The Reverence of Jesus

Reverence is a trait that nowadays few regard. Yet as Pastor Charles Edward Jefferson explains, Jesus was always modeling reverence for us.

Eyes ever upward

“No analysis of the character of Jesus would be complete which failed to recognize his reverence. It is one of the traits which contribute most largely to his loveliness, a characteristic which attracts the notice of every observing mind. To write a definition of reverence is not easy. There are some things which the heart can sense but which the intellect cannot easily define. We know what reverence is, and yet we stumble in trying to define it. It is respect, regard, esteem, and honor; yes, and it is more than these. . . . Reverence is respect or honor, but it is respect or honor working with unwonted energy. . . . It is respect or honor squared and cubed.”

“It is one of the loftiest of all the emotions of the soul, and that is why it eludes us when we try to capture it in the meshes of a definition. What is it? It is homage and obeisance and devotion, yes, and something more. It is awe and fear and adoration; yes, but even these do not tell the full-rounded story. . . . There is in it respect and also affection and also fear, and along with these an abiding consciousness of dependence.”

“Probably no expression defines what we mean by reverence so well as the Old Testament phrase, ‘The fear of the Lord.’ The wise men of Israel were convinced that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Their effort was to make men conscious of the existence of a God of infinite power and wisdom and goodness. He was the High and Holy One who inhabits eternity, and is therefore not to be approached carelessly or thought of lightly. . . . God is majestic and holy and can be approached only by a humble and prostrate heart.”

“Hallowed Be Thy Name”

“This fear of the Lord was mighty in Jesus. God was continually before his eyes. His soul was pervaded with the sense of His presence, and all that he said and did was bathed in an atmosphere created by this consciousness of the fellowship and favor of the Eternal. To illustrate this is not easy. Jesus’ entire life is an illustration of it. One cannot pick out isolated words or acts and hold them up, saying, ‘Behold, how reverent he was!’ A man cannot be reverent at intervals. He must be reverent all the time or not at all. If he is reverent on Monday and not on Tuesday, then his Monday reverence was a pretense and a sham. Reverence is not a vesture which can be put on and laid off.”

“Would you see illustrations of his reverence, read the Gospels! The earnestness with which he was always pleading for reverence in others is proof that in him reverence was a divine and indispensable possession. . . . ‘When you pray, say, Our Father, hallowed be thy name.’ Probably no other words in the Lord’s prayer have been so frequently slurred and overlooked as ‘hallowed be thy name’. . . . We slide over them as though they were only a parenthesis and hasten on to ask for bread and deliverance. . . . But Jesus is careful to place this petition at the very forefront of all our praying. Unless this desire is uppermost in our heart we are not in the mood of prayer.”

“If our first thought is of ourselves and not of God, then we are not praying after the fashion of Jesus. When he tells us to put this petition first it is because he always put it first himself. It was his supreme ambition that his Father’s name should be kept beautiful and holy. . . . Any low or unworthy thought of God was to Jesus’ mind abhorrent and degrading. Living always with an eye single to the glory of God, he urged men everywhere to speak and act and live so that others seeing their good works might glorify their Father in heaven.”

“Holding God continually before his eyes he saw everything in relation to the Eternal. His respect for men was due not to what men were in themselves but to what they were in the eyes of God. They were God’s children and therefore no matter how poor or degraded, they were worthy of respect and honor. Any cruelty in word or inhumanity in action toward a human being caused the heart of Jesus to flash fire, because such treatment of God’s children was in his mind an insult to God Himself.”

“My Father’s House”

“His reverence for the temple was unfailing. . . . Any desecration of a building erected to promote God’s glory was to him horrible and unendurable. . . . But not so to many of his countrymen. In the process of moral degradation reverence is one of the first of the virtues to disappear. It is a flower of paradise which cannot blossom in the chill atmosphere of sordidness and vulgarity. The love of money had eaten out the hearts of many of Jesus’ countrymen. They cared more for gain than they did for God.”

“They converted the temple courts into a marketplace and drowned the anthems and the prayers with the clink of money and the bellowing of steers. Jesus could not endure it. Others had endured it; he could not. . . . Never did Jesus show such a tempest of emotion as in the cleansing of the temple. . . . He became an avenging fury, and before the miscreants knew what was happening their coins were rolling over the temple floor and their flocks and herds were in the street.”

“The explanation of the tempest lies in these three words — ‘My Father’s house.’ It was not an ordinary house. It was the house of God. It was erected for God’s worship. It was a shrine for the adoring heart. It was intended to be a solace for men’s woes and troubles. . . . ‘Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise.’ It was his reverence which kindled a fire in his eyes and gave his words an energy which pierced like daggers.”

“The Fear of the Lord”

“Here, then, we have a virtue upon whose beauty we should often fix our eyes. We do not have as much reverence as we ought to have. We are not by nature or by training a reverent people. . . . There are wide areas of American society from which the spirit of reverence has been banished. Men and women in many a circle are clever, interesting, brilliant, but . . . they have no reach upward. Their conversation sparkles, but it is frivolous and often flippant. Their talk is witty, but the wit is often at the expense of high and sacred things.”

“When one enters the world of our present-day reformers he is impressed by the large number who lack the upward look. . . . They see the crying evils of the world; their sympathies are wide and their zeal is hot, but they have no sky above their heads. They aim to glorify no Father who is in heaven. Some of them claim to admire the Man of Nazareth. They extol his character and his teachings. Yet, strange to say, they do not imitate his reverence, or cast a single glance in the direction in which his eyes were always looking.”

“Why is it that reverence is apparently in a state of decadence? Is it due to our improper reading? The press is constantly exploiting the sordid side of human nature, calling our attention to moral collapse and degradation, and it may be that our familiarity with vice in its varied forms is taking off the edge of our sensibility so that we no longer respond readily to things which are noble and high. . . . Our imagination may be so coarsened by the realms through which it travels that we lose the capacity for feeling the rapture of the sense of awe.”

“Possibly we are becoming less reverent because we are ashamed of being afraid of anybody or anything. Fear is one of the elements in reverence, and there is a popular impression that all fear is degrading. Fear is of two kinds — there is a godly fear and a fear which is ungodly. The latter has terror in it and throws a shadow and brings a chill. But there is a fear which all unspoiled spirits feel in the presence of the high and holy. If mortal man, stained and marred by sin, is not awed by the thought of a Holy God, it is because he has lost the power of feeling. If there is a fear which degrades and paralyzes, there is also a fear which cleanses and exalts. . . . Let us come often then to the reverent Man of Nazareth who by his awestruck obeisance to his Heavenly Father shames us out of our irreverence and makes it easier for the heart to kneel.”

Excerpts from The Character of Jesus by Charles Edward Jefferson (Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1908)

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