You’re getting warmer
Mark 12: You’re almost there, right on the boarder of God’s kingdom.
I’ve been in a few discussions with people who want to play “stump the pastor.” The exchange usually starts with something like, “Being that you’re a preacher, let me ask you this…” and off we go to some burning theological issue like where Cain’s wife came from. In this passage, Jesus deals with the same level of discussion. The Sadducees bring him their old worn out “whose wife is she?” question that they’ve used for years. Others want Jesus to go out of a limb about paying taxes. Standing on the sidelines is a religion scholar with a question. It too is an old one that the rabbis like batting around. Of all the commandments of the Old Testament, which is the most important? Jesus looks the man in the eye and gives him a serious answer. The number one command is that we’re to love God with every fiber of our being. Jesus even goes so far as to throw in a bonus answer. The number two command is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This scholar deals with issues like this every day and he responds that he’s concluded the same thing and, in fact, he’s never heard the answer stated so well. Jesus says to him that he’s almost there, just a short step from the kingdom of God. This exchange is so refreshing. On a day when people are lining up to play “stump Jesus” we meet a man who’s on a legitimate spiritual journey. He’s done a lot of thinking about these things and needs just a gentle nudge to close the deal and commit his life to the Lord. Jesus instantly recognizes the difference between the cat and mouse game of the Sadducees and a sincere question from a real seeker of the truth. My prayer for all those who sincerely seek that they’ll find not only the answers to their questions, but, even better, as it was for this good man so long ago, the Answer to the greatest need of life.
Take Away: Those who aren’t playing games but are serious about God will find real answers in Jesus Christ.
When all is said and done…
Ecclesiastes 12: Fear God. Do what he tells you. And that’s it.
The book of Ecclesiastes is about a wise man’s search for meaning. That search takes on a pessimistic flavor as he tries one thing and then another, concluding that it’s all just “smoke” that quickly vanishes. As he nears his conclusion he says that life passes quickly as the body begins to wear out. In other words, life, in general, is just so much smoke. Obviously, this book is not a Gospel. It doesn’t conclude with a resurrection and words of hope. Instead, it simply winds down with the big questions left pretty much unanswered. Well, kind of. When Solomon has considered everything from constructing impressive buildings to collecting words of wisdom, from living a pleasure-focused life to making the most of one’s youth he concludes that it’s all smoke. Basically he says that everything that people think brings meaning to life can be dismissed as failing to live up to expectations. Now, in his final words, he concludes that meaning must come from outside of all that. The book of Genesis starts with “In the beginning, God….” This book of Ecclesiastes concludes with “In the end, God….” Meaning to life only comes through the Creator of life. Really, Solomon has done the best he can do at this point in history. There’s more, in fact a whole lot more, but we have to turn ahead in time to those Gospels I mentioned for that part of the story.
Take Away: Meaning to life only comes through the Creator of life.
The purpose of life
Ecclesiastes 7: God made men and women true and upright; we’re the ones who’ve made a mess of things.
As part of his search for purpose Solomon seeks out people of wisdom. The result of his search is disappointing. He reports that not one person in a thousand measures up to that standard. Solomon is looking for people of depth, who have thought out the meaning of life and come to some conclusions. Instead, he finds that most people stay in the shallow end of the pool, never considering much beyond their next meal. The saddest thing, as far as he is concerned, is that it doesn’t have to be that way. The Creator created humans with the potential for greatness. This isn’t about the possibility of solving the mysteries of science. Instead, it’s about finding meaning to life itself. It’s of great value to consider “why I am here and where I am going.” The answer is the one we seem most intent on ignoring: “God.” It’s my connection to the divine that gives meaning to my life. He not only made me, but he made me for a purpose. When I live without recognizing that, I, in the words of Ecclesiastes, make “a mess of things.”
Take Away: It’s my connection to the divine that gives meaning to my life.
Questions and the Answer
Job 41: I’m in charge of all this — I run the universe!
The response of the Almighty to Job centers on who God is, what God does, and what God knows. I’m reminded of the opening words of Genesis in which we’re not given a rationale for God’s existence but, instead, the story of God’s action in creating all things. Now, after Job has demanded an audience with God in which he could straighten things out, God speaks, not to explain things to Job but to declare himself to him. Surely the One who runs the universe is not subject to us! We see here that God isn’t especially interested in our having answers to all of life’s questions. He is interested though, in our knowing him. Job’s encounter with God is centered on all the mysteries of creation. Job needs to not only have a better understanding of God, but he needs a clearer understanding of himself and his relationship to the Lord. Of course, the same is true of us. As I better understand who God is and who I am, I realize that my questions aren’t as important as I first thought.
Take Away: I’ll never have all the answers anyway, but I can trust God to be the answer to the deepest needs of my life.
Now who’s on the spot?
Job 38: I have some questions for you.
Job’s insisted that his ordeal is the result of some cosmic mistake and that if only he could get an audience with God he’d straighten things out. If nothing else, God would at least explain to Job what it is he’s done to deserve these horrible things. Now Job’s getting what he asked for. The Lord has shown up. The thing is God isn’t defensive in the least and he isn’t especially interested in explaining things to Job. Through these tragic events Job has held in there. He’s remained faithful to the Lord, refusing to “curse God and die” even when he’s no longer being blessed in his faithfulness and righteousness. However, that doesn’t mean that Job is 100% correct in what he thinks about all this. Several times he’s said things that are wrong. When God shows up he first concentrates on these things. He says to Job, not “I have some answers for you” but, instead, “I have some questions for you.” Then, God begins to remind Job of Who He is and who Job is. This is a humbling experience but Job will never get a handle on many of the questions he’s asked without this. That’s how it is for us too. We sing, “What a friend we have in Jesus” and that’s a wonderful truth. Still, it has to be balanced against who God is. His awesome power in Creation, his holiness, and his nature in general must humble us even when we’re struggling with issues in life. When God begins to move in Job’s life again, his first move is to bring Job back to these truths.
Take Away: Remembering who God is is the first step to understanding many of the questions of life.
The Who, How, and What of Creation
Genesis 1: It was so good, so very good!
The account of Creation is a lot more about “who” than it is about “how.” When the story begins its God who begins it. He speaks and things happen. There’s no doubt that he’s in charge and the account of Creation is all about what the Creator does. On the other hand, there’s no more effort made to tell me “how” it happened than there is to explain God, himself. If I want to know the composition of light, I’ll have to look elsewhere because the Bible doesn’t tell me. If this is a poetic description of a “big bang” it’s okay with me so long as I can believe that God is the one who creates and directs the energy of it in the first place. So, as I read these opening pages of the Bible, I immediately encounter the “Who” of it all and I immediately find that this Creator isn’t all that interested in satisfying my curiosity of “how.” However, there is one thing he wants me to know: that’s “what” he has done. He declares to me that it’s “very good.” I know “Who” did it but I don’t know “how” he did it. Still, I know that “what” he did is “so good!” As I read this account I’d better concentrate more on what I’m supposed to know and less on what the Lord doesn’t bother to tell me about it.
Take away: I need to focus on the Creator and not get too wound up in how he created.