The Fifth Sunday of Epiphany February 4, 2007
24, 396, 297 (alt. 794), 412
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:10-11)
Dear Fellow Servants of the One True God:
Our Savior once said, “Wisdom is justified by her children.” Have you ever heard those words? They are from Matthew 11 and Luke 7. If you have heard them, have you ever stopped to consider what they mean? Most of us would have to answer, “no.” We may have pondered briefly in puzzlement, but our mental and spiritual laziness probably persuaded us to set the question aside and to move on. We do that a lot. It is so much easier to shift our minds into neutral and coast through some idiotic television show—especially after having worked hard that whole day to earn enough money to pay for that television—than it is to mine the treasures of Scripture. The results, unfortunately, soon become evident in our lives and collectively in our society. We have allowed our television to become some kind of deranged Seeing Eye Dog that leads us not away from danger but directly into it. Let it not be so among us Christians.
When Jesus said, “But wisdom is justified by her children” He was intimating a rather tragic truth. He was teaching us, in part, about proof or validation concerning our actions. The “tragic” aspect of His words is that the proof or validation we would like to see immediately, usually only comes long after the fact—much too late to undo what has been done.
Here is an example: Two couples are blessed with children and they adopt very different philosophies about how to raise those children. The first adopts the Biblical pattern of discipline (which includes spanking for acts of rebellion). The second couple adopts society’s pattern of non-discipline, adamantly refusing any corporal punishment of any kind. Their general philosophy is that children pretty much raise themselves if parents just show them love and support. As this scenario relates to Jesus’ words, the children will be grown before the wisdom or folly of their parents’ choices becomes evident. If the undisciplined children grow up to be bratty, undisciplined adults (which they almost certainly will), it will be too late to change the past and undo what has been done wrong.
The only safe course—the only wise course—is to follow in all things that path which has been laid out by God in His Word. Great wisdom and vision are required here for we can expect to see little verification until well after the fact. Our calling is to conform our actions to His will, without question, and to trust that the verification that God has promised will one day come.
Bear this simple truth in mind as you read through our text for this morning, found in the Book of Haggai, the first chapter:
Thus speaks the LORD of hosts, saying: “This people says, ‘The time has not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.’” Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?” Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: “Consider your ways! You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.” Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified, says the LORD. “You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?” says the LORD of hosts. “Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house. Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit.”
These are the holy and pure words from the very source of all that is true and right and good. Hold them in a place of honor and acknowledge them as that which they truly are—God’s divine truth. So we pray: Sanctify us through your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth. Amen.
I have read (and I assume that it is true) that no single human being can launch an American intercontinental ballistic missile. In fact it takes several human beings to do so. The order to launch has to be issued by the Commander in Chief and then confirmed by a second, high-ranking official. Once the launch order is confirmed, at least two men have to enter the proper data and turn keys simultaneously before a missile will launch. Both men in missile silos are equipped with a sidearm for self-defense against the unauthorized actions of the other team member. The reason is obvious. The men who control such terrible weapons of destruction require confirmation and verification—validation—for something that critical, that important, that terrible.
What does all of this have to do with our text? We are talking about that which so many of us crave, but which is rare to non-existent in so many aspects of our lives on this earth. We are talking about validation or proof for our actions or beliefs—proof before the fact that our actions are right and our beliefs valid.
Who among us hasn’t wished for some kind of outward proof that would validate his beliefs or opinions? Who hasn’t longed for some kind of sign or seal of approval from God verifying the rightness of a certain position or action? Wouldn’t it just be so great and so satisfying if the heavens would open and God would call out to all the earth: “Jesus Christ is the one true Savior and the only path to heaven. Whoever believes that my Son has paid for his sins will without question spend eternity with Me in heaven. All other religions are false.”
It is, however, a rather quirky fact of life that certain proofs or validations are simply impossible, while others have to be ignored to be proved. Here is example: Mom tells her children to stop throwing the football in the living room or they will break something. What is the only way mom’s wisdom can be validated? The children have to disobey until they break something. If they stop immediately, they will probably never know if mom’s concerns were valid or not.
This sort of thing happens all the time. Who knows if a high speed blowout and debilitating accident was prevented by replacing those worn tires when you did? Who knows what acts of terrorism were averted and thousands or even millions of lived spared by the actions of our military in the Middle East? Who knows how many abortions have been prevented through the continued actions of pro-life advocates? How can we ever find validation for such things?
The fact is, most often we can’t. With this in mind, take another look at our text. The setting here is the remnant nation of Israel after their return from the Babylonian Captivity. Work had begun on the restoration of the temple, but that work had been halted for about 16 years during which time the Jews focused their energies on rebuilding their own personal homes and fortunes. Their justification would no doubt have sounded very good and reasonable in our modern ears, “We have to help ourselves before we can help others.” Haggai takes these people to task for their me-first selfishness and for their lack of trust.
Would the prophet take us to task today? In great humility we too must admit that we are much more willing to spend hard earned money on ourselves and on our own desires and pleasures rather than on kingdom work. Which of us relishes the thought of living more frugally or denying ourselves the lifestyle to which we have grown accustomed in order to contribute more to mission work? Better yet, since mission work holds a certain glamour for us, how about living more frugally so that you can pay something rather mundane, like the light bill at church? There is, of course, no end to our personal guilt and selfishness. For this too we fall before our Lord in humble repentance. Thanks be to God that these sins too were washed clean by the blood our Savior when He died on the cross of Calvary.
Yet, we are examining a little different aspect of this text. We are talking about validation or proof, and how such proof usually comes only after the mistakes have been made and can no longer be corrected. Haggai pointed out some examples in our text. Did you notice them? There were some rather remarkable illustrations that are strikingly applicable to this very day.
Despite their hard work and struggle, the Jews continually found themselves wanting. They never seemed to have enough or get ahead no matter how hard they tried. It was as though no amount of clothing could keep them warm, no quantity of food could fill their stomachs, no drink could slake their thirst, and no harvest could fill their garners. It was as though everything they acquired was placed into bags with holes and simply seemed to disappear.
Ever notice that sort of thing in your own life? Haggai pointed out the problem to the Jews: God was not blessing their efforts because their hearts were not right. Without God’s blessing, no amount of struggle could bring success or abundance. God cannot be mocked.
Yet how did the Jews react to this evidence sent by their God? Their reaction, up until Haggai’s message, was typical and logical. They worked even harder to gain the things they wanted. They became even more selfish, dedicating even more of their time and effort to their own self-service. The more they struggled, the more frustrated they became. There was evidence all around them that what they were trying was not working, but they ignored all such evidence, convinced that they just needed to work harder to get where they wanted to go.
When you get right down to it, how could they know that their God was working against them? How could they know that their lack of success wasn’t God’s way of testing their resolve or His way of teaching them perseverance? Was there any way for them to know if and when they were being resisted by God rather than tested? More importantly, is there any way for us to know today?
Of course, there was a way for them to know and there is a way for us to know. Outward signs are not the answer. A dry year, for example, is not necessarily God’s sign that a Christian should get out of farming. A family that suffers want is not a sure indication that God is displeased with their lives or the condition of their hearts. Conversely, generous church contributions do not ensure continued material prosperity; just as wealth does not indicate God’s approval of a man’s lifestyle or choices.
The point here is that there is really only one way to be sure, and that is to continually examine our own hearts and our own lives in light of God’s Word and will.
When we follow His ways, when we hold to the Word and will of our God as the core of our purpose and being on this earth, only then can we be certain that our God is not seeking to frustrate us as He did the Jews in our text. Then we can humbly accept the trials that will certainly come as that which they in fact are—the inevitable frustrations of living life as a Christian in a sinful world.
Outward signs and verifying proofs are never an element of true faith or it would cease to be faith. Faith is, by definition, being certain of that which cannot be verified (Hebrews 11:1ff). This is critical information that we can never afford to lose. Everything in our existence as Christians revolves around our faith in Jesus Christ. It was Jesus who gave His perfect life as the payment for our sins. It is because of Jesus that you and I are sinless today in God’s eyes—our sins having been forgiven. One day our faith in this fact will be verified and validated. One day every knee will bow before that Lamb of God and will acknowledge the fact that Jesus alone was and is the path to heaven. Yet, once again, that validation will come too late for those who believed otherwise. What is left then for us, dear Christians, is to base our faith on the sure and unchanging Word of God. Seeking visible, earthly proof could just as easily lead us away from that which is true and real. Therefore, ransack your Bibles, honestly evaluate your hearts and lives, and look always and only to Jesus Christ for the full and complete payment for your sins. It was Jesus alone who could render a satisfactory payment to the Father for what we deserved because of our sins, and pay He did.
Nothing on earth can prove this fact, yet by the working of the Holy Spirit through his Word each one of us has been given this wisdom, this truth, this faith. What a blessing to know that nothing in all creation can take God’s gift of faith away from us. Thanks and praise be to God, who gives us such a sure and certain victory though our Lord Jesus Christ. Though everything else around us fails or falls, the object of our faith—Jesus Christ and Him crucified—will remain forever true. That will not change.
God preserve us in the one true faith until that great day when faith is validated—replaced by what we all will then behold with our own eyes. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.