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January 13, 2019   Fear Knots & Fear Not!   Isaiah 43:1–7

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Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,

Consider how powerful fear & worry are in people’s lives; certainly that’s one reason why it seems every news story is a ‘crisis’ = to get people’s attention. Even with faith, fear & worry are pretty powerful in our lives. One Christian author says that when fear moves in, happiness moves out. I guess that some things are opposites, and can’t occupy the same space == altho a person might vacillate between the two. That author says that you can’t be confident and afraid at the same time. He writes: Nobody says he has a new spring in his step now that he worries more. (Lucado, Fearless)

Fear pounces on us & worry tangles us up in knots. We could call them ‘fear-knots’ (with a k).   We know those knots-of-fear in our stomach when we think about /an upcoming surgery, /or a meeting with the boss, /or an appointment with an auditor. Fear-knots bind up our hearts & minds when we’re concerned about what our young children are doing, or what our adult children are neglecting. Fear-knots can tie us up & keep us from doing other things until that fear goes away. Fear depletes our energy, and makes us afraid of living life.

The whole story of the Bible is that our Creator made a plan to come & to release us from our fear-knots. His message is: ‘Fear not’ == n-o-t, without the k. ‘Do not fear’ ~ that’s his declaration to us. Our faith knows why the phrase ‘fear not’ is used 80 times in the Bible == because when the Almighty says it, it causes us to hope. God’s words move us to have confidence in Him; He promises /to see us, /to know our condition, /& to help & comfort us.

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Isaiah 43:1 is one of those 80 places where God says ‘fear not’, and releases us from the fear-knots that trap us.  The whole book of Isaiah covers a few times when the people of Israel were bound up by fear-knots. They were rightly worried about how God felt about them. After all, they had disobeyed God time & again. Beginning in the wilderness with Moses, the people of Israel complained against God, doubted his goodness, and turned to more favorable but false gods. These times of faithlessness popped up again in the time of the Judges, and again in the time of the kings.   Disobeying God & doing their own thing was idolatry… … it still is.

God regularly warned his people against their idolatry; & they would listen -for a while- and then turn away again to do their own thing. Instead of repenting, learning, & following, they told the prophets to stop preaching; they imprisoned some of them, and killed others.

Finally, the Lord had had enough. At the end of Isaiah ch.42, immediately before our lesson, the Lord reminds Israel of what He Himself has done. He asks: Who gave up Jacob to the looter, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the Lord, against whom you have sinned? [The Lord] poured on Israel the heat of his anger, and the might of battle.’   It was fitting

for wayward Israel to feel the knots-of-fear before the Lord.

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The Lord’s just anger also made Israel afraid of the future. God had promised that their exile would last only seventy years, *but were they so sinful that He would extend their captivity? They had taken their life for granted & ignored their Life-giver; they ignored His holy words to live by. Like Adam & thorns or Eve & pain in childbirth, they deserved His anger & earned his punishment. *Could God ever forgive them? *Would He;  and would He lead them back home?

WE are often bound up by fear-knots; and if we don’t think so, *why not? Are we comfortable in our sins? God shows us Israel to show us ourselves.  Like Israel, we have disobeyed God. When He shows us our wrongs, we have to admit He’s right; we do not pay him close attention, & we often do our own thing.   Every single week, our confession of sin is true. We have sinned against God in thought, word, & deed, / by what we have done, and by what we have left undone; / we have not loved him with our whole heart, and we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.

The Introit for today is drawn from Psalm 2.  In the earlier verses David writes,

“The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’ ” *Who is like those kings & rulers who set themselves against the Lord & His holy ways? We all are. As Paul says in Romans 3: ‘for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Some think it’s rather harsh to come to church and say that we ‘justly deserve his temporal and eternal punishment.’ But ever since that temporal & eternal curse & condemnation was realized by Adam & Eve for their ‘little’ sin, so the Lord teaches us the truth of that statement.

It’s no wonder that people are often afraid of God as they evaluate their lives.

Some avoid church because they’re afraid, and worried about what God thinks of them.

Martin Luther spoke plainly about his own life this way.   He was so afraid of angering the Holy God that he nearly fainted when he conducted his first Mass; during the prayers, he wanted to run away.  But we can’t run away from God. We all have to deal with Him as a sinner before the Holy God.   So, that’s why our lives can be tied up in fear-knots.

And that’s the way every human is. …except one = God’s Son. Based on the Scripture, we can’t say that our Lord Jesus was tangled up with fear-knots. /He had no sinful worry;

/His mind was never tangled up in whether to obey His Father or not; /fear never paralyzed Him from doing what was right & necessary.

Today we see him come to John at the Jordan River, about to begin his ministry, mindful of Satan’s attacks, & rejection by his own people, & a horribly painful & shameful death. The duty of saving the world was before him, but His Father’s perfect love drove out any fear.   Hebrews 5 says: “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.”

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“But now …” that’s how our lesson began: ‘but now.’   With those words thru Isaiah, the Lord comfort us. Yes, the Lord was angry; but now His anger is taken away.

He punished His people Israel, but no longer.  ‘But now’ He will save them; ‘but now’ -for His own Name’s sake- He tells them that they are precious in his sight. Thru them, He will show the whole world His mercy & love. The Lord comes to release Israel from their fear-knots.

He says to them: “Fear not!” Remember this {He says}: I created you; / I formed you;

/I have redeemed you; / I have called you by name; / you are mine.   There are no better words for them, or for US; they have power to change & renew our mind & spirit.

The Lord began to make His people at creation; later He formed His people into a nation;

He redeemed His people out of Egypt, punishing Pharaoh & drowning him in the Red Sea.

He gave His Name thru Moses & called Himself ‘the God of Israel’; they belonged to him.

And thru them, the Lord was saying to ALL people: ‘Know who I am,’ and ‘fear not.’

What about our ‘fear-nots’ caused by our sins, carelessness, & failures?   He says:   ‘When you pass thru the waters, I will be with you; / and thru the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; / when you walk thru fire you shall not be burned.’ Our eternal protection is guaranteed by the Eternal One. “Fear not, for I am with you.”

This word thru Isaiah to Israel sounds very similar to the Father’s words to His Son at His Baptism. After 30 years of waiting, the Jordan River is the starting line for Jesus for his   3 year race. At the finish line is that fearful cross & tomb. So The Father speaks His ‘fear not’: He says: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” When his Son would need him the most, the Father would be there. “I am with you.”

That same promise is in your Baptism for every time we need it. God has created us, and in Baptism, He has made us His own & formed us to be His people. As Peter reminds us, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”  We belong to him; by his word applied with water, we are reborn as new people.

In Romans 6, we’re told that -thru baptism- we have been joined with Christ, the One who redeemed or purchased us at great cost. Our vs.4 said ‘I give men in return for you & peoples in exchange for your life.’  How much more is that fulfilled in Christ. God gave one Man in our place, and named him Jesus – the Savior from sin. This is the miracle of mercy: ‘with his wounds we are healed.’ At His word, we are healed again today, & have not lost our hope for tomorrow.

With Abraham, the father of Israel, God came to him. Abraham did not deserve it & did not choose it. God was gracious & chose him. Because of that, Abraham & Israel knew the one Lord & God to hope in; the One to trust & put their faith in: the same F,S,&HSp, as we see in Luke 3.

Likewise, as God is still gracious and choosy, so you have become His own; and together, we are His people. It’s not because we are great, or deserving, or always faithful;   but because He desires us, and He has forgiveness for us, and has some work & service for us to do for His kingdom in our fallen world.   Whether Old or New Testament, & all the way back to Adam & Eve who hid in fear of God, this is the ‘good news of great joy that shall be for all people.’  Jesus is the anointed Redeemer.

So now, *how are your ‘fear-knots’ {with a k} after hearing the Lord speak to you thru Isaiah?   Since God has done all this for us, we do not need to be afraid of Him; we are his precious, honored children.   Since we are called by his name, we do not have to be afraid of what this life throws at us.

In Romans 8, Paul identifies things that bind us up in fear-knots: tribulation, distress, persecution, // famine, nakedness, danger, & sword.   Or it may be death or life, / angels or rulers, /things present or things to come, // maybe powers, height, or depth, / and it could be anything in all creation.   But, Paul says, we are more than conquerors thru him who loved us. And nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8 for us today is like Isaiah 43 for God’s people back then. The same Lord says: “Fear not, for I have created you. I have formed you & redeemed you; I have called you by name and you are mine.”   That’s the word that unties our fear-knots, and restores our trust & confidence. We look at Jesus at the Jordan, and we hear God’s word: “Fear not, for I am with you.”

Amen.