Luke 19: 1-10
When parents who have children invite others over for a meal, they play a little game with their guests called, “Welcome to our clean house.”
To have a clean house you have to start cleaning three to five days in advance and you have to remove the children from the house a full 24 hours before your guests arrive.
You score points in this game when your guests say, “Oh, I just don’t see how you keep things so clean while raising a family.”
They know and you know, it’s all just a show. If there were any doubts, by the time they leave, your children and their children have completely destroyed their assigned rooms for the evening. If the guests didn’t bring children, your children will eventually “spill the beans” and much more – that your house doesn’t stay clean for long.
What is it about children that cause them to be attracted to a life of disorder? I’m not sure, but almost every child has this disease.
Rare is the child that can just get one toy from a toy box. Oh no, that’s boring. That’s not nearly stimulating enough. What’s a child going to do what that box full of toys? That’s right–dump the entire box and cover the entire floor.
Within five minutes or less, a child can have a floor so covered with Legos, dolls, Ninja Turtles, race cars, or cooking items that you can’t walk anywhere without stepping on something.
When parents notice that their children are developing these habits they instinctively realize that part of their job is to teach them to place some order into their lives.
So parents teach their children to put things back where they found them. If they dump all the toys from the toy box, then they will be expected to put them all away. If they make a mess, they will be expected to clean it up. Yea, right.
Parents who come behind their children and pick up all their toys and clean up all their messes all the time without ever trying to teach them a sense of order and structure harm their children’s sense of responsibility and understanding that it is important that have order and structure in life.
Order and structure are important in life. In fact, we see order built into the framework of creation and it reflects part of the nature of the Creator.
When is the last time you heard of any of the planets running into each other or the earth running off of its axis? Have any of the laws of science changed since yesterday or last month or last year or since the beginning of time? They haven’t changed because God designed the universe to follow these laws. They are dependable. They keep our world orderly.
This is not to say that nature is always predictable or that chaos isn’t a part of our weather system, because it is. It is to say that the framework of the universe has an order that reflects an intelligent Creator who appreciates order.
Jeremiah tied the reliability of God’s physical laws to the reliability of his promises; specifically that Israel was to be a special nation to him forever.
“Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the Lord of hosts is his name: If this fixed order were ever to cease from my presence, says the Lord, then also the offspring of Israel would cease to be a nation before me forever.” Jeremiah 31:35-36
Without any assistance from a telescope, Jeremiah could observe the order that was given to the world. He attributed this order to a God of order—a God who also had a plan for the nation of Israel.
While God had a plan for Israel to be included in His orderly redemptive world, they kept finding ways to introduce chaos into their lives through sin and rebellion.
In fact, much of the narrative of the Old Testament shows us that sin brings disorder. This is part of the Adam and Eve story.
Tempted by the serpent, Eve picked some fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden. She listened to the serpent, who lied to her as she reached for more than just the fruit. She was reaching to become like God. Eve wanted to do the ordering. Not only Eve, but also Adam.
That’s the temptation of us all. We all want to order and control our own lives. Even if that means having no order, we don’t want anyone else telling us how our lives should be managed or shaped.
Adults are not much different from children. Like children, we want to order our own world and most of the time we don’t want anyone telling us how to do it. Some say, “I’m doing just fine on my own, thank you. I don’t need your religion or your God.”
All the while, people who say this don’t even realize that it is God who has provided all that they have. God allows rain to fall on the just and the unjust. He hasn’t set up a world where His kindness only befalls those who worship him. While difficulty comes to all of us as well, the Bible is clear that without God, our world will become disordered to the point that it would cease to exist.
Remember, disorder is more than just something that happens to you externally. It has a lot more to do with whether you put the top back on the toothpaste, make up your bed, or if you can park your car in your garage.
Disorder is also an inward state, a condition of the soul, where peace is alluding, where fear and worry can be overwhelming, and where the anxieties about the future can be like a clanging cymbal.
Disorder occurs when our priorities are out of line and a person peruses the wrong things or places emphasis on the wrong things. Disorder occurs when our lives become unmanageable, even when we seem to have all we need around us to make us happy.
What God sought to do for Israel, Jesus sought to do for the world by showing that God cares for each of us. People who thought they were beyond the care and love of Jesus found redemption in him.
As a tax collector for Rome, Zacchaeus took a lot of money from the people, charging them whatever he wished, and he was allowed by the Romans to keep the excess. After a meal with Jesus, he was convinced that he needed to put the money back where it belonged, in the pockets of the people.
Have you noticed how often disorder comes when we reach for too much? Have you noticed how often disorder comes when we reach for things that are not holy? Have you noticed how often disorder comes when we reach for things that we have no business taking?
Zacchaeus must have thought that more meant happiness. Even if having more for him meant less for others, it didn’t seem to matter. But more didn’t bring order to his life.
Jesus taught him to put the money back where he got it. “Put it back, Zach, and bring some order to your life.” And he did! He found order by finding new priorities and understanding that giving was better than taking.
Let me offer one other example. Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying. If you want a picture of something that brings order to life, just picture Jesus on his knees in the Garden of Gethsemane. If you want some order in you life, that’s the posture you need.
Jesus knew that the end of his life was coming. He could sense it. He was disturbed in his spirit and his asked Peter, James, and John to pray with him. But on two occasions, he found them sleeping instead.
But they all woke up when Judas came into the garden with the Roman soldiers. He’d betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, revealing the place where Jesus and the disciples were staying that night.
There’s a violent scene in the garden as the soldiers arrest Jesus. Jesus isn’t resisting but Peter draws his sword to protect him. Peter sees the soldiers as the threat they were and with a swipe of his sword he takes off the ear of one of the soldiers. He would have taken off more if could.
But according to Jesus, his actions were misplaced. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52 NIV). With that, Jesus reached down, picked up the soldier’s ear and healed him.
We think that we are going to restore order with violence, or by our own force or will. Yet that was not the way of Jesus. He says to Peter, put your sword back where you got it.
What Peter did not understand and had to learn and what we have to learn is that order is restored in our lives through the grace and mercy of Jesus and not by our own will or force.
We can no more make peace by willing it than we can make the sun set at noon.
If your world is filled with disorder, you cannot make it orderly by force. Oh yes, you can impose rules. You can play the role of enforcer and make people afraid of you, but there is no real order until there is peace.
Paul wrote to the church of Corinth, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace…” (1 Cor. 14:33).
You cannot force your teenage child to make all the right choices. You cannot force your employer to treat you fairly. You cannot force your spouse to forgive you. You cannot force your parents or your siblings to love you. You cannot force yourself to forget your past or make all the right decisions tomorrow. You don’t have that much power.
Many people live with an illusion that they have control of their lives.
That’s why some of you up till now have thought this sermon is not for you because you believe you have such an ordered life.
One of the biggest ways we get things out of order is by trying to always be in control. If you are a bit OCD, then you have a place for everything and it upsets you if anything in your world is rearranged. If we are not careful, not only do we believe we can control everything in our world, we will also believe we can control things in other people’s lives as well.
Judas betrayed Jesus because He was trying to control Jesus’ next move. He tried to force Jesus to confront the Romans with the power he knew Jesus had. When Jesus didn’t fight back and he saw what was going to happen to Jesus, Judas lost control and he killed himself.
It’s difficult to blame Peter for trying to protect Jesus. However, Jesus had tried to show Peter through prayer that God was in control, but Peter, like us, wanted to control things his way. Sleep was more important than prayer. Because we think we are in control of most things in our lives, most things are more important than prayer to us.
So, with his world totally out of control with Jesus’ arrest, Peter denied he knew Jesus, because he was afraid for his own life and he no longer trusted Jesus to lead him.
Here’s the good news. Jesus eventually brought order back into Peter’s life when he met him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee after the resurrection and forgave him for abandoning him. Not only that, he gave Peter the task of taking care of his people.
When Peter knew he was forgiven, his life had order again, and he knew his life had purpose. Order in his life came through grace and mercy, not by doing things his way.
Are you living life your way instead of God’s way? What parts of your life are off limits to God? What parts of the tree of life have you plucked and said, “I’ll make the decisions about these areas of my life? I don’t need any religion. I don’t need any God.”
How’s it working for you? Be careful about using health and wealth as your barometer. Zacchaeus had those; yet he was lost and miserable.
Be careful about using religion as your barometer. Peter and Judas were disciples of Jesus for three years; yet they were still trying to control things to work out their own way.
Judas lost it all in despair. Peter learned that peace comes through a complete yielding of his will to Jesus’ plan for his life.
Have you learned that? Are you willing to humbly pray to the Lord and ask for the kind of order in your life that brings a peace that surpasses life’s circumstances?
Will you pray such a prayer right now?
Lord, God. I confess that I am not much different than a child. I want my way. I like making all my decisions and I don’t like others telling me what to do. I confess that I resist following your ways because I am stubborn, but my way has also brought a lot of disorder in my life. I want the peace that you offer and I know I cannot find it living by my own rules. I tend to make of mess of things. That’s not easy to say to You, but I know it’s true. So, like a child, I am coming to you in faith. I am trusting in you to bring order in my life and give me the peace that I need. Show me where I need to make changes and set new priorities. Help me to let old habits go that are unhealthy and replace them with a lifestyle that is pleasing to you. As new order comes to my life, help me be a witness to others, so that others might find peace along with me. Thank you Jesus. Amen.