Come on, I want you to come with me on a tour of our culture today. Make sure you are wearing your Hawaiian shirt and you have your digital camera at hand. We’re going for a walk through the Valley of Fear. You see, everywhere you look someone is trying to make you afraid. ‘Be afraid of the terrorists; watch out for the fundamentalists; beware of strangers with their different skin colours, odd customs and strange gods; fear the devil; you are going to lose all your money in this recession/credit crunch; fear being abducted; beware of infectious diseases; you don’t want to go into hospital for you’ll end up with MRSA; be worried that you will probably end up dying of cancer or heart disease or AIDS; COVID will make you suffer - don’t hug anyone! Watch out for random accidents; sooner or later the earth will be hit by meteorites; be afraid of gays; be afraid of pollution; the ice-caps are melting; the earth is wearing out; and watch out for the silver rain that comes from a nuclear explosion’. All around us is a culture of fear. Why is everyone trying to make us afraid? Why are our buttons being pressed? Why does the icy chain of fear wrap around itself around our hearts?
Fear always buys into a lie that distorts reality. And many of the shakers and movers of the world know that the quickest way to enlist our aid is to appeal to our sense of fear. By appealing to fear reason is bypassed (it takes too long to present a logical argument), and instead an instinctive, almost reptilian, reaction is induced. Fear bypasses the inconvenient roadblocks of morality and truth. Those who lead by fear, those who inspire fear do so to control us. And the sad thing is – we have fallen for it. Even the Church has been known to use fear to press home the message. Psychologically, emotionally we are vulnerable to suggestion through fear. Give into fear and you give power to something to rule over you. Fear anything and it will trip you up. Fear creates bondage. Fear makes us addicted to excitement. Fear gives us something or someone to focus our anger and blame. Fear can even give us a false sense of mission and purpose. Being afraid sure beats thinking. Fear comes to us and in honied words promises us to be our watchman, prophet and our guard. But fear is out of bounds because it does not reflect the love or character of God. When we opt for fear, who are we emulating but the father of lies, the devil himself? Oh, how foolish we are to think that we need fear to motivate us! Alas, we don’t have the grace to be holy, the character to say a resounding “NO!” to the darkness. We don’t even have the energy to get up off our couches and face the lies head on. Have you seen the film Alien? Fear is like those creatures – it has infested our planet. It has even laid eggs of destruction in our souls.
But what would happen if you knew, I mean really knew, that fear is a sham, that it is as fictional as any horror flick? We are all held in thrall to a lie that is meant to have no power whatsoever over us.
And if we don’t see how that is possible – then to the Cross we must go. “And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Christ, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having cancelled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:13-15)
According to Paul the death and resurrection of Christ has disarmed all the powers and principalities which stood over us to bind us to their ways. Have no doubt – fear is such a principality. And Jesus disarmed fear: he took away its weapons, made it utterly useless, and shamed it by exposing it as being weakly pathetic. How? Through the CROSS!
Let’s try and draw a picture. In your mind’s eye, I want you to see Jesus standing, newly resurrected, over the gates of hell. They lie tumbled and broken across each other – in a cross shape. He stands upright, strong and braced. He is the victor. And out of the depths of Hades (the world of the dead) with one hand he drags Adam out, and with the other Eve. Eve looks shocked and ashamed, and yet delighted; Adam gazing adoringly upon Christ, though he looks battle weary. Christ has around him ranks and ranks of the righteous dead, all of whom have been released – and there is a sense of almost hilarious conviviality to the whole event. Under Christ’s feet is the deepest, darkest pit you can imagine. And in it, floating free in its deadly atmosphere, are manacles and chains, bits of broken iron, shards of weapons, sharp razors, shattered locks and bolts, instruments of torture, needles of pain, swords of destruction – all broken and smashed to bits by all that Christ did on the Cross. There cringing in the receding depths is Fear itself – now a mere shadow of its former terrifying self, almost an illusion.
This is my poor attempt to describe what Christ did to the principalities and powers by his death and resurrection. In AD 195 Melito of Sardis wrote these wonderful words:
“But [Christ] rose from the dead, and mounted up to the heights of heaven. When the Lord had clothed himself with humanity, and had suffered for the sake of the sufferer, and had been bound for the sake of the imprisoned, and had been judged for the sake of the condemned, and buried for the sake of the one who was buried, he rose up from the dead, and cried with a loud voice: ‘Who is he that contends with me? Let him stand in opposition to me. I set the condemned man free. I gave the dead man life; I raised up the one who had been entombed. Who is my opponent? I, I am the Christ; I am the one who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades underfoot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven. I, I am the Christ.’”
Back to the Colossian passage then. Christ is like some cosmic wrestler who just shrugs off all the attacks of the evil one. He strips himself of their clinging intent. In the Roman world when a conquering general returned to Rome to be feted in a parade of victory, he would drag behind his troops a wretched company of the vanquished – soldiers, officers, even kings. As they were pulled roughly through the streets, through all the mire and muck, they would be subject to taunts and things thrown at them. Not only were the opposing army defeated, but also it was subject to humiliation. The spoils of battle. Christ is like that conquering general, Paul says. All the powers and authorities, all the principalities (including Fear remember) are the utterly trounced enemy, the defeated ones on public display before angels and archangels, and the whole universe. Their evil plans have come to nothing, have come to this cosmic ridicule and disgrace – as the Lord of Glory is seen to be all mighty, all conquering, all majestic. The cross far from being an instrument of torture, or a sign of defeat has become Christ’s victory chariot.
Those of you who have seen or read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will well remember how ably CS Lewis describes the death of Aslan – the Christ figure of Narnia. It is a depiction full of fear as “ogres with monstrous teeth, and wolves, and bull-headed men; spirits of evil trees and poisonous plants and other creatures…all on the Witch’s side.” When Aslan is sacrificed suddenly Susan and Lucy are in great danger “for with wild cries and a noise of skirling pipes and shrill horns blowing, the whole of that vile rabble came sweeping off the hill-top and down the slope right past their hiding place. They felt the Spectres go by them like a cold wind and they felt the ground shake beneath them under the galloping feet of the Minotaurs; and overhead there went a flurry of foul wings and a blackness of vultures and giant bats.”
It is quite a feat of imaginative writing that when Aslan is raised from the dead, you forget the horror and the fear – for they both vanish in the glory of the resurrection romp! Thus:
“ ‘Oh children,’ said the Lion, ‘I feel my strength coming back to me. Oh children, catch me of you can’. He stood for a second, his eyes very bright, his limbs quivering, lashing himself with his tail. Then he made a high leap over their heads and landed on the other side of the Table. Laughing, though she didn’t know why, Lucy scrambled over it to reach him. Aslan leaped again. A mad chase began. Round and round the hill-top he led them, now hopelessly out of their reach, now letting them almost catch his tail, now diving between them, now tossing them in the air with his huge and beautifully velveted paws and catching them again, and now stopping unexpectedly so that all three of them rolled over together in a happy laughing heap of fur and arms and legs. It was such a romp as no one has ever had except in Narnia; and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind. And the funny thing was that when all three finally lay together panting in the sun, the girls no longer felt in the least tired or hungry or thirsty. ‘And now,’ said Aslan presently, ‘to business. I feel I am going to roar. You had better put your fingers in your ears.’ And they did. And Aslan stood up and when he opened his mouth to roar his face became so terrible that they did not dare look at it. And they saw all the trees in front of him bend before the blast of his roaring as grass bends in a meadow before the wind. Then he said, ‘We have a long journey to go. You must ride on me.’ And he crouched down and the children climbed onto his warm, golden back….”
It’s a marvellously wondrous passage. All fear is gone. In its dread place is pure unadulterated joy.
You see, before the huge facts of TRUTH fear shrivels. And there is no greater truth than what Christ did on the Cross. Everything should be judged by that. The revelation of Christ taking on the demons and winning, the picture of Christ conquering all opposition is fantastically strengthening for the weak befuddled Christian. Just as light causes the dark corners of a room to vanish, so that what is imagined as lurking there also goes, so coming to the Cross and seeing Jesus Christ crucified for you, for me, is the one reliable way to get and stay free.
Which appears bigger in your life – fear or Christ?