Fear drives us more than we’d like to admit, and we’re drawn to it in a macabre sort of way—in horror stories, action movies, even news updates. Making up with hype what they lack in data and logic, pundits bully the public into agreeing with them through scare tactics and rhetoric. What would you list as the major turning points in world history? Topping the list would probably be moments defined by war: before, during, or after it. We’re told that September 11, 2001, “changed everything.” Changed everything in military and political strategy? The West’s view of terrorism? Or just everything, period?
The first Christians were under far more imminent threat than Western believers today. Jesus prepared them for it: “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). There are a lot of preachers who, like these talking heads, never tire of inspiring fear, and as a result much of the church’s speech resembles the fearmongering of the pundits.
Jesus addresses our fear in Luke 12:32. There will be persecution, but what are his next words? Is there a defense strategy for these Christians as they prepare for battle? “Fear not, little flock, for it is the Father’s pleasure to give you a kingdom.” So the world is going to give us hell, but the Father is going to give us an everlasting kingdom. That’s it? No blueprints for an underground rebellion, like the Resistance? No, the answer to their fear is that the Father has decided to give them a kingdom.
This kingdom is what Jesus has come to secure by his life, death, and resurrection. It will seem as if the very existence of this rag-tag group will be obliterated. But it won’t be: he will ascend to the Father as the victorious conqueror of the world, the flesh, and the devil, to intercede for us as our captain and elder brother, with the Spirit poured out, distributing the spoils of his victory. He will build his church, and hell’s gates will not be able to withstand the force of his advance.
Notice that Jesus says that his church is a little flock, not a global superpower. We really don’t like being a little flock—we want to be the Supreme Galactic Empire Church. We want our leaders and the media to affirm (however insincerely) the superiority of Christianity in culture. How often do we hear lamentations concerning the fall of Christian influence on society? The ensuing response is often anger driven by fear. What does this say about what we think the kingdom is in the first place?
What the world needs is not a fearful and resentful church, but a little flock driven by the confidence that Christ has secured the victory over death and hell, the real enemies. What our neighbors need most from us is not our opinions on ISIS and the West’s decline into a new dark ages, but how an execution in AD 33 changed everything. They need a little flock that really heard Jesus when he said, “Fear not…for I have overcome the world.” We need the promise that was proved at Golgotha—that God is for us and that he wins in the end.
Michael S. Horton is editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation.