The clue that gives you away every time

“Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, and of the son of man who is made like grass?” (Isaiah 51:12)

Reading through the gospels, watching the interaction between the religious bigshots as they bully the Lord Jesus Christ–imagine that!–and suddenly, we are brought up short by noticing the prominent role fear played in the lives of these people. Consider…

–“Herod feared the multitude” (Matthew 14:5).  Ah, a good reminder that tyrants always fear their subjects. Always.

–“The Pharisees feared the multitude” (Matthew 21:46). And so do religious bigshots fear their people.

–King Herod feared John the Baptist (Mark 6:20).  Wickedness fears righteousness because it cannot understand it, cannot control it, can’t intimidate it, and cannot silence it.  God’s faithful people must never lose sight of this for one minute.

–The chief priests and scribes wanted to destroy Jesus, but “they were afraid of him, for all the multitude was astonished at His teaching” (Mark 11:18).

–The Lord Jesus said to the disciples, “Why did you fear? Where is your faith?” (Mark 4:40).  Even the Lord’s closest friends were filled with fear.

 Nothing speaks so eloquently about who you are as what you fear. And whom you fear.

We are literally defined by our fears.

You have noticed that in Scripture every time an angel appears to a human, the opening greeting is always the same: “Don’t be afraid!”  (The McKeever translation of that is: Don’t have a heart attack on me now! I have a message for you from the Throne!)

Some fears God interprets as direct insults upon His character.  “Do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor for your body, as to what you shall put on…. Look at the birds of the air….your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26)

Or, take the way the Old Testament constantly calls for God’s people to ignore the pagan idols around them and to renounce their fear of these crude carvings.

“Do not fear (these idols), for they can do no harm, nor can they do any good.”  They are “like a scarecrow in a cucumber field and they cannot speak. They must be carried, because they cannot walk!” (Jeremiah 10:5)  These DIY gods may safely be ignored, God says.

“Who would not fear Thee, O King of the nations? Indeed, it is Thy due” (Jeremiah 10:7).

If we’re going to fear anyone, it should be the Almighty God of the universe!

Is our God a fearsome Deity? Does He want us to fear Him? Scripture seems to say so. But only the unthinking and shallow-minded take that as a convenient excuse to check God off their list.  The subject is not as simple as one might think.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” or knowledge, Scripture says in several places.  Please note, this is the starting point, not where we end up.

And where do we end up?  In love with this wonderful Lord.

“Perfect love casts out fear,” says I John 4:18..

Here are a few texts on the subject of fearing the Lord….

–“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul…” (Deuteronomy 10:12)

–“Now therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14).

–“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him” (Psalm 103:11).  And, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him” (Psalm 103:13).

–“The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Question: What then does it mean to fear God?

Greek scholars speak of two kinds of fear found in Scripture, the negative and the positive. The first, phobos, means to cringe, to be paralyzed with fear, to exhibit cowardice. Vine’s says the word originally had the meaning of flight, to run away.  It gives us our word “phobia.” The Scripture writer had this in mind in saying, “Fear hath torment” (I John 4:18). Modern translations make that, “Fear involves punishment.”

There is a proper place for “phobos” in our world.  We teach our children not to play with matches out of fear of fire; we teach them not to disobey us out of fear of the consequences.  Lock the doors, buckle your seatbelt, change the smoke alarm, and see that your car is well-maintained.

The good, positive kind of fear, eulabeia, implies a holy respect. Hebrews 5:7 says Jesus “was heard because of His reverence.”  And Hebrews 12:28-29, “We may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

So, which is Scripture calling for, when it asks us to fear God?

Over and over, scholars and teachers tell us it’s the “awe and reverence” God wants, and not the cringing fright.  I have no problem with that, except I’d like to add one thought.  At the end of the world, when you and I stand in the presence of Almighty God, it’s not simply awe and respect we will be feeling, friend. It is mind-numbing knee-knocking jaw-dropping heart-stopping fear.  I expect we will be literally frightened out of our wits.

If this were to happen today, if suddenly you were to find yourself in the undiluted presence of the glorious God of the Universe, your heart would stop beating on the spot.  An angel would have to resurrect you before anything else took place.

God is a fearsome God.  As they said of Aslan, the lion, in The Chronicles of Narnia, “No, He is not safe.”  Mark Buchanan wrote an excellent book by the title Your God is Too Safe.

This is what Job felt when, after 37 chapters of heated exchanges between Job and his friends, with the theology deteriorating along with the relationships, God showed up and challenged his thinking (chapters 38ff). Midway through God’s soliloquy, Job interrupts in an attempt to slow him down. Job says, “Behold, I am insignificant; what can I say?  I lay my hand on my mouth.  I’m not saying another word.” (Job 40:4-5).

But God was not through.

On and on He continued to speak, challenging the narrow, cramped thinking of His beloved friend.  At the end, when God has finished and Job has recovered sufficiently to speak, this sufferer manages to say with great humility, “I spoke about things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me.”  Then, “Lord, I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees Thee. Therefore I repent in sackcloth and ashes” (Job 42:1-6).

Or Isaiah in chapter 6. When the prophet was given a vision of the Almighty God, he was overwhelmed, and cried out, “Woe is me!  For I am ruined! I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isa. 6:5).

There is no better cure for runaway ego and pride-on-steroids than a visit with the living God.

Or Amos. They challenged his preaching. After all, what right did this untrained Southerner have coming across the border and preaching up here in the king’s front yard? “Go back down south where you came from and they’ll pay you! But you’ll get nothing here!”  Amos explained how God took him from gathering sycamore fruit and sent him up here. He had little choice in the matter. He said, “A lion has roared; Who will not fear?  The Lord God has spoken! Who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8 and 7:10ff.)

It can be a good thing to be frightened out of your wits about God. It would scare some sense into some people. I expect this is what the preacher of Proverbs had in mind when he said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7).  It’s not the end, but merely the beginning. I can name some people I wish would start there.

Fear God sufficiently and you will discover you fear no one else.

In Matthew 10, as our Lord was commissioning the disciples who were about to leave for their first preaching mission, Jesus told them what to expect.  Things were going to be rough. They could expect to be arrested and hauled into court. They would be persecuted and opposed, and some would die for the faith.  But they must not be afraid.  In fact, He gives them three good reasons not to fear those who trouble them….

–(vs 26) Do not fear (the schemers who plot against you), for there is nothing covered that will not be revealed.  What they do is going to be revealed.

–(vs 28) Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul. But rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  The worst they can do is send you to heaven.

–(vs 31) Do not fear, for you are of more value than many sparrows. You are the Lord’s treasure; He’s got you and there is no reason to fear.

The last words of our Lord to the disciples as they broke camp and vacated the Upper Room a few hours before being arrested and sent to the cross, Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you in order that in me  you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But be of good courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

No fear allowed, follower of Jesus Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,

This is the power of Christ in me.

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