Reading Ramblings – September 14, 2014

Date:  Narrative Preaching #11—Solomon’s Wisdom: September 14, 2014

Texts: 1 Kings 3:3-28; Psalm 2; John 3:1-21

Context: David’s son and heir, Solomon, is best remembered for his wisdom.  

 

1 Kings 3:3-28 — Many of us might not have the acuity to pray to God for wisdom when offered anything we want.  Solomon embodies the ideal king—one who does not trust in his own wisdom but rather leans on the wisdom of God (a quality his heir won’t inherit, tragically).  This wisdom is demonstrated in Solomon’s ability to discern even difficult situations, such as the two women arguing over a baby. 

Wisdom is by and large a forgotten attribute in our culture.  People are far more willing to be known for many other things.  Perhaps that bespeaks the reality that wisdom is rare, and that exceptional wisdom is a gift from God. 

It is interesting that Solomon’s wisdom is first highlighted not in the vaunted arenas of international diplomacy or economic policies, but rather on behalf of the marginalized.  Wisdom is only useful insofar as it is of benefit to others, and the Bible is very strong that when considering who constitutes others or neighbors, we are not to leave anyone out.  Two prostitutes fighting over a baby – it’s hard to get more marginal than that!  Yet Solomon is willing to use his wisdom to resolve a dispute among the invisible, the unimportant, the non-influential.  In being the king God wishes him to be, Solomon must truly ensure that no child is left behind.

 

Psalm 2  — This coronation psalm was likely used during the coronation of a new king.  The first three verses describe the rebellious and haughty attitudes of those outside the kingdom of God.  They remain in rebellion—first and foremost against God himself, but also against God’s anointed, designated ruler.  God’s response in vs. 4-6 is to laugh.  Can He be threatened by the machinations of men?  Is He to be intimidated by their saber-rattling?  Hardly!  Rather, God has set his representative on the throne and will provide him with what is necessary (vs.7-9).  Finally, the newly crowned king is reminded along with all other rulers of the earth.  True wisdom and true kingship lies in knowing that God is sovereign, and that no power on earth is exercised outside of His control.  Those outside the kingdom of God are warned against taking his appointed ruler lightly.  Rather, they should seek his favor.  While this was applied to the Kings particularly of Judah, it finds ultimate fulfillment in the ultimate King, the Son of God himself Jesus the Christ. 

 

John 3:1-21 — Jesus demonstrates the importance of wisdom in his discourse with Nicodemus, who finds that the best time for an in-depth, one-on-one talk with Jesus is after the crowds have gone home.   Nicodemus acknowledges that Jesus acts according to the power and Spirit of God, but Jesus pushes for more than this.  This is the extent of Nicodemus’ confession—that Jesus acts with the power of God.  How and why and to what ends however remain a mystery to Nicodemus.  Jesus challenges Nicodemus not to just acknowledge the power, but rather what the power is indicative of—the presence of the kingdom of God.  This is only apparent to those who have been born again—remade in the kingdom of God through faith and baptism.  Unless this happens, people can only ever marvel and wonder at the impressive signs—they can never recognize the kingdom in which they occur, or the king who performs them.

Ultimately Jesus clues Nicodemus and you and I into his purpose.  Here, in only the third chapter of John, Jesus spells out his purpose in coming into this world.  That purpose is life.  Your life.  My life.  Nicodemus’ life.  Ideally the life of every person. 

This might seem counterintuitive, given the response that Jesus elicits from the religious leadership and others.  In being rejected and spurned and scorned, it might seem more reasonable that Jesus has come to judge—to condemn those who reject him.  Certainly this would be the more human response!  Yet judgment is not why Jesus has come.  Judgment has already been rendered in Genesis 3—all humanity stands condemned under the curse of sin.  There is no further condemnation needed because our own thoughts and words and actions and feelings accuse us and declare us unrighteous, unfit for the kingdom of God. 

So Jesus must come to grant life.  To grant amnesty and forgiveness and hope to those who by every right have no hope at all.  The difference between life and death in Christ is humility and honesty, the ability—given by the Holy Spirit—to admit our sinfulness, our imperfection before a righteous and holy and perfect God.  To fall on our faces acknowledging that we need a Savior or we are lost. 

It sounds simple and easy, but how hard it is, and how many would rather die in their pride than live in their humility!  Those who refuse to see themselves in the light of God remain in the darkness where there is no hope for life, only the condemnation already declared to Adam and Eve. 

It only sounds simple and easy if we fail to realize the challenge that Jesus presents to the powers of this world—admit your limitations.  Admit that even in your best intentions you are self-seeking and self-serving.  Admit that even in your greatest acts of charity there is the seed of pride and arrogance.  Admit that nothing you can do or say or be can equal what God has envisioned for you at the dawn of creation.  That’s a tall order, an order only made taller by the humble and obedient nature of God the Son in flesh, who comes not in pomp and circumstance but in obscurity, preaching and working miracles for those who will hear and see, all of which points to his identity and his purpose.  In a world where increasingly people presume that they can’t trust anyone or anything, what a hard thing the Gospel becomes!  How difficult to see in Jesus more than just maxims for living, but rather life itself handed to us through his suffering and death and resurrection.

Nicodemus is perplexed, and is honest about his confusion.  We need to be constantly challenged with this honesty to examine ourselves and remember that we are fully reliant on the grace of God the Father in Jesus Christ.  Our acknowledgement of this is not a badge of superiority, but just the citizenship handed to us by the Son of God for no reason other than the great love and mercy of God the Father. 

This is wisdom.  This is life.

 

 

 

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