Wisdom’s Feast

Proverbs 9:1-2 “Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out its seven pillars.  She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table.” 

To help us grasp the value of wisdom, Solomon pictures it as a lady working hard to prepare a feast. He contrasts her careful preparations with the carelessness of lady Folly, described later in the chapter as undisciplined and without knowledge. This lady Wisdom is someone special. She has something special to offer.

But what makes this wisdom of Proverbs so special? What makes her any different from the wisdom we can find in the wise sayings of Confucius, Socrates, or the world’s other great philosophers? This wisdom is a spiritual wisdom. It is described in another verse of Proverbs this way, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” True wisdom has a fear, a healthy respect, for the true God. It is knowledgeable about that God and the true way of salvation. This is a wisdom less concerned with the things that man does, more concerned with the things that God has done for man. 

Unfortunately, what godly wisdom has to offer is considered foolish by a foolish world.  For some it is just too easy. “You don’t get something for nothing. If I am going to get to heaven, I must have to pay something for it.” For others, the wisdom of God’s way of salvation is repulsive. They find the idea that the torture and execution of a Jewish rabbi thousands of years ago somehow satisfies an angry God’s dissatisfaction with me unappetizing, or just silly.

Whether people are willing to come or not, wisdom has prepared her feast. “Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out its seven pillars.” The house wisdom has built to shelter her guests is no ordinary house.  It is built on seven pillars. You wouldn’t expect to see intricately carved stone pillars in front of a three-bedroom ranch house today. Pillars go into the construction of mansions.  It was the same way in Solomon’s time. A house built on pillars has plenty of room.

It is also notable that seven pillars are used for wisdom’s home. Not eight or six, but seven. The Lord often uses the number seven to signify completeness. In seven days creation was complete and God could rest. The leper Naaman washed himself in the Jordan river seven times and was completely healed. Other examples could be given, from Genesis to Revelation. The house of godly wisdom is built on seven pillars, suggesting it is complete and perfect in every way.

We can find this feast of godly wisdom in God’s word–the Bible. It is a book large enough to house all that God wanted to reveal to us.  It is the most widely translated, printed, and read book in history. A book without error or contradiction, we can rely on it with all our confidence. 

What is being served at this banquet which wisdom offers?  “She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table.”  Her feast includes the finest foods. This is more than bread and milk. She offers succulent meats and fine wines, foods to make your mouth water.

Our Lord makes opportunities to gain godly Wisdom just as tantalizing.  The mixture of his message in song, word, and response at worship feeds us in such a way that we may say with David, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord.” 

His word contains a rich variety of tasty food for the soul. Like an appetizer, the Law whets our appetite for true spiritual wisdom when it convicts us of sin and makes us hunger for forgiveness. The Gospel satisfies that hunger with a full course of God’s love as it reveals our Savior pouring out his blood on the cross and rising from the dead. Like desert, the Word makes our lives a little sweeter as it lights the path God wants us to follow and guides us through the dilemmas and decisions we face.

All of us—grade-schoolers, teenagers, singles, families, or seniors—find something tasty in God’s book. We will all find his wisdom applies to me!

Escaping Sin’s Trap

Genesis 3:4-6 “‘You will not surely die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate it.”

It is ironic that the Father of lies is accusing God of being the liar. If you look closely, he chooses the same words God used and twists and perverts them for his purposes, almost word for word. “You will surely die,” God said. “You will not surely die,” Satan contradicts. “When you eat of it you will surely die,” God warned. “When you eat of it your eyes will be opened,” Satan concludes. “God has been lying to you. You need to stop listening to that guy.”

It’s more than a denial of sin’s negative consequences. He actually created a whole list of positive promises–exciting new advantages if they will only break God’s command and eat the fruit. “Your eyes won’t close in death. They will be opened to a new life, new possibilities. Just imagine the great new things you will see.” “You don’t have to go through life as God’s slaves. You can be like him, his equals, living life on your own terms. Realize your potential!” “Right now you live in ignorance. You may know some things, but God’s way means you know less. You can have more! You can know good and evil.” Unfortunately, Adam and Eve were about to learn a hard lesson in why new, and free, and more aren’t always better.

New experiences, personal freedom, more than you had before–those are still common themes of the temptation. None of us has managed to avoid taking the bait. Every one of us has been caught in the trap. It’s why we look for a Savior from sin.

Giving in to temptation ends in sad results. Before anything else, sin changed Adam and Eve’s hearts. Before this, they viewed the forbidden tree through the lens of God’s word. Now Eve looks at the tree independent of God’s word. “This fruit looks like all the rest. It’s not poisonous or spoiled or too bitter or sour.” Trusting her own eyes, her own experience, her own research, her own investigation more than God’s word turned out to be a disastrous mistake. Faith in self is misplaced.

There are some who object today, “It doesn’t really matter what you believe. The important thing is how you live, what you do.” That is backwards! What we do is based on what we believe! Believe wrong and act wrong. Satan got it. God understands it. Adam and Eve found out too late:

That change of heart led to a change of behavior: Maybe this looks like a mild crime compared to the great atrocities committed throughout history. But don’t forget that Adam and Eve became the murderers of the whole human race and source of every misery.

Certainly their own circumstances were different now. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” Now that their eyes were opened, what did they see? They saw their shame. They saw their guilt. Something in them had died–a good conscience, pure hearts and minds, their ability to look at each other and see only the beauty and goodness God had created. That had been replaced by selfishness and perversion. They were desperate to cover themselves up, not parade and display the god-like qualities Satan promised.

You and I are not strangers to their shame. We desire to hide ourselves and what we have done. But something is different. We are not dressed in a fig leaf and running scared in some primeval garden. Why? We have been clothed in the sinlessness of Christ. He has dressed us in the love and perfection of his own sinless life. We have been cleansed by his blood and washed of our sins. We live a new life of faith, in full possession of eternal life to come. Jesus came to open sin’s trap and set us free. Jesus reversed this story and restored us to God’s paradise, when he, not the serpent, not Satan, was hung on a tree.

Avoiding the Trap

Genesis 3:1 “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

Generally speaking, the devil knows enough not to try to bowl us over with a direct and open frontal assault: “I’m the devil. Do this. It’s a despicable sin. It’ll be fun!”

He comes in camouflage, “The serpent was more crafty…He said to the woman.” A snake is just a snake. They were no more able to talk in the Garden of Eden than they are today. This serpent was something more. It may seem strange to us that the devil chose to use a snake’s body for his conversation with Eve, but he had to choose some form. He couldn’t just be an invisible voice in the air, or a third human being when it was quite clear God had created only two. That would have raised suspicions even more than the strange fact this snake was talking. It provided just enough cover to set his tempting trap.

He is not going to show up on your doorstep in red suit and pointy tale, either. He works through agents, behind the scenes, in disguise–anything he can do to make you unaware of his presence, maybe hoping you doubt his very existence. There is no more effective spy or saboteur than the one nobody knows even exists.      

Nor does he raise the alarm in the way he starts the conversation. “Did God really say…?” He isn’t proposing any radical change. He isn’t proposing anything at all. He’s just asking a question…really. “Let’s have an innocent little talk about some details of God’s instructions. What’s this all about, anyway? Explain this to me.”

Often we are stepping into his trap even before we have considered doing something God forbids. All we have to do is engage the conversation. All we have to do is have an open mind to viewpoints that are not God’s own. Maybe we will walk back out of the trap unscathed, but Adam and Eve didn’t. The list of those who have been caught, like they did, looks like a census of the world’s population from creation to the present day.

Satan’s question softened up his victims by calling God’s goodness into question. “Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the garden?” “If that’s the case, maybe he doesn’t really care about you. Maybe he’s just cruel, judgmental, and scary. Maybe he isn’t worth following at all.” There wasn’t yet an explicit call for Eve to change her actions. All of this was aimed at undercutting her faith–at undermining her trust in the Word of God.

Eve’s response is a good one at first: “The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” There are two thrusts to her reply. First, she reaffirms God’s goodness. “Look around. We are surrounded by trees from which we can eat. God has been more than generous.”

Then she spits God’s word and command back to the serpent. She shows there was no confusion about what God said: “Eat from this one tree, and you will die.”

Here is how God also provides our protection from temptation, both before and after we fall. First, faith lives and feeds on God’s goodness. Since the fall into sin we have more than the good way he provides for bodies. God feeds our faith on the promise that he loves us so much he has forgiven our sins. More than that, he loves us so much that he sacrificed his only Son pay the penalty our sins deserved to make that forgiveness possible. Sometimes it may not be so clear to us that God has richly given everything our bodies need. But the promise of forgiveness and the sacrifice he made to make it possible never changes. Rehearsing God’s message of love over and over again fortifies our faith. It strengthens us against temptation when it comes around again.

Trust in God’s loving grace then helps us to cling more tightly to everything God has revealed in his word. If my Lord loves me so much he was willing to die for me, would he feed me lies? Would he hurt me with his words? Never! This is our weapon against temptation’s powerful appeal.

Serve Only One

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Sometimes we try to play both sides, like the children of Israel in the Old Testament, who would go to the temple or synagogue on Saturday. They brought an offering, listened to God’s word, said their prayers, and performed their sacrifices.  But other days of the week they would sleep with the temple prostitutes at the temple of Baal, and in their homes they kept idols of household gods just to make sure they had covered their bases.

In the same way, showing up at church on Sunday is no proof that we have abandoned the worship of money to serve our true Master. Failing to come on Sundays may be a clear indication that we have abandoned the service of God for Mammon’s cult. But maybe we try to play both sides. A truer indication of our allegiance comes from the answer to the question, “Where do I find my real comfort and security?” Or put the question this way: When we have God, we still worry that we don’t have enough money. But when we have money, do we worry that we don’t have enough God?

We may try to serve both, but Jesus says we can’t do it–twice–in this short verse. That is “the problem.” That is because these two masters are opposed to each other. Hard work and a good education may equip us to make lots of money. But when we serve the Lord as our true Master, then he gets in the way of our service to money.

Faith in the grace and forgiveness of God changes us. It fills us with love and concern for other people. That might lead us to put ourselves at financial risk to help them. Faith in the grace and forgiveness of God fills us with the desire to see the gospel spread to others. That leads us to give money away for the cause. We actually lower our standard of living, put our retirements in jeopardy, and refuse promotions that would advance our careers at the expense of family and faith. Honesty gets in the way of the shrewd deal.

God’s truth exposes the passing, dying nature of all things earthly. We can spend and spend, but someday the house and car are worn out and beyond repair, the doctor can’t put our bodies back together again, and all we worked for is nothing. God ruins the illusion, dashes the hopes, and exposes the counterfeit heaven that Master Money tries to create for us. He exposes the materialistic cult as a fake.

When we are led to see that the Lord is our true Master, we are led to serve him as our true Master, too. Jesus uses four terms to describe our relationship with these masters: hate, despise, love, and be devoted. When we see that Master Money wants to rob us of security, and trade our true heaven for his crummy attempt at an earthly copy, we hate and despise him. We hate him for his lies and for his empty promises. We have no choice but to use him in this world. Maybe we find ourselves thinking more like Dolly Levi: “Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.” We might add that it just stinks when it sits in a pile as well. What good is it if we can’t use it up serving God and helping others?

When we see that God is the Master who served his slaves like a slave, who fulfilled their duties, and died their death and paid their debt; when we see that God is the Master whose grace transforms enemies into servants and servants into sons, we not only trust him implicitly, but also love him and become devoted to him. Dr. Becker used to say, “’To know him is to love him’ is more true of our Savior than of anyone else.” So the main object of our Christian faith and life is to know him, to truly know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we know how wide, and long, and high and deep is the love of Christ, we will know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. Then we will serve the Master who served us first.

Not in Vain

1 Corinthians 15:58 “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm, Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

Jesus’ resurrection guarantees us that the Lord we serve is immortal. More than that, it promises that he has made us immortal. If that is so, what can anyone one earth do to us? Kill us? And then what? We just come back to life later anyway. They haven’t done anything! Ridicule and persecute us? And what do we care? For our Friend we claim the Giver of life and the Destroyer of death. Do they know more than the One who made everything, who proved himself by dying and taking his life back again, and now rules all from heaven? Here at Jesus’ resurrection we have strength for all our trials. Here at Jesus’ resurrection we have the answer to all our skeptics, every crisis of faith. When they dig up Jesus’ dead body, we will be afraid. But since we know the tomb is empty, “…stand firm. Let nothing move you.” The one who puts his trust in him will never be put to shame.

Instead of fear, “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord.” Isn’t that what the life of faith looks like in light of the resurrection? Martin Luther once said it this way, “Faith…makes us altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers, and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith; and so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly. It does not ask whether there are good works to do, but before the question rises; it has already done them, and is always at the doing of them.”

Why live such an active life doing the work of the Lord? Because, when you see your life through the lense of Jesus’ resurrection, “…you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” It may be a labor at times, that is true. The work may be hard. One old pastor once commented that the closest a pastor ever gets to knowing the pain of childbirth is in the pain of giving birth to his sermons. Of course, how would he know? He was a man. The point is, all our work for the Lord may be hard work–from preaching, to witnessing, to attending meetings, to paying for it all. Jesus’ earthly work was labor, too.        

But it is not in vain. It is never empty or useless, even if it seems hard or frustrating. The power that raised Christ from the dead, the power that someday will raise each one of us from the dead, stands behind it all. The victory is all on our side. Maybe the game keeps going because there is still time on the clock, but the score is infinitely out of reach for the other side. We have won. Our service to the Lord only helps to expand the count of souls who will share in our Savior’s victory.

Keep working hard, friends. Your living Lord and his empty tomb are proof that it is worth it.

The Victorious Christian Life (to come)

1 Corinthians 15:54-56 “‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Why should youth turn to age? Why should strength fade to weakness? Why should life give way to death? A research scientist I once knew said that human science still cannot explain why cells, that once repaired and replaced themselves so efficiently as our bodies grew and we matured, lose their ability to keep us at the top of our powers as the years pass.

            But Paul knew. “The sting of death is sin.” Sin is the poison that infects us and brings us bitter death. Sin is the sting, even if it doesn’t look the part. It camouflages itself as pleasure. But like the shiny red apple the witch-queen brings to Snow White in the fairytale, the pleasure is only an illusion. Death is the reality, a reality that overtakes us all.

            Sin itself gets its power from the law. Where there is no command, no law, there is nothing to break, no sin to commit. But wherever God reveals his law, sin sees its opportunity. We break the command, God imposes the penalty, and we die…

            Until God himself gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s what Jesus’ resurrection is all about, isn’t it? It is the proof of Christ’s victory. His body drew all the venom, all the poison of every sin committed by every sinner into itself. He died a thousand deaths, a million deaths, billions and billions of deaths, when he died the deaths of all humanity for the sins of all humanity at the cross. All the venom, all the poison was spent on him until sin and death themselves were spent, at the very end of their power, and he died.

            But then he takes his life back again. Sin and death have nothing left to stop him. He is the victor! Isn’t that why we crown him the King of Kings and Lord of all? And then, incredibly, the Lord of all, the Easter victor that we worship, turns around and hands his victory to his people. He promises the same life from the dead to every one of us. See your life in the light of his resurrection, and you can see the victorious life that is coming after death.

Change We Can Embrace

1 Corinthians 15:51-53 “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed–in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

Change is often difficult for us. Bible-believing, conservative Christians are accustomed to being suspicious of change. We sing in the hymn, “Change and decay in all around I see, Oh, Thou who changest not, abide with me!” Because too often we see change move in the wrong direction. We have been holding the line against attempts to change God’s word and promises. It makes us an ever shrinking minority who still believe in moral absolutes, who still believe in grace and faith alone, who still believe in the eternal promise of Easter day!

Sometimes, even change for the positive feels slow and painful–overcoming a serious addiction, fixing a broken relationship, repenting of our own faults and failings. We are tempted to adopt a position that blindly says, “If it means change, I am against it!” But then we would be closing ourselves to the God whose call to repentance calls us to change every day.

In the resurrection, our Lord shows us change to which we can happily agree. Nothing slow or painful here. It all happens “in a flash.” For “flash” Paul uses the Greek word from which we get our word “atom.” It refers to something so small that it can no longer be cut or divided. It is as small as can be conceived. In this briefest moment in time we will be changed instantaneously. You can run the slow motion video, but you will look in vain to see any series of transitions. One moment dead, the next alive. One moment corrupt and earthly, the next moment pure and heavenly. No years of purgatory to suffer through to get there, either. It all happens “in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.”

There is nothing negative to fear about this change. The life that is coming is the very opposite of decay. “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

In the resurrection, we will all be imperishable. Every trip to the doctor or dentist reminds me how much I am like the spoiling fruit sitting on our kitchen counter. In my case, the pace is just much slower. Comparing photos old and new reveals lines that didn’t used to be there, hair that has gotten silver in places. At least the hair is still hanging on to the same real estate! Now we are perishable, mortal, and the evidence is all around us all the time.

But we will be raised imperishable, immortal! More amazing than going out to the compost pile behind my garage, picking out what used to be an orange–now covered in green and white mold, its fruity flesh now a brown, stinking, oozing mush–and making it somehow firm and sweet and edible again, God will pluck our bodies from their graves, in whatever state of decay. Instantly we will be stronger, healthier, more beautiful, and more intelligent than we were at the peak of our youth and the height of our earthly powers. More than that, our hearts and souls will be so saturated with holy love that we will be capable of nothing but goodness and kindness for the eternity of life the resurrection brings us.

Raised To Declare His Divinity

Romans 1:1-4 “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who as to his spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The truth that Paul shares with us in this verse may be the forgotten lesson of Jesus’ resurrection. We tend to stress the fact that, because Jesus has risen from the dead, we know that the Father accepted his sacrifice. His effort to pay for our sins was successful. More than that, we draw the conclusion that since Jesus is alive and our sins are paid for, someday we will rise from the dead, too. These things certainly deserve to be emphasized.

But Jesus’ resurrection is also the miracle of miracles. A handful of other people have been raised back to life from the dead throughout history, only to die again. Only Jesus raised himself from the dead, and only he has risen to a new kind of life that never ends.

That makes a powerful statement about who Jesus is. No mere man could bring himself back to life. Jesus is the Son of God. The resurrection doesn’t make him the Son of God. It makes his divinity clear to see. It puts a big exclamation point on the truth that our Savior Jesus is also our God.

 How does that truth help to put the “good news” in our gospel? Just look at the ramifications:

1) If Jesus is God, then his work, his life, his death, have infinite value. I can be sure that my sins are covered.
2) If Jesus is God, then you and I can put our utter trust in him. What he tells us we can believe with complete confidence. How he treats us we can receive certain that he is taking care of us.
3) If Jesus is God, then getting to know him means we are getting to know God. And what is the picture we see when we look at Jesus? Someone who loves us passionately. Someone who is caring, kind, gentle, and approachable. Yet someone who is strong, steady, and upright. What more could you want on your side?
4) The last phrase of this verse calls him “Jesus Christ our Lord.” When people say things like, “Jesus is my Lord,” they are often thinking of the obedience they owe to him. But a Lord is also a protector, isn’t he? If our Lord is our God, then you and I are utterly safe.
5) If Jesus is God, then we can be sure that we are in the right place whenever we are following him. If Jesus is God, then all the news for us is only good.

The heart of the Christian faith is not a list of principles or a way of life. It is a person, promised by prophets, descended from David, and declared to be God by his resurrection from the dead. The news is good, dear friends.

Perfect Even in Death

John 19:32-34 “The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.”

Over Fourteen hundred years earlier God had given Moses instructions about how Passover lambs were to be chosen and treated. They had to be year old males, males in the prime of their lives, without blemish. As the lambs were sacrificed and prepared, their bodies must be kept intact. No bones were to be broken. These sacrificial lambs were to be perfect in every way. After all, God was accepting these animals in place of the lives of the first-born sons of the people of Israel. For such an exchange he was not satisfied with second-rate, crippled animals. He demanded the best.

On this Passover, Jesus himself was the sacrificial lamb, offered up in the prime of his life in exchange for the lives of all Israel, and all people. After all the abuse his body had taken over the past 24 hours, the point of his legs not being broken could easily be lost on us. But God was making a statement here: this Son of his was the perfect Passover Lamb. Even in death his bones remained intact, and he remained fully qualified to give his life in exchange for ours as the perfect sacrifice for our sins.

Since the soldiers weren’t going to break Jesus’ legs, they looked for another way to be sure of his death. The point of the spear was likely pressed against his body just below his rib cage, and then thrust up into his chest and through his heart. The sudden flow of blood and water which the John saw would be consistent with the spear piercing the pericardium, the sack around the heart, and then the heart itself. Thus the last blood which Jesus shed for us flowed directly from his very heart.

For John and the women who witnessed all this, the piercing of Jesus’ side was the final blow. If there had been any hope up to this point that Jesus had not died, but merely passed out on the cross, now it was gone. The spear removed all doubt that Jesus was dead.

But Jesus had to die if he was going to be the perfect sacrifice for you, and for me, and for our world. He did not come to be merely a great moral example, or a great moral teacher. He came “to give his life as a ransom for many.” Those are his own words. The wages of our sin is death, and the blood and water flowing from Jesus’ side confirm that Jesus has died, just as we needed him to do.

Can a dead man still love you? Maybe we find it unsettling, even frightening, to realize that, in Jesus’ death, God has died. But even in death this God is infinitely powerful. And more important, even in death, his love for you continues unwavering and unimpaired. He is perfect for you, even in his death.