God’s commands are intended not merely for our survival, but for abundant life. Left to our own, we would never experience as much as our good Father wants to give us. If you want the blessings that only an infinite God can provide, you must obey the Gospel. Two commands, both of which lead to our good, from the Gospel are included in this text: fear not and be glad.
- Fear Not (vv. 20-22, 25)
To benefit from the Gospel, one must obey God.
- Preparation: Of course, the first step to obeying the Gospel is to believe that Christ is your Lord and Savior (Ro. 1:5). It is to acknowledge that you are sinful and that your sin separates you from God and deserves his just judgment. It is also to acknowledge there is nothing you can do to earn the righteousness required to be made right with God and to have a relationship with him. In view of these things, you must trust in Jesus Christ to take away your sin. He did this by giving his life and taking the judgment your sin deserved. It is also to trust in Jesus Christ to give you the righteousness God requires.
- Promise: In regard to this command to be not afraid, it is especially important to understand that God never utters the command without providing the accompanying promise, “I am with you.” That is no less true in our text. God tells every part of Israel’s culture to “fear not” (21-22) and later provides the promise, “I am in the midst of Israel” (27). There are many other places where the command and promise are conjoined (Genesis 39:23; Ex. 33:14,15; Dt. 31:6, 7-8, 23; Josh. 1:5-9; Josh. 10:25; 1 Ch. 28:20; 2 Ch. 32:7; Is. 43:2; 2 Pt. 1:4). The practice of the presence of God therefore is the antidote to all fear.
- Power: Consistent with the preparation to fear not, the power to fear not comes from Christ. How did Christ face fear with the knowledge of God’s love and the awareness of God’s presence? Well, what were the most courageous moments of Jesus’ life? Surely they were his temptation in the wilderness, the threat of being thrown from the cliff, the agony in the Garden, and the trials and death he faced on the cross. In his battle with the devil in the wilderness, Jesus demonstrated that the primary way to practice the presence of God is to recall Scripture. Drawing Scripture to our minds is to live consciously in the presence of God because God is near to us in his word. Quoting Deuteronomy 30:14, Paul says it is not necessary to bring the body of Christ near to us from heaven or the grave; he is as near to us in his word as he would be if he were physically standing next to us.
To obey the God’s Gospel command, “Fear not!” means to draw near to him, and he will draw near to you, and his felt presence will calm your anxious heart.
- Be Glad (vv. 18, 23-24, 26-27)
Just as God’s presence removes all excuses for being afraid, so God’s provision of himself as our God removes all excuses for spiritual depression. God refers to himself in v. 27 as “the Lord your God” which is the same two-fold name he provided in the preface to the Ten Commandments. Before he reveals the most basic duties we owe him and our neighbor, he reminds us of the sovereign grace of his person, the one who redeemed us. Look at how those three qualities of God’s person provide restoration for those who repent and remove all excuses for spiritual depression.
- The Lord: When you remember that God is the Lord, it puts all of life in perspective. For instance, because God is the sovereign Lord over creation, he is able to provide our basic human needs. Remember the locust plague destroyed the basic staples of the Israelites’ Middle Eastern lifestyle: grain, meat, wine, and oil. These basic necessities of life, including life and breath, are not entitlements—they are gifts of God intended to cause all men to seek him (Ac. 17:24-28).
- Your God: This is God’s covenant-keeping name. He is the God who has revealed himself to be full of grace and mercy, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin (Joel 2:13). So not only is God sovereign, he is gracious. His kindness is as much a reason to repent as his kingship (2:13; Ro. 2:4). God’s kindness is expressed in his overly generous response to us after sins of ingratitude. Upon the slightest turn toward him, God, like the prodigal’s father, rushes to us and lavishes good gifts on us. Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds (Romans 5:20-21). Our position in Christ is better even than Adam’s before the fall because we are now eternally and spiritually more stable as a result of our lives being united to Christ.
- Your Redeemer: Finally, God promises his people will never again be “shamed” (19, 27). That is the language used in the New Testament to describe the eternal security provided by the cross of Christ. Being united to Christ through faith means that your life is joined to Christ’s which made satisfaction for your sins, guarantees your resurrection, and assures your acquittal at the judgment. Because Christ can never be shamed, you cannot either (Ro. 9:33; 10:11). Furthermore, as we will especially learn in 2:28:32, God in his generous redemption pours out his Spirit into your heart so that you will remember that Christ’s cross infallibly proves you are loved (Ro. 5:5).
As Christians, we can tend to see commands like “fear not” and “be glad” as tests of our devotion. In reality, God both commands these things and supplies what we need to keep them.
- What things tend to make you fearful and/or anxious?
- Which one of the ways Christ supplies for our fear – preparation, promise, power – was most encouraging to you in light of the particular fear you named?
- Do you find the command to “be glad” a challenge to keep? What are some specific things that can make this a challenging command to keep?
- Which of the three titles given to God – the Lord, your God, your redeemer – was the best news to you today? How does it specifically apply to challenges to your joy?
Augustine once prayed, “God, command what you will; only grant what you command.” Use this as a guide to your own prayer regarding fear and joy. Name specific things in your life that make keeping these commands challenging, and ask God to supply everything you need to obey them.