Instead Of – August 9, 2015

“Instead Of”

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 John 6:35, 41-51

I’m sure we have all played the “instead of” game. “Instead of” just getting by on my social security income and meager pension life would be so much grander if I won the lottery. “Instead of” the work by which I earn my income I’d like to be a famous author, writing three months out of the year and traveling the rest of the time. “Instead of” a body that has matured and moves a bit slower with a bit more pain I’d like the body of a twenty year old. We’ve all played that “instead of” game in some way…at some time…may even be playing it today. Some of that “instead of” is virtually harmless…like my “instead of” the work I do now I’d rather be a Formula One race car driver. I know that’s not going to happen and I’m really quite content…challenged…and satisfied with my work. But…for some that “instead of” so taints their thinking…their actions…their heart…that they miss something quite wonderful…our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We heard David lament that he wished he had lost his life instead of his beloved son…Absalom. But…it was Absalom’s “instead of”…his rebellion…that cost Absalom his life. As David’s son…Absalom was the crown prince who would one day…upon David’s death or retirement…become the king…become the one anointed by God to lead. “Instead of” enjoying the life of a prince…and learning from his father…Absalom decided he wanted to be king…and be king right now. He led a rebellion that put him in a position to become king. The army that his father mustered went out to fight Absalom’s rebels in the woods. The woods won…more than 20-thousand men were killed in those woods. But…Absalom lost. As he rode through the woods he became caught in a tree…hanging by his neck…as his mule continued walking. As he hung helpless…instead of the powerful king to be that he could have been…Absalom was killed by forces loyal to the king. Absalom pursued his “instead of”…rebelled against God’s chosen king…and Absalom lost his life…his opportunity. Let us not forget…however…that David had also pursued his “instead of”…through his encounter with Bathsheba…and God said though David was forgiven…his sinful rebellion would pass on into his family. It did. We saw how it devastated David…devastated him so much that he was willing to give his life “instead of” the life of his son…the rebel…Absalom. It’s not just in the Old Testament that we find those engaged in the game of “instead of”. The Jewish leaders who responded to Jesus in Capernaum that day also played that silly game. “Instead of” accepting Jesus as truly the bread of life they rejected him. It happens today. They judged things by human values and by human standards. Their reaction when Jesus made his claim was to produce the fact that he was a carpenter’s son and that they had seen him grow up in Nazareth. They were unable to understand how someone who was a tradesman and who came from a poor home could possibly be a special messenger from God. T. E. Lawrence was a close personal friend of Thomas Hardy, the British poet. When Lawrence was serving as an aircraftman in the British Royal Air Force he would sometimes visit Hardy and his wife in his aircraftsman’s uniform. On one occasion his visit coincided with a visit of the Mayoress of Dorchester. She was quite unhappy that she had to meet a common aircraftman. In French, she said to Mrs. Hardy that never in all her born days had she had to sit down to tea with a soldier with a private’s rank. No one said anything…then Lawrence said in perfect French, “I beg your pardon, Madame, but can I be of any use as an interpreter? Mrs. Hardy knows no French.” That snobbish and discourteous woman had made a shattering mistake because she judged by the externals…what she saw on the man’s uniform. That’s what the Jewish leaders did to Jesus. We must never reject a message from God because we despise or do not care for the messenger. Would you refuse a check for a million dollars because it came in a dirty and ripped envelope? God has many messengers. One of them might be on the sidewalk…in dirt and disarray…instead of standing behind a pulpit or at a lectern in a Sunday school class. The Jewish leaders argued with each other…instead of checking with God. The leaders were anxious to let everyone know what they thought about the matter…but not at all interested in learning what God thought. Could it be that somewhere we might be…in a group of some kind…where every person wants to push their opinion down your throat…we would be better off to be quiet and ask God what God thinks…and wants us to do? What God thinks is so much more important…instead of what we think. The Jewish leaders put on a show of listening…but they did not learn. There are many different kinds of listening. There is the listening of criticism…where we look to find the point that we can argue with. There is the listening of resentment…the only word we hear is a word that makes us angry and hurt. There is the listening of indifference. We don’t really care what is being said. There is the person who listens only because he can’t get an opportunity to speak. Instead of all of those listening attitudes we should listen to God with an attitude of hearing in order to learn. That is the only way to listen to God. The Jewish leaders resisted the drawing of God. Jesus said only those who are drawn to him by God will accept him. This drawing to Jesus is what John Wesley called “prevenient grace.” The word used to describe this drawing to Jesus also indicates there is resistance. It is the word used to describe a full fishing net drawn to shore…to describe Paul and Silas as they were being dragged to the magistrates in Philippi. God can draw a person to Jesus…but that person can resist. Jesus is the bread of life…he is essential for life. To refuse the invitation and command of Jesus is to miss life and die. In the old story in the book of Numbers the people who refused to brave the dangers of the Promised Land after the report of the scouts were condemned to wander in the wilderness until they died. Instead of receiving the promise they refused because of the perceived dangers. To refuse the offer of Jesus is to miss life in this world and in the world to come…instead of finding real life in this world and glory in the world to come. The game of “instead of”…. “Instead of” accepting God’s word through Jesus’ teachings…we judge by the standards of the world. “Instead of” asking God for guidance and answers…we listen to the noise and hollow arguments of ourselves and those around us. “Instead of” learning as we listen for God’s guidance…we are critical of those who bring his word…resentful of the hurtful lessons that may be in those words…and are just plain indifferent. “Instead of” responding when we are drawn to God…we resist…find excuses…find other ways to spend our time. What if there were no Savior…instead of the gift of Jesus Christ? How would that change our lives? There are people of other faiths…and of no faith at all…who can answer that question. For you…what if there were no Savior…instead of receiving the gift of Jesus Christ? How would that change your life? Your answer to that question will tell you how important it is to remember that Jesus said he was…and truly is the bread of life…and he told us to go share that message of love and hope with others. Are we doing something “instead of?”