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TEXT: Ecclesiastes 5:1-7
SUBJECT: Ecclesiastes #6: With Reverence and Awe
If you ever get the chance to attend a Quaker wedding, I hope you take it. Their weddings are very different than what we're used to, and the differences are not accidental. They are deeply rooted in theology.
Most weddings are wordy affairs. Nobody outside of Las Vegas can tie the knot quicker than I, but even I do a lot of talking at a wedding. I start with the welcome. Then comes the statement of purpose. Followed by the giving away of the bride. Then a short homily. A prayer. The vows. The pledge. The pronouncement. And when the bride and groom recess, the announcement of when and where the reception will be. Most weddings are wordy.
But not Quaker weddings. A man and woman walk to the front of the meeting house and kneel down before the congregation. There they remain for a few minutes, or even an hour. When the Spirit moves them, they make their promises, rise to their feet, and walk out of the church without music or applause. Their weddings don't seem like weddings at all. In fact, the early Quakers were often accused of fornication because no one believed people who were married in this way were 'really married'.
Why are their weddings so different than the ceremonies we've all been to? One reason is practical: The Quakers don't have ministers, and without me and my kind on the stage, weddings are sure to be a lot less talkative!
The main reason, however, is religious. The Quakers believe that God officiates at a wedding-that husband and wife are joined together by Him-and not by a mere man. Because the Lord is there, the people are quiet, and it's the quiet of.reverence.
Reverence is a word that needs reviving-and not only the word, but the thing itself. What is it? It is respect taken to another level. I loved my late father very dearly, but what I mostly had for him was 'respect'. He was a good man, and though I often failed him, I never felt good about myself when I did. I wanted to please him, and not because he would praise me if I did or chide me when I didn't. I wanted to please him because of the kind of man he was!
Take what I felt for my father-what many of us did- multiply it by infinity, and you've got reverence, a sense of awe, of veneration. Some pastors go by 'reverend', and there's nothing wrong with calling us that, but we must remember that we're 'reverend' only because of whom we represent. Only He is worthy of that honor, and the Psalmist gives it to Him, 111:0-
He has sent redemption to His
He has commanded His
Holy and reverend is His
Reverence has become a rare commodity in the world, and it's getting rarer by the moment. When was the last time you thought of a Christian as a 'God fearing man'? This was common at one time, but not any more. You might call him religious, a believer, a disciple, a Christian, even a saint. But 'God fearing'? That's something a Puritan would say. We're too ironic for that ourselves, and our image of God has been so diminished that the thought of trembling before His Majesty seems superstitious.
But if we're right and the old-timers were wrong, how come our Lord Jesus Christ was a God fearing Man? Was He? Yes, He was: the Bible says so, Hebrews 5:7-
In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard, because of His fear [the KJV says] or, [in the ESV], His reverence.
No one knew and felt the Fatherhood of God like Jesus did; it was He who first prayed, Abba Father. But His love and fellowship with God did not negate or minimize His reverence or godly fear.
Jesus was a deeply reverent Man, and He and His Apostle commanded us to feel the way He did. In one of His well known sayings, our Lord commanded us to replace the fear of man with the fear of God-
Do not fear him who can destroy the body, but cannot destroy the soul, but fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell!
Strong words! But here they are: what are we going to do with them? Patronize Jesus because He bought into the blood and guts religion of the Old Testament? Or believe His words, and put them into practice?
What our Lord said Himself, His disciples taught in His name. Peter, for example, wrote-
Honor all men; love the brotherhood; fear God.
Paul sums up church life by saying-
Submitting yourselves to one another in the fear of God.
Fifty years ago, there was some reverence for God in the world. Most people were not Christians, of course, or even 'religious', but kids were taught to not take the Lord's Name in vain. Men took off their hats when they walked into a church. Blasphemy was not allowed on TV or the radio. Pastors, priests, and rabbis were respected in the community.
What was true of society was doubly so in church. The services I went to as a boy were not always dignified or tasteful, but they were always serious! Hillbilly pastors may have worn tacky suits and preached with funny accents, but they also prayed fervently and pleaded with sinners to 'get right with God'. Church was not a nightclub or a situation comedy! If we didn't always fear God during the week, we sure feared Him on Sunday!
What happened? Where did the rot set in? I'm not sure if it started in the world and seeped into the church, or if it was the other way around. But whichever way irreverence went, it has gotten into every nook and cranny of life.
Where do we start reversing the trend? Some Christians want to start in the world. They want the Ten Commandments posted in the courtroom and to bring back school prayer. God bless them in their efforts, but I think they've got it backwards. I think the world will grow more and more irreverent until the Church restores reverence on Sunday morning. No, I don't believe in 'Sunday Morning Christianity'. But you've got to start somewhere. Why not at church?
This brings us to today's passage and what has to be the most 'religious' paragraph in the Book. Most of what the Preacher says is descriptive; he tells us what the world is really like, and the picture is not a pretty one. Life under the sun is often unfair and unjust, never predictable
This brings us to today's passage and what is the most 'religious' paragraph in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Up to now, most of what the Preacher said was descriptive; he told us what the world is really like, and that's unjust, unfair, not predictable, and, most of all, not subject to human control.
But here, he becomes prescriptive: he starts telling us what to do, and how to live in a world that is under the Lordship of Somebody Else.
That 'Somebody Else' is God, of course, and His dwelling place in the world is the Temple. The Jews did not believe God lived in the Temple in the same way that you and I live in our homes. Solomon said not even the heavens contain Him, but, because He wants to have fellowship with people who do live in the world, the Lord came down to this special place. He put His Name in this one spot, and from between the cherubim in the Holy of Holies, His glory shone in a unique way.
The Temple was the holiest place in the world-holy because God was there. How do we approach His Majesty? The Preacher tells us.
First of all, we do it carefully, v.1a-
Guard you steps when you go to the House of God.
This means 'Don't run into the Temple as though it were any other place'. It is no other place! The Temple was not their home; it was not their hangout; it wasn't the corner bar or local coffee shop, or the gym they stopped by on the way home from work. It was God's House, and the Lord is not a bartender or a barrista! He is the Lord of Glory! He is the One whose face archangels cannot gaze upon!
Who are we-mere mortals, and sinful, too-to tramp into His Home like we were going to the movies! Think of how you'd feel going to the White House. Shall we give a president more respect than the King of Kings? But we do, because we can see the President, while the King is Invisible. And it's easier to walk by sight than it is by faith.
Solomon's Temple is no longer there, and it hasn't been replaced by the Great Cathedrals in Rome or Constantinople or Canterbury. It has been replaced by the church, wherever it meets, in big church buildings, dinky little places like this one, storefronts, living rooms, any time-
Two or three are gathered together in [Christ's] Name, [He] is with us.
And, because in Jesus dwells the fullness of the godhead, then this little chapel with a handful of people in a podunk town is nothing less than-
The House of God, the Church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
For all our nothingness and ignorance and tackiness-and sin-we are the Temple of God at the corner of 2nd and E Street! When we come to church, we ought to come with all due reverence.
Reverence can be faked, but it can also be felt. When you don't feel it, meditate on the greatness and glory of God, and ask Him to make you know and feel Him as He is. It is possible for good people to miss the Presence of God. Jacob did, on his flight to Mesopotamia. In a village then called Luz, he had a dream, but it was more than a dream. It was a vision of the Truth. A ladder came down from heaven and angels went up and down it. When the woke up, he exclaimed-
Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it!
How awesome is this place! It is the House of God; it is the gate of Heaven!
Reverence is a gift of God and cannot be produced on demand. But are you open to receive it? Do you want this place to be The House of God-to you? Or are you satisfied with a few friendly handshakes, a couple of off-key hymns, a short inoffensive sermon, and it's off to lunch?
Every Sunday morning when the elders meet, we remind ourselves of the importance and the privilege of what we're doing leading the People of God-leading you one step closer to heaven.or hell! We do it because sermons and pastoral prayers, calls to worship, and benedictions can become routine things, things we do-not because Jesus is Lord-but because it's Sunday!
We all need to remember where we are on Sunday. And with Whom.
When we start with a reverence for God and His House, our self-esteem takes an awful beating. We approach the Lord humbly, v.1a-
To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.
Why were the Israelites coming to God's House? Some were coming to be seen of men, to be thought of as better than they really were. (That's always a temptation-and not only to them!). Others came to stay out of trouble with the cops. 'Going to the Temple' was a command of God, and if you didn't do it, you could be punished. Maybe the priests and Levites came to justify their salaries or because offering public prayers was easier than farming or fishing or mining of other 'real jobs'.
The Preacher knows how men are, and calls them fools for coming with such unworthy motives. What do we come for? We come to listen, to hear the Word of God and submit to it!
This is why the Priests and Levites had to be trained for their work. They weren't up there spouting off opinions or reading the funny papers. They were reading the Word of God and teaching the people what it says and what it means. There is no substitute for the clear reading, teaching, and preaching of God's Word.
And, when the Word is preached, we're not allowed to say, 'Good sermon, pastor' and leave it there. We have to become-
Doers of the Word and not hearers only.
Of course, there were other facets of Hebrew and Church life; sacrifices for them, of course, and for all of us prayer and praise and songs, helping the orphan and widow, and loving one another. But the Word preached, heard, believed, and obeyed are central to God's Worship-then and now!
To hear the Word-even when it tells you to do something you don't want to do-requires humility, submitting alongside our Savior-
Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.
The third quality he calls for is the fruit of the first two. We know we've come to God's House carefully and humbly, when we come obediently, vv.2,4,6-
Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God.When you vow a vow unto God, do not delay in paying it.Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake.
Vows were an important part of life under the Old Covenant. For the most part, they were not required, but when they were made they had to be kept. Even if they were costlier than the maker thought they would be. The story of Jepthah comes to mind here, the rash vow he took in the heat battle and the personal tragedy it led to.
When we come to the New Covenant, vows aree done away with, for the most part, and replaced with a more general integrity. Instead of swearing by God's Temple, altar, and so on-
Let your 'yes' be 'yes' and your 'no' be 'no', for anything more than this [leads to] sin.
So, what do the verses about 'keeping your vows' say to us? They say All obediences are not created equal! Some things are harder to do than others, but when the Lord requires them of us, we don't try to wiggle out of them or hand them off to others or 'accidentally forget' about them. We confess our inability, pray for His Divine help, and do His will.
It is easy for me to read the Bible every day-because I like to read! But it's not easy for me to watch what I say-because I also like to talk! But I go to the Word and find-
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edifying, that it might minister grace in the hearts of the hearers.
Now I have a choice: Will I only obey the parts of the easy parts of the Bible? Or will I obey Every words that proceeds out of the mouth of God?
Like you, I want to choose the easy parts only. But then I remember:
Where God is-God is in heaven and I am on earth, v.2. I remember what God doesn't like-foolishness, v.4. I remember what God can do; He can chastise me for my folly-Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands, v.6. And most of all, I remember what God is worthy of, and that is reverence, v.7-God is the One you must fear.
DOERS OF THE WORD
This is how we worship God in public with reverence: carefully, humbly, and obediently. Effective sermons are not simply true and well-crafted. They're after a response: they make the Lord's people reverent, humble, careful, and eager to do God's Will. Pray that every sermon preached from this pulpit will be this kind of effective. Whether it's clever or not, who cares?
Pray, too, that we will be this kind of worshiper. Not a Pharisee showing up to show off, a drone, coming to church because he's used to it. Least of all, a critic, eager to find fault with the preacher and the church, or to nitpick the Bible itself.
Some parts of the Old Testament are awfully hard to apply to the church. What does the poor preacher say about boiling a kid in its mother's milk? This is not one of them. Though the details of public worship have changed with the coming of Christ, the nature of God and the reverence we owe Him are the same. Though it's out of step with the hip times we live in-
God is greatly to be feared, in the assembly of the saints, and to be held in reverence of all them that are about Him.
This is what the Psalmist said; and the author of Hebrews is with him-
Let us offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe. For our God is a consuming fire.
If our duty is identical to the Israelite's, two things are different. First the depth of our reverence is greatly deepened by the Great Acts of God in Jesus Christ. If the God who parted the Red Sea to save His people should be revered, how much more should we fear Him? In Christ, He parted Death and led us across to Life.
How the reverence is achieved is also different for us than it was for the Israelite. The Temple was designed to fill the people with awe. The building was big and richly furnished and attended by a professional choir. Priests carried themselves with dignity and wore clothes to remind the people of who they represented. Seeing the blood spurt from the animal's throat had to impress the people that the worship of God was a life and death matter.
All of that is swept away by the New Covenant. God didn't command us to build Temples or wear vestments or light candles or hire singers. Because He didn't need to. Under the New Covenant, Reverence comes from the inside out. Believers in Christ are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and He makes us reverent in a way the Temple never could.
Let us, therefore, learn to fear the Lord, and let's start the lesson at church. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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