God is glorious: I need not fear others (Prov. 29:25)

Publié le 1 mai 2022 dans Traductions

Sermon preached by Pastor Vincent Bourrel on 1st May 2022

Introduction

You are late for an appointment because you did not leave early enough. How do you react?

  • Do you invent terrible traffic jams… Probably due to a serious accident?
  • Do you denounce your spouse, your children, who made you late?
  • You pretend you were on time and pretend you didn’t notice the time of the appointment?
  • Do you admit that you left too late to be on time, ask for forgiveness and bear the consequences of your negligence?

Why do we tend to think about one of the first 3 solutions?

Because we don’t want to appear as we are: negligent.

Because we fear the consequences of our delay: if it was a job interview, you won’t get the job; or if it was an ophthalmic appointment, you have to reschedule in 8 months.

Because we fear the rejection of the person we are trying to please.

In short, we fear men more than we fear God because we are ready to displease God, by adding a lie to our negligence, rather than displeasing men.

« It is a snare to tremble before men, but to trust in the LORD gives security. » Prov 29.25

The fear of men pushes us to lie, to hide our failures, to deceive, to appear better than we are, to be cowardly when we fear losing something. All this to gain the esteem and favor of a boss, to not disappoint a spouse, to get the approval of parents, or to belong to the cool group of high school or college friends…

The fear of men is part of the human race, you didn’t need to observe it to reproduce it, since the fall of Adam and Eve, fear has filled our hearts, and pious men like Abraham and Peter have fallen into its abyss dragging others down with them.

How can we rid ourselves of the fear of men?

The answer is: By fearing God, that is to say, by considering the person of God as he is.

THE GLORIOUS GOD

The glory of God is the radiance that surrounds the revelation of his person. It is not, strictly speaking, one of God’s attributes (like his perfection, sovereignty, omnipotence, omniscience, love and wisdom). Nevertheless, the glory of God is something that belongs to him alone and is the visible manifestation of the excellence of his character. This glory infinitely surpasses any other glory.

Our weak knowledge of the glory, of the divine majesty explains our lack of faith and the weakness of our worship. J.I. Packer writes, « We are modern people, and modern people, though they cherish great thoughts of themselves, have as a rule small thoughts of God.” This is our great misfortune.

Nowadays, the idea of a personal God is very much emphasized, but by dint of being said and repeated, this truth ends up giving the impression that God is a person of the same kind as we are: weak, imperfect, ineffective and somewhat pitiful. But the God of the Bible is quite different! Our lives are limited; they are limited in every way: in space, in time, in knowledge and in power. But God knows none of these limits. He is eternal, infinite and all-powerful. He holds us in his hand while we never hold him in ours.

God knows everything about us, we can hide from men but we cannot escape from God (cf Ps 139). I can hide from men what is in my heart, my past, my future plans but I cannot hide anything from God. My words can deceive my fellow men about me, but nothing I can say or do will succeed in deceiving God.

He knows me as I really am, even better than I know myself. A God from whose presence and scrutinizing gaze I could escape would be a very small and insignificant deity. But the true God is great and formidable, precisely because he is always with me and his gaze is always on me. Living then becomes something impressive when one becomes aware that every moment of one’s life takes place under the gaze and in the presence of an omniscient creator.

But that is not all. God is also the judge of the living and the dead. When you speak to men about a God who is their father, their friend, their support, the one who loves them in spite of their weakness, their folly and their sins, then their faces light up; they understand you very well. But if you speak to them of a God who is their judge, they frown and shake their heads. Their minds refuse to accept an idea that seems to them to be repulsive and odious. But there are few things that the Bible emphasizes as strongly as this reality of God’s action as judge. It is the entire biblical story that recalls the reality of divine judgment.

God judged Adam and Eve by driving them out of the Garden of Eden. In the days of Noah, God judged the corrupt world by sending the flood to destroy humanity. God judged Sodom and Gomorrah by destroying them with fire from heaven. In Egypt God judged the tyrants of the people of Israel with 10 terrible plagues. He judged the people of Israel who worshiped the golden calf. God judged Nadab and Abihu for wanting to go beyond the veil and later Korah, Dathan and Abiram were swallowed up in an earthquake for their rebellion. Achan was judged for his theft. God judged Israel because of their unfaithfulness to Him after they entered Canaan and were deported. In Babylon, God judged Belchazar because of his ungodliness. In the New Testament, we see God judging Ananias and Sapphira for lying to him, Herod for his pride and Elymas for his opposition to the Gospel. The Christians in Corinth fell ill and in some cases died for, among other things, taking the Lord’s Supper with scandalous disrespect… And this is just a glimpse of the many, many accounts of divine judgment recorded in the Bible.

The certainty of judgment is in the whole Bible and it is the conclusion of the book of Ecclesiastes: « Young man, rejoice in your youth, give your heart to joy in the days of your youth, walk in the ways of your heart and according to the eyes of your eyes; but know that for all this God will call you to judgment », « Fear God and keep his commandments. This is what every man must do. For God will bring every work into judgment, concerning all that is hidden, whether good or bad. » (Ecc. 12:1, 15-16.)

God stands at the end of the path of life of each one without exception, that is why the prophet Amos could say to Israel « Prepare to meet your God ». « Prepare to meet the risen Christ ». This is God’s message to the world today.

Yes, our God is glorious, and all those who have realized it, upon catching a glimpse of that glory, have fallen at his feet as if dead. Daniel, Ezekiel, John… we feel ashamed before him, and rightly so.

But where we see his glory even more clearly is in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In John 1:14 we read, « And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; and we beheld his glory, a glory like the glory of the only begotten Son from the Father. »

It is the gospel that reveals the splendor of his glory. By his work on the cross, Christ the righteous paid the penalty for our sins. We sinners no longer have to fear wrath, abandonment, and death, because Jesus knew them for us. By faith in him we are forgiven, we have peace with God, we are his redeemed children and we receive the assurance of living in his presence for eternity, but why? To celebrate his glory, the glory of his grace.

Thus the creator, the just judge, the one whose wrath we should most fear, is made propitious to us, we have his favor, we are accepted by him because of his grace. This grace inspires us with admiration, respect and love.

EXAMPLES

Now let’s see the effects of the lack of faith and understanding in the lives of 2 emblematic characters of the Bible: Abraham and Peter.

The Example of Abraham

Shortly after God promised to make Abraham into a great nation, Abraham went down to Egypt. There he fears for his life because he has a wife who is too beautiful (poor man). He is afraid that the Egyptians will want to kill him to take his wife, so he asks Sarah to say that she is his sister. Ge 12.11-13. Instead of trusting God (who promised him a seed, making him immortal before he had a son) he trusts his own ploy. For Abraham at this moment the Egyptians are great and fearsome and God is small. So Pharaoh takes Sarah to be his wife and gives « her brother » a very nice dowry. God intervenes and strikes Pharaoh and his house with great plagues and reveals to him that Sarah is Abraham’s wife.

A few chapters later in Genesis 20, Abraham uses the same ploy. He again places his wife in a situation where she runs the risk of being dishonored, and he deceives Abimelech, the king of Gerar. Only God’s intervention protects Abimelech from adultery, Sarah from dishonor and Abraham from total shame. (Ge 20.2, 10.)

Because the Lord had just renewed his promise of a son, a promise that had not yet been fulfilled, Abraham believed they could not die. And when Abimelech asks him why he lied to him, Abraham answers « I thought that there was no fear of God in this land, and that they would kill me because of my wife ». Indeed, there was no fear of God in this land and especially in Abraham. God is small and men are formidable.

You see that this fear of men is tenacious. Do you feel that you are reacting like Abraham?

In Genesis 21 Sarah became pregnant and gave birth to the child promised by God so long ago. It was a miraculous child, since Sarah had been sterile up till then. In Genesis 22 God puts Abraham to the test. His long-awaited son Isaac is now a young man and God asks him to sacrifice his son whom he loves, and from whom a nation must come forth according to the promise. He is not afraid of Sarah’s reaction, of what Isaac will think of his father, nor of what Abimelech, his servants, or the neighboring peoples will say…

Abraham does not show the slightest hesitation; he gets up early to obey the Lord. And he is about to sacrifice Isaac. Then in Gen 22.12, the angel of the Lord says to him « Do not put your hand on the child and do nothing to him; for I know now that you fear God and that you have not refused me your only son » (Gen 22.12).

Here, God is the greatest in his heart. How did Abraham see God as so glorious that the fear of men did not paralyze him as before?

In Gen 21.33 we read, « In Beersheba Abraham called on the name of the Lord, the God of eternity. » I suppose that this time when he calls on God, he thinks of him as the One who holds Time in his hand, who perfectly manages the timing of Abraham’s life. This is a time when God grows in Abraham’s eyes, he sees that God always fulfills his promises even when they seem completely impossible. What God says he does. Abraham still has to have offspring through Isaac, Isaac has no wife or children yet. If he dies, God will raise him up. This is the comment given in Hebrews 11:19.

Take time to consider God and his promises and call on his name.

The Example of Peter

Peter is known for his impetuous temperament. Of all the disciples, he seems to be the most daring. We would not expect him to be fearful of men. However, this evil is found in the hearts of both the bold and the timid.

How can he deny the Lord? He has seen miracles. The Holy Spirit revealed to him that Jesus was the Christ. He witnessed the transfiguration! He loves Jesus. How can he deny him? Peter is so much like us: sinful, spiritually incompetent without the constant assistance of the Holy Spirit. He, too, is able to give people importance to the point where they become greater than Jesus himself.

On a cold night, Peter stands outside the high priest’s house while Jesus is being interrogated inside. He stands by a fire with a group of officers and servants. When someone tells him that he has been seen with Jesus, he replies, « I don’t know what you mean.”

For Peter to deny knowing Jesus in this way, it is assumed that the one confronting him is a centurion, a Pharisee, or someone who has the power to have him executed on the spot. His life is surely in danger. But this is not the case. The person talking to him is a woman. She is not a very influential woman, but a simple servant.

To think that Peter’s life was in danger would almost be convenient, but it would not be the truth. It took very little provocation for him to deny Christ. When a second question is put to him, perhaps by the same servant, he says the same thing. There is no shyness in him when he answers the woman’s question. He denies it categorically with an oath.

His third denial is even more serious. He starts cursing and swearing: « I do not know this man » Mt 26:74.  The fear of men is really a dangerous trap, isn’t it?

We know that after that, Peter met Jesus’ eyes and then the cock crowed and Peter wept bitterly. Do you feel the same shame when you lie brazenly due to the fear of men?

Then after the resurrection the angel announces: « Go and tell my disciples and Peter » that I want to see them in Galilee. Jesus is very happy to forgive Peter and he entrusts him with his flock, telling him three times « feed my sheep ». After having experienced the curse of the fear of men, felt the gaze of the holy God and known a forgiveness full of love, it is sure that Peter has learned his lesson… Or not.

Later on, Peter knows very well that non-Jews are included in the Gospel. He is the one who received the vision in Acts 10 and who first proclaimed the Gospel to the non-Jews. Also he had made it a habit to eat with non-Jews. However, when the Jewish Christians, who (wrongly) believe that circumcision is part of the gospel, come to Peter, he dissociates himself from his non-Jewish brothers and sisters. He now treats them according to Jewish custom rather than according to the Lord’s commandment.

Why does he do this? Because he is afraid of the group that is for circumcision. What are the consequences of this behavior? Other brothers, including Barnabas, are drawn into this error. Such hypocrisy is so serious that Paul openly opposes Peter in Galatians 2:13. Will Peter finally understand? We can only think so.

In his epistles, in 1 Peter 3:13-15 Peter knows that the fear of men is a trap and that it is by « sanctifying Christ the Lord in our hearts » that we will not be afraid to answer those who question us about our faith. That is, to recognize that Christ is truly the master of all events, that he is the Lord.

In 2 Peter 1.14 Peter announces that he will die suddenly (violently) as the Lord has made known to him, but now he fears death and the men who can give it less than the Lord of glory who will receive him and who holds his destiny in his hands. It is he who will give him the grace to live courageously this day. He remembers that he has seen him in his glorious majesty and he has heard the voice of the Father v.16-18.

It seems that Peter has meditated, has contemplated the glory of God and this glory weighs infinitely more in the balance now than his natural fear of men.

I could have taken other examples like Moses, Elijah, Ezekiel, Esther… there are plenty, as this fear of men is widespread. But they all have the same experience summarized in our text Prov 29.25. David in Psalm 56.4-5 says, « When I am in fear, In you I trust. I will glory in God, in his word; I will trust in God, I will not fear: what can men do to me? »

Conclusion

The best treatment against the fear of men is the fear of God. When we fear God because of his glory, we free from the fear of men. We fear men because we seek their approval or because we fear their disapproval. But the approval we seek is the approval of the person who matters most to us: your boss, your wife, your father, your children, your brothers… the person whose judgment matters most, the most glorious in your eyes.

But you can see that in the end it is God’s approval that matters the most. If God is for you, who will be against you? God is the one who is glorious and the one we should fear, the one whose approval matters most and the one who approves us in Jesus Christ.

We should fear men less and love them more, for the glory of God.

The more we know God in his glory, the less important men will be in our eyes.