March 5, 2019

Pre-Lent 3 - Asking the Right Question for the Right Reason

Theme: Asking the Right Question for the Right Reason
The Question - Not: What was God thinking? But: What is God planning?
The Reason - Not: To Leave you in Doubt. But: To Give you Hope

We open our service in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Message One: 1 Samuel 16:7
But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." (ESV)

1 Samuel 16 begins with God telling Samuel that He has rejected Saul as king of Israel. Saul had resisted the LORD’s will. He had turned His back on God. He was no longer listening to God for guidance as a leader of the people. And so, the LORD tells Samuel to go to the house of a man named Jesse and “anoint the one I name to you.”

So, Samuel makes his way to Bethlehem and finds Jesse. Seven of Jesse’s sons stand before Samuel but none are chosen by God. The youngest, named David, was out in the fields tending the sheep. When they finally contacted David and he arrived before Samuel, the LORD told him, “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one.”

This was a frustrating exercise for Samuel. The events leading up to David’s anointing were not easy on God’s servant. Samuel had to try to handle the frustrations brought upon the kingdom by Saul while also doing the Lord’s work. Now God was calling him to this oft-forgotten, backwater village of Bethlehem. Was this really where Israel’s next king would be found? When Samuel arrived at Jesse’s home he immediately thought that the eldest son, Eliab, would be the one chosen. Eliab must have fit the outward characteristics that a king would have – confident, strong, experienced.

But the LORD sent a message to both Samuel and Israel in choosing David and that message is given in the verse before us. “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” If you remember, Saul was accepted as king largely because of his appearance. It’s true that the LORD chose Saul as well, but the people accepted that choice because Saul matched their expectation. Not so with David. It’s almost as if God was saying, “I’ve tried doing things the way you wanted, now it’s time for Me to show what is really important.”

As Samuel inquired of the LORD’s choice, there was a personal lesson for him also. The LORD wanted Samuel to trust. Samuel was seeking the LORD’s will on his own terms, with his own eyes. His dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs caused him to rush to judgment about the LORD’s plan. Samuel was not asking the right question for the right reason. In this moment, the LORD did not allow Samuel to see what was going to happen. David’s anointing did not take place as smoothly as Saul’s had. There were questions in Samuel’s mind. The LORD allowed him to have this temporary absence of understanding for a reason, to build Samuel’s hope in the LORD’s power and ability; to get Samuel to stop thinking of himself and his plan, and consider the LORD’s will.

Likewise, there are times when the LORD does not let you in on the plan. There’s always a reason behind His choice and it’s always for your best interests. Maybe something you’re going through, at home, at school, at work; maybe something with friends or family, or even in your faith – maybe something along those lines needs the same reminder Samuel got: Man looks at appearance, the LORD looks at the heart.

Sometimes God leaves you in the dark to build your trust in Him. When you’re in the dark, you need a guide, you need help. This gets even more compounded as we consider the darkness of our sins. It’s not easy to be on the outside of God’s wisdom, looking in. However, the LORD allows us to enter His understanding when we need to and when it is best for you. While on the outside, He can help you trust more and build your faith to be stronger in Jesus – the one who fulfills your needs. And when your faith is strong, so is your hope.    

Message Two: Luke 18:34
The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about. 

Our second message for today speaks of another time when God’s plan was hidden from believers. This time, it was the twelve disciples. Our single verse tells us that they didn’t understand what they had been told, but also that the meaning had been hidden from them. Again, we ask why God would conceal such a matter? Let us back up in the text to learn what the disciples had been told. In Luke 18:31-33, we’re told: Then He [Jesus] took the twelve aside and said to them, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. 32 "For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. 33 "They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again."

Jesus told the disciples a simple summary of what the gospel is. But, the disciples did not understand what Jesus meant by this. However, the more perplexing aspect of this section for us is that we’re told that the meaning was hidden from them. Only God could do such a thing – but why? Why did He conceal the meaning of His suffering, death, and resurrection from them? A couple of important points come to mind as we answer.

First of all, this was the third time Jesus had made the same prediction to the disciples. Three times, at least, throughout His ministry, Jesus stopped what He was doing to explicitly foretell what was going to happen to Him on the cross. But He also reminded the disciples that He would not stay in the grave. He would rise from the dead. We learn a lot as we consider the disciples’ reactions to these three predictions.

After the first prediction, Peter boldly rebuked Jesus saying, “Far be it from you, Lord. This shall not happen to You (Matthew 16:21)!” Jesus had to remind Peter that he was following Satan by saying such a thing and that he was causing offense to God. So, not a good reaction to Jesus’ prediction.

After the second prediction, the Gospel of Mark tells us that none of the disciples understood what Jesus meant, and none of them asked Jesus for an explanation. Again, not a good response by the twelve.

And, after the third prediction, James and John took the opportunity to request that they be given a greater status in heaven than the rest of the twelve. Once, again, not a good look.

So, why would Jesus conceal the full meaning of His death and resurrection at this time? The short answer is that the disciples weren’t ready for it yet. Not only would the suffering and death of Jesus be hard for them to accept; it would be a shock to their faith, as evidenced by what happened on Good Friday; the disciples had also shown a lack of spiritual wisdom and a lack of desire to learn. On top of this all, they had proven that they would manipulate the true will of God into their own desires. Peter wanted to stop Jesus from dying for the sins of the world. James and John cared more about their selfish pride than the humble work of the Savior. They were a threat to holding Jesus back from His true mission and purpose.

Jesus knew that the twelve disciples needed to be led along gently, and that it would take time for them to fully understand and appreciate why Jesus needed to die and what His resurrection from the grave would mean. Like all of us, it was a learning process for the disciples. So, Jesus gave His three predictions, to remind them; but He concealed the full implication of what He was saying until the disciples were able truly accept it.

This is another example where it’s second nature for us to question God. It’s easy to imply that God didn’t know what He was doing. Human nature grates against the idea that God would withhold wisdom for a time. We naturally wonder at times, “What is God thinking?” We sympathize with the disciples in their struggle. But, the reality for us is that there are times when we’re not ready to receive God’s plan. He covers the end plan for a time to protect and lead us gently. We, too, like the disciples, have a tendency to get headstrong and the danger is present that we would veer off the path of God – thinking we know better. God conceals at times for our good, out of love for our fragile faith and existence.

As we consider the disciples, we bring to mind another word that comes from the same root – discipline. The book of Hebrews gives us insight into this question by saying, Hebrews 12:5-17 My son, do not take the Lord's discipline lightly or faint when you are reproved by Him, 6 for the Lord disciplines the one He loves and punishes every son He receives. 7 Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? 11 No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

The Lord has a purpose for your life, even when He conceals the plan for a time. That purpose is always for the blessing of your faith and the goal of leading you to eternal life. That’s Christian discipleship, or discipline – and it’s a product of God’s love. As we seek to understand His will, let us remember to ask the right question and look for the right reason – and both come by faith in Jesus.   

Message Three: 1 Corinthians 13:11-12
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. 

Our final reading for today has the same theme as the others. God holds back His wisdom from us for time. But, in this portion of 1 Corinthians it’s for a different reason than it was for Samuel or the disciples. For Samuel, his expectations got in the way of God’s plan. For the disciples, they weren’t ready to receive their Savior’s understanding. Paul tells the Corinthians here that God’s wisdom is withheld because of their inability to understand it. In verse 11, Paul speaks of growing in maturity just as a child grows into an adult. In verse 12, Paul speaks of being able to see something partially, but the overall picture is blurred. These descriptions fit because we’re sinners.

Ultimately, no matter how strong in faith we are, or how mature, or how wise – we cannot see the full picture because we’re not holy like God. It’s a harsh reality that we need to accept. No matter how much we think we know about God – our picture is blurred. In this sense we’ve come full circle in our study this morning because we started with the same thoughts from Psalm 14, right before we confessed our sins.

The thing is, most people don’t think of these thoughts in connection with 1 Corinthians 13. Maybe you’ve pondered the same thing, knowing what the majority of the chapter talks about. This is the famous chapter of love. It’s most often used on joyous occasions, like weddings. It’s true that in all the verses prior, Paul describes love. Some of his thoughts are the most memorable depictions of Biblical love.  Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in sin, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails.

These things are all true. And often this chapter is used as a model for our lives, as it should be. But every sentiment of beauty and love in this chapter is governed by one single sentence: 1 Corinthians 13:9-10 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. (1Co 13:10 ESV)

Paul’s entire point in describing love is not so we can pat ourselves on the back for living up to it. Instead, it’s a reminder that we cannot measure up to this level of love until as he says, that moment “when the perfect comes.” God’s requirements of love, no matter how memorable or lovely they sound, are still aspects of His law. They are requirements that we must meet and that becomes a problem when we realize that our abilities are a fuzzy representation of what they should be. We are waiting for the perfect to come – and that’s Jesus.

Paul’s lesson here about why we struggle to ask the right question, for the right reason, goes back to the same thing described by David in Psalm 14. We can’t because we’re sinful. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, especially because we want to insist that we can love as God commands. We want to assume that we’re better than the rest of those who don’t know God’s love – those who obviously can’t love as God demands. We want to be considered better, and we are, but not in the way that we think.

We have access to God’s love through Jesus, not through ourselves. And because of the need that we have for Jesus as sinners, the path and plan of God will be dim in our understanding. That fact is a basic reality. It’s tempting to avoid it – but don’t. Embrace your need in Jesus because He always delivers. Notice how Paul describes that, in verse 12: For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

In Jesus, we don’t get to claim that we’re better than everyone else – because the whole world is in the same boat. Rather, we rejoice that we will know ourselves, not in the way we want, but as Jesus knows us. That’s what heaven is. That’s how we know “the perfection” which Paul described has come. It’s about knowing what Jesus knows – in totality. Don’t you see that we, meaning what we think, what we want, what we expect, and all the other trappings that lead us away from God’s word; don’t you see that those things are completely separate from our hope? Everything centers on Jesus – both in His actions and in His wisdom. To know the perfect is to know Him. It is independent of who we are. 

So, yes, you will be outside the loop at times. You will have moments when you can’t perceive God’s will. Jesus might keep you in the dark for your own good, as a protection from what you might think or do or say in response to God’s eternal will. And, you are a sinner who, on your own, is very far away from God. Those harsh truths can sometimes cause us to ask wrong questions, in the wrong ways, and for the wrong reasons. Throughout the whole Bible we see the same things in the lives of other believers.

And consider especially those whom we covered today – David, Samuel, the twelve disciples, and Paul – they all had a direct, sometimes visible, connection to God. Some of them were inspired writers of the Bible through the Holy Spirit. And you know what? They struggled to ask the right question for the right reason. If it happened to them; if they felt those emotions, it will happen to you too. Hope is not about receiving a direct revelation from God. Our hope is not even about walking and talking with Jesus directly here on earth. Hope is not about having every question answered. Hope is not about prosperity, either in material or emotion things. It’s about finding Jesus in His Word. When you look there you’re going to see your needs, as raw and unforgiving as they are. But you’re going to see a path to salvation that doe not depend on you – that fills in your weaknesses. That’s Jesus. Hope is about the faith to trust that His way is best, even when unknown to you. It’s about looking toward perfection in heaven, when all wisdom will be known, just as Jesus knows you today – a sinner redeemed by His grace. Amen.

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