The longer I do this, the more people I talk to, the more I believe that the biggest thing driving people in this world is fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of pain, fear of abandonment, fear of being helpless . . . the list goes on and on; everyone has their own particular fears, since we’re different people with different experiences, but we all have them, and some go very deep. Some people are ruled by them, and we see them as fearful; some overreact against them and take foolish risks, living on the edge to try to prove they aren’t afraid. Many turn their fears into anger; sometimes that’s directed outwards—maybe they even become violent—while others turn their anger in on themselves, resulting in depression. It looks different in everyone, but fear is always at work. It comes inevitably from living in a world that’s under sentence of death.
But 1 John, through which I plan to preach this fall, declares, “Perfect love casts out fear.” Why? Because the perfect love of God has removed that death sentence. This is Easter: God set aside all the praise of heaven to be born as a baby to a working-class family in the redneck part of an occupied country; he spoke the truth, not what the powerful people wanted to hear; he was guilty of nothing at all, but they rigged a trial to convict him anyway, and then they executed him in the most painful and shameful way anyone had ever come up with to that point. He let them, so he could take that death sentence all on himself, so he could take everything bad and wrong and poisoned and polluted about us and our world and pay the penalty for all of it; but then he turned it all on its head, beating death at its own game, breaking its power and overcoming it with his life.
And then, having come back to life again, he went on ahead of us back to heaven, to get our place ready and to open the way for us to follow him. He made a way for us to get free from fear—not a way to avoid death, but a way through it. In fact, he became the way: he is the way. We don’t get to heaven by living a good life or being nice to people; we can’t be good enough, and we don’t have to be. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done right in the past, and it doesn’t matter what we’ve done wrong; we have no reason for pride, and he offers us freedom from all guilt and shame and regret. All we have to do is believe that when he said he is the way, he meant it—and follow as he goes. That’s the promise—for you, for me, for each of us, for always.