East Lincoln Alliance Church

Trembling Before Adonai

Trembling before Adonai
Philippians 2:5-11

I want to tell you about another experience I had when I was on vacation last summer in Yellowstone. For one day we decided to drop down out of Yellowstone to spend a day in the Grand Teton National Park. I had heard that the Grand Tetons were beautiful, but I had no idea what we were in for. In the morning we entered the park on the north end and after driving a few miles we emerged from the trees on the north end of a huge lake called Jackson Lake. The view was spectacular. The lake rested at the foot of the Grand Teton range, so across the vast expanse of this beautiful lake, about 20 miles to the south, you could see the snow-capped mountains. We were so mesmerized by the beauty that we just had to stop and take pictures… (picture 1).

After a few minutes we got back in the motorhome and kept driving. We only made it a few miles when we just couldn’t help ourselves – we had to stop again. The view was so amazing that we had to get out and enjoy it. We were a little closer and could start to feel the magnitude of the mountains… (picture 2).

After taking lots of pictures we got back on the road and drove a few more miles until we turned into a visitor center at Colter Bay. There were hiking trails that we wanted to go on and we picked a trail that took us across a narrow strip of rocks and onto an island that jutted out a couple miles toward the middle of Jackson Lake. When we emerged from the woods on the other side of the island we were met with an even more spectacular sight – a breathtaking view of the mountains… (picture 3). The picture doesn’t do it justice because you felt like the mountains were right in front of you they were so big.

But we learned that the views we were looking at were nothing compared to what was still to come. So we kept driving – headed for a lake called Jenny Lake that was directly below one of the highest and most majestic peaks. Along the way, the views were stunning, so we’d stop and take more pictures… (pictures 4-6). The views just kept getting better and better. It blew me away how immense and majestic and transcendent those mountains were. Eventually we got to our destination and we were so close and the mountains were so massive that we couldn’t get pictures of them anymore. We were standing on the mountain itself and looking up as far as you could see – all you could see was immense rocky outcroppings… (Pictures 7-8). It was breathtaking, awe-inspiring and stunning and I think all of us were overwhelmed by what we experienced.

That is how you’re supposed to feel when you encounter something so stunning, so intimidating, and awe-inspiring. We were made to experience that because we were made to experience God… But let me ask you – do you ever experience God like that? Do you ever find yourself overwhelmed by him, overcome by stunned silence, unable to speak or think about anything else, but only able to tremble on the ground with reverence and holy fear?

I read a lot this week about the problem of a seriously under-whelming view of God among God’s people today. A view of God that is comfortable, casual, and friendly, but lacking in awe and reverence – a view that in a lot of ways treats God as our equal. This loss of reverence and fear produces multiple problems for us as we seek to live lives of obedience, holiness, worship and self-sacrifice. This morning my hope is that God will re-awaken in us a sense of awe and trembling before him by looking at the biblical revelation of his greatness, transcendence, and Holiness – a revelation that I pray will often be present in our awareness of him. I want to start in a NT text that presents the idea of fear and trembling in Christian living and helps us to see why it is so fitting.

Read Philippians 2:5-13.
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

I listened to a sermon by R.C. Sproul this week that opened up my eyes to the significance of what Paul is saying in these verses. I want to start at the end of this text and work backward. In verses 12-13 Paul instructs them to do something that I think is largely foreign in modern Christian living today. He tells them to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. Fear and trembling… those don’t seem to be accurate characteristics for Christians to experience anymore – especially in light of the gospel. Why should we have fear and trembling? Most would assume it would be because he’s angry or on the verge of becoming angry. Like a parent about to lose their temper and the kids know they better watch out. But hasn’t the gospel changed all that? Jesus has died for our sins and through faith in him we are forgiven. The wrath of God that ought to lead us to fear and trembling has been removed from over our heads and we have peace with God. That’s the core of the good news of the gospel!

So why would Paul tell them that they needed to work out their salvation with fear and trembling? The reason he gives is not the wrath of God – it’s something else. Verses 9-11 point to something God did after Jesus died on the cross. Paul writes that since the Son willingly lowered himself and died in humility, God the Father highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name. And he did that so that one day, every time the name “Jesus” is uttered, every knee in heaven and on earth will bow in humility before him. So it is because God highly exalted him and bestowed upon him the name that is above every name that Paul tells his readers that all will bow and that they must always obey and work out their salvation with fear and trembling.

When 1st century Christians read that, I think it all made sense to them. They knew exactly why bowing and fear and trembling were fitting. But we read that and we’re probably still in the dark because we’re missing something in the language and culture. When God exalted Christ to the highest place, what place did he exalt him to? And when God bestowed on him the name that is above every name, what name was that? What name do you think he gave him? Most of us would probably think “Jesus” – that “Jesus” is the new name given that is above every name. R.C. Sproul says “No,” that’s not the name Paul is talking about here. It’s the other name given in this text that is lost in the English translations. It’s the name given in verse 11 – every tongue will confess that Jesus is… “Lord.” That is the name given to Jesus that will make every knee bow before him. Now in the English it’s hard to see anything special about that name – we see it as a pretty generic term. But to the 1st century Greek speaking Christian, it meant something very significant. The name “Lord” is a title, and in the Greek it is the word “Kurios,” and R.C. Sproul says that the way it is used here is the highest or imperial use of the term. When it is used in that way it is the NT equivalent to the OT title of “Adonai,” and it’s very important that we see that because that title is extremely significant. So the name given to Jesus that is above every name is “Adonai.” According to Sproul, this is the most exalted title given to God. “Adonai” is the supreme title for God and means the one who is absolutely sovereign – the supreme ruler of heaven and earth.

Titles like this carry unique connotations in their time and culture much like they do today. If I refer to a national leader as a “president” there is a particular idea that comes to your mind. But if I refer to them as a “dictator,” all of a sudden you think of something much different. And if I refer to them as a “tyrant” there is another connotation that comes to mind as well. What did 1st century Christians and OT Hebrews think of when they heard the title “Adonai”?

To get an idea, I want us to turn to Isaiah chapter 6. Isaiah was a prophet in Israel when their reigning monarch – King Uzziah – died. King Uzziah reigned for an astonishing 52 years and at the time of his death, his leadership as king was the only thing that the vast majority of people knew. And for the majority of his reign he was a good king who followed the Lord. But as happens to all kings – he died and the absence on the throne was particularly devastating. But just because a great human king was no longer on the throne did not mean there was no king in Israel. The prophet Isaiah was given a vision of the True King and we read about that in Isaiah 6.

Read Isaiah 6:1.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.

So Isaiah saw a King sitting upon his heavenly throne of a class infinitely higher than Uzziah. This king’s throne room was stunning in its magnitude – unlike anything that Isaiah had ever seen. It’s the same heavenly throne room that appears in the book of Revelation where there are gathered thousands upon thousands of angels and a massive multitude of people so vast that nobody could count them.

At the Super Bowl in 3 weeks, people will be overwhelmed and amazed by the U.S. Bank Stadium – a massive stadium that holds 67,000 people. That stadium is like a tin shack compared to the vision of the throne room that Isaiah saw. And in that throne room there was a great throne on which the Lord was seated – a throne that was also seen by the prophet Ezekiel. He describes it in Ezekiel 1:26-28: “And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. 27 And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. 28 Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.”

Did you catch that last sentence? The robe of the Lord that Ezekiel saw looked like a rainbow… When you see a rainbow, it’s an awesome sight because they stretch way up high in the sky and extend from one horizon to the other. That awesome sight is like what Ezekiel and Daniel saw in the massive heavenly throne room. John saw the same thing when he had a vision on the Island of Patmos. In Revelation 4:2-6 he says: “At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. 3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, 6 and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.”

So this throne room is stunningly massive and magnificent, so much so that there was not only a mass of humanity and thousands upon thousands of angels – there was something like a sea of glass… and I don’t think he was thinking about South Twin Lake – I think he was thinking about the Mediterranean Sea that surrounded him on the island of Patmos. This was the overwhelming sight that Isaiah also was looking at and the one seated on the throne was so magnificent that, like a rainbow, the train of his robe filled the temple.

But that was not all that Isaiah or Ezekiel or John saw in this throne room. They also saw what I believe would have been the most intimidating creatures in the entire seen and unseen world. Isaiah describes them in his vision.

Read Isaiah 6:2-4.
Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.

These seraphim are unique, specially created angelic beings that were so intimidating that when they spoke, the booming sound that came from them actually shook the foundations of this enormous heavenly temple. If you’ve ever been in an earthquake that would probably help you understand the power in their voices. I haven’t, but I have experienced a few thunder claps that I could feel through my body and shook our house – for half a second and then were done. House shaking thunder would be like a baby’s whimper compared to what happened when the seraphim spoke. And the sound and power of their voices are unending as they called out to each other, back and forth without end: “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

Ezekiel saw these same kinds of creatures, and in Ez. 1:24 said that “the sound of their wings [was] like the sound of many waters, like the sound of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army.”

So in these visions these men saw a revelation of the greatness, or transcendence, or holiness of God. And it’s interesting to see what happened to them after seeing such a vision: Isaiah responded by saying: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Ezekiel wrote about his response in Ezekiel 1:28: “Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face.” And John writes this in Revelation 1:17: “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” This is how they responded to the vision of the Lord – a revelation that overwhelmed them so completely that they fell on their faces in awe and fear and trembling.

Now look at Isaiah 6:1… What name does Isaiah use when referring to the One he saw? “The Lord…” Do you know what that word is in Hebrew? “Adonai!” When an OT Hebrew or 1st century Christian heard the title “Adonai,” that’s what came to mind. The supreme ruler of heaven and earth before whom men fall on their faces with fear and trembling.

"Therefore God has highly exalted him (Jesus) and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is [Adonai!], to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."

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Kathy Schwanke

I’m in awe of His majestic glory! Praise the KING of Kings and LORD of Lords!