Saturday, December 10, 2016

Stones and Serpents

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:1-4)

What causes quarrels and fights among you?  One word: sin.  We all have it.  Even Christians.  the only difference between a Christian sinner and a non-Christian sinner is repentance.  The non-Christian doesn't believe he or she has done anything wrong.  There is no sin. It's "just life." According to the first letter of John, the sinner is aware of his sin and repents.

Why do we sin?  Because we are sinners.  Original sin has been passed down genetically to us through the ages from Adam and Eve.  What sin does is cause us to be extremely selfish.  We desire to satisfy our internal passions--our flesh.  We think only of attaining earthly pleasure.  We desire what we do not have, we covet, and we break the tenth commandment continuously.  That is why that "catch all" commandment is there.  Sometimes we act on it, and we commit murder.  Now, we may not have ever killed anyone, but Jesus said that if one is angry with one's brother or sister, one is a murderer at heart.  If you flippantly call another a fool, or think of someone as lower than yourself, you are committing murder in your heart.

Now, God does want us to ask for things, but there is a difference between earthly things that satisfy our passions and heavenly things that satisfy the soul.  Seeking heavenly things--the kingdom of God and his righteousness--leads to eternal life.  Seeking earthly--worldly, fleshly--things leads to eternal death and ruin. So, it seems clear that we must ask God for eternal things--heavenly things--spiritual things.  But James lets us know that you can ask wrongly for such things--by asking for heavenly things in order to satisfy your earthly passions.  What does this look like?  How does one spend a heavenly gift on earthly, worldly things?  Here is an example: healing.  God heals today.  He repairs people in the flesh.  However, these healings are temporary.  All still die.  The rate is still at 100%.  Healing is a gift from God, but we tend to seek only the temporal, fleshly healing in order to continue to live life in the way we wish.  The healing from above is spiritual.  It is the healing that lasts for eternity.  It is a healing of the soul and a restoration of the God/Man relationship.  Spiritual healing is eternal life.  Do you see how one can ask for the one but only care about the other?  If we focus on the worldly, we end up with neither the worldly nor the heavenly.  Look at some words from Jesus from the sermon on the mount: 

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11)

When Jesus commands us to ask, he is obviously not talking about asking for worldly things.  He has already spoken extensively in Matthew 6 about not asking for what you want--or even what you need--but seeking alone the kingdom of God and his righteousness--and God will give you what you need.  Not what you want but what you need.  Now, when we get into the next part, we believe we understand that Jesus is saying, and on a certain level, we do.  None of us would give our children bad things, if they asked for good things.  This seems clear.  But here is the issue at hand: we are all children of God, and yet we do not ask for good things.  We do not ask for bread.  We ask for the stone instead.  Why?  Because the world tells us that the stone is preferable to the bread.  Instead of a fish, we ask for a serpent.  Why?  The world has told us that serpents are cool!  No, we should ask for the bread and the fish, and God will happily give us these things, because they are good.  However, remember what James said in his letter?  We tend to ask wrongly.  We want the bread and the fish to satisfy our earthly passions.  Where have we seen this before?

In John 6, Jesus has fed the 5000 bread and fish.  They then chase him down and try to make him king!  Why?  He will be the gravy train, passing out bread and fish each day, and we can live happily ever after, pursuing our earthly pleasures.  Jesus tells them they are seeking the wrong thing.  He is the bread of life.  He is the true nourishment for our souls.  So, when we look at Matthew 7, we see that when God wants us to ask for good things, he wants us to ask for Jesus Christ himself, for he is the only truly good thing.

He has paid our debt of sin for us.  He has forgiven us our debt by spending his blood.  He has given us his righteousness, so that we may stand before the presence of God.  Without Christ's atoning sacrifice, we are still dead in our sins, destined for eternal death.  Thanks be to God for the grace which can only be found in Christ!  Repent of the world and embrace the son!