27 November 2007

"Blessed Be"--he who fears the LORD (part 2)

Part 1 here.

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We who know the LORD should fear Him more than those who don’t. Because we know what He is capable of. The world, those who don’t know Him, and don’t want to know Him—they don’t fear Him. But we should. James 2:19--You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! And tremble. The demons—the most wicked and vile creatures in existence. The ones who go out all over the earth to spread mayhem and misery. The demons fear God, and they tremble at the mere thought of Him. How much more should we? But let me give you some good news. With that fear comes love.

Consider this—I have to give credit for this illustration to a man named Jared Wilson. In the Old Testament, when they brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem on an ox cart, one of the oxen stumbled. The Ark was about to fall off when a man named Uzzah put his hand on it. That was a no-no. And God struck him down. Dead. Right there on the spot. But the gospel writers tell us of a woman who had been suffering for 12 years. And she came up to Jesus and grabbed hold of His garment. And Jesus knew it, and looked around, and saw her, and said, “Your faith has made you whole. Go in peace!” That fear of God that makes us love God should cause us to do all we can to be ready when Christ returns.

Because even those of us who DO know Christ—we have no idea when He will return. We have no idea when the clock is going to strike, and the end of this age will come. If you ever hear anyone say they know—uh, nah. Matthew 24:44"Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." Think about these movies where a man is on death row. At the climax, they’ll strap him into the electric chair, or the gas chamber. The guards and the families all sit there watching the clock—tick, tick, tick—until 12:01. They have a special phone line just in case they get that call. And the condemned—they wait for what seems like a hundred years. And they pray for that phone call. Because they know their moment is about to come.

From the time when we are born, we are on death row. We are born with a nature that says, “This is my life, I'll live it however I want to. I'll do whatever I want to. I don’t need God, I don’t want God. I am God!” And every minute we live, every breath we take, is a last-minute stay of execution from the Almighty Judge. How many times do we hear about people who die like **that**. Heart attack, stroke. No history, just had a check-up, everything was fine. Then, in the blink of an eye, without any warning--bam, they're gone. It will be the same for Jesus’ return. There are many who think they’ve got their ticket for the train. “Yep, got that taken care of when I was a little boy. I said that prayer, I got my pass. I’m good to go!” And yet you look at their lives, and you wonder. It is for this reason that the apostle Paul gave us this warning in Philippians 2:12--...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling... If I say I’m going on a diet—which wouldn’t be a bad idea—and I know all the foods I’m supposed to eat. I know all the foods I’m supposed to avoid. I know I’m supposed to walk or jog or do some kind of exercise. But I don’t do them. Am I really on a diet?

The same is true of salvation. You don’t work into salvation. Salvation works out from you. And if someone says they're saved, but they're still doing the things they should not be doing, and if they're not doing the things they should be doing, and if they're not avoiding the things they should be avoiding—I would doubt that person’s salvation. And if a fear of God is not present in them, and they think that they are saving themselves—woe unto that person! In his sermon, Jonathan Edwards said this about people who use their own human efforts to try and avoid Hell:

All [the schemes that wicked men] use to escape hell, while they continue to reject Christ, and so remain wicked men, do not secure them from hell one moment. Almost every natural man that hears of hell, flatters himself that he shall escape it; he depends upon himself for his own security; he flatters himself in what he has done, in what he is now doing, or what he intends to do. Every one lays out matters in his own mind how he shall avoid damnation, and flatters himself that he schemes well for himself, and that his schemes will not fail. They hear indeed that there are but few saved, and that the greater part of men that have died [up to now] are gone to hell; but each one imagines that he lays out matters better for his own escape than others have done. He does not intend to come to that place of torment; he says within himself, that he intends to take such [effective] care, and to order matters for himself so as not to fail. But the foolish children of men miserably delude themselves in their own [schemes], and in confidence in their own strength and wisdom; they trust to nothing but a shadow.

Finally, look at Hebrews 10:26-31--

26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The LORD will judge His people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Let that last verse sink in.

This is one of those passages where you have to look at each verse as part of a whole paragraph. A man could preach a month of messages on these 6 verses alone. Look at verses 26-27. In verse 26, the “sin” the writer is talking about is the sin of rejecting Christ. He’s saying, “If, after hearing the gospel, you reject it, and continue living your life rejecting the gospel, then you have no other remedy when you stand before God. Instead, you can expect to face His fiery wrath, which will consume His enemies forever.” Does this sound like someone we should “have a healthy respect for?” Or someone we should just kinda “Oh, I have a loving reverence.” We can indeed feel these things toward God. But we should also have a good, healthy fear and dread.

Then, verses 28-29. When people hear the truth of the gospel—when they hear that they are indeed “sinners in the hands of an angry God”—and they reject the offer of God’s grace in the form of our Savior Jesus Christ. When they continue to live in opposition to God, and they continue to pile up wrath for themselves, and they think that by doing enough good things that they can somehow remove the stain of sins from their souls—they have trampled the Son undrfoot, counted His blood as a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of Grace.

When a person rejected Moses’ law, they were stoned to death. How much worse will it be for those who reject Christ? Because the law was not given to make men perfect. But Christ was. The law was not a gift. But Christ was. The law was not God in the flesh. But Christ was. And finally verses 30-31. I don’t think they need any explanation.

Rather than fall into His hands, let us fall into his arms. Let us look to Him—the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth. Let us examine ourselves in the light of His precious Son. And let us see ourselves as the broken, imperfect people we are. And let us walk every day knowing that it was His hand that kept us from siding down into death. And it was that same hand that was pierced with a nail for our sins. And let us hold that hand. Let us rest in His arms. That He may lift us up, and hold us up. And give us the strength we need to live this new life in Christ. Let us trust Him to mount us up on wings like eagles. That we may run and not grow weary. That we may walk and not faint. Blessed is every one who fears the LORD; who walks in his ways.

When we fear God more than we do men. When we seek His truth, His ways, His wisdom, then we shall find true happiness, true righteousness, true blessedness—which is His happiness, His righteousness, His blessedness. Ephesians 2:3-7 tells us that before we knew Christ we were, children of wrath…But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus… We were enemies of God. We were shaking our fist at Him. We were spitting in His face. Romans 3:18 says there was no fear of God before our eyes. But by His grace He did not destroy us. He waited. And He waited. And He waited. And then one day, because of His great love with which He loved us, He saved us. Because of His great grace, He opened our eyes so that we might fear Him. And what are those words we sing in that most beloved hymn?

‘Twas grace that caused my heart to fear. And grace, my fears, relieved.

When you teach your child to keep his hands off the hot stove, do you tell him to “have a healthy respect” for that stove? When you teach your child not to run out into the street, do you not put so great a fear into him that he would rather lose his toys that put himself in danger? Let us have that same fear of God. Only let that fear make us want to be closer and closer to the One who redeemed us from our sin, and saved us from His wrath. Let us lay hold of that fear, and keep that fear in our hearts and in our minds when we are tempted to rebel against Him. Friends, the fear of the LORD is a precious thing.

Because it was that fear of God that caused the thief on Jesus’ right hand to call out to Him, so that Jesus might show us the depths of His mercy. This thief had no right to be pardoned. He had—most likely—never done a good thing in his life. But with a truly broken and repentant heart, he scolded his partner in crime in Luke 23:39-41. And one of the thieves [the one on the left]…railed on him, saying, “If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.” But the other [the one on the right]… rebuked him, saying, “Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man hath done nothing wrong. And he said unto Jesus, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” And in verse 43, we have proof that salvation is of the LORD. “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”

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