Reading Ramblings – January 3, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday after Christmas – January 3, 2016

Texts: 1 Kings 3:4-15; Psalm 119:97-104; Ephesians 1:3-14; Luke 2:40-52

Context: What is wisdom? Obedience to God’s established order is wisdom. Today’s readings give us our only glimpse of Jesus between his birth and the beginning of his public ministry and emphasizing his embodiment of wisdom. Like Solomon nearly 1000 years earlier, Jesus delights in his Father’s will. However unlike Solomon, who sinned in offering sacrifices in places other than where the Ark of the Covenant resided, Jesus resists the temptation to sin through usurping the authority of his parents.

1 Kings 3:4-15 – Solomon ascends the throne at the age of 40 or so. He is no child, and has been raised all his life in the court of his father. He is well versed in court protocol. But he recognizes as well that above all things a ruler must be wise, and this recognition that kingship is not for the personal enjoyment of the king but for the benefit of his subjects pleases God. The Temple does not yet exist, but the author of this book clearly feels that Solomon’s use of the high places to make sacrifices to God is inappropriate. The inference is that Solomon should have only been making sacrifices before the Ark of the Covenant.

Yet despite Solomon’s failure in this regard, God comes to him and offers to grant Solomon a request. Solomon, though clearly viewed Scripturally as a great king, is not beloved of God because of his obedience. Solomon is sinful and imperfect and therefore cannot please God through obedience. However his sinfulness does not prevent him from understanding that obedience to God’s Word is crucial, and that wisdom consists in knowing how to be obedient.

Psalm 119:97-104 – The great acrostic psalm, each section of this psalm revolves around a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet (in this case the Hebrew letter mem), each section dealing with the pre-eminence of God’s Word as a guide for living. In this section the Word of God gives advantage over one’s enemies (v.98), who are presumed to be acting contrary to the Word of God and therefore are inherently unwise. While people may have great knowledge in many areas, knowledge of God’s Word is pre-eminent because it is not merely an intellectual pursuit but a shaping of one’s life (v. 99). Once upon a time, theology was acknowledged as the highest of intellectual disciplines! Likewise, growing old is a blessing from God, but a greater blessing is to immerse oneself in the Word of God (v.100), which enlightens more than experience alone. But knowing God’s Word is not enough. One must allow the Word of God to guide, keeping from evil (v.101) and providing encouragement for continued study and application (v.103). As one grows in God’s wisdom, any alternative to God’s Word is seen more easily as falsehood that cannot offer any real blessing.

Ephesians 1:3-14 – God the Father, as the architect of creation and salvation is to be praised for giving his Messiah, through whom we are blessed with everything that we need spiritually (knowledge of Jesus as the incarnate, resurrected Son of God and source of our salvation). The blessing of faith in Jesus Christ is the means by which we are made holy and blameless before God the Father. Don’t let Paul’s language in this passage confuse you. Who has God chosen ‘before the foundation of the world’ (v.4), and ‘predestined for adoption (v.5)? Those who are in Christ would certainly fit this description. But is there anyone whom God has not intended his Son for? Is there anyone whom God has determined cannot and willnot merit the forgiveness received through faith in Jesus Christ? Is the forgiveness found in Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection withheld from anyone? No. All are intended by God to avail themselves by faith of the forgiveness that leads to eternal life. We should avoid inferring what this passage does not say. It does not say that God chose us (Christians) and not others, or that He predestined Christians for faith and not others. All are chosen. All are predestined to have access to the mercy of God the Father through faith in God the Son. Not all will accept this reality, however. This does not mean that God actively predestined them for rejection. To interpret these passages in that way runs contrary to the whole of the Biblical witness. Those in faith are privy to the recognition of Jesus as the incarnation of God’s Word and wisdom and plan for the salvation of all creation.

It is this faith that grants us our inheritance as brothers and sisters of Christ and citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Further, we are granted the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, proof of our inheritance.

Luke 2:40-52 – I’m regularly asked why we don’t know more about Jesus’ childhood, and Luke seems like the most likely of the Gospel authors to provide it to us based upon the methodology he describes (1:1-4). While we are naturally curious about Jesus’ childhood, we have been conditioned by the study of psychology to treat such information as not only interesting but also essential to understanding Jesus. It is our default, then, to assume that the Gospels are faulty in their scarcity of detail in this respect. However we must recognize that biography in the first century is different from biography today. It focused on the important aspets of someone’s life. We must assume that Jesus’ childhood was in most respects normal. He was undoubtedly an obedient and dutiful son and brother (I disagree with the Roman Catholic insistence that Jesus had no blood brothers from his mother Mary). I don’t have a way to conceptualize what a perfect child would be like, but that is not necessary for my acceptance of Jesus as the incarnate Son of God who saves me from my sin.

Luke clearly understands Jesus to be the promised Messiah. So what he reports to us of Jesus’ birth and childhood draw our attention to specific aspects of the Messiah, namely his perfection in obedience to the will of God (which includes obedience to his parents), which requires a devotion to the Word of God. As we saw last week, that obedience began in eternity with his acceptance of God the Father’s plan of salvation, and continued through Jesus’ earthly parents directly after his birth. As Jesus grows He must inculcate that obedience for himself, and tt is not possible to obey God if you do not know what God says. Rather than relying on some sort of inner voice, Jesus models obedience to God grounded in the revealed Word of God.

Jesus’ behavior in this story is not sinful. Jesus does not set out with the intent to cause his parents alarm, or to disobey explicit instructions. Rather, He is captivated by the Word of God, and having access to those learned in that Word. The hours and even days fly by in a blur as He grapples with the Word, intellectually learning it gradually as every human being must, rather than relying on some divine and exceptional knowledge. Jesus’ role in this story is that of the student of God’s Word, the holiest of positions for any follower of God and one accessible to all in one way or another.

However He will not allow his devotion to God’s Word to become sinful, driving him to disobedience of his parents. Literal fulfillment of the words of Psalm 119 does not permit Jesus to ignore the commandment to honor father and mother. His explanation is honest but also submissive. His position as the child is not to lecture or upbraid his parents. He merely makes it clear what they themselves would have acknowledged – study of God’s Word is the best way to spend one’s time. He immediately reiterates his obedience to them as their son, leaving the Temple and his passion for God’s Word in order to be obedient to his parents.

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