The 14th Sunday After Pentecost September 14, 2014
2 Timothy 3:14-17
41, 629, 404, 800 (TLH alt. 50)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Thus says the LORD:
“Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,
Let not the mighty man glory in his might,
Nor let the rich man glory in his riches;
But let him who glories glory in this,
That he understands and knows Me,
That I am the LORD, exercising loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.
For in these I delight,” says the LORD.
Schools recently opened their doors for another school year. The start of school is a busy time—meeting new teachers, finding classrooms, settling in to classes. Why do we go to school? The obvious answer is: “to learn, to grow in our understanding.” But there is a debate in the education community concerning what it is that is really necessary to know.
The Greeks taught a classical curriculum which consisted of the seven liberal arts, namely grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. Now reading, writing, and mathematics dominate the core curriculum of schools. But you will always find some who argue that certain things are taught that don’t need to be and that other things are left out which should be taught.
As students get older, especially into high school and college, they might begin to wonder, “Why do I need to learn this? When will I ever use it? Will I really need pre-calculus for the remainder of my life?” The answer for many is, “Probably not.” That doesn’t mean learning it is a waste of time, but it shows us something about learning: There is so much to learn that nobody can learn it all. There are some things that a person learns and will use it throughout his life, and there are some things he will barely think about ever again after learning them.
Even the learning that we do make use of seems to go “out of date.” If you earned a computer science degree 20 years ago would that degree help to get you a job today? Not likely. The entire field has undergone so much change that unless you’ve kept up, the average high school student would probably have a better chance than you of landing that job. Or would you want to be diagnosed by a doctor who last studied medicine in 1910? Human knowledge is a changing thing and it can’t always be counted on.
That’s why it is so important to be filled, not just with a knowledge of things that can change, decay, and go out of date; but to be filled with God’s truth which is unchanging, lasting forever, and which is infinitely more useful in your daily walk than anything else you will ever learn.
What other knowledge prepares you for eternal life the way a knowledge of God does? Where else can you learn the answers to the big questions of life such as, “Why am I here?” and “Where am I going?” and “Does anyone care about me?” and “Why do bad things happen?” “Why should I bother being good to others?” and on and on. God can answer when nobody else can provide satisfactory answers. God can provide insight that nobody else can. God gives us knowledge that nobody else can. It is important above all to be educated in the things of God. We might call it “Christian Education.”
The LORD speaking through Jeremiah puts it in no uncertain terms. He says: “Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD, exercising loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,’ says the LORD.”
Two verbs are used in these verses: to understand and to know. To “understand” something is more than just to have simple knowledge about it. It is to consider and ponder something so you have a certain insight—you know how it works. To understand God is to know Him well enough that you know how He thinks—to the extent that He has told you. To know the LORD is to know Him well, like a closest friend. It is to know Him well enough to trust Him.
Three things are mentioned in these verses with respect to understanding and knowing the LORD. We might say this is the curriculum for our Christian Education.
First, understand and know that your LORD exercises kindness. Psalm 103 says: “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8 NIV). There are other verses too that sound similar praise. God is not “out to get us.” Rather, He shows us His compassion, love, and kindness. He causes the rain to fall and the crops to grow so you may eat. He heals your sicknesses and binds up your wounds. You would not be able to take so much as a breath without His gracious hand. He is kind. He is kind even to those who reject Him—those who do not trust in Him. He sends blessings upon the righteous and the unrighteous.
Nowhere is God’s kindness more evident to us than when it is revealed in Christ Jesus. Here stood the world, disobedient toward God, blaspheming Him, abusing His name—giving the Father in Heaven no choice but to consign it and its inhabitants to eternal destruction and death; but instead, a Child is sent to Bethlehem. God becomes man. He becomes one of us to live without sin as we could not, and to be offered once-for-all on a cross as a sacrifice to make up for the guilt of everyone for all time. The Father sending His Son—in this the stunning kindness of God is revealed.
In this the kindness of God is revealed to you—you who are no better than the people who have gone before you, you who cannot keep God’s holy commandments any better than Cain who killed his brother in a field or Absalom who plotted against his own father to steal his throne. God’s kindness is revealed to you—you who lie and deceive and steal and lust and hurt others even as we all do. For us God came into the world in Christ Jesus, to fit us for Heaven to live with Him there. That is kindness.
It is important for you to understand and know that God is kind. Why? Because this is what will help you and give you answers, and peace, and comfort whenever you need it as you step through life. When you are burdened in your conscience by things you have done or things you have left undone, you will cling to God’s kindness. When you see things around you that are going wrong and you do not know why, you will look to the cross and know that God is kind.
Secondly, understand and know that the LORD is just. He exercises justice on earth. At first, this might sound to us to be a scary proposition. Indeed, if we take a good hard look at ourselves in the light of God’s Law, we know that the only just thing would be for Him to withdraw His blessings and condemn us to an eternity of separation from Him in Hell. In fact, we have seen the justice of God in action at various points in history such as the great flood when He brought devastating judgment on the whole world except for eight people who were saved on the ark. We saw His just judgment when He allowed foreign nations to invade His people of Israel and Judah who had thrown away their trust in Him and had thereby thrown away the salvation He had given them in the promised Savior.
Would He do the same to us? God is just. Thanks be to God that He has given us an “ace up our sleeves.” Again, we trust in Christ. We hold onto Him alone and His atoning death on the cross. In the face of God’s perfect justice, we hide behind Him. When God comes looking for us to give an account and to see whether we are guilty, He looks in our direction and sees Jesus—perfect, holy, undefiled Jesus!
Why is it good to understand and know that God exercises justice in the earth? Because through faith in Jesus Christ we are righteous in the sight of the LORD and we can rest confident that His perfect justice has been satisfied and in the end He will announce the right verdict for us: “not guilty” on account of Jesus!
The third piece of knowledge given by Jeremiah is to understand and know His righteousness. God does everything right. You can trust that with your whole heart. He does not make wrong decisions in His dealing with people. He does not execute justice and judgment when it is not warranted. He does whatever pleases Him and whatever pleases Him is always good and right.
It is easy to see how this righteousness of God is important to us in our lives. What confidence we can have in our God—no matter what—to know that what He says in the Bible is right. What confidence to know that the testing and trials He sends into our lives to strengthen us are right for us—that all is right between us and Him.
How important is Christian Education? How important is it to understand and know and trust that the LORD exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on the earth? Consider the sad lives of those who do not understand and know:
Thirteen years ago last week, jetliners were driven into the World Trade Center towers in New York, into the ground in Pennsylvania, and into the Pentagon in Washington D.C. They were crashed by people who had been taught that Allah, their God, was unknowable. They were taught that nobody can know if Allah is kind, just, or righteous because He is supremely hidden in all his works and ways. The planes were crashed by those faithful to Allah in a desperate attempt to gain his favor, for they could never be certain whether he loved them or not.
Contrast this with the LORD our God. He is not unknowable. He reveals Himself to us in His Word. We do not need to wonder where we stand with Him. We do not need to bloody ourselves to earn His favor for He has instead shown His favor to us in Christ Jesus. We do not need to wonder what He is like or what He will do for He has told us: He forgives our sins, raises us from the dead, and gives us life with Him forever.
Is Christian Education important? It is a matter of life and death. Teach your children and your grandchildren and your friends and neighbors about the LORD, about His kindness in Christ Jesus, about His perfect justice before which we are declared “not guilty,” and about His eternal righteousness which comforts you. For truly, all who put their confidence in Him will be saved. 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.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.