Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fear the Right Thing

Luke 8:19-58

My thoughts on sermons at Andover Baptist.

What are you afraid of?  Recently a big truck full of goat cheese exploded in a tunnel in northern Norway.  It would be absurd to go around frightened of cheese trucks.  But in fact, we often fear the wrong things in life.  It is absurd to fear the things of this world more than God.

- know your fear
- trust the God-man
- have a healthy faith

What is your fear like?  The demons feared Jesus because they cowered before Him and requested not to be "tormented before the time."  Yet this was a hateful fear.  When our fear of God is mixed with bitterness and anger we are like the demons.  We need to carefully balance ourselves between a lack of fear towards God and an angry cowering fear like the fallen angels.

We must be careful to not be like the people of the town who would rather have had the unclothed demoniac and their herd of pigs than the Son of God.  Do we fear economic uncertainty more than God?  Do we fear that our comfortable situation will be upended more than we fear God?

We must trust Jesus the God-man.  Even the disciples struggled with this during the storm.  Were they to simply assume that God would not let them drown?  We're not sure what they should have done.  Maybe they should simply have calmly woken Jesus up and asked Him for help.  But their request was quite different.  It was a wild eyed, half accusative, clamoring for Jesus to immediately relieve them of their fears.  Yes they went to Jesus which was where they should have gone.  But it seems like their time of distress showed a lack of faith in their hearts.  It could very well have been that Jesus was preparing them for times of difficulty to come.  And it seems like they learned their lesson well - for they later said, "we must obey God rather than men" as they put their lives in peril for the gospel.

The woman with the flow of blood had a healthy faith.  She went to great lengths to see Jesus and be healed.  We need to have "pilgrim faith."  This is the faith of those who are thoroughly convinced that they are just passing through.  This is a faith that looks to the reward.  This is a faith that considers, "the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to come."  In what do we put our faith?

Sunday School - Neil Jackson - Creeds & Confessions

The resurrection is a foundational, practical, and compelling doctrine of Christianity.  It is easy to over-emphasize the death of Christ because the news is so great that with His death He conquered sin: "It is finished"!

But is the death of Christ a comfort if He did not rise from the dead?  What is our Christianity without a belief in the resurrection?  If there is no resurrection then according to 1 Corinthians 15:
- our faith is in vain
- Christ did not rise from the grave
- preaching is in vain
- the apostles misrepresented God
- we are still in our sins
- we won't be raised from the dead - those who have died perished
- if our hope is in this life only, we are of all people to be most pitied

As an aside, this passage has always come immediately to mind when considering Pascal's wager.   Pascal tells us the necessity of a wager comes about because we cannot rely on reason to tell us if God exists and so must "wager."  Rush has told us that if we choose not to decide we still have made a choice.  But Pascal says we can't choose not to decide.  In living our lives we must choose which way to live; believe in God or not.  But shall we believe only to avoid infinite suffering?  That is part of it but not the whole.  We are always encouraged to avoid @#!*% but not without being encouraged to love Christ.  Further, belief in God, by itself, does not afford us safety from infinite suffering - what of the demons?  And if there is no God, or no resurrection, no final reckoning, are we not to be most pitied?  If there is no eternal suffering are we not fools?  Well actually if there is no @#!*% (or eternal life after death), yes we are fools.  But we believe not simply to avoid the infinite suffering quadrant of Pascal, but to reconcile with our loving God.  The choice to believe is more like the raising of the son of the widow of Nain than a decision tree or wager.  We believe because of a supernatural urgency placed upon us by the Holy Spirit to repent and turn from our sin and believe that Jesus died to free us from condemnation for sin.  The calculating spirit of Pascal is more like Simon the sorcerer than a broken hearted sinner seeking repentance.  We don't plug in the inputs of life into a supercomputer to crunch the numbers and spit out a decision for God!  Neither do we use game theory, decision science, binomial pricing models, black-scholes or any other such calculation.  The mathematics of decision making is a technology for organization of our worldly pursuits.  It may be that they indirectly inform the mental progression of the human mind in considering spiritual realities.  But ultimately we have faith due to the work of the Spirit, which reveals the truth of God's word to our hearts and minds. 

The resurrection is an exciting doctrine to consider.  Neil pointed out that, not only is it the basis for our future hope, but it is in many senses the basis for our current hope of sanctification as taught in Romans 6.  "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death in order that just as Christ Jesus was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.  We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin.  Now if we have died with Christ we believe we will also live with Him."

The resurrection is so foundational it can also be used to begin gospel conversations, especially when the topic of death comes up.  "What do you believe about resurrection?" or "Do you believe there is a resurrection?" are possible questions to engage unbelievers.

Evening Service - Jim Carter - Deuteronomy 10:12-16

Fear can be outright terror or awe, reverence, and honor.  Our fear of God should encompass all of these feelings.

- fear God with a proper attitude
- the fear of God
- fear only God

Scripture uses the shorthand phrase "fear God" and "love God" almost interchangeably to refer to those who have faith in God and are believers. This is a question of attitude.  We are to obey God but do so out of a correct posture of fear and love towards Him.  "When we know who God is we fear Him and when we know what He has done for us we love Him."  The right fear and love of God leads to obedience.  If we are struggling with obedience to God - it is probably a good time to re-evaluate our love and fear of God.  Recently I have been greatly helped by reading the book The Joy of Fearing God  by Jerry Bridges which deals with this issue.  I highly recommend this book.

The fear of God - God is a consuming fire but safe to those who love Him.  If we struggle with fearing God, perhaps it is time for us to study the doctrine of God and understand who He is.  Isaiah 6:1-5 is a helpful illustration for us to turn to in order to get  snapshot of who God is and what His excellent greatness requires.  Isaiah is overwhelmed and falls down while the angelic beings and Seraphim worship God.  This is our right response.  Do we truly understand the person of the awesome and almighty God when we sin against Him?  It is when we feel the weighty fear of God on our hearts that we renew our motivation to obey Him.  And when we rightly understand what God has done for us our Love blossoms into desire to obey, please, and be close to our dear loving Father.

Fear only God - Matthew 6, Luke 12.  When we rightly fear God we need not fear other things!

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