August 23, 2015

          Reverence is a word you rarely hear anymore.  I'm sure there are many people that don't even know what it means.  The dictionary definition is: a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe; veneration.  In the Bible, the word 'fear' is often used to convey the same meaning, as in 'fear God'.  'The fear of God' is mentioned 84 times in the Bible, 'fear of God' is mentioned 86 times, 'fear the Lord' 186 times, and 'fear God' 134 times. That totals 490 times that we are told in the Bible to fear God.

          I bet many of you remember your father saying to you when you got in trouble as a child, "I'm going to put the fear of God into you!" The phrase means something you are scared of is about to happen, such as punishment.  But today it seems people don't fear God anymore.  They don't have the same sense of deep respect that He so rightly deserves.  Too many people nowadays claim to believe in God, but don't even give a second thought to the fact that He, and He alone, has the power to commit their souls to hell for all eternity.  Remember, Jesus Himself warned, "But I'll tell you whom to fear.  Fear God who has the power to kill you and throw you into hell.  Yes, He's the one to fear."  (Luke 12:5)  And God, and God alone, governs every aspect of their life here on earth.  Even many of those who have asked Jesus to be their Savior and Lord, often they take their faith so casually that the awesomeness is gone. 

          Our New Testament reading for today (Hebrews 12:25-29) references when God gave the 10 commandments to Moses, and the fear of God filled the Israelites.  In Exodus 20:18-20 we read, "When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, 'Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.'  Moses said to the people, 'Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning'"  I want you to notice that Moses said "do not be afraid", but also told the people they should have the fear of God. 

          So how can one both 'fear God' and yet not be afraid of God?  It is because of Jesus that we should have profound respect for God, and yet not be afraid of Him.  Without Jesus, we would be eternally lost and would face the full wrath of God for our sins, which means being banished to hell forever when we die.  But even those who had faith in the coming Savior in the Old Testament found favor with God, as Moses was allowed to come into His presence, and left with his face shining with radiance (Exodus 34:29-31).  This is mentioned in the New Testament as well, in 2 Corinthians 3:7-18, which reads, "Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."

          So now, those of us who are God's children through our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, are told we can "come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most." (Hebrews 4:16).  But does being able to approach God's throne boldly mean we should no longer have reverence, or respect, for God, or for God's house?  Perish the thought!  As we heard in our Gospel reading (John 2:13-17) for today, when the Lord Jesus was on earth, He enforced respect for His Father and His house.

          And while we should not swing the pendulum too far in one direction, and reduce worship to mere mindless ritual as Jesus Himself denounced in Matthew 15:7-9, when he told the Pharisees, "You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ˜These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.";  we also should not swing the pendulum too far the other direction, as some modern churches do in an effort to attract younger members, by allowing worship to become chaotic, and its reverence and sanctity fall by the wayside.  As the apostle Paul told the church in Corinth, "But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.  For God is not a God of disorder but of peace - as in all the congregations of the Lord's people." (1 Corinthians 14:40,33)

          So what should we take away from this morning's message?  We should remember that the God we come here to worship is an awesome God.  He created the universe and everything in it.  He is all-powerful and all-knowing.  He fills all of space and time, and yet also exists independent of both.  In Him we live, and move, and have our being (Acts 17:28).  He is beyond human comprehension.  At the same time, He loves us so much that He came to us in human form, and suffered and died to redeem us from our sins.  Yet being God, death could not hold Him, and He lives and reigns eternally, deserving of our complete devotion and continuous praise.  So the next time you grumble about spending an hour in church, or think of it merely as a place to meet up with friends to have a donut and a cup of coffee, think about the real reason we come to church.  And let's worship God with reverence!

          Our closing hymn, "How Great Thou Art", was ranked second (after "Amazing Grace") on a list of the favorite hymns of all time in a survey by Today's Christian magazine.  Let us truly contemplate the words as we sing them...