A Certain Foundation for an Uncertain World
Reforming the World -- Sermon #4
by Pastor Bob Burridge ©2000
History is filled with revolutionaries and philosophers who wanted to change everything. Some have caused wars. Some have confused our young scholars with empty theories. Everyone readily admits that there are things that aren't right in our world. And there has been no shortage of ideas about how to make it better. Some of those ideas have made it worse.
Its no wonder that many people get confused, frustrated and cynical when they hear promises from yet one more theorist about what will make the world a better place.
On the whole, the record of past attempts hasn't been encouraging. The glories of ancient kingdoms are memorialized in our museums. From their remains we learn that generally glory only belonged to a few who misused the rest. Corruption enabled them to shine for a short time, and brought about their final collapse.
But there has been one line of hope that extends back in time, before the great flood, all the way to the gates of the garden of Eden. It passed on through generations from Noah, to Abraham, to Moses, to David, to Isaiah, to Micah, to James, to Paul, and to Timothy. It persisted through the ages and was still alive in the hearts of some a full millennium and a half after the birth of our Savior.
This movement is different than all others. It has even resisted its own internal corruption again and again. The church was powerful then, in 1517. But she had left her firm foundation. Abuses oppressed the common people and made her leaders rich, powerful and ruthless. But that persistent flame was not to be extinguished! 483 years ago, on October 31st, 1517, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther posted 95 statements for scholarly debate on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg.
It was a busy time in the city. People from all over Europe were preparing for All Saints Day on November 1. They were coming to the university town of Wittenberg to attend its reputable church. They believed they would receive special blessings by looking on the relics, attending Mass, and by doing various kinds of penance. Superstition had come to dominate the church and enslave the people with false hopes.
But Luther wanted to know the biblical foundation for their accepted beliefs and practices. He had no interest in becoming one of history's most influential people. But what he did on that seemingly average October morning has shaped the whole course of Western civilization.
Today, 483 years later, the flame of truth and certain hope continues to burn. But it still burns in a very dark place. We live in a world that isn't sure of what's right and true. Its a world still filled with competing theories and beliefs. Just as it has been from the beginning.
We are all aware of the confusion and discouragement around us. In this season of politics, we have become very skeptical. After each of the presidential debates the news media parades the reports of its truth police. They tell us what we should or should not believe about we heard and saw. They spin each claim and promise so that it looks good or bad depending on the particular answer the reporters and their editors or producers favor, or depending upon what will most likely improve their income from advertising dollars.
Modern advertising itself has made us resistant to promises and claims. How many really believe it when a person on the phone begins, "I'm not going to sell you anything" or "this is just a survey" or "you have won a free vacation." How convinced are we when announcers tell us that their car will improve your social life, that their cologne will make it hard for beautiful people to resist you, or that one sip of their blend of coffee will melt all your cares away. And how about that new TV or video game that will make your kids love you?
Reality itself has met fiction at a fuzzy border. Computer simulations and movies have made it hard to draw the line between real and unreal. Science fiction has always challenged us to question the basic way things are or seem. Stories and films like the classic Time Machine, or the more modern Total Recall or Matrix encourage us to think of what we know as pliable and unreal, that we can make it what we want it to be.
Modern education promotes doubt and rebellion as freedom of thought, but its no more free than a train that tries to run faster by getting off its tracks.
False hope wears different costumes: Nihilism, Existentialism, New Age, high religion ... And its not just high minded thought limited to scholars and philosophers. It knocks on our doors to give away its propaganda on Saturday mornings. It comes on our televisions and DVDs. It pretends to be objective news and analysis through the powerful voice of the media.
Its no wonder that many people today are cynical, uncertain and insecure. Is anything sure and real? absolute and final? certain and reliable? There can be only one absolute. When that one thing is discounted, it seems there is no answer.
We do have something sound and sure. God has given us his word. Psalm 19:7-11
- The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
- The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
- The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.
- They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
- Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward.
In this Psalm, David tells us that its the LORD who gives us a standard for truth. There word translated LORD is the Hebrew word Jehovah, probably pronounced YaHVeH. Its the name God uses of himself when he speaks of his special covenant love toward his people.
And God has not kept silent about himself or his promises. He made all of nature to display his divine power and glory. This same Psalm begins with these word ...
- The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
- Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge.
God's secret plan unfolds in the moments of history. Even our own conscience testifies that there are things right and true.
But of course there is a problem. Not with what God says, but with us. In man's fallen condition, the message gets turned around and confused. When Adam our representative disobeyed, his corruption infected the whole human race.
Left to ourselves we refuse to see God's glory in nature, in events and in our conscience. So people get busy creating brilliant, but wholly unwarranted alternatives. The glory of nature is explained as the intricacy of evolving forms ruled by chance. History is seen as having no purpose, no justice, no governing authority, no value. Conscience is made out to be the enemy of a soul wanting to live free. Its effect is blamed on parents, church and traditions.
So to clear up the confusion, God caused his word to be written down in a book for us to study. There we find the test that sifts out the sand to leave the gems of reality for us to treasure. When someone makes a promise to you, a contract or agreement, we commonly say, put it in writing. God has!
Notice the different words in these verses that describe God's word of truth: law, testimony, precepts, commandment, judgments. And what amazing qualities this word of God possesses: its perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, enduring, true, righteous, desirable, and sweet. And God's standard brings wonderful benefits to God's people: it restores the soul, makes the simple wise, rejoices the heart, warns, and rewards.
Understanding how these words, qualities and benefits fit together is important as we live and try to encourage others in this world of confusion.
7a The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; ...
Law is the word Torah. Literally it means something that is pointed out to us, a teaching, a lesson we learn. Its the word commonly used of the writings of Moses, the first 5 books of the Bible. But its also used of the other parts of God's word to us.
We hear many different ideas about what is true or what is right and acceptable. Obviously they can't all be true and right, since they contradict one another. So there is a need for a standard that isn't made up by men or churches.
This is why God has given us his word, his instruction. What God has revealed in the Bible becomes what guides us and informs us. Since we are bound by duty to live by the word of God we call it his law.
This law of God is perfect, its flawless. The word is tamim. Its not like the imperfect conjectures of man which may lead us into more trouble. Wrong beliefs lead to wrong attitudes and lead us to do wrong things. Those kinds of things hurt people and do great harm.
When we live by God's perfect teachings, our soul is restored. Its turned around to go in the right direction.
Though we may be lost in sin and confused by made up alternatives to explain away the truth, the written truth of God confronts us with a dose of reality. It tells us what's wrong. And explains the gospel that repairs the problem in our hearts.
7b ... The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
God's testimonies are his promises that assure us they are true because God said so.
The simple are those who are easily led astray. All of us are easily confused or misled about divine and moral matters if we don't have a firm foundation on which to base our beliefs and decisions. If we base our beliefs and practices on what the Lord testifies to, then even us simple, pliable humans, can rest with assurance and be wise. Even when we don't fully understand an issue.
In 2 Timothy 3:15 Paul wrote to Timothy that the Scriptures are able to make us wise. His testimonies are his promises that assure us by his authority.
8a The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; ...
Included in God's word are his declarations, his precepts (piqurim). The word means something straight and upright that acts as a standard to measure what we do. God's written precepts take us by the hand and guide us in the right and safe path. And when we are led in the right way, they produce great inward joy, regardless of our outward circumstances. They tell us our obligations so we can please God and live in harmony with the real world as he made it.
8b ... The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
His commandment is pure, or clear like a light that brightens up a dark path. The word is mitzvah. When obstacles get in the way and cast shadows hiding the path, we can't always decide where to put our feet. But God's commandments are the light we need to direct our paths.
Proverbs 6:23 For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light; And reproofs for discipline are the way of life,
Psalm 119:105 Thy word is a lamp to my feet, And a light to my path.
When unsure, stay safely within the light. Don't get too close to the dim edge. An elderly teacher we knew in college always said, "When in doubt don't." A simple but wise caution to stay in the light.
Are you confused by those who say the Sabbath commandment was removed from the other 9? Yet the verses they use to justify that seem vague and appear to be speaking of the added Levitical sabbaths, not the weekly creation sabbath? Then obey God's law and be safe. Keep his day holy. Stay within the light!
The same can be said for other questions where men would claim to know better than the Bible. Stay with what is clear and avoid the dim shadowy edge.
9a The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; ...
The fear of the Lord is not our being afraid of him as a harsh judge. This common Hebrew word yara' has many uses in that language.
If we see God as demanding that we earn his blessing, we are afraid of him. But the fear the Bible mentions is really an awesome reverence for him. It comes because we have learned about his great holiness, power and mercies. When we understand his great provision in Christ to remove our sin and guilt, it brings us before him in thankful worship and stirs us to want to gratefully obey him.
One of the great cries of the reformation was, "the just shall live by faith" from Habakkuk 2:4. Faith in God's work alone is our hope and foundation. It fills us with a thankful confidence that what we couldn't possibly earn has been provided for us by grace alone!
This pure, unpolluted understanding and awe isn't just a temporary emotion. Its not like those stirred at wild religious meetings, frenzied group encounters, or by thundering rhetoric, and tearful walks down an aisle. Its not a fleeting idea or theory like those which men live by today and question tomorrow. It is an enduring submission to God which is explained in his word and implanted by his grace. His law teaches us the most awesome things, things that humble us, assure us, and make us grateful.
9b ... The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.
God's judgments are his mishpatim. They are his righteous and true determinations. His judicial declarations.
Our personal judgments or even those of our courts may be mistaken. We never have all the facts and sometimes accept errors as evidence. We can't infallibly know when someone is telling the truth or lying. We can't possibly know the perfect interpretation of even the facts we know.
But God knows all things perfectly. He is the very standard for justice. God's word is that of the judge himself, who tells us what is good, true and right.
And there is no need for a fancy lawyer to find ways to make the court acquit a guilty defendant. We can humbly plead guilty. And know that justice is met for us by a Savior, Jesus Christ. He paid the debt in full before the bench of God's justice for all who trust in him.
In God's law we have an unchangeable and sure foundation.
10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
Gold, purely refined to be the most valuable, becomes a god to some people. They lie, cheat, and take chances just to get more. They even abandon their families for it. But God's word satisfies us more than the things men normally value the most.
Gold can only get us outward things. All the things money can buy will not satisfy the human heart. Many honestly believe that it will. But it will not.
When one understands the value of knowing God's word in his law, he realizes it satisfies inwardly as no earthly bank account can.
The best honey, pure from they honeycomb, represents what pleases our senses. All the things men crave: good food, drink, relaxation, entertainment, sex and music; cannot really satisfy unless they are received within the bounds of God's law.
In fact when our lust for these things tempt us step outside the law of God, they will only make us crave more with less and less satisfaction, they will add to our guilt, depression and emptiness.
11 Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward.
No one who has heard these words can plead ignorance. No one who has beheld God's testimony in nature, history and conscience can pretend innocence. We are all condemned if we think we can stand on our own.
But when we keep his word, we also admit our inability and the full provision of the gospel. The reward is greater than what any human, any saint or scholar, can ever earn. Its the reward of dwelling in the presence of the Lord, in his house, forever!
God has provided this means for knowing what he has said, what is right and true. Have you ever scrambled through drawers looking for manuals when your answering machine or VCR resets from power failure? You want to know what the manufacturer says to do. That's what this book is for us. God's word tells us how to live as he designed us to live.
What's more, God enables his people to put his word into practice. Only by his power can we understand God's truth for what it is. By grace, the Holy Spirit applies the work of the Savior to our dead, unworthy and uncaring souls making us alive by infusing spiritual life.
When that mercy works on our hearts, we know that God has spoken to us in his word. We cannot rest unless we are striving to make the whole of our lives pleasing to him, that every deed, word and inner thought would be holy and true, that every error and sin would be humbly admitted and our love for it dissolved away. We each need to be reforming all through our lives.
And we need to do our part to reform the world of which we're a part. The Bible is that standard, the mold, that reveals what pleases God. We need to take the misshapen form of our lives and world, melt it down, pour it back into the mold to re-cast it, re-form it, into that shape that honors the God who made all things.
Reformation is a continuing challenge. The principles taught in Scripture are always the guide for making the changes needed. We need to be learning those guidelines and commandments as thoroughly as we can. We need to be sure we haven't mixed in false guidelines that turn us in the wrong direction. We need to help our children, spouses, colleagues and friends to know and conform to God's truth. We need to influence our society to love and obey what is right and good.
Tuesday, November 7th, we vote for new leaders at various levels of government. The Bible must be part of our process. Its our voter's guide. We are to compare policies and promises with God's ways.
Good leadership in itself isn't enough. An effective leader who leads his people astray, is a dangerous man to entrust with power. We must do our part to give that job to those following God's path most faithfully.
But our first duty is to be sure our own lives are undergoing biblical reformation. If the world is going to change, it must begin with the people who live in it. There's no better place to begin a reformation, than in your own heart!