This program aired on KIUN 1400 AM in Pecos, TX on March 24, 2017.
One of the more interesting holidays on the calendar is April 1st, “All Fools Day.” Most of us think of this date simply as “April Fools’ Day”. It is a day for pranks and practical jokes to be played on friends, or 0n any unsuspecting person we might be able to hoodwink in some way. One of the best April Fools’ Day jokes ever pulled was done by a disc jockey at an oldies station in Portland, OR. About midway through his morning show, and without any warning, he announced that the station was changing its format from oldies to all heavy-metal, all the time. At that point he began playing the loudest, most obnoxious heavy-metal song in the station’s library.
The effect was immediate. As the heavy-metal tune droned on, the station’s phone lines lit up like a Christmas tree. Anguished listeners called in to complain, and to beg the station to return to its oldies format. After some minutes had passed the DJ came back on the air with the word, “April Fools!” He could hardly contain his laughter at having pranked the entire city of Portland, OR.
In cases such as this, where innocent fun is the sole objective, most of us are willing to be “fools”. This is because there are no serious consequences to having been made a fool in such an instance. On the other hand, though, there are occasions when being a “fool” is not funny. King David of Israel spoke of one of these occasions in Psa. 14:1. He said, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.” There is no way to mistake David’s point. Knowing God as he did, David knew that to deny God’s existence was the height of folly. Only a fool would take such a position.
Paul echoed this perspective in Rom. 1:18-20, where he said, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, HIs eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”
In other words, God left His unmistakable fingerprints all over creation so everyone on earth would know that He exists. This evidence is so complete and clear that the inspired apostle said those who refuse to believe it are without excuse. He went on in v. 22 to say of such people, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” These are the ones whose abominable deeds are described in the ensuing verses of this chapter, and for whom the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against them (Rom. 1:18).
Another instance in which one may become a fool is to reject the counsel of God’s word. In Prov. 1:7 Solomon said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” This is a powerful condemnation, especially considering the fact that Jesus said that God’s word is truth (Jn. 17:17), and that His word will judge us at the last day (Jn. 12:48). In Mt. 7:21 the Lord made His strongest statement in this regard. He said that only those who do the Father’s will are going to enter heaven. Knowing these truths, then, it is absolute folly to ignore God’s commands. Those who do so are fools in the most complete sense of this word.
Therefore, we must pay heed to the words of Paul, who said, “So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17). Whatever month or day it may be, do not be a fool. Believe in God and obey His word so you will be wise. Those who do so will have a home in heaven at the end of time.
In Matt. 13:3-9 the Lord told a parable that we call the Parable of the Sower. It is one of the most familiar and oft-quoted of the Lord’s parables. The Lord drew on the manner in which seed was sown in His time to teach a lesson on how we should receive the word of God. In that time fields were cleared of rocks and weeds to receive the seed. These fields were generally bordered by hard paths from which farm workers could access any area of the field. Near these paths were strips where the rocks that were removed from the field would be left. This is where weeds tended to grow, just as in our gardens today.
In that time period seed was cast by hand across the field. In order to adequately cover the cleared portion of the field the seed was cast so that some of it landed in the rocky and weedy borders as well as on the paths that separated one field from another. The Lord used this well-known fact of life to illustrate how different people respond to the gospel.
As He explained this parable to His disciples, the Lord said that only the good soil was productive. The hard pathway did not allow the seed to penetrate the surface so it could germinate. The rocky and weedy soils both allowed the seed to sprout, but it was not productive because it could not compete with the rocks and weeds. These three soils represent the majority of people who hear the gospel. Some will not allow it into their hearts and reject it outright. Others gladly receive the word, but other issues in their lives choke it out and thus, in time, they fall away.
Only one soil in the parable was productive. That was the good soil. The reason why the good soil was good is that it had nothing else in it to compete with the seed. This soil was broken up so the seed could penetrate it and germinate. It was also free of rocks and weeds so there was nothing to keep it from reaching its full potential, and producing, as the Lord said, “some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty” (v. 8).
The point of this parable is to exhort us to have the right kind of heart as we hear God’s word. We must break down the hard shell of pride and selfishness in order to let God’s word into our hearts. We must dig out all the rocks and weeds of worldly interests and pursuits so there is nothing to compete with it in our lives. This means that we must be willing, not only to receive God’s word, but also to learn it and to meditate upon it so that it may have its fullest effect on our lives. Only when we do this will we truly be good soil and productive in the Lord’s kingdom.
We often speak of this parable in an evangelistic context. That is, we use it to encourage the lost to believe in the Lord and to obey His will. Certainly it is appropriate for this use. However, we need to remind ourselves that we must continue to be good soil even after obeying the gospel. In 1 Pet. 2:1-3 Peter exhorts Christians to put aside all malice and desire the pure milk of the word so we may grow in respect to salvation. In 2 Pet. 1:5-8 he further exhorts us to grow by adding what we call the Christian virtues to our faith. V. 8 in this passage is particularly important because it tells us why we must do so. Peter says, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Therefore, as long as we live we must continue to dig out the rocks and weeds that may crop up in our hearts. If we do this we will always be good soil, and we will always be productive in the Lord’s kingdom.
When the patriarch Jacob came before Pharaoh, the Egyptian ruler asked how long he had lived. Jacob’s reply revealed his perspective on life in very clear terms. He said, “The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life, nor have they attained the years that my fathers lived during the days of their sojourning” (Gen. 47:9). In this statement Jacob expressed his dissatisfaction with the length of his life because it did not compare to the number of years his ancestors had lived. Such an attitude from a man who had lived one hundred thirty years seems incredible in our time, since most of us will never see ninety years, much less one hundred thirty years. We’re also taken aback by Jacob’s characterization of his days as “few and unpleasant”, since he was a very wealthy man who had been abundantly blessed by God.
About four hundred years after Jacob and his family entered Egypt, Moses was ordained by God to bring Israel out of bondage and to lead them to the Promised Land. Moses was eighty years old at that time, and was one hundred twenty years old when he died. Sometime before his passing Moses wrote a psalm that offers his perspective on the length of our lives. In Psa. 90:10 Moses said, “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away.”
The decrease in lifespan from Jacob’s time to Moses’ time is interesting. Even though Moses lived much longer than the seventy or eighty years of which he wrote, it seems certain that by the time he wrote Psalm 90 the lifespan of humans had greatly diminished from ancient times. It is striking that nearly 3,500 years after Moses wrote this psalm, human life is still generally limited to seventy or eighty years. Also striking is that Moses’ observation about the quality of life still rings true today. Most of us would agree that even today life is generally marked by labor and sorrow, and then it’s over.
A third perspective on the length of life is seen in the letter written by the Lord’s half-brother James. In Jas. 4:14 he said, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” James’ point of view is disconcerting to us, and most of us are unwilling to face up to it. When we are young we live as though we are bullet-proof and will live forever. As we age, we may act more circumspectly, but we generally continue to live as though we will never die. This despite James’ warning that our lives, no matter how many years they may encompass, are just a vapor.
This imagery is powerful. A vapor is, first of all, of very short duration. Warm breath blown into cold air appears for only moments and then is gone. James is warning us that our lives are just that short in the big picture of things. Second, a vapor is extremely fragile. It has no inherent strength or structure to resist the forces that work upon it. So, also, are our lives. It only takes a moment for one’s life to end. This is a reality that should be sobering to us, especially with a view toward eternity.
The bottom line is that no matter how many years one may live, they are just a point on the timeline of life. In addition to this, we are not guaranteed even the seventy to eighty years of which Moses wrote. We are not guaranteed any time beyond the moment that we draw breath. As quickly as a vapor vanishes, one’s life can end. For this reason we must insure that we are ready to face God when our vapor vanishes away. Eternity is forever, and we must live our lives in such a way that we will be able to live with the Lord forever in heaven.
We sometimes sing a beautiful hymn that captures the essence of the struggle godly people often experience in life. The title of the hymn is Farther Along, and it asks the questions that we so often ponder when bad things happen to good people. The first two stanzas pose the question of why things seem to go well for the wicked, while godly people suffer. The second stanza is particularly poignant because it speaks of how we feel when a loved one has passed away. The third and fourth stanzas exhort us to remain faithful to the Lord in spite of these things because we believe there is a better place awaiting us in the future. In the chorus the words encourage us to persevere because we will one day understand it all. The sentiment of this song is absolutely biblical, and it declares a principle that ought to never be overlooked.
The scriptures clearly teach us that life will be characterized by ups and downs. After the sin in the Garden of Eden God cursed the ground and turned man’s work into toil. He also increased the woman’s pain in childbirth. In addition to this, sickness, disease, and physical death became inevitable for mankind. To top it all off, sin became prevalent in the world, bringing about its own temporal consequences along with the prospect of eternal punishment. These are things that affect everyone, no matter what his or her relationship to God.
When Paul wrote his second letter to the young preacher Timothy, he advised him that Christians must also expect to endure persecution because of their faith. In 2 Tim. 3:12 he said, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” This is an inescapable part of devoting oneself to the living God. However, it should not be a source of discouragement for us. The apostles rejoiced when they were persecuted because they felt it an honor to be counted worthy to suffer shame for their faith in the Lord (Acts 5:41). The reason why they could do so is that they understood what Paul would later write to the church in Rome. In Rom. 8:18 he said, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us.” The apostles knew that something better awaited them, and thus they were able to endure in the face of persecution.
The same truth applies with regard to physical death. In the second stanza of Farther Along, the words say, “When death has come and taken our loved ones, it leaves our home so lonely and drear; then do we wonder why others prosper, living so wicked year after year.” The biblical answer to this lament is found in 1 Th. 4:13-18. There Paul told the Thessalonian Christians not to grieve over the dead as do the rest who have no hope. Instead, he assured them that the dead in Christ will rise first on the last day, and then all the righteous will join the Lord in the air and forever be with Him. In v. 18 he said, “Therefore, comfort one another with these words.”
These words are comfort indeed when we have lost a loved one. For the Christian death is not the end, but simply a transition to a far better place. We don’t fully comprehend it when a loved one departs, but farther along we will understand. If we hold the faith of Christ dear in our hearts, we know that all the things we are unable to comprehend now will one day be fully known. We know that truly, “Farther along we’ll know all about it, farther along we’ll understand why. Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine. We’ll understand it all by and by.” May God help us to have the faith to patiently wait until we have gone farther along.
In 1952 an Anglican minister named J. B. Phillips published a book entitled, Your God Is Too Small. His purpose was to expose a flaw in the thinking of many professed believers with regard to God the Father. In his relatively short volume Phillips discussed a number of attitudes toward God that he had observed in his years as a minister. Each of these descriptions captured a perspective of God that in Phillips’ mind limited God and left believers with doubts about the Almighty.
One may or may not agree with Phillips’ assessment of the various attitudes about God, or with his proposed solutions to these limitations of God’s character. However, his point is well-taken. Most of us limit God in some way or another, and this limitation affects the way in which we respond to Him and to His word. Phillips’ premise was that the only way to properly understand the Almighty God is to search the scriptures in order to see how they reveal Him. This is a suggestion to which we can all agree, and from which we can all benefit.
The scriptures teach us that in ancient times God revealed Himself in bits and pieces through the prophets, but has in these last days spoken through His Son (Heb. 1:1-2). The scriptures further declare that the Son of God has perfectly revealed the Father to us. In Jn. 1:14 John said that the Word became flesh, and in Him we saw the glory of the Father. In v. 18 of that chapter John said that no one has seen God at any time, but the Word who became flesh explained Him to us. On the night of the Lord’s betrayal He told the apostles that if they had seen Him they had seen the Father (Jn. 14:8-9).
If we receive the word with eagerness, and examine the scriptures daily, as the Bereans did (Acts 17:11), we will see the fullness of God the Father’s nature. We should understand, of course, that we are limited in our ability to comprehend this, but to the degree that we are able to do so, we can understand just how big our God truly is. Our problem, simply stated, is that we generally fail to take His complete nature into account, even as we seek Him, worship Him, or approach Him in prayer. As J. B. Phillips suggested, we try to pigeon-hole God into compartments of our own devising, and then we are disappointed when He fails to live up to our expectations.
Instead of struggling with a God who does not meet our expectations, we must allow Him to be who He is, and adjust our expectations to agree with His unchangeable character. Part of that adjustment should come simply by reading His word and paying attention to all that He has done for His people. The God who brought Egypt to its knees is big enough to handle our daily problems. The God who spared Jerusalem from the Assyrians during the reign of Hezekiah is big enough to rescue us from our troubles. Most importantly of all, however, the God who forever defeated Satan by sending His only Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins, is big enough to see us through to eternal life.
If we are struggling in our walk as Christians, it just may be because we have made our God too small to take care of our needs. Whatever our reasons for doing so may be, we must repent of limiting God by our own attitudes and expectations. We must let Him be who he is, and mold ourselves to His eternal and unchangeable character. Then we will discover that He is indeed big enough to meet all our spiritual needs.