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Matthew 17:7

Posted 05/13/22, by Dan Vis

Living in a world of sin, we can be sure to face circumstances that can strike fear in our heart. Unexpected crises that arise, the stress of an unraveling world, worries about how to make ends meet, and the very real possibility of persecution for our faith.

But to all of these, Jesus gives the calming message that we need not fear. That God has everything under control. But there is one more fascinating instance where Jesus tries to calm our fears that I want to look at today. Here is the verse:

Matthew 17:7
And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.

The context here involves Jesus speaking to Peter, James and John--in what was perhaps the most glorious experience in all their encounters with Jesus. It was the day of the transfiguration.

Jesus had taken these closest of disciples and took them up into a high mountain, and then suddenly He "was transfigured before them" (Matthew 17:2And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.). The divinity veiled within Him burst out for a brief moment--enabling these men to catch a glimpse of His true glory. They also saw Moses and Elijah standing beside Him. And then to top it all off, they heard the voice of the Father speaking to them from heaven: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him" (Matthew 17:5While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.). It all overwhelmed them, and they "fell on their face, and were sore afraid" (Matthew 17:6And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.).

Which is where today's verse comes in. Jesus bends down to reassure them. He touches them and says to get up. It's ok. There's no need to be afraid. And when they open their eyes, Jesus is back to normal, and everything else has disappeared.

This incident highlights an important principle we've noticed several times already this week--what happens when man encounters divinity. It evokes a primal fear that goes all the way back to Adam, hiding from God in the Garden of Eden. Experiencing authentic divinity can be terrifying.

The disciples were afraid during the storm, but they "feared exceedingly" when they saw Jesus calm the storm. We can grow frightened watching endtime events unfold, but it will be nothing compared to the terror of unbelievers seeing Jesus come "with power and great glory" (Luke 21:27And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.). We get anxious when funds run low, but Peter begged Jesus to leave his presence, when he saw the miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:8When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.). It's one thing to fear those who can kill the body, but something else entirely to stand before one who can destroy body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.).

The point here is simple. While there are plenty of things to be concerned about in this world--none of them compare to standing before an infinite, holy God. And indeed, we "must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive" their due for the "things done" in this life (II Corinthians 5:10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.). Which is the real source of our fear, isn't it? We know we fall short of the glory of God. We know we are unprepared to stand before His holiness. In fact, Paul's very next verse says this judgment leads to knowing "the terror of the Lord" (II Corinthians 5:11Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.).

BUt praise God Jesus reached down to help those three, and us. To touch us. To reassure us. To urge us to rise, and not be afraid. And it is only through this work of Christ on our behalf that we have any hope at all of standing before God in the judgment.

Something similar happened at Mount Sinai. The people "saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking" when God spoke the ten commandments (Exodus 20:18And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.). And they were terrified--backing up away from the mountain and standing afar off. They were happy to let Moses speak with them, "but let not God speak with us, lest we die" (Exodus 20:19And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.). To these cowering Hebrews, Moses gave the same answer: "fear not: for God is come to prove you" (Exodus 20:20And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.).

And then he gave them a powerful example. While "the people" continued standing "afar off", we read that "Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was" (Exodus 20:21And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.). And there, God spoke with Moses.

Most of our fears in this world are simply because God is not quite real enough to us. But seeing God for who He truly is, brings its own kind of fear. A good kind, however. The fear of the Lord. The fear of God. And while it can feel overpowering, we dare not "draw back unto perdition" but must instead "believe to the saving of the soul" (Hebrews 10:39But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.). We must insist on pressing even closer into the presence of God.

For it is in confronting our deepest, and innermost fear of the Lord, that we will overcome every other earthly fear.

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