(Like the last post, this one also relates to two recent sermons at Felton Bible Church, Felton, CA on July 7th and July 14th. You can listen to both sermons here.)
I’d like to build a lifeline for you…a lifeline for me. I’d like to lay down a trail of breadcrumbs out of lost wandering in a deadly forest, and into joyful life in a picturesque valley. I’d like to illuminate the road away from hypocrisy and on to Christ.
Recently in our study of Luke we addressed the dark picture of religious hypocrisy found in Luke 11:37-53. We considered nine marks of the religious hypocrite, the final of which is exasperated and violent opposition to Jesus Christ. At the conclusion of the second sermon from this passage I suggested that the antidote to religious hypocrisy is holy fear; it is the soul-captivating, person-liberating fear of our Holy God. Such, I think, is the answer of Luke 12:4-5 to the religious hypocrisy of Luke 11:37-53.
Of course, once we mention the fear of God, our very next question ought to be, “So what is that? And how does it relate to Christ?” After all, Luke’s Gospel is all about the Gospel Kingdom of God centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is all about entering into real life by coming into God’s kingdom as a disciple of the Messiah. So, what is the fear of God, and how does it bring us to Jesus himself and therefore into God’s kingdom?
Let’s try and answer that question by turning to the lifeline…the trail of breadcrumbs…the road from hypocrisy to Christ. Hypocrisy is our starting point – the first link in our chain (if there are no others then we have no chain), the first crumb on the trail (if it’s all we have, we’ll starve), the first step on the road (if we don’t walk on, we won’t arrive anywhere). It’s a place of death and starvation. We saw hypocrisy clearly in Luke 11:37-53, so there’s no need to belabor the point here. Instead, let’s hopefully look forward and move on from this place of duplicity.
The second and third links in our life-line – crumbs on the trail, steps on the road – are “fear” and “delight”. Which of the two precedes the other? I don’t know. They’re so interconnected as to be almost one and the same. The solution to hypocrisy is fear (Luke 12), and fear necessitates delight. How do we know this? Psalm 112:1 (NASB) says, “Praise the Lord! How blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in His commandments.” There is a revealing parallelism in this verse. Notice how the second part of the verse explains the first. Who is the man who fears the LORD? It is he (or she) who greatly delights in his commandments. The mark of fear is delight! The converse is also true. The person who greatly delights in God’s commandments is someone, by definition, who fears Yahweh. Fear and delight are two sides of the same coin. These two words together, as a pair, describe a right relationship of man to God. When we don’t delight in God’s commandments (and none of us do by nature), we do not fear him. While this reality holds true, our relationship with God is broken, to our damnation. In contrast, when we fear God we also necessarily delight in his commandments. This is the place of joy in which our God-intended relationship with our Creator is restored, and eternal life exists, never to depart.
I need to segue here for just a moment to Psalm 119. It is an absolutely stunning piece of literature, the depths of which I have barely touched in my own reading and meditation. You may know that Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem in Hebrew. Did you also know that it uses “law” or “commandment” sorts of words over 180 times? Recently I counted all the instances in Psalm 119 (in the NASB translation) of the following words (or their plural form): “commandment,” “judgment,” “law,” “ordinance,” “precept,” “statute,” “testimony,” and “way” (in reference to God’s ways). I came up with 184 occurrences in 179 verses. The Psalmist is in holy ecstasy as he considers these “legal” things of God. You get the sense that God’s commands, his judgments, his law, his ordinances, his precepts, his statutes, his testimonies, his ways, are not merely something to conform oneself to as a matter of good behavior or good-citizen living (in the way we might obey the laws of our municipality, state, or country). Rather, they are the essence of life itself, because they are the expression of God himself! They are the life of God communicated to man. They are something to savor, to taste, to enjoy, to hunger after, to delight in(and yes, if this language sounds “John Piper-ish” that’s no mistake). Do you want to know what it looks like to fear God? Read Psalm 119. Do you want to know what it looks like to delight in God’s commandments? Read Psalm 119.
(Side Note: Consider what this means about our view of Scripture. Properly speaking, the “Law” is the Torah, the five books of Moses that are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. But, more broadly, the “Law” is the entire Old Testament revelation. In the final analysis, we find God’s commands, judgments, law, ordinances, precepts, statutes, and ways described for us in the totality of the Bible. So, in a manner of speaking, the whole of Scripture is the essence of life itself, because it is the expression of God himself. The Bible is interwoven with the life of God communicated to man. I say this with care, because it’s important that we not confuse the written text of the Bible with God in his being. In other words, the Bible is not God and God is not the Bible. But, that said, for us humans there is an inextricable tie between the words we read on the pages of Scripture and the very life of God. No wonder Paul could write in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is “God-breathed.”)
Finally, we arrive at the last crumb in our trail (indeed, the feast itself), the final link in our chain, the concluding step on our journey, namely Jesus Christ. Here again I’ll return to Psalm 119. As I read through it recently I was struck by this thought: Jesus is the fulfillment of Psalm 119. He actually lived, experienced, and felt from the heart what the Psalmist expresses (excepting Psalm 119:176a). In fact, I think Psalm 119 describes Jesus’ own human longing after, striving for, yearning for, and utterly enjoying God’s commandments, his judgments, his law, his ordinances, his precepts, his statutes, his testimonies, and his ways. Jesus is the quintessential God-fearer. He is the example of what it means to delight in Yahweh himself by delighting in Yahweh’s commands. But, he is also more than that. He is, in fact, our essential representative in terms of fear and delight. Why? Because none of us, in ourselves alone, fear God…and none of us, in ourselves alone, actually delight in God. In other words, Psalm 119 only becomes true of us (and it must become true of us, if we are to leave deadly hypocrisy behind) in Christ!
I could go on, but perhaps this is sufficient to make clear the lifeline I began with…the trail of breadcrumbs from hypocrisy to Christ…the steps out of the forest and into the valley. We begin with hypocrisy. Hypocrisy’s solution is fearful delight. And fearful delight becomes our reality in Christ!