Sunday, May 16, 2010

Whom Shall We Fear? God Alone!

"But you, O Israel, my servant,
     Jacob, whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, My friend;
     you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
and called from the farthest corners,
     saying to you, 'You are My servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off';
     fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
     I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

"Behold, all who are incensed against you
     shall be put to shame and confounded;
those who strive against you
     shall be as nothing and shall perish.
You shall seek those who contend with you,
     but you will not find them;
those who war against you shall be as nothing at all.
     For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, 'Fear not,
     I am the one who helps you.'

"Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel!
     I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord;
your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel."
- Isaiah 41:8-14

The Bible speaks much of the fear of the Lord: a reverence for Him that leads us to fear offending Him.

Deuteronomy 6:13: "It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him shall you serve and by His name you shall swear."

Psalm 111:10: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!" But the "beginning of wisdom" spoken of here isn't in the sense of "first", as one is the first of the numbers but otherwise the same. Rather it means "core, foundation, that which gives everything else meaning."

Proverbs 19:23: "The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm."

In our own time, where are we urged to give our fear? If a police officer says he has some questions for us, do we not all sweat? Or what about the IRS? Does the thought of an audit give us cuddly feelings? Of course not!

It has been estimated that the average American commits three felonies a day, without even realizing it. While we all understand that criminals properly have a fear of the civil law, our current political system is rather designed to cause the peaceable citizen to fear, even more than the criminal!

The Larger Catechism, Question 96, asks, "What particular use is there of the moral law to unregenerate men?" And answers, in part, "The moral law is of use to unregenerate men, to awaken their consciences to flee from the wrath to come, and to drive them to Christ." Ah, here in this concise summary of biblical teaching, we see the contrast. God's Law serves to strike the fear of Him in the heart of the unbeliever, such that he flees for mercy to Jesus Christ. To whom shall the citizen apply for mercy under secular law? That person, whether officer, judge, or bureaucrat, holds the power over the citizen, and revels in the awareness of that power.

Our time doesn't have temples devoted to emperor worship, the official religion of the ancient Romans. The Roman emperor didn't care whether the Christians loved and worshiped Jesus, as long as the emperor had the preeminence. It was the refusal to grant that preeminence that sent the Christians to the Coliseum! In the same way, the FBI won't object to our having Jesus in our hearts, in our homes, even in our churches, just as long as we don't let that devotion interfere with our devotion to the State Our Savior. This is the apostasy of our time.

And Jesus Himself warned us that such a choice would be forced upon us. In Matthew 10:28, He says, "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." Our God is a jealous God, and will not allow us to give allegiance to the state now, no matter its abuse of us, and to continue to expect His favor in eternity. It is a stark choice: will I have the wrath of government in this life, or the wrath of God forever after?

While God may command our allegiance simply because He is God, yet He is also a gracious Father, and gives us blessed promises and encouragements to the right choice.

Deuteronomy 1:29-30: "Then I said to you, 'Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The Lord your God who goes before you will Himself fight for you, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes.'" Just as He overthrew the power of Pharaoh at the Red Sea, God goes before us in the defeat of our own self-deified state.

Joshua 1:9: "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

Psalm 27:1: "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?"

Isaiah 41:10: "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand."

And Jesus speaking in John 16:33: "In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."

So, what can we conclude? I want you to remember three things. First, that there are two conflicting claims on our spiritual fear. Shall it be God? Or shall it be the humanistic state, which pretends to deity? Second, this is a choice with eternal consequences: Shall we grant our fear to the state for our brief lives in exchange for the eternal wrath of God. And third, the true and living God has given us such comforting encouragements to strengthen us against the self-appointed god of this life.

May the Holy Spirit always recall these encouragements to our minds when we face these choices. Amen!

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