Matthew 14:20a – “And they all ate and were satisfied…”
It is expected that after eating a heavy meal like lunch or dinner you feel full and won’t intake any more calories for the next few hours. But oftentimes, within an hour of having a meal, a person will find himself “snacking” on something else like chips or candies or cookies. I’m not sure why this occurs, but I guess it may be because the person wasn’t actually satisfied after eating; there must have still been room in the stomach to fit more. As much as I’d like to say that I am not guilty of this, I have found that I am doing this more and more often this New Year. One of my goals this New Year (similar to everyone else) was to lose some weight, so I had cut my portions during lunch and dinner. But because of this, I was coming out of my meals hungry. So after eating dinner, I often grab a bag of chips or popcorn and chow down. I am pretty sure that this is not helping me achieve my goal in any way.
Although I am using food as an example of not finding satisfaction, we are also unsatisfied with other things in our lives. Sometimes we are unsatisfied with our jobs, wishing that we could do something more enjoyable or purposeful with our lives. Sometimes we are unsatisfied with our salaries, hoping that our bosses would pay us more for all the work we do. Sometimes we are unsatisfied with our cars, our TVs, our homes. We are always looking for more. We never feel fulfilled. We just continue from place to place, thing to thing getting our short-term fix before moving on to the next best thing. This is what many famous stars struggle with. They look like they have the perfect lives, but many of them struggle with alcohol and drug addiction, broken marriages, and a lack of fulfilment. Why is that? I think this quote (which has been attributed to Blaise Pascal) sums it up best, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in every heart that only Jesus Christ can fill.” We will never be able to find satisfaction in this life until we turn to our Lord Jesus Christ. Without Him, we will spend our lives purposeless, seeking only to fulfill our desires with the “next best thing.”
In our passage today, we read about how Jesus multiplied five loaves and two fishes to feed 5,000 people. This was an amazing miracle, because not only did everyone eat, but every person that day came out satisfied. Although this passage is describing how they were satisfied physically, it can help us to consider how He can also satisfy us spiritually. When man fell in the Garden of Eden, our relationship with God was severed. From that point forward, we were missing the one thing we were created for – fellowship with God. When Jesus Christ came to this earth, He died for our sins so that when we choose to accept Him as our Lord and Savior, we could have that relationship restored. By relinquishing our control and self-sufficiency to Him, we fill that God-shaped vacuum with Jesus Christ. So if you are feeling unsatisfied with your life today? As if there is no purpose? No fulfillment? No joy? Then turn to Jesus Christ, for you can only find satisfaction in Him.
For those of you who have yet to place your trust in Jesus Christ, I pray that you will find your fulfillment by accepting Him into your heart today. And for those of you who have and are Christians, I pray that you stop chasing the useless things of this world and instead follow Christ, because your ultimate fulfillment is in knowing Him more and more each day. Only Christ can satisfy.
Genesis 34:12, 19 – “Ask me for as great a bride price and gift as you will, and I will give you whatever you say to me…And the young man did not delay to do the thing, because he delighted in Jacob’s daughter…”
As a child, I remember the times when my parents would tell me to do something right away. They would say something along the lines of “Go clean your room now,” or “Start working on your school project,” or “Go practice the piano.” But instead of obeying their words immediately, I would sit around and procrastinate. I would tell them that I would do it but would spend the next few hours just lounging around playing video games or reading comics or watching TV. By the end of the day, nothing was accomplished instead I would still have a messy room, an unfinished project due the next day, and an unplayed piano. It was a bad habit of mine to delay doing what I said I would do.
In our passage today, we hear about a man named Shechem. Now, this man has little for us to admire, for he was a man who saw Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, and took advantage of her. Genesis 34:2 describes it by saying, “…And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.” In terms that we can understand today, he raped her. This is nothing to commend. This is nothing to look at with praise. But afterward, he sought to correct his wrong by marrying her. So he went to Jacob and his family and asked for her hand in marriage. Now, he had already done wrong by doing this, so I don’t fault Jacob’s sons for eventually killing him for this wrongdoing, but I feel like we can learn something from this evil man nonetheless. When he came to Jacob to ask to marry Dinah, he told them that he would pay any price and do anything. Jacob’s sons then told him to circumcise himself and his community. And instead of saying he will do it and delay, Genesis 34:19 says, “And the young man did not delay to do the thing, because he delighted in Jacob’s daughter…” He knew what needed to be done and did it quickly without delay. Although we cannot admire Shechem for his inappropriate behavior, we can learn from his swiftness to do what he needed for the person he cared about.
We as Christians should not delay when Christ has asked us to do something for Him. Oftentimes, we are asked to obey God in some way or manner. Maybe to share the Gospel with an enemy. Maybe to give to the ministry. Maybe to start reading our Bible through in a year. Instead of getting right on the job, we tell God we will do it eventually and procrastinate. We should seek to obey God immediately when we are told to do something. Jesus told a parable in Matthew 21:28-32, where he described how there were two sons who were told to tend a vineyard by their father. One said he would but didn’t, while the other refused to go but eventually changed his mind and did. He did this to prompt the Pharisees to repent and turn to God, for they were saying they would obey God but didn’t while sinners at the time were turning to Him in repentance. We should take heed to these words as well. God may be calling you to do something today. Do not delay. Hurry to get the task done for the person you love. If Shechem a wicked man could do this for Dinah. Then how come we cannot do it for the God who loved us so much that He gave His life for us?
If you are a Christian, then do not delay in your work for God. If you are not a Christian, then why are you delaying coming to Him? Now is the day of salvation.
Proverbs 7:19-20 – “For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; he took a bag of money with him; at full moon he will come home.”
When visiting Tokyo, Japan, one of the key highlights is to visit a statue of a dog at Shibuya station. This memorial is to a dog named Hachi, an Akita Inu, who faithfully came to the station every day to wait for his master’s return from work. Unfortunately, this routine was disrupted when his master, Professor Ueno of Tokyo University, died of a cerebral hemorrhage during a lecture. Instead of seeing his master that day, Hachi was simply greeted with the cold expectation of nothing. Nonetheless, for the next nine years, like clockwork, Hachi would return to the station at the precise time Professor Ueno was supposed to arrive. Although at times Hachi would be harassed by the station workers, he would continue to show his loyalty till the day he died. Hachi is now celebrated for his unyielding loyalty and faithfulness to his master.1 He has even been remembered through a film starring Richard Gere called Hachi: A Dog’s Tale.
You may be wondering why I am telling this story to you and how this relates to the passage for today. So bear with me for a few moments as I set a little more context to the point I am trying to make. Like Hachi, we as Christians are awaiting our master’s (Jesus Christ) promised return. We are told to prepare and to be ready, for at any moment, He could arrive; but for almost two thousand years, He has yet to come back. Because of this “delay,” many of us have become complaisant with our Christian walks and have decided to walk in a way that is similar to the world. Churches today have lost the fire and fervor of the early Christian church, which lived in expectation of Christ’s return at any moment; instead, we have become conformed to this world, adapting many of its customs and ways. I can hardly argue when someone tells me that there is no difference between a Christian and a non-Christian, because honestly, I don’t see much difference either. Instead of living as the salt of the earth or the light of the world, we have become a dim candle that barely holds a snuff. I hate to admit it but many of us plan our lives as if Christ will never return, and I myself have come to a point where I doubt He will return in my lifetime. But is that the right attitude? Of course not!
I don’t share these words to discourage the church and my fellow Christians but to stir us up to live the way that God has called us to live – to live in a manner that expects His return, to be good and faithful servants. In Matthew 24:45-51, Jesus describes how a servant was asked to watch over his master’s household. Because the master’s return was “delayed,” the wicked servant began to abuse his power, beat his fellow servants, and act unruly. When his master returned at a time he did not expect, the servant was not ready and was punished for his wickedness. Just because Christ has not returned in the last two thousand years does not mean that He might not return today. Though the world may doubt his return, we must remember that “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9). He is coming back, and we need to be ready.
Our passage in the Proverbs today is usually used to warn against adultery. For it describes how an unfaithful wife is seeking to lead a young man astray in adultery. But while reading this passage, something that the wicked woman said impressed onto my heart, “For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; he took a bag of money with him; at full moon he will come home.” This sounds like what we as Christians say as an excuse for flirting with sin and for not living in the way and manner God has called us to. We as the church are the Bride of Christ, yet more often than not, we act like this adulteresses flirting with sin, because we do not expect His return. We like the woman say, “He is gone on a long journey; He will not return until later, so why not just indulge our lusts for the time being?”
My fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, I urge you to remember that He is coming soon. He may return this year, this month, or even today. Let us be ready as good and faithful servants like the servants described in Matthew 25. Let us flee from sin, lest we be found embarrassed when He returns. Let us share the Gospel, lest it be too late for those who do not know Him miss that opportunity. Let us be the salt and light of the earth. Our husband is coming soon, let us walk in faithfulness this new year.
1 Wikipedia contributors. “Hachikō.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 4 Jan. 2017. Web. 4 Jan. 2017.
Ezekiel 37:27 – My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Shopping for a birthday or Christmas present for someone can often be very difficult. I have always struggled with it; because more often than not, the people I am shopping for simply tell me, “You don’t have to get me anything.” This doesn’t help me in any way, because it still leaves me with no clue what to get them. I just have to guess that they may want what I am about to give them. To make my life easier, for both my parents, I have settled on making them a hand-drawn card and writing a personal note telling them how much I love and appreciate them. They get this on Father’s/Mother’s Day’s, Christmas’s, and birthdays. That is the gift I decided to get them. I still feel fairly cheap for not getting them an actual physical present, but based on their reactions, they seem to appreciate the gift. They rather have a token of love than any new gadget or expensive piece of jewelry. I think this is true for many people; they would rather have something made from the person they love than just a simple store-bought gift, because it shows that the person was willing to give their time and effort for them.
As the Lord of all Creation and the God of the universe, God could have easily just given us anything we wanted. He could throw all the blessings and gifts that we want our way and be rid of us, not being involved with any part and portion of our lives. And after the Fall of man, after we chose sin over following God, He had every right to just toss us aside and treat us like the dirt we actually are. But instead of doing any of that, He chose to be involved with our lives. He chose to send His Son Jesus Christ to the earth to die for our sins, so that we could have a renewed relationship with Him. God chose to show us His love, mercy, and grace. He chose to dwell with us. He wanted to be with us. The greatest gift that God could give us is not money or fame or health; the greatest gift He could give us is Himself. And that is exactly what He did. As Christians, we get to have God dwell with us. His Spirit lives in our hearts, guiding and directing our lives (1 Corinthians 13:6). He is in constant communication with us. He is our God, and we are His people. He is the Shepherd, and we are the sheep of His pasture. He is our Father, and we are His children. God loved us so much that He gave us Himself and continues to do so today.
So if you are already a Christian, then spend time today thanking God for His desire to build a relationship with you. If you are not a Christian yet, then what is keeping you from this great gift? Turn to Him today. You can have God dwell with you too. All you have to do is to trust Him as your Lord and Savior and ask Him into your heart today. No matter whether you are already a disciple of Christ or not yet, I wish you what Scott Wesley Brown did in his song, “I wish you Jesus, cause when I wish you Jesus, I’ve wished you ev’rything.”
James 4:6-10 – “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
Do you remember the time when you were first learning to drive? Either your driving teacher or your mom or your dad was sitting on the passenger side, while you had both hands on the wheel. They would tell you to check that your seat belt was on, put your hands on 10 and 2, and slowly pull out of the driveway. Everything seemed calm as you rolled out onto the street and were driving your first block up to the STOP sign, when suddenly you hear, a yell, “STOP!!! STOP already!! Put your foot on the brake now!!” You throw your foot on the brake and look at them as you see their hands and feet in driving position, slamming the brake on the floor, as their faces tensed up in fear as if their lives had just flashed before their eyes. They act as if they are in the driver’s seat with full control of the car. I think that is probably why driving instructors have that extra wheel in their cars. They need to have backup control of the car, in case, you make a mistake. They need control. What’s funny is that you may think that this will stop once you got a license, but it doesn’t. You think that your parents or spouse or whoever will trust you to drive the car safely and well, yet it still continues. When I drive with my parents, I still get told what to do when driving – “Stop! The light is turning red,” (The hand on the pedestrian walkway still reads 10 seconds to cross. Of course, it won’t turn red yet.), or “You’re driving too close to the right lane,” or my favorite, “Why didn’t you turn already?” The back/side seat driving never stops; the person who does it just changes. The reason for this I think is that everyone feels like they need to be in control.
It is hard for us as human beings to give up control and to put ourselves under somebody else’s provision, safe watching, and control. We feel like if we don’t have full grasp of the situation, full ability to change it when necessary, full freedom to fix it the way we want, that something will always go wrong. We often feel like we are the only ones who can do something right. I won’t pretend like I don’t have that same problem. When I used to teach undergrads how to run experiments in the lab, I was always afraid something would go wrong. Instead of, teaching them and then trusting them to know what to do, I would watch them like a hawk, making sure that everything was done the exact way I had showed them. I needed to control the situation. I think a similar thing happens when people are starting to fall in love. They start losing control of the situation, because they are now becoming dependent or vulnerable to another person. When they realize they have lost full control, then they run from it, fearing that all will go wrong, sabotaging the relationship. All because they feel like they need control.
This is why one of the hardest things to do in life is to submit. Submission is looked upon as indicative of weakness. Like if you submit to another, you are telling the world that you will be under the control of someone else, that you are a slave or someone of less value than the person you submit to. It is seen as a failure, in which, you admit that you need this other person or can no longer fight for control. That is why submission requires the breakdown of your pride, which is a big task to ask anyone to do – to give up his pride. Submission is difficult, and to unbelievers, it looks even worse when someone submits to God. To many of them, because they do not understand who God is or even believe that He exists, they treat your submission to God as foolishness. They see you as a person with no drive, no self-confidence, no direction, and no decisiveness. They see you as a person who is just trying to pass the blame to someone else. They don’t understand it, so all they see is weakness. But submitting to God is never weakness, it is actually wisdom and strength.
For the next two weeks, we (Pastor Charles Cutney and I) will talk about a passage from James 4:6-10. When James wrote this passage to his fellow Christians, he was trying to address a serious problem in the church – they were arguing and quarreling over the things that they coveted, building friendships with the world rather than God. Their covetousness and lusts brought them away from God. By studying this passage, we can learn about how to fight this problem and develop a closer relationship with God. Doing so takes two steps; first is submission to God, which is a step in the right direction, and the second is to resist the devil, which is a step away from the wrong direction. What we will focus on today is submitting to God.
What Does It Mean to Submit to God?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word submit means “to yield oneself to the authority or will of another” or “to defer to or consent to abide by the opinion or authority of another.” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/submit). The Greek word for submit is hupotasso, which means “to arrange under, to subordinate” or “to subject one’s self, obey” or “to submit to one’s control.” In Greek, it had two similar meanings based on whether you were part of the military or not. If you were in the military, it meant that you were placing yourself as a solider under the command of a specific leader. And if you weren’t in the military, it meant that you were acting with “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.” (Strong’s Enhanced Lexicon) Simply put, submission meant to give control of your life to another person. James 4:7 states, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.” So how do we even do this? What does submission to God require?
First and foremost, it requires humility. Vs. 6 tells us, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” It is impossible to submit to God without humility. The decision to put yourself under the control of another requires this type of attitude. There is no way around it. You can’t submit, if you are proud. If you think of yourself as a person who knows better than God, who thinks that you can make a better decision for your life, then you will never submit to Him. Instead, you will fight Him on every decision. You will argue with Him on every point. You will “assert your authority.” Submission requires by definition, a willingness to put yourself lower, to see yourself as someone who knows that the other one is better. It is an attitude of humility. It is a choice to put yourself under God’s control.
Second, to submit to God means that you have chosen to put yourself under His rules. You cannot submit to God, if you are going to blatantly disobey Him. That is not submission, for in that case, you have not given Him authority of your life. In vs. 8-9 of James 4, he tells the people to “cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let you laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” Was James some masochist, who was asking the people to hurt themselves? No, not at all! James was telling them that they needed to repent, that they needed to change their hearts, that if they were to submit to God, they would need to turn away from their sin and turn to God. How can you say you have submitted yourself to a king, if you will not obey the king’s orders? Of course, that is no submission. You may say that you have, but your actions speak otherwise. When you submit to God, you choose to follow His law. Submission requires obedience.
Thirdly, submitting to God means that you are drawing close to Him (vs. 8). You need to get to know the person you are submitting to. When you understand who a person is that is when you know whether he or she is a person worth submitting to, and that can only happen, when you get to know that person better. James 4:8 tells us to “Draw near to God.” We need to get closer to Him. And the way we do that is by first, getting to know His Word through reading the Bible, because that is how God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. And second, by obeying His Word.
Psalm 15 says, “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? 2 He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; 3 who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; 4 in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; 5 who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.”
Psalm 24:3-6 says, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. 5 He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.”
These two psalms share one simple idea – it is the person who obeys God that draws closer to Him.
Why Should We Submit to God?
So the question we need to answer now is “Why? Why should we submit to God? Why should we give Him full-control of our lives?” No person in his right mind would just give up control of his life to another person for no good reason. When you are in love, you do it because you love and trust that person and want to make them happy. When you are at work, you do it to your boss, because he has possibly earned the title and the respect. If you are speaking to the President, you do it because of his position. You willingly submit yourself to others, when you feel that they are worth submitting to. So why should we submit ourselves to God? There are three main reasons why we should.
First, we should submit ourselves to God, simply because He is God. Based on His position, we have no reason not to submit ourselves to Him. Psalm 100:3 states, “Know that the LORD, He is God! It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.” God is the Creator of the universe; He is the Lord of all Creation; He is the King of kings and Lord of Lords. He is God. He is the omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omnipresent (all-present) God. This God of the Bible that we read about, that we hear about, that is talking to us through His Word right now is the one and only true God. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 states, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Do you see God trying to give us a strong reason to submit to Him, as if He has no rights to our lives? No, not at all! He just tells us, “I am God. Submit.” He needs no argument. He needs no reason. We should submit to Him, simply because of who He is. And if that hasn’t convinced you, take a look at the second half of Psalm 100:3, “…It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.” We belong to God. God created us to honor and praise and give Him glory. God purchased us through His blood. He made us, and He deserves our submission. Just ask yourself. If you made a machine, put all the components together, what do you expect the machine to do? You expect it to the do the job you created it to do. You don’t tell the machine, “You must listen to what I say, because of this reason and that reason.” No, you simply expect it to do so. You made it. It’s your machine. It should obey you. For no other reason, we should submit ourselves to God, simply because of who He is – He is God, and He deserves our respect.
Second, we should submit ourselves to God, because of what He has done. If God was a cruel master, a person who sought our destruction and pain, you could possibly make an argument that He isn’t worthy of our obedience (although simply because of His position as God, He is). But God is nothing like that. Our God provides and protects us. He looks out for the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28). Our God gave Himself up for us. He sent His only begotten Son to die for us (John 3:16), and He died for us when we were His enemies (Romans 5:8). Even before we knew Him, He had chosen us to be a part of His family. He loves us. If that is not a good enough reason for us to submit ourselves to Him, I have no clue what else can convince you. We should be thankful for all that He has done. By not submitting yourself to Him, you are acting like a spoiled brat, who though he has received everything good from his parents, still screams and yells and treats his parents with disrespect. We are lucky that God is so patient with us, because I can tell you honestly, that if I act how I do with God, with my parents, I probably would have been kicked out a long time ago. If we are willing to act gratefully to our parents, why would we not do so for the One who gave up everything for us though He deserved that from us?
Third, we should submit ourselves to God, because of what He will do. Based on James 4:6-10, when you submit yourself to God three things will happen. First, God will give you more grace. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve. And in vs. 6, we are told that God gives more grace and that God gives grace to the humble. What grace are we talking about? In the context of this passage, James was telling his fellow Christians, that God will give you the grace to resist sin. In the earlier verses, it speaks about how the people were falling to their lusts and how they were choosing friendship with the world rather than with God. In vs. 5, he told them that God was jealously yearning for their spirt. So in vs. 6, he told them that God will give them grace – grace to fight back from the control of sin. But we can extend that meaning just a little more by considering other passages in the Bible about grace. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith….” We don’t deserve salvation, and He gave that to us. That is grace. We are told throughout the Bible, that we are given the Holy Spirit (John 14:16; Ephesians 1:13). We don’t deserve His presence continually in our lives. That is grace. God has given us His grace in salvation and will continue to give us the grace to resist sin. Similarly, the second thing that will happen is that God will draw nigh to us (vs. 8). This is associated with the first thing that will happen, because it is by grace that we even get the opportunity to know God. It is by grace, for we have done nothing to deserve His love and His relationship with us. Most people when they are in love, come to a point where they feel like they don’t deserve the other person. They realize that they have done nothing to deserve that love but are just grateful for having the opportunity to get to know and spend time with the one they love. They are glad for that closeness that is shared between them and only them. That is what is going on here. When you draw near to God by submitting to Him, He will draw near to you. He will pull Himself closer and allow you to get to know Him more. Who would not want to get to know someone who is like our God? We scramble for the opportunity to get to know celebrities like Steph Curry or Steven Spielberg or for people like me comic book writers like Robert Venditti. We work for the chance to even meet them, but in this case, God is coming to meet us. That is such a beautiful and gracious gift and such a good reason to submit to Him. Lastly, when you submit to Him, He will exalt you (vs. 10). Throughout the Proverbs, we are told that the proud will fall, and the humble in spirit will be exalted. And we are reminded here again. God takes those who are weak, who are dependent on Him, and He lifts them up. It may not be at this time while we are here on earth, but we will get to take part in His glory when He returns. And what greater glory could there be?
If for no other reason than being who He is, we should submit ourselves to Him. But He gave us more reasons when He sent His Son to die for us. He gave us more reasons when He showed us His love. He gave us more reasons when He led us as a Shepherd. And He continues to give us reasons as He builds our relationship with Him. Place yourself under the authority and control of the One who died for you and continues to love you today. Give yourself to God. It may seem like weakness to the world, but you will be at your most powerful, for you have just chosen to ally yourself with God.