He had it all. He reigned during Israel’s golden age – the peak of her economic and political prosperity. Neighboring countries paid her tribute. Peace reigned within her borders. His subjects were physically and financially secure. (1 Kings 4:25) And he didn’t just have it all as the King of Israel, God had given him priceless personal blessings. He was an educated man: a botanist, zoologist, astronomer, philosopher, poet, politician and songwriter. (1 Kings 4:30-34) God called him the wisest man who would ever live. (1 Kings 3:12) And yet, with all of that, this was Solomon’s assessment of life: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” Says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Not exactly a glowing review. But when you think about it, he’s right, isn’t he? What’s the point of saving for retirement, of working day after day for years, of having children, of getting married, of getting a high school diploma or college degree? What’s the point of waking up in the morning and getting out of bed and going to school or work; what’s the point of eating, sleeping, breathing, what’s the point of anything – if, in the end, we die and everything we’ve worked for is gone? Nothing. Without Jesus, everything is meaningless.
In the realm of education – of all ages – there’s no point to wasting any time, effort, or money on it at all, apart from Jesus. Why not? Why isn’t it worth learning to spell and add and read and write? Why isn’t it worth it to learn a trade and social skills and the value of personal responsibility and individual achievement? In one of his thousands of proverbs, Solomon wrote: the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10) As Paul told Timothy, only Scripture is able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:15) Jesus Christ, the Lord God incarnate, is the beginning, and the middle, and the end of true, lasting wisdom – because he is the only one who can give this life meaning and save us from eternal death. (1 Corinthians 1:24) Apart from him, everything we know or trust or teach or learn is meaningless; apart from him education becomes idolatry.
Now, I might be wrong, but I doubt that any of us were thinking of idolatry when we confessed our sins earlier. I doubt that anyone here had to confess to having a little shrine to Buddha at home. I doubt that we think of idolatry as our pet sin or are aware of all the idols in our lives. But ignorance is no excuse. You can diagnose the idols in your life by considering your priorities, the things or people or activities that you simply could not live without. Luther explains “A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress.”  Who or what is the greatest source of good in your life? To whom or to what do you turn first when trouble strikes? Whatever it is, that is your god. Especially for Christians, the devil likes to twist God’s good blessings into idols: family, health, reputation, wealth, home, job, possessions, convenience, leisure, hobbies, pets. And you might want to jump out of your chair right now and scream, “Yes, I value those things, but don’t you dare call them idols.” Really? Do they ever take priority over the one, true God? If God takes them away do you question his power, wisdom, and love? What makes anything an idol is not what it is, but the place we give it in our hearts and lives. I would contend that education has become one of the most prominent idols in America today – in that it is seen by many as the source of all good and the solution for every evil.
An example of idolatrous education is found in our Gospel lesson. There was nothing more precious to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day than the Law of Moses. They valued their obedience to the Law (as they defined it) above all things. They passionately studied and taught and learned the Law and sincerely tried to obey it. But for all of their passion and sincerity, Jesus said they did not have the word or love of the Father. Why not? Because they did not believe the one [God] sent. (John 5:38) Their educational system had become an idol because they trusted it for salvation; as a ladder by which they could climb into heaven rather than a mirror which showed them their depravity. (John 5:45; Romans 3:20) For all the time they spent studying God’s Law, they remained blind to their sin, their pride, their self-righteousness. And as a result, they were blind to their Savior.
It’s scary how easily a blessing can become an idol, isn’t it? What could be greater, better, purer than the laws given by God himself? What could be better than devoting your time and energy to knowing and obeying God’s will? But if you trust it to get you to heaven you might as well be bowing down to Buddha – because no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the law. (Romans 3:20) In the same way, education is a blessing, but education apart from Jesus is idolatry. It’s not just the education that takes place in Jewish synagogues or Islamic mosques. Though they would like you to believe otherwise, government-run schools today are religious schools, indoctrinating children in the religion of secular humanism. (Secular humanism teaches that there is no God, that evolution explains the origin of the world, that humans are inherently good, that we are accountable to no one, and there is no such thing as moral absolutes.) And the scariest thing of all is that these idols don’t just lurk out there – they can lurk in our own parenting and teaching, too. If we think our job is to raise children of good “character” then we have taught our children to trust the law for salvation. If by word or example we are teaching them that getting good grades so that you can get into a good college so you can get a good job and good money and good stuff is the source of happiness, then education has become god. If our children can recite the 10 commandments but haven’t a clue about justification, redemption, and forgiveness, then we have raised little Pharisees.
Why is it so important to have Jesus at the center of everything for us and our children, especially in the early, formative years of their lives? Because Jesus did what none of us could ever do: he actually obeyed the law, fulfilled it, completed it to God’s satisfaction in our place. To be a Christian doesn’t mean obeying all the rules, making all the right decisions, going to the right school, or having perfect church attendance – it means trusting in Jesus alone for salvation. It means believing that God in his grace has credited his perfect obedience to your account and sacrificed him on a cross as the payment your sins. It means living and dying confident that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because…Christ Jesus [has] set [us] free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2) It means being willing to suffer anything, deny anything, give up anything for ourselves and our children – except for Jesus, because Jesus alone is the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6)
That’s exactly what the Pharisees in Jesus’ day refused to believe. They believed they were serving God by their sincere and devoted efforts to keep the law but they were really serving the devil. This is why Jesus condemned their educational efforts, saying: you diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40) He came to them to bring them forgiveness of sins and peace with God – and they rejected him, despised him, assaulted him and crucified him. Apart from Jesus, everything we do is meaningless – because apart from Jesus, every path leads to eternal death.
This focus on the Gospel – on what Jesus has done for us instead of what we do for him – is what, more than anything else, sets confessional Lutheran schools apart from any other – even other Christian schools. Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide – Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone – every WELS pastor and teacher is sworn to those biblical principles. They are carefully trained to properly divide between Law and Gospel (2 Timothy 2:15): so that children see themselves clearly – as lost and condemned sinners – and understand the Gospel clearly – that Jesus came to save sinners. (1 Timothy 1:15) Bible history and catechism lessons ground children in historic, biblical Christianity and equip them to see Jesus on every page of the Bible. Through weekly chapels, daily devotions, and the memorization of hymns and Scripture Jesus’ words and works are forever etched on their hearts and minds. God’s absolute, unchanging standard of right and wrong and the mercy God has shown us in Jesus form the basis for discipline and conflict resolution in a Lutheran classroom – not the latest, greatest philosophy of some faceless, godless bureaucrat. History traces God’s efforts to bring the saving gospel to the world, math and science are taught as ways of exploring and understanding the wonderful world God has created. Reading, writing, music and athletics are done to the glory of the God who gave us each diverse and valuable talents and abilities. The difference is not that there is no sin and no sinners in a Lutheran school – just ask anyone who ever taught in or attended one. The difference is that Jesus, his cross, and the forgiveness he won there are at the center in everything in a Lutheran school.
Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived, and he was right: without Jesus, everything, everything we do – and everything we do for our children – is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. If they are not convinced by the power of the Holy Spirit that salvation is theirs by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone – then it doesn’t matter if they will go on to make billions of dollars, if they become tech titans or professional athletes, if they cure cancer, or if they are happy because one day they will die and go to hell. But with Jesus, everything, even the most basic things like learning to read and write are eternally meaningful. (Revelation 14:13) I am not going to tell you that you must send your children to a Lutheran school. It would be legalistic and contrary to the freedom we have in Christ for me to guilt you or command you into sending your children to or supporting Lutheran schools. On the other hand, Sunday school, confirmation class, and Lutheran schools are tools to help parents, not replace them. In the end, God will hold us parents – and especially us fathers – responsible for raising our children in the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Is Jesus at the center of your life? Consider the message you’re sending if you drop your kids off for Sunday school and leave, forfeiting the opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet yourself. It all comes down to priorities. Your priorities tell you what your God is. What are yours? As you consider the best way to keep Jesus at the center of your and your children’s lives; as you consider what can (and maybe should) be sacrificed and what can’t be find your strength and motivation in Jesus’ promise: seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things (all the good things you and your children need for life in this world) will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33) Amen.
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