February 17th, 2012

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and continues for the next forty days (not counting Sundays). Christians around the world will remember Jesus’ sacrifice by giving up something, such as chocolate or video games, or by participating in Lenten Bible studies.

But the final Sunday before Lent begins, is Transfiguration Sunday, when we celebrate the time Jesus took three of his disciples—Peter, James, and John—to the top of a mountain and was transformed before their eyes. “[H]is clothes were amazingly bright, brighter than if they had been bleached white” (Mark 9:3), and Moses and Elijah appeared next to him. The event gave the three disciples a glimpse of Jesus’ resurrection body and affirmed that Jesus was the fulfillment of the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah). But the Transfiguration was also a terrifying experience for Peter, James, and John. They were so afraid of what they saw that they didn’t know how to respond.

Fear is a common response from people in Scripture who have incredible encounters with God. When the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote a message on a wall in Babylon, King Belshazzar was so terrified that “[a]ll the color drained from his face” (Daniel 5:9). When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce Jesus’ birth, he had to say, “Don’t be afraid” (Luke 1:30). The angel who announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds likewise said, “Don’t be afraid!” (Luke 2:10).

We All Get Scared

Everyone feels fear at some time. During the hours before his arrest and execution, even Jesus sweated drops of blood while he prayed for God to spare him (see Luke 22:44). But he faced his fears with faith and trust, and his story didn’t end on the cross.

In some sense fear has defined the relationship between God and humans from the beginning. Fear has kept us from enjoying the type of relationship with God that God has always intended and desired. In the garden of Eden, after they had disobeyed God, Adam and Eve noticed they were naked and hid. The Hebrew word for “naked” also translates as “vulnerable.” Even though God had provided everything for them, they responded in fear to their perceived vulnerability.

Perhaps Jesus was thinking of this story when he urged his listeners not to worry about what they would have to eat or drink or what clothes they would wear (see Matthew 6:25-34). Jesus knew that our fear leads us to put ourselves, not God, first. In fear, like Adam and Eve, we stop trusting God and try to do it all ourselves. Fear leads to selfishness, selfishness leads to sin, and sin separates us from God.

Perfect Love Drives Out Fear

All of us experience times when we’re afraid to let go of ourselves enough to trust God completely. Sometimes, like the disciples who witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration, we react to our experiences of God with fear instead of joy. And sometimes, like the Israelites who ran into the Red Sea on their way out of Egypt, we’d rather return to an old way of life instead of facing our fears head on and seeing what God has in store for us. During the Lenten season, in times of trial, and when we are weak and have little to fall back on, we should remember that we cannot survive on our own. We must learn to trust in God and claim the truth of 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love, but God’s perfect love drives out fear.”

This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

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