Jesus gave a warning very meaningful for us today. He warned against worshiping Him in vain, teaching for doctrines the mere commandments of men (Matthew 15:8, 9). Jesus was quoting from Isaiah.
We will read together from Isaiah 29:11-24. Israel has largely forgotten God, and God will now send nations to lay siege to His people. God's people will be brought low, but so will the attackers. Israel has become too wise for her own good. In doing so she becomes drunken, blinded, sleepy. God shuts down the radio, the prophets no longer receive word from on high. Israel will at last prevail, but only after she has been brought low; God humbles her through the siege of the nations. Hear now Isaiah 29:11-24:
The entire vision will be to you like the words of a sealed book, which when they give it to the one who is literate, saying, 'Please read this,' he will say,' I cannot, for it is sealed.' The book will be given to the one who is illiterate, saying, pkease read this, and he will say, 'I cannot read.' Then the Lord said, 'Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote, therefore, behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men will perish, and the discernment of their discerning men will be concealed.' Woe to those who deeply hide their plans from the Lord, and whose deeds are done in a dark place, and they say, 'Who sees us?' or 'Who knows us?' You turn things around! Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, that what is made would say to its maker, 'He did not make me'; or what is formed say to him who formed it, 'He has no understanding'? Is it not yet just a little while before Lebanon will be turned into a fertile field, and the fertile field will be considered as a forest? On that day the deaf will hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see. The afflicted also will increase their gladness in the Lord, and the needy of mankind will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. For the ruthless will come to an end and the scorner will be finished, indeed all who are intent on doing evil will be cut off; who cause a person to be indicted for a word, and ensnare him who adjucates at the gate, and defraud the one in the right with meaningless arguments. Therefore thus says the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob: Jacob shall not now be ashamed, nor shall his face now turn pale; but when he sees his children, the works of My hands, in his midst, they will sanctify My name; indeed, they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob and will stand in awe of the God of Israel. Those who err in mind will know the truth, and those who criticize will accept instruction (NASB).
They surround her. They, and she, are brought low. This could also come true for God's people today, if they unwittingly embrace false ideas about God and His kingdom. Our understanding could be darkened and we could impacted until we as a people change our ways and receive our God's instruction.
People are inclined to use other people for their own purposes. Likewise, they are inclined to take certain ideas from the Bible and use them to advance their own private purposes.
People, churches, groups make claims. And these claims often sound good, strong, important, plausible. And yet, these claims have a way of merely being fuzzy echoes of other thinking in a culture. Let's try one of these on. Here's one that comes in pious Christian clothing:
Jesus is all. He is Lord of all. We are in danger of putting other things before Him. In particular, a church's denominational distinctives may get in the way of people following Jesus fully. Everything, then, must be set aside so that Jesus can be first. Jesus is all. Bible doctrine must be set aside if it conflicts with Jesus. Church structure must be set aside if it conflicts with Jesus. Practices, behavioral standards, must be set aside if they conflict with Jesus. Everything must be set aside if it conflicts with Jesus. Jesus is Lord of all or nothing.
Now, Jesus is all. Everything else is less than all. But if you listened closely, we never heard in any precise or defined way how Jesus is all. We know only that this big, undefined "all" trumps every other thing, but we still don't know how Jesus is all.
It is true that we are always in danger of placing other things higher in priority than Jesus. But there could be some problems here. Imagine the scenario another way. John the Baptist is out on the Jordan, calling the assembled crowds to repent. Up walks a very pious fellow, and addresses him. "John," he says, "why are you making such a big deal out of this baptism symbol? Don't you know that none of this really matters? The One you say is coming after you, whom you say is mightier than you, whose shoes you are not worthy to carry--He is everything. He is all. You can come up out of all that water, it doesn't really matter."
"John, we've been studying all of this out and we like the idea of repentance. That's very good. But don't you think that this practice of baptism pales in significance when it is compared to really accepting the Messiah whose arrival is imminent? John, you need to update your approach here. Messiah is all. Your approach is behind the times and a bit on the rigid side. All the young people in the church know it now. They will not be able to hear you so long as you keep on with these outdated methods."
John calls him to repent, but the cutting-edge Jesus-is-aller just shakes his head and walks away.
Friends, we have to be careful. We have quick and ready ways to reason our way out of the necessity for obedience. Whenever God calls for His followers to repent, He always gives them some concrete way to go about repenting. He gives them something specific to repent of. John the Baptist bade the pharisees who came to him to repent of hypocrisy. Jesus told the rich young ruler to go and sell all that he had, give the proceeds to the poor, and then return and follow Him. Peter He called to correct his rashness and instructed to go, fish, and take the first fish, in whose mouth he would find a gold coin. And so on. There was always something specific to do. We need to beware, stop and pinch ourselves whenever we find a way to obey God that does not cost us anything. Or, when very convenient explanations arise of how not to obey, then we need to pause.
In this place and at this time, in this age, we are at little risk of overemphasizing doctrine. But we are at grave risk of so deemphasizing it, so deemphasizing structure, so pushing against even the bare idea of propositional truth, that rather than His being Lord of all, we make Jesus Lord of nothing. Devotion to Jesus can be hollowed-out through clever ideas. There is developing, even among Christians, an attitude which doubts we can know anything with sufficient certainty to justify its dividing people.
One idea is that we can know nothing with certainty. The other, the seemingly beautiful picture of all-inclusiveness. We want to embrace everyone and everything. There are no boundaries, there are no immoralities, that there really is nothing we can truly and meaningfully call sin. We combine these ideas and here is where we land: we have developed our own quite superior "faith." We are including everyone, and claiming very little for what we know. And this is all so much more Jesus-centered than we ever used to be!
Here is how it goes. We have been wrong to think that the Bible is full of the certainties we have claimed for it. We have been guilty of overstating the case for the Bible's one-voiceness, it's internal harmony, its self-consistency; the Bible actually speaks with many varying voices, saying many different, even contradictory things.
And, these many actually contradictory things we have often misinterpreted. We have overstated the doctrinal unity of Scripture. We have been guilty of smoothing-out what the Bible actually says. So we have been proclaiming teachings which in all likelihood are quite wrong. We have been insisting that people affirm commitment to these truths. We, as a church, have enforced practices, again, where we have probably been all wrong, and in doing so we have violated the higher value of all-inclusiveness. We have erected barriers and walls, and we have been guilty of keeping people from the very God we claim to serve. We have not made Jesus all. We have made human constructs all, and we have left Jesus standing alone in an empty room, for we have kept out of His church the downtrodden and the oppressed. We, the church of Jesus, are actually villains, oppressors, those who hold the key of life but who have kept others from entering in.
Here is the great danger in this, however. By saying Jesus is Lord of all, and by setting aside the claims Christians make about Him and the requirements of church membership, He is actually made Lord of nothing.
There is an attitude permeating the world around us. It says that we are too small, too limited, and that we really cannot know anything definitely. We are limited by our perspective. We are limited by our finitude. We are limited by our intelligence. We cannot know anything for sure. We are trapped as interpreters of what little we see, locked in a very small room, with walls that we cannot see through.
It is a shift from one age to another. Many of us grew up at the tail end of the age where bullet-proof truth was findable. You want to send a man to the moon? Fine. Throw enough money at the project and we'll do it. The thinking now is much different. There is so much knowledge and it has become very clear that we can know but the smallest fragment of it.
If our knowledge is so limited, if our study of the Bible is so limited by all of the factors that we cannot be very sure of our understanding of the Bible, then why put so much energy on trying to help others understand it? What makes person A's view of a teaching more correct than person B's view? We're all still growing, still learning, all so very limited. So let's focus on being friendly. Let's agree to disagree. Let's not make a big noise now, or have an argument. We're all completely confused and sailing around in circles in our private boats anyway.
But we have to disagree with this. We can know truth. All over the place. Let's take a few samples:
- 2 Samuel 7:28
- Psalms 119:160
- Daniel 8:26
- John 4:37
- John 8:40
- Acts 26:25
- Romans 9:1
- Galatians 4:16
To be able to know the truth is simply a part of how God made us. Although fallen, we are still at least moderately rational beings. Of course our knowledge of this truth is formed within the limitations of a particular culture. Can you think of anyone who does not think from within a particular cultural mindset? I didn’t think so. We are, every one of us, modified by, impacted by, in certain respects determined by the culture we are in. But so what? We are not God. We are not expected to be able to know everything that there is to know and to know it perfectly. But this is still true: that in the moral realm, it is possible to know some things truly, even if not omnisciently. We can know some things are true even if we do not and cannot know everything about them are know every detail.
There is truth that we can know.
And if God were to call any of us today to be a Bible writer, He could guide our thoughts sufficiently so that the finished product, the insired words He gave us, would be absolutely factually correct and true.
And what about all-inclusiveness? How did all-inclusiveness become one of the leading values of this age? Surely it begins with the rebel Satan. He did not have eternal life in himself. But he wanted to live without ending. What's more, he wanted to do that his way. He wanted to be able to create his own vision of right and wrong, jettison the actual Creator's vision of right and wrong, and carry on uninhibited. He wanted to transgress the boundaries of others, to compel them to worship him. In short, he wanted to be God. He had no problem with monotheism--as long as he could be the Deity.
That means that Satan is not really all-inclusive, because he would prefer a universe in which he is God and where the God who is God is not God. There is no space for God in Satan's universe. If he could he would destroy God. Look what he did when he was permitted at Calvary.
We must conclude that this vision of all-inclusiveness is not Satan's sincere desire. What then about God? Maybe God then is all-inclusive?
But again, no. God loves every being made in His image, and doubtless even those that are not. Jesus became human in order to die on the cross, so that any and all human beings who would choose to accept Him and His kingdom would live an endless life. But notice, eternal life is what we get from Jesus, from believing in Him. It is a gift, it is external to us, and we must choose to accept the gift, or, we choose to reject it. In other words, God's kingdom is not unconditionally all-inclusive. Rather, it is very open, it includes opportunity for all, so that every human being who has ever lived is granted opportunity to embrace the kind of life that God proposes. It is not unconditional. There is a three letter word here. The "S" word. Sin, choosing self before others, choosing active rebellion against God, is a personal choice to exclude oneself. God would save everyone who was willing to live by loving, but those, as Satan, that choose to live at the expense of the humanity of others, choose not to include themselves. And God will not force you to be included.
So then where do we get the all-inclusive plan today? It is neither part of God's nor of Satan's plan. Then it is but a chimera, a ruse. It is bait, unintended, utopian, fake and false. The nails that held Jesus to the cross in His execution were the result of rebellion--of Satan rejecting the boundaries God set up. The nails driven into Jesus' flesh show Satan to be a murderer. Satan never intended to include Jesus in his world.
We can say we are making Jesus all. But if there are no beliefs from God's Word that we are willing to be definite about, what then is Jesus Lord of? If the community of faith does not insist that there is such a things as truth, that God does call us to live out His revealed truth, then we can say Jesus is Lord of all as much as we want, but the fact will be that we are making Jesus Lord of nothing.
God wants us to learn from Israel. He has included in His Word help for us by recording the mistakes and slippery attitudes manifest by His people in past ages. He calls for our whole-hearted commitment, but we are quick to engineer for ourselves ways that we can appear to obey but actually slither out of faithfulness to Jesus. If we make Jesus Lord of all, we surrender all. What Christianity costs us directly is nothing compared to the price our heavenly Father and His Son paid for us at the cross.
Bonners Ferry? ID SDA 2013-03-09