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God's Ways Are Unexpected

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“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who being saved it is the power of God”

[1st Corinthians 1:18]

The 147th Psalm tells us, who those people are with whom the Lord is well pleased when psalmist says, “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” [Psalm 147:11]. If you haven’t noticed lately, there is a great diversity of opinion, colored by every stripe of the rainbow, as to what kind of people those are in whom God takes pleasure. The mighty of the earth, those with whom money and power are viewed as the gateways to happiness and prosperity exalt themselves imagining they ought to find more favor with God than those for whom such prestige and affluence is but an ever chasing dream. The wise of this world pride themselves in their accomplishments, in the amount of letters that come before or after their name, and so believe the gifted and educated are favored in the heavenly paradise above the peasant, above those whose vocations are routine, mundane, and indeed without great variety and acknowledgement. The moralist, the one who dots all his “I’s” and crosses all his “T’s” or as least lives within the fantasy that he does, counts himself better in sight of the Almighty than the transgressor, the one for whom life is a daily struggle with the impious flesh, and so gives in to temptation. The world and its subjects are by nature accustom to judging a book by its cover, by their own standards, by their own moral compass for which its needle always points in the direction of their opinion as to who is in the clubhouse of heaven and who is ignorant of its password. 

But the psalmist has other ideas. He does not judge by worldly riches or worldly misfortune, not by academic accolades or by a man’s life that is situated in the ordinary, not by outward morality or an extraordinary manner of life; the psalmist declares, “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” [Psalm 147:11]. Those who fear the Lord, that is, those who do not attempt to hide or blame others [including God] for their sins but rather confess them knowing that with the Lord there is great mercy and grace; those who realize that their excuses, many to be sure, are just that, excuses, an evasive and futile attempt to pull a fast one on God who on the Last Day will shine the bright and revealing light of justice and judge the secrets of men’s hearts by Christ Jesus [Romans 2:10]; those who stand before the Holy One as beggars who point from their knees to Christ Crucified, the One who has done enough for their salvation, whose atoning blood has set them free; these are the people in whom the Lord takes pleasure.  

And so, what the Lord regards as delightful, as good, right, and salutary is often, if not always, different from what we would think is within such categories. God’s ways are unexpected. His ways are not our ways. Though we often think that God can be controlled by the desires of our hearts, that He can be manipulated by the overwhelming force of a prayer-chain or by the pietistic wishes of a people who attempt to offer God their innermost being and self-chosen works, we would do well however to remember that God is free in every sense of the word. God is God, and we are the workmanship of His hand. We did not create life nor can we sustain it by the power of our own hand and heart. This should be most evident in the presence of our anatomy, that is, our bellybutton, and the overwhelming discord, pain, suffering, and mayhem that we call life. We cannot fix that which we have broken. We cannot change that which we have ruined. We cannot go back and say, “I am sorry” in attempt to erase the pain, hurt, and sorrow we have caused. The sinful deed is done. Now, all we can do is plead for mercy, for forgiveness, for grace, for God to be God and make good on the promises He has made to us, His people. What is more, God does not ask our permission to be God nor does He need it, or our help for that matter, for we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. We are creature, He is Creator. This is one of the blessed truths conveyed to the hearer in Matthew’s first four chapters of his gospel narrative as it reaches a pinnacle of prophetic gospel, that is, of promise with the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The people dwelling in darkness have see a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” [Matthew 4:16]. 

O dear Christian, the light which has dawned in our darkened sin-laden presence, in our decaying and foolish world is none other than the babe of whom the wise men worshiped as God in the flesh with precious gifts, of whom the angelic hosts promise will save you, His people, from their sins, who is Immanuel [which means, God with us]. The God of our fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who led them to the promised land flowing with milk and honey is the same God who promises you that He will never leave you or forsake you as He declares, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20]. Such a promise is fulfilled as God the Father leads you this epiphany season by the Star of Mercy, His Son, your Savior, who was crucified, died, and was buried and on the third day rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven so as to make, through the shedding of His blood, all things new. What a blessing to know that even before Jesus begins His earthly ministry of wonders, miracles, and suffering unto death for the life of the world that we are assured by the prophetic and apostolic word who this Jesus is, and what He has come to accomplish. For you see, who Jesus is, is defined ultimately by what He does. To put it another way, the name Jesus is not so much noun as it is verb. Hence the meaning of the name Jesus—Yahweh saves. And so the angel of the Lord announces to Joseph in a dream, “She [Mary] will bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” [Matthew 1:21].   

God’s ways are unexpected. What are we to make of the select crowd of women included in Jesus’ genealogy—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the wife of Uriah, and the Virgin Mary. It is helpful to note in the words of one biblical commentator, “that the four women in Matthew’s genealogy are there to reveal that God has unforeseen ways of bringing about his plans for the coming of the Messiah and the blessing of all nations through the Seed of Abraham. The four women are a diverse group…some acted righteously, though all surely were sinners.”[1] From this it is evident that the women are included in Matthew’s genealogy to make the point that God is always in control and that He is able to bring to fruition that which seems humanly impossible, to make good on the promises and plans He sketches out for His fallen, yet in His Son, redeemed creation. Such plans are routinely carried out through the means of a human instrument, yet often they are brought to fulfillment in spite of them. This reality gives us reason to pause and reflect on our own lives, to see that we are often where we are, comforted and possessing great gifts, not because we have willed them by our own power and choices, but rather in spite of our choices we have received such gifts and blessings. Indeed, all our life is a life that is determined and colored by the grace and mercy of God.  

God’s ways are unexpected. Joseph in his human wisdom and morally upright conscience was ready to divorce his wife in secret, yet the wisdom of God spoken through angel of the Lord called him to forsake his own ways, and to trust in the ways of the God. Without a doubt, God is doing an unexpected thing in the coming of Jesus. God is becoming man so that man would inherit, through the blood of His Son, the life which God declared to be very good. Strange and out of character are the Gentile Magi who come to worship a King of whom the nation of Israel longs for and yet fail to travel the short distance to their fulfilled promise that lies in a manger born to die for their sins. The journey of the holy family is not guided by the maps of men, but is guided by God’s hidden guidance as His en-fleshed Son moves safely from place to place, despite the plans of blood-thirsty kings and in accordance with the divine will. Even John the Baptizer, who exclaimed of this Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,” [John 1:29] reacted with great puzzlement that Jesus sought to be baptized by him and not the other way around” [Matthew 3:13]. Even after Jesus is declared to be the Son with whom the Father is well pleased, who triumphs over the father of lies in a desert battle, He retreats after hearing that John is arrested into the region of Galilee. And why is this? Because such outcomes are fulfilling of the prophetic word, of which God in His wisdom ordained would come true for the sake of His people who live darkness, yet have seen a great redeeming light in the coming of this Jesus whose destiny is to set them free to be the people God created them to be.

God’s ways are unexpected, but such ways are the ways that lead to redemption and eternal life. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” so wrote St. Paul to the church at Corinth [1 Corinthians 1:18]. So it is that the wisdom of the world, what it prides itself in and finds comfort and security in, will one day perish. The joyous exchange has taken place in the sacrifice of Christ who now delivers to you the benefit of such sacrifice in word, water, and meal. The wise have become foolish and the foolish have become wise. The mighty of the earth are put down and the lowly are exalted to the heavenly courts. The moralists have deceived themselves for they believe they are without sin and the confessors of sin have received mercy for they know the truth is not in them but in Christ, the one who forgives sin. Indeed, the sacrifice of Christ is the life of man. Yes, to the human subject it is unexpected, but nonetheless to penitent sinners, to you and to me; it is the power of God unto eternal life.

“Praise the Lord, all nations!

Extol him, all peoples!

For great is his steadfast love toward us,

and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever” [Psalm 117:1-2].   

In the Name of the Father and of the Son+ and of the Holy Spirit. Amen


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[1] Jeffery A. Gibbs, Matthew 1:1-11:1, Concordia Commentary Series (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006), pg.88

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