The Answer

Can we receive a challenge to our entire world view?

A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” 

Matthew 16:4

Pharisees considered themselves righteous. Paul said of himself, “As for legalistic righteousness [I was] faultless.” Jesus’ view of them as wicked and adulterous meant their view of life was fundamentally wrong.

We are adulterous when we follow a path other than Jesus. We are wicked when we are so sure of our path that we persuade others onto it. Pharisees elevated their reading of the Bible. What path do we elevate? Path to God? Environmental action? Political opinions? ..?

We know we are on an adulterous way when we catch ourselves denying compassion or honesty to those of an opposite persuasion. We know what the way is by the congratulations we embrace.

“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

Matthew 16:6

This is not just a personal quirk. Jesus says such influences are to be guarded against.

Given this context, Peter’s response to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” is extraordinary.

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Matthew 16:16

Peter is throwing away all credibility. This is an “All in” moment. Am I willing, at the cost of my credibility, to lift up Jesus as the only answer for the world’s problems?

Resisting wickedness

When the wicked win the temptation is to use their methods. In succumbing we become wicked. What should we do?

Do not fret because of those who are evil …; for like … green plants they will soon die away. [Psalm 37:1-2]

When the wicked win, anxiety drives towards wickedness. We need Jesus’ perspective. The wicked will not ultimately win and there is a way to Jesus-

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. [Psalm 37:3]

The temptation to win by becoming wicked drives us from the safe place Jesus would have us live in. This dwelling place exists only through trust.

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. [Psalm 37:4]

We gain spiritual strength as we choose to delight in Jesus and discover the fulfilment of desires long supressed under the boasts of the wicked.

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: he will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. [Psalm 37:5-6]

When we entrust our future to God, he takes us down paths that vindicate us.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, … Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it leads only to evil. [Psalm 37:7-8]

When we are quiet despite the wicked winning, we know we are, trusting, delighting and committing our way to Jesus.

Realising my wickedness

The shock of my Christian life was realising that this description of the wicked fit me…

In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises. [Psalm 10:2]

Arrogance comes from believing ourselves to be so ‘right’ we can tell others how to live. We give ourselves permission to put others straight and use clever schemes to bring people into line with what we believe.

He boasts about the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord. [Psalm 10:3]

Our empty hearts need an object for their cravings. Too impatient to wait on God to fill us, we direct our cravings towards ministry, developing a greed for what we are convinced is on God’s heart.

His ways are always prosperous; your laws are rejected by him; he sneers at all his enemies.’ [Psalm 10:5]

Convinced we are right, we justify abandoning love to cajole others into developing our ministry success.

His mouth is full of lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue.  [Psalm 10:7]

This ministry is spread through half-truths masquerading as God’s word. Threats of terrible consequences silence the objections of love. Its fruit is trouble and evil, for love is driven away by wickedness. It looks and sounds so right and Biblical, but where is the life of Jesus?

Trying not to be like this becomes another form of wickedness. The Lord overcomes my wickedness as I spend time with HIm so he can fill me with his love.

Out manoeuvred?

How do I behave before a schemer who always seems to defeat me? When I focus on my adversary, wickedness surges up as I plan strategies to fight back. Can I surrender this person to God, lifting my eyes to Him who is my help and my salvation? If my aim is not ‘to gain control’ but ‘to be with God’ then I must entrust this issue to Him.

How does the Lord work with such hard hearts? Psalm 81 gives a rather surprising answer. He does not overpower –

‘But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.’

When we won’t listen to Him, the Lord cuts us loose to experience both the freedom we demand and the mess that follows. This sounds like something an opponent would relish for their adversary. My experience however is that it is hard to live with the mess, and harder to watch even an adversary suffer until the lessons are learned.

Psalm 82 adds an important perspective.

‘But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler.’

The end for those who indulge in wickedness is eventually a fall. So we are both in danger. When I am drawn into battle I become a wicked schemer as well. The Psalmist prays,

‘Rise up O God, judge the earth.’

This request for judgement requires purity, for the Lord’s judgement will be applied evenly.

God’s goodnes vs our wickedness

The great drives that push me towards wickedness are my fears and my strong desires. The antidote is trusting the goodness of God.

Psalm 34:8-10 says: Taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. … The lions may grow weak and hungry but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Many who know God would acknowledge this – especially when all is well. Life however throws objections. When we feel in need our fears question these words. When what we desire seems tantalisingly in reach we can find ourselves manipulating people; so wickedness is found in us. Yet God IS good and provides what is good! When I look back on times of crisis God’s faithfulness always shone through. The problem is with the appearances that trigger fear and strong desire as we look at an uncertain future.

On an extended overseas trip I went to a lot of trouble to have phone and internet access at a manageable cost. Half way through the trip the equipment failed. Now the challenge – I felt a lack but my drive to rectify the situation pushed my family aside. Could I accept God working for good in the failure? He knew what communication was needed and how much was driven by fear. When I let go of what I thought I needed, accepting a second rate solution, God in His goodness stepped in with unexpected answers that brought completeness. His goodness shone through.