It was a hospital visit many years ago, but it was not a hospital visit that I made. It was, rather, a hospital visit that someone made on me. This particular visit, however, was not made by someone I knew beforehand or by a pastor, but by the person in the bed next to me, a fellow Christian who said, “You know what helps me in times like this is to know that in the Bible there are 365 ‘Do not be afraid’s’ — one for every day of the year. So remember that today God is telling us we don’t have to be afraid of anything that is happening to us or to think that he is not with us.” Now I did not know this at the time, but his statement was not totally accurate, because the Bible does not say “Do not be afraid” exactly 365 times, but he meant very well, of course, and it is of course accurate to say that the Bible makes it very clear many, many times that there never is a time that God is not with us, so there never is a time when we have to be afraid.
That comfort is the comfort which God’s people need every single day, because every single day there is something that can make us wonder whether God is listening to us or whether God cares about us or whether God is ever going to do something to help us. Every single day there is something that makes us sad or something that makes us feel bad or something that makes us cry. Every single day there is something that makes it hard to even look up to God because we feel so low for what we have done or something that makes it hard to seek forgiveness from one another because we feel so rotten for how we have hurt them — or something at school or work or with our friends or our family that just isn’t right and makes our stomach feel upset or at the very least not the way we would like it to feel. That’s why we really need to hear – and why we want to hear – and why we thank God to hear – words like the ones our Lord says to all of us here today in the opening verse, “Say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come. He will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.’”
The key to understanding life is that at no time in life do we have to be afraid because you will be saved. “Your God,” Isaiah said in these forceful words, “will come… he will come to save you.”
Maybe you have said this yourself – or have heard someone else say — that it’s good that we don’t know the future, because it might scare us too much in the present if we knew in advance what was going to happen in our lives. But in some ways wouldn’t it be great to know what was going to happen in our lives down the road? For example, if we knew for sure that we would receive $20,000 in the mail next Friday, it might make it easier tomorrow to buy the new car we wondered if we had enough money to purchase. Well, we know very well that God doesn’t work that way in our lives in the things of this world, but he does work that way in the things of the spirit. God says that we do know the ultimate and most important thing that is going to happen to us down the road, and that is that we will be saved. No matter how afraid we may be of whatever it is that is making us afraid right now, there will be a time when we will be safe from that. There will be a time when we will be living with Jesus in the place where he assures us that the “former things” of this world with all its problems will never bother us again and will, in fact, not even be remembered.
But here’s the thing. What does knowing that about the future of your life mean for the present of your life? It means that you can go forward with even more confidence day by day than you could even have if you were contemplating a car purchase and you knew for sure that you would receive enough money to pay for it by the end of the week. That money might never arrive, but Isaiah says of our Lord, “Your God will come” – and he will come with vengeance and divine retribution. Words like vengeance and divine retribution – payback — don’t normally sound like words to help us not be afraid, do they? But we know from God’s Word that God’s Son, Jesus Christ, came with vengeance and retribution when he took on himself the curse of sin and the horror of death. Jesus paid back the devil for all he had done to make this world have so many sad experiences, and Jesus did that by paying for all the things you and I have done to follow on the devil’s sad path.
Think about that. You and I don’t have to be afraid, because Jesus came with vengeance to pay for the lies we tell, the gossips we speak, the profanities we utter. You and I don’t have to be afraid, because Jesus came with vengeance to pay for the hurts we have caused, the lusts we have thought, the accusations against God which we have lodged. You and I don’t have to be afraid because Jesus came with vengeance to pay for all things we have done which should make us afraid. Here is where it gets humbling and uplifting at one and the same time: humbling because it’s our fault; uplifting and wonderful because Jesus took care of it. We will be saved, because we have been saved, meaning we are saved right now. So whenever I am afraid, I can remember God not only will come, but he has come, and he has come to save me because he loves me and he wants me to know that because he loves me, I do not have to be afraid.
In other words, what God does is he changes our way of thinking about the things that happen in our lives. More and more, as we grow in our understanding of how God deals with us, we see that everything that happens happens to help us appreciate more deeply the fact that we have been saved – saved from the devil being able to say that God will not forgive our sins – saved from the devil being able to say, “You are going to live with me forever” – saved from an empty, meaningless way of life and saved for a life full of purpose from our Lord and full of joy in our Lord.
That is the kind of change in our outlook toward life which the prophet Isaiah is talking about in the second paragraph of our lesson. Hear again the first two verses of that paragraph – verses 5-6, and see how they assure you that there is a second reason why you do not ever have to be afraid. Not only will you be saved, but you will also be changed. “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert…”
Those of you who know people who are close to you – or if you yourself are such a person – who cannot see well or see at all, who cannot hear well or hear at all, who cannot walk well or walk at all – know what it would be like if — or wish that it could be that — you or the person you love could see or hear or walk again. It would be great to experience that kind of change, just as I am sure many of you can imagine other changes in your life – or in the life of someone close to you – whether big or small, but all of which are bothersome — that you know would be great, as well.
God says those changes will take place. In heaven none of the physical pains or imperfections that perplex us now will be part of our experience. But more than that. The prophet Isaiah is primarily using these earthly pictures to help us think about the spiritual peace we can feel in our heart when we know that our God will come to save us – and that he has already done so. It is just like our eyes have opened and our ears have become unstopped. It is just like we can jump ten feet in the air and like our mouths can’t hold back from shouting for joy. Isn’t that exactly what happens in worship services like this one today? Why are you here this morning? Isn’t it because you know that you don’t have to be afraid because you have been saved, and you know that because you have been saved, you will be changed, and because you will be changed, you also know that you already are changed, able to come and hear God’s Word and sing his praises because you look at things differently than you would if you did not know you have been saved?
This is what I mean. Some of us here today may be physically in pain. Some of us here today may be emotionally exhausted. Some of us here today may have honest spiritual questions and concerns. But God’s people know where they can go to make sure those pains and exhaustions and questions get changed into prayers and praises and petitions. You wouldn’t come here if you hadn’t already been changed – and if you didn’t know where you would keep being changed. God’s people go to the words of the apostles and the prophets, words like the words of the prophet Isaiah which change us from thinking that God is against to God is for us, words which change us from thinking that God cannot help us to God has already given us all help we can possibly need, words which change us from thinking that God is being silent in our lives to I can’t possibly be silent when it comes to how God has changed my life, even though he may take me through all kinds of reasons to cry out “I am afraid” in order to help me appreciate the changes he has made in my heart so that I can know by faith that God will never change in his love for me.
There may not be 365 “Fear Nots” in the Bible, but even if our Lord had said it just once – even just once in these words from the prophet Isaiah written hundreds of years before the Savior came to assure us that whatever God says about the future is as good as done and therefore helps us in the present – yes, even if our Lord had said is just once, it would be more than enough to know that when your soul has been saved by Jesus Christ and when your outlook toward life has been changed by Jesus Christ, because of Jesus Christ you truly do not have any reason to be afraid of anything whatsoever that is going on in your life or in your heart – “Not on a Single Day of the Year…”