On Monday we looked at humor. In what ways is a humorous personality a liability? That was APJ 1813. The answer there was that humor can be stewarded well. The key is developing sober-mindedness — an awareness that doesn’t abolish humor, but puts humor in its place and protects things that are greater and more glorious. To be sober-minded, as we saw, is to cultivate a “demeanor that corresponds to the weight of the great things of life.” Which means we must avoid being “obsessed” with humor to the point that we become “incapable of serious moments” and “allergic” to them to the point that we become quick to break serious moments with injected humor. In other words, we must learn to tremble before God. This word is especially relevant to the tone of our Sunday gatherings together.
And that brings us to today. In the presence of God, everything trembles. The earth trembles, according to Psalm 114:7: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.” The psalmist trembles in Psalm 119:120: “My flesh trembles for fear of you, and I am afraid of your judgments.” Indeed, the one who trembles at God’s word, that person catches God’s attention, according to what he tells us in Isaiah 66:2: “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” And in the New Testament, Paul calls us in Philippians 2:12 —Christians — to “work out” our salvation “with fear and trembling.”
So why do Christians tremble? Here’s Pastor John to explain, from a 2005 sermon.
Here’s Revelation 19:15: “From his mouth comes a sharp sword [now, this is describing Jesus at his second coming] with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” Now, that last sentence is exceedingly terrible. “He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”
Just make four observations:
1. God is “Almighty.” We are not dealing here with a mere president of the United States, the mere premier of China. We’re dealing here with the person whose power includes all the power of the political realm, and all the power of the electromagnetic realm, and all the power of the atomic realm, and all the power of the gravitational pull of the biggest stars in the universe, and all the power that upholds the universe by the word of his might. We are dealing here with what’s called Almighty — omnipotence, absolute sovereignty — and he is angry.
2. The second observation is that this Almighty God is about to pour out his wrath. So, he is a God of love (the Bible is clear about that) and he is also a God of justice and holiness and wrath (the Bible is very clear about that). We need to know God as he is, not as we make him up to be.
3. The third observation is that this wrath is full of fury — “the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” It’s not a cool opposition. It’s not emotionally indifferent. It is a furiously angry wrath.
4. The fourth observation, and it’s the most terrible, is that it is like Christ treading a winepress in which the unbelieving are under his feet, and their blood flows like wine from the winepress.
That’s the image of the beloved apostle John, among others. And my point today is this should produce a certain appropriate emotional response in us.
Favor for the Trembling
Psalm 114:7: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.” Psalm 119:120: “My flesh trembles for fear of you, and I am afraid of your judgments.” That’s a very godly man talking. Isaiah 66:2: “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble [this is God talking] and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” God’s countenance shines with favorable grace upon trembling people.
“God’s countenance shines with favorable grace upon trembling people.”
Or here’s the New Testament testimony that we should all heed. Philippians 2:12: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” To all believers, the Bible says, “Get on the road that leads to life. And if necessary, cut off your hands to stay there; gouge out your eyes to stay there. This is war, all the way to heaven. And as you go, let there be fear and trembling upon this road.”
This is not something you grow out of as you get more mature as a Christian. “Oh, maybe you start afraid, and then later on there’s no fear and trembling.” This is something that immature Christians must necessarily grow into, not something you grow out of.
Our Dread and Sanctuary
To which you should perhaps respond, “But doesn’t the Bible teach, ‘Fear not,’ dozens of places? Doesn’t it say, ‘Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God’ (Isaiah 41:10)? So, what are you saying about the ‘fear not’ passages if you’re calling us to experience normal Christianity as fear and trembling?”
What does “fear not” mean? It means two things:
- It means fear God, not man.
- It means don’t fear God as your enemy; fear him as one who was your enemy, and who is very great.
Let me give you a text for each of those. Fear God, not man: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). This is the way I would put it: “Fear distrusting God; don’t fear displeasing men.” Let it be a terrifying prospect to you to distrust your God, but don’t let it be at all a terrifying prospect to you to displease your enemy who might cut off your head. That’s all they can do: cut off your head. But God, after the head has been cut off, can cast the soul into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear distrusting God. Fear turning away from God.
“Don’t fear God as your enemy; fear him as one who was your enemy, and who is very great.”
Isaiah 8:12 puts it this way — this is a paradoxical verse: “Do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts . . . let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary” (Isaiah 8:12–14).
It’s like when my son Karsten visited Dick Teagan at age six. There was this big German shepherd who met him eye to eye in the doorway at age six. And he was very much afraid. And Dick said, “Don’t be afraid; she’s very friendly.” We sent Karsten to the car to get something we’d forgotten, and he went trotting out to the car, and this dog comes loping up behind him with a deep rumble in her voice. It did not look like this dog was safe. And Dick hollered out to him, “Oh, Karsten, better not run away from her. She doesn’t like people to run away from her.”
And I took mental note: “That’s going into a sermon, because that’s exactly the way God is.” He’s a very friendly God. He just doesn’t like people to run away from him. And he will lope after you with a deep rumble in his voice. And if you don’t heed that rumble and turn and hug his neck, you’re going to be history forever.