Monday, June 1, 2009

the fear of the LORD (4a) fear on this side of the cross

Is "the fear of the LORD" appropriate on this side of the cross? Isn't it something just for Old Testament believers? Hasn't Jesus freed us from fear? (Heb 2:14-15, Rom 8:15, 1 Jn 4:18)

Last time I talked about two kinds of fear:

  • the terror of God's unrepentant enemies
  • the trusting fear of those who take refuge in God

You'll find both in the New Testament. Today I want to talk about the first, the terror of God's enemies on this side of the cross and how it affects us as Christians; and next time about the second, the trusting fear of those who hope in Jesus.

Do you think Mount Sinai was scary? Remember how the Israelites trembled with fear when they heard God speaking out of fire and deep darkness as the mountain shook underfoot? Well, there's a much scarier mountain than that one!

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned." The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling with fear."

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. ...

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." ...

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire". (Heb 12:18-29, emphases mine)

I've always thought this was a pretty picture of the heavenly mountain with all the angels singing. I've only recently noticed that it's a fearful picture of the coming judgement which will not shake just one mountain but the entire universe.

This is a terrible warning to Jewish believers who wanted to return to the law of Moses. If the Israelites didn't escape when they disobeyed God's law, how will we escape if we reject Jesus, God's only Son?

"Those who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot? ... It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Heb 10:26-31)

You have to remember it's Christians - or at least people who seem to be Christians! - who the writer of Hebrews is warning here. The fear of God's judgement is one of the things which keeps us from turning our backs on Jesus.

The New Testament gives a terrible picture of the judgement of Jesus, who treads the wine press of God's fury until blood rises high as a horse's bridle. If God's enemies hid from his anger among the rocks (Isa 2:10) they now call to the rocks,"Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!" (Rev 6:16; Rev 6, 14:14-20, 19:11-21).

There is a place of refuge from this terror: Jesus, Judge and Saviour, whose death on the cross frees us "from the fear of death". Safe in him from terror of God's judgement, we still serve God "with reverence and awe", never daring to stop trusting in Jesus (if that were possible!), never forgetting that our "God is a consuming fire" (Heb 2:14-15 cf Heb 12:29).

On this side of the cross, God's greater salvation brings greater blessing and greater punishment. Let's heed the warning, and flee from Jesus' anger to his mercy, ever fearing but never afraid.

first image is from stock.xchng, second image is from Olim Art

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