Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Proverbs 14:4 --- Serving the Lord Jesus in His Time

Proverbs 14:4
Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
    but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.
Today's proverb makes a simple observation about obtaining "abundant crops," in the era in which Solomon lived.  If you wanted an abundant harvest in Solomon's time, then you needed oxen.  As someone put it, the ox was the tractor in ancient Israel.  Apart from "the strength of the ox," a bumper crop was an impossibility. 
One could choose not to own oxen.  This would save the farmer lots of trouble.  Without oxen the hard work of feeding, caring, and cleaning after the animals would be taken away, but so too would the abundant crop be taken away. As Charles Ryrie quipped, "There is no milk without some manure."[1]
So what we have here is an economic observation similar to our modern day maxim:  You
must spend money to make money.  But is that all we can glean from this proverb? If we leave this proverb now and move to the next, don't we feel a bit like Paul, when he said: "Is it for oxen that God is concerned?  Does he not certainly speak for our sake?" (1Corinthians 9:9-10).  Surely the Lord's interest in giving us his Word goes beyond teaching us economics at even a level I can understand! Just as the apostle Paul was certain that the Scriptural observation about oxen he cited from the Pentateuch taught us a spiritual lesson, so I think we also can be certain that this observation about oxen from the Proverbs also teaches us a spiritual lesson beyond economics. But what is that lesson?  The first hint in our text comes from the harvest. The ox was vital to bringing in an abundant crop.  Now, with what harvest is Scripture concerned?  Our Lord's concern was the harvest of souls.  As Christians we share our Lord's concern. This time between our Lord's coming and his return is the time of sowing and planting and harvesting people for heaven. As disciples, we have been given the great commission:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the       Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20)
We have been given a task of making disciples, but where will the power come to do this? Who is the ox, the "tractor," in this task of making disciples?  May I give you the Sunday School answer?  The ox is our Lord Jesus Christ, and this for three reasons.  First, Jesus is the sacrifice that has made possible the forgiveness of sins.  The ox was a sacrificial animal, and in some ways the chief sacrificial animal.  Solomon sacrificed 22,000 oxen at the dedication of his temple (1 Kings 8:63). Jesus' sacrifice enables all who call on him to enter his heavenlytemple in the heavenly Zion. Second, Jesus is the strength for all his disciples, each of whom is involved in the task of evangelism and discipleship.  Isn't it interesting that Jesus' invitation to us involves a yoke?
"Come to me, 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." (Matthew 11:28-30)
None of us have the strength or power to make a single disciple.  Jesus himself acknowledges our lack of strength, but also our source of strength when he says to us in John 15:5, "Apart from me you can do nothing." What is a yoke? A yoke was an instrument for work that usually was made for two oxen.  Jesus is promising us a restful and easy yoke.  A yoke made easy because of love --- his for us and ours for him.  A yoke made easy because he is beside us, pulling the yoke, by his power and Spirit. Third, Jesus is the ascended and resurrected King.  The ox was the king of the domesticated animals, just as the lion the king of wild animals, and the eagle the king of the winged animals.  It is his authority and power that guarantees an abundant crop.  Earlier I left out the words that introduce the great commission, but they point to our Lord Jesus Christ's absolute authority:  "And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."  Jesus is the King whose authority over heaven and earth ensures an abundant crop. How important it is for us to know the time in which we live.  We live in the time of making disciples for Jesus Christ our King.  You won't read about this time in the news.  You won't
learn about this time in the headlines. But it is what this time we live in at its deepest and profoundest level is all about.  Our proverb teaches us about this time and about the One who is our strength for this time.  May we be wise and serve him in this time, which fundamentally is his time.  Amen.

[1]Quoted in Kitchen, Proverbs, 303.

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