Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

Fifth Grader

Matthew 11:25 “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

In the previous verses Jesus pronounced woes upon the towns and villages of Galilee that had received his ministry, seen his miracles, and yet the majority of people had not put their faith in him. They saw Jesus, saw him with their own eyes, but they didn’t see God’s Son. They didn’t see their Savior. The truth about Jesus was hidden from many. They failed to understand the true meaning of Jesus.

Nor was it necessarily an advantage to be “wise and learned” to understand these things. They were the very people from whom Jesus’ person and purpose were hidden. It’s not that God the Father was trying to prevent them from knowing Jesus. The problem was that they would accept Jesus as Savior only if he met their criteria. And by nature anyone who knows anything believes that the only way to be saved is by your good works, and that the only reason for a Savior would be to show you how. All the world’s great minds have thought that way. In order for these people to see Jesus as Savior, then, God would have to change his plan of salvation. He would have to abandon grace, and that wasn’t going to happen. So Jesus’ real identity and purpose were hidden from them.

There is nothing wrong with great learning in and of itself. Ignorance certainly doesn’t serve the purposes of Christianity. But man’s pride turns his great learning against God. He starts to think he has it all figured out. You often hear people promote “thinking outside the box.” Spiritually, the “wise and learned” create a box for themselves out of all their knowledge. They think they know more than they do. They can’t think outside a box of their own making, and they end up imprisoning themselves in there. When God’s word comes along with a different idea, they can’t accept it. When Jesus comes along as God’s Son and Savior, they can’t see it.

But the Father has revealed Jesus to little children. Their minds aren’t so cluttered with skeptical ideas, or so full of pride in their own opinions. Have you ever seen the musical You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown? There is a scene in which Lucy is teaching her little brother Linus “little known facts” about the world, and Linus is just soaking it all in. She tells him that fir trees give us fur for coats, hydrants grow out of the ground on their own, the stars and planets make the rain, and the snow comes up out of the ground like the grass, then it blows around to make it look like its falling. Linus doesn’t question her. He believes every word just because she says so. He takes it all with a child-like faith.

Of course, our God would never deceive us like that. But he reveals Jesus to little children, and the child-like who believe every word just because he says so. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” is not a theology of which they feel a need to be ashamed, nor a theology on which they feel a need to improve. They know Jesus because of God’s revelation.

Are we the wise and learned, or are we the little children? Does it offend us to be thought of as simple? Does it embarrass us if others suggest that we have an “unsophisticated” approach to the Bible because we simply believe what it says? When one of our African missionaries took a call back to the United States, and he got some of his first experiences with counseling here, he was shocked by the reaction of some he counseled. In Africa if he quoted Scripture, that counsel was taken with unquestioning acceptance. Some of those with whom he counseled here just looked at him as though those words meant nothing at all.

None of us wants others to think of us as simple or unsophisticated. We certainly don’t want to believe that we are evil to the core and need God’s grace.  “Wise and learned” sounds more like a compliment to us. It makes us sound good. “Little children” sounds more like an insult.

But if we know Jesus, it is not because we are so smart. The world’s kind of wisdom and learning lead us in a hellish direction away from knowing Jesus. You know Jesus because God’s word convinced you that you need a Savior from sin, and that Jesus is just the Savior you need.

Comedian Jeff Foxworthy has exposed the ignorance of many adults on his quiz show Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?. Jesus exposed the spiritual ignorance of many learned adults throughout his ministry. But the little children know. Don’t try to be smarter, because “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Fulfill Your Destiny

Yoda

Jeremiah 1:6-8 “‘Ah, Sovereign Lord,’ I said, ‘I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.’ But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, I am only a child. You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.”

Public speaking is said to be the greatest fear people feel, greater even than their fear of death. Jerry Seinfeld has quipped that, if that’s true, the majority of people at a funeral would rather be the man in the coffin than the man giving the eulogy. Jeremiah isn’t the only prophet who ever tried to excuse himself from serving because he couldn’t speak well. Eight hundred years earlier Moses had used the same excuse.

“I don’t know what to say,” “I don’t feel comfortable talking to other people about my faith” are still common excuses for not speaking up about our faith. Is that true? Do we really not know what other people need to hear from us? We know that it all boils down to man’s sin and God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Have any of God’s messengers ever felt completely comfortable telling others what the Lord has to say? Isn’t this another way of saying, “I don’t want to suffer the negative reaction people often have to talk about Jesus?” But isn’t a willingness to suffer just that reaction one of the crosses he expects his disciples to bear?

Jeremiah’s other excuse, “I am only a child,” also finds its way into the thinking of Christians. Jeremiah did not mean that he was an immature little boy still living at home with his parents. The Hebrew word translated “child” here can refer to a young person all the way until age 30. Jeremiah’s point was, “I don’t have years of experience. I don’t have the trust of older people. I’m still relatively young.”

Is the absence of many young adults from the active life of Christian churches evidence of the same kind of thinking today? Is the difficulty in getting younger men and women to accept positions of responsibility and leadership in part because they think that their youth excuses them?

Note that God didn’t excuse Jeremiah from service. He doesn’t accept our excuses, either. Instead, he confronts our attempts to escape the purposes for which he has made us. “But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you and say whatever I command you.’”

Note that he doesn’t simply give up on the hesitant and write them off for unwillingness. Whether excuses come from laziness, fear, or a simple lack of faith, he forgives. He removes our sin for Jesus’ sake. And then he makes us confident, because he sends us with his promises: “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.”

Little David understood who was with him when he took on the giant Goliath. We have an infinitely larger giant backing us up. What perceived lack of skill will trip you up when God is present with all this power and gifts? Paul promises, “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). As long as God is on our side, we have an unlimited source of confidence for our tasks.

And if we find ourselves in trouble of some sort, he promises to rescue us. Rescuing his people is our God’s specialty. He has driven the entire course of world history in order to save us from our sins and death. In a hundred little ways he has rescued his people from the forces of nature, from sickness and disease, from hunger and need, from temptation to sin, from personal enemies, and from their own foolishness. His rescue may not always look the way we envisioned it. Ultimately it may mean leading us through death to life in heaven. But the Lord will not leave the people who serve him in a jam. That makes us confident to serve, confident that his promises make it possible to fulfill our purposes.

Are you a fan of the Star Wars movie series? Throughout, there is a lot of talk about characters fulfilling their destinies. Each one has a purpose in a mission to save the universe. God has given each of us a destiny, a real one. We play an important role in his mission to save the universe. Our part may not look glamorous or glorious. But somehow or another we have a part in passing salvation along to others. Let God’s promises make you certain and confident to fulfill your destinies.

Life with a Purpose

baby on arm

Jeremiah 1:5 “Before you were born I set you apart.”

A comfortable life that can afford some of the finer things the world has to offer appeals to many. We don’t want to struggle just to survive. But a new generation for whom survival has never been much of a question longs for something more than material support. They what their lives to be meaningful. They want to make a difference. They are searching for a purpose.

The Lord assures everyone who belongs to him by faith that they are truly special. He set them apart for his unique purposes even before he formed their bodies to meet those purposes. But what is that purpose?

For Jeremiah it was “prophet to the nations.” That was God’s word to him. He also has a word for us: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” We, too, have a role in declaring God’s praises to the world around us. It’s just that, for most of us, it isn’t as a full time prophet.

If not as a full time prophet like Jeremiah, then how? It may be through the unique gifts God has given you as a part of the body of Christ. In Romans 12 Paul reminds us that, just as the members of our body don’t all have the same function, so God has given us different gifts for working together and serving his kingdom. If you don’t have a gift for prophesying, or preaching, you might have one for serving, teaching, encouraging others, contributing monetary gifts, leadership and administration, or showing mercy. All these support ministries are important and necessary for spreading the gospel.

Or maybe God’s purpose for you in spreading the word will have more to do with your earthly vocations. You remember that Jesus told his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” I know Christians who have shared their faith because they were parents watching their children at swimming lessons and conversations with other parents led to talk about church and values; because they were post-graduate students, and their demeanor in the classroom led other students to ask what was different about them; because they were serving as election judges and some who voted stayed around to talk about the important things in life; because they were passengers on an airplane and the person sitting next to them had questions; because they were customers getting repairs at a car dealership, and their common problem led them to talk about a common Savior.

Whether you are declaring God’s praises through your service to your congregation, or whether you are inspiring the Father’s praises through the way you live and talk in your daily lives, your purpose comes with his promise. His word gives you certainty that he made you and saved you for this very purpose.

Help With Blindness and Beams

blind healed

Luke 6:39-42 “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

What is the difference between the two men in the first little parable Jesus tells here? There isn’t any! Both of them suffer the same handicap. Both of them are blind. There is this possible difference to note: one of them has appointed himself a leader over the other, though he has no qualifications to do so. He can only get them into trouble.

Blindness is a picture for our natural spiritual ignorance. It is a condition into which every human is born. We are all in this boat together. We are fellow strugglers. No one is naturally enlightened and in a position to lead others under their own natural powers.

Jesus tells these parables in connection with his command, “Do not judge.” Spiritually, none of us sits in an ivory tower, far superior to all the others. There is no basis for us to conclude that, by ourselves, we are in a position to hand down judgments to our inferiors. That kind of condescending judgment of others is simply out of place for people who share the same spiritual blindness as everyone else.

Only if a blind man was himself being led by someone who could see would he be in a position to lead another blind person. Spiritually, then, we need to be students of the one who can see. So Jesus continues to the next illustration, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.”

When we are students of Jesus, then we have found safe spiritual leadership. But Jesus doesn’t lead us to spiritual pride and condescending judgment. Knowing Jesus is not an excuse for me to complain, “I am surrounded by idiots.” I am still one of the idiots, completely dependent on Jesus’ wisdom. We become something like our teacher only when Jesus’ wisdom keeps leading us back to the mercy of a heavenly Father who prefers forgiveness to judgment.

Jesus’ third illustration also puts us in our place. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

It hurts to get something in your eye. Even little things can threaten our vision. When I have something in my eye, I often find someone and ask them for help.

In the same way, Jesus is not saying we should not help others with their sinful shortcomings, the speck in their eye. But how can we do that properly if we don’t recognize our own sinful shortcomings? All sin is sin in God’s eyes, but not acknowledging that we have sin is like having a huge beam in our eyes. It makes it impossible for us to judge anything else correctly. There is no way we could see properly to help someone else with their sin if we don’t even understand our own. So long as we believe we are better than others Jesus warns, “Do not judge.”

So what do we do with the prideful, self-righteous beam in our eye? Removing it requires supernatural help, and Jesus is just the divine doctor to do so. He extracts the beam with his law, as his words have just been doing. He heals the wound with his forgiveness, which is always big enough to cover any job. In the process he teaches us humility, and makes us qualified to help others, now that we know our place.

The Measure You Use

Measures

Luke 6:37-38 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

That last statement explains the significance of each of the little promises Jesus attaches to his commands. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “Not only is it better for others that you not judge them in a loveless and hurtful way. It is really better for you. It will bring you blessing by keeping this command. You will avoid trouble if you do what I say.”

Isn’t it true that loveless judging on one side tends to inspire loveless judging in return? Whether your political leanings are conservative or liberal, isn’t this the kind of thing that feeds the fires of passion that make reasoned discussion and debate so difficult? On a personal level, do you want to live your life under constant criticism and derision from people whom you have looked down upon? Isn’t life more pleasant when others treat you with respect and forgiveness?

Of course it is. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

These same promises can be applied to the way that God himself treats us. If we could truly live such a life of love that we never judged or condemned anyone in a selfish or hurtful way, then God would have no reason to judge or condemn us. We would actually deserve his forgiveness, though forgiveness itself would be unnecessary.

But you know how often that has happened! Our sin prevents us from uninterrupted and unending enjoyment of these promises Jesus makes here. Here, too, we need God’s mercy, and he gives it. Here, too, God’s forgiving mercy changes us into less judgmental people. Then the promises Jesus attaches to these commands teach us how good and right he is to tell us, “Do not judge.”

Mercy Before Judgment

Good Samaritan

Luke 6:36-37 “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged.”

The general attitude God wants us to have towards others– and that means everyone, whether they are nice to us or not– is to be merciful. If we aren’t sure what that means for us, practically speaking, Jesus points us to the way that our heavenly Father treats people, because he is merciful.

Consider the way that God treats people we know don’t even believe in him. Former U.S.  Secretary of Labor Robert Reich believes that faith in God is more dangerous than terrorism. Bill Nye the Science Guy says that his faith in science is like a religion for him. Has God struck them dead for their lack of faith? Obviously not. Does he make them suffer worse than all believers for actively contradicting him? These men have enjoyed greater popularity, greater power, and greater wealth than most Christians I know. “Merciful” almost seems like an understatement. Our heavenly Father doesn’t merely tolerate the existence of people like these. He has given them earthly blessings that sometimes exceed those of most others.

Consider how our Father has treated each of us. Every day we give him reason to say, “That’s it. I am sick and tired of putting up with these people. We are going to end this right here.” Don’t we? We, who have been shown such patience and mercy, get irritated with people who are just doing their job behind the cash register. The slow driver up ahead may not own the road more than you do, but he doesn’t own it less, and you are probably the one who is going over the speed limit. So much for loving your neighbor as yourself. We are rarely content with what we have, and never mind that we are critical of others. In our hearts we are critical of God for not catering more to our Champaign tastes and our insatiable desires. Money, health, relationships– we are as inclined to blame God as to trust him. So much for loving God.

So what does he do? Note that he does not excuse such behavior. He doesn’t say, “That’s okay,” or look the other way. He does not refrain from pointing such things out. He is not shy about calling us sinners. He is not too polite to say, “That was really horrible. That makes me mad. You should be ashamed of yourselves.” Only people who read the Bible with blinders on can miss this.

But he hasn’t stopped feeding us, has he? He hasn’t cut us off and stopped having anything to do with us. In fact, he has pursued us all the more. Your Father is merciful. He has said, “I will do even more for them. I will give up my Son for them. I will sacrifice his life for their sins. I will forgive them. I will keep sending them my word. I will preach to them my love. I will give them my Spirit. I will bring them to faith. I will listen to their prayers. I will help them in their troubles. I will give them eternal life. I will show them mercy.” And he does. Our Father makes good on all his promises because he is merciful.

So what does this have to do with the subject of judging? It establishes the attitude with which we approach the actions of other people doesn’t it? God’s mercy to us doesn’t just serve as an example for us to follow. How can you believe all those things about God’s mercy to you and not be changed by it? You can’t. Remembering God’s promises, his gospel promises, to us moves us to mercy and love. It is with mercy and love (not necessarily approval!) that we regard the behavior of others. There is a Christian kind of judging that flows from mercy and love. But do not judge to attack them. Do not judge to hate them. Do not judge to ridicule them, drive them away, and end all possibility of a reconciliation. That kind of judging polarizes people as enemies. It makes kindness and love nearly impossible. Your Father has been merciful to you. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Rescue for the Needy

beggar

Psalm 72:12-14 “For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.”

Our King, Solomon says, delivers the needy– those who have no one to help. If that doesn’t lead us to give up on our self-made plans of salvation, we need to think about these words some more. Preacher Charles Spurgeon once commented, “The proverb says, ‘God helps those that help themselves,’ but it is yet more true that Jesus helps those who cannot help themselves, nor find help in others. All helpless ones are under the especial care of Zion’s compassionate King.”

Evangelist Watchman Nee illustrates this another way. He tells the story of standing on a dock with a friend who was a strong swimmer. They were watching a man swimming a long way from shore, when this man got into trouble. Pretty soon the man was going under, coming up gasping for air, and crying for help. “Aren’t you going to help him?” Nee asked his friend. “Not yet,” his friend replied. Only after the swimmer became unconscious and stopped struggling did Nee’s friend rescue him. When Nee asked him why he waited so long to rescue the man, his friend replied, “If I would have gone out to him immediately, he would have panicked and pulled me down with him. I had to wait until he stopped kicking. Then I could save him.”

We don’t pose any danger to our King. But only after we have stopped kicking, stopped trying to save ourselves, does Jesus step in and rescue his people. Spiritually, at least, we are only struggling against him when we are trying to do it ourselves. Our King isn’t looking for our help when it comes to delivering  us. He is looking to give us his.

Why does the King take notice of such helpless people and deliver them? “…for precious is their blood in his sight.” There are some things that you or I may consider precious because they are valuable all by themselves. A rare antique or a piece of fine jewelry have value no matter where you take them. The value is in the thing itself.

The dried corsage you saved from your high school prom, or the little clay imprint your child made of his hands in kindergarten, probably isn’t going to get you much at the pawn shop. They may be precious to us because of a value we invest in them. They are precious because of their associations and the memories they give, but their value is given to them by us.

How often doesn’t Scripture remind us that we are nothing but creatively arranged particles of dust. “For dust you are and to dust you shall return.” We have even given our God a daily dose of bad memories by our sins. But the King has given us value by giving us the spark of life. He has given us value by redeeming with his own life. He has loved us because he has chosen to love us, and he considers us precious in his sight.

Our need is just another opportunity to receive his love.

Justice Without Limits

Justice Planet

Psalm 72:4-7 “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; he will crush the oppressor. He will endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations. He will be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth. In his days the righteous will flourish; prosperity will abound till the moon is no more. ”

Because it is all too easy for us to feel sorry for ourselves, to blame others for problems of our own making, we need to be careful not to be too quick to declare ourselves the victims .

But honesty, and Scripture, demands that we recognize that sometimes God’s people are the victims. People do wrongfully take advantage of us. We are the targets of unjust slanders and accusations. It isn’t wrong to recognize this and ask God to give us justice. We shouldn’t take matters into our own hands. God tells us not to seek our own vengeance. But the enemies of Christ’s people are the enemies of Christ himself. “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; he will crush the oppressor.” If the matter isn’t resolved now, we can be sure that we will be vindicated on the Last Day. There are no ifs or maybes here. Our King will see to it.

Our King’s justice would do us no good if we were to find ourselves outside of his jurisdiction, however, or if his reign were to end. Solomon was writing 3000 years ago on the other side of the planet. But that’s not a problem for us. Our King is unlimited by time or space. “He will endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations. He will be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth. In his days the righteous will flourish; prosperity will abound till the moon is no more.”

Solomon points us to the moon and the sun to help us get our arms around the truth that Jesus is not limited by time. The scene on the ground is changing around us all the time. Just think of the changes the place where you are sitting right now has gone through in the last hundred years. Around the world the forces of nature and the ingenuity of man are constantly changing the landscape.

But the heavenly bodies stay the same. Look up at the sun sometime later today. Step outside your door after it is dark, and look up at the moon and the stars. While the scene around your yard has changed, what you see in the sky looks the same as it did for an American Indian looking up at the sky from that spot 1000 years ago, or for Solomon looking up at the sky at night 2000 years before that. Even the sun and the moon don’t last forever, but they are the closest things to never changing and never ending we can see with our eyes.

Jesus’ reign as King is even more consistent and more enduring. What he considered good or evil in Solomon’s day is no different for us. More important, he loves us no less than he loved Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, John, the church fathers, or our own grandparents. His control of world events, or the details of our personal lives, has not slipped even a little from creation until now. As the author of Hebrews says so succinctly: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

So too, his justice is unlimited by time or space.

Absolute Justice

Christ Judge

Psalm 72:1-2 “Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice.”

How does the justice and righteousness of this King make you feel? Does it make you want to go rushing to him for help? Or does it make you want to shy away from him instead? We have reason to fear his justice when we realize that he makes his judgments based on absolute, and not relative, standards. What do I mean by that? By nature, we are lawbreakers at heart. Since we break the law, we don’t want to be judged by whether or not we have kept the law, but by how we compare to everyone else.

When parents confront their children for fighting, how often doesn’t one of them protest, “But he started it.” In other words, don’t judge me for whether or not I am pounding on my brother. Judge me for having the restraint and good sense to let my sibling take the first swing. That’s a relative standard. I heard a talk radio host describing his first appearance before a judge for speeding. He protested that he wasn’t the only one driving over the speed limit. Other cars had even been passing him. Relative to the other drivers, he thought he was doing pretty well. The judge told him, “When you look way over in the right lane, and you see the little Honda putting along at 55 m.p.h., that will be me going the speed limit.” That judge insisted on an absolute, not a relative, standard of right and wrong for handing down justice.

So it is that when I stand before our Lord, the King, for judgment, it is just he and I. He isn’t interested in how we compare to everyone else. He has been endowed with justice. “He will judge your people in righteousness.” He has an absolute standard, a standard that says, “Whoever keeps the whole law, yet stumbles at just one point, is guilty of breaking all of it.” “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to everything written in the book of the law.” Not most of it. Not more than other people. “Everything written in the book of the law.” If Christ our King is just, we have reason to be afraid.

But wait a minute. Is that how Solomon sounds in these verses? Doesn’t he rather seem to be celebrating the King’s justice? We can welcome his justice because it is accompanied by his mercy. Jesus’ mercy doesn’t lead him to lay his justice aside. He doesn’t change his standards. But he did provide another way for those standards to be satisfied. The King traded his crown and royal robes for servants clothes and kept the whole law for us. Then he added ropes and chains and the trappings of a prisoner, and he took our place on death row at the cross. Justice was served on him instead of us. The prison door was opened for us to go free. We were declared just and righteous by the One who is just. No wonder we call him our King!