Reading Ramblings – January 5, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday after Christmas, January 5, 2020

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

Context: The readings this morning all stress the wisdom inherent in God’s Word. God as the author of all creation obviously can reveal wisdom to us in many ways, whether through the order and diversity of creation, or through his revealed, sacred Word, and most importantly through his Word made flesh, the Son of God, Jesus the Christ. As we consider the birth of our savior we cannot consider it rightly apart from this relationship, made clear in the prologue to John’s Gospel. It is not possible to receive the Wisdom of God in his Word separate from his Incarnate Wisdom, nor is it possible to somehow separate Jesus from the revealed Word of God. The two are one in the same, and both together provide us all we need to know about the world and ourselves and who we are created to be.

1 Kings 3:4-15 – Solomon is in his 40’s when he comes to the throne – hardly a little child! Yet he is wise enough to be humble, knowing the task he has inherited is massive, and even for someone raised in the court and familiar with matters of state there can never be enough wisdom for proper decisioin-making. Solomon’s request is not simply for wisdom in matters of state, but the underlying, deeper wisdom to discern good and evil. His response demonstrates a wisdom as well as humility, and God responds by rewarding Solomon with even greater wisdom and favor. But we should be cautious to treat God’s benevolence as arbitrary. Only with the possession of great wisdom, and the ability to discern good and evil can any other blessing really be received. Riches and honor are fleeting without wisdom, and many would argue length of days is also dependent on wisdom, if recent Internet trends of eating Tide pods and trying to swallow spoonfuls of cinnamon are any gauge! In blessing Solomon with divinely-given wisdom, God equips Solomon to handle the other blessings well. Not perfectly – as we know from Solomon’s full story – but better than many in his position would be expected to!

Psalm 119:97-104 – Studying the Word of God is never a pursuit without tangible benefits. Wisdom, understanding, self-discipline, obedience – these are the natural fruits of making the Word of God our primary emphasis and focus in life. Notice the blessings inherent with such study are all personal – they do not guarantee us any situational, external benefit over those who are less wise. It remains very true that sometimes those with the greatest power are the least wise. But wisdom is not dependent on external power. Wisdom and understanding can still be ours even if physical power is not. Self-discipline and obedience can be ours, even if we are denied full agency to carry them out. Likewise, the benefits of such wisdom and understanding cannot be stripped away. They remain sweet regardless of how others might try to tear us away from them. Study of God’s Word remains ever with me (v.1), a promise not simply for this life but all eternity.

Ephesians 1:3-14 – Paul packs a lot (again!) into a few number of verses, and it pays to take our time in making our way through it. Verse 3 asserts that only in Jesus, the Christ, do we receive the fullest blessings of God the Father. Apart from Jesus it is not possible to receive all of God’s blessings, though even those who reject and deny God often are blessed through his sustaining of all creation. Those who receive the full blessings of God in Jesus Christ recognize that God has chosen us from the beginning of creation. Here is where interpretation can go astray. Does the fact that God predestined you and I to faith mean He has done so while intentionally excluding others? No! It was God’s good will and pleasure – his predestination – that all be saved, all be included in his Kingdom. You and I in faith are evidence of that, as we certainly could not find or seek God out on our own! This is inclusive language, not exclusive. All are intended to receive the blessings of God. But not all will. That is not because God willed it to be so, but because of the sin at work in us and around us that prevents some from receiving the fullness of God’s grace and love.

Verse five continues this theme. God predestined that all should receive his grace and love, and only our explicit rejection of this intention and offer can exclude the grace of God the Holy Spirit from being ours. In other words, yes, we can reject the predestined grace of God. This idea offends some Christians, who insist that what God intends can never be thwarted, and leading them to extrapolate from these verses something they do not say – that only some are predestined for grace, while others must – logically – be predestined not to receive it. While this may retain the absolute sovereignty of God (by a particular definition), it unfortunately not only says more than what Scripture says here, it also contradicts other passages of Scripture that explicitly tell us God desires that all would be saved, and therefore, logically, could not possibly have only prepared some for salvation (Ezekiel 18:23 always comes to mind here). Jesus is the means by which God makes his grace available to all, and we in faith are privileged to give God the praise and honor He deserves!

Luke 2:40-52 – Certainly the Word made flesh would understand the value of studying God’s Word. Caught up in the thrill of engaging the Word of God with others, Jesus remains behind at the Temple rather than joining his family for the return trip to Galilee. In the jostle of extended family it would be easy for Mary and Joseph to assume Jesus was with cousins or others in a different part of the caravan. But after a day’s travel, they realize this is not the case and hurriedly return to search for him. They backtrack over all the places they were, and the place they stayed, hoping to find him. The three day delay before finding him may not be three days in Jerusalem, but may also include the day they traveled away and then rushed back (well into the next day). Finally they go to the Temple – perhaps to pray for God’s mercy in returning their son to them! Imagine their surprise to see Jesus in discussion with the greatest minds in Judaism

While Jesus was not willfully disobedient (a violation of the fourth commandment), his fervor for the Word of God distracted him from obedience to his parents. When reminded of this filial duty, Jesus submits to their authority (in obedience to the fourth commandment) and returns home with them. Jesus does not use his divine nature to override the requirements of his human nature – his divinity does not exclude him from obedience to the Law because perfect obedience to the Law is precisely why Jesus has come in the first place. He must do what Adam did not – remain obedient to God. The Incarnate Word cannot contradict the revealed Word because they are one in the same!

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