Sunday, December 20, 2009

Honor Your Father and Your Mother, Like Christ

Luke 2:41-52 (NKJV)
41 His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. 43 When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; 44 but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45 So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. 46 Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. 48 So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” 49 And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” 50 But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. 51 Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

Last week we noted that one of the lessons children teach us most readily is that they are under authority, dependent on the care of others. Consequently, we spent our exhortation last week examining the responsibility of those in authority. What is our task as parents?

But children there is an important lesson for you to learn from our text today. Your parents are in authority. They are in charge. And this is no less true when they are wrong than when they are right. Just as the calling that God places on your parents is to lead the family and so bring honor to His Name, the calling that He places on you is to submit to the authorities in your life and so grow in favor with God and men.

Notice this very distinctly in our text today. Jesus is 12 years old – the actual age of some of you and the approximate age of others. He and his family are on a trip – in Jerusalem for the Passover feast. When the family leaves Jerusalem, Jesus remains behind – spending time in the temple learning and growing. Meanwhile, his parents leave town thinking him to be in company with others in the caravan. When they finally search for him, he is nowhere to be found. And now his parents are anxious. They return to Jerusalem. Three days pass before they finally find Jesus – sitting calmly in the temple, not a care in the world, listening to the instruction and asking penetrating questions.

His parents are understandably frustrated, amazed. “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” Where have you been? Jesus responds with equal surprise – didn’t you know that I’d be here going about my Father’s business? But they didn’t get it, they didn’t understand. Jesus’ words did not click.

Now let me ask you a question: who was right on this occasion? Whose analysis of the situation was correct? You see, here we have a classic time when Jesus could have said, as young men and women are wont to do, “Mom and Dad, you just don’t understand.” He could have said that and spurned their authority, doing what he perceived to be right – which on this occasion was right. But guess what young men and young women – he didn’t.

What did he do? Luke is quite explicit. “Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them… And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Though Jesus was correct, though His plan was acceptable, He subjected Himself to his parents and consequently he grew in favor with God and with men.

So, children, what does God expect of you? He expects you to imitate our Lord Jesus Christ who willingly subjected himself to the authority of his parents even though he understood the situation better than them. He honored his father and mother and so he grew in favor with God and with men. No he didn’t get to stay at the Temple; no he didn’t get to have many other stimulating conversations with the teachers; no he didn’t get to hear their kudos personally. But he got something even better – God’s favor and men’s respect.

So young men and young women – what do you want most? Do you, like Jesus, desire the favor of God more than anything else? Do you, like Jesus, desire to earn the respect of those around you? Then achieve both by imitating him and submitting yourself to your parents. Yes, Dad, Yes, Mom, I will do as you say even if I disagree.

Reminded that we have frequently been disobedient sons and daughters, scorning the authority of those over us, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord.

Friday, December 18, 2009

True Representation

Hebrews 2:10-13 (NKJV)
10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For both [Jesus] who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of [One Father], for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, 12 saying: “I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.” 13 And again: “I will put My trust in Him.” And again: “Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.”

One of the lessons we learn from children is that they are under authority, entrusted by God to the care of others. Their position in their homes is entirely a matter of God’s Providence. He put them there; He gave them their parents; He instructs them to honor and obey their parents under Him. What this means is that their health and well-being are dependent on the conduct of those placed over them. So those placed over them need to understand their task.

Fortunately, we are not left adrift with no awareness of what we are called to do. Our Lord has revealed our responsibility throughout His Word and has exhibited it for all to see in the life of Christ. What then is our task?

Our text today informs us, in short, that our responsibility is to bring our children to maturity. We do this in imitation of our Heavenly Father whose goal is to bring us to maturity, to bring us – as our text today says – to glory. So how does our Father bring us to maturity?

First, note that He appoints a representative over us, our Lord Jesus Christ. And this, parents, is our position in regard to our children. God has placed us there, in a position of authority, as His representative. What this means, is that we are there to do His work in the lives of our children not our own.

Second, note the three things that Jesus does as our representative: He identifies with us, He gives us an example to follow, and He takes responsibility for us.

So, first, He identifies with us. Jesus declares, “I will declare Your Name to My brethren.” Though infinitely superior to us in His Person, Jesus calls us His brothers, treats us as His equals. And this is an important reminder to us parents in regard to our children. Though God has placed us in a position of authority over them, at the most fundamental level our children are our brethren – fellow creatures called to worship and adore the Living God.

And this leads us to the second task of representatives – we are to set an example for those under us. Jesus declares, “’I will declare Your Name to My brethren, In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You,’ and again, “I will put My trust in Him.” Jesus sets an example for us in two ways. He leads us in the corporate worship of God and He teaches us to trust God. And here we come to our second duty as parents. Our duty is not only to identify with our children, but to demonstrate to them what it means to worship the Triune God in company with His people, and what it means to trust Him. We are called to bring them, to bring our children, to glory, to maturity – and the height of maturity and glory is to love and worship God Himself.

Finally, Jesus as our representative, takes full responsibility for us. “Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.” He is the captain of our salvation, taking our sins as his own, making our progress in grace His own business. It is He who sanctifies us. In other words, Jesus doesn’t treat us as alien from Him; doesn’t say, “Well there they are and those problems are theirs.” He brings us along with Him by taking responsibility for us. “Christian,” he says, “you are Mine; follow Me!” And so what is our calling as parents? It is, like Joshua of old, to declare, “As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.” This is who we are; God has put me in charge here; I am going to lead this family as God’s representative.

So parents how are we doing? The health of our children has been entrusted to us. Are we being faithful stewards of that trust? Are we identifying with our children, treating them fundamentally as our equals? Are we setting an example of glory before them, being passionate about corporate worship and trusting in the Living God? Are we assuming responsibility for the state of our homes, bringing our children to glory, to maturity?

Reminded that so often we fail to measure up to the example set by our Lord Jesus Christ, that we often fail to do what we are called to do as His representatives, let us kneel and ask His forgiveness.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Domineering Spirits

Matthew 11:16-19 (NKJV)
16 “But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, 17 and saying: ‘We played the flute for you, And you did not dance; We mourned to you, And you did not lament.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.”

Children love to play. This, we have seen, is good and reflects the playfulness of God Himself. God’s delight is in all His works, He rejoices at the regularity of the world and declares, “Do it again,” to the sun, the clouds, the rain, the grass, the leaves, and the caterpillar.

Playfulness is not a sin. However, because we are sinful creatures, sin often manifests itself in our play. And it is one of these types of situations that Jesus’ references in our text today. The Pharisees have been criticizing him for associating with tax collectors and sinners; yet sometime previously they had criticized John for his austerity and super holiness. Jesus compares their criticisms to the sinful play of a group of children.

We all know that when children gather and endeavor to organize a game, there are some domineering spirits who strive to make events go just the right way, inevitably with themselves in charge. "OK, we’re going to play house. You’re going to be the servant, you’re the daughter, you’re the son, and I’m going to be the master of the house. Ok, servant go collect some fire wood for the fire." To which the servant says, “But I don’t want to be the servant.” And now the real ruckus begins. You have to be the servant. No I don’t. Yes, you do. No I don’t.

The real question that the protesting servant is asking is this, “Who made you the authority? We didn’t vote. Mom and dad didn’t put you in charge. Why are you telling me what to do? I don’t have to listen to you.” And the question is a fitting question to ask. Who made you the authority? Just because you think you should be able to tell everyone else what to do doesn’t mean that you should. Your desires don’t equal actual authority. And this is what Jesus is saying to the leaders of Israel in his day. You sure do have a domineering spirit; you sure are mandating that I play according to your rules; but who put you in charge? After all, rather than enforce the commandments of God, you are simply imposing the traditions of men.

So, Jesus is asking, why should I listen to you? Is it illegitimate for me to minister to tax collectors and sinners? Does God forbid this? Does He forbid reaching out to rescue and to restore those in need of restoration? Those enslaved to their own sin?

Jesus’ observation on the sinful play of children highlights how often we judge others on the basis of our own fickle ideas rather than on the basis of God’s Word. We want people to do what we expect rather than what God expects. And because our expectations shift depending on our shifting mood, our expectations for others shift as well.

“We played the flute and you did not dance; we played mournful music and you did not lament.” Why aren’t you doing what we expect? Why aren’t you following along with our desires? Quite simply, Jesus replies, because your desires are not God’s desires.

And so we are reminded today to judge others with righteous judgment and to distinguish between our desires and God’s desires. What is it that we are demanding of others? And are we demanding these things because they reflect the eternal standards of God’s law or the fickle desires of our own heart? Beware how you judge others, Jesus commands, for with the same standard that you judge others you yourself will be judged.

Reminded of our propensity to judge others based on our own mood rather than God’s law, let us kneel and confess our sins to God.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Laughter of God

Psalm 111:7-8 (NKJV)
7 The works of His hands are verity and justice; All His precepts are sure. 8 They stand fast forever and ever, And are done in truth and uprightness.

Last week we noted that the playfulness of children is something in which our Lord delights. He promised that one day the people of Jerusalem would once again observe boys and girls playing in the streets – and that this would be a good thing. And so we as the body of Christ need to learn from these members in our midst the importance of joy, the value of play, the blessing of laughter.

As we reflect on our need to do so, we should realize that the reason the joy and fun of children brings pleasure to God is that they reveal His own laughter in all His work. God never tires of causing the earth to spin like a top; never tires of flapping the wings of a bird; never tires of causing the grass to sprout from the earth; never tires of sucking water out of the earth through the roots of a tree and turning the nutrients into apples that people can eat. All these works of the Lord reveal His untiring joy and laughter, reveal His delight in all His work, His faithfulness and uprightness.

Listen as Chesterton explains in his book Orthodoxy:

A man [typically]varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue. He gets into an omnibus because he is tired of walking; or he walks because he is tired of sitting still. But if his life and joy were so gigantic that he never tired of going to Islington, he might go to Islington as regularly as the Thames goes to Sheerness. The very speed and ecstacy of his life would have the stillness of death. The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. it may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
And so reminded that we have sinned and grown old, that we have become bored and complacent with monotony, that we have complained rather than overflowed with thanksgiving, let us kneel and confess our sin.

Playing in the Streets

Zechariah 8:3-5 (NKJV)
3 “Thus says the Lord: ‘I will return to Zion, And dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth, The Mountain of the Lord of hosts, The Holy Mountain.’ 4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Old men and old women shall again sit In the streets of Jerusalem, Each one with his staff in his hand Because of great age. 5 The streets of the city Shall be full of boys and girls Playing in its streets.’

Two weeks ago we remarked that one of the lessons taught by toddlers is the universality of sin and foolishness. Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child. Consequently, as parents we need to be diligent to train our children so that the foolishness is driven out and wisdom is put in its place. Permissive parenting, we saw, is no biblical virtue.

Our text today reminds us that foolishness is not the same as childish joy and fun. Driving foolishness from the hearts of our children does not mean that we need to make them into dour, sour, grumpy kill-joys. Zechariah was prophesying at a time when Jerusalem was in ruins, at the beginning stages of being rebuilt. There was much pain and sorrow, much labor and toil. So Zechariah comforts the people and provides for them hope for the future. What will Jerusalem be like in days to come? In what way will God bless the city? One of the things that Zechariah promises is that once again there will be boys and girls playing in the streets – and that this will be something pleasing to God.

So children, note today that God loves your play, loves your joy, loves your delight, your freedom. What doesn’t please him is when you play in such a way that you steal others’ delight, others’ joy. And notice another thing, children. Just as Zechariah promises that children will be playing in the streets, he promises that the old men and women will be sitting around enjoying the scene. So don’t grow impatient when older folks don’t run quite as much as you.

And parents, note today that God loves joy and rejoicing even while he hates foolishness. Learn, like your Heavenly Father, to distinguish the two. Do not discipline your children when they are appropriately exuberant and joyful; discipline them when they are sinful. Likewise, the members of our community who no longer have children, who like to sit around and have serious conversation – enjoy the joy of the young ones in our midst and delight that they reveal the playfulness of our God.

Reminded that our Lord loves to see children playing and promises to bestow this gift upon His people as they repent and acknowledge His authority, let us kneel and seek His forgiveness.