“Rise, and do not be afraid”

In Matthew 17:1-9 we learn that God doesn’t want us to be afraid, he wants us to love Him and be loved by Him.

Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John, 
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them; 
his face shone like the sun 
and his clothes became white as light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,
conversing with him.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, 
“Lord, it is good that we are here.
If you wish, I will make three tents here, 
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, behold,
a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, 
then from the cloud came a voice that said, 
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;
listen to him.”
When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate
and were very much afraid.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying,
Rise, and do not be afraid.”
And when the disciples raised their eyes, 
they saw no one else but Jesus alone.

As they were coming down from the mountain,
Jesus charged them,
“Do not tell the vision to anyone 
until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Two important messages rise in today’s passage: The Father says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” And the Son says, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”

Unlike in the Old Testament, when the Jews were taught to fear God, in the Gospels of the New Testament, Jesus teaches us to not be afraid. And the Father says, listen to Him.

Of course, the Father was speaking more generally of listening to His son. But how interesting that these words appear together here. The Father and Son as one, reassuring us we are not to fear God but to love Him.

When we misbehave, or break rules, our earthly fathers get mad at us, and often we are afraid of their anger and punishment. The rules we break against the Heavenly Father can be even graver and it’s natural to fear His fatherly anger and punishment. But Jesus tells us, don’t be afraid. Love God. Repent — have a change of heart. God loves you.

It’s also natural when someone does something to us, including a parent, to be angry with them. It can be hard to forgive them. In this same way, Jesus tells us to not be afraid. Love God. Forgive them in His love. And love them.

There’s a beautiful movie called The Shack (2017), which I watched on DVD the other day. It’s about a man who has experienced great pain during his life, and he blames his dad, himself, and God. He has an encounter with God — an unorthodox vision of God in some ways, but as you watch it you come to realize it’s very much like the real God. And God’s message in that movie is about love and forgiveness. God appears as three loving persons, and they are full of love and reassurance. There is never any moment during the film when you are called to fear God, only to trust Him and let Him love and care for you. It answers the question, why does God let bad things happen to people. I’ll let you watch the movie to find the answer.

In a world that is filled people who want vengeance, who want revenge, who want an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, even for the smallest infractions, who want to stoke fear, isn’t it refreshing to turn to God and hear the words, “Rise, and do not be afraid”? God is almighty and all present. If you don’t need to be afraid of Him, why should you be afraid of anything else? If God can forgive our worst sins, can’t we forgive each other even our smallest infractions, if not our greatest faults?

Rise from your fears, and do not be afraid. It is God. God is love.

Glory to God!

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