Today’s reading was 1 Peter 3:13-14
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”
The 1984 version of the NIV translates the second part of v14 as follows: “Do not fear what they fear” and as Peter is writing, his word choice probably reflects a conscious decision to mirror Isaiah 8:12:
Do not call conspiracy, everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear and do not dread it.
So, since the Isaiah passage is the likely background, I’m going with the 1984 version on this one.
What is it that others fear, but which Christians should not fear? At the time of writing, prejudice against, and persecution of Christians was a serious threat. In our contemporary times, that is certainly true still in many countries. But in our Western world, what are the primary fears that people have, and how should Christians view them differently?
One major one is death. For the non-Christian, death is the great unknown. It is either the end of everything, or the entry to an unknown form of existence. The popular view from the theologically uninformed is that the dead become angels. How often have you heard, or seen on TV, the sentiment that someone is comforted by the thought of the deceased now looking down on them in the form of an angel? There is no evidence from the Bible that humans can become angels or vice-versa. It’s comforting, but not true according to the Bible.
I do find it surprising that though people conceptually understand the concept of the afterlife, it rarely looks like the Bible describes it, though presumably their concept of heaven and angels has at its base a Christian source. Death brings a person to a place of judgment, and for many, hell is a real possibility. Broad is the road that leads to destruction and many are on it. But in our “pick and mix,” design your own spirituality type of belief, judgment and hell are unpleasant concepts and so do not feature.
For the Christian, death need hold no fear. I love this passage from Hebrews that makes just this point:
14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Fear of death is a type of slavery, and Christ through his death has broken its hold on us.
For the Christian, death is merely walking through an open door, from one form of existence to another.
51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 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. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 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.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
(1 Corinthians 15:51-55)
To be sure, death still has a sting. But it is a sting for those left behind, not for those that have died. I’ll close this morning with some thoughts from D.L. Moody:
“Some day you will read in the papers, ‘D. L. Moody of East Northfield is dead.’ Don’t you believe a word of it!
“At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now;
I shall have gone up higher, that is all,
out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal —
a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint;
a body fashioned like unto His glorious body.
I was born of the flesh in 1837.
I was born of the Spirit in 1856.
That which is born of the flesh may die.
That which is born of the Spirit will live forever. (D.L. Moody (1837-1899, 1899-eternity)
(Bonus Audio: Don’t Fear the Reaper – Blue Öyster Cult: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMYSWiPm7E0 )