Facing Our Fears
There are many things that people fear…that we fear. We had an associate with our church plant in New Orleans who had a horrible fear of spiders. My grandmother had such a horrible fear of snakes that when I was a boy and bought a small rubber alligator—it wasn’t even a snake—she literally ran away from me when I showed it to her. For some it’s a fear of heights, and perhaps even for some of you, you wouldn’t climb up this scaffolding if your life depended on it.
Some movies have done such a good job playing off our fears, that even now if we hear their theme song or a certain sound from the film, it brings up certain emotions. Just to illustrate this, we’re going to play some of these songs or sounds, and I want you to yell out the name of the movie that goes with it. OK? Here we go. After Jaws came out, almost an entire generation of people were afraid of swimming in the ocean even though statisticians tell us that you have a 1 in 63 chance of dying from the flu and a 1 in 3,700,000 chance of dying by a shark attack. But that doesn’t matter. Some people still have a fear of swimming in the ocean.
Alright, let’s try this one—a sound: Hopefully none of us will encounter someone like Norman Bates from “Psycho,” but some people still have some fear of someone being on the other side of the shower curtain when they’re taking a shower.
Lastly, this third one might be a little harder. The first Halloween movie came out in 1978, and yet even to this day you’ll see people dressing up for Halloween with the famous Michael Myers mask.
Now, we all have fears, let’s face it. But you see, that’s part of the problem. Not that we have fears, but that we don’t face them. We either don’t know how, or we suppress them, or we just run and hide.
As we continue in our series from the Gospel of Mark, we come across a scene where Jesus’ disciples were confronted with something that caused them not just to be afraid but to be terrified. We read about it in Mark 6 beginning with verse 45. So, if you have a Bible or a Bible app, go ahead and turn there with me, Mark 6:45 through the end of the chapter. Our goal is that when we walk out of here today, we have some better tools in our tool belt that will help us face whatever those fears are that can literally consume and control us. If you would, let’s stand together for the reading of God’s Word.
You may be seated. Now, picture the scene here. Jesus sends the disciples ahead of Him to cross the Sea of Galilee to Bethsaida. This is right after Jesus fed the 5,000, which we talked about last week, so He stays behind and dismisses the crowd, and then He ascends the hillside to pray. Evening comes, the wind is strong that night, and the disciples are straining on the oars “making headway painfully,” as Mark puts it. This is the second time in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus’ disciples had some serious trouble with some storms out on the water, and in both times, Jesus doesn’t appear to be there to help! The first time (Mk. 3:35-41), Jesus was with them, but He was asleep in the boat. This time, Jesus isn’t even in the boat! Ever been there before? You’re going through a tough spot in life, and, well, where did Jesus go??
But Jesus notices their plight (v. 48), makes His way back down the hillside—and this is where the story gets really interesting. In the wee hours of the morning, the “fourth watch” (between 3-6 am), Mark records that Jesus comes to them, walking on the sea, meaning to pass by them.
What?!? Can we pause here for just a minute? Was Jesus going to help them, or was Jesus just going to pass by them??
Was He trying to race the disciples? Did He want to impress them with a really cool trick? Well, David Garland points out that the verb parelthein in v. 48, which is translated as “pass by” them, is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament—the Septuagint. Now stay with me on this. The verb for “pass by” is used in the Septuagint—Greek Old Testament—as a technical term referring to a Theophany—those defining moments when God made striking and temporary appearances in the earthly realm to a select individual or group for the purpose of communicating a message. God put Moses in a clef in a rock so Moses could see “`when my glory passes by’…. And He passed in front of Moses.” God told Elijah to stand on the mountain “for the Lord is about to pass by.” There’s a pattern to these events. In each case, God had to get someone’s attention—through a burning bush, wind, fire or…walking on the water. With each person, God was going to call him to do something extraordinary. In each situation, the person called felt afraid but experienced the power of God in his life. So when Jesus came to the disciples on the water meaning “to pass by them,” He wasn’t just showing off. He was revealing His divine presence and power, which leads us to two key principles from this story about facing our fears. Here’s the first one:
1. Following Jesus does not make us exempt from fear
In fact, following Jesus often means He’s going to call us to face our fear! Jesus “made His disciples get into that boat” (v. 45) and go on ahead of Him. The word translated “made” means “to compel.” The disciples were just doing what Jesus commanded! And then He’s the One who shows up and brings out their fear when they thought He was a ghost! “But when they saw Him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw Him and were terrified” (vv. 49-50). Jesus wasn’t concerned that they were afraid—He’s the One who caused it! He wanted to draw their fear out of them, so they would have to face it and then decide if they were going to let fear control them or trust in Him.
Hear me in this: When you follow Jesus, you just might experience some of your worst fears. Sound counter-intuitive? Well, think about it. When you follow Jesus, He’s going to draw out of us what we’re afraid of, because what we’re afraid of can control us. And He doesn’t want anything to control us; He wants us to trust Him.
What are you afraid of? I’ll tell you some of the things I’m afraid of. I’m afraid that one day maybe one of our kids will get sick and die or be in a car accident. Do you ever have that fear of getting a phone call telling you you’re child’s been in a car accident and he or she’s not going to make it? As a pastor I’ve seen a lot of death, and I’ve done a lot of funerals, and there are times that I fear that one day I’ll be on the other side of that casket, not conducting the funeral, but listening to someone else conduct the funeral of my wife or one of my kids. And sometimes if my mind starts going down that path, then it can quickly spiral into all these “what-if” scenarios, and I can find myself gripped with fear!
How about you? What are you afraid of? You see we can’t overcome that fear, if we don’t acknowledge it. Sometimes it seems like preachers talk about how if you just follow Jesus then all your fears will go away, almost like we live in “la-la land.” No. That’s not real life. We still live in a world of fear, pain and death. Following Jesus does not make us exempt from fear. In fact, at some point it means we will have to confront our fears which leads us to the second part of our text:
2. Following Jesus gives us the answer to overcome our fears
We face our fear, so that in Jesus we overcome it. We are no longer controlled by it. You see the answer to overcoming our fear is not the removal of the cause of our fear. We can’t control all of the circumstances of life that can cause fear. We may still have to face bad storms. We may still have to face sickness or car accidents or financial loss. We can’t control all of the circumstances of our lives, but we can come under the control of Jesus in facing those fears and overcoming the fear. The issue comes to down to control. Being under the control of Jesus means we are no longer under the control of that cause for fear. If we’re under the control of the cause of that fear, then we’re no longer under the control of Jesus and trusting Him. I remember Howard Hendricks saying that he asked a crotchety old woman one time, “How are you doing today?” And she said, “O, not too bad under the circumstances.” And Hendricks said, “Well, what are you doing under there?” If you’re “under” your circumstances, that means they are over you. But step out from underneath your circumstances and ask Jesus to be over you!
You see, we don’t let the cause of fear control us any longer, because we have put our hope and trust in Jesus Christ. He’s the One who gives us the strength to face our fear, not to run from it, deny it, or suppress it. He gives us the strength to confront it, and overcome it.
Go back and take a look at it in Mark 6. Jesus knew the disciples were terrified, and He immediately spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid. And He got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded” (vv. 50-51). Whatever you’re facing that is the cause of your fear, Jesus says, “Take heart; it is I.” The answer is not found in more positive thinking or self-help or by pulling yourself up by your bootstrap. The answer Jesus gives us is Himself—“It is I.”
So here’s the question: Do you really believe that Jesus will do that in your life or do you just think this is a nice children’s story recorded in the Bible? Will Jesus really show up in our lives when we’re afraid?
Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). He said, “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Now, you can try to face your fears on your own. You can try to psychologically bolster your strength and try to will yourself to a fear-free life. And if that’s your solution, let me ask you, How’s that working for you? Or you can turn to the One who has overcome the world, including whatever is it that you’re afraid of. Following Jesus might not make us exempt from fear, but He helps us face them—and through Him we become, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “more than conquerors.”
So what will it be for you? How are you doing with those fears in your life? Maybe it’s time, even right now, to turn to Him in the midst of those fears, and let Him speak to your heart as He says, “It is I. Don’t be afraid. I have overcome the world.” Let’s pray.