The Death Of Reverence? Are We More Afraid Of Being Afraid Of God Than Godly Fear Itself?

Text: Luke 5:1-11

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Over and over and over again, when people of the Bible encountered angels their immediate response was not excitement and joy but fear and awe.

Contrary to how angels are displayed in our culture, they are not cuddly little babies or feminine angelic fairies. Instead, they are sacred warriors and messengers of God.  They are spiritual beings that are referred to with masculine names.  They are holy, mighty, and possess superhuman strength.

And so, it makes sense that when Biblical people encountered angels, they reacted with fear.  It makes sense that angels typically said, “Do not fear,” because…well, mankind is frightened by that which is holy, mighty, and strong.  

You see, dear friends, fear sets in when you and I typically come into contact with things that are holier, bigger, and more powerful than us. For example, remember the shepherds at Bethlehem, they were fearful when the angels appeared to them. On Easter, the women were fearful when they came to the empty tomb and found angels. And in today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, the same fear and awe took hold of Peter, and his fellow companions, when they were before – not angels but - Jesus.

Now, it may strike you and me as being a bit odd to be fearful of Jesus; however, this was a ‘very’ appropriate response for Peter and the disciples that day when they were fishing. 

That day, after Jesus’ teaching, Jesus told the disciples to throw their nets into the water.  Long story short, after a whole night of not catching any, they listened to Jesus and caught so many fish that their nets begin to break.  Even their boats began to sink from the massive weight of fish.

Now, do not overlook this too quickly. While it is indeed amazing that this great catch caused the boats to sink, what is even more amazing is that the fish were caught immediately because Jesus made it so.  This was a miracle.  It was not Jesus showing He was a superb fisherman knowing the location of a good fishing honey-hole (as they say) but that Jesus had authority and power.  Authority and power not only over the water but the fish as well.  

As an experienced fisherman, Peter realized what just had happened. He realized that Jesus exercised authority over the water and fish to create a catch of a lifetime.  No, a catch of fish that was ‘out of this world’ impossible!  Peter never experienced anything like this in his lifetime.  And as a result, Peter fell at Jesus’s knees saying, 
“Get away from me. I am a sinner, and I cannot handle this holiness. Just leave me to myself.”   

As already mentioned, Peter’s fearful response to Jesus was quite appropriate.  It was appropriate because Jesus is not just another fishing buddy in the boat who caught a whooper.  Indeed, Jesus is not a fishing buddy in a boat, running the trolling motor, while tossing you a beer and saying, 
“I heard this joke down at the diner the other day. You want to hear it?”  


Jesus is the Son of God!  He is the God-Man.  In Him, all things in heaven and on earth were created.  He has authority over life, death, sin, the Devil – and yes – even fish.  Therefore, he should be feared.

But we don’t like to fear Christ, do we? We especially resist this fear of God in America because we like to keep our Christianity casual and informal.  Besides, in our reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus told Peter to, “Fear not!” – right?

Ah, but this is where we must be extremely careful.  When Jesus tells Peter to fear not, He is not telling Peter to relax and become casual.  In other words, when Jesus saw Peter on his knees crying out in fear and repentance of sins, Jesus does not say, 
“Do not fear Peter, for I am going to put my holiness and majesty away because it seems to have upset you!  Do not fear Peter – my bad – sorry that I displayed too much of my power and divinity before you.  I will chill out and be a little more casual from now on, so you don’t have to be frightened.”  

Dear friends, Jesus does not do any of this, but instead, He addresses Peter personally and comforts him with gracious forgiveness, comfort, and help.  

The point that is being made is that we American Christians dislike the idea of having something controlling over top of us. We like to feel as if we are masters and commanders of our lives – free to choose and do whatever we want.  We do not like to feel small and out of control, because that creates fear.  And so, we try to diminish the holiness, majesty, and divine power of Christ by striving to be informal and casual.  In our minds, informal and casual are good – they make things manageable and comforting.  Informal and casual offset fear. And nobody likes how uncomfortable fear is.

We see this everywhere in the American Church and are guilty of it ourselves. The pastor in the pulpit with a Hawaiian shirt instead of an alb and chasuble vestments? Casual. Church architecture that avoids high vaulted ceilings and long rows of pews but embraces low ceilings and wide rows of theater seating? Informal.  Church music that sounds like a pop love song instead of a majestic symphony?  Comfortable.  And cartoon graphics and mushy fonts in church publications?  Squishy.  Frankly stated, we are often more afraid of being fearful of God than Godly fear itself.  

It was completely appropriate for Peter to be fearful of Jesus, and we should be too.  It is good to have a fear of God because we are not God!  We are not all-knowing. We are not all-present. We are not all-powerful. We do not have the power to create, sustain, or redeem life itself. All we do is die while attempting to muddle through this life, with our futile attempts of so-called greatness.

But did not Jesus say to Peter, “Fear not!”  Yes, He did.  He did this to meet Peter’s fear with forgiveness, comfort, and help.  He did this to grant Peter faith.  

Baptized Saints, listen very carefully. There is a fear of God without faith, and there is a fear of God with faith. Faith is what makes the difference. Both Judas and Peter denied Jesus; however, Judas’ fear led him to death, whereas Peter’s fear led Him to Jesus.  In the Old Testament, both Saul and David had fear, but only David was a man after God’s own heart.  

So what this means for you today is that you shall fear God, but your fear should not be absent of faith.  You are not Judas – you are the baptized. You have been absolved of your sins.  The promises of God are for you, which means that you have forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ.  And with Christ – faith – faith that makes the Lord’s terror endurable.  

Perhaps, we could simplify all of this into one simple word - reverence.

You see, reverence is not something that is dead and without the Spirit.  But instead, reverence is a holy fear clothed with faith.  Simply stated, reverence acknowledges that the Lord is holy, that we are sinners, and that the Lord forgives sinners.  And so, reverence prevents you from pompously walking before the Lord, while chewing gum, making Jesus into your buddy and pal.  And at the same time, reverence understands the promises of God, which means that you can boldly approach the throne of grace because of Jesus’ sacrificial death on your behalf.  

Reverence acknowledges pain and awe and fear and mystery and faith and promises and hope.  Reverence does not try to omit things that make us fearful of God, and reverence does not leave us only in fear of God. Instead, reverence is a holy-respect before the Lord’s power, majesty, and might.  Reverence leaves us with astonishment, awe, and silent-faith-filled-gratitude knowing that the God of the universe – who could have destroyed you and me for our sin – chose to redeem you and me unto life. Reverence is truly present when Jesus Words, His Meal, and His Water invite you to Him and Him to you to free you from all that would destroy us.

And so, it is only out of this context of reverence that you and I live by faith, not by sight and certainly not by our feelings.  In reverence, you are neither seized by fear nor absent from fear, but centered in a holy fear clothed in faith.  Yes, faith that is worked in you – mighty, living, busy, active, faith.  Faith that confess sins; faith that receives Christ.  Faith that gives way to confession.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen. 

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