Falling at His Feet

Fear. It’s a weird part of the human experience.

Throughout the Bible, God says not to be afraid. God also says that we are to fear Him. This seems almost contradictory, doesn’t it? In Exodus 20, after God gives Moses the 10 commandments, Moses confusingly tells the Israelites, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning”. Did you catch that? Moses says not to be afraid, but then immediately follows that by saying that the fear of God is to be with us. I think both of Moses’ statements are true, but like so many other things, our understanding of fear may not be the same as God’s understanding of fear.

So what does God understand fear to be? The best I can tell, there seem to be two main categories. Fear of God, and fear in a general sense. This passage may help with that distinction:

“among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.’” - Revelation 1:13-18

In this passage, John sees Jesus full of glory, power, and might, and literally falls “at his feet as though dead”. John is truly on holy ground here. It’s not a stretch to say that he was petrified by fear. But in one of the most beautiful moments in all of the Bible, Jesus responds to this fear by putting his hand on him and saying “Do not be afraid”. We could dwell on that for days.

As we see in the passage, John is fearful for his life. Rightfully so. But Jesus’ responds by stilling his fear. He also gives some insight into the distinction between fear of God and general fear. As is the case with many things Jesus says, there are multiple layers to his response “do not be afraid”. The first layer addresses that general fear. Primarily, the fear of death. John has come face to face with the living God. People died multiple times throughout the Bible from seeing mere glimpses of God, and here John sees the glorified Jesus face to face. It’s no surprise he was afraid. Jesus, however, tells John he doesn’t need to fear death because He actually holds “the keys of death and Hades”. This is huge. If Jesus says this about fearing death, how much more does this apply to fearing the less existential parts of life? In this I think Jesus is saying that we don’t need to fear death, or fear man, or fear missing out, or fear anything else, because of who Jesus is and what He has accomplished. The trick is embodying that belief every day. (More on that later)
 
This statement by Jesus also has a lot to say about the fear of God. In essence, Jesus is saying “don’t be afraid of me in that general sense, with the same existential dread that you fear death and loss. Instead, fear me by revering me. Stand in awe at the totality of who I am. And remember that my response to that general fear is a gentle hand on your shoulder.” Jesus denies the general fear and invites us into a holy fear. In this way, true fear of God should not lead us to dread, but should lead us to awe and wonder. To worship. This is the type of fear that Moses mentions in Exodus 20 to keep the Israelites from sinning. It’s hard to sin when you’re busy worshiping.

So we know that we should fear, or maybe more accurately revere God, so much so that it leads us to worship. We also know that we shouldn’t fear the usual objects of fear (death, loss, man, etc.) because of who Jesus is and what He’s done. Great. But as was mentioned earlier, the trick is embodying that in real life. What do we do when fear’s knocking on the door? John gives us a clue yet again. Fall.

There’s no denying that John falls at Jesus’ feet “as though dead” out of fear. But there’s more to it than that. There’s another layer to peel back. John also seems to be falling at Jesus’ feet in surrender. When faced with the glory and majesty of Jesus, John realizes that he is incomparably frail. In John’s gospel, he refers to himself as “the one that Jesus loved”. By all accounts he was one of Jesus’ closest friends. He would have known the heart of Jesus better than anyone. Because of that, he would have been the first to agree with Paul’s statement that Jesus’ “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). With that in mind, John’s falling at the feet of Jesus can be seen as an act of surrender. He knows that Jesus’ power is only made perfect in him when he falls at his feet in weakness. Jesus himself says that “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). So when fear comes, we can fall. If we fall at Jesus’ feet in our weakness, the power of His Spirit will enable us stand amidst fear. As Paul says, “it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:21).  

 “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” – Brennan Manning
 
When faced with fear, we can also fall into the love of Jesus. There are countless passages we could reference regarding Jesus’ love for us, but for consistency’s sake, let’s stick with the same passage we’ve been in. When John falls at Jesus’ feet, He meets him where he’s at. He reaches down to the ground to touch him before saying “do not be afraid”. He comforts John with word and with physical action. Jesus’ love for John is what moves Him to respond. It’s always His love. There is no safer place.
 
In John’s first epistle he makes the radical claim that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Just 10 verses later John adds, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment”. God is perfect and God is love. God is the perfect love that drives out fear. If we understand our position as God’s beloved, if we understand that His heart is for us, we can trust Him and His love to catch us when we fall at His feet. And if we live each day convinced of God’s love for us, if we let His affections for us form us, every moment of fear would become an opportunity to fall head first into the love of God. And if we let Him, this perfect love, through the power of the Holy Spirit living in each follower of Jesus, will drive out fear.
 
“I have been seized by the power of a great affection.” – Brennan Manning

Fear will form us all. Either into an image of existential dread or a beloved of God surrendered to and empowered by His Spirit. The question is how will you let fear form you?
 
Author  |  Jake Stephens
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