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Entries in Folly (5)

Tuesday
Feb272018

Folly or Wisdom? Part II

1 Kings 22:19-29.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 25, 2018.

Last week we talked about choices in life.  Foolish choices lead to folly and wise choices lead to life.  As we continue the story today, we should remember that there are three different types of people in this story.  Ahab, and thus the false prophets who are inclined to bless his every desire, is bent on serving Baal of rather than the God of Israel.  He is a wicked king and they are wicked prophets because they have no concern about rejecting God’s word and commands.  Jehoshaphat is different.  He represents a righteous person who has a heart after God.  Yet, his idealistic desires for unity override the repeated warnings that God gave him.  He is a righteous person who is making a foolish choice.  Lastly we have Micaiah.  He is the righteous person who is making a wise choice (to speak only what God tells him to say) even though the fact that he lands in prison could cause one to judge him as foolish.

In this life we are not always the best judge of who is who.  It is easy to point the finger at every leader and label them a wicked Ahab or wicked Jezebel.  It is also easy to see ourselves as pure and clean as Micaiah or Elijah.  But, let us remember that every choice that comes before us is laden with an opportunity for folly or wisdom.  Only God can help us to choose wisely.

The spirit realm affects the material world.

In verses 19-22 Micaiah reveals a vision that God had previously given him.  It is a vision of God’s heavenly throne in the spirit realm.  We must understand that the Bible promotes a world view that incorporates both a material realm (that which we can see and test) and a spiritual realm (that which we cannot generally see and test).  Thus Christians who follow Jesus must not skirt around this issue.  To be a faithful follower of Jesus is to believe that there is a spiritual realm.  It is also to believe that the spirit realm has a direct impact upon the material world that is unseen to natural eyes.  We can worry about a North Korean leader, an Iranian leader, or The Russians.  But, we often forget that these earthly beings are affected by spiritual forces (to the good or to the bad) that they generally do not understand, and generally do not recognize.

Micaiah reveals a principle or message that is emphasized throughout the Bible: God rules over the heavens and the earth.  The book of Daniel is a great example of this.  It reiterates five times that “The Most High God rules over the kingdom of men.”  On top of this the whole book demonstrates the truth of that statement among the world powers of Daniel’s day.  No matter how great the human powers of this world become, they are always under the rule of God and the spirit realm.  He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. 

So Micaiah sets the scene with God on His throne and the hosts of heaven, which are spirit beings, all before Him.  A fascinating thing about this story is that it pulls back the curtain of God’s decision process and allows us to see how heavenly decrees are made.  It would be important to also notice that this scene is reminiscent of the scene in Job chapter one and two, where God is on his throne and the sons of God, spiritual beings, are surrounding Him.  In that story we see Satan instigating God to decree that he could “touch” Job with suffering.  Thus God gives Satan permission to try Job.  In this story, however, God has initiated the issue on the table.

It is important to recognize that though God is sovereign He does incorporate the input of spirit beings in His decisions.  In Job God permits a suggestion of Satan.  In this passage God puts the decree that Ahab is to die at Ramoth Gilead on the table, so to speak, and seeks input on how to make that happen.  Some scholars refer to this setting as a divine assembly or divine council.  Regardless of what we call it, we see this dynamic also in the book of Revelation and its heavenly vision scenes.  This is an important understanding about how God runs the universe.  Even though He is omniscient and sovereign, He does not operate in complete whimsical fiat.  There are some things that He decrees outright and cannot be changed, but He also leaves some things to the input of spiritual beings.  We could also notice that God does something similar on earth.  He has decreed that the Gospel should go to the ends of the earth, but He allows humans to have a say in how that will happen, how quickly, and who will go.  Thus God is always partnering with both spiritual and earthly beings to accomplish His will.

He doesn’t do this because He lacks ideas or will get a better response from those He works with.  Rather, He chooses not to micromanage the affairs of heaven and earth (or His nature is such that He will not).  He works through those authorities and agencies that He has raised up for that very purpose, both in the spirit realm and on earth.  Think about the family unit as an example.  It is God’s decree that children are to be brought up into this world by a loving commitment between a man and a woman.  It is also His decree that those parents raise that child to know Him and take their place in His kingdom.  How that is done is a partnership between parents and God.  He will not overpower them in order to “perfect” the process.  God allows parents to make choices about what their authority will look like and how well they accomplish the decrees that God has given.  Of course, parents always fall short of absolute perfection.  Even though God has left room for our choices, He is ultimately still in control.  Thus we write the story together with God.  He is not a despot that tyrannically controls everything.

There is a part of this story that leads some people to declare that there is an ethical problem.  In the story a spirit comes forward and provides a solution for how to get Ahab to Ramoth Gilead so he can die.  The answer is that this spirit will be a lying spirit in the mouths of Ahab’s prophets.  God states that this plan will work and authorizes the spirit to do what it suggested.  So is this an evil spirit or a good spirit asking to do something evil?  With the precedent of Job’s story- notice Satan is allowed to interact with God and permitted to do what he wanted, although with limitations- it seems clear that this is an evil spirit.  To many this seems odd or even wrong.  How could the Holy God of the heavens allow an evil spirit in His presence and then authorize false prophecy in order to deceive Ahab?  If we focus only on the actions of the spirit then of course it is generally wrong to mislead someone through deception and lies.  Is God being hypocritical here?  I do not believe that this is a true ethical dilemma.  Ahab has continually rejected the word of God, and also rejected the repeated grace of God as reason to turn back.  He has continually rejected the God of Israel and served Baal, the god of the Canaanites.  He is now under a death decree by God because of his willful insurrection (remember God created the nation of Israel to serve Him and they agreed to only serve Him).  Though murder is morally reprehensible, it is not the same as executing a criminal for capital crimes.  Thus here, Ahab is under the death penalty for capital crimes.  Part of the judgment is to use the same false prophets of Baal that he has been listening to in order to lead him to his death.  When we look at it this way, we see that the way the punishment is carried out is particularly fitting.  Ahab has only survived by the grace of God to this point.  So now God removes His grace and allows Ahab to suffer the results of listening to false prophets.  He is letting Ahab experience the full fruit of the path that He has chosen. 

I will close this point by reminding us of a similar situation in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12.  In it we are told that humanity in the last days will come under the judgment of God.  God will quit restraining the evil that the world is pressing towards (remove His grace).  The world will be enamored with a being that will use lying wonders and unrighteous deception.  Why would God allow this strong delusion that is called The Lie?  We are told that it is because they would not receive the love of the truth.  For 2,000 years God has sent His people into the world to not only speak His Truth, but to also be used of the Spirit of God to help convince people of the truth.  How can someone imagine Jesus on the cross dying for their sins and not receive a love of the truth of it all?  God is not the Agent of this evil deception and lies.  However, when we continually reject His endeavors to help us see the truth, we can come under His judgment, or at the least, His discipline.  For Ahab this story is judgment, but for Jehoshaphat it is discipline.  This understanding should sink in.  These 400 prophets were not complete phonies in the sense that they were making this up.  They were actually in contact with a spirit, but it wasn’t the Holy Spirit.  Rather, it was an evil spirit that their years of worshipping Baal had not prepared them to recognize.  They too were under a judgment of deception because they had rejected the truth that Elijah had revealed at Mt. Carmel: The God of Israel is the true God and Baal is nothing.

Foolish decisions are made despite hearing the truth.

In the tradition of a tragedy verses 24-29 show the different parties of this story making a critical choice for different reasons and thus headed on an inescapable course for disaster.  All of this is over the top of God’s repeated attempts to turn them back to the truth.

After Micaiah’s statement that all the prophets of Ahab were being led by an evil spirit, one false prophet named Zedekiah (probably their leader) takes offense and confronts Micaiah.  He does so by first slapping Micaiah on the cheek.  If you do a search of the word “cheek” in the Bible you will find that there are four places in the Old Testament that speak of this act of striking the cheek.  This story is the first of them.  It is always a public shaming of the person struck.  In Matthew 5:39 Jesus said, “But I tell you not to resist an evil person.  But, whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”  The point Jesus is making is that it won’t do any good to slap an evil person back, or even to reason with them about truth.  The truth generally makes an evil person more enraged (note the experience of Jesus).  So what can a righteous person do?  The only thing you can do is let them pursue their course of wickedness and come to disaster, even if that course involves crucifying you.  Jesus let Israel crucify Him, partially to shock their conscience back to life.  Perhaps somewhere along the course of insanity and wickedness, as a person begins to reap the crop of destruction, the Holy Spirit’s conviction just might break through and lead them to repentance.

Zedekiah also asks the question, “Where did the Spirit of the Lord go between speaking to me and to you?”  This is a way of highlighting that the place the Holy Spirit went clearly makes no difference.  It strongly implies that the error is with Micaiah not Zedekiah.  Think of it as a way of saying, “I know I heard from the Holy Spirit.  So what happened to the Holy Spirit for Him to give you a different word?  Nothing!”  Either Zedekiah is truly deluded, which makes sense in light of the deceiving spirit, or he is keeping up the act.  I think it is the former.  He chooses folly over life.  Micaiah’s answer is to simply say that Zedekiah will figure it out when he flees to an inner room to hide.  Presumably this means that there will be great disaster and Zedekiah’s words will prove so false that he will run and hide himself.  All prophetic words must bear their weight or fall to the ground based upon what actually happens down the road.  Thus the truth will become clear in the end.

Ahab is another man who makes a foolish decision in this story.  Once again he has no desire to heed the counsel of Micaiah.  Thus he has the prophet of the Lord taken back to the city and put in prison with only bread and water of affliction.  This simply means the minimum quantity and quality to keep one alive.  The tyrants of this world, who are bent on pursuing their own selfish desires over the top of the God of heaven, love to put the righteous in prison and mistreat them.  Ahab should be honoring Micaiah and instead he orders his abuse.  Definitely, Ahab proved that he was not worthy of the immense amount of grace that God had sent to him.  Micaiah did not deserve what he was given.  But it was the duty that God was asking him to endure.  It isn’t easy to live for the truth of God in a world that does not love truth, nor wants to receive it.  Thus Ahab signs his own death decree by rejecting this last warning of God.  By putting Micaiah in prison, he is really putting God in prison.  He wants God to stay in the little box of his control.  But God will never stay in our little boxes.

The foolish decisions that we have looked at up to this point are the kind where we would say that it serves them right.  But, Jehoshaphat’s choice to still go to war with Ahab (verse 29) leaves us shouting at the Bible (ex. TV)  “What are you doing?  Don’t go with him!  You dummy, you’re gonna get yourself killed!”   Before we get too hard on Jehoshaphat, we need to see that there is some Jehoshaphat in all of us.  It is that part which is capable of making a foolish choice for all the “good reasons.”  My curiosity would like to know exactly what Jehoshaphat was thinking.  He must not have been convinced by Micaiah.  But then again the clear contradiction of the message of the false prophets, which Jehoshaphat obviously distrusted, should have warranted caution.  Maybe he trusts the assurances of Ahab, whom he knows, over the top of Micaiah, whom he doesn’t know.  Maybe Ahab’s complaint that Micaiah is prejudiced against him leads Jehoshaphat to disregard him as not objective.  Regardless, Ahab is going to his death and Jehoshaphat is going to be disciplined by the Lord.  He will lose the battle and many troops.  Only by the grace of God does he not lose his life.  But we will look at that next week.

Let us take our lives seriously enough that we take time to pray and seek out the counsel of God’s word regarding our decisions of life.  There are times that decisions are not critical.  However, if we have neglected to develop the habit of taking decisions before the Lord then we will be unprepared and easily tripped up when the critical decisions do come along.  Don’t make decisions in order to please people, but rather to please the Lord.  Neither should we confuse pleasing the Lord with doing exactly what we wanted to do.  May we be humble before God and our fellow man.

Folly Wisdom II audio

Monday
Feb192018

Folly or Wisdom? Part I

1 Kings 22:1-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 18, 2018.

The book of proverbs in the bible is famous for its sayings which warn people to avoid folly and choose wisdom.  Of course the Way of the Lord is always presented as the path of wisdom, and all the ways invented by mankind besides it are presented as the paths of folly.  So, how does wisdom fit in with the New Testament’s emphasis on love?  We will find in this chapter a help in this matter.  Here we find that a person can love God and their fellow man, and yet, make foolish choices.  Foolish choices lead to folly and folly eventually leads to destruction in one form or another.

It can be easy to think that because one has put their faith in Jesus, and have whole-heartedly pursued a love of God and your neighbor, that somehow we would be insulated from making foolish choices.  However, this is not true.  To choose to believe in Jesus and follow Him as your master is the wisest thing you will ever do.  Yet, every choice we face is a test, even if we have strung together a long streak of wise choices.  That said, if love for God and our neighbor is the foundation on which we build, then wisdom is how and what we build on top of that foundation.  May God help us all to be wise followers of Jesus.

A righteous person can act foolishly

As we open this chapter we will find three main characters and three cities that are important in our understanding.  Jehoshaphat is the King of Judah who reigns in Jerusalem.  He has gone north to visit with King Ahab of Northern Israel who reigns in Samaria.  These two kings couldn’t be more different.  Jehoshaphat is described as a righteous king who led his people to worship the God of Israel, and the God of Israel was with him. However, Ahab is described as a wicked king who led his people to worship the Canaanite god Baal, and God was against him.  In fact Ahab has been told by Elijah the prophet that he is under a decree of death from the God of Israel.  Thus, during Jehoshaphat’s visit with Ahab in Samaria, Ahab brings up a city called Ramoth in the Gilead region.  This was on the eastern side of the Jordan River Valley and up on the plains above it.  This city had served as one of Israel’s cities of refuge that belonged to the Levites.  Ben Hadad of Syria had captured it at some point and had not returned it, even though he had been twice defeated by Israel (see 1 Kings 20).  Ahab wants Jehoshaphat to join forces with him and take it back.  Now our last character is the prophet of the Lord, Micaiah.  We know very little of this individual except what is revealed in this chapter.  Though it is not specifically stated, it seems that Ahab may have had him imprisoned within Samaria before this event because of his command in verse 26 to have Micaiah “taken back” to the governor of Samaria in order to be imprisoned.  Regardless, Micaiah is a righteous follower of the God of Israel and will prove to be wise.

Ultimately this chapter is about the folly of people in the face of God’s continued gracious appeal to turn from it.  Ahab’s folly is that of a wicked person who has chosen to be an enemy of God.  All his false prophets can be lumped into that category along with him.  Jehoshaphat, on the other hand, is a righteous person who wants so badly to fix things that he makes foolish choices, instead of trusting in the Lord’s wisdom in regard to actions and timing.  Lastly we see all the soldiers who go along with the folly of their leaders for varying reasons.  Some agree with the king, some are ambivalent, and some no doubt only do so out of fear.  Citizens generally suffer from the folly of their leaders decisions and are blessed by their wisdom.

For our purposes we will focus on Jehoshaphat.  When propositioned by Ahab to join forces, he is quick to agree.  This speedy agreement, no doubt, comes from a good heart.  He hates to see the once united nation of Israel divided and fighting each other.  He thinks his good will and alliance with Ahab will make unity and heal the breach.  In fact, in later chapters we find that Jehoshaphat had strengthened this alliance by having his son Jehoram marry Ahab’s daughter, Athaliah.  This is the same Athaliah who nearly killed the whole royal line of David.  If not for God’s mercy to have the infant Joash hidden from her, she would have succeeded in usurping the Davidic throne and God’s promises to David.  I am sure that Jehoshaphat also hates to see the enemies of God ruling over a city of Israel.  Though he has righteous intentions, Jehoshaphat does not recognize that he is allying with a wicked man whom God is planning to have killed.  To join together with such a person is to put yourself in the crosshairs.  You do not want to be in league with a wicked person when God decides to bring them down.

It may be good to stop and think about how we can be guilty of this today.  Many in the Church of God who want to see unity among the denominations and acceptance within the culture will make love and unity their rally cry.  There is nothing wrong with having these things at the heart of our actions and speech.  However, as we see in this story, it is never good to ally ourselves with people who are at odds with God and His Anointed, Jesus.  There is a proper timing and a proper way to healing the breaches that have happened in our nation and society.  In our zeal to “fix things” we can make foolish choices that lead to further harm.  May God help us to lean only upon His wisdom and wait for His timing, rather than rushing ahead with people who are under the judgment of God.

To his credit, Jehoshaphat asks Ahab to inquire of the God of Israel in verse 5.  At the end of the day this is a wise thing to do and could have been the very thing that saved him from his own naiveté.  But we will deal with that later.  Ahab calls forward 400 prophets who begin prophesying that if they go to battle they will win.  These prophets are clearly not prophets of the God of Israel because Jehoshaphat immediately asks if there isn’t a prophet of the God of Israel.  These are either prophets of Baal or Asherah or both.  It is difficult to tell if Ahab was trying to present them as prophets of the God of Israel, but this is highly probable.  Ahab knows that Jehoshaphat only serves the God of Israel.  Regardless of how Jehoshaphat knows (most likely their demeanor smacked of paganism), he has a big “red flag” moment in his heart.  He knows that these 400 prophets do not represent the message of the God of Israel.  So why not tell Ahab you are not interested in going to battle?  Perhaps he is in too deep and doesn’t want to mess up the good-will that he has obtained with Ahab.  Thus Jehoshaphat disregards a huge red flag and pushes on trying to find a justification to help Ahab.

When Jehoshaphat asks Ahab if there isn’t still a prophet of the God of Israel available, Ahab answers that there is one (notice he doesn’t bring up Elijah).  However, Ahab says that he hates the prophet because he never has anything good to say about Ahab.  Now, a prophet’s job is not to make the king feel good about himself, but rather to tell him the truth.  The prophets of the God of Israel were not enemies of Ahab.  They only told him the truth.  It was his obstinate insistence to reject their words that had led to his death decree.  Jehoshaphat recognizes how dangerous Ahab’s statement is.  To say that you hate a true prophet of God is to hate God.    Though he softly rebukes Ahab, he disregards another huge red flag telling him that he is on the wrong path.

A righteous person can act wisely

As Jehoshaphat and Ahab wait for Micaiah to be summoned, we are told that the false prophets continue to do their prophesying.  One particular false prophet named Zedekiah has fashioned some iron horns for himself as a prophetic prop.  He proclaims that with these two iron horns Israel will gore the Syrians.  In Israel horns were used symbolically of a king and his kingdom.  Thus the two horns are Ahab and Jehoshaphat.

Meanwhile some officer is bringing Micaiah to the Kings and clearly applies some social pressure to him.  He tells Micaiah that 400 prophets are telling the kings that they will be successful and that he should agree with them.   Such social pressure to support the public policy of the king, or the current leaders, is the folly of many a government.  Yes-men never help a leader, but rather fail their duty to fully inform and counsel them.  We see this same dynamic within our own politics and within the culture of our society.  Often believers in Jesus are pressured to speak and act in a socially acceptable way because so many are already going along with it.  Yet, Micaiah is a righteous man who wisely refuses to bow to such pressures.  He states that he will only speak what the Lord tells him to speak.  This sounds familiar with the words of Jesus in John 12:49 (and in many other places), “For I [Jesus] have not spoken on My own authority, but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.”  He also mentions that He only does what He has been told by His Father.  Is this my resolve?  Imagine how different the response of the churches in our land would be if they all followed the path of Micaiah, and ultimately that of Jesus.  Is my resolve to only speak and do what God wants me to speak and do? 

When Micaiah is finally brought before the kings, it may seem strange that he actually does tell Ahab that he will be successful.  But, it is clear in the context that he is being sarcastic.  Ahab immediately adjures him to tell the truth.  I do not believe that Micaiah’s sarcasm presents any ethical problem.  It is clear that he and Ahab have a history wherein Ahab has continually disregarded the word of the Lord from Micaiah.  Thus when Ahab asks for the truth, he is not really asking for truth so that he can obey the Lord.  Ahab will go to war regardless of what Micaiah has to say.  Instead Ahab sees Micaiah as a source of “spiritual chatter.”  He wants to know what the prophets of Yahweh have to say.  Perhaps he can glean enough information to prevent what they are predicting.  All of this is happening in front of Jehoshaphat and should be even another red flag to him.    I believe that Micaiah’s sarcasm actually highlights the hypocrisy of Ahab.  He has never really wanted the truth because he has always embraced the lie of Baal and his religion.

Of course Micaiah then tells the kings what he saw in a vision.  His words are worth noting.  “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep without a shepherd.”  These are similar of the words Matthew used in Matthew 9:36.  “But when [Jesus] saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.”  This metaphor of sheep without a shepherd is used throughout the Bible.  Moses used this metaphor when God told him it was time for him to die.  In Numbers 21:17 Moses asks God to appoint another leader so that Israel would not be like sheep without a shepherd.  In other words they would be vulnerable to the world around them without strong, godly leadership.  David used it in Psalm 23 to declare, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  Of course Jesus used description of the good shepherd for himself.  In Ezekiel 34:12 the Lord says, “As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day.”  Lastly, in Zechariah 10:2 God says, “The idols speak delusion; the diviners envision lies, and tell false dreams; they comfort in vain.  Therefore the people wend their way like sheep; they are in trouble because there is no shepherd.”

Even with Ahab as their king, Israel has been without a true shepherd for years because Ahab is a false shepherd who only cares about himself.  His actions are only leading to a scattering of the sheep both physically and spiritually.  Yet, God has promised to regather His sheep who have been scattered.  Today, Christians are a part of God’s work of regathering the sheep.  However, it is not just the lost sheep of Israel, but of the whole world.  In the midst of God’s regathering process we must be wise and lean upon the wisdom of the Lord rather than our own.  Yes, God so loves the world that He gave His One and Only Son that whoever believes on Him should not perish but have eternal life.  However, no amount of false unity and pretending that the wicked are not in danger will save them.  Only the truth sets us free.  Let’s be righteous people who choose wisely rather than being led into folly.

Folly or Wisdom audio

Tuesday
Dec222015

Lessons of Christmas- The Wisdom of It All

1 Corinthians 1:19-31.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 20, 2015.

The sending of a baby to a small country under the domination of the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago may not seem to be the wisest plan for saving the world.  Well, it didn’t seem any wiser at the time either.  During the Christmas season we are reminded that the wisest and most powerful people of this world cannot save the world and are absent in God’s plan.  Thus God makes salvation available to the lowest among us and to the highest regardless of these things.  In itself, this can be a problem for those who think they deserve it and others don’t.  The wisdom of Christmas is that God makes salvation available to those who will humble themselves, like he did, and trust His Wisdom and His Power.  Let’s look at this passage.

God Rejects The Wisdom of Mankind

This passage is written to the Christians in Corinth, who grew up in the Greek culture and were influenced by pride in its wisdom.  Thus the fact that God would reject man’s wisdom is at the same time obvious and inconceivable.  It is obvious because it is exactly what we would expect from a Being that can create the universe, or multiverse if you prefer.  However, it runs contrary to our experience and our nature.  We are used to opening doors to opportunity by our knowledge and wisdom.  We are not used to putting our wisdom aside and embracing God’s.

Paul points out that the message of the cross was and is foolishness to those of this world who are perishing.  Of course the message of the cross is God’s plan of salvation, which starts with the incarnation, and the baby Jesus.  This message of how God is saving mankind seems foolish to people of this world.  Thus, even if God were inclined to work in a way that fit in with our wisdom, the fact that we reject His wisdom would disincline Him. 

But more important than that in verse 21 we are told that the wisdom of mankind was not able to help it know God.  No matter how great our telescopes, communications, philosophy, and understanding of the universe, it will not help us know God.  In fact, the only way we have ever known anything about God is because He has revealed it to us, whether you look at the Garden of Eden, the prophets through the ages, or Jesus.  That is why in verses 19-20 God makes it abundantly clear that man’s wisdom will not lead to salvation.  Sin is a problem that cannot be solved with technology or philosophy.  No amount of time will enable social engineers to create a utopia that is truly good. 

At Christmas the message of God’s love comes into the world in a way that seems foolish to the world, but it will be effective against this sin problem.  Man’s wisdom continues to cycle through different wise ideas to help mankind.  But none of them will work.  The founding fathers of the United States of America understood this.  Instead of trying to create a perfect government, they created checks and balances to help keep the sin of men in check.  Over the years we have incrementally weakened and even dissolved many of these checks and balances.  Democracy is not the hope of the world.  At best, it can only restrain evil.  So this story will continue even as mankind doubles down and increases the stakes by calling for Global governance.

In verse 22 Paul points out a particular problem.  The Jews represented the religious wisdom of those who knew God and were supposed to be following Him, whereas the Greeks or Gentiles represented those who did not know God and instead were a more secular wisdom (even though they had religious notions).  The Jews believed in God and so looked for powerful signs of what God was doing.  However, the problem with this is that no matter how many powerful signs God did, their hearts did not want to go where He needed to take them.  Thus, the religious wisdom of those who know God can be driven by human wisdom.  “I will only accept what I determine is God.”  In this model God has to become a kind of court Jester who keeps us constantly entertained in something.  Yet, we don’t want what He is offering.  Thus, such religious wisdom must always come to a point of deciding between God’s way or your way.  On the other hand the secular wisdom of the Greeks and nations of the world believed that salvation could be achieved through the refinement of knowledge and philosophy.  They sought out ideas that “worked.”  God is saying that the solution that will work is one that will not appeal to the religious wisdom or the secular wisdom.  No matter who they are, the wise of mankind will not like the solution God gives.  The wise men of this age or any age to come will never save us, period, whether from religious circles or secular.

God Uses His Own Wisdom

Having established that God will not use man’s wisdom to save us, the obvious is then looked at:  God will use His own wisdom.  Paul points out that God’s wisdom is a stumbling block to the religious.  Yes, they may be looking in the right direction, they may be on the right path, they may even know what they are supposed to be looking for.  However, in the end when God acts to save mankind they trip over it because they didn’t recognize it.  Salvation is offered in a way that is not in harmony with their thoughts.  Yet, God will not let them ignore it.  When they trip over it they will either despise it or they will choose to embrace it.

As for the secular wisdom, the salvation of God is foolishness.  Think of it this way, Jesus coming into first century Israel is a template for the message of Christ going into all the other nations.  You won’t be able to ignore it and a choice must be made.  Yet, our wisdom will always lead us to reject it.  Paul says in verses 24-25 that this “foolishness” is the Power and Wisdom of God.  This “foolishness” is wiser than the greatest wisdom of mankind.  No matter how foolish you think this plan is, it is far wiser than you can imagine.  Only arrogance and pride would cause us to persist in clinging to the ship of this world’s wisdom at the expense of God’s.

God Displays His Wisdom Through Us

Here we are 2 millennia later and countless millions have chosen to believe the message of God in Jesus.  Of course, only God knows how many of them have truly believed, instead of just going along with something in order to fit in.  Yet, in those who believe, the wisdom of God is put on display to a world that cannot see it otherwise.  Paul reminds these Corinthian Christians that most of them were foolish and weak by the world’s standards.  There was a time when we as a nation understood this.  Do you remember the words that are at the statue of liberty?  I won’t quote them all, but the critical part is this.  “'Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp,' cries she with silent lips!  'Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.'”  Today we are more apt to cream the crop of the nations so that our businesses and nation may be the greatest.  But this is not what God does.  He lets the cream rise to the surface and then takes the bottom layer.  Why?  He does so because you can do nothing with those who are so full of their own wisdom they don’t need God.  Whereas the lowly know full well that their only hope is in God.

Paul states emphatically that God will allow no human to glory in front of Him.  The Creator of all things has chosen to save us in a way that glorifies no one, and this grates on the nerves of the mighty to no end.  God loves to choose the weak and foolish, because it highlights the impotence of the strong and wise of this world and forces them to continually hear the truth, “Your wisdom cannot save you!”

Jesus is God’s gift of Wisdom and Glory to us.  At Christmas God gives us the embodiment of His Wisdom and His Glory.  In Jesus, God asks the world to turn from their wisdom and embrace a better wisdom and glory.  He sent Jesus, not because we deserved it, but because He wants to save us.  Thus the Church of Jesus is a reminder to the world of its need to embrace the wisdom of God. 

However, we are not just a reminder to the world.  In Ephesians 3:8-11, Paul points out that God is also teaching the angelic powers through us lowly humans.  Yes, even angels need to learn the same lessons as mankind does.  Their greatest wisdom will only lead to destruction.  But the wisdom of God will lead to life.  There is much interference in the nations of the world today by humans with political ambitions.  However, there is also interference from spiritual beings with an axe to grind.  Thus we are coming to the apex of history.  In this let me ask, what about you?  What do you say?  In Jesus, God has set the fruit of salvation low so that even you can grasp it if you will.  Put your faith in Him today.

 

Lessons-Wisdom audio

Tuesday
Dec302014

When Your Time is Up

Today we are going to be in Luke 12:13-21.

Our time is up for 2014 and 2015 is soon to begin.  We cannot go back and change what we said, did, or accomplished this previous year.  The New Year reminds us that we are mortal and we are now one year older.  How many years do I have left?  Am I living in such a way as to bring judgment or grace upon me when I stand before God?  These are some heavy questions that we may tend to avoid.  However, it is imperative that we deal with them now while we have time, rather than waiting and being caught off-guard.  The Bible tells us that “it is appointed to men to die and then the judgment.”  Instead of seeing these things as dark and foreboding, we can look at them as powerful understanding of what is to come.  When you know what is coming in advance, you can make preparations now that will help you be successful when they come.  That is the wonderful thing about the present.  Even though your past is “etched in stone,” the present allows you to affect the future that those past decisions are taking you towards.  We can make course corrections and thereby overcome things that we cannot change.

A Person’s Life Is Not In The Abundance of Possessions

In verses 12-15 Jesus is interrupted by a man who wants Jesus to do something for him.  Jesus then turns to his disciples and teaches them because the man is an illustration of an important principle.  Life cannot be found in the abundance of possessions.

Now this man addresses Jesus as “teacher.”  Thus he approaches Jesus as a disciple.  However, there is no sense of wanting to learn in his request.  He simply wants Jesus to do something for him.  So is he a disciple or is he only a manipulator trying to get something out of Jesus?  Jesus exposes his true motivation: covetousness.  This man wants what his brother has and is hoping Jesus will get it for him.  Now notice the response of Jesus.  He calls him “man.”  This is quite different then the “my friends” he used with his disciples back in vs. 4.  This is a more curt and formal address.  Jesus clarifies that he is not really the man’s teacher and the man is not really his disciple.  Jesus was merely a means to an end for this guy and do not be deceived, God will not be mocked and used by us for fleshly means.

Now the man’s issue has to do with an inheritance.  He wants Jesus to make his brother divide the inheritance with him.  Now it makes sense to come to Jesus to settle an issue of justice.  The Scriptures said that the Messiah would rule with perfect justice and would cause righteousness to shine.  He would be the ultimate arbiter of mankind.  Yet, we are not given enough information about this particular situation to judge the merits of this man’s appeal.  Was his brother being wicked and squeezing him out of his proper inheritance?  Or was this man wicked and trying to get more than his proper share?  Or were they both wicked and covetous?  Regardless, one thing is true, Jesus does care about justice.  He does not reject this man’s appeal because he doesn’t care.  Even if this man’s cause was just, Jesus recognizes that something deadly has happened in his heart.  He has been overcome with having what his brother has.  Much covetousness lies behind the talk of justice.  Christ cares too much about this man’s soul to prostitute justice for the sake of his flesh.  Is it possible that getting justice might be the last thing we need spiritually?  Jesus essentially tells the man that his problem is not his brother, but his own heart.  He has become greedy and is coveting.  To give him what he wants would only make his spiritual situation worse.

In verse 14 Jesus asks him, “who made me judge over your case?”  Legally no one had.  Thus Jesus points out that the man is only seeking leverage over his brother.  Had his case been heard by the authorities and denied?  We are not told.  But there is far more to this story then is made evident by the man’s appeal.  Why come to Jesus and not the proper authorities? 

Jesus may also be reminding those who are listening of the situation of Moses.  When Moses first decided to do something about the plight of his people, he ended up killing an Egyptian taskmaster who was harshly whipping an Israelite.  Later he sees too Hebrews fighting and tries to get them to quit quarreling.  One of the men responds, “who made you ruler and judge over us?”  As much as people want justice and cry out for it, when God does supply the man to get it for us, we complain.  Justice is a double edged sword.  It not only cuts those who have treated us unjustly, but it cuts us as well.  Thus as Messiah, God had made Jesus judge over all mankind.  In fact we see this in 2 Timothy 4:1, “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His Kingdom…”

The real issue here is the man’s relationship to Jesus.  If Jesus really were his master and judge, then the man would have left everything in order to follow him and know true justice.  From the point of becoming his disciple and following, the only purposes and intention that would matter would be those of Jesus.  Thus we see the problem of my agenda versus the agenda of God.  God’s agenda is generally not the same as ours even when we claim to want the same thing as him.  Our understanding of justice is not always just.  We live in a world that loves to co-opt the person and message of Jesus for its own understanding and intention.  Yet, in the end they will not follow Jesus as Lord.  Check your own heart and see if there are desires and agenda items that are more important to you then having Jesus as your Lord because this will reveal your true relationship with Jesus.  He is either Lord of all or not Lord at all.

Jesus then turns to his disciples and warns them to watch and guard against coveting.  Our sinful nature will seek to suck life out of material things instead of turning to God from whom all life flows.  Our life is in the words of Christ to us, not in what Christ says to our brother.  Even if the entire world turns against Jesus and you are left alone, his words to you can supply life to you, if you believe.  “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”  All else is peripheral and often detrimental.  When we covet we want to have more, especially that which belongs to another.  In Colossians 3:5 we are told that coveting is idolatry.  This man looks to the inheritance that his brother has as more important than God.  He is not really interested in justice, but in satisfying a craving for more possessions and wealth.  Jesus says to watch and guard against such sins.  But what are we guarding?  We are guarding our hearts from being infected by such sin.  This man was being swallowed up in sin.

The Parable of The Rich Fool

In verses 16-21, Jesus tells a parable to his disciples to slam home the main issue here, this man’s soul is in jeopardy and he is being foolish.  When you look at the man in the parable you will notice that his thoughts are all centered on himself.  If you count the personal pronouns he uses you will get the picture.  Also note that there is no mention of God in all of his thinking.  It is irrelevant if he goes to synagogue every week and prays loudly in front of everyone.  We see here in the private counsels of his own heart that God has no place.

In the parable the man has bumper crops to the point that he has a “problem” of figuring out what to do with the excess or overflow.  Instead of asking why has God blessed him and figuring out what God’s purpose is, his solution is to build bigger barns and amass the increase for himself.  Even though he doesn’t need more, he heaps it up.  Today we would call this hoarding.  Now here is a problem.  It is one thing when Jesus calls us out on our hoarding.  We know that he has no ulterior motive.  But, often those who point out the sin of hoarding only want to have what they have.  We see a big pile of money or possessions and the wickedness of our heart covets it.  This reminds me of the movie that just came out, The Hobbit.  In it we see how the amassed gold and riches ate into the heart of all who saw it and obtained it.  So we will be judged on both accounts: a greedy amassing for self and a greed desire to take from others.

In verse 19 we notice that his soul is at ease.  Godly people in every generation have spoken of the need for a holy discomfort with our life and the world around us.  When Christ is our focus then this world causes us trouble and discomfort at least.  Too often Christians stop at being uneasy about the world, yet refuse to walk with the Lord seriously enough to become uncomfortable with their own sin.  Our rest is to be found in trusting Jesus and His teachings.  This man is trying to find rest in material abundance outside of Christ.  We need to refresh ourselves in Him and rest, but we should never rest in being vigilant over our soul against sin.

Similar to the handwriting on the wall before Belshazzar, a message from God comes to the man.  He is about to die and he has been judged as a fool by God.  He is a fool because he focused his life on what couldn't save him, nor could go with him.  He lived without a sense of accountability to God.  This life is a gift and how we go about living it determines our judgment.  Will you live for the Lord Jesus or will you continue as master?  His judgment comes without warning and the man will die that very night.  Although some of us are given fair warning that our time is coming, many will go into eternity without the ability to "make quick amends."  We need to live so that nothing is left undone between us and the Lord.  

In Matthew 19:21 Jesus says to the rich young man, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me."  This idea of putting treasure in heaven by helping others is explained there.  Here the phrase is called, "being rich toward God."  It is interesting that it clearly means to help people, but the emphasis is on God.  When we help others simply because it makes us feel good, we need to be careful.  This is not what saves us.  In fact such giving often cuts God out of the picture.  It is purely about bringing pleasure to one's self.  But, when God becomes the Lord of all our possessions and money, we will truly become a free person.  We are free to bless others as he enables and directs.  You are under no compulsion by the people who covet your money and hold the words of Jesus over your head.  Their greed will continue to destroy them unless they repent.  But you are free to give and help under the compulsion of the Spirit of God.  Lest this seem like a cop-out, know this: you will give account to God for all you have done or not done on this earth and He is not mocked.  James lays out a warning for those who either have riches or desire to get them.  James 5:1-7  , "Come now you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you!  Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten.  Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire.  You have heaped up treasure in the last days.  Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.  You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter.  You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.  Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord."

 

Time is up audio