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The Fear of the Lord Is the Beginning of Wisdom
Proverbs 9:10


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost—November 7, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text is from today’s Old Testament Reading in Proverbs: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

We use the word “fear” mostly in a negative sense; to be afraid, to be frightened of someone or something.  And, because of our sins, we do have reason to fear the wrath of the Lord in that sense, for he warns us in Isaiah, “I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their sins.”

But, what did the angel say to the shepherds the night God’s Son was born into the world? “’Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord’ . . .  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.’”  And, what did the angel say to the women at the tomb the morning that God’s Son rose from the dead?  “Fear not; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He is not here, he is risen!” 

Christ’s birth, Christ’s life, Christ’s death and resurrection cancels out “fear” of God in the negative sense.  For, God’s own Son paid for all your sins himself, and therefore God’s attitude toward you is not anger and wrath, but, as the angels sang, peace and goodwill.  Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians: “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not counting men’s sins against them.” 

So, when Proverbs says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” it is not using the word “fear” in the negative sense of fright and terror, but in the positive sense of reverence, faith, trust.  “The fear of the Lord” in this positive sense doesn’t mean running away from God in fright, but running to God in faith, especially trusting in his Son, Jesus Christ, as your Savior.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  The fear of the Lord in this positive sense causes us to put our own human reason in its proper place, to trust in the Lord and his Word instead of our own understanding.  There’s a bumper sticker that says it this way: “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.”

But, sadly, many modern denominations are putting human reason above God’s Word, and dismissing and denying the teachings of the Bible.  For example, Jesus famously tells us in the Great Commission, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”  But, a new study Bible recently published by a different Lutheran church-body in America says about this passage, “That does not mean make everyone disciples. . .  Jesus includes in salvation people who do not believe in him or even know about him.”

The primary doctrine textbook used in the seminaries of this church-body says this about the Bible: “Today it is impossible to assume the literal historicity of all things recorded.  What the biblical authors report is not accepted as a literal transcript of the factual course of events.”  And, another book published by this same church-body says about Jesus’ resurrection: “We can no longer understand the resurrection of Jesus in a literal sense . . .  and about the fate of Jesus’ corpse: Did it decay?  . . . this conclusion [is] unavoidable.”

As shocking as these examples are, it really shouldn’t surprise us, for the Apostles Peter and Paul prophesied it would happen: “There will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them”; “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus has an encounter with a Jewish denomination from his day, called the Sadducees: “Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question.”  The Sadducees were the theological liberals of their day. They denied all supernatural occurrences, including resurrection.  So, their question to Jesus about resurrection, and the woman who married seven brothers, is not serious, but an attempt to make Jesus—and the very idea of resurrection—look foolish, by presenting him with an extreme hypothetical case.  Jesus shoots down their silly question: “In the resurrection  . . . the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage . . . for they are like the angels.”  In heaven there will be no marriage like we have here on earth; but there certainly will be a resurrection to eternal life.  “They can no longer die,” Jesus says, “for . . . they are God’s children.”

Matthew’s account of this incident adds that Jesus replied to the Sadducees, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”  That condemnation also applies to the liberal theologians and denominations of our day: “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”

Whenever there is a conflict between our thinking and God’s Word, we must always go with what God’s Word says.  The Formula of Concord in the Confessions of the Lutheran Church expresses the correct attitude of humility and deference to God’s Word, speaking about the mystery of the Real Presence of Christ’s body and blood in Holy Communion: “We hold and believe in a true, though supernatural, eating of Christ’s body and drinking of his blood, which we cannot comprehend with our human sense or reason.  Here we take our intellect captive in obedience to Christ, as we do in other articles also, and accept this mystery in no other way than by faith and as it is revealed in the Word.”

Another example from the Formula of Concord of humility and deference to God’s Word is in regard to Christ’s descent into hell: “When and how, according to our simple Christian Creed, did Christ go to hell? . . .  we should not engage in disputations concerning this article, but believe and teach it in all simplicity . . .  It is enough to know that Christ went to hell, destroyed hell for all believers, and has redeemed them from the power of death, of the devil, and of the eternal damnation of the hellish jaws.  How this took place is something that we should postpone until the other world, where there will be revealed to us not only this mystery, but many others as well, which our blind reason cannot comprehend in this life, but which we simply accept.”

Paul urges us in today’s Epistle Reading, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you.” Whenever there is a conflict between our thinking and God’s Word, we must always go with what God’s Word says. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Amen.

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