If you could sum up 2020 in one word, which one would you use?
What about “fear”? Did you feel its presence as news of the novel coronavirus crept its way across the globe? Did your thoughts move to those in your family at risk? I found myself fearful for my children, both long-time asthma sufferers. Then, with the impact of isolations and lock-downs, came the economic impact and uncertainty. Would your work be affected? Would you be able to make ends meet? Could any more tragedies happen this year?
Yes – then came fires; storms; floods, and civil disunity.
You might say that “fear” is the appropriate word – but fear can also be the most appropriate response!
All these circumstances are fear-filled. That’s because we live in a fallen and broken world – a sin-stained world not as it should be. Our fearful response is what the Puritan John Flavel called “natural fear”, an emotion even our Savior felt as He anticipated the horrors of the cross before Him.
But while fear in the face of a pandemic and uncertainty is normal, the Bible calls us to do something more with these fears through two common commands that lace the Bible: “do not fear” and “fear the Lord.” They might seem contradictory but they aren’t, they are connected. The Bible teaches us in the face of our fears to trade them for the fear of the Lord.
What is the fear of the Lord? It’s not the panic-terror-nausea-inducing-heart-racing kind of fear from bad news. It is a holy mixture of reverence and awe, wonder and amazement, love and gratitude, trust and obedience. It is when you know the depth of your depravity but marvel at the grace of God showered upon you in Christ. It is the response of one who knows who God is in His holiness, righteousness, goodness, and truth, and rejoices at the privilege it is to come before His presence. It is the response of one who knows God is greater – that he is the supreme sovereign who rules over all and ensures that nothing can snatch His beloved children from His hand.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus sent the disciples out to preach the good news of the Kingdom. He warned them that some would seek to kill them and persecution would come. . . . and then Jesus told them not to fear, but to instead fear the Lord. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28). He goes on to tell them why “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. . . . Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31.
Dear friends, fearful circumstances in this life are here to stay but if you are in Christ you can also expect God’s sovereign care. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing. He is your refuge in the face of all fear. He is greater. Let us turn to God with a holy fear of the Lord.