The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
October 18, 2015
“How God Thinks”
We had a great conference in Kalispell last week. The topic was Christian apologetics. Christian apologetics is not where you apologize for being a Christian. It is a defense of Christianity. Before people are ready to listen to what God tells us in the Bible, it is good to give a defense of such things as the existence of God, the integrity of the Holy Scriptures, the claims of Jesus, and so forth. It’s not that we’ll argue anyone into accepting Christianity. It is the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, who converts people to faith in Christ. But it’s always a good idea to clear out the brush, so to speak, by answering common objections people raise against the Christian faith.
One thing we notice about people who reject the authority of the Bible is how often they replace the Bible with nothing more than their own thoughts. And their own thoughts follow the fashion of ideas that quickly go out of style. New ideas that sound so fresh and persuasive become stale, old, and irrelevant in a short period of time. Humanity is fickle. The prophet writes:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways, says the LORD
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are my ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
When we talk about God’s thoughts, we need to distinguish between the thoughts he has revealed to us and the thoughts he has kept to himself. If God caused the prophets and the apostles to write down his thinking on the pages of the Holy Scriptures, then we know what his thoughts are, even if they are as far above us as the stars in the sky. Not being able to understand how something can be so doesn’t keep us from knowing that it is so. If God says it that settles it, whether or not we can understand how it can be.
But God has thoughts that he has chosen not to reveal to us. Here we must be careful not to try to speculate our way into God’s mind as if he is a subject for study the way you figure out an algebraic problem. What we know about God is what God tells us and what God tells us is written down in the Holy Scriptures. As Jesus said: “It is written.” Sometimes what is written appears impossible.
God tells us of food that you buy without money. It’s better than any food you’ve ever eaten. Food is like most other things we buy. You get what you pay for. The better the food the more it costs. God has a feast for you that costs you nothing. Contrary to what you would expect, this free food is far better than food that costs you much money.
Here food refers to the Word of God. Eating food refers to listening to the Word of God in faith. The prophet writes:
The Bible uses several metaphors for faith: to know, to see, to hear, to keep, to eat, to drink. Eating and drinking do not do anything to the food and drink to make it taste good or be nutritious. Eating and drinking are purely receptive. You eat. You receive it into your body. You drink. It goes down your throat into your stomach. You receive. By eating the food and drinking the drink you receive soothing relief from hunger and thirst.
Why waste your money on what cannot satisfy? Religion that begins within the human heart cannot satisfy the heart’s most basic needs. Sin lies deep within. Sin is not just the tendency to do wrong or the doing of wrong. It is folly. It is foolishness. It is a deep ignorance of what lies above us combined with a stubborn refusal to concede that it is ignorant. Who knows the mind of God, but God? Who understands the path to heaven but the one who created the heavens and the earth, who came down from heaven to earth? Those who reject God’s word presume to stand in judgment of what they don’t even understand. This is why the prophet says, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts.”
Did you catch that? Unrighteousness – that is to say, sin, wrongdoing, evil, and everything that pollutes our souls and prevents fellowship with God – is in our thoughts. The ways and thoughts belong together. We think and do as we do and think. We need to be enlightened from above. Only God can do that. How does he do it? The prophet writes:
Christians often buy into the assumptions of the culture even when they are at odds with what God’s word teaches. We are told that one’s thoughts are morally neutral, that all creeds are equally valid, that all religious opinions lie on the same plane and one ought not to be judged as superior to another. In response to this twenty-first century American religion of inclusion and tolerance, God gives us a different opinion. Far from treating all ways and thoughts as equally valid, God condemns the way sinners think. He urges them to forsake the way they think. He offers to forgive, to “abundantly pardon” their sinful ways and thoughts.
This is a hard pill for free-thinking folks to swallow. Confess that the way you think is a sin. Ask God to forgive you for it. That’s demeaning. We take great pride in what we think, how we think, and when God dismisses our thoughts as sinful, unrighteous, and wrong, we get our backs up.
But consider what you can gain by relying on your own thinking. What have the wisest philosophers throughout the history of the world discovered that compares to the wisdom of the cross? The wisdom of the wise, their ethical systems, their solutions to human pain, their political and economic plans to save humanity – they can’t even ward off aging and death. They cannot take away the guilt of a single sin. They can only stumble around in darkness, burning their fingers on matches.
True wisdom, like delicious food, and refreshing drink is where the sure mercies of David are grounded, where God’s faithfulness to his everlasting covenant is displayed. True wisdom is revealed on the cross of Jesus Christ where our God pays, by his most holy, precious, blood, the debt humanity owed him for its sin. And that includes the sin of wicked thoughts, of sinful plans of self-justification.
The sure mercies of David are not just for the nation King David governed. The people of God were never limited to the ancient nation of Israel. As Jesus’ parable about the wedding dinner of the king’s son teaches us, God’s grace is not limited. Christ’s servants are to invite to the wedding as many as they find. Just so, the prophecy will be fulfilled:
One of the topics we discussed at the conference was the challenge of Islam – not the political challenge, but the religious challenge. By midcentury there will be as many Muslims in the world as Christians. In sheer numbers, Islam is on the rise and Christianity is on the decline. A big reason is that Muslims have more babies than Christians do.
Our text for today brings into sharp focus the critical difference between Christianity and Islam, indeed between Christianity and every other religion in the world. Only the Christian faith teaches that God rescues a condemned sinner from hell, forgives him all his sins, and gives him eternal life freely, entirely by his grace alone, without the slightest contribution from the sinner who is being saved. As God says through his prophet:
Every other religion lays the burden on you. Only Christianity preaches him who bore the burden and by his obedience, suffering, and death obtained for us the food and drink of eternal life. Only the Holy Trinity binds himself to a covenant, holding himself accountable to promises he must keep. He cannot lie. He cannot break his word. He cannot reject those who come to him pleading the blood and righteousness of Jesus. The Muslim god is not God. He leaves his disciples in doubt, unable to be sure of where they are spending eternity. Allah won’t bind himself to a covenant. Our God does. We can trust in him to keep his word.
God doesn’t think like we do. He graciously uproots our vain and sinful thinking and reveals to us his ways. He quenches our thirst for the true knowledge of God. He lets us delight in a feast of the most delicious food. By pardoning all our sins for Jesus’ sake, he unclutters our minds and gives us genuine delight in the truth. You can’t buy this with money. You can’t work for it with all your labor. God gives it to you freely and without charge. God’s thoughts are high above us, but his love is right where we live.
Rolf D. Preus