In an article updated just a month ago (January 27, 2021), Sarah Pruitt wrote on History channel website “5 Things You May Not Know About the Challenger Shuttle Disaster.” We all know the space shuttle Challenger was destroyed 73 seconds after lift-off on January 28, 1986. All seven astronauts on board were killed.
1. The Challenger didn’t actually explode.
The shuttle’s demise looked like an explosion, the media called it an explosion and NASA officials described it that way at first. Later investigations revealed that seal in the shuttle’s right solid-fuel rocket booster was weakened by frigid temperatures and failed. Hot gas poured through the leak. The fuel tank collapsed and tore apart. The resulting flood of liquid oxygen and hydrogen created the fireball many thought was an explosion.
2. The astronauts aboard the shuttle didn’t die instantly.
After the fuel tank collapsed, the Challenger was momentarily intact, and actually continued flying upwards. Soon, however, powerful aerodynamic forces pulled the orbiter apart. Frightening as it is to say so, it’s likely that the Challenger’s crew survived the breakup of the shuttle but lost consciousness from loss of cabin pressure but likely died from hitting the water at more than 200 miles per hour.
I won’t trouble you with the other three lesser-known truths. My point in all of this is that seven people trusted their lives to technology and lost. What brought this to my mind is the central point of God’s message to us today:
Worldly things are not prone to fail, they are bound to fail. We have to trust them to a certain degree, just to live and work in the world. But ultimately, spiritually, nothing in this world is worthy of our complete trust. God alone has earned that position.
1. Matthew 23:16-22 = Woe to Those who Trust in Worldly Things
Woe #3 in Matthew 23 is directed at those who, as shown by their oath-taking, put more importance on the material wealth of the temple than its spiritual wealth. Among the Jews, swearing an oath was an important issue. To swear an oath but not keep it was considered perjury. To swear by God and then fail to keep your word was blasphemy.
I believe swearing by the GOLD or the GIFT played upon a natural but spiritually immature tendency to value material things over spiritual things. Jesus exposed the worldliness of this approach by reminding them that the spiritual, transcendent things were of greater value. He said it was the TEMPLE that made the GOLD SACRED, not the other way around. It was the ALTAR that made the GIFT SACRED, not the other way around. Just because you can put a price on something, that does not mean it is more valuable than something literally priceless, like our faith and relationship with God.
The whole matter of oath-swearing may sound petty in our ears, but we need to think about it. Swearing oaths receives a fair amount of instruction in the Bible and is important for that reason alone. Also, that culture did not have the benefit of signatures, fingerprints, paper records, computers, etc. – all our modern means of verifying identity. In that culture, swearing an oath took on a similar function, binding the parties in a contract to keep the contract. Oath-taking had an important legal function in their society and pious people were also under divine directive to keep the oaths they swore.
Jesus’ solution to this problem was to do away with oath-swearing entirely. In Matthew 5:33-37 He instructed them to be honest and have integrity; “LET YOUR ‘YES’ BE ‘YES’ AND YOUR ‘NO’ BE ‘NO,’” He said. To underscore this point He added, “ANYTHING BEYOND THIS COMES FROM THE EVIL ONE.”
These days, this same kind of materialism is manifest in the American Church in at least two ways. One, by their primary/sole concern for buildings, budgets, bodies, and by-laws and neglect of the Bible, beliefs, and blessings, some church-going folk betray their hypocrisy. Like the GOLD and the GIFT these are concrete things that can be counted, measured, seen, and potentially controlled. What a person values reveals a lot about the depth of their spiritual maturity.
Two, by their primary/sole concern for the approval of politically correct culture, immersion in social media, and trust in technology to the neglect of biblical morality, theology, and integrity. People who allow their beliefs to be determined by the culture, creed, or circumstance instead of Scripture are hypocrites.
2. Psalm 20:1-9 = Blessed are Those who Trust in the Lord.
There are several promises made in this Psalm, all of them indicate the LORD hears and saves His people (1-6, 9). We’ll take a look at these promises and then at the caution against trusting in worldly things.
To those in DISTRESS, He offers protection (1). Perhaps the most sincere prayer is one uttered in a time of DISTRESS. The NAME of God is a way of referring to His character and power; God Himself will PROTECT the pious pray-er. The word PROTECT is based on a root word “to make high, inaccessible.” The picture here is God putting His people someplace safe, removed from harm.
The reference to the GOD OF JACOB looks back as Exodus 3:14-15; 6:2-3. This was the name God gave Moses at the burning bush. It is also a reminder; “God saved Jacob from Esau’s wrath and other things. He will save you too.”
From His temple, God promises HELP and SUPPORT (2). THE SANCTUARY and ZION are references to the temple and the “mountain” on which it was constructed. Historically, the kings of Israel who cared most about God’s temple were the ones who prospered. The Old Testament affirmed that God’s presence was localized at the temple but not limited to it. God is present everywhere, but He is especially present in those sacred spaces that are truly dedicated to Him.
The word SUPPORT meant “strengthen” and could include provision of food and drink (Judges 19:5, 8; Psalms 104:15) or other means of assistance that give evidence to God’s loving care for His people. He kept His part of the covenant.
God promises to REMEMBER your SACRIFICES and ACCEPT your OFFERINGS (3). The Law of God required His people to make animal sacrifices for various reasons. On the surface, this looked like the same thing as the sacrifices offered to idols by the pagan nations. The difference was the people of Israel were to offer sacrifices out of faithful hearts, demonstrating love for God and obedience to His commands. On the other hand, the pagans were attempting to buy the favor of their false gods or appease their anger. Their motives were entirely different. In God’s eyes, the value of the sacrifice didn’t determine His response, it was the integrity and motive of the person making the offering that mattered.
The word REMEMBER may be another way of saying ACCEPT, or it may be an assurance the godly behavior will be met with godly reward. ACCEPT is based on a root word which meant “be fat.” This is God showing His favorable response to their sacrifice because it was offered with a good motive and a true heart.
He will reward you with THE DESIRE OF YOUR HEART and with success (4). 1 Kings 9:4 = INTEGRITY OF HEART was one of the conditions God gave Solomon to qualify for an everlasting throne. We know Solomon lost that integrity over time and his kingdom was split in the next generation.
It is God who decides rewards and punishments in perfect proportion to a person’s faithfulness or lack thereof. Additionally, God has created the world in such a way that there are natural and more immediate rewards and punishments for our attitudes and actions. Implied in this verse is the natural understanding that godly people are wise people and wise people tend to make better plans and are more likely to succeed.
The references to HEART and PLANS seem to include the emotional and intellectual sides of human personality and decision-making. The real recipe for success is to use one’s heart and mind to perceive the will of God and to seek it. If we make God’s will the DESIRE OF our HEART and the center of our PLANS, the obviously we are more likely we will receive “Yes” answers to our prayers.
God said He will award victory that will be an occasion for JOY and praise to God (5). The BANNER mentioned here may be a reference to Exodus 17:15-16 where Moses set up an altar and called it “THE LORD IS MY BANNER.” Its purpose was to remind Israel they were at war with the Amalekites FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION because of their treachery against Israel. This was a demonstration of loyalty to God and that may be the point here as well. The psalmist is saying the proper response of faithful people is JOY because they know it is God who has delivered the victory.
He will GRANT your prayer requests. Verse five says MAY THE LORD GRANT ALL YOUR REQUESTS. Note the verse ends with a reference to prayer. That implies even after God has given the victory, His people are to continue praying.
Verse six says God will answer His people FROM HIS HOLY HEAVEN. Though God is HOLY and has His throne in HEAVEN, He is not so far removed that He is ignorant of what we are going through or does not care. HE ANSWERS the prayers of His people. We need to get this straight and help others understand; when God’s people are praying there is no such thing as “unanswered prayer.”
Verse nine says God will ANSWER US WHEN WE CALL. This also repudiates the notion of “unanswered prayer.” God may respond with a “Yes,” in agreement with our prayers; He may respond with a “No” because what we asked for is not His will; He may respond with a “Wait” because the time is not right. Those are all legitimate answers.
All the resources of heaven will be deployed in defense of the LORD’s ANOINTED (6). The word SAVES in verse six is from the same root as VICTORIOUS in verse five. The psalmist wrote of victories yet to come, but is so confident he speaks of his grateful response as if they’ve already happened.
“The Anointed One” is the ultimate meaning of the word “messiah” and Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s promises in that regard. However, the promises of God’s victory are also given to God’s people through the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
He will SAVE the leaders of His people (9). The reference to the KING in this verse makes some commentators think the whole psalm is about the king. Even if the king is the person in view, these principles still apply to all God’s people.
And now for the warning; those who trust in anything else are headed for a fall (7-8). People trusting in CHARIOTS and HORSES will be BROUGHT TO THEIR KNEES AND FALL. Even though there was no king over Israel at the time Moses spoke these words, Deuteronomy 17:14-20 commanded the king not to accumulate horses or wives. (You guess which was used in war and which in peace!) The reason for this was to avoid trusting in worldly things. Instead, the king was to keep the commands of the Lord always before him and obey them.
It is tempting to be self-reliant. It seems easier to rely on worldly preparations. But God wants us to rely on Him instead. Though everyone else may TRUST in worldly things and stake their future on their own preparedness, God’s people are to be distinguished by their reliance on God.
Think of it this way; when a war is won by having more CHARIOTS AND HORSES, that glorifies the king and his generals. But when a tactically inferior force defeats a greatly superior opponent, it is God who is glorified.
In contrast to those who think a stack of worldly goods is all they need, people trusting in THE NAME OF THE LORD will RISE UP AND STAND FIRM. They face doubts and discouragements, sure, but are always lifted up and encouraged by God’s sovereign hand.
God calls you to trust Him, not anything else.
In this situation, a hypocrite may be defined as someone who claims to trust God but actually cares more about worldly things. Remember, if God is not first in your life, He isn’t in it at all.
What does trust in God mean? What does it look like in daily living?
1) You are not going to panic when finances and circumstances go against you or don’t go the way you want.
2) You are more prone to pray and to consult the Bible before making decisions.
3) Your character will be increasingly marked by positivity and peace.
4) You will not be driven by greed or pride; love will more often motivate your words and deeds.
5) Your contribution to church meetings will more often be praise, less often complaints, corrections, or drama over details.
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, Psalms, Willem A. VanGemeren.
Hard Sayings of Jesus, F.F. Bruce