Lent Week 4: Who among you fears, reveres, honors, respects?

given on Sunday, March 26, 2017 as the fourth sermon in the series, Lent:  A season of mindfulness. 

Scripture connections:

Revelation 19:5, NLT

“Praise our God,

all his servants,

all who fear him,

from the least to the greatest.”

Luke 1:48a-51, NLT

For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,

and from now on all generations will call me blessed.

For the Mighty One is holy,

and he has done great things for me.

He shows mercy from generation to generation

to all who fear him.

His mighty arm has done tremendous things!

He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.

Isaiah 50:10, NLT

         Who among you fears the Lord

and obeys his servant?

If you are walking in darkness,

without a ray of light,

trust in the Lord

and rely on your God.

Proverbs 2:1-5, NLT

My child,[a] listen to what I say,

and treasure my commands. 

Tune your ears to wisdom,

and concentrate on understanding.

Cry out for insight,

and ask for understanding.

Search for them as you would for silver;

seek them like hidden treasures.

Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord,

and you will gain knowledge of God.

Acts 2:40-43, NLT

Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”

Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper[a]), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.

Ephesians 5:21, NLT

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

 

Week’s memory verse:  Isaiah 50:10a

                  Who among you fears the Lord and obeys his servant?

Week’s challenge: Rewrite the verse into your own words and post around the house: bathroom mirror, refrigerator, above the screens—tv, computer, etc.

 

Reflection: Who among you fears, reveres, honors, respects?

Everybody knows that words trigger strong emotions, reactions and even actions. Words can soothe a crying child, trigger a riot, start a stream of tears, or elicit a belly laugh. The words we use in our lives provide first impressions either positive or negative, and have the power to establish lasting bonds of friendship or to permanently severe relationships. Words hold power.

Today’s memory verse causes me problems because of one word—fear. For as long as I can remember, I have heard this verse in church services and have struggled because of that one word! Fear. That word has sent me on a journey this week, one that went back to scriptures, to an entomological dictionary and even to a traditional dictionary. I had to understand that word, fear, and figure out how that verse has values for me in today’s world.

The memory verse is Isaiah 50:11:

Who among you fears the Lord

and obeys his servant?

If you are walking in darkness,

without a ray of light,

trust in the Lord

and rely on your God.

 

The key to memorizing the verse is that first line, Who among you fears the Lord. . . but that is only part of the full sentence. The second phrase hints at the prophecy of the Messiah, here referred to as “his servant.” The full verse is more applicable to Christians: Who among you fears the Lord and obeys his servant?

Yet even understanding the context of the verse does not help understanding the value of that verse when it hinges on that one word, fear.   Fear is not a positive word in our culture now: instead, fear is a word of alarm, caution, and pain. Fearing the Lord creates almost a complete opposite image than what Christians proclaim in phrases such as “God is love.”

Taking a reading journey through the Bible helps understand why the word fear continues to be used. In ancient language, the word fear held a different value than it does today. Using a Biblical dictionary, fear is only listed in a phrase, fear of the Lord, and is not listed as a simple one-word entry:

fear of the Lord, the awe that a person ought to have before God (Prov. 5:7; Eccles. 12:13). As such it can be said to constitute a “true religion” (Ps. 34:11). This “fear of the Lord” is represented by the “fear and trembling” with which Paul exhorts the Philippians to work out their salvation (Phil. 2:12). It describes the piety of the growing church in Acts 9:31. However it also carry overtones of judgment (2 Cor. 5:11; 1 Pet. 1:17) (Achtemeier 1996, 333)

 

Today’s Oxford On-Line dictionary lists the first verb definition as: Be afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or harmful. The meaning of this one word has changed and we do not hear the scripture in the same mind set as it was written.

The challenge this week is to find the meaning in the scripture and make it a mental trigger for us today. Look back at the memory verses for the past three weeks:

  1. Did God really say that? (Genesis 3:1)
  2. Who am I (to do as you ask)? (Exodus 3:11)
  3. If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us (. . . who can be against us)? (Exodus 6:13)

 

And now add in today’s:

  1. Who among you fears the Lord? (Isaiah 50:13)

These memory verses continue developing the relationship God established with his creation. Even though human choice tests relationships with God, God continues to remain in hopes that the relationship with his faithful can be maintained.

Here is the challenge today, figure out how the Old Testament understanding of fear of the Lord is a guiding axiom for us today. What is a better word for us to use than fear if we want to make sure that we are doing what God wants us to do? Remember how Jesus answered the Pharisees when asked what was the greatest law of Moses:

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. (Matthew 22:37-38, NLT)

 

In Jesus’ answer, the key word is love not fear. Personally, I believe that is a major key to figuring out what the Isaiah verse really means in today’s culture.

Reading through O.S. Hawkins’s explanation about this verse, set off the proverbial light bulb in my head—an enlightenment. In answering the questions “What does it mean to live in the fear of God?” Hawkins states:

Does fearing the Lord mean living in a constant state of fright or concern that if we say something or do something wrong, God will zap us with some big bolt of retribution? Nothing could be further from biblical trust. The most common biblical word for fear means to stand in awe before God with such reverence and respect that that reverence becomes the controlling motivation of our lives. (Hawkins 2015, 391)

 

Hawkins continues to share how in his teenage years his own pastor explained fear of God to him:

. . . walking in the fear of God meant living so that He will not take his hand of blessing off me. Fearing God is to live with the conscious awareness of His presence, and wanting to do nothing that might cause God to remove His hand of blessing and anointing from us. Living with that awareness makes an incredible difference in what we do, what we say, where we go, and how we live. (Hawkins 2015, 391)

 

Suddenly, I understood what fear of the Lord meant. I realized that I needed to make this verse real to me, in words that I understood. I need to live my life in such a disciplined manner that what I do, what I say, where I go, and how I live gives God no reason to doubt that I am in a lasting relationship with him.

The challenge for each of us then is to take this verse from Isaiah and make it a verse that sticks in our own minds much like the advertising slogans that bombard us through the media. We need the verse to be our own advertising slogan that even others around us can witness and follow.

The key to finding the right words appeared in the explanation from Hawkins. In that quote, I added the emphasis to the words ‘awe,’ ‘reverence,’ and ‘respect.’ These words all hold positive images in my mind. The contemporary use of them is almost opposite of the current use for fear. I need a word that calls me to follow God in a positive mindset. I want to grow in a loving relationship with God and not be afraid of God.

The memory verse is “Who among you fears the Lord. . . ” but that is just half of the verse. The remainder is “. . .and obeys his servant?” God promised the Israelites that he was sending someone to help us understand how to live in relationship with God. Jesus Christ is that servant and he has taught us how to live so we may remain in relationship with God. He even continued to answer the Pharisees with a second commandment:

A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:39-40, NLT)

 

Tracing the term “fear” through the Bible, the Israelite understanding continues to be used, but remember the first Christians were Jewish and that term was part of their understanding of the relationship they were to maintain with God.

  • Luke 1:50—Mary uses the term fear in her “Song of Praise”: He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear
  • Acts 2:40-43—Luke quotes Peter:

Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”

Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper[a]), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.

 

The scriptures do carry the theme of “fearing the Lord” throughout the old and the new testament, but in trying to clarify what that means today, the meaning of fear must be translated into words that have the same meaning as fear did when the scriptures were first preserved. The word revere is what I chose to use but I cannot separate it from respect.

To take that original verse from Isaiah and make it into a slogan, I must reword it: Revere God; respect Jesus. That is a billboard campaign for my life. Following those four words allows me to live in a life of challenges filled with awe of the power of God. I see God in all that is around me. I see the pain of those suffering. I see the joy of living. I see the faith of the farmers as the dormant seeds spring alive. God is in all of life. Jesus has shown us how to live so we know God in all that surrounds us.

Looking forward into the rest of Isaiah 50:10:

If you are walking in darkness,

without a ray of light,

trust in the Lord

and rely on your God.

 

The promise of life with God is awesome. For those walking in darkness, be a ray of light. Help them to see that trusting in the Lord makes life amazing. Help them to find ways to love God, to follow Jesus’ example; and you will discover that the ray of light you see, lights up others’ lives, too.

Each step you take is an opportunity to revere God. Whether you are living a life cleaning your house with no one around or whether you are part of a team serving food to the kiddos at school or at the movies, you are living the life of God’s servant. You are living a life that respects and reveres God and his son Jesus Christ.

For every fleeting thought that crosses your mind, you are revealing your fear of the Lord. He knows what you think, he knows what you do, and he knows what is in your deepest recesses of your heart. Living in reverence of God and respecting Jesus’ teachings determines the depth of your relationship with God. As Hawkins’s pastor told him:

Fearing God is to live with the conscious awareness of His presence, and wanting to do nothing that might cause God to remove His hand of blessing and anointing from us. (Hawkins 2015, 391)

 

Do you “want to do nothing” to take you out of a loving relationship with God? Life with God is awesome. Why risk anything that might severe that relationship or even severe someone else’s relationship with God? Be mindful of all that you do, in all that you say, in all the places you go, and in how you live so that you may maintain a loving and lasting relationship with God. Be mindful that God loved us so much that he joined us as the servant Jesus Christ, son of Mary and Joseph, so that we who believe in him might continue our awesome relationship with God throughout eternity.

Revere God. Respect Jesus. Life with God is awesome.

Closing prayer:

Dear Awesome God,

Today we hear the words of scripture

Seeking full understanding.

Use those words and words of others

Encouraging us to put words into actions.

 

As we daily live in relationship

With family, friends, and others,

Keep Jesus’ teachings forever

In our thoughts and actions.

 

May we reflect the awesomeness

Of a relationship with you

That attracts others to Your Light.

May us respect and revere you,

God, the Father,

The Son, Jesus Christ,

And the Holy Spirit. –Amen

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