In Mark chapter 6 Jesus returns to His home town. He had the opportunity to teach the people, many of whom were His former neighbor, friends, or perhaps people He had done work for in the carpenter’s shop. Their response to His message – “Where did this fellow get this stuff?” (My free translation!) This was the carpenter’s son after all. We know his family. Where is this wisdom coming from? It was as if there was a darkness, a blanket over the eyes of their hearts. They couldn’t or wouldn’t let themselves trust what He was saying. That just seems so contemporary to me. We, particularly Americans, but the modern Western world in general, are so set in our own cultural norms, our technological mindset, all dulled by the pursuit of pleasure that our own eyes become darkened to spiritual truth. The god many believe in has to fit within the boxes they’ve made. When some preacher tries to say there’s more, there’s something deeper, there is a different way of life, the same response comes. Where did he get this stuff? But “this stuff” is very real and a truth the Lord want to open for all people. There really is much more to life than what our limited senses take in.
Hurricane Florence is battering the eastern coast of the U.S. There were necessary preparations and evacuations in the Carolinas. There will be a great cost and effort to rebuild after the storm passes. Tragically, some lives may even be lost. Whether natural disasters or trials cause by the sinfulness of man, we are faced with the truth that we live in a fallen world. Yet it is a world into which God has come with His redeeming love. It’s hard to see that love in the midst of the storm, but it is there. It is seen in the lives of people who give aid. Ultimately, it will be seen in the fulfilled promise of God making all things new. At one of the most critical and frightening times in the lives of His disciples Jesus said to them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”(John 14:27) We may lose property. We may even lose physical life. But we cannot lose the love of God who will make all things new.
Mark chapter four has the account of Jesus stilling the storm at sea. Verse forty one says that the when he disciple saw this they were terrified and “asked each other ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him.'”. They had seen Jesus heal many people and cast out demons. They had heard His wonderful teachings, and that was all fine. They knew Him to be an important teacher and one very close to God, but now this was a new element confronting them. Even the wind and the waves obey Him. Only God the creator of the wind and waves can do that. Only God has all creation subject to Him. Who is this? The only answer was that God is in their midst, and they were terrified. We know our God to be gracious and compassionate. He is the One who has redeemed us by the precious blood of His only begotten Son. But we must never treat this lightly or be casual with our Lord. In life we are always “in the boat” with Almighty God from whom “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”(Hebrews 4:13) We do live in a relationship of love with our Lord, but maintaining a proper fear of God is the guide for life, and the source of wisdom.(Proverbs 9:10)
Scripture tells us that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…”(Psalm 111:10) It also says that in it we have knowledge of God. It is the fountain of life and adds to its length. And through it evil is avoided. We really don’t like the word fear. We call it awe, and respect, but those English words just aren’t sufficient.
Because of the assurance of our salvation by the grace of God, we are not in fear of punishment. Romans 8:1 assures us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But yet there is the proper fear of the Lord. We will be standing in the presence of absolute holiness, the perfect glory of Almighty God. It is like standing near the full radiance of the blazing sun. This is something we’ve never experienced, and it is not something we can do on our own. It is Jesus, Himself, who will have to reach down to lift up our trembling form, and draw us into that glory and love. That is the right fear of the Lord. It is also our hope and our joy.
Security may be one of the biggest words in our society today. The government is working hard to provide security against terror attacks. Companies are concerned about security on their computer systems. We have passwords to get into our own computers. And certainly there is the concern for health and financial security. We work very hard at it all. But there is really only one ultimate security, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in the One who said, “don’t be anxious.” (Matthew 6:25) Who promised that “He would never leave or forsake us.” (Hebrews 13:5) It is in this security, security in Him, that we can go about our days without fear. Even with all the government is going through right now in trying to get a budget deal with the dire consequences looming if they don’t. None of us knows what is ahead personally or nationally, and there may be times of suffering. But the Lord is still with us, and His word are always true. Thank be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
I’ve written a lot about heeding God’s will, and seeking to live by the values God has established for us. This is important, but it is easy to fall into a legalism of feeling that if we transgress one of God’s laws He will punish us in some form. This is not the point at all. The reason we seek to follow God’s will is not out of fear of punishment, but because we are in a personal relationship with our Lord through Jesus Christ. Old and New Testaments both use the bride/bridegroom image for our relationship with the Lord. That is a relationship of love where our desire is to do nothing to hurt our beloved. We seek to conform our lives to His will to bring honor to the One we love, and who has demonstrated His great love for us. The Apostle John writes, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.”(1Jn 4:19) We are not afraid of God’s punishment, but we desire to bring honor to our Beloved.
Proverbs 9:10 declares, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” We don’t like the word fear. We have learned to fear many things in life from sickness, to economic disaster, to nature’s storms, and more. We try to protect ourselves from many eventualities, and flee from those things that might harm us. Some even treat the Lord this way, but that is not what the writer of Proverbs intends. The proper fear of the Lord draws us toward Him. His is the source of wisdom, understanding, and humility. It is the picture of a young child with its father. Taking great joy in walking hand in hand, yet with the deepest respect, and desire never to hurt or dishonor him. This child knows a security regardless of what the circumstances bring. Isaiah says, “He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.”(33:6)
Things can happen very quickly, without warning. A fall, an auto accident, an earthquake. We prepare as best we can with insurance, and various safety drills, but we never know when something unexpected is going to happen. Scripture tells us that the coming of our Lord will be that way, coming unexpectedly like a thief in the night, or a woman going into labor. Even so, we cannot live in fear. Paul wrote to the Colossians that, “your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”(see 3:1-4) We are in God’s hands. That doesn’t mean that we will never go through bad circumstances, but we can trust our Lord for all things, for all times and needs. And we have the assurance that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.(Romans 8:39) No, we do not even know what this day hold for us, but we really don’t need to. We walk forward in the complete trust of our Saviour.
At Bible Study the other evening the question was raised about what we will do when we first see Jesus? Will we go up and hug Him, or will we fall prostrate on the ground before Him? Our collective answer was the latter. What does it mean to fear the Lord? Because of the assurance of our salvation by the grace of God, we are not in fear of punishment. Romans 8:1 assures us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But yet, there is the proper fear of the Lord. We call it awe, and respect, but those English words just aren’t sufficient. We will be standing in the presence of absolute holiness, the perfect glory of Almighty God. It is like standing near the full radiance of the blazing sun. This is something we’ve never experienced, and it will take some time to be able to stand. It is Jesus, Himself, who will have to reach down to lift up our trembling form, and draw us into that glory and love. This is the right fear of the Lord. It is also our hope and our joy.