Saturday, January 2, 2010

Second Sunday after Christmas (January 3, 2010)

Wordle: Untitled

“A Wise Request” (1 Kings 3:5-13)

If you found a bottle and out popped a genie offering you one wish, what would you ask for? Would you ask for health ... long life ... millions of dollars ... having your debts paid off ... a new sports car ... a new house? Or would you ask for wisdom, like Solomon did? Would you ask that God would give you a discerning heart?

That's what happened in today's text. The Lord said to Solomon, “Ask what I shall give you.”

Wow! What an opportunity! God—not a fictional genie in a bottle—offers to give you whatever you ask for! What would you do? What would you ask for? Would you make “A Wise Request” like Solomon did?

The wise request Solomon made was for an “understanding mind” … the wisdom to think clearly and to know what is the right thing to do in certain situations. Solomon needed discernment, and so do we.

King David had just died, and the kingdom of Israel was firmly established under his rule. Their enemies were defeated. Now, his son Solomon was beginning his reign as king. Solomon knew this was not going to be an easy task.

It wasn't going to be easy because of his age and inexperience. Solomon calls himself a “little child” because he was young and unseasoned. He was probably around 20 years old at the time. He probably did feel like a “little child” in comparison with the formidable task that was before him … ruling over God's chosen people.

It wasn't going to be easy because of the size of the nation. Solomon reminds God in his prayer that they are a “great people, too many to be numbered.” The promises that were given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were being fulfilled … the promise of making their descendants into a great nation and the promise that they would possess the land of Canaan.

But it wasn't going to be easy for another reason—one that Solomon doesn't mention here, but one that must have been on his mind. It wasn't going to be easy because of Israel's reputation of being a wayward people. Often in their past they had rebelled against God, in spite of His faithfulness to His covenant promises.

Thus, Solomon asked for wisdom. And it was not just wisdom for the sake of wisdom that he asked for. He asked for a wise and discerning mind, so that he might have the ability to govern God's people justly. He asked for an increase and an enrichment of the wisdom that he already had, as David his father told him just before he died, “You are a wise man.” (1 Kings 2:9)

You and I are in need of an understanding mind, too. The famed “wisdom of Solomon” would be a great asset. And no one has impressed their Sunday School teachers as much as Jesus did when as a 12-year old boy he stayed in the temple and answered the questions put to him there.

True wisdom is having faith in that same Jesus. Through faith in Christ, we have forgiveness of sins and a new life in the Spirit. We want to be led in the paths of righteousness and in the service of others. Because of your new life, God has made you kings, like Solomon. You are members of God's “royal priesthood.” You have been given the responsibility and privilege to carry out the purposes of God's kingdom through the spiritual sacrifices which you offer to Him … proclaiming Christ, praying on behalf of others and ourselves, encouraging each other, giving thanks to God for His faithfulness to you in His Son.

Sometimes, it's not easy being a royal priest, is it? Sometimes it's not easy to carry out the purposes of God's kingdom.

It's not easy because of our sinful tendencies. Like the Israelites, we are wayward people … doing our own thing without thinking about God and His will for our lives.

It's not easy because we are constantly fighting against temptation. Each of us also carry around personal burdens and guilt feelings. Perhaps some of us also are carrying around grief, hatred, or bitterness. Our lives can be full of strife at times.

And it's not easy because of the frequent confusion and frustration that the world around us brings. We live in a world full of doctrinal controversy and moral relativity.

Therefore, you and I are in need of discernment, too, to answer questions like these: Where can I find the strength to be God's royal priest when I'm weighed down with all of my problems? How can I be God's royal priest when my sinful nature keeps me from doing what I should? How do I discern right from wrong in a world that presents so many “gray areas” and where things are not always “black and white”? How can I faithfully defend the truth to those who ask me questions about my faith?

Our first step is to do what Solomon did. He asked the Lord to give him an understanding mind. And notice on what basis Solomon approached the Lord. It wasn't because Solomon thought that God was a big genie who was simply there to grant him a wish. Rather, Solomon approached the Lord on the basis of His great mercy and kindness. After God invited Him to ask, Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father.” God was gracious to David and was keeping His promises to David by placing Solomon on the throne. Thus, Solomon knew that He could count on God to be faithful because He is a gracious and loving God.

You and I can go the Lord and make the same wise request of Him. Our God graciously invites us to make requests of Him. The Lord Jesus in Matthew 7:7 gave that invitation when He said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” And we, too approach God on the basis of His great kindness and mercy which He demonstrated when He sent His Son to die on the cross for the forgiveness of all our sins.

The invitation to ask for wisdom is still there. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault.” Then, we will discern that we can't rely on our own strength when things aren't so easy for us. We will know that true wisdom is found in Christ, and in Him alone.

Much of the world's wisdom is really foolishness. It encourages us to look elsewhere to solve our problems, to look inside ourselves for our own inner strength. The world tells us that we aren't really sinful people, and that guilt is just imagined. The world would like us to believe that it's no big deal what decisions we make in the so-called “gray” areas of life ... and even in the “black and white” areas.

In a world full of so-called wisdom, knowing Jesus Christ as Savior is true wisdom, as 1 Cor. 1:21ff. tells us, “For since in the wisdom of God the world did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe … We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called … Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

The wisdom we need is not a natural resource. We don't look inside of ourselves for true wisdom. We look outside of ourselves to Christ for wisdom and strength when we are weighed down with our problems.

A young veteran of WWII had lost one of his legs. Not long after the war, he heard that there was a shrine in a village in the mountains of southern France where people came to pray for healing. As he hobbled his way along the rough, cobblestone road which led to the shrine, he heard a bystander laugh and say, “Look at that silly man! Does he think God is going to give him back his leg?” The young man overheard the remark, and turned to the bystander and said, “Of course I don't expect God to give me back my leg. I'm going to pray to God to help me live without it.”

We look to Christ and his strength to deal with our problems. We also look not to our own efforts to rid ourselves of our guilty conscience, but to the cross of Christ, where He removed our guilt forever. We hear His wisdom in His Word. We receive strength and forgiveness in His Holy Supper, and by faith we receive the benefits of Christ's work on the cross. And through ongoing study of God's Word, the Holy Spirit gives us an understanding mind. He helps us to make wise decisions and to defend our faith to those who ask what and why we believe what we do.

Our God is so gracious that He even gives us what we do not ask for. Jesus said in Matt. 6:33, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well.” The Lord granted Solomon's wise request, and then in v. 13 he said, “I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days.”

God gave Solomon things that he didn't ask for—riches and honor. He also gave peace to his kingdom during his reign. Sadly, however, Solomon did not consistently use his God-given wisdom for guidance. Later in his life he turned his heart after other gods.

Our Heavenly Father gives us what we did not ask for. When we were spiritually dead, we were unable to ask for anything. And who among us who were baptized as babies asked to be brought to the font? Yes, God gives us what we did not ask for. Just as you did not ask to be born naturally through your parents, you did not ask to be born again. God graciously gave us new life through water and the Word. He gave us a new birth and unites us with Christ in the power of His resurrection. He gives us the wisdom which trusts in the One in whom we find true wisdom, the wisdom of the Cross.

Jesus said of Himself in Matt. 12:42, one “greater than Solomon is here.” He is greater than Solomon because Jesus was the wise teacher par excellence. Even as a young boy he demonstrated that in the incident recorded in today’s Gospel lesson. But Jesus is greater than Solomon in a far more important way. Solomon the son of David reigned in peace, but after he died, the kingdom of Israel was torn in two and no longer knew lasting peace.

Jesus the Son of David reigns eternally at the right hand of the Father, and He brings lasting peace in His kingdom. Through His death and resurrection He defeated our enemies of sin, death, and the devil. And through faith in Jesus, God gives us the peace that passes all understanding.

What would you ask for? If God had come to you as He did to Solomon, would you have made a wise request? We can make that request today on the basis of His grace and mercy in Christ. Our prayer for a wise and discerning mind flows out of faith that trusts repentantly in Him who is greater than Solomon, and a faith which seeks to be guided by Him in all that we say and do.


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