Summary: Fall On Your Knees Before the Lord! (It’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.)
Did you hear about the row Forbes magazine caused? Its latest issue included a list of the wealthiest people in the world. 26th on the list is Saudi prince Alwaleed and he’s not happy with this ranking. Forbes valued him at a paltry $20 billion prompting Alwaleed to claim that if the magazine had also counted his assets like jewelry and yachts, he would have easily cracked the top ten. I don’t suppose you feel sorry for the prince. It’s hard to admire those who brag about how much they have. We think people like that need to be taken down a notch or two.
That’s also the way God thinks of the proud. Whether you have 20 billion dollars or just 20, the Apostle James urges you to fall on your knees before the Lord. It’s the only way you’ll get on your feet. Let’s find out why that is.
Just to be clear, today’s sermon is not about how to be included in the next list of billionaires. That’s not what I mean when I speak about getting on your feet. The world may put a premium on earthly riches but the Bible does not. Listen to what the psalmist said: “So don’t be impressed with those who get rich and pile up fame and fortune. They can’t take it with them; fame and fortune all get left behind. Just when they think they’ve arrived and folks praise them because they’ve made good, they enter the family burial plot where they’ll never see sunshine again. We aren’t immortal. We don’t last long. Like our dogs, we age and weaken. And die” (Psalm 49:16-20 Message translation).
The only treasure we have now that will allow us to outlast the grave is faith in the one true God. Faith doesn’t just mean acknowledging that God exists. Even the demons do that (James 2:19). Faith means valuing and trusting God more than anything else – even more than ourselves. Look for that point in our short sermon text. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. 7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:6b-10).
Just as a tree must send its roots deep in the earth so that it can reach the nourishment it needs to grow tall and bear fruit, sinners must first root themselves in God-pleasing humility or they will never be able to stand up in God’s presence (Augustine). That’s what James was getting at when he said that we should “Grieve, mourn, wail, and change our laughter to mourning and our joy to gloom” (James 4:9). Laughter is not always the best medicine – not if I laugh about my sins like when I brag about how I deceived my parents about what I was doing Friday night. Nor is God impressed with those who laugh about how drunk they got at the last wedding reception, or chuckle about how far over the speed limit they drove to make it down to Calgary in under three hours. What sins did you laugh about last week? Was it really funny how you pestered your big sister? Was it amusing how you feigned busyness at work? God’s not laughing. Nor should you.
Have I just sucked all the joy out of the room? If you feel ashamed about how often you laughed about your sins, you can begin to understand how the younger son felt in our Gospel lesson when he sat among the pigs contemplating just how poorly he had treated his father (Luke 15). He had demanded his share of the inheritance while his father was still living and so he might as well have said: “Dad, I wish you would die already. I can’t stand being around you. I want to ditch this place and live on my terms.” Isn’t that what we often think of our heavenly Father’s rule over us: a burden?
What are sinners like us to do? James gives us the answer: “Come near to God and he will come near to you… Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:8a, 10). Jesus’ parable illustrated James’s point. The father in the parable had never stopped loving his son and longing for his return. When he saw the boy coming over the horizon he ran to meet him. He then forgave the boy before he could even spit out the full apology and gave him new sandals, a coat, a ring, and threw a lavish banquet to celebrate his return. Are you beginning to see how falling on your knees before the Lord is a wonderful posture to adopt? It’s the only way you’ll ever get on your feet, for its only there at the feet of the one true God that hands reach down in the person of Jesus to lift you up. That rescue was accomplished when, unlike the older son in the parable who stood in judgment of his wayward brother, Jesus stood under judgment at the cross taking the blame for our sins.