We're less than four months into a troubling year. The stock market is down. The housing market is down. Unemployment is up. Those entering your church this Easter have seen their 401Ks take a nosedive over the past year. Their homes aren't worth as much as they were last year. Many are out of work.
And pastor, they are ready for the gospel. More than most years, they are ready to hear what the Easter message has to say about their fears.
What were the first words the angels said after Jesus rose from the dead? "Don't be afraid!" What were the first words Jesus said after he rose from the dead? "Don't be afraid!" What were the first words the disciples heard Jesus say when he met them as a group? "Don't be afraid!" That's the message of Easter. And 2,000 years later it's still relevant.
We call fear by many names. We call it worry, tension, anxiety, and stress. One study looked at 500 different people and discovered 7,000 different fears – an average of 14 different fears per person. This is not some minor issue; it's absolutely critical.
Why? It's contagious. It's limiting. It's draining. It's the dark room where negativity develops.
And, most importantly, God doesn't want you to be afraid. Ephesians 3:12 (NIV) says, "In Christ we can come before God with freedom and without fear. We can do this through faith in Christ."
In order to help people overcome fear, lead them to make three decisions this Easter:
1. To accept God's love for them
"Where God's love is, there is no fear because God's perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18). The Bible says the opposite of love is fear, and the opposite of fear is love. Love and fear can't operate together. When love comes in the front door of your life, fear goes out the back door. Love is the antidote to fear.
Our deepest need in life is to feel absolutely, totally, unconditionally loved – not for something we could be or should be, but loved just as we are. Every person who walks into your church this Easter feels that. Until this issue is resolved, those attending your services will be tormented by their fears. Only God can love us with as much love as we really need.
We were created just so he can love us. He knows everything about us. And he wants us to know him and love him back. That's why he sent Jesus Christ to live a perfect life, to die on the cross for us, and to rise again. That's what Easter is all about.
2. To believe that Jesus died and rose for them
It's one thing to believe about something; it's another thing to believe in something. It's one thing to believe about a person; it's another thing to believe in a person. There are a lot of people who believe God is real. So what! Believing in Jesus' death and resurrection is more than just head knowledge.
Hebrews 2:14-15 (NLT) says, "Only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying." People don't like to talk about death. They don't even like the word death. Why? They don't know what's going to happen afterwards, and they're not ready to meet God. The only way they can be ready to meet God is by having a relationship with him. That can only happen because of Jesus' death and resurrection.
When you believe what Jesus says about the future is true, then you can stop being afraid of death. That's part of the good news of Easter.
3. To commit their fears and life to Christ
Part of the reason so many people are so scared today is that they've placed their trust in the wrong places. They've places their trust in money, in their possessions, and in their natural ability to make money.
That's called idolatry. Placing trust in anything other than God violates the first commandment: You shall have no other gods before me. Anytime people let this happen, they're making something else into a god. And when something of this world becomes more important than God, fear is sure to come. If making money is the number one goal in a person's life, he or she will develop a fear of loosing it all. If success is the most important thing, a fear of failure will develop. If you can get people to think about what scares them, there's a good chance you can help them discover what is competing with God in their life.
1 Peter 3:14-15 says, "Don't be afraid of anyone and don't worry, but have reverence for Christ in your heart and honor him as Lord" (Good News).
The only real antidote to the fear that people are facing now is a commitment to Christ. When they make him Lord of their life, they don't have to fear losing anything. He becomes the only person they ultimately have to please.
That's the freedom people are looking for this Easter.
The first Easter changed the world. Nothing has ever been the same. Even secular historians will admit that whatever happened on that first Easter morning, the history of the world changed forever.
This Easter people are crying out for the power of God in their lives – the power that eliminates fear – the kind of power they can only get through the cross.