Sermons Updates

To Fear or Not to Fear (Luke 2:7-14) – Mark Ottaway

To Fear or Not to Fear

Luke 2:7-18; Romans 5:8


Turn to Luke 2. Most of you may have read Tammy’s email this week about an endeavor we would like to challenge ourselves with as a congregation in ‘2024. We, as a church, would like to read through the New Testament this coming year. This is not an onerous challenge, but one that we can all do. We also understand that some of you have had your own devotional method for many years and would rather keep doing what you have been doing, that is fine. But there are a few reasons why we have chosen this for us: some of you may not be involved in a daily devotion and you need to be; it also gives us accountability that we are all reading the same thing; and it may also allow any of our men during the breaking of bread to share or just read a verse from the past week that was a blessing, and we would all resonate with that. The app that Tammy has sent to you will also include a devotional on certain days and a video from time to time, which are very helpful. These we would recommend, but especially we want you to do the reading. There is also the opportunity for interaction. And I will come on once in a while to comment on a particular passage. And young people, do not feel that you need not be part of this, as this is something that all of us can do. What a blessing to get a better grip on God’s Word from Matthew through to Revelation.

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guest room. In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night And an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 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. For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest,

And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.’”

Luke 2:7-14 (LSB)


The angel said to the shepherds, do not be afraid; or as some of your Bibles say, fear not. Fear, the Greek word is a very common word to us, phobeō. As we say often today, I have a phobia about something. There are two things specifically for me that I have some phobia about. One is I can be very claustrophobic, as the thought of being trapped somewhere where cannot move in a tight space drives me crazy. The other is a definite fear of heights. I am awful, as I am definitely a groundhog. I can get nervous just watching someone up high on a ladder. Anne, when you are done being on the roof, I will come back out. Remember the guy back about eleven years ago who walked over Niagara Falls, Nic Wallenda. I could not even watch it. Sitting in a recliner in my family room made me nervous, sort of silly. I remember once going out to a job site to measure for kitchen cabinets, and when I arrived it was just being framed, which is not unusual. Now the unusual part was that this was a raised rancher and they were also putting in a granny suite on a second floor for a second kitchen.


So, I arrived and they said here is the kitchen and there is the second kitchen. And it was at this point that I was looking at an extension ladder to an open framed floor with just plywood and no walls. And you know when you climb up and put your foot around the ladder. Well, I was not going to be embarrassed, so I climbed that ladder, and completely terrified getting close to the edge as I measured the kitchen. And of course, the whole time I am up there, my greatest fear is knowing I have to get down. Fortunately, there were several workers there, so I was too proud to say what I was thinking, I’m too afraid to get down. If there was no one else there, I would still be sitting up there. And what is really annoying is that Anne is not afraid of heights, though she does not like flying, and I am fine with flying. I think it is because I don’t have to do anything up there. If the pilot said we were crashing and that we were to get on our parachutes, I would be quite content just sitting there. As I do not think I would jump. I would just be happy to go down with the plane and die.


I would say there is something that we all are afraid. And the term “fear” is often associated with things that are beyond our control. This is why trusting God is so difficult, because God will allow things to come into our lives that will cause us to feel out of control: when we might turn on the news; or when there might be rumblings at work about a lay-off; or worrying about the sickness of a loved one; or even as our children at home get older and we must deal with things that we have never dealt with before. As we are not sure of the outcome, so we worry. And if the outcome is outside of our control, we fear. This is why we might fear what is going on in our world today. The war in the Middle East, or the massive running away from morality.


There is a bill in government right now (Bill S-210) that is being talked about. It has been promoted by some conservatives out west to protect younger people from exposure to pornography, as it would not allow access to certain sites coming up without a person being at least eighteen. CBC reported that many in parliament are opposed to the bill as it does not allow freedom of expression and promotes censorship. I also find it interesting that even those who are in favour of placing the restrictions are careful to call this a “public health issue,” as opposed to just calling it what it is “an ethical issue,” it’s just wrong, it’s sin. That this is a massive moral problem that has started with adults and is now affecting our children. And why all the dangers that are given to our children, which I understand, why are these same dangers not stressed for adults, as if pornography is bad for our kids, yet not for adults? So, all this can cause us to be angry. But it can also cause us to be fearful, as we lose trust in our fellow mankind. So, in some ways, I would call this fear of change or fear of crazy thinking. But for others, it is also a lack of fear. That as a human being to be able to sin freely must display no fear of God. To ever consider such immoral things as okay with children or adults. So, there is such a thing as a healthy fear of God. The Bible speaks of this all the time. Psalm 2:11-12 says:

“Serve Yahweh with fear [a]nd rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!”

Ps 2:11-12 (LSB)


So, what do the angels mean when they say, do not be afraid? Well let’s look first at:


Do not be afraid! – What does the angel not mean?


To say that the call by the angel was that these believing shepherds needed to erase a fear of God is not the right response, which has caused some to criticize Christianity. Bertrand Russell said this in the early 1900s as he wrote about religion in general.

“Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear … Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion has gone hand-in-hand. It is because fear is at the basis of those two things.”

Bertrand Russell


And even Christians today have been taught to erase a healthy fear of God. As our society and even churches, we want to desperately stress motivation for positive emotions such as love and gratitude, and we tend to be very uncomfortable with fear. Alexander Stewart from Desiring God writes:

“Many Christian leaders seem determined to convince their hearers that they should never experience any emotional discomfort when contemplating God’s holiness, justice, and judgment; ‘the fear of the Lord’ is always understood to mean respect or awe and never, we are told, indicates that we should actually be afraid of God.”

Alexander Stewart, Desiring God


Yet he goes on to write that biblical writers always were aware of the fear of God. John wrote to the church in Ephesus of Christ’s call to repent or I will come and remove you. To the church of Pergamum Christ said, repent or I will make war against you with the sword of My mouth. To the church of Thyatira Christ said, repent or I will come against you with persecution. To the church of Sardis, repent or I will come against you as a thief. To the church of Laodicea, be zealous and repent or I will spit you out of My mouth. It would make little sense to read these passages and try to comfort ourselves by saying, listen don’t worry, don’t fear for you will be okay. Listen to what Stewart goes on to say:

“The Bible reveals a God who is sovereign and powerful, the ultimate legitimate authority. Since he is our Creator, we belong to him and he has every right to command, threaten, and judge. This reality is, of course, offensive and contrary to ideas of ultimate human autonomy and self-determination … [yet] We will always fail when trying to play God.”

Alexander Stewart, Desiring God


So, there is such a thing as a legitimate fear of God. For if we did not fear God we would have never been saved. Never try to persuade someone to become a Christian without stressing to them the need to fear God. When Jonathan Edwards preached his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, he was right. Because God is angry at sin. God hates your sin. God could not have a greater anger than He does for my sin and your sin and the sins of the world. Do not be fooled into thinking that God’s forgiveness means He is not greatly offended by your sin.  When the angel cried, do not be afraid; he did not mean, do not fear God, or that you need not worry about your sinfulness or your weakness as a human being.


I want to share something with you that will amaze you, I am getting older. And as much as I want to fight it, I am starting, just starting, to notice that I am losing some speed on the ice. Now it will not impact me at 2-pitch this summer, as I will make every effort to run as fast as I can. But I am weak, and I am vulnerable. And my frail body and your frail body could become sick anytime and there is nothing you can do about that. And to add to that, I am a sinner. My actions, my thoughts, my intentions are often wrong. So, when God confronts me, do I need to be afraid? Sort of a dumb question, of course I do. Yet there is also a reason not to fear. And this is what the angel was trying to tell the shepherds, so:


Do not be afraid! – What does the angel mean?


We understand this message from the angel as good news. And therefore, the need for these shepherds to not fear, as this good news now becomes the focus of Luke’s account. The Greek words for the angel of the Lord is angelos kyrios, angel of the Lord. The word kyrios means Lord. This angel, which could be Gabriel, has divine authority from God. Notice that the angel does not appear in the sky as we might see on our Christmas cards. A literal transition (vs 9) is “an angel of the Lord stood before them.” The NASB says, “an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them.” This further informs us of the authoritarian nature of the angel. That these shepherds literally saw the angel face-to-face. This was no heavenly vision way up in the sky, but it was right before them, the appearing was right in their face.


Now we need to be fair here because this understanding might have more to do with church history than the culture. But the world does not want authority. So, an announcement far away in the sky is not as abrupt as the appearance of this angel. In other words, as with this angel, as with God Himself, as with His Holy Word, this is what God has said, therefore you must respond to God. Don’t be fooled into thinking about a glorious appearance in the heavens of peace and good news, without realizing the forcefulness of this appearance. Think of the angel whom God placed at the entrance the Garden of Eden, or think of the angel that Balaam could not get by. As it should remind us of the reality of standing before Christ Himself someday and having to answer the question of those who did not believe. Why did you not heed what I said? Why did you not believe? And of course, to make this even more authoritative was the appearance of (vs 9) the glory of the Lord, and (vs 13) the appearing of the heavenly host.


You know, there is so much going on in this Christmas story. The angel Gabriel came and told Mary of the Baby. The angel of the Lord appeared to His father Joseph. And now the angel of the Lord appears to a group of shepherds. This is the direct work of God, as He did not just orchestrate the Spirit’s conception and then leave things alone. No, He proclaimed to people the news of Christ, as God is always portrayed in the Bible as exerting His presence and authority. This birth is God’s doing. God is present for the proclamation, as the angel of the Lord belongs to God’s divine realm. God is in charge of everything! This message, spoken by the angel is words from God Himself. Listen to the language here: (vs 10) the Lord is so direct here as He says, I bring you good news of great joy, and (vs 11) there has been born for you a Saviour. For we cannot lose sight of the recipients of this good news. Here the angel speaks with these shepherds, sort of the bottom of the barrel in this culture.


When the angel gave the announcement to Mary, he said that the Lord has scattered those who are proud (Luke 1:51); that he has brought down rulers from their thrones and exalted those who were humble (vs 52); and (vs 53) He has filled the hungry with good news and sent the rich away empty-handed. It would seem that if the announcement was made today, it too would have gone out to not only some wise men but the majority being the outcast, the poor, the unimportant. So, you have a wide variety of people who are described (vs 10) as all the people. Not just the rich, not just the important, not just Israel, not just the learned, but all the people. But there is one common denominator of all these people who receive this good news. For turn back to:

“To give to His people the knowledge of salvation By the forgiveness of their sins.”

Luke 1:77


Of all these people, the good news is for the sinner. The one who needs to be forgiven. Luke 2:11, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior.” He is the Saviour, He is the Deliverer, for He will save His people from their sins. You and I will be eternally punished for every sin we have ever committed unless Jesus saves us. The Saviour who is Christ the Lord. Again, His authority. The Lord is to be obeyed and worshipped.


What is so unique in this story in Luke 2 is that it begins with this guy named Quirinius was governor. An edict goes out that everyone should be taxed, so everyone goes to his own city: without any thought of God’s purposes, or without any idea that God is using him as a pawn to bring about the birth of His Son. In fact, it was bigger than the governor, as it all started with Caesar Augustus, as God selected one powerful man to influence the lives of millions of people. It makes me wonder what God may be doing today to bring about His ultimate will. What plans might be going on this morning in the mind of President Biden or Mr. Putin, that will bring about a great work of God unbeknownst to them? And notice too that this work of God did not turn the world upside-down: by the fact that the economy did not change; or that Rome fell; or that Israel was freed; there was no revolution; there were no laws were not changed; and there was no massive ethical cleansing or a great revival. So, we might say that the impact of all this was minimal, as there would be little in the newspapers about what was going on. No, but God was writing His history book, wasn’t He? As people were moved by the life of Christ and His resurrection so that the message of the gospel is still alive 2,000 years later.


The result, the heavens could not contain themselves, as (vs 13) a heavenly host appeared. Host is a Greek word stratia. It is a word which means an army or a large group of soldiers. We might call this a divine army. In these days a messenger would come to make an announcement and he would be accompanied by an army to protect him, as the message and the messenger were so important. I would imagine this outbreak by this divine army would further authenticate the message of the angel of the Lord. And something else is going on here.

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Luke 2:14 (LSB)


This too is in line with an official proclamation. And here is the heart of the statement of why the angel would say, do not be afraid. As often when a nation was going to war, the information of that war would be made known to the people, so that they knew that many of their men would be going to battle and that the king or emperor was in full control. And so, it would be common for a proclamation to be made. That maybe this country is rumoured to attack us, or that this nation has been a thorn in our side. But do not fear, for we will bring ultimate victory, and we will have peace. And what is interesting about this particular peace is that the One to fear is not a nation or people. But the One to fear is the One who punishes sin. Do you understand that? The One to fear is God Himself. So, in human terms, this would be like an enemy who we would fear coming to us and making an announcement, an enemy we needed to fear because they have every power to destroy us. This, in a small way, might be like Adolph Hitler, announcing Britain. But sincerely adding, but do not fear for I bring peace.


But of course, the greater difference here is that God has all power to destroy. God has every right to destroy, and yet He’s bringing peace. And this is why the multitude of the heavenly host could not contain their praise, and coming from angels who have never experienced forgiveness. These perfect beings that (1 Pet 1:12) would marvel at the grace of God toward sinners. And this proclamation to the shepherds results in a celebration of the heavenly host, these words by the angels would be praises to God! Glory to God in the Highest, for the unimaginable has happened, that God who is the sinner’s enemy (Rom 5) while we were still enemies of God, He has reconciled with us through His Son. And remember that this praise given by the angels does not add anything to God. God’s glory is certain and sure. It does not fluctuate with the angel’s praise or our praise, but they were acknowledging what was already true about God. As our singing this morning, our worship of God; does not add anything to God, but is a proclamation of who He is and has always been and always will be. And so, the message needed to be told. No telephones, no internet, no texting, but direct, face-to-face communication.

“And when they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it marveled at the things which were told them by the shepherds.”

Luke 2:17-18 (LSB)


While we were still weak and sinful, God was about to demonstrate His love for us. You know, we today are being bombarded with change which can cause us to worry and be fearful. And the turning of the tide can also cause us to be very negative and down, we can become very untrusting, as we might lament and think of maybe some more pleasant days in the past. And our minds start to think if only Lord. Yet we need to understand that the good news has not changed. In fact, the bad news has not changed either. The bad news, is that we are weak and sinful. The good news, God demonstrated His love for us. Imagine our disappointment of these shepherds after hearing the news from the angel had responded, well that’s great, but what about our freedom? What about the sinfulness of our society? Bondage to Rome? And injustice? We might say to these shepherds; did you not hear what the angel just told you? That God has sent His Son to save you. There is nothing in this message shepherds for you to be down in the dumps about! And understand that these shepherds went back to their low-paying jobs, and continued to pay their taxes to Caesar. And their children likely did the same. Yet all their burdens were eclipsed by the news, the good news. That their enemy was making peace with them, and that this news would bring them great joy!


May we be overwhelmed with the goodness of God this Christmas. That the news of the angel would eclipse for us our burdens and cares. Understanding that God will pardon us, will remove our sin, if we would only come to Him as Lord and believe in His forgiveness. Our present burdens and disappointments as real and hard as they be, are only temporal. While the forgiveness and life from the Child in the manger is eternal.

“That night in all of heaven there wasn’t a sound

As God and the angels walked the earth

For there in a stable the Father’s only Son

Chose to give Himself for human birth

And when the cry of a baby pierced the universe


The heavens exploded with music everywhere

And the angels spilled over heaven’s edge and filled the air

And the Father rejoiced for He did not lose His son

But He gained for Himself forever those who’d come


Fall on your knees … O hear the angel voices”


And all God’s people said, amen.