THE SPIRIT OF REVERENCE
Sermon Text: Hebrews 12:28, 29
“May offer service well-pleasing to God with reverence and awe.” (R.V.) Another well authenticated rendering is, “With godly caution and fear.” The reason given for this kind of service and worship is because “our God is a consuming fire.” Our text declares that the only service that is pleasing or acceptable to God is that which is inspired by awe and reverence and godly fear. Therefore He refuses to accept worship that is offered in irreverence and disrespect. “The holiness and glory of God, the power and the curse of sin, our own utter weakness and the terrible danger of the multitudes around us, call every Christian to offer his service to God with godly fear and awe.” The Holiest of All, Andrew Murray.
“Fear mingled with respect and esteem; veneration, honor, adoration.” “A feeling of profound respect, often mingled with awe and affection.” As with love, reverence or respect is based on acquaintance and knowledge. A person who is not reverent in his attitude toward God and sacred things demonstrates his ignorance. He is not acquainted with God and therefore does not love and respect Him or His possessions. This is indicated in Proverbs 9:10. “The first thing in knowledge is reverence for the Eternal; to know the Deity is what knowledge means.” (Moffatt) The person who is not controlled by the spirit of true reverence does not know God, regardless of how orthodox he is in belief and practice and how well acquainted he is with the Scriptures. Reverence is the test of a genuine Christian experience.
Fruit of Discipline. Hebrews 12:5-11
The only children who respect and reverence their parents are those who, like Jesus, “learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” The parents who wisely enforce obedience on their children will receive loving and voluntary reverence in return. In the end we always respect those who have the highest standards and live up to them. The breakdown of discipline in the home has caused a corresponding breakdown of discipline in the church. For this reason the modern generation has but little respect for their parents, and reverence for God and holy things has almost disappeared from the earth. The irreverent attitude of even professed Christians is appalling. They seem to think that God has changed and is less strict and particular than He used to be; therefore they presume on His mercy.
During the bondage in Egypt the children of Israel almost entirely lost their knowledge of God, and therefore their reverence for Him. Through precepts and judgments the Lord taught them reverence and godly fear. It was a hard lesson to learn to approach God and all the sacred things connected with His service in a spirit of holy awe and reverential fear. The first lesson had to be learned by Moses, the leader of the Exodus Movement, for his example would indicate the measure of reverence expected of the people. Moses got a new vision of God and the reverence with which He should be approached and worshiped in the experience of the burning bush at Mount Horeb. (Exodus 3:1-6) What suddenly made that ground holy? It had been trampled underfoot for generations by irreverent and godless heathen tribesmen. The presence of God makes any person or any thing holy. There is no other source of holiness. The Lord said to Israel: “Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2; Psalm 89:6, 7)
The Lord was very strict in His requirements for the leaders of the Exodus Movement respecting reverence, and very severe in dealing with their exhibitions of irreverence. (Leviticus 10:1-7). The reason for this terrible judgment against irreverence is given in verses 10,11. The Lord told the Israelites that the ark of the covenant was holy and that they must not touch it lest they die. Staves were placed in the sides of the ark to carry it by and then only by holy men. As clear as this instruction was it had to be enforced by two terrible judgments. (2 Sam. 6:2-7; 1 Samuel 6:19, 20). 50,070 were slain for looking in the ark.
The greatest lesson on reverence for all Israel was given at Mount Sinai in connection with the giving of the law (Exodus 19:10-24; 24:17). Our text declares that we should serve God with “with reverence and godly fear” because “our God is a consuming fire.” This statement has direct reference to the giving of the law which was the greatest of all exhibitions of God’s majesty and glory. True reverence leads us to approach God with clean bodies, clean clothes, and clean characters. Just as people who are unholy in character and filthy in their habits feel unclean in the presence of saints, so all physical, mental and moral uncleanness should make us feel uncomfortable when we come into the presence of God. Reverence demands cleanliness, both physical and spiritual.
The Sanctuary. Leviticus 19:30
This command is repeated for emphasis in Leviticus 26:2. Every part of the sanctuary was holy, even the court, the only part the congregation could enter. Only holy priests could enter the holy place but not until a special atonement was made for their sins and they were clothed in garments that were spotlessly clean. The high priest only could enter the holy of holies and then only once a year after very careful preparation. His body and clothes must be scrupulously clean and his soul free from every stain of sin. The holiness of the place increases as we approach the presence of God. The temple of Solomon, which was built under divine direction, had many chambers of various degrees of holiness. One apartment was the most holy place because it represented the immediate presence of God.
Through precept and judgments the Lord also taught ancient Israel to respect and reverence the holy men who served in holy office, whether in the sanctuary or in positions of leadership in the movement. “Thou shalt not revile the judges, nor curse the ruler of they people.” (Exodus 22:28). When Paul quoted this text he said: Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.” (Acts 23:5). To enforce this lesson the Lord visited terrible judgments upon Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and their followers (Numbers 16).
Advent Movement. 1 Corinthians 10:11
Many have become bold in irreverence, because the Lord does not immediately execute His sentences against transgressors (Ecclesiastes 8:11). In His dealings with ancient Israel the Lord demonstrated what His attitude is toward every sin in every age, because His standards never change. The Lord and everything connected with His worship are just as holy and should be treated with as much reverence as in days of old. The passing millenniums have made no difference in the attitude of the angels as they enter into the presence of the Creator. They still tread softly and bow their knees and veil their faces as they enter His courts, crying “Holy, holy, holy.”
A Prophecy. Ezekiel 22:26
“Making no difference between the sacred and the secular” (Moffatt). “They do not distinguish between the consecrated and the common” (Fenton). Many even in the Advent Movement seem to find it impossible to distinguish between the holy and the secular, the sacred and the common. They seem to have lost their spirituality to such an extent that they have lost all sense of reverence for holy things. Their sense of right and wrong seems to be so blunted and their vision so dimmed that they treat the holy and secular almost alike with no clear line of demarcation between them. Their great need is a spiritual revival and a genuine conversion, for only deeply spiritual people can be truly reverential and they only can distinguish between the holy and the profane.
God’s name is holy and should be spoken with the utmost respect and reverence. “Holy and reverend is His name” (Psalm 111:9). God’s Sabbath is holy and therefore should be treated differently than the common, secular days of the week (Exodus 31:14-17). The penalty for profaning the Sabbath is still death. Reverence for the Sabbath demands that it be used for a different purpose than ordinary days. A part of true Sabbath keeping is to meet with God’s people in “holy convocation” (Leviticus 23:3). Those who do not attend divine worship on the Sabbath when it is possible to do so are showing disrespect for God and irreverence for His Sabbath. Some of the things that profane the Sabbath are enumerated in Isaiah 58:13. The tithe is also holy. It is God’s money and not our own and is declared to be “holy unto the Lord” (Leviticus 27:30-32). It should never be put to a secular, common use.
Religious services are called “holy convocations” because they are gatherings of “holy people” who meet in a holy house to worship a holy God who is present by His Holy Spirit and holy angels. We come together to study God’s holy Word from His holy Book. Therefore divine services are different from all other gatherings and the distinction should be clearly recognized and defined. They should be attended with feelings of reverence and godly fear. When we enter the house of God to listen to His holy word, we should give careful heed to the instruction in Ecclesiastes 5:1, 2. God’s house should be treated in a different manner than we treat an ordinary house, and His Book should never be handled as an ordinary, secular book. Even the song books containing the hymns used for praise and worship are sacred. Most of the songs are based on scriptural statements and were written by men and women more or less divinely inspired.
Spirit of Prophecy
“To the humble, believing soul, the house of God on earth is the gate of heaven. … From the sacredness which was attached to the earthly sanctuary. Christians may learn how they should regard the place where the Lord meets with His people. There has been a great change, not for the better, but for the worse, in the habits and customs of the people in reference to religious worship. The precious, sacred things which connect us with God, are fast losing hold upon our minds and hearts, and are being brought down to the level of common things. … When the worshipers enter the place of meeting, they should do so with decorum, passing quietly to their seats. … Common talking, whispering and laughing should not be permitted in the house of worship either before or after service. Ardent, active piety should characterize the worshipers. … If when the people come into the house of worship, they have genuine reverence for the Lord, and bear in mind that they are in His presence, there will be a sweet eloquence in silence. The whispering and laughing and talking which might be without sin in a common business place, should find no sanction in the house where God is worshiped.” Vol. 5:491, 492.
“All the service should be conducted with solemnity and awe; as if in the visible presence of the Master of assemblies. When the word is spoken, you should remember that you are listening to the voice of God through His delegated servant. Listen attentively. Sleep not for one instant, because by this slumber you may lose the very words that you need most. … Sometimes a little child may so attract the attention of the hearers that the precious seed does not fall into good ground and bring forth fruit. Sometimes young men and women have so little reverence for the house of worship of God that they keep up a continual communication with each other during the sermon. Could these see the angels of God looking upon them, and marking their doings, they would be filled with shame, with abhorrence of themselves.” —Ibid., p. 493.
Close of Service
“When the benediction is pronounced, all should still be quiet, as if fearful of losing the peace of Christ. Let all pass out without jostling or loud talking, feeling that they are in the presence of God, that His eye is resting upon them, and they must act as in His visible presence. Let there be no stopping in the aisles to visit or gossip, thus blocking them up so that others cannot pass out. The precincts of the church should be invested with a sacred reverence. It should not be made a place to meet old friends and visit and introduce common thoughts and worldly business transactions. … God and angels have been dishonored by the careless, noisy laughing and shuffling of feet heard in some places.”—Ibid., p. 494.
Reverence Almost Extinct
“No wonder our churches are feeble and do not have that deep, earnest piety in their borders that they should have. Our present habits and customs, which dishonor God and bring the sacred and heavenly down to the level of the common are against us. We have a sacred, testing, sanctifying truth; and if our habits and practices are not in accordance with the truth, we are sinners against great light and are proportionately guilty. It will be far more tolerable for the heathen in the day of God’s retributive justice than for us. … It is too true that reverence for the house of God has become almost extinct. Sacred things and places are not discerned; the holy and exalted are not appreciated. … We have reason even to be more thoughtful and reverential in our worship than had the Jews. But an enemy has been at work to destroy our faith in the sacredness of Christian worship.”—Ibid., p. 495, 496.
“Nearly all need to be taught how to conduct themselves in the house of God. Parents should not only teach, but command their children to enter the sanctuary with sobriety and reverence. … This matter has been sadly neglected. Its importance has been overlooked and as the result, disorder and irreverence have become prevalent, and God has been dishonored.… In the minds of many, there are no more sacred thoughts connected with the house of God than with the most common place. Some will enter the place of worship with their hats on, in soiled, dirty clothes. Such do not realize that they are to meet with God and holy angels. There should be a radical change in this matter all through our churches. Ministers themselves need to elevate their ideas, to have finer susceptibilities in regard to it. It is a feature of the work that has been sadly neglected. Because of the irreverence in attitude, dress, and deportment, and lack of a worshipful frame of mind, God has often turned His face away from those assembled for His worship.”—Ibid., p. 496-499.
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