The Fear in Mystery

I thought it interesting that our two readings yesterday (one from Isaiah 6 and the other from Mark 16) were connected by the theme of fear. Did you catch it?

 

The oldest manuscripts have Mark 16:8 as the conclusion of his gospel. “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” Later copyists felt that this was a little too abrupt and so they sought to create a better conclusion by adding various examples of Jesus’ post-resurrection teaching and/or commissioning. (See the NLT for two of the four conclusions that were added later).

 

While cleaning up the conclusion is understandable, I don’t think it is necessary because 16:8 could very well be the ending Mark intended. When it comes right down to it, closing his gospel with a statement of bewilderment and fear is not a bad way to go. So many times the disciples and the crowds found themselves shaking in their sandals begging Jesus to leave their area (5:17) or questioning, “Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey Him?” (4:41). It is interesting to me that, while Mark weaves the question of Jesus’ identity throughout the gospel, the answer only shows up in two places. He offers it to us in his opening words and then puts it in the mouth of the centurion in 15:39. Everyone else is left bewildered, fearful and wondering.

 

When the people saw God incarnate they trembled in the face of mystery. Peter’s response to the great catch of fish (which we will read in a few days) is instructive. When faced with the mystery of this man who commands nature he suddenly realized something about Jesus and himself which made him fall at Jesus’ knees and say, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.”

 

With this in mind, let’s jump now to Isaiah 6. When Isaiah saw God Almighty enthroned in His splendor all he knew about God was confirmed and all he knew about himself was magnified. He called down a curse upon himself. “Woe to me for I am ruined!” The presence of the mystery magnified the reality of the sin and resulted in fear.

Fear at the awesome nature, power and work of God is a common theme in all of Scripture and it is for a good reason. Proverbs declares that fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (9:10). Though it might feel like it at times, the fear mentioned here is not terror. Rather, it is a fear that carries a deepened awareness of God’s nature and our need. It is a fear that puts into proper perspective what is true about God and about me. It is a fear that causes us to see reality clearly and so to respond appropriately. This fear is not based in a concern about what is going to happen to me. The foundation of this fear is deeper than that.

This is a fear that carries with it awesome reverence and I can’t help but wonder if it is the background for the opening words of our memory passage. “For this reason I kneel before the Father” (Ephesians 3:14). What would cause a learned, devout Jewish man like Paul to deviate from the traditional posture of prayer (which was to stand with hands raised) and kneel? As I study the preceding two-and-one-half chapters I think the answer is clear—it is Paul’s awe-struck reverence for this God of love and grace.

 

“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” “Woe to me. I am ruined!” Have you ever had a moment when the curtain was pulled back a little, when you saw God and yourself a little more clearly and felt yourself drop to your knees in an awesome, reverential, holy fear? If not, ask the Lord to do that for you. If so, in what ways has that moment of clarity shaped the way you are living today? In what ways has it opened to you the door of wisdom?

 

Leaning into the mystery with you,

 

Rob