"THE FEAR THAT ENDS ALL FEARS"
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14)
August 12, 2018
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.
Psalm 34:4-6 (ESV)
In order to fully appreciate Psalm 34 (and these verses in particular), we first have to have some knowledge of the circumstances that moved David to write this song of praise. It all comes out of a particular incident in David's life--an incident that you can read about in the First Book of Samuel. David was afraid of King Saul, who was trying to kill him, since he had been chosen by God to be king in place of Saul. In fear David fled to the Philistines, the enemies of Israel. Perhaps he was thinking that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," as they say. But when he found himself in the presence of the king of the Philistines and it was discovered who he was, David was even more afraid, so he finally sought the Lord in prayer. His only escape was to pretend to be insane so that the king drove him out. In all of this the Lord, despite David's cowardly and faithless actions, delivered him anyway.
This incident had a tremendous impact on David--so tremendous, in fact, that he later wrote this psalm, praising the Lord for His care and deliverance. The verses before us in particular speak about two kinds of fear: fear of men and the fear of the Lord. When you consider the difference between God's power and man's, there is really no comparison. This is reminiscent of the words of Jesus: "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell" (Matthew 10:28). Looking at the experience of David and at our own experiences in life, let's compare and contrast this morning the fear that generates still more fear and the fear that ends all fears.
David, like so many people today, was a person driven by fear. Such people are constantly in a "no-win situation" because they never have confidence in anything. Every decision that they make and every action that they take is determined not by a choice between what they are afraid of and what they trust, but rather by what they are more afraid of. David was afraid of King Saul--and for good reason. Saul wanted to kill him. But where did he go to escape Saul? He went to the Philistines, who also wanted to kill him (especially after he had defeated their champion Goliath). So instead of getting rid of his fear of Saul, he merely replaced it with his fear of the Philistines. When he could no longer conceal his identity from the enemy king, he feigned insanity so that he would be banished from the king's presence.
David had to learn--the hard way--that the only One to fear is God Himself. He is more powerful than any other force to be reckoned with. Everything else that we might be tempted to take confidence in falls short--and that's the problem. We learned in the catechism's explanation of the First Commandment that "other gods" are anything that we fear, love, and trust in as we should fear, love and trust in God alone. David's problem was that, in a weak moment, he feared, loved, and trusted in his enemies' king more than in God. We can deny it all that we want, but we have "other gods" as well: other people and things that we place our confidence in and take comfort in. Like David, we often turn to the Lord only when it is proven beyond all reasonable doubt that these "other gods" are no gods at all--that they can do nothing to meet our greatest needs or to assuage our greatest fears. It is then and then only that we look to God for deliverance and comfort--when it becomes clear to us that we have no other option.
The Good News is that God is gracious. He's not angry when we come to Him in desperation. On the contrary, He rejoices in it. While the Lord certainly didn't condone David's futile attempts to save himself from what he feared the most, He delivered him nevertheless. In the same way, the Lord doesn't condone the futile attempts of sinners to justify themselves in the face of God's Law by denying that they are sinners or making excuses for their sin or placing the blame elsewhere. But He nevertheless rejoices when the sinner turns in desperation to the Gospel of Jesus Christ for deliverance. In fact, His Holy Spirit actually uses those futile attempts at self-justification to teach the sinner the hard lesson that he can't save himself and to lead him to the only Salvation that there is: the God who became incarnate in Christ to endure God's judgment in the sinner's place and to replace sin with His perfect righteousness, with which we will be clothed when we face the perfect Judge on the day of His appearing.
In Psalm 34 David boasts. Is that a good thing? In his case it is, because he is boasting not about himself but about the Lord who in mercy has "delivered [him] from all [his] fears." His boast is this: "This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles." That boast of David can and should be ours as well. We are told by those who oppose Christianity that our faith robs us of our self-esteem because it requires that we acknowledge ourselves to be devoid of anything good and that we grovel at the Lord's feet, begging for His forgiveness and acceptance. These opponents claim that, in order to be a Christian, you have to say that you are so wretched and miserable that you are worth nothing. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the Christian faith does require us to acknowledge our sin and guilt, grieve over it, and throw ourselves at the Lord's mercy, it also gives us the greatest sense of worth possible because it comforts us with the knowledge that the perfectly holy and just God values us so much that He was willing to become One of us in Christ in order to restore us as His dear children. Are you worth anything? God says that you are worth His perfect life and His innocent suffering and death. What could be worth more than that?
There are a lot of things in this world to be afraid of. We are surrounded every day by fears of every kind. Some involve personal issues, some social issues, some political issues, and some spiritual issues. Very often we look to assuage these fears in human solutions, as David did. But all of those efforts are futile. There is only one Refuge for us--only One that can deliver us from all of our fears and save us out of all of our troubles. That one Refuge is the God who has reached down to us in His mercy even to the point of becoming One of us in Christ to bear our burdens and to give us a share in His glory. The fear of Him is the fear that ends all fears. It assures us that we rest in the hand of a loving God, that all will be well for us in the end, and that the words of David in our text will be true also of us: "Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed."
May the Lord bless your hearing of His Word, using it to accomplish in you those things for which He gave it. May you be enriched and strengthened in faith that you may leave here today to go out into our world armed with the whole armor of God, prepared to be able ambassadors of your Savior Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.