Up and Down

It all began when I wanted to ask my husband a question. He was in the basement, so I went downstairs. When coming back up, I paused. I asked God, “Do You have something to show me about steps and stairs today?”

When I reached the top of the stairs, I went to my desk. With my Bible beside me and my fingers on the computer keys, I was ready for a search. The following is what the Lord showed me.

Jacob’s ladder was the first Bible story that came to my mind. Stairs and ladders are similar.

Genesis 28:10-22 records Jacob’s dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder between earth and heaven. In this dream, God talked with Jacob. When he awoke, Jacob said in verse 16, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.God in heaven communicated with Jacob on earth. Finally in verse 17, Jacob described this place as the gate of heaven. Halley’s Bible Handbook points out that the ladder was a hint of the Promises of God that would culminate in a bridge between heaven and earth.

Jesus says in John 1:51, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man. Jesus is referring back to Jacob’s dream while also revealing the purpose of His leaving heaven and coming to earth. The BibleRef commentary says that Jesus was giving His disciples a tiny preview of the miracles to come. He was making a subtle reference to the reason for His ministry: to be the connection between men and God.

Jacob described angels ascending and descending. Jesus talked about them too. What does God want to show me about angels and stairs? Are angels ascending and descending for us today?

Leslie White makes some good comments on the website beliefnet. Leslie writes,Though we may not see them or know they are there, angels are watching over us, transporting blessings into our lives, protecting us from danger and helping us to glorify God better. . . .  Angels are fascinating spiritual beings. . . . When we get to heaven, we’ll probably be amazed to discover just how often God’s angels protected us or intervened on our behalf. Whether you realize it or not, angels are watching over you at this very moment. What a wonderful creator God is.” Leslie validates her remarks with numerous scriptures. I will include a few.

See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.” – Exodus 23:20

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” – Hebrews 1:14

For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, that you do not strike your foot against a stone.”Psalm 91:11-12

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” – Hebrews 13:2

I went downstairs to ask my husband a question. I did not want to just shout to him. I wanted to be near him so we could talk. We were able to hear each other better when we were in each other’s presence.

I believe the message God wants to relay to me is that He wants to be with us. He wants to communicate with us. He desires to be active in our daily lives. God relates to us in various ways. He speaks through His Word. The Holy Spirit lives within us and is our Helper. God may give us dreams and visions. And, He sends His angels as messengers and warriors. Deuteronomy 31:8 says, “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

God took the opportunity to show me His symbolic spiritual stairway while I was descending and ascending our basement stairs. I am glad God spoke to me in picturesque ways that I could understand. Like Jacob, I declare, “surely the presence of the Lord was in this place.”

Fear Not, Shepherds

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid;
for behold, I bring you good news of great joy
which will be for all the people;
Luke 2:10

Fear not! Fear not! Fear not! Fear not! This is the fourth week we have heard these words. We need to be reminded to not be afraid numerous times throughout our lives. It is easy for us to be overcome by fear. However, God wants us to replace fear with faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” In the natural, we tend to become fearful of something we cannot see or understand. We feel anxious and uneasy. However, God wants us to trust Him regarding unseen things. He desires our respect and reverence.

Over the past few weeks, we have observed the evidence of God’s faithfulness to Zechariah, Mary and Joseph. They did not need to fear. Today we will study our final example – the shepherds.

It was dark. It was night. Shepherds were taking care of their sheep. Suddenly, the light of the glory of the Lord shone around them. Darkness disappeared and angels appeared. An angel spoke, “Do not be afraid.” The angel continued to tell the shepherds good news – the Savior of the world had been born.

So much for the shepherds to think about! I would like to have heard their conversation after encountering the angel. We only know that they decided to go see this newborn baby. (see Luke 2:16) Upon their arrival, the shepherds discovered that the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6 was fulfilled before their eyes, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” What a wonderful experience they encountered because they were not afraid!

The shepherds did not let fear prevent them from going to see Jesus. Neither should we allow fear to hinder us from developing a personal relationship with Jesus. Deuteronomy 31:8 tells us, “The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

During the time the shepherds traveled from their flocks to Jesus, they exchanged scared fear for sacred fear. We, too, must let go of our terrifying fear and grasp hold of reverential fear. Proverbs 3:7 warns, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD.” Psalm 34:9 exhorts us, “Fear the LORD, you His holy people, for those who fear Him lack nothing.

Psalm 103:11 says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him.” The heavens reveal the vastness of God love. While watching their sheep this particular night, the shepherds saw angels in addition to stars in the sky. The angels may have caused them to be fearful but God’s love helped them overcome their anxiety. Sacred fear is more powerful than scared fear. Psalm 103:17 gives us an awesome promise, “But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children’s children.

John Bevere explains that moving from fear to faith (reverential fear) involves an inner transformation of the heart. He goes on to say, “Holy fear gives God the place of glory, honor, reverence, thanksgiving, praise, and preeminence He deserves.” David asks in Psalm 56:1 NLT,I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?We will deny God what He deserves if we focus upon being afraid of what mankind can do.

After seeing baby Jesus, Luke 2:20 NLT says, “The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” Their joy overflowed. When the shepherds refused to yield to emotional fear, they experienced reverential fear. Psalm 128:1 NLT declares, How joyful are those who fear the LORD–all who follow his ways! Now it is our turn to decide whether we will act out of fear or in faith. Psalm 145:3 NLT says, “Great is the LORD! He is most worthy of praise! No one can measure his greatness.”

In just a few days we will celebrate Christmas. Let us exchange fear for fear. Celebrate the birth of our Savior and Lord with reverential awe and adoration. He is Emmanuel – God with us! Psalm 147:11 says, “The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.”

Fear Not, Joseph

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,
because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:20

 

We are now in our third week of Advent – preparing our hearts and homes for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Joseph is the next Christmas character we will consider who faced fear.

Mary had broken the news to Joseph that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. He had to decide what he was going to do. Being a righteous man, he considered quietly divorcing Mary as his way of getting out of this predicament. God had other plans and He needed to get Joseph’s attention.

God spoke to Joseph a dream.

Let’s think a little more about dreams. The Lord says in Joel 2:28-29, I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.Chronologically, Joseph was a young man. However, I believe his spiritual maturity qualified him as an older man. Joseph’s dream was a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. This prophecy was also fulfilled at Pentecost. (See Acts 2:17.) The Holy Spirit still speaks through dreams. Be alert. The Lord may choose to help you overcome fear through a dream.

God gave Joseph instructions through a dream – and he obeyed. Joseph’s obedience is a good example for us. Jesus says in Luke 11:28, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Since God could trust Joseph to hear and obey, He spoke to him three more times through dreams. Each time the Lord gave Joseph further guidance. There accounts are found in Matthew 2:1-12, Matthew 2:16-18 and Matthew 2:22. Joseph’s encounter with the Spirit of God was not a one time experience. The Holy Spirit also came upon the disciples more than once. Acts 13:62 NASB says, “And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit wants to speak to us as well. And, He will speak to us numerous times!

Last week we emphasized that Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. This week we find Joseph was guided and instructed by the Holy Spirit. Both of them listened to the Spirit. Joseph was not fearful because he was not afraid of what God was doing.

Joseph entrusted Mary’s life as well as his own into the hands of God. Joseph felt no reason to fear the Spirit’s work – neither should we. Hebrews 13:5 NLT declares, “So we can say with confidence, ‘The LORD is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?’”

Jesus tells us in John 14:16, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.Different translations use different words to describe the Holy Spirit – Advocate, Counselor, Comforter, Helper. All these terms help us understand the role of the Holy Spirit.

God had a plan for Joseph. Joseph was an integral part of the birth of Jesus. God also has a plan for each of us. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” With this promise, we need not be afraid. We are simply to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Georgio A. Dano has said, “Fear ends where faith begins.”

Fear Not, Mary

 

Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her,
“for you have found favor with God!
Luke 1:30

Today we continue our Advent study of Christmas characters who were told not to be afraid. May we also be encouraged to discard fear from our lives. We must remember that these are real people who had genuine encounters with God. We are not just reading fictional stories.

Let us look closely at Mary.

One of the first things I notice about the scripture of Luke 1:30 is that the angel addressed Mary by name. God knew her name! He spoke personally to her.

The Lord says in Isaiah 43:1, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” God addressed Isaiah with these words. He spoke similar words to Mary approximately 700 years later. Now over 2000 years later, He still speaks these words. Place your name in the blanks and hear the Lord say, “________, don’t be afraid; I have called you by name. You are mine. ________, do not be afraid.”

What was happening for Mary before she heard God calling her name?

Mary lived in Galilee and was planning her marriage to Joseph. Suddenly there was a change in plans when an angel appeared. The first thing the angel told Mary was to not be afraid. However, being told not to fear, did not mean she would not encounter fear.

The angel gave Mary a revelation as well as a warning. She was told she would conceive a baby by the Holy Spirit. It would be scary for any unwed young woman to find out she was pregnant. But there was more for Mary to learn. Things got even scarier when she found out the conception would take place by the Holy Spirit. She could not comprehend how this could happen.

Mary needed to grasp that although she was in a scary situation, God was with her. She did not need to be afraid. Something good was coming – the birth of the Son of God and Son of man. Emmanuel, God with us, would be born through her body.

Mary did not have the scripture of II Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” These would have been comforting Mary. The are reassuring words for us today.

Although we may be told not to fear, it is not always easy to avoid fear. Fear often leads to worry. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The angel informed Mary that she had found favor with God. This meant He was pleased with her. He loved her. According to gotquestions.org, those who are favored of God know that God is with them and that nothing can happen to them apart from His good purpose. Romans 8:28 says, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Those who receive God’s favor also have the assurance that the Lord is attentive when they walk through difficult times. According to Psalm 34:15, “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are attentive to their cry.” When we have the favor of the Lord, we rest in quiet confidence. Isaiah 30:15 NLT tells us, “In quietness and confidence is your strength.”

When Mary followed the Lord’s plan, His plans were fulfilled. Mary had been preparing for her marriage celebration to Joseph. It didn’t go exactly as she planned. However, she did not walk in fear. Mary set an example for us. We must not become fearful when everything does not go as we have planned. Let us be impregnated with Jesus and His ways. God’s plans may be different from ours. Matthew 6:34 says, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Fear Not, Zechariah

Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer.
Luke 1:13

Do not fear” is a command given by God. Numerous people heard these words throughout scripture. God speaks similarly to us today. We must remember that these words are a command. They are not just a suggestion. It is interesting that God often follows this directive with a further revelation or interaction. When He requires us to do something, He helps us do it.

According to the Christian calendar, Advent will begin Sunday. This is a time of preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. May we also use this period as a time of preparing our hearts to gain insight of how not to fear.

Between now and Christmas, we are going to look at four Christmas characters who were told to not be afraid. Today we begin with Zechariah.

While Zechariah was in the temple burning incense, an angel appeared to him. Luke 1:12 says, “Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear.” I can’t blame him! An angel would startle anyone. There were two reasons for him not to be afraid. First, he was not to be fearful of this heavenly being’s appearance. Secondly, he was not to be afraid that God had not heard his prayers.

The angelic messenger told Zechariah that Elizabeth would finally have a child. According to verse 14, Zech and Liz would experience joy instead of fear.

We can be assured that God will also answer our prayers. Psalm 91:15, “He will call on Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.Calling is praying.

The Lord says in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Zechariah heard things he did not understand. He was not confident about what he was hearing. In Luke 1:18, Zechariah asked, “How can I be sure of this?” After questioning God, Zechariah was not able to speak until his son John was born.

During this time of silence, I assume that Zechariah’s fear was replaced with faith. He had a lot of time for quiet meditation. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” This verse applies to us as well as Zechariah. When we become anxious and fearful, let us be quiet and listen for the Lord. We must allow faith to overpower our fear.

Hebrews 11:1 NLT states, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” I also like the New King James translation which says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” A note in the Spirit Filled Life Bible points out that this is not a definition of faith. This is a description of how faith works. Faith is the assurance of what God promises. Faith is being confident that God is constantly working behind the scenes in our lives even when we do not see any tangible evidence.

An anonymous quote says, “Faith allows things to happen. It is the power that comes from a fearless heart. And when a fearless heart believes, miracles happen.This was true for Zechariah. When he replaced the fear in his heart with faith, the miraculous birth of John the Baptist transpired with Zechariah and Elizabeth being the parents. God’s faithfulness was stronger than Zechariah’s fear.

Fear and faith cannot coexist. My Reader, may you not only hear God say to you, “Do not fear.” – also hear Him say, “Have faith.”