Peaceful Fear: A Sermon for the Festival of the Reformation

Crucifixion icon with witnesses

Sermon audio here.

It’s a sure sign of immaturity when you allow your preferences to determine what’s good and bad. Everyone knows there are things that are good for us that we don’t like, and not everything we like is good for us. We have a word for someone who always avoids what’s unpleasant: “child.”

St. Paul says,

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways,” (1 Cor. 13:11).

To always avoid the unpleasant is not only childish, it hinders spiritual growth. Like the brain or the athlete’s body, faith grows by testing. You know the saying, “No pain, no gain.” Hebrews 12 says,

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it,” (v. 11).

To constantly avoid that which is unpleasant—to resist the discipline of the Lord—is to rob yourself of the peaceful fruit of righteousness that is produced by those who have been trained by it.

Along with suffering, we tend to regard fear as a bad thing. We avoid the things we’re afraid of as much as possible, things like spiders, snakes, and pain. It can be frightening to think about death, so we usually don’t.

Confirmation students and their parents are often taken aback by the First Commandment, which requires us to fear God. We don’t like the sound of that. We’d much rather love God—so long as He doesn’t insist that we love Him above all things, including our children. Which He does, but that’s another story.

Attitude aside, fear is inevitable. It’s not always possible to avoid the things you’re afraid of. You’ll almost certainly see another spider or mouse. And even if you manage to live your entire life without giving death a second thought, it’s still going to come for you one day.

So it’s not really a question of whether or not you have fears as much as it is, “do you fear the right things?”

Scripture provides us with clear guidance here. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Our Lord Himself said we should “fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell,” (St. Matthew 10:28). Today He said, “If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The alternative is to remain in bondage to the lies of Satan. Nothing gives him more pleasure than misdirecting your fear. The devil delights in terror. Just look at the world today. Nowhere is safe anymore, not even schools and churches. Whole countries live under the reign of terrorists. Satan would use these things to shake your confidence in God. He wants you to fear pain or death—things God would use for your good—and not to fear God, Whom you should fear above all else.

The reason we fear the wrong things is because we try to find peace in the wrong places. Efforts to find peace in this world are vain. Everything under the sun eventually goes away. As long as you keep seeking peace in the wrong places, Satan will keep you trapped in fear.

St. Paul got to the heart of the Gospel in today’s epistle when he said, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” The problem is we keep seeking peace in the wrong places. We think we’d finally be happy or feel secure only if we had it better in the world, so we work at getting richer and healthier and smarter. Hard work is good, but to think any of those things will bring you peace is idolatry. Peace can never be achieved by our efforts, for we hold that one is justified apart from works of the law.

There’s an easy way to figure out what your idols are. What do you worry about? That’s your idol. It could be money, your appearance, impressing people, physical safety or health, or any number of things.

The Commandments redirect your misplaced fear. They instruct you to fear God’s wrath and not do anything against His commandments. Whenever you sin, you demonstrate that you don’t fear the Lord above all things. If you feared Him rightly, you would never sin, because you’d be too afraid of inciting Him to wrath. Repent, for you haven’t feared Lord.

The message of the Reformation is the good news that the Gospel is for sinners. If you realized how desperately sick you are, hearing the Holy Absolution and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ would be your greatest joy.

St. Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians to “examine themselves to see whether [they] are in the faith,” (2 Cor. 13:5). Being a card-carrying member of a Lutheran congregation isn’t a sure ticket into heaven. If you want into heaven, repent and fear the Lord.

Our liturgy today put a premium on the importance of fearing God. Our Introit said, “Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” The angel’s eternal Gospel in Revelation began with the words, “Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come.”

Our liturgy repeatedly admonishes you to fear the Lord, but then in our Alleluia verse, all of this fear-talk comes to an abrupt halt. It said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”

So which is it? Fear the Lord, or fear not? It’s not an either or. Those who fear the Lord have nothing to fear. Peace is found in the fear of the Lord.

It’s odd; normally you don’t love and trust the things you fear. You’re more likely to hate the things you fear rather than love them. But God isn’t ordinary. He is the One before Whom kings tremble and sinners rejoice, Who evokes fear, love, and trust all at the same time.

We usually regard fear and love as incompatible, but God joins together what man has separated. When directed to the right place, fear isn’t a bad thing—it’s the beginning of wisdom. The fear of the Lord is a peaceful fear.

Despite being confronted by unbelievable terror in Psalm 46, the author was nevertheless able to remain at peace. Normally we think we can at least count on the ground beneath our feet, but not in Psalm 46. It described the crumbling of mountains and destruction of the earth.

“Though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, we will not fear.” Why? Because God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. For the psalmist, faith is not just about “going to heaven.” It’s about seeking refuge in Christ’s life-giving death at all times. He is your peace.

In Christ, you have nothing to fear. He may punish the children for the sin of the fathers to the 3rd and 4th generation of those who hate Him, but He shows love to a thousand generations of those who fear Him.

The same God who brought comfort and peace to the psalmist is also your refuge and strength. The relationship you have destroyed with God by your sin, Christ has repaired.

He gives and He takes away. He bestows faith and removes sin. He bids you come to His Table with the invitation: “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” Fear not, little flock, for Christ is your peace.

Soli Deo Gloria

+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. John 8:31–36; Psalm 34; Psalm 46; Revelation 14:6–7; Romans 3:19–28
Reformation Day (observed), 2015: “Peaceful Fear”
Zion, Summit
Immanuel, Hodgkins
Around the Word Bible Studies

Categories: Sermons

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