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“Why Be Afraid?”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
God our Father,
Creator of all things,
true source of light and wisdom,
origin of all that is:
Thank You for calling us to faith,
for planting Your Word in our hearts,
and for delivering us from our sin.
Thank You for calling us to Your service,
for giving us the ability to read Your Word
and share this good news with others. Through Christ, our Savior, Amen.
An elderly woman had just returned to her home from an evening of church services when she was startled by an intruder. She caught the man in the act of robbing her home of its valuables and yelled, “Stop! Acts 2:38!” (Repent and be baptized, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.)
The burglar stopped in his tracks. The woman calmly called the police and explained what she had done. As the officer cuffed the man to take him in, he asked the burglar, “Why did you just stand there? All the old lady did was yell a scripture to you.”
“Scripture?” replied the burglar. “She said she had an ax and two 38’s!”
This burglar was afraid of this “crazy old lady with guns”. Would he have been afraid of the Scripture quote? Probably not, right?
And why should he be? That’s the title of today’s sermon, “Why Be Afraid?” We’re going to invest the beginning of 2018 in an exploration of fear, proper fear and improper fear.
And we are starting with a look at what it means to “fear God”. (I thought about titling this sermon, “Whose Afraid of the Virgin’s Womb?” – and since today is Christmas Day for Eastern Orthodox Churches, that would seem appropriate – but I was afraid of how many of you would simply stop listening and start humming the “Whose afraid of Virginia Woolf?” song – Hmm-Hmm-Hmm-Hm-Hm-Hm-Hm-Hm, Hm-Hm-Hm-Hm, Hm-Hm-Hm-Hm….)
So … “fear God”? Why? What does that mean? I’m gonna guess that almost everyone in the room today, everyone who has been in the Church for more than a decade, has heard a preacher or a Bible teacher say something like, “When the Bible speaks of the fear of the Lord, it does not mean to be afraid of God, but to (what?) … respect Him.” Am I right? There might have been a follow-up with something like, “We must never be afraid of God, because He loves us!”
And that teaching has a real point! It carries with it some real truth.
But it’s not the whole truth…. The most common Old Testament word for “fear”, and the word used in today’s Bible reading, the most well-known Old Testament declaration about fearing God, is the Hebrew word “yireh”, which means … are you ready? … “be afraid!”, “terrified, even”! The New Testament word is the Greek word “fobos” (phobia – fear)!
So, with that as a back-story to the word “fear”, listen with me to these opening words of the book of Proverbs. Proverbs 1:1-7 ….—-
1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: 2 for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight; 3 for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair;
4 for giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young—
5 let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance—
6 for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.
7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (NIV)
Verse 1: an introduction of the author – Solomon, son of David, king of Israel.
Verses 2-4: the purpose of this collection of Proverbs (for becoming better at following God).
Verses 5-6: instruction for how to read this collection (be wise and just pay attention here).
Verse 7: the first, and probably most important, proverb (The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction).
So … let me ask again. “Why Be Afraid?” Respect for God – that’s easy, right? He’s Almighty! Ya gotta respect that! He’s always everywhere! Ya gotta respect that! He knows everything about everyone! Ya gotta respect that! And maybe now, I’m a little afraid of what He knows…. Right?
The word “fear” appears frequently in the Old Testament and it’s often connected to “wisdom” as its source. Wisdom, in turn, is found in knowing who God is – witnessing His awesome power, coming to grips with His holy and righteous judgment.
So, Solomon writes, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”, (that’s not quite the same as “wisdom” – what’s the difference? Knowledge is cognizant, wisdom involves behavior – I know that ice is slippery [knowledge], but I decide to try my motorcycle on an icy day anyway [wisdom?]! The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge – it’s about knowing God! It’s about understanding who God is!
So, Solomon continues with something like, “Fools, on the other hand, just ignore the God who reveals Himself as the ‘consuming fire’ (Hebrews 12:29).”
If knowledge, which has the potential of leading to wisdom, arises from fear of the Lord, then the height of foolishness is to pretend that God, who is all-powerful, holy, and sovereign, does not exist, or that what His written Word says does not matter.
In the Bible, fear of God is not simply an abstract theological speculation resulting from our observation of natural phenomena, like earthquakes and lightning (although Paul suggests that these observations ought to point us in that direction in Romans 2:14-16). In the Bible, Adam and Eve hid from God (terrified) because of what they had done; from Abraham through Moses, God’s people repeatedly witnessed God’s supernatural power over nature – look at the Red Sea story as an example, not just the parting of the Sea for the Israelites’ escape, but the judgment of the Sea which engulfed and drowned the Egyptian armies; look at the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night that led the Israelites through the wilderness; once Joshua took over after Moses’ death, the people of Jericho were “terrified once they realized it was the Lord” who led these people in their direction (Joshua 2:10-11).
What the Bible teaches is that God is to be feared simply because of who He is!
But, what we’ve all learned over the years is also correct. I John 4:8 tells us that “God is love”! How do we reconcile this apparent discrepancy between the God who is to be feared and the God who is love? Are “fear of God” and “love of God” mutually exclusive ideas?
Let me interject the answer: no they are not. Friday night Jennifer took me out to see the movie “Wonder” (a movie, by the way, which I highly recommend). In one scene, the father of a boy with some pretty major facial deformities whispers a plan to his children, and when they ask him why he is whispering he whispers back, “Because I’m afraid of Mom.” But he also deeply loves his wife, their mom.
With God, it goes back to some of what we looked at when we studied Reformation stuff last Fall.
God is to be feared because we have all rebelled against Him. Paul reminds us that “all have sinned and all fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Because of that sin, what we deserve, of course, is His wrath, His judgment. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they were terrified when they heard the Lord approach them – because God is perfectly holy, and Adam and Eve are definitely not – and so they were cast out of paradise. Therefore, “fear of God” is always the right response.
Yet, the Bible also teaches that God also left “paradise” and never left His people! God stayed with Adam and Eve. God called Abram and Sarai. God led Moses and Joshua, and David and Solomon. God, at Christmas, became incarnate, born in Bethlehem as a baby, lived to lead all of us back to God, and died to be our redemption! Paul continues his Romans 3:23 line about our sin and deserved sentence by adding, “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (love). God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith (love). He did this to demonstrate his righteousness (fear), because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished (love)— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just (fear) and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (love).” (Romans 3:24-26)
Last week we looked at the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12), and we saw that it’s really all about knowing and trusting God as our Savior through His Son Jesus Christ. Next week we will continue this exploration of “fear of God” in Psalm 112 and see how even the Old Testament teaches us that God loves us because He is holy, and how that holy love deserves more than mere respect.
So, as we move into 2018, and perhaps more fear of the unknown, let’s continue to lift our eyes from our physical and material circumstances (good or bad), and gauge our blessings by taking a spiritual measure of our soul: Are you in Christ? Does the Holy Spirit of the living God live in your heart, in your faith, in your every day life?
Fear God? Yes, because of Who He is! And know that you are loved by this fearful God more than words can ever say. Amen.
Living and gracious God,
through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
You have brought us out to a grace-filled place
where we are called to live as those redeemed.
Empower us by Your Holy Spirit to keep Your commandments,
that we may show forth Your love
with gentle word and reverent deed
always, everywhere. Amen.
Riddlebarger, Kim; “The Blessings of Fearing God”; TableTalk; January 2018; Pp. 20-23.