41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.
42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
Today is my “re-birthday.” It was on this date five years ago that I gave my life to Christ. It had been a long journey to arrive at that moment when I knew there was nothing else to be done but to surrender my life to Him. Despite the fervent prayers of my mother, I had lived as an agnostic and refused Jesus for decades. And then one day He showed His hand on my life, revealing His care for me in a way that could not be ignored. Even then, when it seemed so evident that He was calling me to Him, I hesitated. I gladly received His Word, and I clung to every word of every sermon and hymn that I heard. I was hungry for God as I had never been before, and yet I still did not give myself to Him, I still bore my own burdens, I still lived with the shame that only He could take away. And then on a not-very-noteworthy Sunday morning, after a sermon I do not remember, I realized that although Jesus had reached out to me, I had not taken a step toward Him. Having this burden of my half-hearted faith, I went over to the pastor that morning and I wept on his shoulder. And there I whispered a prayer that started with weeping and ended with great joy. In that moment, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and my Savior.
It would be nice to say that my life completely turned around at that very moment, and in many ways it did. But the truth is that I am still a work in progress, and the good Lord is perfecting me in His ways every day. As Paul said:
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
And the beginning of my being perfected in Christ was this:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
A good understanding have all those who do His commandments.
His praise endures forever.
At this point, I am sure a few folks are calling to mind that lovely bit of teaching from the apostle John:
1 John 4:17-18
17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
Many like to take 1 John 4:18 out of context and say that our love for the Lord should never involve fearing Him, but that is not the intent of the verse. In this great passage on how we ought to love, John is reminding us that we believers love in a way that is very different from the way the world loves. Where worldly love is about selfish demands, Godly love is about loving others first. As John points out, we would not be able to love at all were it not for the fact that God loved us first (1 John 4:19), and we who believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord would not be saved had not God loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son. (John 3:16) And so the perfect love of God casts out any fear we may have of men, casts out any fear we may have of not being satisfied in this life, casts out all our fears of death and loss and sorrow and punishment. The perfect love of God gives us boldness to stand our ground and be counted as sons and daughters of God, even as the world accuses us of doing wrong for following what is right. (1 Peter 2:11-12)
27 “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.
28 “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
29 “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.
30 “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
31 “Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
God values us and desires that we should come to repentance and salvation. (2 Peter 3:9, 2 Corinthians 7:10) And yet we must remember that it is He alone who holds our lives in His hand. Men may come and go, seasons may pass in our lives, and dark times will beget dark deeds, but the love of God endures all these things. (Romans 8:38-39) Therefore, let us not fear people and governments, let us not fear that God will forget us and leave us, let us not fear that we are not worthy of the love of God. Instead, let us fear Him and keep His commandments.
So let us look back to our verses of the day from the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Did you notice the order in which things happened? Let’s look again:
1. Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.
2. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
3. Then fear came upon every soul,
4. and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
Receiving the Word of God came before the baptism of faith. Baptism came before following in the doctrines taught by the apostles. The fellowship and prayers of the believers were concurrent with doctrinal living. And THEN “fear came upon every soul” and “many signs and wonders were done through the apostles.” What is this “fear” that came upon them? What kind of fear could have come at a time when so many were newly-born in Christ? These newest believers had to learn something before they could move forward, before many wonders could occur: they learned to fear God.
Now, we are not speaking of a fear that threatens torment, the fear that binds us in knots and drives us away. No, the fear of God is cleansing and restoring, because it begins with acknowledging that He is the one true Creator, the one righteous Judge, the one living Savior, the One who knit us in our mothers’ wombs and counts the very hairs upon our heads. Look at how the Lord prefaced the Ten Commandments:
1 And God spoke all these words, saying:
2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
God reminded the Israelites who He was and what He had done for them. He knew that if the children of the promise were to have any hope of being holy, they must remember just who God is and what He does. That is the beginning of the proper fear of God. And elsewhere throughout the Bible, when people acknowledge the presence of God–whether in His angels, in His Spirit, or in His Son–those who love God always fall before Him and honor and worship Him. Peter summed it up rather nicely in Luke 5:8, when he fell down before Jesus across a heaping catch of fish and said to Him, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” In that one sentence, Peter acknowledged his own place before the one true Lord. That was the beginning of Peter’s wisdom, and his being perfected in Christ eventually led him to that day of Pentecost when he preached and thousands more came to Christ.
We who believe on the Son of the living God have no other Lord, no other Master, no other King but Him. Our very lives are in His hands. How then can we NOT bow down before Him in reverence and honor and worship? How then can we not fear Him as our true Ruler? THAT is the fear of God: a fear that brings wisdom and knowledge, a fear that compels us to live according to His commandments, a fear that stands upon the revelation that this great God who created the universe also loves us each individually and sacrificially.
Note, however, what happened AFTER the new believers came to that fear in their souls: many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. The fear of God PRECEDED the signs and wonders. Yes, there are many times when signs and wonders will be performed and non-believers will be won to Christ through the attention gained that day, but we cannot expect to be able to have these miracles if we do not first have the fear of God, if we do not first have that knowledge and faith in our hearts that He is the one true and living GOD.
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
We must come before God with faith that He alone is God, that He alone holds the power of life and death, that He alone can save us from the very judgment we deserve for our sin. If we then come before God with such fear and such love, we will see that His is indeed “a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
Yes, perfect love casts out fear of torment, but the fear of God is not a fear of torment but a sensible and natural reverence and awe for the one true Lord of our lives. This is the Lord we are to love with all our heart and mind and soul! We are to love others in His name and to His glory. We are to serve Him and keep His commandments, to live lives of holiness because we see and know that He is holy. This fear of God will bring us wisdom and knowledge, because we will seek His face and crave His Word. And we will seek His favor not as craven sycophants cowering before a King, but as loving children looking for the pleasure of our Father. And when we have such fear in our souls of the one true Lord, surely signs and wonders will be done through us and all the saints, all to God’s eternal glory.
Holy Lord God, You alone are Lord of my life, You alone hold my life in Your hands. I bow before You now in respect and love and in a fear that drives away all other fears. As David said, if You are with me, whom then shall I fear? Let me but fear You and love You, Father, kneeling at Your feet with all honor and praise. And when I rise, Lord God, then may Your Spirit be manifested in the way I live my life and minister to others. May signs and wonders abound among Your children, to Your eternal glory. Amen.