It always strikes me that this is such a strange time of year, because all of our calendars and our normal functions in life get thrown into chaos. I want to make sense, not out of the mundane but out of the things that really matter, and I want to frame that, if I may, in this way.
In the book of Esther in chapter 1—you don’t need to look at it—there is a very interesting statement about King Ahasuerus, a pagan king, a king of the Persian Empire who ruled from about 486 BC to 465 BC, and it says concerning him that he surrounded himself with wise men—that’s first chapter of Esther—and they are defined this way: “who understood the times.” That’s really what wisdom should do. Even pagans understand that.
Perhaps more applicable to us is the same basic comment with regard to the sons of Issachar. You will remember 1 Chronicles 11 and 12; David is gathering his army, tens of thousands of soldiers from all over Israel, and they’re coming together. And it says of the sons of Issachar that they “had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do,” 1 Chronicles 12:32.
There were all kinds of men of war. They could keep their ranks. They could follow orders. They had a loyal heart to make David king over all Israel. But particularly useful to David were the sons if Issachar, who “had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” I think in any era, certainly for the people of God, it’s critical to understand the times, and I want to see if I can’t help you a little bit with that this morning as we embark upon a new year.
Now obviously in a general sense we could say this is a post-Christian time. We could say it’s, even further, an anti-Christian time. We could go a step beyond that and say it is anti-Scriptural, and we could even say it’s an anti-Christ time. Decades of corrupt thinking has killed Western society in the sense that it had Christian influence. Western culture under the influence of Christianity has disappeared in every aspect, from education to economics, from media to medicine, from politics to public health—it’s all gone.
“Pride comes before a fall,” Scripture says; and you might say that in this case, gay pride has been the final act that pushed the culture off the platform into the incoming train of divine judgment, and I think we need to understand that. And for a text, just to frame it, I want you to turn in your Bible to Matthew chapter 11, Matthew chapter 11, and I want to read from verses 16 through 30—not that we’re going to necessarily look at it. So observe what is being said here. We’ll take a broad look rather than a detailed one.
Our Lord speaks in Matthew 11:16, “To what shall I compare this generation?” And again, here is the wisdom of Christ evaluating the times, helping us understand the time of His life and ministry. “To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you didn’t dance; we sang a dirge, and you didn’t mourn.’”
Children would meet in the marketplace and play games. They would play games built around the experiences that the adults had that were normal to life. From Jewish culture we know that funerals and weddings were biggest events, and so they would play wedding; they might even play funeral. That shows up in this little illustration because these children call out to other children and say, “Come and play with us. We played the flute for you, and you didn’t dance”—as if they were playing a wedding; “we sang a dirge for you”—as if they were playing a funeral—“and you didn’t mourn.” In other words, “No matter what we did, you were peevish children, unwilling to join us.”
And then He applies that: “For John”—the Baptist—“came neither eating nor drinking.” He was a solitary individual, antisocial you might say, lived out in the wilderness, ate locusts and wild honey. So didn’t participate in the social life of Israel, such as eating and drinking. And they said about him, “‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking”—Jesus entered into society; He spent time with people; He socialized—“and they [said], ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” In other words, whatever approach was taken to bring the truth to them, whether it was the isolated approach of the prophet John the Baptist or the socially involved approach of our Lord Himself, it didn’t matter. They didn’t care; they didn’t want to participate. Verse 19 ends by saying, “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” The truth will show up in spite of your indifference.
Then in verse 20 we read this: “Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent.” There was plenty of reason for them to listen to Him, and they refused. Even in the face of countless miracles, they didn’t repent. So He pronounces judgment on the villages in the north of Galilee: ““Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon”—which were destroyed—“in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum”—the center of many of Christ’s miracles—“[you] will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.” “You wouldn’t listen to John the Baptist, you wouldn’t listen to Me, you wouldn’t listen to the truth—and now I’m pronouncing judgment on you.”
And then in verse 25 there’s a shift: “At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You’ve hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.’” Why is it that we understand the times? Why is it that we understand the truth? Why is it that we embrace wisdom? Because it has been revealed to us by the Lord Himself.
“Yes, Father,” verse 26, “for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.” How marvelous is it to realize that while everyone else is in unbelief and rejection, and consequently, confusion, we know the truth because that’s what God chose to deliver to us.
Verse 27, “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” Again, the reason we know and the world doesn’t know is not because we’re smarter, it’s because God in His sovereignty chose to reveal the truth to us. Sovereign grace.
And then there’s a broad invitation: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
The essential truth of this text is that the world is never going to understand the truth. They’re never going to believe the truth no matter how it’s packaged, whether it’s in the uniqueness of John the Baptist or the even more unique ministry of our Lord. It doesn’t matter how powerful the preaching is, such as John the Baptist, it doesn’t matter how powerful the miracles are; they don’t believe. But there are some who do, because it pleased God to choose them and to will that that they know the truth.
How do you know if you’re one of those? Well verse 28 is expansive: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, learn from Me; I’m gentle and humble in heart, and you’ll find rest for your souls”—anyone who comes.
So there’s a distinction in this passage, very clearly, that there’s going to be a small number of people, who are called infants in this case—they’re not many noble, they’re not many wise—and they are the ones who know the truth, and they are the ones who have the responsibility to warn the rest. And that’s exactly what our Lord did.
And this is where we stand, I think, today; and you know this because we’ve said much about it. But decades of corrupt thinking have created the situation that we face in our world today. It’s very different than fifty years ago, that’s for certain. Aggressive efforts by real people for decades to eliminate biblical truth, the true worship of God, the gospel, the glory of Christ, Scripture, has de-Christianized our society—the death of truth, faith, hope, joy, integrity, virtue, relationships, family, purity, compassion, honesty. And in place of those things is cynicism and pessimism, and nihilism and skepticism, and drugs and pornography, and isolation and depression and suicide, and on it goes. And this anti-Christian avalanche finds a home in the minds and hearts of all sinners. You have to understand that. It’s amiable to sinners; it suits them. Hostility toward God resides in every human heart, to start with.
So this kind of hostility toward God is acceptable to every sinner. To make matters worse, popular evangelical churches fear being out of touch with the culture, so they desperately try to become friends of the world, which is, according to James, hostility to God. So we have a declining culture that’s already gone off the cliff, and we have a church that has done very little to prevent that.
So this is where we stand, and the only way that we can face this world is with that understanding. It’s a dire time. We can’t toy with the world; we have to confront the world the way our Lord did in Matthew chapter 11.
So that’s what I want to talk about a little bit this morning. More than ever before we have to be faithful; we have to be the enemy of the world in the sense that we reject it, and in that way we can actually be the friend of the world in the right way. I want to help you by giving you a little paradigm. So if you take notes on this, I’ll lay out six separate words that’ll frame this up a little bit.
But first to just remind you of John 15:18 and 19, “The world hates you . . . because you’re not of the world; I chose you out of the world.” Jesus said that this is antipathy: “The world hates you. Luke 6:26, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers of the false prophets.” So you’re never going to be faithful to the Lord and have a reputation with the world system.
John 7:7, that familiar verse, Jesus said, “The world . . . hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” And that is the necessary testimony of the church.
I read this week, and maybe you did as well, a famous Christian singer is hosting a wedding for a lesbian relative because the lesbian relative is such a good Christian. That’s acceptable in contemporary “Christianity.” But understand this: Men love darkness rather than light, John 3, because their deeds are evil. They love the darkness, so they’re very accepting of the darkness when it’s offered to them. And as I said, the church has worked so hard to embrace the world that it has never stood in the way of the destruction of this culture, as it should have.
So just exactly what are we dealing with? We’re dealing with not necessarily a well-crafted theology—not like the liberalism of the past, not even like cults that are framed up in some kind of rational fashion. What we have is basically a rejection of the truth on just a generic level. It could be any truth. It could be the truth of the gospel or the truth of your gender. The situation that we’re in says there’s no absolute truth, there’s no absolute truth. That’s the current zeitgeist: no absolute truth.
Moral relativism comes along and says there’s no ultimate authority, nobody can tell you how to behave, morally. Personal freedom says there are no divine rules, and humanistic atheism says there’s no sovereign judge. No absolutes, no ultimate authority, no divine rules, and no sovereign judge. And that’s perfectly fine to the sinner. He likes that. That’s amiable to him because that’s natural to his fallen condition. So it’s easy to create a whole culture that thinks that way, because you already have an affinity to that kind of deception in every human heart.
So in order to counter that—and I realize you could say a lot about it—but in order to counter that I want to give you a series of one-word definitions that are very important, that’ll frame up kind of a worldview.
Word number one: Objectivity, objectivity. Now what do I mean by that? We start with this reality—and this is sort of a theological approach to it, but stick with me, and we’ll show you how the Scripture supports it—the reality that the source of truth is completely outside of us. That’s what objectivity means.
Luther called the Bible the “external word.” It’s fixed, it’s complete, and it’s outside of you and me and everyone else. This is profoundly essential. No truth—no truth was ever sourced by a human being. No truth ever originated with a human being. You may discover it, you may learn it, you may understand it, you may reject it, but you are not its source. Authentic Christianity demands that all truth is outside of us, and I mean the truth about everything—the truth about everything natural and supernatural.
Truth is objective. No person has truth in himself. In other words, you don’t determine truth, it all comes from God. That is a sweeping statement: It all comes from God. Whatever is true about the created world is true of the created world because God created it that way. Whatever is true about the spiritual world is true because that’s the way God designed it. No human being or human beings are the origin of any truth at all, ever. No human is the source of establishing truth.
In Galatians 1, Paul says, “If an angel of God comes and says something other than the truth, don’t believe.” What someone thinks is true is irrelevant; that has nothing to do with whether it is true. There is no individual truth, there is only that which is true. And Scripture is God’s revealed truth.
This is where we know the spiritual realm, as to its truth. False religion devises lies and calls it truth. Mysticism says you can find your own spiritual truth. You hear people say, “Well I’m spiritual; I’m not religious. And I don’t go to church, but I’m spiritual.” That is meaningless.
There are “things hard to understand,” 2 Peter 3:16; we understand that. There are things hard to understand, but they can be understood by an appropriate study of Scripture and analyzing Scripture in the way that it has to be analyzed in order to yield that truth—and I’ll say more about that in a moment. No truth has ever come by the will of man, 2 Peter 1:20. “All Scripture,” 2 Timothy, “is inspired by God.”
So let’s just look at Scripture. Scripture is God’s truth. Whether it affects anyone or not, it’s still true. It’s an unchanging and eternal Word. Isaiah 40 tells that heaven and earth will pass away; “My words will by no means pass away,” Matthew 24:35.
So all truth is from God. All truth is objective; it’s all outside of us. It would all be true if you never lived or had a thought or had an opinion. Meaning is determined by the Creator and not by any human being. In no way is spiritual truth ever defined by someone’s experience. It’s not unique to an individual, it is universally true. And of course, this deals a heavy blow to a very large segment of professing Christianity, who are listening for the voice of God in their heads or seeking some kind of intuitive epiphany with the illusion the truth is out there, and if they listen they can hear it in an individual way.
The Bible is the truth, it is objective truth, it is true by itself, whether you know it or believe it or not. Psalm 119:160, “The entirety of Your word is truth.” This is essential as a starting point. We affirm that completely. All truth is objective, outside of us; no human being is the source of what is true. What is true, is true because it is true. Let me give you some ways to think about that before I give you a second word.
The foundation of reason kind of goes like this—and you’ll pick it up pretty fast: What is reality is. What is reality is. That’s identity. This is a reasonable approach to objective truth: identity; what really is, is. It’s not a question of human perception, it’s a question of reality.
It’s the law of contradiction, also, that fits into this little scheme: Nothing can be and not be at the same time. Nothing can be and not be at the same time. So something cannot be true and not true at the same time. You can see where that simple law of noncontradiction has escaped this culture.
And then exclusion: Everything is or is not.
Now those are just simple ways to narrow down the reality that truth is what it is. It isn’t something and something else at the same time; what it is can never be denied.
And that leads to a second word: Rationality. Rationality. You have to approach truth rationally. The objective revelation of God in Scripture is to be understood rationally—that is, by normal human reason. Scripture is logical. It is noncontradictory; it is clear. It is subject to mental assessment. There are no errors; there are no discrepancies, no lies, no unsound principles. Anything that contradicts Scripture is untrue; anything that contradicts reality is untrue. There are no fantasies, there are no absurdities, there are no myths, there are no other dimensions. There is reality, and reality is to be perceived rationally, rationally.
Truth is understood by the power of reason that God put in every human being. Rationally, that is by the mind and not understood mystically. I keep thinking back to the gender issue. What is, is, and what is reality is reality and not something else at the same time. That’s insanity. So in order to navigate the world in which we live, you have to start with the fact that all truth is objective, all truth is outside of us. No human being or human beings are the origin of anything that is true, and that truth is discerned and ascertained by reason.
A little bit of history on that. We have an exploding anti-intellectualism in our society. It’s frightening; it’s frightening. Every time you look at an ad on television, you see somebody with those massive goggles on their head living in la-la land, some fantasy world. You need to be reminded that this is escaping the world of reality, the world of truth, the rational world, into a fantasy. And people do that enough, they don’t know the line between the two.
Go back in American history a little bit, back to the arrival of the Puritan. Americans prized the intellectual life for its contribution. Puritans were highly educated people.
I was reading this week, the literacy rate for men in early Massachusetts and Connecticut was as high as 95 percent. They founded colleges, taught their children to read and write before the age of six. Studied art, science, philosophy, and other fields as a way of loving God with their mind. It was Puritan Cotton Mather who said, “Ignorance is the mother not of devotion but of heresy.” They were strong on developing intellectual, rational powers.
We’re far from that. We are rapidly becoming more illiterate, lower percentages of people who can read or think. This culture doesn’t demand that; the trend continues. And even in the church, through mystical and charismatic movements and pragmatic movements that rely on emotion, intuition, personal interpretation of feelings and experiences, even Christianity is not interested in the careful cultivation of the mind. Not interested. They want to use lights and music and entertainment and cord progressions to drive people’s emotions in a certain direction. Has nothing to do with a sound mind.
Now what do we mean by rationality? We mean this: that the truth of anything can be known by common language, real people, actual history, observable facts. There are no secret meanings to the Bible. There are no allegories. There’s no transcendental insights, no divine voices, no mystical interpretations.
Again, mystery and mysticism says, “Truth rises within us.” Mysticism rejects the intellectual process and says, “You find the truth inside of you.” That is a lie.
So as Christians, we insist that the word objectivity defines truth. Truth is objective—outside of us—rather than subjective—inside of us. Secondly, it is rational. It is perceived by what is rational: common language, real people, actual history, observable truth. It’s not something other than what you can see because you say it is.
So if you start with objectivity and then approach it with rationality, you come to a third word: Veracity. That’s just a word that means truth. The objective truth understood rationally—I should say, objectivity understood rationally leads to truth. You approach the Scripture, you approach anything in a rational way with your mind. Scripture is to be discerned by careful thinking. It is absolutely true and clear and sufficient.
And all truth in the world is observable. That truth which is material truth is observable. And that’s what science should be doing: observing that which can be seen and staying with the definition of reality, rather than creating a fantasy world in which things that are not true are spoken of as if they were. Veracity comes to those who start with objectivity and use rationality. This is a process of mental discernment, mental discernment.
I know there’s a lot of opinion today. People would like to have more dialogue as long as you agree with them. If you don’t agree with them, they want to shut you down. But nothing is really ever gained in dialogue because truth doesn’t come out of a conversation, it comes from reality. In fact, in Romans 6:17—I go back to that a lot—Paul says you literally have a new standard of thinking if you’re a believer, a new form of thinking. You don’t think the same way. It says in Romans 6:17, “Thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed.” Doctrine. Salvation is the grasp of doctrine.
So these are very important foundational words. But it takes us to a fourth word, and each word sort of builds on the previous one. Objectivity leads to rationality, which leads to veracity. Here’s where the noose gets tighter; that leads to authority, authority.
If it is objectively true, understood rationally, manifestly articulated as reality, then it carries authority. And this is where the pain starts to take hold of the culture, because we proclaim biblical truth as objective, coming from the Word of God; as rationally understood, as the absolute truth; and consequently it is authoritative, it is authoritative. These are the oracles of God.
In Titus chapter 2, verse 15—this is a good text to think of when you think about authority: “These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” Now there’s an unpopular approach to life. “Let no one disregard you.” This is the absolute opposite of the culture in which we live. Everybody feels they’re completely entitled to whatever it is that they think about anything. But counter to that, the Word of God says, “Speak [the word of God] with authority. Let no one disregard you.” Scripture is the final word. It is the mind of Christ.
Now it is not acceptable to this culture to speak with absolute authority. Obviously they hate it. It’s not only the idea of authority—that’s repulsive enough; but when with authority you’re preaching the Scripture, the law of God, the requirements of God, and the gospel of God, that is compoundingly offensive.
Churches have adjusted to this because they want to eliminate the offense, so they preach soft words, which produces hard hearts. One writer says the one who really wants a tender heart should be calling for a jackhammer. Hard words, hard teaching are the jackhammer of God. Takes a great deal to break up our hard hearts; and the God of all mercy is willing to do it, but He always does it according to His Word, and His Word is not as easy on us as we would like. Jeremiah 23 says, “‘Is not My word like a fire?’ says the Lord, ‘and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?’” When Christians opt out for smooth words, easy words, soft words, the result is hard people. So we have to be faithful to speak the Word of God with authority.
Now that leads to a fifth word, and that is incompatibility. At this point the objective Word, understood rationally, yields truth, which is authoritative and incompatible with anything else. And the noose is really tight in the paradigm at this point. Truth is absolutely incompatible with error. It is the law of exclusivity. Truth is intolerant.
First John 2:21, it’s a short statement, maybe overlooked—so important: “No lie is of the truth.” “No lie is of the truth,” 1 John 2:21. Something can’t be true and not true at the same time. “No lie is of the truth.” This is the incompatibility of truth.
So here we are, in this world demanding tolerance of everybody’s truth, everybody’s ideas, yielding up all authority for soft words, and fearing that somehow we might sound like our message is incompatible with any contradiction. We run from that kind of strong communication, fearing to offend, when offending is critical.
Back to Galatians 1 again, Paul said if somebody preaches another gospel, let him be damned. Paul says, “If someone doesn’t love the Lord [Jesus Christ], let him be damned,” 1 Corinthians 16:22. You either have the truth, or you’re damned. There are not compatible contradictory realities.
Tolerance toward people—that’s a virtue. Tolerance toward error—that’s a sin. God hates lying tongues and the liars who use them. That’s why Isaiah 8:20 says, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because no light is in them.”
I mean, listen to these familiar Scriptures. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” Acts 4:12, “There is salvation in no other; for there is no other name under heaven . . . given among men by which we must be saved.” Or John 3:36, “He who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Or 1 Timothy 2:5, “There is one God, one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” Or 1 John 5:11 and 12, “This is the testimony, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” And that’s that incompatibility. The truth is incompatible with all error.
So in our little paradigm you start out with this: All truth is objective, understood by rationality, confirmed as the truth or veracity, carrying all authority, and consequently incompatible with any disagreeing idea. That’s why, 2 Corinthians 10, we crush, we smash every idea raised up against the truth of God.
Now there’s one final word that I would add, and it’s the word integrity, the word integrity. This is so important. What I mean by this is the Word is not only to be proclaimed, it is to be lived.
Listen—as we just kind of wrap up—to the words of James chapter 1, verse 22. And this is where your testimony comes into play: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural fade in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty”—meaning Scripture—“and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.”
So the final word is integrity. As Christians who believe these things to be absolutely true, we have the responsibility to live them out in a very, very hostile world. But this is our calling, and we confidently trust the Lord to protect us in the process. Let’s bow in prayer.
Lord, we have a high calling, a holy calling. We are called to the truth, to be the people of the truth in a world drowning in lies. Help us to live it out no matter how difficult or challenging it may become because this is what You’ve called us to, and this is what You’ve equipped us to do from Your Word, in the strength of Your Spirit. Grant us grace, obedience, and faithfulness to be the people of the truth, to walk in truth—the truth, in particular, concerning You and Your Word and the gospel. May we be known as a church that is the pillar and ground of the truth.
To that great calling, Lord, we understand You have called us, prepared us, and sent us. Use us to that end, we pray in our Savior’s name. Amen.
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