If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.
Fear has many causes and takes different forms. Most times, fear’s message is a stern warning: “Danger! Beware!”
A coiled snake, a nearby explosion, or the cry, “Enemy inside the wire!”—these activate the alarms to fight, flee, or freeze.
These fears cause dread.
There is another fear, one that speaks in a gentle tone. It says, “Be quiet. Show respect.”
We call this fear reverence.
Reverence is no longer common among us. “I could care less!” “I will make my voice heard!” Those are the more common reactions from within a challenged crowd. Defiance is the more common attitude.
There are welcome exceptions. We might see it among the crowd at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It surely is expressed by the guard standing watch.
Showing reverence is a way to show honor. Instead of defiance, it shows deference. It says, “I am in the presence of something more important than me.”
Humans may request that reverence be shown at times. God demands it always.
The First Commandment requires that we fear, love, and trust in God above all things. The type of fear that lives alongside of love and trust is reverence.
Scripture calls out, “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him” (Habakkuk 2:20). The holy God demands respect and honor: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).
He expects obedience: “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God” (Romans 3:19).
He demands submission: “‘As surely as I live, says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God’” (Romans 14:11).
He is almighty. He is holy. He holds us accountable. But we know we cannot measure up to his expectations. We know we have no excuse for our failures.
It’s enough to put the fear of God into us.
It should. Unless we fear God there is no hope for us. But the fear need not take the form of dread. Dread can change to reverence.
The Lord of life and death wants that change. He invites it. He enables it.
He paid for that change.
He paid with the lifeblood of his Son.
We bow our heads before the vision of Jesus crucified. We are lost in the wonder of the One who loved us so much that he would take our place on the guilty seat. We would join in the chorus, “Glory, laud, and honor to thee, Redeemer, King.”
We call out to him, “But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.”
We are not ashamed of him. We confess: “No; when I blush, be this my shame; that I no more revere his name.”
The law teaches us dread. The gospel teaches us reverence.
We are the people of reverence.
Prayer: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Lord God almighty, we bow before you in reverence. We wish to glorify your name on earth. We plan to declare your praises in heaven. We are privileged to carry your name. Amen.
Written by Rev. Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Belle Plaine, Minnesota.
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