We fear not being in control… or being controlled; we fear failure, disappointment and embarrassment, of being in an accident, of loneliness and abandonment; we fear being taken advantaged of and we fear not getting what we want.
Some of us are afraid of our own shadow. Personally, I’m afraid of heights-and of running out of bacon. When I was younger I was afraid I’d miss something if I went to sleep early. It turns out the only thing I was missing was … sleep! The fear list is huge. Fear can run our lives; fear can ruin our lives. Fear can overpower or it can under power our lives- unless God is the true power in our lives!
Fear caused the Israelites to wander in the desert for 40 years. In the book of Numbers 13:30-33 tells us that Moses sent 12 spies into the land of Canaan to check things out. Once again we see the 80/20 rule at work. Only 2 spies, Caleb and Joshua trusted in God that they could take the land… let’s read their minority report in:
Numbers 13:30-31 TLB But Caleb reassured the people as they stood before Moses. “Let us go up at once and possess it,” he said, “for we are well able to conquer it!” But the other spies said “Not against people as strong as they are! They would crush us!”
Fearful, the 10 spies convinced Israel to disobey God. So, in:
Numbers 14:6-9 TLB Two of the spies, Joshua (the son of Nun), and Caleb (the son of Jephunneh), ripped their clothing and said to all the people, “It is a wonderful country ahead, and the Lord loves us. He will bring us safely into the land and give it to us. It is very fertile, a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’! Oh, do not rebel against the Lord, and do not fear the people of the land. For they are but bread for us to eat! The Lord is with us and he has removed his protection from them! Don’t be afraid of them!”
But Joshua’s words fell on deaf ears. The people’s knee-knocking fear overcame their faith, so God banished them into the desert for the next 40 years, until those who feared man more than God died off. The good that God has in store for us may be down the road a bit, but because we can’t see it in the moment our fear can and will overcome us and wipe out our trust in God!
Now nobody I know is afraid of conquering the land, but we are afraid of a laundry list of other things. Faith collides with fear in our hearts more than we’re willing to admit. And although we may claim we trust in God, we’re too often propelled by fear instead of trusting in the Lord’s power, promises and presence!
Today we look at faithful Ananias and how he didn’t let his fear paralyze him. Even though Ananias was afraid, he got to play a major role in the conversion of Saul to Paul! I like to say Saul got knocked off his high horse and got up as the Apostle Paul… but there’s really no horsing around in this story since Paul was walking! Let’s read:
Acts 9:1-9 NIV Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
This is the Saul who stood in approval at the stoning of the first Christian martyr Stephen. Saul and the religious leaders feared Christianity because it threatened their power, position and influence. So Saul received permission from the chief priests to haul any Christians back to Jerusalem for trial, imprisonment and even death.
Saul was driven to wipe out this little sect of Messianic Jews. But God created irony! And in a paradox, what Saul feared most and passionately fought to destroy is what he became passionately about the most! His name is one of the most famous names in Christianity. And Ananias becomes a hero in this Mission Impossible!
We continue in: Acts 9:10-19 NIV In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.
16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here — has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Notice… nowhere did God say Ananias, don’t worry, you’ll be fine. You won’t even get a mosquito bite on this Mission! Besides, I blinded the guy so no worries! Ananias’ fear is understandable! Can’t you just see what Ananias is thinking?
God- I have red flags and warning lights on this mission! Lord, there’s newsflashes about this guy’s all over FB and Twitter. Everyone’s posting about the nasty things he’s been doing to us believers in Jerusalem. He approved the murder of Stephen. He’s arrested, imprisoned and persecuted my fellow way followers!
Lord, I don’t want to question your wisdom or shirk my obedience, but isn’t this a lunatic thing to do? This guy has got nothing good in store for me… and it’s government sponsored! I’m not sure I’m the right guy for this mission impossible!
And so fear and faith collide!
In that collision is a lesson for us- Ananias’ fear may have been justifiable, yet his faith and trust didn’t allow his fear to run his life or ruin his obedience! As one Pastor by the name of Paul Tripp comments on this passage, Ananias feared God more than men. He writes that he’s “persuaded that it’s only fear that ever defeats fear. Only a greater fear of God can decimate the lesser fear of man, of situations, of locations and of circumstances.”
Now those who have not accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior should fear God because of the judgment and eternal punishment they face; for the believer, the fear of God is something quite different! We read Proverbs 1:7 NIV The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
Editor’s note: this is part one of a two-part series.