The Baptism of our Lord
January 13, 2019
“Fear Knots…Fear Not”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the First Lesson from Isaiah 43.
My dear friends,
Have you ever thought about how powerful fear and worry are in our lives? When fear moves in, happiness moves out. When our hearts are filled with fear, there can’t be room for anything else. Fear and joy are mutually exclusive; you cannot be happy and afraid at the same time. And what do people fear? Pretty much everything under the sun! We fear being sued, finishing last, having no friends, disappointing those closest to us, losing our job, losing our business, going broke; we fear the mole on the back or new spot on our arm, what will happen if pastor leaves, and the sound of the clock as it ticks us closer to the grave.
Fear grabs us. Worry holds us. We find ourselves held by “fear knots.” When I was a kid, I used to get them every time I had to go to the dentist. Those are knots in our stomach when we think about that upcoming procedure or the looming court date, or the notice from the bank or the insurance company we just received. Fear knots are the things that migrate up and bind our hearts when we’re concerned about our children and grandchildren, a pain for which there are no words to describe. Fear knots tie us up and refuse to let us go.
Ancient Israel was bound up by fear knots. They were worried about how God felt about them. After all, they had disobeyed God time and again. Beginning in the wilderness with Moses, the people of Israel complained against God, doubted his goodness, and turned to idols. Moses is up on top of Sinai getting the Commandments; the frightened people are busy at the base of Sinai already breaking the 1st one! As the centuries rolled on, God continually warned his people against their idolatry, but they refused to listen. Instead of changing their ways and repenting, they told the prophets to stop preaching, even imprisoning some of them and killing others…right up to the day when the Lord punished them with the Exile.
The Exile…yeah…that didn’t help their fear. They were now afraid of the future because, for all intents and purposes, it looked like they DIDN’T HAVE a future. Yes, God had promised that their exile wasn’t permanent (70 years), but would he keep his promise? They had sinned against the Lord. They deserved his anger. They had earned his punishment. Could God ever forgive them? Would God ever forgive them? These knots of fear bound them like chains.
Ever felt like that? We are often bound by fear knots. Like Israel, we have disobeyed God. We even admit that. Earlier we confessed that we have sinned against God. Will my confession be enough? Is God still angry with me? Are all these fears and doubts and troubles in life my punishment for acting so poorly? We don’t trust God to take care of us, so we worry about what tomorrow may look/be like and end up being tied up in fear knots. We don’t have full confidence in God, so we get filled with anxiety – tied up in worry – and are bound with fear knots, which is NOT a great feeling.
The previous chapter, chapter 42, ends with scathing judgment. However, our lesson began with “But now . . .” With those words, Isaiah comes to comfort us! Yes, the Lord was angry, but now his anger is taken away. Yes, he punished his people Israel, but he will do so no longer. Now he will save them. Now he will protect them. The Lord comes to release Israel from their fear knots. He says to them, “Fear not.” “Fear not!” says the Lord. “Remember what I have done for you! I created you. I formed you. I redeemed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.”
Passing through the waters, walking through the fire – all the trials of life – it makes no difference. God is with his people, and he will bring them through. The water will not overwhelm, and the fire will not burn; the difficulties of life will not destroy you. God will protect you. “Fear not,” says the Lord, “for I am with you” (v 5). Jesus said the same thing before His ascension: “I am with you always” (Matthew 28).
Now in our Baptism, God says the same to us a hundred times over every day. God has created you in His image. That’s not physical, but it’s your ability to think and reason, to understand good/evil, right/wrong, your ability to make choices, to appreciate beauty, to be in relationship, and ultimately to love. In Baptism, he lovingly made us his own. In your Baptism, God reached down from heaven and placed his name on you. He called you by name, and he said that you belong to Him, and that is a day-by-day, hour-by-hour relationship.
Here’s an interesting note. The Lord told Israel that he gave Egypt for them and that he gave “men in return for you” (v 4). That happened to Egypt on the night of the 10th plague. But, the Lord has done even more for us. He did not give men in our place; he gave one Man in our place: his Son, Christ Jesus. The Baptism of our Lord is the beginning of His ministry and Jesus knew full well that the manger of Bethlehem led to the waters of the Jordan which would lead to the cross of Calvary…but let us not forget the empty grave of Easter. At the cross, something miraculous happened. The Lord redeemed us with His body. He paid for our sin with His blood. He made us his own.
Since God has done all that for us, we do not need to be afraid. We are his children. Since we are his children, we do not have to be afraid of what life throws at us. We will be tested by many trials. We will be confronted by many challenges. We will be frightened about the future. But the Lord promises to bring us through them all. “In the world you will have tribulation,” says Jesus. “But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Fear will knock on the door of your heart…but you don’t have to let it in! Instead, the Lord says, “Fear not.” “Fear not, for I have created you. Fear not, for I have redeemed you by the blood of my Son. Fear not, for I have summoned you by name in your Baptism. You are mine.” Be confident in the Lord; live life confident in the Lord. Let his Word undo your fear knots. Always…ALWAYS…remember his promise: “Fear not, for I am with you.”