Restoring Our Awe of God - Matthew 13:53–58
In October 1911, professor B.B. Warfield delivered a message titled, “The Religious Life of Theological Students.” It continues to be required reading at many seminaries, including the one I attended. And in the message, Warfield warned future pastors that in the continuous study of God and His Word, they would be in danger of losing their awe of God. Without intentionally cultivating authentic, deep relationship with the three living persons of the Trinity, the student’s sense of amazement would cease.
We are frequently told, indeed, that the great danger of the theological student lies precisely in his constant contact with divine things. They may come to seem common to him, because they are customary. …the average man breathes the air and basks in the sunshine without ever a thought that it is God in his goodness who makes his sun to rise on him, though he is evil, and sends rain to him, though he is unjust; so…The words which tell you of God's … majesty or of his … goodness may come to be mere words to you…The reasonings which establish to you the mysteries of his saving activities may come to be to you mere logical paradigms…God's stately stepping in his redemptive processes may become to you a mere series of facts of history…It is your great danger. But it is your great danger, only because it is your great privilege. … Other men, oppressed by the hard conditions of life, sunk in the daily struggle for bread perhaps, distracted at any rate by the dreadful drag of the world upon them and the awful rush of the world's work, find it hard to get time and opportunity so much as to pause and consider whether there be such things as God, and religion, and salvation from the sin that compasses them about and holds them captive. The very atmosphere of your life is these things; you breathe them in at every pore; they surround you, encompass you, press in upon you from every side. It is all in danger of becoming common to you! God forgive you, you are in danger of becoming weary of God!
But isn’t it true of all people, that we natural lose our awe and even our appreciation of things which become familiar to us? It happens in the relationship between husband and wife, among siblings, among family and friends. We begin to take each other for granted. Isn’t it true that we naturally lose our astonishment at the created world around us and our wonder at all the blessings we enjoy? They become commonplace to us. Well, in the same way, we naturally lose our awe of God. But God restores our awe through Jesus’ work on our behalf.
The Scriptures tell us this. And so, we must continually look to Jesus to restore our awe of the triune God. But how does Jesus do this? We see two things here in Matthew, things Jesus must remove to restore our awe, two things that must be replaced with something else. Otherwise, we will miss His glory and power in our lives. You can see them listed on page 6 in the worship guide. To restore our awe of God, Jesus first replaces the shallow familiarity with God that causes us to mistakenly think we know Him. And also, Jesus replaces the vain confidence in ourselves that causes us to mistakenly think we know better than Him. Let’s look together at these.
Jesus went back to Nazareth, where he grew up. He was born in Bethlehem, but grew up in the hometown of his parents. And as he did in the other places, Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth – to their place of worship – to teach and preach. His reputation precedes him, and the locals are struck with amazement, but for wrong reasons. They say, verse 54, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? They don’t stand in awe of him; they are skeptical of him. The “wisdom” to which they refer is his ability to interpret and apply the Hebrew Scriptures and his understanding of divine things.
The words “mighty works” could also be translated simply as “power.” Miraculous power, in fact. This is especially strange to them because Jesus is a local boy. Just as a side note here, this account in Matthew undercuts the false teachings of the apocryphal gospels which teach that Jesus performed miracles as a child. The local people had not seen Jesus exercising divine ability as he was growing up. And because they had known of him for so long, they thought they knew exactly who he is.
Notice verse , They say, “Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?  And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” They have a shallow familiarity with Jesus. They know true facts about Jesus: his dad and mom, his siblings, his family trade. But really, they are only acquaintances of Jesus. They know some things about him, but they do not know him. They have a superficial knowledge of him. Their knowledge does not go beneath the surface. And because they mistakenly think they know him, they lack a true sense of awe in the eternal Son of God who stands before them. Even with the evidence: the wisdom and the power. In a way, they see him and yet they do not see him. Ever-seeing, never understanding.
Could that describe you? You, with your extensive church background and experience. Are you ever-seeing, but never deeply knowing, never truly understanding Jesus Christ?
Now more than ever, we have endless knowledge at our fingertips. If you want to know something about a well-known person, you can Google them. If you meet or hear of someone locally, you can most likely look them up on Facebook. We can gather a great deal of facts about people. Many people enjoy reading biographies, some that are very in-depth. And yet, even with all the facts, you couldn’t claim to truly know the person, could you?
You may know many facts about the one true God, the Lord, the God of Scripture. But do you know God, the living God? Do you have an abiding knowledge of him, such that you know him deeply and experientially today? If you have that abiding knowledge, there will not be fear or guilt or apathy or indifference or boredom or bitterness toward God.
There will be awestruck wonder, all-consuming reverence, and deep gratitude. When we lack these, God is becoming or has become commonplace to us. The affection that should be directed toward him alone is now directed someplace else. The hope that should rest solely in His plans and power has been placed, by your heart, in another thing. And so, you become like these Nazarenes. Like them, you need Jesus to replace your shallow familiarity with something else. But with what?
With a deep knowledge, the kind that comes through sound, God-centered worship which leads you to see and acknowledge your sin and your need for Him. The kind of deep knowledge that comes when, as you face trials and difficulties, you go to the cross, where you find a Savior who has suffered and who understands.
The kind of deep knowledge that comes in the context of relationships in the body of Christ. In Ephesians 4, the apostle Paul says that God has established the community of the church as the place where we build one another up, he says, “ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
We need Jesus to replace our shallow familiarity with the kind of knowledge of Him that comes when we recognize and embrace who he is, all he’s done, and what he will yet do. The kind of knowledge that causes us to realize we didn’t know him like we thought we did.
Now notice verse . Matthew says, “they took offense at him.” Interesting phrase. They were offended by Jesus. This language was used by Jesus back in Matthew 11, verse 6, where Jesus says, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” That could be translated “the one who is not caused to stumble by me.” And it is a reference to the OT book of Isaiah. In chapter 8, the prophet Isaiah describes the coming Messiah, the future Savior, like this: “He will become…a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling…and many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken.”
Why would they stumble? Because they misunderstand God’s plans and the Savior’s purpose. They want something in this life that the Messiah won’t give them. So, they reject him.
The people of Nazareth who were offended by Jesus were those who were confident that they knew God’s plan for his kingdom work and Jesus was obviously off-base. From their perspective, Jesus is dead wrong. These people hear Jesus, but they think they know better than him when it comes to God. Their confidence is vain confidence. It is conceited. They have a high view of themselves.
In John Bunyan’s 17th century book called Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan uses allegory to describe the journey of a Christian through this life to what he calls “the Celestial City,” to eternal life with God. The main character, who he calls “Christian,” faces many challenges and many ups and downs along the way. At one point, Christian is accompanied by a friend, named Hopeful, and as they search for the right way, they meet a man called “Vain Confidence.” They ask Vain Confidence if he knows the way to the celestial gate, and he says he does. So, they follow him, but when night falls, he is far ahead and they lose sight of him.
Bunyan writes, “Therefore he that was ahead of them, being Vain-confidence by name, because he could not see the way ahead of him, fell into a deep pit; it was a trap specially prepared by the prince of that region for the purpose of catching vain-glorious fools so that they might be dashed to pieces in their fall. Now Christian and his companion heard him fall. So they called out to learn how Vain-confidence was doing; but there was no reply except for some groaning.”
“Vain Confidence” thought he knew the way, much like these Nazarenes who rejected Jesus. They think they know the way to God, they know God’s plans, and a Suffering Messiah, with a humble, slow-growing kingdom that is not visible right away, couldn’t be the plan of God. No way, no how. That’s their self-centered view.
And so, notice again Jesus’ reply. Verse 57, “Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.”  And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. The gospel of Mark tells us he did do a few miracles there. Mark says, “he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.”
It was not that Jesus was stripped of his power, but that Jesus reserved his powerful works for those who would believe. His miracles were not simply an entertaining sideshow. They were meant to testify to his divinity. But those with vain confidence would only stumble over Jesus. They would be tripped up. And they would be unable to bask in awe of God incarnate.
They thought they knew God’s ways, but The Way was standing before their eyes, and they knew him not. The apostle John writes in his NT gospel, chapter 1, “ (Jesus) was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Have you been stripped of the awe of God because in your circumstances you think you know better than God? Jesus describes the way to God as one of humility, of sacrifice, of suffering, and a way that requires God’s mercy and grace. Rather than being propelled upward to God by his Son Jesus, will you stumble over Jesus? We all need Jesus to replace the vain confidence that we have in ourselves, but with what? With confidence in Jesus himself, in his sufficiency to redeem us, and in his power to save and change us.
With confidence in Jesus himself as the only one who could live a righteous life in our place. With confidence that Jesus alone, no other god no other religion or system belief, only Jesus can give us the right to become children of God – not by works, but by faith alone.
As we go to this table today, we are reminded that when it comes to Jesus Christ, shallow familiarity and vain confidence will never do. They have no place at this table. This is a table for those who know him deeply, and who desire to know him more. This is a table for those who place all confidence in Him alone. And at this table, Jesus restores our awe of God. Let’s pray together.