Biblical Definition of Reverence
Reverence is honor and respect that is deeply felt and outwardly demonstrated. Because of God’s awesome power and majesty, He is deserving of the highest level of reverence.
(Leviticus 19:30)1NIV New International Version Translations – “Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary. I am the Lord.”
The Bible defines reverence as the automatic response of everyone who encounters our awesome God (Numbers 20:6; Judges 13:20; 1 Chronicles 21:16).
The idea of reverence for God started with God. In the Old Testament, God taught the Israelites how to show proper reverence by giving them hundreds of laws related to purity, holiness, and worship (Deuteronomy 5). Sinful humanity does not know how to worship a holy God with reverence and awe. God love us so much He became a teacher for us. For Israel, His presence was within in the Ark of the Covenant. They were not to touch it as a matter of reverence. The “Holy of Holies,” is the place set aside within the temple for the Ark. The area required the highest level of reverence (Leviticus 16:2). Anyone disobeying God’s command about entering the Holy of Holies died instantly (Leviticus 22:9; Numbers 4:20; 1 Chronicles 13:9–10). The purpose of these strict rules was to define holiness and impress upon mankind the necessity for reverence in the presence of God.
In New Testament, reverence for God is shown by our willingness to voluntarily give ourselves up to God and obey His commands (Galatians 2:20; 5:13; James 2:12). Jesus also reminded us that we must have proper reverence for God. He taught the disciples to begin their prayers with “Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9–13). Hallowed means “set apart as holy.” We are to treat the name of God with reverence.
To have the correct understanding of God’s nature is also understand His wrath. The proper reverence for God takes seriously His hatred of sin. Reverence takes in account the coming judgment on those who refuse to repent (Colossians 3:6; Romans 1:18). Another way to show reverence for God is by the way one lives. The pursuit of holiness takes in account God’s Holiness (1 Peter 1:15–16). Reverent behavior says “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions. It is a life of self-control and upright behavior.
(Titus 2:12) – “It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,”
Human beings were created to worship God. Reverence is the natural response of a heart that has been transformed by the Holy Spirit. The more we grow in knowledge and understanding of who God is, the more reverence we feel toward Him. The gift of Jesus to us was God’s invitation to draw near (James 4:8; John 14:9). How a person approaches worship is also a barometer for that person’s reverence toward God. Jesus said that the Father is seeking people who will learn to worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). True worship is not about our favorite hymn. It is not about a sermon that makes us feel good inside. Worship is not about an emotional experience. True worship is about how we live our life. When we worship in truth, our minds are engaged and filled with the biblical understanding of God’s nature. To worship God is to know Him and to serve Him!
(Luke 6:46) – “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”
Reverence must be about God. It is a quality that is missing in our society today. Reverence is about the holiness, power, and righteous wrath of a Sovereign Creator. Once we know who God is, we revere Him in our hearts.
Example of Biblical Reverence
To find our biblical example of reverence, we look in the Gospel of Luke. Here is the story of Jesus’ crucifixion Two other men suffer the same death on either side of Him. The one to Jesus’s right has become known as the “Good Thief.” The one to Jesus’ left is known as the “Unrepentant Thief.” Reverence is about acknowledging God. It requires repentance and humility. Our good thief acknowledged the true King that day. The unrepentant thief on the left, mocked our Savior. What is most interesting about these stories is that our world seeks to always make us pick sides. Lines are drawn that we are not to cross. Which side are you on?
Both thieves were already on their crosses in Luke’s Gospel. We can discount any “good works” as part of the equation of salvation. Neither could be baptized. It would be the last few moments of their lives that would determine their eternal fate. Their lives of thievery and sin were over. Both men would soon die. It is this part of the story that all people should take great hope in. God’s Grace is enough for all those who seek Him, even up to the moments before death.
(Luke 23:32-38) – “Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.”
It is remarkable that, while still in the excruciating and mind-numbing torment of the cross, the Son of Man had the heart, mind, and will to pray for others. Both men began their time on their crosses by mocking and blaspheming Jesus. They were no different than many of the spectators. Even His disciples were busy abandoning Him. One thief, while in agony himself, heard the Spirit of God call to him to repent. He accepted the forgiveness God was about to provide. One man, the thief on the right answered the call. His sins were forgiven, including his blasphemy against the Son of God (Luke 5:31-32, 12:8–10) just a few minutes earlier.
The thief on the left, at the point of death, rejected Jesus. While being tortured himself, he joined his torturers in insulting the Savior of the world. He most likely did so because he wanted his torturers to think he was like them. A man of the world! There are many like him who are prideful of their hatred of God (Matthew 27:44). It is hard to give either man any excuses. Not only were they next to the Savior, but they could also hear Jesus pray. Both men could hear the testimony of Jesus as He was dying, as they were dying. Both men could see the world go dark. The humility of repentance and reverence toward God saved one while the sin of pride condemned the other.
What can be learned from this story is that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. No matter how great our sins are, no matter if we, or the world, think our sins are minor or extreme, it is never too late to repent and accept the gift of salvation (Ephesians 2:8–9; Revelation 22:17). It takes a mind and the will to choose life over death (Hebrews 9:27) It is also never too late to proclaim the Gospel’s message to someone else. None of this has any meaning unless we hold our God in reverence.
Repentance is a change of mind, a change of a purpose and/or a change in direction. Repentance is turning away from previous sinful behavior, attitudes, or opinions. True repentance goes beyond saying we are sorry for something. True repentance results in a new behavior pleasing in God’s sight, pleasing to the God we revere. Repentance, however, does not always shield us from the consequences of our actions. The good thief died that day.
(Romans 6:23) – “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The Gospels do not mention specific names for the thieves. In the Catholic faith, by tradition, they are given names. The good thief is named Saint Dismas and the unrepentant thief’s name Gestas. While both men were suffering the same gruesome execution and both were in the presence of Jesus, their reactions to their situation were quite different. Gestas, the unrepentant thief, mocks Jesus, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39) Gestas asks to come down from his cross.
The good thief, Dismas, does not ask to be taken down from his sure and painful death. Instead, he rebukes Gestas and proclaims Jesus’ innocence. He asks, instead, to be taken up with Jesus, saying “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42). Jesus replies, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Our lesson is not about placing hope in this world, but in the promise of the next. Which man do you relate to? Will you hang with Jesus on the right or the left side? All must make that choice one day! Will you be on the “right,” holding the One and Only King in reverence, or to the “left,” taking up the radical views of our world!
(2 Corinthians 7:10) – “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
Ideas to Explore
This is a good time for a Bible Study. Ask for youth to step up and lead a small group discussion. Some of the points to discuss could be the differences between the man on the right of Jesus and the man on the left.
- Ideas to Explore: Why have words like right and left become political, so polarizing? Can someone from the right of an issue and left of an issue ever agree? Is agreement even a good idea?
- Ideas to Explore: Right seems to be stay the course, while Left seems to take the more controversial position – Does this always mean you must choose a side? Is middle ground ever a wrong conclusion?
- Ideas to Explore: Divisiveness itself is not new but the addition of hatred is – Why? Who wins when we hate each other? How do two people, one who is placing their faith in Jesus and the other, placing their faith in the world, come to common ground? Is that a reasonable expectation?
- Ideas to Explore: The world is very enticing. Some may not believe in eternal life. Repentance is not always easy. Fear of consequences of the world more than consequences from God. How do we overcome these concerns when sharing our faith with others?
Example of Historical Reverence
History is often filled with bias, brought about by differing political views. One such area is on the happenings of April 18, 1775. Two lanterns were raised to warn Minute Men of an impending invasion. This specific story is not about any direct hero of the Revolutions. Controversies still exist today about the exact building where the lanterns were raised and who lit and lifted them. Paul Revere’s famous nighttime ride is also a part of this night. This story is about reverence. It looks at a woman named Sarah Thaxter. Sarah was the widow of Major Duncan McBean Thaxter. We do not know the nature of her husband’s death. Both had lived in Boston. Sarah would meet another widower named Captain John Pulling. In January of 1773, both would marry.
We know a lot more about John Pulling. He grew up in the Boston area. As the revolution grew eminent, John’s close childhood relationship with Paul Revere drew him into underground activities. Both men were active with Boston’s Committee of Correspondence. The Committees of Correspondence were the American colonies’ means for maintaining communication lines in the years before the Revolutionary War. In 1764, Boston formed the earliest Committee of Correspondence to encourage opposition to Britain’s stiffening of customs enforcement and prohibition of American paper money. In 1772, a new Boston Committee of Correspondence was organized, this time to communicate with all the towns in the province, as well as with “the World,” about the recent announcement that Massachusetts’s governor and judges would now be paid by and accountable to King George III rather than the colonial legislature. More than half of the province’s 260 towns formed committees and replied to Boston’s communications. The meetings were always ended by each attendee placing their hand on a Bible and swearing to secrecy.
John Pulling was a vestryman, a church elder at the Old North Church. He had fired their Rector Reverend Rather Biles Jr. earlier that week. Reverend Biles had preached against the Patriot cause. The church was now closed until a new rector could be found. With its tall steeple, the Old North Church was a perfect place to hang the warning lanterns on evening of the 18th. Part of the controversy is whether Robert Newman, the church sextant (janitor), or John Pulling hung the lanterns. That specific act would be viewed as treason by the British. If caught, it would result in death. Both Newman and Pulling would be at the church that evening. Newman had the keys. The British soldiers were quick to spot the lanterns. They went to the church and found Newman across the street hiding in his room. While they arrested him, he said it was John Pulling’s idea and was released. An immediate search was made of John Pulling’s home. John was now a hunted man.
Sarah was home when her husband came rushing in. John hid in a wine barrel in the basement. You can imagine the fear Sarah had, watching the armed soldiers search her home. Sarah was pregnant so this added to her fear. God’s providence would protect them both. John was not found, and Sarah was not harmed. Once the soldiers left, it was clear they both had to leave immediately. There would be no time to pack or take valuables. John would escape by rowing a boat across the harbor. It is not known whether Sarah travelled by land or by boat with John, but they both went to Nantasket. This was an obscure fishing village on the coast. John’s travels would take him past a British War Ship that night. When challenged by the ship’s crew, he was able to pass. God’s providence at work again.
Sarah Pulling is not remembered in history. Her husband John is barely remembered. But Sarah would make a simple decision that night to keep this story alive for generations. Sarah would take her Bible with her. She could not leave without God’s Word at her side. The time away, living in squalor, was very hard. John would become ill. Their length of time in Nantasket is not known. However, when the British finally left Boston, the Pulling’s returned to find all their possessions and home destroyed. It would be shortly after their return that John Pulling would die. Sarah was a widow once more.
The legacy of John Pulling would be carried on by Sarah’s daughter and grandchildren. Their stories would be published in the “Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society (1876-1877)” published in Boston in 1878. Sarah’s Bible is still in the family’s possession today. Through the generational stories, John Pulling’s epic climb to the top of the Old North Steeple would live on. Was it worth it? Paul Revere was captured and held by the British. He arrived late after the battle at Lexington Green had started. It was the backup riders that saw the two lanterns that fateful night. John and Sarah’s sacrifice warned our Minutemen of the advancing British troops. Sarah died December 17, 1843, in Abington, Massachusetts. The Old North Church gives the credit of hanging the lanterns to Robert Newman. John is forgotten in History. Even today, Sarah is not even listed on her hometown’s “Notable People” list in Abington.
Ideas to Explore
Tell your group to think about having to leave their home, risking every possession that their family has. Now tell them to pick one item that they would take with them when they leave. They cannot take their Bible! That is too easy a choice. When they meet as a group, they should be prepared to show their item and take a few minutes as to why that item is the most important to them. Adults, take note. The discussion among the youth will give insight to what is important to that generation!
Now ask the group to share the “Generational Stories” of faith that their own family has shared with them.
Examples of Historical Reverence. Occurring in Florida
In the 16th century, the area around the State of Florida was called “La Florida.” The name was given to our lands by Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513. He stumbled upon the Florida peninsula while searching for gold and the legendary “Fountain of Youth.” The fountain was a legendary spring reportedly that gave people eternal life and health. Ponce de Leon sailed from Puerto Rico on March 3 with three ships, the Santa Maria, the Santiago, and the San Cristobal, and about 200 men. After stops at Grand Turk Island and San Salvador, they reached the east coast of Florida, near St. Augustine. Ponce de Leon claimed the land for Spain. La Florida is the Spanish name for flowery, covered with flowers, or abounding in flowers.
Fifty years later, September 8, 1565, five ships would return under the command of General Pedro Menéndez de Aviles. Menéndez was a Spanish admiral and explorer from Avilés, in Asturias, Spain. He was known for planning the first regular trans-oceanic convoys. These became known as the Spanish treasure fleet. General Menéndez is also known for founding St. Augustine, Florida. St Augustine would become the first successful European settlement in La Florida. It would remain the most significant city in the region for three centuries. While General Menéndez was in search of gold, he also desired to convert the Indian population to Christianity. St. Augustine is the oldest continuously inhabited, European-established settlement in the continental United States.
Menéndez de Avilés would be the first governor of La Florida (1565–1574). By his contract (asiento) with Philip II, Menéndez was appointed adelantado (the governor of La Florida). He was responsible for implementing royal policies and building fortifications for the defense of the city. Sailing with General Menéndez was a Catholic priest named Father Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales. Recording the day’s events in his diary he wrote:
On Saturday the eighth the General landed with many banners spread, to the sounds of trumpets and the salutes of artillery. As I had gone ashore the evening before, I took a cross and went to meet him, singing the hymn “Te Deum Laudamus (God, We Praise You).” The General, followed by all who accompanied him, marched up to the cross, knelt and kissed it. A large number of Indians watched these proceedings and imitated all that they saw done.
Following Menéndez’ veneration (meaning great respect; reverence) of the Cross, he proclaimed this land in the name of God (Nombre de Dios). Father Lopez celebrated Mass at a rustic altar made of wood. The sky served as the roof for what would be the first parish Mass in what is now the United States. It is on this ground that the Spanish settlers would begin their devotion to Our Lady of La Leche, Nuestra Señora de La Leche y Buen Parto (Mary nursing the infant Jesus). In the early 1600s, the Spanish settlers of St. Augustine established the first Shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the United States at this location.
Today, a small mission chapel is in the heart of what is referred to as the “sacred acre.” Pilgrims come from all parts of the world to pray for the Virgin Mary’s powerful intercession. They pray for fertility, for the health of their children, for safe delivery of those expecting children. It is a place set apart for reverence.
Ideas to Explore
The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park is said to be on the site of Ponce de Leon’s landing. While there is a spring, a few buildings typical for the 16th century, it is a place that charges admission to taste the water from a spring on the property.
While in St. Augustine, a visit to the mission and shrine. It is considered a holy site and operated by the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine. You can find both an event calendar and information on the shrine here. It is living proof of the faith of our forefathers in the one and only God!
Practicing Acts of Reverence
One of the best exercises for practicing reverence is prayer. Take your group into a quiet place, large enough where they can be spread out. Ask them to take their Bibles with them. Turn off phones. The purpose will be to pray for one hour. Their task is to be reverent toward God. It may be helpful to have them take a list of Bible verses that are their favorites. Each person should read their verses, then read the verses before and after their favorite verses. Challenge them to enter the scene in the Bible as an observer or a participant. Use their imagination. Become one with God’s Word.
- 1NIV New International Version Translations