Monday, September 24, 2018

Sermon on Proverbs 25:6-14 & Luke 14:7-14, for the 17th Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr lectionary), "Honor and dishonor"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The theme of honor and dishonor can be traced through all of our Bible readings today. Today let’s explore how God’s Word leads us to a life of honor, and away from dishonor.
We should start with a definition. Honor can mean different things to different people. You might be convinced that you are acting with honor, but that doesn’t always prove your actions are right. Honor, like other virtues, can be warped, intentionally or unintentionally. But a definition: the fourth commandment says: “Honor your father and mother.” This commandment gives the definition that to “honor” is to respect and obey. Honor also can refer to a high level of recognition for what someone has done, as when they are “honored” with a reward or medal. Our nation’s highest military award is the “Medal of Honor.” From the Army’s website, it explains the Medal of Honor this way:
This award goes to Soldiers who make honor a matter of daily living — Soldiers who develop the habit of being honorable, and solidify that habit with every value choice they make. Honor is a matter of carrying out, acting, and living the values of respect, duty, loyalty, selfless service, integrity and personal courage in everything you do.

I think that’s a pretty good definition of honor—living out all those values in what you say and do. Honor is used in a similar way in the Bible. Our Old Testament reading from Proverbs, for example, names some honorable and dishonorable actions.
In vs. 6-7 it’s dishonorable to promote yourself in front of your superiors. This seems to be behind Jesus’ parable, which we’ll get to shortly. It’s dishonorable to put yourself in front of everyone else, and risk the shame of being put lower—but it is honorable to wait for our superiors or someone else to call us to “come up here” or receive some honor. This isn’t talking about stepping up to a challenge, or showing courage or a willingness to volunteer. Those are positive things. But its saying we aren’t to try to claim for ourselves the position of prominence among our superiors—you have to earn it and be recognized for it.
In. vs. 8-10, it’s dishonorable to rush accuse your neighbor without full evidence, or to reveal someone’s secret, betraying a confidence. If we don’t have accurate facts or the full story, we might bring shame or dishonor on ourselves, and damage our own reputation, if the accusation proves false. This is the heart of the 8th commandment, that tells us not to tell lies about our neighbor or bear false witness against them.
In vs. 11-12, it describes how beautiful and blessed it is when a person speaks wise or appropriate words. To have the right words for a situation is like beautiful gold or silver jewelry, or to give a wise correction to a person who is open to listening. These are honorable ways to use our tongues, our speech. We can be thankful when a person brings the right word of encouragement or inspiration or courage or healing or correction for the right moment.
Finally, Proverbs 25:13-14, gives two additional examples of honor and dishonor. Honor for the messenger of good news, who is faithful and trustworthy, and brings a good message. But dishonor for a person who brags about a gift they do not give. Words without actions, or clouds and wind without rain. That speaks to following through on your word. All this sets up a pattern of honorable and dishonorable actions. We see that we can carry out, act, and live these values in whatever we do, and that it will steer us towards either honor or dishonor.
This brings us to Jesus’ parable. He was invited to a banquet, and He noticed guests jockeying for position. Trying to get the best seats for themselves. Maybe Jesus was remembering this very proverb and was looking for listening ears to hear this advice: 8“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
How does this relate to honor and dishonor? Well, these people were seeking honor by putting themselves forward. Is that the way to get honor? Obviously Jesus answers NO. We don’t put ourselves in positions of honor. But if you notice in vs. 10, He describes the person who humbly waits to be honored (if that will happen or not), and the host of the banquet asks them to move up to a higher place. Then you will be honored, Jesus says. So it’s not that a person is never to be honored at all, but rather that if they are to be honored, that honor is given or bestowed by someone greater than them.
Let me take you briefly to Romans chapter 2. There in verse 6-8, God talks about rewarding and punishing two different groups of people. On the one hand, a reward for those who “by patience in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” but on the other hand “for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” This describes the two different types of people in the proverb and the parable. Honor and dishonor. It’s saying that we should seek honor, but by humbly and patiently doing good. This is honorable in God’s sight. But to be self-seeking and to do evil, this is dishonorable, and God responds with anger. I highlight that verse to make the point that it’s a good thing for us to seek honor, but not by self-promotion. It is a good thing to be patient and persistent in doing good—even and especially if there seems to be no reward in it for us. Doing it for a reward is self-seeking. But doing something because it is right—regardless of whether someone notices or not, or praises you or not—that’s the definition of honor and integrity.
The guests whose actions Jesus criticized were probably blind to what they were doing. They craved the attention or advantage. Aren’t we also blind to the ways we do the same today? Do we ever seek honor or promote ourselves, rather than patiently awaiting it, if it is decided that honor is due to us? Do we complain and push ourselves forward, when we think we’re not being honored as we should? One modern day example that springs to my mind is the pursuit of fame. Fame is definitely not equal to, or the same as honor—we could call it a cheap imitation. But we still hunger for our 15 minutes of fame today. Some celebrities and public figures bask continually in the limelight. Ordinary people who are not celebs try to create the next viral video or comment or picture on social media, that will get millions of hits on the internet. It’s craving for some attention, some praise, or affection.
But how many celebrities have literally destroyed their own lives because of the emptiness or the unwelcome pressure of fame? If you pay attention, many will admit that fame leaves them empty, or their actions will betray it. If our pursuit was to live honorably, and humbly do good, without seeking attention, then honor might be the reward. But honor cannot be demanded, or seized for ourselves, without turning it into dishonor.
In life, in school, in work or our community, we may all measure differently on the scale of honor. Often many honorable deeds go unnoticed or unrecognized. Sometimes honorable deeds are misunderstood and even attacked, and we suffer dishonor for doing good. Sometimes the people who are honored in life have dishonorable deeds that are unknown. None of us are all seeing, none of us know every person’s heart. But God is all seeing, and knows every heart; and by His measure, we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Medal of Honor or any other earthly acclamation, doesn’t make us right by God. All humans must approach God on the same humble level of admitting our sins and failings and dishonor before God.
But who was the most honorable guest at the feast that day? Who was more distinguished then all the guests, though they didn’t recognize it? Who possessed the greatest wisdom about the ways of honor and dishonor? It was Jesus, God’s Son. He was there to teach them. Look at His life, with regards to honor. He suffered great dishonor, even for doing good. He was faulted for doing good on the Sabbath day, healing a man, because the religious leaders thought that violated their worship laws. He suffered dishonor by those who did not recognize Him as the Son of God, and chose to spit on Him, strike Him, and mock Him at His trial and death. He did not promote Himself. He was not self-seeking, but only spoke the Truth.
Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted. Jesus humbled Himself to the lowest place, became as a common criminal, though He was innocent, and suffered death on the cross. He endured the worst dishonor, while living out the greatest selfless service and integrity possible. And He survived all the dishonor, because He rose from the dead. God vindicated Jesus’ honor, declared Him worthy of all glory, honor, praise and thanksgiving, when God raised Jesus from the dead. He now sits at the highest place, at God’s right hand. God lifted Him up and honors Him in the presence of all.
Since Jesus has risen to the greatest place of honor—what of us? His selfless service washed away all our sins, our dishonor and shame at the cross. And if we humble ourselves before Him, He will lift us up, or exalt us. That God would invite us to His banquet, to His heavenly feast, and say “Friend, move up higher” is an honor that comes completely by His grace. Not that we deserved it, but it comes from the free generosity of the Greatest One, who honors the humble and lowly, those who patiently do good, and seek after Him. Our lives find honor when they are embraced and wrapped up in Jesus’ life of honor, lived for us. Walking in His way, we learn the humble way to live and do good for one another. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
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  1. Read Proverbs 25:6-14 and Luke 14:7-11 and pay special attention to what actions in both are considered honorable and dishonorable? What is the earthly advantage of living honorably?
  2. Why does promoting your own honor, as in Luke 14:7-11, not work? Cf. Hebrews 5:4. What is key to not being dishonored? Luke 14:11. If honor is to be given and received, how should that happen?
  3. Read Romans 2:6-8. Does this speak positively or negatively about a person who seeks honor by doing good? For those who are punished, instead of rewarded, in v. 8, what is it they were seeking and doing?
  4. What is the difference between seeking fame and seeking honor? What are some ways that people try to seek their own honor or fame today? What would be modern day equivalents of the self-promotion that Jesus witnessed at the banqueting table? How can we redirect ourselves toward a proper honor-seeking?
  5. Read Romans 2:23. What dishonors God? Read Proverbs 25:6-14. What actions or behaviors bring dishonor on ourselves?
  6. How did Jesus receive all honor and glory? Luke 14:11; Mark 10:45. How does He direct His disciples to find greatness (and honor)? Mark 10:42-44.
  7. How did Jesus go through great dishonor (shame) to achieve all glory, praise and honor? Hebrews 12:2; John 13:31-32; 17:1. When Jesus bestows honor on those who humbly seek glory, honor, and eternal life, does this come as what we earned, or as His gracious gift? Rom. 3:23-24.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Sermon on Luke 7:11-17, for the 16th Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr lectionary), "God in the Picture"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Earlier this week I was watching two famous professors debate—one an atheist, the other a Christian. They talked about suffering and the problem of evil. The widow in our reading was a real example of suffering. The Christian in the debate, John Lennox, said that everyone senses that there is too much suffering in this world. You can imagine the widow saying: “There’s too much suffering in my life—how can I bear it all?” When suffering strikes close to home—a husband, a son, or another loved one—we ask “why does God allow this to happen?” “How can God be good, when my loved one is dying?” Many turn away from God or simply say that He doesn’t exist, because of tragedies. But getting rid of God gets rid of the greatest hope and answer to suffering—while still leaving us with the suffering. If there is no God in the world, suffering is just a brute fact of existence, and the universe doesn’t care. If there is no God, life has no higher purpose than what you give it, and without God, who’s to say there’s such a thing as good and evil? The problem of evil and suffering only gets worse for you if you try to “get rid of God.”
But contrast that with Jesus. He comes upon this funeral procession—weeping mother and sympathetic neighbors. But sympathy won’t bring back her child. She carries a double wound, because not only is her only son dead, but she was also a widow, meaning she had lost her husband some time before. In any age of history, that would be a great burden to bear. But in our age of social security, life insurance policies, and other safety nets to care for the poor and the grieved, we don’t grasp how devastating this was for a woman 2,000 years ago. Without the men of the family to provide her income, she faced certain poverty. All traditional supports were gone, and she was left with only her grief and her friends. But when Jesus meets this crowd, and sees her, “He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”
Christians cling dearly to this truth—that God came into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. Right into our suffering existence. Not watching from the outside; not safe from suffering; not clean from contact with the messiness and pain of our lives. But He entered right up into our broken world, right into our suffering, and joined with us in it. Jesus experienced death, blood, pain, and grief. He knew human suffering intimately, personally. He grieves in our losses, with a heart that truly knows. Compassion stirred up deep inside Him—the compassion of God, but now also the human compassion of God in the flesh. Seeing, knowing, and understanding our suffering from the inside out. We see that God cares.
But if sympathy couldn’t bring back her child—Jesus can. How electric it must have been, when Jesus interrupted the pallbearers and grabbed hold of the stretcher on which the dead man was being carried. Can you imagine that at a funeral? Chicken skin! People must have thought He was crazy, when He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” Wouldn’t you be afraid when the boy actually sat up and began talking?! Skepticism turned to amazement. How did He do it? Not with medical equipment; not a resuscitation for someone who had just died—but He spoke the word. “Young man, I say to you, arise!”
The Bible tells us the spoken Word of God has tremendous power. God’s Word can actually perform the action that He commands. God said, “Let there be light” and light sprang into existence. God commanded through the mouth of Moses, “Let my people go!”, and all the armies of Pharaoh and Egypt couldn’t stop Him. In the gospel of Luke, just before this story, a Roman soldier asks for Jesus’ help, but is too modest to bring Jesus to his home, so he tells Jesus, “But say the word, and let my servant be healed”. He knew the power of Jesus’ Word. Jesus praised the man’s faith, and healed the man that very hour by the power of His Word. Everyone saw how powerful Jesus’ Word was—clearly He was God, not an ordinary man. Our words don’t have that kind of power. Sure we can do great good, or great damage with our words, but we can’t simply call things into existence, or perform miracles by our word. Imagine how power hungry we’d become! But we are given the privilege to speak and to spread God’s Word. And His Word has His power to do the thing it promises.
With His Word, Jesus brought this young man back to life and gave him back to His mother. She was among the lucky few, even in Jesus’ ministry. At least 3 people were raised from the dead by Jesus. But they all went on to again die eventually, like all other people through human history. Even in Jesus’ ministry, this was rare. So what does that teach us, or how does it comfort us? Well, first of all, we aren’t promised a miraculous intervention in the lives of all our loved ones. That didn’t even happen to most people in Jesus’ own ministry. But it does teach us that Jesus is the One who holds power over life and death. Jesus raised the dead, not by magic or any special medical technology, but by His Word, which shows that God is able to reverse the otherwise irreversible laws of nature and death. Jesus commands unique power over death, and He is a genuine force for good.
But also, what’s the difference between Jesus raising these people from the dead during His ministry, and Jesus’ own rising from the dead? These little miracles were a trailer, a preview, for the main event—Jesus’ own resurrection. What was the difference? They were raised to a body that was still mortal, a body that could still die again. But Jesus was raised with an immortal body, a body that can never die again. The book of Romans makes this clear when it says, (6:9) “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” He will never die again, death has no dominion over Him. Dominion means rule, power or authority. Death was unable to hold Jesus in the grave. Why? #1, because He is God, and #2, because He was innocent of any sin. When Jesus rose from the dead, He had His disciples check and see that His body was still real flesh and bones, same as before. But it was also different—He was able to pass through locked doors and walls, He transported Himself instantly from place to place when He wanted. This was His glorified body. A body no longer weakened and subject to suffering, but an imperishable body.
Jesus’ body when He rose from the dead was imperishable. He rose, to never die again. The young man in our story, son of the widow at Nain, and others who Jesus raised, still had their perishable bodies—Jesus raised them back to their natural life. The comfort to us from this miracle is not that we hope for a temporary return to natural life for us or our loved ones—that death would be delayed or stalled for a little longer—but that the One who defeats sin and death for us has promised eternal, imperishable life, in a risen body like His. A body no longer weakened and subject to suffering, but an imperishable body. This is the Christian hope of the resurrection. Our flesh and bones, our body—not someone else’s—but a body free from sin, disease, aging, suffering and death. When we confess in the Apostle’s Creed: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting, Amen, that’s what we mean. We believe that Jesus has promised our bodies to be raised pure and perfect, made as God intended them, to life everlasting with Him.
All the grief and death and loss that we will experience in this life will come before that. Life can grind us down and most of us do feel like there’s too much suffering in this life. But you know what the Bible says about that? It says that we don’t lose heart “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, (2 Corinthians 4:16–17). In other words, however heavy the suffering we experience now, it’s going to seem light and temporary in comparison to the eternal weight of glory. The heaviness of that glory outweighs anything we’ve experienced thus far. That goodness and joy of God is beyond all comparison.
That day when the widow’s son was raised by Jesus, she got a little foretaste, a little advance preview of the glory that was in store in the kingdom of Jesus. The crowds celebrated with her: “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited His people”, and the news spread like wildfire. She saw Jesus was not helpless in the face of death, but commanded power by His very Word, and spoke life back into existence. She saw the One who would one day carry all our sins and griefs to His cross, where God would become one with our suffering in a way previously unimaginable. That He would be pierced for our sins, mocked, abandoned, beaten and dead. But Jesus was not helpless in the face of death. He laid down His life willingly, and then three days later, He took it up again.
The widow’s foretaste became the main event, when Jesus walked out of His grave with a renewed, glorified, living body that death could no longer hold. Our Christian faith hangs on His promise that whoever believes in Him, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in [Jesus] shall never die (John 11:25-26). Jesus will raise us too, even after our death, to eternal life with Him, if we believe in Him. Jesus’ miracles show us He has the power over life and death. They show God’s deep human compassion and unity with our suffering. Jesus teaches us depend completely on Him—that is, to believe in Him—as the Way to eternal life. Evil exists. Suffering exists. God exists. That’s a lot to wrestle with, and it has been for millennia of human history—but it doesn’t make the problem any better by taking God out of the picture. With God in the picture, we see His human compassion in Christ Jesus, and we see Him enter our suffering. With God in the picture we see that evil and death is His sworn enemy to be defeated, and that suffering is to end forever when He returns one day to judge the living and the dead. With God in the picture we face an eternal weight of glory that is without comparison. Believe and rejoice! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read sermons at:
Listen: search your podcast app for “The Joshua Victor Theory” or
listen online at

  1. Luke 7:12 reveals that this dead young man was his mother’s only son, and that she was also a widow. How does this increase our human interest/sympathy in her story? Why are we often left with the feeling that there is too much suffering in this world? How does that affect our attitude or belief toward God?
  2. All people through human history experience the human loss and grief of death. Only a handful, of those described in the Bible, experienced the miraculous raising of their dead. What are these few recorded miracles meant to teach us about Jesus? Acts 2:24; John 10:18.
  3. A similar miracle by the prophet Elijah, in 1 Kings 17:17-24, has the prophet questioning why God has “brought calamity” upon a different widow, by killing her son. What are other common conclusions people draw when they experience suffering or loss?
  4. Jesus commands the young man to rise, simply by the power of His Word. How does the Bible repeatedly teach the power of God’s Word? See Genesis 1:3, 6; or Psalm 33:6 or Luke 7:7. What reassurance does Jesus’ power over death bring to us, against the constant occurrence of suffering in human life?
  5. This miracle was a temporary reversal of death. How is that different from Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead? Luke 24. What is different about the body of Jesus after His resurrection, than this boy from Nain? Romans 6:9 What is the same? Hebrews 2:14-17.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Sermon on Proverbs 4:10-23, 14th Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr Lectionary), "Two Paths"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. In several different places in the Bible, God contrasts two different paths. One is the way of the righteous, the other is the way of the wicked. One leads to freedom and life, the other, to slavery and ultimately death. Proverbs 4 is a father to son life lesson talk, from Solomon to his son. There are two different paths, and he urges him to stay on the right path, and avoid the path of the wicked. Over and over in the Bible, this theme of two paths reappears. God grant that we stay on the path to life and righteousness.
First, let’s consider the path to AVOID. “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on.” It can be sad, humorous or even tragic, when certain “Do Not Enter!” signs in life go ignored. Ignore a “Do Not Enter” sign in a hospital, and you might end up where you’re not supposed to be—but ignore a “Do Not Enter” sign on a busy expressway, and it might be a fatal wrong turn. God has, for our safety, put up many warning signs: “DO NOT ENTER”. God warns us to turn away and pass on from the path of the wicked, or the way of evil.. However tempting, however curious, or however much we think we can flirt with danger and get away with it—God says “PASS ON.” “TURN AWAY.”
The consequences for going down the wrong path, the path of the wicked, or the way of evil, can be sudden and dramatic, like a head-on collision—or they can be slow and tortuous to unfold. They can be easy to recognize, or not. Sometimes, it even seems like the wicked get off scot-free with no consequences. So we can’t necessarily depend on bad consequences to always prove to us that we should avoid turning down the wrong path. Instead, we should take God’s Word at its face value—listening to the “Thou shalt nots” and observing the “Do not enter” signs, without tempting God to prove it to us by consequences.
He goes on to describe the “way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.” Walking that dark path of turning away from God, walking in wickedness, evil, and disobedience is a place of blindness and injury, stumbling. We can’t see where we are going and don’t understand why we are tripping and falling. Adam and Eve found that way and that darkness awfully quick when they ignored God’s warnings and ate the fruit in the garden. Their knowledge of God was immediately darkened and their sense of shame deep. Because it is a path of darkness and no understanding, when we fall on that path, we don’t know why. Sin just pulls us down further—it doesn’t give us any reason to understand why we are falling, why we or others are hurting. Sin is lonely and disorienting.
Sin is impulsive and compulsive. We keep hurtling toward self-destruction and injury to ourselves and others, blindly, and without knowledge. That is the other way the Proverb describes the way of the wicked: “they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.” If we make evildoers our friends, we’ll always be restless, hungry, and thirsty for wrongdoing. That’s what I mean about sin being impulsive and compulsive. Maybe it began as a foolish impulse, but it becomes a negative, repetitive, compulsive habit. We keep doing the wrong that we hate and don’t want to do. It sucks the joy and the peacefulness out of life and fills us with jealousy and cruelty. Do we need more proof why God has put up the “DO NOT ENTER” signs?
Sadly, we’ve all stumbled down the way of evil. No one, by their own efforts, has walked a pure life according to the way of wisdom, and the paths of uprightness—that superior path that leads to life. Instead, we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We’ve ignored God’s good warnings and headed, against His command, down the path to harm and destruction. Some have travelled further, some have been stopped short by the intervention of God and others—some have hit rock bottom. But wherever we are at, the only sane message is God’s ever urgent call: “turn away!” This marvelous word of “repentance” means that God has a U-turn plan for every one of us who has headed down the way of evil. Turn back to God! It’s not under our strength, but the strength of the Holy Spirit, that we break that impulsivity and compulsion to sin, and turn around to God.
If you look through the Psalms, and search for the phrase “my feet”, you’ll find a wonderful collection of verses that say things like this: Psalm 17:5 “My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.” Psalm 18:33 “He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights.” Psalm 18:36 “You gave a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip.”  Psalm 40:2 (ESV) “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.” Psalm 56:13 “For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.” Psalm 119:105 “ Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” These verses help us to understand the wonderful Gospel truth that gets our feet back on that solid ground. God is the One who keeps our feet steady and secure, who rescues us from death and the pit, and sets our feet on the rock, to keep us from slipping or falling, and shines His Word as Light on our path. Let’s go to that higher road, our feet set there by God.
Proverbs 4 says: “Hear my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness.” Long life is the likely blessing for those who hear and receive God’s Word. Is it always that way? No, but life tends toward greater blessing and success, when we follow God’s path, the ways of uprightness. But what is it like to walk on this path? If the path of sin was dark and filled with hidden obstacles and stumbling, the path of uprightness: “When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble.” Like those Psalm verses echo, God keeps our feet on the steady path, and keeps us from stumbling. Jesus used the same language in John 11:9-10, “If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
When Jesus talks about the “light is not in him”, He’s not referring to a candle, lamp, or flashlight—He’s talking about God’s light. And how do we have God’s Light in us, to keep us from stumbling? How do we get the Light of the World to shine down and light up our path? Jesus said it in John 8:12, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Again, the picture of the path, walking after Jesus—He is the Light! And, by the way, He is the WAY too! John 14:6, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” Jesus said, and “no one comes to the Father except through me.” When we believe in Jesus, He is our Light. He is also our wisdom and our instruction, to again borrow the language of our reading. All this walking on the right path is simply walking in Jesus.
Proverbs 4:18 says: “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” In prophecy, Jesus is described as the Sun of righteousness, that will rise with healing on its wings (Malachi 4:2). In the New Testament, Jesus is called the “bright Morning Star.” And as we just heard from John, Jesus is the Light of the World. Brighter and brighter Jesus shines on our path. The more we walk on His Way, the more clearly we see, the further back the shades of darkness fade away. Instead of “DO NOT ENTER” signs on His path—now, all signs invite us forward, keep going, stay on the path! Run the race, finish the course, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus! And saints and angels cheer us on, and fellow Christians running alongside, help to pick us up when we fall, just as well help one another. Brighter and brighter is the path in Jesus.
            Proverbs ends with this repeated advice, father to son: Proverbs 4:20–23 “My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. 21 Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. 22 For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. 23 Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Note again that the person who stays on this path, benefits by a listening ear, ready to hear God’s Word, God’s instruction. The person who stays on this path benefits from eyes trained to pay attention to this instruction, and they benefit from a heart that stores this knowledge up inside, and doesn’t let it slip away. That’s the posture of faith. That’s how a believer faces God—listening, watching, trusting in our heart—and what does God do? He gives life and healing. From our heart will flow springs of life. I seem to remember another passage like this, in the Gospel of John—yes, two of them. Jesus says in John 4, to a woman who is just beginning to know Him, He says, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Springs of water in the heart—Jesus gives this fountain, and it wells up to eternal life. And what is the source of this water? John 7, Jesus says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
            Jesus is the Living Water. He is Wisdom, He is the Path, He is the Light that shines on the path, and He is the Life that God gives to us. Two paths were set before us, one of stumbling, darkness and injury, the path of evil and sin. We were rescued from that path. Now our feet are set back on solid ground, walking on Him, the Rock, where our feet do not stumble or slip, but follow Jesus on the Way to blessedness and life. Lord, day by day, I pray that you put my feet back on your higher path, that you walk before me, behind me, beside me, and within me, to keep your Word in my heart, in my ears, and before my eyes. Light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, and let my footsteps never waver from you. Lord, let me always follow where you lead, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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1.      Read Proverbs 4:10-23. What is the difference between the two paths described here? Look at John 11:9-10; 8:12. How does Jesus use the same language to describe following Him?
2.      Jesus is not only “light for our path” (John 8:12), but also according to 1 Corinthians 1:30, the “wisdom from God.” In what ways does Wisdom direct us toward the good, and away from evil? (give examples of wise or foolish choices).
3.      Without wisdom we stumble in the dark (Prov. 4:19; John 11:9-10). Stumbling in the dark is a metaphor for how sin hurts us. In real examples, how does sin hurt us or others?
4.      What are the positive blessings of walking in the way of righteousness? Proverbs 4:10, 12, 22-23. How does the Way of righteousness contain “the springs of life?” Prov. 4:23; John 4:13-14; 7:37-38.