Fear the flame, not the mask. 

by | Jan 18, 2021 | Anxiety, Meditations | 0 comments

Still thinking through what the scriptures say about the fear of death.

Isn’t this passage, from Hebrews Chapter 2, huge and powerful?

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone….Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

Is the Word of God saying that, after Adam sinned and fell and had to leave the Garden, it would be the normal human experience to live your whole life with the fear of death (at the very least) in the background of everything…that, in fact, it would be a kind of bondage we all experienced? Seems like it.  It is a normal experience today. And, this passage is clear–one of the things Jesus has done is grant those who trust in him deliverance from that all-too-common fear.

Following on the previous post from Alistair Begg, I found this passage in a sermon of John Chrysostom. This is around 1700 years old, which means that Christians have been thinking and talking about this for a very long time:

Permit me, that I now say to you at a fitting time, “Brethren, be not children in understanding; howbeit in malice be ye children.” (1 Corinthians 14:20)

For this is a childish terror of ours, if we fear death, but are not fearful of sin.

Little children too are afraid of masks, but fear not the fire. On the contrary, if they are carried by accident near a lighted candle, they stretch out the hand without any concern towards the candle and the flame; yet a mask which is so utterly contemptible terrifies them; whereas they have no dread of fire, which is really a thing to be afraid of. Just so we too have a fear of death, which is a mask that might well be despised; but have no fear of sin, which is truly dreadful; and, even as fire, devours the conscience!

And this is wont to happen not on account of the nature of the things, but by reason of our own folly; so that if we were once to consider what death is, we should at no time be afraid of it.

What then, I pray you, is death? Just what it is to put off a garment. For the body is about the soul as a garment; and after laying this aside for a short time by means of death, we shall resume it again with the more splendor.

What is death at most? It is a journey for a season; a sleep longer than usual! So that if you fear death, you should also fear sleep! If for those who are dying you are pained, grieve for those too who are eating and drinking, for as this is natural, so is that! Let not natural things sadden you; rather let things which arise from an evil choice make you sorrowful. Sorrow not for the dying man; but sorrow for him who is living in sin!

Notice Chrysostom’s emphasis. He makes a helpful, clarifying comparison by pitting “fear of death” against “fear of sin.” And then, he simply asks, which one do we fear more?  And his illustration is masterful–he asks, when someone fears a scary mask more than a fire, doesn’t it show that they lack a basic understanding of the nature of the world? If Chrysostom is right, than death is only a scary mask, but sin–that’s a deadly flame. Laugh at one. Respect, and fear, and tightly control, the other. Fear sin–not death.

Home groups tonight, everyone. If you haven’t signed up for one, you can sign up here.