12th Sunday after Pentecost “The Fear of The Lord”
August 15, 2021 Introit vrs. Psalms 111, 34
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
On a regular basis, we use the Psalms in our worship time. We use -maybe- five to ten Psalm verses in a responsive way in the ‘Introit’ = a Latin term meaning ‘entrance’. So after we have confessed our sinfulness, and God has declared to us His forgiveness in the Savior Jesus, so the ‘entrance Psalm’ is a transition for us to come into His presence with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Today, the verses were from Ps.111; & we said: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!”
That first part reminded me of our Introit from the Lord’s Day last week when we said the words (on the screen) from Ps.34: “Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.”
Our use of the word ‘fear’, almost all the time, has to do with being ‘afraid’, or being ‘scared’, alarmed, & distressed about something. The Bible often uses the word that way, too. Christians will sometimes ‘soften’ the fear of the Lord to only mean ‘respect’ & say ‘we shouldn’t be scared of God.’ Yet, when someone is shown respect there is still that element of being ‘afraid’ because that person often has some position of authority over us.
I think we should be careful not to downplay ‘the fear of the Lord’ as if it only means ‘respect’. To ‘fear the Lord’ includes a very healthy dose of being afraid & terrified of the One who is completely Holy; who judges sinners ‘guilty’, & holds the power to eternally condemn our soul. As Jesus said, in Matt.10:28 ‘do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’
Here’s what we will consider this morning: those who truly know their own sin,
and who believe that God is good & just & holy will fear Him = in all aspects of that word.
That’s the beginning of wisdom in this life. And that wise beginning will find its true ending in the person & work of The Son of God = Jesus.
So, the Psalm says, “Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” *How does fearing God connect with ‘lacking nothing’? On the surface it may seem like the psalm is talking about ‘extortion’ or blackmail. *Is that how fearing God will make sure we do not lack good things?
Extortion is when the big thug comes into the little neighborhood shop and says,
“I’m selling insurance. You give me $100-a-week, & I’ll make sure nothing happens to your store. If you don’t pay, I’ll make sure something does happen to your store.’ Out of fear, the storeowner pays the money, & gets something ‘good.’ You go along with the big guys & you’ll be okay; you resist the big guys & you get hurt.
If that’s what we mean by ‘the fear of the Lord’, that’s pretty awful, & makes God a thug. But some people do think of God that way. When they get sick, or lose a job, or have some hardship they think God is picking on them; being a bully. And they think it’s because they ‘didn’t pay up’. They feel guilty for not praying enough, or not doing enough around the church; didn’t give enough in offerings or to charity & that must be why God is penalizing them.
Even an active believer might have some of those thoughts from a little different angle. We think: well, I have been a good Christian = /I come to church; /I give my offerings & pray & help out, /& pay my taxes & take care of my family. So, *why does God allow these bad things to happen to me? (He must want more!) So we’re tempted to think of God as a blackmailer; using fear & threats to get us to do what He wants. *Is that how we ‘fear the Lord’? But even unbelievers can do that. If we fear Him in that way it’s because we don’t trust Him.
But, there’s another fear of God that results in ALL fears melting away. God puts this other, more ‘wise’, fear in front of us whenever we come together and we begin with the confession of sins and in receiving God’s absolution. This healthy fear comes by first recognizing that temptation to not trust Him. God points this out to us with His Spirit-filled Word. God presents Himself as entirely trustworthy, completely good & holy, utterly deserving 100% of our devotion and obedience. He IS all that. And then He shows us our hearts & lives; and we realize that -what God truly deserves- we’re unable to give.
No matter how ‘good’ you & I try to be, we’re always falling short. We can’t make up for what we failed to do yesterday; & now today we’re falling further in debt to Him in neglecting the attention & obedience He deserves as God.
To realize THAT is the beginning of true wisdom. When we see our debt for what it is
it will cause fear. We are rightly afraid, because God’s own Law stands against us. We know that if we can’t pay what we owe, we deserve His ‘temporal & eternal punishment.’
Adam & Eve disobeyed once; we can’t even count our sins of thoughts/words/deeds for one day. No matter what our troubles in life are, they’re less than what we deserve = because we DO believe that God IS completely holy & right & reliable to rule over His creation, and to punish those who disobey & rebel against Him.
In Matt.18 Jesus told a parable with this in mind. A servant owed his king millions of dollars; & there was no way he could pay it. The problem was not that the king was unfair, or dishonest, or couldn’t be trusted. No, the problem was that the king was honest and just, and that the man was irresponsible & in debt toward the king. And now the man would lose everything, including his home & family; & he deserved it. He was terrified of the king because the king was righteous, and could be trusted to abide by the law. And this man had squandered his life in the kingdom, & now he would be held accountable. True wisdom in our lives begins with seeing God as He IS: trustworthy, right & holy = true to His word.
That fear has no choice but to stand & wait for the judgement of the king. That fear has nowhere to go & hide; it has nothing to bargain with; it knows all excuses are useless because God IS trustworthy. So, *where does the sinner turn? The fear-filled sinner turns to another Word from the Lord. Such as the word from psalm 130:7 “O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.” Even thru all his suffering, Job declared, “though he slay me, I will hope in him’.
The law-abiding king, who is worthy of fear, is also the king who is rich in mercy, and is able to melt our fear away. The King of Heaven is a good, just, and honest King. He would never treat us dishonestly or unjustly or cruelly. The one who is worthy of our fear is also fully worthy of our complete trust.
It’s true that we have sinned against Him by what we have done, and by what we have left undone; we have not loved Him with our whole heart, & not loved others as much as we love ourselves. Yet as we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. *How can this be? Because God has assigned the law over to Jesus, and has given mercy & hope to you & me; He shows mercy to all who believe and are baptized in His name. He has chosen you to bear His name so that you will trust Him more than you fear Him.
This is our King’s judgement: by the life & blood & cross of Jesus, our debt is cleared, and that leaves us with a clean slate; the charges are dropped, and the fear is put down.
He lets our life have certain troubles & sorrows, so that we will not trust this life. His mercy & hope remains ours; and no trouble in all creation can tear that hope away from us. The same God who can be trusted to obey His own law, can also be trusted when He promises to have put our punishment fully on His Son Jesus. The beginning of true wisdom is ‘the fear of the Lord’; then God’s mercy and hope in Christ completes our life-wisdom.
So, this is what the psalmist proclaims: ‘Those who fear the Lord lack nothing.’
We may lack a lot of earthly things in the years of our life; but with the Lord’s mercy, our real life truly lacks nothing. ‘The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.’ We know this must be true because God our King has shown Himself as trustworthy and good to both His Law and to His Gospel promises to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Put your trust in the Lord.