Seized by Fear
3rd Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 5) LSB #668
Text – Luke 7:16
Fear seized them all, & they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” & “God has visited His people!”
SEIZED BY FEAR
Arachnophobia was a horror film released in the year 1990. It plays on the aversion some people have to spiders. Other common aversions are Ophidiophobia, Acrophobia & Claustrophobia. In order, they are the fear of snakes, heights & confined spaces. They are typically irrational fears that fall into the category of anxiety disorders.
Phobias are one of the most treatable types of mental disorder if the patient is willing to receive, & to work at, a regimen of treatment. Rather than going through the desensitization process, most people prefer to avoid the circumstances causing the distress, & they’re fairly well able to do that.
Knowing even the number of hairs on your head, your heavenly Father also knows your fears. His Word, given to us in Holy Scripture, tells you & me, on 33 different occasions, “Fear not!” One of them was when the people of Israel had their back to the Red Sea & the Egyptian army facing them. Death looked to be certain, yet the mighty arm of Yahweh rescued them.
Remember how I said that phobias fall into the category of anxiety disorders? It seems that even God is aware of that. As proof, listen to Isaiah 35:4, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with divine retribution. He will come & save you.’”
Death is our greatest enemy, & the Son of God took on human flesh for the express purpose of destroying death & the power it held over us. Jesus raises this only son of a widow in order to prove, for those who have faith in Him, that He is indeed powerful enough to overrule death. For those who still were not convinced, such as Doubting Thomas, Jesus Himself will be raised from the dead on Easter morning to make an even more dramatic point. Still, we need to keep in mind that Jesus demonstrates His power over death, not that we might live forever in this cursed & broken world.
Jesus raises the man from Nain, certainly to bless the widowed mother, but also to show that God has overcome this world even in its brokenness. Yet, so we don’t put our faith in a Pollyanna view of this life, Jesus spoke very clearly of reality in this world at John 16:
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (V. 33 ESV) Jesus is showing us that death will not be part of the new heavens & earth. The final resurrection from the dead will be our re-creation for the next, & everlasting, life.
In our current state, we cannot fathom an existence without sin & death. We see that in the reaction of the people to this miracle: “Fear seized them all, & they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ & ‘God has visited His people!’” They were thankful & yet seized with fear at the same time.
Seeing a young man raised from death to life isn’t normal, but it is what we want, isn’t it? The people there at this miracle weren’t suffering from just a phobia. Luke makes it clear that they were ‘seized by fear!’ We are of the world of sin, & the wages of sin is death. That’s why death strikes fear into our hearts, but why would coming back to life cause fear?
Fear seized them because it became undeniably obvious that Jesus is of a totally different world, one not affected by illness, sin or death. That is a world unknown to us & the unknown commonly brings fear into our heart, even if it’s along with thanksgiving. Fear is the natural reaction of sinful beings to a demonstration of unearthly power. The recognition of a loving God behind that power leads to a glorifying of God. The situation is similar for St. John in Revelation 1:
“When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the First & the Last, & the living one. I died, & behold I am alive forevermore, & I have the keys of Death & Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are & those that are to take place after this.’” (Vs. 17-19 ESV)
It’s amazing to think of this widow receiving her only son back from death, yet, focusing on Jesus’s prophetic & divine visitation activity is more far-reaching. Pay attention to the last phrase of the sermon text: “Fear seized them all, & they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ & ‘God has visited His people!’”
In Jesus’s life & ministry, the true voice of Yahweh Himself is heard, & the ‘end times’ saving deeds of Yahweh arrive. Listen to some of the other occasions when God visits His people. From Genesis 21:1, “The Lord visited Sarah as He had said, & the Lord did to Sarah as He had promised.”
Ruth 1:6, “Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited His people & given them food.”
1 Samuel 2:21, “Indeed the Lord visited Hannah, & she conceived & bore three sons & two daughters. And the boy Samuel grew in the presence of the Lord.”
Luke 1:68, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited & redeemed His people.” That comes after John the Baptist is born & Zechariah is able to speak again for the 1st time in nine months. Listen & note the similarities to today’s Gospel reading:
“And he asked for a writing tablet & wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened & his tongue loosed, & he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, & all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, ‘What then will this child be?’ For the hand of the Lord was with him. And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit & prophesied, saying, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited & redeemed His people.’” (Luke 1:63-68 ESV)
In those circumstances too, Yahweh does a miracle & fear came upon all their neighbors. Meanwhile, Zechariah describes it by saying the Lord God has visited & redeemed His people. However, I’d be remiss if I did not mention at least one example of Yahweh visiting people also for the purpose of judgment. From Isaiah 29:6,
“You will be visited by the Lord of hosts with thunder & with earthquake & great noise, with whirlwind & tempest, & the flame of a devouring fire.” In Jesus’s earthly life & ministry, the true voice of Yahweh Himself is heard, the voice of salvation for all of God’s people. The ‘end times’ saving deeds of Yahweh have arrived on scene.
Once Judgment Day comes, those saving deeds will be accomplished & done. Then the whirlwind, tempest & flame of a devouring fire will sweep all unbelief away, never again to corrupt even a single aspect of God’s new heavens & earth.
Today’s Gospel text conveys this awesome truth – as Jesus raises the son of the widow of Nain, the end times reign & rule of God broke in to our world – into history. The Word of Life conquered the word of death in human history. It broke in, we might say, ahead of time, before the full consummation of all things = which is the age to come.
It broke in as a kind of foretaste because not all the dead were raised. Indeed, the son of Nain’s widow died again, as did Lazarus & Jairus’ daughter. Jesus Himself rose triumphant from the grave on Easter morning, that too an ahead of its time manifestation of the reign & rule of God, but now as a full manifestation of the age to come. Jesus arose never to die again.
You & I are guaranteed to participate in that fullness, we who have been baptized into Christ & have put on His robe of righteousness. In the resurrection of the young man at Nain & in our Lord’s resurrection, then, our own resurrection at the full implementation of the age to come is assured. As certainly as Satan brought death into the world, Jesus is the Lord of Life & Yahweh cannot be defeated by death. The empty tomb of Christ is proof of that.
Thus Jesus says to us in Holy Scripture, “Fear not!” Come the Last Day, for all who trust in Jesus, fear will be forever banished from our hearts & minds. No more arachnophobia, claustrophobia, or acrophobia, but in this life, all of us should be able to identify with this widow of Nain.
She was completely helpless & yet in Jesus, God visited His people to bring her blessing & hope. In an indirect way, Jesus also rescues the mother from death for without a husband or son to support her she would have died very quickly. After all, who but a mad man would tell a mother not to weep at the funeral of her son?
Jesus is no madman, but Lord & Creator of the universe. We should approach Him with fear & awe & the utmost respect. The words of St. John apply also to us: “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the First & the Last, & the living one. I died, & behold I am alive forevermore…’”
Because Jesus lives, those who trust & believe in Him shall live also, forevermore. We truly have nothing to be afraid of. Amen.
Rise! To arms! With prayer employ you, O Christians, lest the foe destroy you; for Satan has designed your fall. Wield God’s Word, the weapon glorious; against all foes be thus victorious. For God protects you from them all. Fear not the hordes of hell, here is Emmanuel. Hail the Savior! The strong foes yield to Christ, our shield, & we, the victors, hold the field. Wisely fight, for time is fleeting; the hours of grace are fast retreating; short, short is this our earthly way. When the Lord the dead will waken & sinners all by fear are shaken, the saints with joy will greet that day. Praise God, our triumph’s sure. We need not long endure scorn & trial. Our Savior King His own will bring to that great glory which we sing. Amen. LSB 668:1, 3
 Revelation 1:17-18 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet