Christian Education Sunday, beginning of school year. “Learn From Me”
September 10, 2023 1 Samuel 3:1
Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ
1Samuel 3:1 said, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days.” Isn’t that a peculiar statement? It’s not ‘good’ or ‘bad’; it’s just descriptive. On the one hand,
in the days of the OT prophets, Yahweh ~God~ would give His Word thru the prophets to the people, when & where it was needed. The prophets would preach it & repeat it as necessary; and they would write it down for constant learning & remembering. In this sense, God’s Word was always with them ~ like it is for us.
On the other hand, any ‘new’ Word from the Lord would come, depending on what was happening, or was going to happen, when God’s people needed guidance. At this time, in the days of Samuel, there were preaching-prophets and the previous Scriptures, but any ‘new’ Word from the Lord was rare.
AND, on the 3rd hand(!), this Hebrew phrase is also used to indicate those times when the people were not listening to the prophets. So, ‘the word of the Lord was rare in those days’ can mean: ‘the Word of the Lord was rarely heard by the people because they weren’t listening. Is that what it’s like in our day? If less people are attending faithful, Biblical churches, then the Word of the Lord is ‘rare.’ We pray that it would not be rare among us, as we desire to hear God’s Spirit-filled Word, believe it, & obey it. Our goals here are that +the Word of the Lord would always be clearly proclaimed & faithfully taught; and that +we would be here faithfully listening & living by it.
What about the world outside the church: is the Word of the Lord rare in our days? Yes; God’s teachings, morals & values have been removed from places such as in schools & gov’t institutions where it was before. Also, altho we share God’s Word in the world, it has a lot of competition. On the TV, in books, on social media: which ‘word’ is abundant & which word is rare? Who’s teachings are our children & grandchildren hearing most?
We like to think that we are not swayed by those competing voices; that we’re strong enough to resist the bad messages, & wise enough to reject the wrong ‘word’.
I pray we mostly are. But, have there been times when we think that the message of the Church or the preacher sounds harsh or intolerant for our times; too demanding or inflexible, too old fashioned or holy for us? If so, it means we -too- are tempted to not hear the Word of the Lord. When in Matt.15, Jesus teaches that ‘out of the heart’ comes evil thoughts, anger, lust, & theft, He is teaching us to beware of our own inner, resistant & sinful nature which thinks it has a better ‘word’ than God does about how to live, think & behave.
We can also admit that, at times, we would rather watch & read things we shouldn’t; we use social media in ways we shouldn’t. We can even admit that that the world’s ‘word’ will badly affect our Christian attitude & treatment of others. And we like to use those old excuses that we’re just fitting in, doing what everyone else is doing, & keeping up with life in this world.
But I wonder: if we can tell our friends more about the lives of current celebrities than we can about the life of our Lord Jesus, perhaps the word of the Lord is rare for us. Or, if those around us were asked to describe our life to someone & one of the top things they think of is NOT that we’re Christian, perhaps God’s Word is rarer than it should be for us. Between the Word of the Lord vs. the word of the world, in faith, we know which one is more important; but in practice, we can struggle. In Matt.11, Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me.” What we learn from Him is that to be yoked to the world is a crushing burden for anyone. His ‘yoke’ is lighter because it is the good Word & Will of His loving Father.
Of course, there was a particular time when the Word of the Lord was not rare, in a very special way. It was when the Word was present on earth in the flesh, in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the very Son of God. We like to think that everyone back then would have been eager to hear what Jesus had to say. We do hear of crowds gathered around Him; but while the sound of His voice was heard, not everyone was truly listening & learning from Him. Before the words & events of our Gospel reading for today, Jesus had been teaching His disciples. He taught them how to be ‘students’; how they would first hear & learn, and then be sent out to preach & teach & live His Word.
He warned them that not everyone would listen to them or respect them; and sometimes the word of the Lord would be ‘rare’.
As Jesus teaches them, He teaches us. It is not always be easy to be disciples of Jesus. Following Jesus meant taking up a cross: which, at times, has literally meant ‘going to your death.’ Most often it means speaking against the world’s ways, and refusing to participate in the world’s things. It means having a different life, and navigating with a different compass =following Jesus & in His Word. It means finding life in His Church & in His mission; living more for the future than for the present.
In the book of Acts we can read that there were, at times, many people who did hear the disciples’ message; they received & believed the good news, listened & followed it like trusting little children. Their joy was full, & the kingdom of God rejoiced.
So in Matt.11, Jesus is setting out to teach The Word of repentance & life in the towns & villages of Galilee. But before He begins, He receives messengers sent from John the Baptist. John had been imprisoned, & would soon be murdered by King Herod. John had faithfully proclaimed the Word of the Lord against Herod’s sins, but Herod refused to listen. And now faithful John, locked away in prison, wants assurance for himself & his students that he’s done his job. He sends his own disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the One who is to come, or should we look for another?” Are you the promised Messiah, the One the world has been waiting for?
Jesus responds with a messianic passage from Isaiah 35, which John will immediately recognize: “Go and tell John,” …the blind receive their sight; those who are lame are walking; lepers are cleansed, the deaf can hear, the dead are raised up, & the poor have the good news preached to them. In other words, Jesus is saying: the word of the Lord is not rare in these days! People are hearing the Gospel, receiving God’s Son, & believing the good news of forgiveness & life in the Messiah. Jesus is doing everything that the prophet said. Jesus is the One they have been waiting for ~ He’s the Savior God promised.
Jesus went on to ask the people around Him about John. “What did you go out to see when you went out to listen to John? Did you go out to see a prophet?” That’s exactly what they were seeing & hearing in John.
He was a prophet, and even more than a prophet. John was a final ‘mouthpiece’ for the Lord before the very mouth of the Lord would arrive, & God would walk among His people speaking in the flesh. The OT Scriptures said that Elijah would come to prepare the way for the Messiah; then Jesus said: John is that Elijah – who came to prepare the people of Israel to meet their God face to face. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” said Jesus. Listen to the Word of the Lord and believe.
At that time, many people did listen & believe; enough to cause a stir among the Jews & the Romans. But, many others were not listening. They heard ‘words’ with their ears, they saw the miracles that Jesus did, but their hard hearts & souls refused to listen. Jesus compared them to children at play who heard the music of a flute, but refused to dance to the tune. They heard the good news preached to them, but they turned away from the joy of God’s mercy & true life for them found in that good news.
They heard John’s call to repent of their sins, but they would not repent & be baptized. Their hearts stiffly resisted the work of the Holy Spirit, who was telling them they needed God’s Savior. +Some rejected Him right away, thinking Jesus couldn’t be special – because He was just a carpenter’s son from Nazareth. +Some rejected Him later – because His teaching got hard to understand. +And some shook their heads & walked away as He hung on the cross because they rejected the word of the Lord about God’s Passover Lamb & servant suffering for the sins of the people.
The Word of the Lord was not rare in their days, since The Word-made-flesh was there speaking to them; but for many – it was rare – because they refused to listen to, repent, believe in, & follow Him.
So, in our lesson, Jesus prays to His Father about this hearing & not-hearing. He said: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven & earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will.” The Word of the Lord was not rare in those days, but the so-called ‘wise’ people, the leaders, the Pharisees & teachers of the Law, refused to listen & believe. The Lord was calling & inviting them, but they stubbornly remained deaf & blind, so the truth remained hidden from them.
Instead, the ones the leaders despised as ‘sinners,’ & the ones Jesus called ‘little children,’ they believed. The tax collectors & prostitutes, the uneducated fishermen who followed Jesus, those were people who listened, repented & believed. The same call to repentance, with the preaching of the good news, along with the whole Word of the Lord can be heard with our ears now. In some places in our world, the Word of the Lord is rare; but thanks be to God, not among us.
To the people who listened to Him back then, and to the people who hear Him today, Jesus continues to speak, to call out, & promise salvation. His Word of invitation is proclaimed from our pulpit, in our school classrooms, & in our Bible classes. The Lord has sent His Word among us, and we pray that The Spirit will never let it get to be rare. Listen to Jesus & learn from Him. And take heart: you & I are some of those blessed little children to whom the Father has revealed the Savior.
“Come to me, He says, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Jesus’ yoke is not the heavy yoke of Him trying to earn His position as the Son of God; He was born the Son of God, and nothing could take that sonship away from Him. He could then live by the Father’s voice & will without fear. Jesus was confident the Father would protect & guide Him; He could live a gentle & obedient life in a fallen world – because His real life was in the Father’s kingdom.
Likewise, the yoke He gives us is the light yoke of forgiveness of sin, and trust in the Father’s love – because that heavy burden of sin & guilt & hell has been taken away by our Savior. That rebirth of water & Spirit has made you a child of the Father, and no one can take that away from you.
It’s a peculiar phrase so that it stands out for us: “The word of the Lord was rare in those days.” But these are now different days; not the days of the prophets, before the Lord came among us; ours are the days after ~ the days of the Spirit-filled & written Word of the Gospel, which is to be proclaimed to the four-corners & to the ends of the earth. It’s a word that is truly good news for all who will hear.
This means for us that +we will stop listening to the other voices that compete for our attention, & we will give preference to the Word of the Lord. +We will turn away from the voices that tempt us to ignore the Word & will of God to guide our lives. +We will not listen to the voices that claim that God prefers the ‘wise’& intellectual over His simple, trusting & obedient children. +We will not listen to the voices that only accuse us of our failures and have no comforting news of forgiveness from our Savior & His cross.
The Lord’s Word is not rare among us for we are listening to our Savior Jesus! “Come to me,” He says, “learn from me! Listen & follow.” For my yoke is easy, He says; and that means our burden is light.