RSS

Monthly Archives: August 2019

Holy Already, Why Strive for Holiness? (sermon text and video)

 

Hebrews 12:14: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

[Intro]

Throughout world history, there has been much that has invoked fear.

Take just the last 100 years…

The extermination of the Armenians in Turkey,

goose-stepping Nazis running death camps,

the purges of Stalin,

the horrid fruit of Mao’s Black Book,

the killing fields of Cambodia,

Ruwanda,

the Twin Towers, here, on our own soil.

These pictures cause fear and dread.

Run to the Bible right!?

But in today’s Gospel reading, we also see the words of the Son of God that, throughout the ages, have caused many to tremble!

Jesus speaks of the final judgement, alerting us to the fact that there is indeed a “narrow door…”

The Old Testament passage from Isaiah 66 is also all about the final judgement! (even though this is not so obvious from the particular section we read…) and likewise our Psalm….

When it says “before [the Lord] is a devouring fire, around him a mighty tempest…”

…we might also think about how in the Hebrews reading it speaks of the dread at Mt. Sinai….

A mountain…”burning with fire” and filled with “darkness, gloom, and storm…”

The author of Hebrews says the sight was so terrifying that even Moses himself said, ‘I am trembling with fear.’”

Fear and dread….

And perhaps this passage I selected from Hebrews also caused you to wince, at least a bit:

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for holiness without which no one will see the Lord…

Let’s unpack this a bit…

First of all, let’s look at that passage again in a bit larger context…

No discipline [from God] seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,”[b] so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son…

Interesting and important stuff, to be sure…

Second, let’s ask this: just what is holiness?

The Bible speaks about

“holy prophets” (Acts 3:21),

“holy apostles” (Eph 3:5),

a “holy calling” (2 Ti 1:9),

“holy scriptures” (Ro 1:2),

a “holy covenant” (Lk 1:72).

Holiness sets God apart from not only the fallen, sinful world, but also from his creation in general! He is set apart from that which He made…

And yet, through His Spirit working by His Word, He calls us His “saints,” or “holy ones.” That is, those who share in His divine life….

In sum, holiness insofar as it has to do with us it is related to the biblical word “sanctification”…

This describes the process of being made pure, as the Lord is pure… It is the process whereby our affections, thoughts, will, and acts are brought into conformity with God’s….[i]

And you see, holiness is connected with not just what someone does, but who they are…

Have you ever felt like you were among people who really didn’t want you there?

Or, even more, have you ever known—from pretty clear indications from those around you—that your presence wasn’t really wanted?

I had an experience like that just recently (and no, I wasn’t just being annoying)

If you have that experience as a Christian, because you are a Christian, that is a taste, you know, of why the Final Judgement is coming… must come….

Because the pure and impure cannot forever abide with one another….

+++

[God’s final purification]

You see, the Scriptures tell us that it is the pure in heart—that is God’s people—who will “see him as he is…”

And again, the immediate context for this meeting, this seeing God, is the end of the world!

God’s final purification.

Human beings certainly make their own attempts at purification—sometimes with horrifying results—and in the beginning of this message I briefly mentioned some of those…

Nevertheless, God’s purification, His final purification, stands out like none of the others!

The Moon the color of blood,

the sky being rolled up like a scroll,

the veil being removed!

…a loud trumpet,

and Angel armies accompanying the King of Heaven and earth, riding on a White Horse.

The Great last judgment of the sheep and the goats.

It’s not the season of Advent yet, but nevertheless these are the kinds of things that are spoken about in our Scripture readings for today: the “Last Days”… the end of the world!

And as our Hebrews reading for today ends:

“since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”[f]

We can get a glimpse of what is happening here: though God’s people face the Fearsome God, the Lion of Judah, they are encouraged to thankful… again, not to be terrified, but ultimately encouraged!

For He is “our” God who saves us….

So in when this day comes, God’s people, the “pure in heart,” are told to “Lift up your heads – for your redemption is near!”

So do not fear this judgment—you who He makes pure!: For this judgment is one of the enemies of God and Jesus Christ – those who consider you impure!

The True Judge of Heaven and Earth comes to save those who trust in Him, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the persecuted,

The true pure.

The time for those who hate us is not long… we will be rescued by our Conqueror when He comes again.

Perhaps it will even be something like from the story the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe — where the royal priesthood of believers wield swords and participate in the final battle….

This battle where The Evil One will be defeated forever….

With the result being that people from all tongues, tribes and nations – will be saved by the Rider on the White Horse, Faithful and True, the Son of God.

It will be “Back to the Garden of Eden…. So like it says in the Psalm:

Let them praise his name with dancing
and make music to him with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes delight in his people;
he crowns the humble with victory.

How can we not rejoice?

For this world, the empty way of life, all which opposes the goodness God brings…is passing away.

Much more awaits us.

Therefore, as the Scriptures urge us to do…..

“…we know that when Christ appears,[a] we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Now, if you are like me, perhaps you think at this point “Have I ‘purified myself’? And focusing on our Hebrews passage we are looking at, you might ask: “do I know what it means to strive for holiness?”

I mean, it seems kind of important.”

We Lutherans don’t usually talk this way, right?

So what does this mean?

+++

How are we made pure?

Before we can answer this question, let’s think a bit more about what it really means to be made holy… to be made pure…

Have you heard the phrase “pure as the driven snow”? Driven snow is snow that has been blown by the wind, into drifts and such.

The kid in me concludes that it’s the kind of snow you can eat.

In any case the expression isn’t used as much these days, but it is used to speak, sometimes disparagingly, about things like moral purity, chastity, and virginity.

(also rarer terms these days).

And of course in our everyday language, pure means something that is uncontaminated.

There is no defilement or spoliation. And to purify something means to bring it to this state.

And if a person has been purified, is pure, this evokes the idea of not only outer, but inner cleanliness… to the very center of one’s being. Through and through.

How, then, does the Bible say this takes place? It says that true purity, purity that lasts and is never faked, not only looks like God but is rooted in God.

Only God, after all, is truly good, truly pure.

So, when it comes to us poor sinners, being pure, in the most simple sense, means to believe and hope in God, as opposed to the world, false in its love, which rages against Him.

In I Peter chapter 1, the Apostle says you have purified yourselves. How?

“By submitting to what you heard: you believe, Peter says, the words of testimony about Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.”

And glorified!

And revealed in these last times for our sakes!

And it is because of this truth, Peter says, that you have true love for each other. Therefore, he says “love one another deeply, from the heart,”

This is what it means pure.[ii] Again, let’s connect this back to our passage from the book of Hebrews….

First and foremost we must understand the core of what the author of Hebrews has been saying in the whole book.

He has said that according to Jesus’, the Son of God’s human nature, He was “made perfect forever,” (Heb. 7:28)

…and now we, united with our Great Advocate and Intercessor by faith, are also “made perfect forever”.

In other words, this perfection, in one sense, is an accomplished fact!

Status as His child? Or got concerns that you are on His mind and He’s got your back?

Don’t.

Do you not know that our Priest Jesus Christ has “enter[ed] the inner place behind the curtain” and therefore we have a “steadfast anchor for the soul”?

The name of His children is written in the palm of His hand!… And “whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his!” (4:10)

So… Peace.

Scripture goes so far as to paint the peace of the child of God like this: Resting in the arms of the mother who nurses and sings over them!

Do we get grace?! Do we get the purposes of God’s grace? That is, what the author of Hebrews says in chapter 10?

Through the work of Christ, who is our priest, our sacrifice, and even our altar! – God has made perfect forever those who are being made holy!

And we are also told in this book that He has given us the “Sabbath rest” – even as He also urges us to “enter that Sabbath rest” more and more (4:11)….

So that sounds a bit like what he says about holiness… striving for it… doesn’t it?

Can we better understand this?

+++

[Living in That Purity!]

We certainly can! Let’s talk about living in that purity.

First of all, let’s note this the author of Hebrews says earlier to the ones who are “being made holy”: “Therefore, holy brethren, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus…”

That means that the question is really this…:

How do we strive for the holiness that we already have?

How do we “purify ourselves” as the Apostle John tells us or how do we “keep yourselves pure…” as the Apostle Paul also tells us? (I Tim. 5:22)?

We identify with, we embrace what we already have… and we live in it…

The question of living in God’s purity has to do with what God’s purity and holiness is.

He is challenging each one of us regarding the question of whether, because of the world’s temptations (to sluggishness, pleasures, etc.)[iii], false understandings of what it means to be a Christian have penetrated our hearts…

So what, ultimately, is God’s purity and holiness? It is this:

He, and He alone, is the Love which burns through Evil en route to rescuing those lost in the darkness.

You! Me!

In Christ’s work, we see the charred remains of sin, death, and the devil.

He did this for us.

Please note….

We don’t have a God who is arbitrary and unpredictable—like the false gods of the world—we have a God who disciplines those He loves for their good.

We don’t have a God who doesn’t understand what it is like to be a human being. We have a God who was tempted in every way we were and can sympathize with us in our weakness….

We don’t have a God who delights in the same kinds of sinful actions human beings delight in, but One who shows us a better way – a life of simple and humble love that has not only this life but the next one in view.

Again, if we ever doubt any of that, let us look again to the cross.

No matter what your earthly circumstances… no matter what the difficulties or sufferings you are enduring… God Himself has taken the punishment for your sins on the cross. He did it to be just and the justifier of the wicked.

And so when it comes to us…

the implication is that we have – and create – spaces and places where this message can be heard, believed and lived.

The mission we have is never about God’s people being intrinsically superior to others outside of God’s Kingdom…of this house of worship. Rather this mission is about New and True Life!

True sight! True seeing! True purity!

Being blessed to know not only where the bread is which we share – the Forgiveness of sins which heals and nourishes… but also knowing where True Life is in Fullness.

Ultimate Fullness….

What is that?

There is a King we know who is simple.

Who loves His people, who is loyal… but who does not let sin go unpunished….

Who will not allow us to live in our lies, our lusts, our pride and selfishness….

He is ready to Refine us again, discipline us again, and He will stop at nothing to make us more His…

So don’t say, for example, “am I my brother’s keeper?” They are all your brothers!…

You are to love your brethren in Christ first of all,

and in this world you must look to provide and care for family first,

but all are your brothers…

The Christian life never has as its goal alienation and cutting one’s self off, but we call people–even our enemies–into our spaces, into our places, to participate with us “in the life that is truly life”.

Though He has hard words, demanding words, even damning words, Jesus’ default orientation is not to condemn, but save,

…and His heart is now ours.

This is the life to which he has called us….with these truths we must practically wrestle, in the church… and beyond…[iv]

Don’t live in fear of the world, or even permanently set up camp at Mt. Sinai in trembling, in the presence of the God who chars sin, death, and the devil.

Rather, whoever desires, let him take the refreshing water of life – pure water – freely!

Anyone who is thirsty…

Or as the author of Hebrews puts it:

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

I hope you are confident. With Him, we’re ready.

We’re pure.

We were washed and we ARE baptized, belonging to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Come Lord Jesus,

Amen.

FIN

 

 

 

[i] Holiness

(related to Anglo-Saxon hal, “whole, well”). 1. “Holiness is the absolute purity of God, according to which His affections, thoughts, will, and acts are in perfect consistency and harmony with His own nature, and in energetic opposition to everything that is not in conformity therewith” (A. L. Graebner,* Outlines of Doctrinal Theology, par. 36). In OT God is holy and stands utterly above the created world; He is the wholly other, the transcendent God (Ex 3:5; 19:12–13, 20–24). The holy God imparts Himself; He wishes men to share in His divine life within the scope of His judgment and mercy (Dt 7:6; Lv 11:44). His holiness is dynamic, manifested when He executes judgment (Ezek 28:22). The Holy One of Israel is man’s Redeemer (Is 43:14). The holiness of the Lord is assoc. with the glory of the Lord and with fire (e.g., Ex 3:2–5; 19:18–22).

  1. NT understanding of holiness is built on the OT (1 Ptr 3:15; cf. Ps 99:9). Jesus is called “the Holy One of God” (Mk 1:24). The NT ch. is successor to the OT community of God’s holy people (Ex 19:6; 1 Ptr 2:9–10); Christians are called to be saints, holy ones (Ro 1:7; 1 Co 1:2); the vocabulary of holiness appears, e.g., in NT statements regarding the work of the Holy* Spirit and the life and conduct of “the saints” and in references to “holy prophets” (Acts 3:21), “holy apostles” (Eph 3:5), “holy calling” (2 Ti 1:9), “holy scriptures” (Ro 1:2), “holy covenant” (Lk 1:72).
  2. In the hist. of theol. the classical view associates God’s holiness with His righteousness and law. The theol. of F. D. E. Schleiermacher* and A. Ritschl* reduced the content of the concept of holiness, the former saying that God’s holiness in effect was His approval and disapproval of man by His law and man’s conscience, the latter suggesting that holiness is of no concern to man. Current theol. is trying to grasp the Biblical idea of holiness. God’s love is holy love. Holiness is more than an ethical quality; there is also an ontological aspect (see Ontology). For some this means God’s opposition to sin (K. Barth*), for others, God’s transcendence (H. E. Brunner*); for others, the Holy One is unapproachable (P. Tillich*).
  3. Holiness is joined with love, yet is distinct from it. Holiness creates distance; love conquers distance. The holy God conquers distance. He reveals Himself as both exclusive and inclusive, unapproachable and approachable, transcendent and condescending.
  4. K. Asting, Die Heiligkeit im Urchristum (Göttingen, 1930); R. Otto, The Idea of the Holy, tr. J. W. Harvey, 2d ed. (London, 1950); S. C. Neill, Christian Holiness (New York, 1960); O. R. Jones, The Concept of Holiness (New York, 1961). LDH

See also Stockmayer, Otto.

[ii] The Apostle John says much the same thing and throughout the book of I John I, John has a lot more to say:

  • If we walk in the light as He is in the light we have fellowship with each other, and His blood cleanses us from all sin!
  • Keep His word, His teaching, His commandments, abide in Him… [by this, the love of God is perfected in us…]
  • You know the love of the Son of God who laid down His life for us. So, beloved, let us love one another!
  • Do not love the world, or the things of the world: the lust of the flesh, of the eyes, the pride of life… Even if they hate you because of the paths of righteousness in which you walk!
  • As the Son is, so we are in this world! We love because He first loved us
  • If we abide in the Son and in the Father, we have the promise of eternal life.
  • And we will not be ashamed before Him at His coming….

This is what it means to be pure.

This text from I John is in many ways a great summary of all these things… the King James version did it the best:

Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. 2Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. 3And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

[iii] Strive to make sure none of you falls short….: All these Apostles, and the author of Hebrews in particular, mean for each one of us to primarily be thinking about ourselves and our family here…not first and foremost wondering about the other members of the congregation around us…..

The writer of the Hebrews here is definitely saying that its possible for a person to look like they are not a Christian… that they have fallen short. This is not exactly the same thing as saying that a person is not a Christian, nor is it encouraging us to be “fruit police” when it comes to our fellow believers…

[iv] We are holy before God by faith. Also, it is important to note this: depending on what we are striving for, what form of life we are living in, we are either decreasing or increasing in faith all the time. Luther also says it well:

“Therefore, unless we too hunger and thirst to know and to understand God’s will more perfectly until we also attain to an everlasting vision in the life hereafter, there is nothing more of it in us than a mere froth which can neither quench our thirst nor satisfy us and neither comfort us nor make us better.” —Sermon, Trinity 24, 1536 #LutherQuotes

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 26, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Updated Collection of Videos I’ve Done on a Variety of Fundamental Christian Topics

Again, I decided to put some of the videos I’m doing for a class up on You Tube, and here’s an updated list (I’ll add the next one to this post soon).

Here are #1-14 (again, #14 will be out, and there is no #11).

To repeat: “After the intro (#1), they basically go chronologically through parts of the biblical text. I don’t expect to become a regular You Tuber, but hope you enjoy taking a look…”

 

Web Media #1 — Introduction to Historic Biblical Christianity

 

Web Media #2 — Man’s Fall and God’s Promise

 

Web Media #3 — Whose Side are You On? The God Who Divides.

 

Web Media #4 — Is it God’s Responsibility to Do Good?

 

Web Media #5 — Creation, Conscience, Law and Gospel.

 

Web Media #6 — Does Jesus Have a Mission Statement?

 

Web Media #7 — Jesus in the Old Testament ; Judging Jesus’ Way

 

Web Media #8 — How Important are the Sacraments Really? (1 of 2)

 

Web Media #9 — How Important are the Sacraments Really? (2 of 2)

 

Web Media #10 (part 1 of 2) — American Babylon, the Book of Romans, and You

 

Web Media #10 (part 2 of 2) — American Babylon, the Book of Romans, and You

 

[no Web Media #11]

 

Web Media #12 — Should Today’s Church Look Like the Book of Acts?

 

Web Media #13 — Religion and Politics! (part 1 of 2)

 

Web Media #14 — Religion and Politics! : is America a Christian Nation? (part 2 of 2)

FIN

 

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 19, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

One Greater Than Solomon is Here (sermon text and video)

 

“…to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” – Ecclesiastes 2:26

 

+++

What do you know about Solomon?

To be sure, the man is a bit of an enigma!

He was the son of David and Bathsheba, and, as the King’s firstborn, he inherited David’s Kingdom when he died.

Famously, when God promised to give him whatever he wanted, Solomon asked for wisdom.

You can be amazed by his wisdom from the book of Proverbs, even if it is almost 3,000 years old!

And certainly, in his day, he and his Kingdom, the Kingdom of Israel, were very wealthy and respected.

He was not, like his father, a man of war, and hence, was the one who God said could build His temple, which he did.

I personally think his prayer at the dedication of that Temple, which you can read in the book of I Kings, is one of the most powerful prayers in the Bible.

And yet, what else do we know about Solomon?

Well, for one, he enslaved his own people in building projects.

He also, for political reasons and certainly otherwise, had many, many wives and concubines as well.

The Scriptures pull no punches in stating that those wives led him into idolatry, and suggest that in spite of his worldly wisdom, Solomon’s spiritual wisdom faltered…

We get a sense of some of those struggles in the book from which our text for today’s sermon comes… Ecclesiastes.[i]

There is no doubt that in many ways it is a very challenging book (and I wondered about the wisdom in doing this message today more than once!).

And yet… if we pay careful attention, we can see that in spite of its rather hopeless-sounding refrain that “Everything is vanity… a chasing after the wind”…

there is also a humble, simple, and powerful message!

We’ll get to that in just a bit, but first let’s talk about the problems Solomon encounters…

Very early on in the book he says this:

 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem[a] as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me.

Solomon goes on to say how vain, or meaningless, all the pursuits of pleasure – the partying, projects, and possessions – were![ii]

Interestingly, “the preacher” (this is what Ecclesiastes means), also says that as he did all these things “my wisdom stayed with me.”

And it seems to be just because of this wisdom that he found himself so frustrated, annoyed, worried and unsatisfied here!…

Curious to know more about why? Well, a handful of examples of what Solomon learned about life “under the sun”:

-We are immersed in striving and anxiety about planning our affairs and also, simultaneously, our hearts are averse to such plans, as they make us irritated and restless…

-Even the greatest names will be forgotten, if not in the history books then in the continuing governance of a family, nation, state, etc. And… the things that you build will be left to either despisers or destroyers, a great evil indeed, but inevitable nonetheless…

-Those who are carried along by boldness or sheer audacity (Luther: “temerity”) often have similar successes to those who carefully and considerately make prudent plans….

-“Once [something] is present, it is already old; it brings no pleasure, and something else seems desirable…”[iii]

-Our affections towards God’s creation are messed up, and we construct plans to accomplish goals we think will make us happy but don’t…[iv]

Remember – we are talking about King Solomon here, the wisest, wealthiest and most powerful men of the Ancient world!

These are his experiences!

I’d say he is pretty much the optimal character to show all of us, no matter who we are, the vanity of all things apart from God – that is apart from the One who is not under the sun but beyond the sun!

Beyond this natural and temporal world that we can see, taste, touch, and smell…[v]

And yet, as I said earlier, Solomon also points us to the solution the Lord gives us as well…

The way to rise above it all, and “set our hearts on things above”, as the Apostle Paul put it!

Or to avoid the fate of men like the rich man in Jesus’ parable for today!….

Clues to this solution are littered throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, and one of those very clues presents itself to us in the text for today….  In part, we read the following:

“A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?”

Very simple, huh?: “for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment…?”

It is God, and God alone, who gives us good gifts – simple and humble gifts – and it is He who also gives true enjoyment of these gifts as well.[vi]

And note also this, from the chapter at the end of the book:

“Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”

We are talking here about a trusting child of God’s attitude towards his Creator. Respect. Reverence. Security only in Him and His Word.

And we are also talking about the attitude that is possible only because one knows the grace of God, living in thankfulness before Him…[vii]

It is because of this that we plan[viii] without trusting our own wisdom.

We ultimately entrust all things, outcomes, successes to God… Our future is in His hands…

For this is true wisdom… which goes beyond the wisdom of the world:

“Doing what we know is pleasing to God and committing to Him what He desires to work in us.” [ix]

Easy enough to understand, right? At the same time, also listen to what else Solomon says right after speaking about how it is only God who can give us enjoyment of his gifts:

26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God….

You, like me, may have wondered just what in the world this means!…[x]

I’ll get to that in a minute. For now though, I’ll tell you that this passage reminded me of what Jesus said regarding those who hear the Word of God:

Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them…”

And with a passage like this, we must not only talk here about different measures of faith in God, but recognize that we have that faith first and foremost because we are dealing with the God of grace…

Something the world finds absurd and unfair…

The One who dies on the cross for our sins and is raised to life for our justification says to all – to both the good and the evil… those, who, even now are His children and Satan’s children:

“Come to the Feast! For everything is prepared!”

It is true, and we often forget…. He is absolutely audacious with His grace and mercy…

And indeed, in some ways this fits right in with the complaints of Solomon!

Throughout the book one of Solomon’s great frustrations is the lack of connection between ethical behavior and reward.[xi]

It is not only the neighbors who we think are kind and good who are blessed…the bad often get what the good worked so hard for!

And now, God throws us this additional monkey wrench!

This God of grace not only gives us eternal salvation, eternal life, but He also permits us, His children, to enjoy the good things of the world… including things that others have built.

So… does this mean that Christians, the “poor in spirit”, finally get the dough, the possessions, the earthly goods and treasures for themselves?

That they will be ours to do with as we please?

That we will own them for ourselves?

I’d say this, “Don’t go there. Listen instead to what Martin Luther says about this passage”:

“In short, the pious truly possess the whole world, because they enjoy it with happiness and tranquility. But the impious do not possess it even when they have it. This is the vanity which the impious possess…”  (comments at the end of chapter 2)[xii]

That is some wisdom. Luther is just echoing the Apostle Paul: “Christians…even while having nothing, possess everything (cf. 2 Cor. 6:10)” (44)

+++

So what does Solomon have to say about all of this? Well, he goes on to say:

“This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind…”

What does this mean? Well, it helps to know that this could also be translated as: “this also is vanity and vexation of spirit”.[xiii]

What Solomon means to say is that those who operate according to the wisdom of the world will inevitably be frustrated, annoyed, and worried in their spirit

…because of the way human nature is…

because of the way the world works since the fall into sin…

…And also because without including God in one’s plans all indeed ends in frustration and worse…

It is only the children of God—granted enjoyment by Him—that can overcome this.

Again, they even joyfully and thankfully use the things built by the worldly-wise but nevertheless impious…

How?

Through the gift of God that is their wisdom-of-the-world-defying faith….

+++

So there is a great reversal here indeed….

It is like Jesus says in another context (where he is talking about evangelism):

“One sows and another reaps…”

Why do we have such a hard time with this?

I submit that it is because we sometimes want to believe that God, in the end, just might somehow smile on the hard-working, wealthy, kind, and generous non-Christians that we know…

That they might somehow be blessed—now and later—for being good enough…

And why, ultimately, might we think this?

Because we want to believe that our own sins are not so bad!

Our own sins of failing to fear, love, and trust in the One True God above all things!

Because even though we have been made new creatures in Christ—hallelujah!—our sinful natures have not been fully eradicated in us.[xiv] We still need His blood… the medicine of immortality…

So let’s try it again: “One sows and another reaps…”

Great!

Fantastic!

For regardless of how hard we may have worked according to the wisdom of this world, according to His law none of us really deserve any of these earthly blessings!

If anything, the most we could possibly say is “We are only unworthy servants… We have only done what is required of us…”

Our earthly blessings are all for Him to use as He pleases anyways!

Indeed, what one wise man said is true:

“The real despisers of the world are those who accept everything as God sends it to them, using everything with thanksgiving while it is present and freely doing without it if the Lord takes it away….” (Luther, 31)

We are not those who are attached to the things of this world.

We really are the ones who can deal with worldly matters lightly… We have the capacity for this, whether we are confident of this or not…

So, we ultimately toil not for this world…

But for the next!

We toil for the eternal…. Not “for” in the sense of trying to obtain the eternal—for we have already been given our salvation.

We mean “for” in the sense of using the salvation we have been given rightly!

We mean service for the eternal, service on behalf of the eternal – of the eternal life that we already have by virtue of knowing Jesus Christ!

This is what we can pass on.

This is the inheritance—the legacy—that is always worth fighting for.[xv]

+++

So brothers and sisters, set your minds on things above, not on earthly things!

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

When the Apostle Paul speaks of this, he is not thinking of angels with harps in clouds as far as the eye can see.

God forbid.

He is thinking about the new heavens and the new earth!

He is talking about wolves and lambs laying down together, the joys of friendship, and the pleasure of a fantastic party, a great feast.

We think about Jesus Christ at the wedding at Cana, revealing His glory, revealing to us a taste of the Heavenly Life!

These are all good gifts God created, which we certainly can totally ruin!—and we also can’t avoid tainting these gifts to this or that degree by our sinful motivations…

But our God is good. He covers over those sinful motivations—even the ones we have no clue about—with Christ’s blood.

And again – He would have us enjoy all His gifts!

He would have us do our work in joy and peace.

Even sometimes like the little child playing in the presence of His Father.

Looking up on occasion to be reminded of that fact that “there He is! Dad is over there. And He loves me….”

May we have pictures like that in mind as we think about all of the matters with which we deal here on earth!

May we all have this peace before our Father in Heaven!

Like Luther said, if he heard Jesus was coming again tomorrow, what would He do?

Plant a tree…

So let us continue to repent, always eagerly invite His correction, and never hesitate to long for the Ultimate Feast He has prepared for us!

For one wiser than Solomon is here…

One greater than Solomon is here!

FIN

 

Notes:

[i] I think it’s possible that after reading it, you might understand how the Bible gives many the impression that Solomon died an unbeliever.

In fact, some Christian apologists – that is, defenders of the faith – have also pointed out that many of the arguments against God that one hears today from skeptics and even modern atheists also are given some airtime in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes!

[ii] The old biblical scholar Paul Kretzman here says that Solomon took every opportunity to experiment regarding the matter of what is good….

In other words, he wasn’t content to take God’s word for it…to go there to learn what was truly good.

[iii] -“Once [something] is present, it is already old; it brings no pleasure, and something else seems desirable…” The 16th century church reformer Martin Luther says that this is what “nothing new under the sun” really means: not that there are never new things that are created, but that we inevitably grow weary and look for something else, something new….

[iv] -And of course, all that God has made is good indeed – but our affections towards the good things that He gives us are messed up, which means our priorities are messed up

-There are accomplishments, goals, and achievements that we think will bring us happiness. And we try to do such things through our plans and deliberations (Luther: “counsels”), not holding these lightly as we should, and trusting the future to God

More good thoughts!:

-“What happens to the greedy man in the case of money happens to the entire human race in the case of desires and plans; that is, they have nothing even if they have everything. Alexander the Great…” (43)

-“The things themselves are good, to be sure, but our efforts are in vain.” (38)

-We constantly use people and love things, instead of loving people and using things.

-“If one has a kingdom, he tries to gain a second. In sum, Alexander wants many worlds.” (35)

-“the unanimous statement of all men on earth is: ‘It doesn’t work!’ They see that many things are defined and set prudently up but still do not meet with success…success does not follow except in its own time and that things are not governed either by the counsel of the wise or by the temerity of the foolish…” (37)

-Solomon does not wish for death , but “regards it as a misery and calamity to deal with these matters. He intends to say: ‘I became sick and tired of it…’”.

-If this is true for Solomon, who had great worldly wisdom and many a good plan, what of us?! (see 23)

– The ultimate problem is that man does not trust God to take care of the problems of the world – to “set the world to rights” as the British say – but rather think that he will solve it himself by his plans.

[v] Again, our friend Martin Luther helps us to better understand the great significance of this account we have from Solomon:

“[Solomon is saying]: If even I have not succeeded in my schemes… what will happen to those who are not as wise as I? First, I shall cite my experience. I the Preacher have been king of the Israelites.’ All his words are emphatic and magnificent: ‘I am king, and yet I achieve nothing. Who will resist a king, one who is lord of all? Besides, I am not simply a king of some people or other but of the people of God, in which there have been many holy men, prophets, doctors of the Law, etc. Finally, I am king in Jerusalem, this supremely holy place which God chose as His habitation. If a king so powerful, free, and wise, ruling over the holiest of peoples in the holiest of cities, with God and the Word of God present, still cannot carry out his good and holy plans, what shall we say about others?”

I think Luther was so insightful to see this!

[vi] In a work called the Apostolic Constitutions from the 4th century, we read the following faith-filled words:

“Which of you shall eat, or who shall drink without him? For he opens his hand and fills every living thing with his kindness: giving wheat to the young men, and wine to the maidens, and oil for the joy of the living, grass for the cattle, and green herbs for the service of men, flesh for the wild beasts, seeds for the birds, and suitable food for all creatures.” Apostolic Constitutions, quoting Ps 144:16, Zech 9:17, Ps 104:14-15….

[vii] “In sum, the ability to be content with what one has is simply a gift of the Holy Spirit and is impossible for the flesh….” (43)

[viii] In Solomon’s case rule

[ix] Luther says: ““Wisdom is beneficial, then, if I do what I know is pleasing to God and commit to Him what he wishes to be accomplished through me. If we did this, then at least we would be truly wise.”

[x] Does this have to do with other things we read in Scripture?

-“Fool!… who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (our parable for today?…)

-“Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
without knowing whose it will finally be.” – Psalm 39:6

-From John: “In my Father’s house are many mansions…”

-and from Luke: “Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.” (Luke 19:17)

Are all of these things somehow related to our Ecclesiastes passage?

There can be no doubt that in His promises about the life to come, Jesus speaks of things that certainly seem to be like material blessings that will be distributed accordingly.

Perhaps somehow and in someway, the best aspects of those great earthly things we know will be incorporated into the life to come, the new heavens and the new earth…

So… I’m not going to insist that this passage from Ecclesiastes has absolutely nothing to do with those Scriptural statements I just read….

At the same time, we are people who are fallen, and who are prone to misunderstand all of these things!

[xi] Tremper Longmann on verse 26: “throughout the book it is precisely the lack of connection between ethical behavior and reward that cause Quohelet so much frustration.” (110)

[xii] Instead of so much planning, he is saying, “those pleasures and labors which God gives are good, and they are to be used for the present without anxiety about either future afflictions or future pleasures…”

God’s people, Luther says, are those who refrain from anxiety while the rest of the human race has a restless life until they die…

Luther says: “who is capable of such things?” These are, after all, rightly said, but this doesn’t happen among us! “Hearing we do not hear and seeing we do not see, and no one follows it…”

[xiii] Vexation=state of being annoyed, frustrated, worried…. Something that causes annoyance, frustration, or worry

[xiv] As such, Luther points out that we simply pass over, do not appreciate, do not thank God for, glorious statements like “I am the Lord your God”. Instead, in order to get through to us, we need to the negatives painted out for us in broad strokes. We pay attention when we hear “You shall have no other God’s before me,” and when this kind of thing is expounded to us…

[xv] I agree with Patrick Henry, who said in his will:

“I have now disposed of all my property to my family. There is one thing more I wish I could give them and that is faith in Jesus Christ. If they had that and I had not given them one shilling they would have been rich: and if they had not that, and I had given the all the world, they would be poor indeed.” 1619, Ency of Illustrations.

 

 

 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on August 10, 2019 in Uncategorized