Wisdom, Power, and Riches
The Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| June 22, 2014| Jeremiah 9:23-24
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD. Jeremiah 9:23-24
I know my faith is founded
On Jesus Christ, my God and Lord;
And this my faith confessing,
Unmoved I stand upon His Word.
Man’s reason cannot fathom
The truth of God profound;
Who trusts her subtle wisdom
Relies on shifting ground.
God’s Word is all-sufficient,
It makes divinely sure,
And trusting in its wisdom,
My faith shall rest secure.
Human wisdom, power, and riches are fleeting. To know God is to have greater wisdom, riches, and strength than the wisest, wealthiest, and most powerful people in the world.
I recently read a book by James Michener called The Eagle and the Raven. It’s the story of the lives of Santa Anna and Sam Houston. You may recall Santa Anna as the Mexican general who prevailed against the Texans at the Alamo. Not long afterward, Sam Houston led Santa Anna to the most ignominious defeat of his life at the Battle of San Jacinto. Santa Anna was the on and off dictator of Mexico during a good portion of the 19th century. More money, honors, and power passed through his hands than you can imagine. He was unbelievably rich and powerful. He lost it all. He lived to be a very old man and lived out his life exiled in obscure poverty.
Think of the great philosophers whose wisdom has been tossed out like yesterday’s newspaper. Think of all of the powerful men who have lost all their power. And money! It’s like the mist burned off by the rising sun. For every fortune made a fortune is lost. What fools we would be to put our trust in our wisdom, power, or money.
The First Commandment is: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” What does this mean? “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” The only true God – the only God who actually exists – is the Triune God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He is the God in whose name we are baptized. He claims us as his children. He joins his name to us. He is the Source of everything good, the Creator and sustainer of all that exists, the Redeemer of the world, and the Sanctifier and Comforter of our souls. In him we live, and move, and have our being. He is from everlasting to everlasting. He alone has immortality. He alone is holy. He alone is to be worshipped and feared.
To know God is eternal life. So says Jesus. In his high priestly prayer to his Father in heaven he prayed, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3) God is the Holy Trinity and the Holy Trinity is God. The Father begets the Son from eternity. The Son is eternally begotten of the Father. From eternity, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, yet there are not three gods, but one God.
But there are many idols. As I was reading some Jehovah’s Witness literature in preparation for last Sunday’s sermon on the Triune God, I noticed how they try to disprove the Trinity by pointing out that pagan religious have their own version of the Trinity. But of course! If the pure worship is Trinitarian, so will the false worship be. From the Catechism we learn of the unholy trinity of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. In our text for today we see the idolatrous trinity of wisdom, power, and riches. Let us consider each of these idols in turn.
In the Proverbs, chapter eight, Solomon refers to the eternal Son of the Father, whom St. John calls the Word, by the name wisdom. Wisdom is eternal. In time, wisdom was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man. St. Paul teaches us that Christ Jesus has become for us wisdom from God – and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption. Any so called wisdom that is separated from the knowledge of God in Christ is wisdom’s opposite. It is the deepest ignorance and folly.
Consider the amazing technological advances in our time that have made instantaneous worldwide communication the norm. Just last week I visited with two of my sons from Berlin on Skype. We can see and hear each other on a computer screen when we are thousands of miles away. We take such amazing technology for granted. It’s normal.
But as amazing advances in human knowledge have accelerated during the past generation, the knowledge of God has declined. Church attendance has declined. Churches, anxious to halt the slide, accommodate their message to market demands. The gospel is trivialized, cheapened, and modified to reflect the desires of a people who despise the wisdom of God and wish to replace it with their own.
God’s wisdom is located at the cross where the eternal God become man bore the sin of the world. Where the world turns away in offense – even disgust – is where God chose to reveal his wisdom. There is love. The Creator bears the burden of his own creation. He did no wrong. It was we who were the guilty. But his love compelled him to pay for our wrong. That’s the wisdom of the cross – that that the Creator should suffer for his creation and by his suffering to restore his creation to innocence and righteousness.
The wisdom of the world dismisses such suffering for they do not acknowledge either their sin or their need for forgiveness from God. They don’t even acknowledge God except as they can fashion him according to their own wisdom. So God is remade in the image of those who reject his commandments, ignore his creative acts, trash his holy institutions, and deny his only begotten Son. The cross appears to them to be supreme foolishness. They aren’t looking for such a love. They’d rather die in their sin than to be forgiven of it. The wisdom of the world is foolishness. To prefer godless wisdom over the lovingkindness of God is the wisdom of a fool.
Strength or power is an even more deceptive idol because he takes hold of your feelings as their very core and cons you into thinking that the present is the future when it is quickly becoming the irretrievable past. Power is the most fleeting benefit there is. A car accident, a stroke, cancer, heart attack – the list goes on – and the healthiest specimen of humanity becomes an invalid dependent upon others for the most basic bodily needs. Political power, military power, physical power, personal power – all forms of human strength are here today and gone tomorrow. There is nothing you can do to keep it. A fool trusts in his own strength.
In place of our strength, which is fleeting, is God’s judgment or justice, which is eternal. Here we need to remember that our perspective is skewed. We cannot see things as they are. People see from where they sit in this world that life is unfair. They blame God, or the system, and they put their trust in human strength to make things right. Right. Human strength cannot right all the wrongs of this life. God will. Leave it to him. He exercises judgment and justice in his own way and time. If you doubt this, look again at the cross and see that he has punished all sin and righted every wrong by becoming the sin bearer himself and thus satisfying his own justice. He can be and is just in justifying those who believe in Jesus. Don’t rely on human strength to do what only God can do. He will do justice in his own way and in his own time.
Then there is the idol of material riches. If only I can amass enough. I can buy this, pay off that, plan for the other thing, and I’ll be fine. Then I’ll be able to rest. Then I’ll be secure. They call it financial security – as if money ever made anybody secure!
Here is what Jesus has to say about trusting in your money:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
The Sunday after Trinity
Trusting in your money is like walking across the lake that is covered by an inch of ice. You may make it for a while. But there is no way you’ll make it across the lake. The ice won’t hold you. You’re too heavy. True wealth is not in the stuff that will perish with this world. It is not in your income, your bank account, or your ability to make money in the future. True treasure is not money that can be stolen, lost, or destroyed. It is the righteousness of God. Look to the cross where the obedience of the Lord Jesus confronted the sin of the whole human race. In the contest between his righteousness and the world’s sin his righteousness won. It prevailed. That righteousness is God’s gift to us in the gospel. It is the greatest wealth we could have in this life.
In what do we glory, dear Christian? Do we glory in our wisdom or in God’s lovingkindness, in our might or in God’s justice, in our wealth or in Christ’s righteousness? Thank God that we know God in Christ! This knowledge is revealed only by the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son. He shows us what true wisdom, strength, and wealth are.