There appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah” (Luke 1:11–13, esv).
Every time in Scripture when God’s presence is revealed, the person to whom it’s revealed feels fear. And then the messenger, or more often the Lord Himself, says, “Do not be afraid.”
It’s like, for example, when Jesus revealed Himself to His first disciples by causing a miraculous catch of fish. Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8), but Jesus said to him, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10).
Or in Revelation, when He revealed Himself to the apostle John, who said, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last’” (Revelation 1:17).
I think the angels must have been watching Him, because when they appear at various points in the Bible, and the person doesn’t know what to do with their scared, startled emotions, the angels always do what Jesus did.
Don’t be afraid, they say. What a comforting word.
Have you experienced the comforting presence of the Lord in your life? If you’ve been sad and someone’s given you happiness, that’s comfort. If you’ve been confused and someone’s given you wisdom, that’s comfort. If you’ve been fearful and someone’s said to you, “Don’t be afraid”—that’s comforting, isn’t it? “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” (Isaiah 40:1). The Lord comforts His children.
He always has.
One of the classic books on the Christian bookshelf was written in the 1870s by Hannah Whitall Smith, a 43-year-old housewife at the time. It’s called The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, but don’t let the title fool you. It’s not a light, cheesy, be-happy, self-help, pop psychology kind of thing. This woman lost a preborn child. She lost a daughter to bronchial pneumonia. Her grown son, while a sophomore at Princeton University, died of typhoid fever, leaving her broken-hearted. Her husband had emotional problems, was in and out of sanatoriums, bankrupted the family’s wealth, and then—just when things started to go better—was caught in multiple marital infidelities.
But out of these dark places, she wrote of God’s comforting nearness. They weren’t insights learned on a mountain. They were realities experienced in the valley, where His comfort is actually felt the greatest.
I’ve gone through some deep valleys in my day, and, as a pastor, I get to go through some deep valleys with other people, too. I’m not generally the person they call to say their kid is doing great in baseball. My phone rings most often when the heartache comes. But as a result—like almost every pastor—I’ve gotten a front row seat to God’s comfort. I’ve seen people experience the reality of His presence.
Know this: God is awesome in the comfort category.
If you’re going through difficult circumstances, there’s a way. If you’re in the middle of the darkest night, He gives peace and assurance and a confidence from His Spirit that can’t be explained.
Don’t be afraid. The Lord is near. Be comforted.
Lord, You know my distresses and the pains of my heart. You know where I’m needful of Your comfort. Thank You that You always provide comfort at exactly the right time and in exactly the right way. Thank You for the precious truth that, “In your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11). So I won’t be afraid, because You will give me everything my soul requires. And out of Your comfort, You will give me an overflow to share with others. In the strong name of Jesus I pray, amen.