Sermon / January 4th, 2015 / Pastor Terry Defoe / A Discerning Heart / 1 Kings 3:5,9
5At Gibeon, the Lord appeared to Solomon, during the night, in a dream. And God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
[Solomon answered,] 9. ... give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people, and to distinguish between right and wrong.(N.I.V.)
This morning, we’ve come to the Second Sunday in the season of Christmas. Today’s Gospel reading reminds us of the wisdom evident in Jesus’ life, when he was only 12 years old. And, in our Old Testament reading this morning, as you just heard, Solomon asks God for wisdom. This morning, I’m going to do something a little different. I’m going to have a look at Solomon’s life – all of it -- and compare his experiences with our own experience. This morning, I’ll consider the high points of Solomon’s life – and the low points, too. And, as I do that, my prayer is that each one of us will remember why Jesus came to this earth and took on human flesh. My prayer is that Solomon’s experience will remind why we, too, need a Savior. I pray, as I always do, that God would bless our consideration of His Holy Word this day!
The first chapter of Luke’s Gospel is one of my favorite portions of Scripture. Luke chapter 1, verses 46 and following, has Mary’s words, spoken after she heard the angel’s message about the impending birth of her son. Over the years, these words have come to be called The Magnificat. These words from Mary provide important insights into how things work in the Kingdom of God. In the next few minutes, we’ll see these principles at work in Solomon’s and we’ll be reminded that they are at work in our lives, as well. Mary said that God scatters those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He brings down rulers from their thrones and He lifts up the humble. God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich, away, empty-handed.
Solomon was an important part of God’s plan to save the world through the coming of the Messiah. Solomon is, no doubt, a member of the Biblical Hall of Fame. Solomon was, to use Bible’s own terminology, a saint, declared to be so by God, by virtue of his faith. And, as we will see, Solomon was also a sinner, burdened by his sins, in need God’s forgiveness through the coming Messiah – the One whose birth we celebrate in these days after Christmas. Solomon, like his father David, was chosen by God, along with the whole nation of Israel. David was chosen from among the sons of Jesse, to be the King. And then, by God’s sovereign election and choice, Solomon, David’s son, assumed the throne after his father. And by that same sovereign election and choice, through our baptism, God has graciously adopted us as his beloved children.
In our text this morning, we have a very interesting scene. In the presence of God, Solomon was told that he could ask for whatever he wanted. It’s as if God was saying to him,
“Solomon, you are the king of Israel. Here’s your chance. You decide what to ask for. I will grant it to you.”
As you know, Solomon asked God for a wise and discerning heart. And what he didn’t ask for is just as significant. He didn’t ask for long life or wealth. He didn’t ask for the death of his enemies. The phrase “The Wisdom of Solomon” relates to this incident. We need to remember that this was God’s command. And it’s important to remember that God had done the same kind of thing with Solomon’s father, David. At one point in David’s life, after listing all of the blessings He had bestowed upon him, God said, in 2 Samuel 12:8 -
“David, if that wasn’t enough, I would have given you even more.”
Like Solomon and David, and all God’s people before us, we, too, have the privilege of prayer. We, too, can ask God for what we need. We can thank Him for His blessings. Like all of God’s people before us, we can pray that His will would be done in our lives. As the King of Israel, Solomon asked God for discernment in administering justice. In a sense, Solomon, like the Savior who would come many years later, was saying to God, “Your will, not mine, be done.” (Luke 22:42) As Christians, we believe that wisdom is God’s gift to us. We believe that wisdom is given to us through the Holy Scriptures, by means of God’s Holy Spirit. We believe that wisdom is different from knowledge – that wisdom is the appropriate application of what we know. And we also believe that, like wisdom, leadership is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and that God gives varying amounts of this gift to different individuals.
It’s clear that God was testing Solomon through this incident. As we heard earlier in our Gospel reading for this second Sunday after Christmas, Jesus of Nazareth possessed a great deal of wisdom by the age of 12. As Christians, we know that wisdom is granted to us by the Holy Spirit. It’s source is the written word of God and the accumulated experience of God’s people. Wisdom certainly is a gift from God. It’s not a human achievement. It was if Solomon was saying to God,
“Lord, in my vocation as king, I seek your guidance. I want you to help me make responsible choices. I want you to enable me to match my priorities with yours.”
What we see here is Solomon’s honest recognition of his inadequacy. In the Magnificat, Mary speaks about the humble and about the proud and how they are treated in the Kingdom of God. The humble will be lifted up, she says. And the proud will be demoted. Our Christian faith teaches us that we are simultaneously saints and sinners – saints because God has declared us forgiven by virtue of our faith in His Son, and sinners, because we daily fall short of God’s will in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Solomon’s father, David, was a great king in Israel. But, truth be told, he was also a grievous sinner. His sin with Bathsheba and his subsequent cover up, having Bathsheba’s husband Uriah killed, were abhorrent in the eyes of God. For his actions, David was confronted by God’s prophet Nathan. David sincerely repented of his sins and he was forgiven. But the long-term repercussions of his actions haunted him, and also his family, for the rest of his days.
Solomon was graciously chosen by God to be king of Israel in the line of David, a line eventually leading to the Messiah. Solomon’s status and his vocation were undeserved gifts from God. In our text this morning, we see God’s plan of salvation in its early stages. In our text this morning, we see Solomon's humility, and we remember Mary’s words about that subject. Our Savior, Jesus was humble. He was born in humble circumstances. He exhibited humility, in submitting to his parents. Later on, he showed humility by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. He humbly endured the suffering of the cross as payment for our sins. He humbly exchanged his heavenly glory for the shame of the cross. Before Jesus was born, Mary humbly submitted to God’s will for her. And Joseph did the same.
When we consider the entirety of Solomon’s life, we see both his strengths and his weaknesses. The Holy Scriptures tell us the truth about Solomon. It does the same for us. All of us are, as I say, saints and sinners. Because we are sinners, we begin each worship service with a confession of sins and we hear God’s word of forgiveness spoken to us. Solomon was a complex character. In many ways, when you compare Solomon with David, it was “like father, like son.” But the sin we see in Solomon’s life is the reason why Jesus Christ took on flesh and came into this world. All of us, Biblical hall-of-famers or not, need to be changed; we need to be transformed by the power of God working through the Gospel. We need to have our sins forgiven. We need the promise of eternal life. None of us, Biblical hall-of-famers or anyone else, can earn salvation through our good works. We dare not give ourselves more credit than is due. As we see so often in the Scriptures, God works through people like Solomon, individuals who are flawed and imperfect. And, of course, he does the same with us.
God’s law tells us what we are to do for Him. And we realize that if we want to please God by keeping His Law, we will fail. Solomon’s father, David, failed to live up to God’s expectations. With Solomon, it was the same thing. Despite the glowing report we see in our text this morning, in the long run, Solomon wasn’t always wise in his words and in his actions. He married foreign wives who drew him away from his faith. He married Pharaoh's daughter. He spend more time and effort building his own house than he did in building God's house. In his last years of his life, his faith grew weak. The bottom line is this: God gave Solomon much wisdom, but, like the rest of us, Solomon didn't always use it properly.
Sin is an ever-present reality in the lives of God’s people. The sinful things we do done often seem to be a good idea at the time. Solomon was a king in the ancient world. He was a living example of the old saying, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s true. Solomon is a member of the Biblical hall of fame. But, like his father, he squandered his God-given potential. There’s a tiny little "if" in our text this morning. It’s found in 1 Kings, chapter 3, verse 14. God says to Solomon:
…if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.”
That little “if,” Solomon was not able to keep. As a matter of fact, that little “if” reminds us why it was that God sent his Son into this world that first Christmas. Solomon, despite all his wisdom and his high status among the people, needed a Savior. We do, too!
Unlike God’s Law, which demands perfect obedience to His will, the Gospel, tells us what God has done for us, through Jesus the Messiah. Because God is gracious, he takes the first step in granting us salvation – which is his rescue from the curse of sin. God's grace was clearly evident in his offer to Solomon. As one Christian author says, “If God can work through, if he can grant wisdom to, if he can forgive and bless, flawed individuals like David and Solomon, he can (and He will!) do the same for us in Christ. If God could work through a coward like Gideon, if he could work through a vengeful prophet like Jonah, and a fanatic like Paul, he can definitely use us in His Kingdom!
As Christians, we believe that wisdom is to found in God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures; We also believe, as the Gospel of John proclaims, that Jesus Himself is the Word, in Greek, the LOGOS of God. As we have seen in our Gospel lesson for this second Sunday after Christmas, Jesus possessed wisdom at a young age by virtue of who he was – the Son of God and the Savior of the world. Solomon possessed wisdom as an answer to a prayer. We possess it, as a gift of the Holy Spirit, the One who leads us into all truth. We’ve seen this morning that Solomon’s life was a mosaic of good and bad choices. Solomon, like each and every one of us, was a sinner saved by grace.
As we enter a new year, we, too, ask God for a listening heart. It’s interesting that in the Hebrew language, the word for “listen” is the same as the word for “obey.” This morning, we also ask God for an understanding mind. Our text this morning reminds us that our faithfulness is often shaky, but God's faithfulness is rock solid. His steadfast love in Christ is the frame on the portrait of our lives. We are servants of the ultimate servant, Jesus Christ. God now speaks to us, not in our dreams, as He did with Solomon, but in His word. Each day, we face the challenge of living out our faith in the messiness of everyday life. But we know, without a shadow of a doubt, that if we seek first God's kingdom and his righteousness, all these other things will be added to us as well. May God grant it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Let’s Pray – Lord, grant each one of us a listening heart and a discerning mind. Grant us the wisdom that your Holy Spirit imparts. Help us hear Your Word and to take it to heart. We thank you for taking the first step in our salvation by sending of your Son into this world at that first Christmas. In His most holy and precious name we pray. Amen.