A Little Knowledge – Sermon for May 31/June 1

A Little Knowledge
John 3:1-17; Romans 11:33-36
Trinity Sunday
May 31st / June 1st, 2015
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

             A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Whether you’re rushing to judgment or taking every precaution possible, the truth remains that making a decision without all the facts can lead to behavior that is sometimes comical, sometimes tragic. How many movies have you seen where someone gets himself or herself into an uncomfortable situation by making a decision without all the facts, like loading your entire family into a brand new station wagon for a cross country vacation, only to find that Wally World is Logo-Option-2closed when you get there.  Or if you prefer a more serious example, consider Romeo and Juliet. Like many tragedies, the plot turns when the messenger cannot deliver his message in time. If the messenger had been able to inform Romeo of the plan hatched by Juliet and the Friar, their relationship might have ended quite differently. Alas, because Romeo didn’t know all that he might have known, he jumped to the wrong conclusion. He didn’t have all the facts. He didn’t know as much as he thought he knew, and it turns out he was wrong. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

And yet we as people idolize knowledge. We worship understanding. We are convinced as a species that there is nothing outside the grasp of human understanding. We believe that even if I don’t personally understand something, someone somewhere understands it. And even if there is no one who understands it today, we tend to be convinced on some level that there will be someone somewhere in the future who gets it. Humanity as a whole still carries with us the residue of Modernism and the Enlightenment; we tend to believe that any mystery can be solved if the right person has enough time.

O what fools we mortals be! There are many things that are beyond our understanding. Take, for example, the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity. Today is Trinity Sunday, so we once again are asked to consider the three persons with majesty coequal. How can there be three persons who are one God? Human efforts to understand the Trinity beyond what we have been given in Scripture have gotten people in trouble for centuries. Any student of the history of the early church will be confronted with these misunderstandings, and any student of the history of the rest of the church will see how they keep popping up with Shield-Trinity-Scutum-Fidei-English.svgeach new generation.  But maybe that’s not you. Maybe you don’t struggle to understand the Trinity. Maybe you are content to let its inner workings remain a mystery. That doesn’t mean you don’t still fall victim to the temptation to idolize human understanding. One of my favorite insights from Luther is the realization that while Christians may be willing to admit that God is bigger and more powerful than we are, we have a hard time admitting he is wiser. That’s why the words of the Apostle Paul are so hard to stomach: “Oh the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”[1]

Who has known the mind of God? Certainly not us, and yet we act as if we have. We are quick to question God on the basis of our own understanding, to take him to task for the way he is handling something in our lives. We are quick to accuse God of being foolish, pig-headed, or flat out wrong, assuming that we know better than he does. “Why me” is our favorite question! “Why do I have cancer?” “Why did my loved one die?” “Why did I lose my job?” “Why did I have such a hard childhood?” “Why do I battle with depression?” “Why me?”

We persistently question God about the way he is working in our lives – often accusing him of not knowing what he’s doing or of not doing what’s really best for us. But we haven’t seen the mind of God! We have not explored to depths of his wisdom and painting-jesus-god-suspending-the-world-between-his-handsknowledge! His judgments are unsearchable and his ways mysteriously beyond our comprehension. At least, that’s the way Paul puts it. When God himself speaks, he is much blunter. Take the experience of Job. Here was a man who had been a faithful man of God. He had been blessed with much earthly wealth and comfort. He had a large family and a comfortable home. Then, God sent Satan to take it all away. Job’s family died. Job’s fortune dried up. Job himself was stricken with illness. His friends tried to figure out what he had done wrong to deserve such treatment from God. His wife told him to curse God and die. When Job himself reaches the end of his patience and questions the wisdom of God, God responds like this:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

And it continues from there. God continues to put Job in his place – and by extension, us as well. Who are we to question the Almighty? Who are we to think we know better than God? That our brains understand better than the one who created them? Do we understand how he created this universe? Do we understand how it works? We may understand that it works and what it does. But that is such little knowledge compared to the omniscience of the Almighty. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.  Who are we to question the mind of God?

Rather than leaning on our own abilities to understand God, we are called to rely on the knowledge that God has revealed about himself.  Jesus made this abundantly clear in his conversation with Nicodemus. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen. No one has ascended Crucifixinto heaven to see God except for the one who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. If you rely on your own understanding, you will fail. You don’t even fully understand the things of this earth. How could you understand the things of heaven and the ways of God? No, if you want to understand the ways of God, listen to the one he sent.” If you want to know God, don’t look at the details of your life, look at Jesus.  It is Jesus who was born the sinless Son of God. It was Jesus who lived a life of perfection, fulfilling the covenant God had made with Moses. It was Jesus who kept the Law perfectly in thought, word, and deed. It was Jesus who suffered for the way that our very existence as sinful people violates the holy Law of God. It was Jesus who overcame death and the grave and opened to us the way of everlasting life.

If you want to understand God, look at the way he acts in Jesus, for that is how God loved the world. Jesus is how God acted out his love for the world. Just as Moses lifted up a snake in the wilderness so that the Israelites would be delivered from snakes, so also God lifted up a dead man on a cross so that we could be delivered from death. Look at him – for that is how God loved the world: by giving his only begotten Son over to death in order that all who look to him might not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send the Christ into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. And it is saved. And you have eternal life. As Jesus himself says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”[2] That’s you. That’s me. We have passed from death to life, all because of what God himself has done for us.

What joy we have in this. What freedom! Rather than getting lost in vain attempts to uncover the mysteries of God, we rejoice in what little knowledge we have. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but in this case, it’s dangerous for Satan.  He will stop at nothing to distract us. He will pull out every trick in his diabolical bag in an effort to drive us to despair.  And make no mistake – every attempt to understand God apart from Jesus ends in despair. For apart from Jesus all we have are the things of this world, and the things of this world always die. They always crumble. They always fail. If we rely on the things of this world and on our own understanding, we will find ourselves confronted with a false god who fails and crumbles.  But that is not the God we have. That is not the true God. The true God has revealed himself in Jesus. When we fix our eyes on him, we see life. We see him overcome this world. We see the promise of our deliverance.

Yes, we still live in this valley of tears. Yes, we are still unclean people who dwell in the midst of an unclean world.  We are people of life in a dying world. We are people of hope in a world of despair. It will only get worse before it gets better. Sin will increase.  Society will get worse.  We will continue to look to heaven and wonder why God is allowing these things to happen. Why does he sit by and watch the wickedness continue? Why does hejesus-died-for-you2 sit by while millions of babies are dismembered in abortion clinics across the world? Why doesn’t he act when he sees the greed and corruption and lust and narcissism of our world?  In our frustration we remember the words of the Apostle Paul. We have not known the mind of the Lord. We may not understand his reasons, but they are his own.  Therefore, they are justified. There’s much truth in that, but little hope.

Our hope is found in the words of Jesus. We remember the life of Jesus. We remember the death of Jesus. We remember the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is the key. Jesus is the answer. Christ crucified to set you free from this veil of tears. Christ crucified to bring you life. For that is how God loved the world. There are many questions we may want answered, but Jesus is all that matters. Don’t understand the Trinity? Don’t worry; look at Jesus. Don’t understand why God isn’t fixing the hardships in your life? Look at Jesus. Keep your eyes fixed on him, for in him we see God’s love in action.  When stacked next to the omniscience of God, it may only be a little bit of knowledge.  But when it comes to Jesus, a little knowledge is a beautiful thing.

[1] Romans 11:33-34

[2] John 5:24

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