By Ed Welch
Think of the entire Bible as the unfolding story of God’s revelation about himself. As such, “Do not be afraid” says something about him even before it speaks to us.
At first, it could sound like God is the exalted King firing off edicts from his heavenly throne. He is the Lord; his word is final. When he speaks, he speaks with authority. We don’t necessarily like being bossed around, but we begrudgingly acknowledge that if anyone has the right to issue commands, the God who created us has that right.
But there are two different ways of saying, “Don’t be afraid.” one is as an edict to be obeyed, in which case it is a peculiar edict. It sounds like the King actually cares about us. He isn’t ordering us to make bricks without straw. Instead, it sounds as if he wants his people to know peace. So, even when seen as an authoritative command, this reveals something lovely about God. Unlike other kings, at least those who have despotic authority, God knows the concerns of those in his realm and commands things that are in their best interest. That is the most severe way to understand “Do not be afraid.”
Here is the other way: “[Jesus said] ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father, has been pleased to give you the kingdom’” (Luke 12:32). It echoes the way God spoke to Israel hundreds of years before: “‘Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you,’ declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel” (Isa. 41:14). No one inserts “little flock” into an inviolable command. No king talks about being “pleased” to give anything, let alone the kingdom itself, to his subjects. Jesus is invoking kingly imagery, indeed. But the one who sits on the throne is the Father, and that changes everything. He is your Father.
I would do anything for my daughters and sons-in-law within the bounds of wisdom and love. I would sacrifice (and have) time, money, and anything else necessary for their welfare. And I am just an ordinary, somewhat selfish father. If there is anything good in my fathering, it is because I mirror something of my good Father.
He is the King.
Now consider that the Father is also the King. “Your Father has been delighted to give you the kingdom.” As Father, God comes close to you. He knows your needs and you take comfort in his love. As King, he sovereignly reigns over his kingdom, and his bidding will come to pass. You take comfort in his power. If he is going to speak effectively to your fears, he must be both loving and strong, and indeed he is.
He is generous.
“Your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” Fathers can give begrudgingly and kings can give simply because they made an oath, but God gives out of his pleasure and delight.
Sound too good to be true? Please understand that when God speaks in ways that are completely contrary to our expectations, then we have encountered something genuine. No one could invent a god who, in response to rebellion, is so generous that he gives his entire kingdom. Since this is too good to be true, it must be true.