When the virgin Mary heard that her older relative, Elizabeth, knew she was about to give birth to the Messiah, our Savior, Mary was bursting with excitement.
She broke out in unbridled praise to God.
Among the many things Mary praised God for in that incredible moment, was that “His mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50).
It may seem strange to many of us that God’s mercy here is clearly linked to, and limited to, those who fear Him.
Many of us want to find some way to deny this. We want to say that what God’s Word really means here is respect or reverence to God.
If this is so, why aren’t one of these words used, instead of fear, in this statement?
Isn’t it possible that it’s because literal fear has always been regarded as a positive attitude of men toward the living God?
After all, one of our most treasured Bible verses is Proverbs 1:7: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
In Deuteronomy 6:24, and repeatedly throughout the Old Testament, Israel was taught to fear the Lord for their own good.
So why is it that now we want to deny fear should have anything to do with our relationship with God, or our ability to receive His mercy?
A lot of us would prefer to believe that there isn’t anything for us to fear from a loving God. However, it is as true in the New Testament as it was in the Old, that we are a sinful people and God is holy and just. Because of His holiness, apart from receiving His mercy, the rightful destiny for anyone who is a sinner is God’s justice, even His wrath, against us for our sins.
If we don’t fear God–if we believe falsely that there is no penalty or punishment that might be due to us if we continue in sin–it almost inevitably leads us to take Him for granted and continue in sin without a recognition that we desperately need His mercy.
It’s only when we recognize that God’s judgment upon our sin and our experiencing His wrath for eternity are real possibilities, that we are motivated to seek His mercy.
And it’s only then that we begin to really value what God gave us through Mary in that first Christmas 2000 years ago: mercy; a Messiah who died for and paid for our sins so we won’t have to.
Yes, the fear of the Lord is still the beginning of wisdom. It is the major reason sinners are motivated to seek God’s mercy through the gift of eternal life that comes through Jesus.
Do you fear the Lord? Or have you been deceived into believing God is too loving to hold people accountable for their sins?
Let’s consider John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
When we see the awful alternative to accepting God’s love is perishing, then accepting His love on His terms–through faith in His gift at Christmastime–suddenly seems all the more urgent.
Have you received His gift?