Whereas we don't normally flee, as in running away, from things in our every day life, we still do flee. In tonight's sermon with guest preacher, Pastor Tom Glende, learn how we can stop fleeing and live better for Jesus.
18 years the woman had been disfigured.
18 years the woman had been crumpled over.
18 years the woman had heard the comments.
“Do you see the hump? What happened to her?”
“She looks just like Quasimodo. She’s a hunchback.”
“Oh, child – don’t go near her. You don’t know where she’s been.”
Her daughters used to come around – sure. But lately they had not wanted to be seen by her.
The same with her friends – their friendships stopped as the ridicule started. They didn’t want to be a part of it.
Every once in a while, a passerby would stop over her – drop a penny in her jar, tell her that “it’d be ok,” and they were “glad to meet her” but that was the end of it.
No new friendships blossomed.
None of these people returned.
Nobody seemed to care.
She was all alone.
That loneliness? It was powerful. It sunk to the bottom depths of our soul. It filled her with sadness – a deep and dark depression – an expectation that nobody cared about it. Not even God.
In the midst of another day alone with her darkest thoughts, a voice called out to her. This voice was different. It wasn’t mocking. It wasn’t pitying. It wasn’t talking about her or above her or down at her.
It was talking to her.
The owner of the voice was surrounded by a group of people. They all seemed to be very invested in what he had to say. But he seemed to only be invested in her. He called her over to him, “Dear woman – come here.”
This was different.
This was caring.
This felt wonderful.
And when she did hobble over – his gentleness not changing after he saw her disfiguration – she felt a peace overcome her.
He spoke to her, “Dear woman…”
The implication – I see you. I care about you. I am here for you.
Then he said this, “Be set free from your infirmity.” (Luke 13:12)
The woman felt a release. She looked at him. He smiled. She slowly straightened. She was healed.
18 years. 18 years – and now she knew – She wasn’t alone. Now she knew – Jesus cared.
Jesus cares about you too. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t times that we feel lonely – I even feel it as a pastor. Today’s Psalm helps to remind us that we are not alone – no matter how much we feel like it. Before we begin, let’s say a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. How Long…Will I Feel Lonely?
Psalm 13 comes from King David again. So - similar to last week – there were lots of ups and downs in David’s career. Lots of good times, but also a lot of bad times. Times he even felt alone.
Like when he marched out to battle a giant of a man named Goliath – while all the other Israelite soldiers cowered.
Or the time when he ran away from the King of Israel – King Saul – who wanted to kill David before he took his throne.
Or he time when his own son, Absalom – tried to take the crown away from David, his dad – ousting him from the palace and turning the half the nation against him.
Pick one of those times – any of those times – and you get a sense of the loneliness that King David was feeling. Listen to what he writes,
How long LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Do you see the repeated question? How long... The implication is that David has been feeling very sad and lonely for what seems like – at least to David – a very long time.
Look at his accusations?
How long will you forget me? As if the Lord of heaven above – the very one formed him, created him, and Scripture says, “Anointed him specially to be king over Israel,” had forgotten all about him!
How long will you hide your face from me? As if David and God were playing a game of hide and seek, but God was refusing to come out – even after David had shouted, “Olly olly oxen free!”
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts? There’s this picture of a spiritual WrestleMania that was going on with David. The voice saying, “God loves you,” going one on one with the voice that says, “God hates you.” The thought of “I’m alone,” facing off in an iron man match against the thought, “God is with me.” The comfort of “God is with me,” being put into submission by the terror that “you are all alone.”
How long will my enemy triumph over me? Again – we don’t know exactly which enemy is referring to. Saul? David considered him God’s representative. Absalom? That was David’s son. One of the Philistines? Maybe.
But there could be another option.
Another enemy at work.
Another enemy that’s always at work.
An enemy that achieves that was achieving a great victory when he convinced David – God’s chosen instrument – that God wasn’t with him.
I’m talking about The Enemy - the devil.
What about you?
Do you feel like God has forgotten you?
Do you think he is hiding his face from you?
Do you find yourself wrestling with your thoughts against God’s promises?
Do you find yourself feeling – alone?
There’s a television show that took place around 2004. It was called Solitary. The premise of the show was that people would volunteer to be locked in a room without anyone else. The only one to talk to them was a giant robot named VAL. (Great name for a heartless, evil robot by the way) The show then served 2 purposes -- #1 it gave away $500,000 to the one who lasted in the room the longest, but #2 – more interesting – it showed how the human being reacts to being alone – to feeling alone.
It wasn’t good. Usually contestants left in tears, broke down or shouted at the top of their lungs until they were removed.
That’s because we are creatures that are meant to be together. Even back in the garden of Eden – “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two become one flesh.” (Genesis 2) Granted – that’s talking about the special relationship between a husband and a wife, but it’s also true that God wanted humans to exist in community. To communicate with each other. To be with each other. To be together.
That’s why being alone…is so hard. That’s why it leads to such depression. That’s why it leads to very dark feelings.
And that’s why when you feel that way – cry out to God! Look at how David’s heart cried out. Hear his cry for help:
3 Look on me and answer; Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
And my foes will rejoice when I fall.
Maybe that’s your cry.
Maybe you want God to answer.
Maybe, you want him to show you, to prove to you that you aren’t alone.
Listen to what comes next
II. How Long will God be with You?
5 But I trust in your unfailing love.
There’s that key word again – one of the most key words in all of Scripture: But. But means “There’s more.” But means, “There’s a contrasting truth.” But means, “Listen and hear how God fixes things.”
Look at the phrase that follows. I trust in your unfailing love.
Here is the difference between humans and God. Human friendships last for a time. Eventually – they end. Whether it’s from distance, busyness, arguments or death.
Human friendships last for a time, but eventually fail.
If you trust in human friendships to give you community, these friendship will fail you. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But one day. They will.
But if you trust in God? If God is the source of your community?
Listen again – His love is unfailing.
There is no mountain high enough.
There is no valley low enough.
There is no river wide enough.
To keep Him from you.
He’s never too busy.
He does not die – he’s eternal.
And when we’ve been argumentative? When we’ve been sinful? When our refusal to commune with him has set up this barrier of sin?
He knocks it down!
Like my dog, Clay. He’s fairly loyal. He loves to be by his owners whenever he can. If he’s ever separated from his owners, he starts to whine. It’s kind of obnoxious – definitely high pitched. But comforting to know how much he wants to be with us.
With our new house – there’s a patio in back. The back patio has a screen door. One of the reasons that we got a new house was so that we could let them in the back yard to play. We specifically thought the dogs would like the yard.
And they do. But the first time we left Clay in the back yard? He whined. He barked. He scratched. He –literally – broke through the screen door and made his way into the living room just to be with us.
God’s love is similar.
God’s love is better.
When our sins separated us from God – he came down to earth. He busted through the barrier of sin. He died gruesomely on the cross; he went into the grave; he rose triumphantly from death – and broke down the barrier between you and him.
Do you hear that? Listen again – When you had separated yourself from God – God did the unthinkable – He gave up his life to bring you back to Him!
Still think that no one cares about you? God’s love is unfailing. It hasn’t changed. It hasn’t lessened. It hasn’t grown weaker. He still loves you and cares for you with the same incredible desire.
You are not alone.
God is with you.
III. What Now?
(1) Look Where You’re At!
Did you notice what it says in verse 6. My heart rejoices in your salvation. That’s the same heart that earlier was filled with hurt. Earlier was filled with sadness. Earlier was filled with loneliness.
Now? It’s filled with joy. Why?
Because it is In God’s salvation.
Pastor, am I in God’s salvation?
Do you believe in Jesus?
Then, look where you’re at. You’re in God’s salvation. That means you’re with God. Because God is in God’s salvation. He’s there. You’re there. You’re together.
You aren’t alone.
No matter what you’re going through.
Financial hardships? Not alone.
Relational struggles? Not alone.
Disconnected from people? Not alone.
God is with you. You are in his salvation.
Because what other way can you react when you realize that your incredible God is right beside you!?!
It’s like a musical! People break out into song all the time. They break out into song when they find someone they have a crush on. They break into song when it’s a “beautiful morning.” They break out into song when they are seeing the “Wells Fargo wagon coming down the street.”
How awesome to know that your loving, incredible, forgiving, all powerful, all loving God is with you and will never leave you!
(3) Look Who Else is With You
Finally, look at who else is with you. Because if you’re in God’s salvation and your neighbor is in God’s salvation and I’m in God’s salvation – many of us are in God’s salvation – It’s not a very lonely room. It’s a packed house.
Lean on our brothers and sisters. Feeling lonely? Tell them. Talk to them. Work on building relationships here so that you have someone to uplift you and remind you that you are not alone.
And if someone comes to you for that encouragement? Give it to them. Don’t ignore them. In fact, if you see someone who looks lonely, could you go out of your way to show love to them? Just like God went out of his way to show love to you.
God is with you.
And if God is with you – then you know that even the dark time you are experiencing now – will go away.
Because look how David finishes the Psalm – The Lord has done good things for me.
David remembered how he felt alone with Goliath – but God helped him defeat the giant.
David remembered how he felt alone with Saul was attacking him – but God kept him safe.
David remembered how he felt alone when Absalom rebelled – but God defended him.
When God’s there’s, there’s no need to worry.
So why worry? Amen.
Today we’re continuing our sermon series called FOLLOW. It’s all about following Jesus in 2017. Today we want to talk about following Jesus when No One else is. We’re going to look at a very powerful piece of scripture. It’s only two verses long. But it’s two verses packed with a lot of meaning. Our goal is to hear from Jesus himself (1) two very good reasons to not follow him and then (2) one even better reason TO follow him. Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Two Good Reasons NOT to Follow Jesus
Today’s Scripture comes from the middle of the Sermon on the Mount – it’s a very famous sermon that Jesus gave all about what it’s like to truly follow God. We’re in Matthew 7:13-14. It’s near the end of the sermon and it’s kind of a good summation of everything that Jesus has been talking about in the two chapters prior to this. It does an excellent job of describing to us what following Jesus is like. He says,
"Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it."
(1) It's Lonely
Let me direct your attention first of all to the number of people on each road – the popular opinion if you will. One road has many on it; the other road has few on it.
This might be something called the Popular Principle. Think about that. If you were downtown Raleigh and there were a bunch of food trucks set up – one with a line of about 30 people and the other without anybody in line, which one would you go to? If you’re in a hurry, maybe the shorter line. But there’s something about the longer line that says to you, “That might be better food. If there’s so many people who like it, I might like it too.”
Well, what about Jesus? Was he popular?
Jump back with me to presumably a bit earlier in Jesus’ life. In Luke 4, Jesus is in Nazareth, the town he grew up in. He makes his way to their weekly church service at the synagogue and everyone’s excited to see him.
“My how you’ve grown. I haven't seen you since you were a young whipper snapper”
“I hear you’re a teacher now. I’m sure your parents are proud of you.”
“Do you remember that time when you finger painted with my son Ezekiel? It was so funny how your people looked just like trees!”
As the synagogue service starts, the people settle down and the local rabbi asks Jesus to come up front, read some scripture and share a teaching. The reading for that Sunday just so happens to be an Old Testament reading about the coming of the Messiah.
As Jesus spoke, they all smiled at him. What a nice young man. A rabbi is a noble calling. We are excited to hear his exposition – as in – we’re excited for him to say what every rabbi says about this part of Scripture: The Messiah is coming and we must prepare our hearts for his arrival.
But after Jesus gets done reading, after he rolls up the scroll, after he sets it back in its protective case, Jesus preaches a different sermon:
“Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
As in, “The Messiah is no longer coming.”
As in, “The Messiah is already here.”
As in, “I am that Messiah.”
The people are shocked. Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Didn’t he grow up by us? How does he think he’s the Messiah?
And Jesus rebukes them. “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.” (Lk. 4:24)
And I am a prophet.
And you aren’t accepting me.
And you are sinning—You are rejecting your Messiah.
And do you know how the people respond?
No one claps.
No one says, “Amen.”
No one squeezes his cheeks, tells him how cute he is and hands him a lemon bar refreshment.
They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built in order to throw him off the cliff. (Lk 4:29)
Now Jesus escapes, but can you imagine the word that got around? Why would anyone want to follow Jesus if it meant you’d have to face an angry mob? Wouldn’t it be much easier to be a part of the angry mob? It doesn’t get any easier. There are hundreds, if not thousands, who shouted for his crucifixion just two years later!
It’s just what Jesus said, “Many and Few."
As in many don’t follow Jesus.
As in few do.
It was true back then, but is it true today?
Take a look at some research. This is from the Barna Pew Research group. From 2007 to 2012 they did a survey to discover the growth of certain religious groups. Check out some of the trends:
What’s the point? Christianity is declining. It is not the bandwagon anymore. To be fair, it may have been at one point – and maybe that’s why it was higher in the past. “I’m Christian. Why? Because everyone I know is Christian.” But it’s fading, quickly in the U.S.
But maybe you don’t need facts. Maybe you’ve noticed on your own.
Maybe you’re the only Christian at work, on your block, in your family, at your house!
It feels lonely.
It feels lonely when you’re the only one bowing your head for a prayer.
It feels lonely when your Jesus comment sits on Facebook without any likes.
It feels lonely when your minivan that sits 6 only sits 1 each Sunday…every Sunday…again & again.
It feels lonely to follow Jesus when no one else does…But understand it’s exactly what Jesus said it would be: “Many follow the other roads….Few follow Me.”
(2) It's Hard
But why? Why is it that so many people are not following Jesus? He offers forgiveness of sins, eternal life, & salvation! That’s sounds pretty good, right?
I suppose we could look at all the stats, pour over my Barna research polls, read book after book written on the subject. (There might be some value in doing so). But if you’re looking for the short, quick and entirely accurate answer. Look no farther than Jesus. Hear the second good reason not to follow Jesus.
For…broad is the road that…many enter through it. But narrow the road that... a few find it.
How many of you like going into a crawl space? It’s narrow. The ceiling is low. It’s easy to bump your head. You might even have to drag your knees across sharp gravel. Wouldn’t you rather pick a big door? Maybe one of those doors that they have at the mall where both sides of a door open up at the same time with plenty of room on both sides for you to walk, hand in hand, with a friend!
It’s the same spiritually. One is an easy walk. One is very challenging. That word narrow there means “hard pressed, squeezed.” Who likes being hard pressed? Who likes being squeezed? That’d be like going through each day while a professional wrestler is putting you in a sleeper hold! Who would choose that?
Jesus says that’s exactly why so few follow him. It’s not easy. It’s hard.
That’s what happened even at the time of Jesus. Look at John 6. Jesus had just gotten done feeding close to 10,000 people with a few loaves of bread and two fish. (A miracle). People were full. People were happy. Many wanted to make him their king.
But then Jesus began teaching again. He told people that “whoever believe(d) in him would never be thirsty.” (v.36) He said that “everyone who looks to Me and believes in me shall have eternal life and He would raise them up on the last day.” (v.40) He told them that “He was the bread of life & unless people ate his flesh and drank his blood, that would not have eternal life!” (v.53)
And the people said…
You’re crazy. Your flesh isn’t bread. Your blood isn’t drink.
You’re crazy. You can’t bring us back to life.
You’re crazy. You aren’t the Messiah. I won’t trust in you. I’m a good enough person on my own to get to heaven without – some carpenter from Nazareth!
v. 66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
People who had seen the miraculous feeding of the nearly 10,000…People who ate of his bread and tasted the fish. People who saw the 12 baskets left over. People who had no problem taking his food – that was easy – found it too hard to follow him.
And they left him.
Isn’t it the same thing today?
Do you know what a MEME is? It’s a photo or graphic with a brief message on it. Some are funny. Some are interested. Some exist to make a point. And in our YouTube, I don’t want to read, show me a photo society – these one sentence picturesque memes are popular. They’re all over social media.
Some aren’t very flattering to Christians. Try this sometime. Google “Stupid Christian memes.” Make sure you put a filter on your search phrase though, because they can get very crude and profanity filled, very quickly. I found one that’s not super crass – but still makes my skin crawl. Ready for it?
Religion - Helping stupid people feel important since the dawn of man.
How’s that make you feel? Good? Do you like it? It’s ok to say “no who would?“
Here’s where the devil does his best work:
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to be on the bandwagon?
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to just be quiet?
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to not have to hear people call you awful names?
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to stop following Jesus?
Here’s the reality. It would be.
It would be less lonely – There’s lot of people on the other road.
It would be easier – It’s wide and you aren’t hard pressed on any side.
Why, then? Why then would we keep following Jesus?
One reason. LIFE.
II. One Even Better Reason TO Follow Jesus
Read the passage from Matthew one more time. Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it.
Zero in on that word destruction. Honestly there’s not a way that I can fluff up that word. There’s not any way to sugar coat it. That big road? The one that’s easy? The one that’s apart from Jesus? The one that lots of people are on and is such a nice & pleasant trip?
When you get to the end it stops being pleasant – real quick.
There’s the burning, incredible wrath of a sin-hating, all powerful, holy God.
There’s hellfire. Forever. In Hellfire.
But the other road? The one that’s lonely. The one that’s tough. The one that isn’t all that pleasant. The one that’s filled with ridicule and scorn and memes mocking you for taking the road?
That road leads to life.
As in, no destruction.
As in, no annihilation.
As in, no hell.
As in, eternal life.
As in, everlasting peace.
As in, glory — forever.
If you’re thinking that sounds crazy – remember that’s the very reason the road is challenging. It seems crazy.
Kind of like when Jesus said he would feed 10,000 some people with a few loaves of bread and two fish—and he did.
And kind of like when Jesus said they could kill him, but he would come back to life three days later – and he did.
The stark contrast in the two roads couldn’t be more clear.
One road seems nice but leads to eternal destruction.
The other road seems tough, but leads to eternal life.
If you’ve been following the wrong road.
If you’ve been choosing the broad road, feel your pulse. Your time is not up. There’s still room on the road to life.
Jesus walked a tough, awful, lonely road to get you back on the right road.
He was left behind by his followers.
He was betrayed by a dear friend.
He was beaten by the people he came to save.
He was crucified by the humans he created.
He died as His Heavenly Father forsook him & abandoned him because of our sins.
But he did all this to make you a path – the only path – to God.
A path of forgiveness.
A path of peace with God.
A path to heaven.
III. What now?
1) Watch Out for Bandwagonism
The Super Bowl is today -- and while I’ve gotten over the fact that this is #NotMySuperBowl – I’m still not certain who I’ll cheer for. I’ll probably just hop on the bandwagon of whatever team the majority of people at the Super Bowl party are cheering for.
What’s a bandwagon you ask? A bandwagon is…
Hopping on the bandwagon, then, is a phrase that means you will cheer for a team, not because you like the way they are coached. Not because you think they’re good. Not even because you think their mascot is cute. Hopping on the bandwagon means that you cheer for a team, simply because everyone else is.
And the bandwagon is fun! You get high fives from lots of people. You cheer with lots of people. You get to sample people’s hot wings & bratwurst – just cause “You’re a fan of my time.” No one mocks you. No one makes fun of you. You laugh together. You win together. You lose together.
It is much more difficult to go against the bandwagon. If you are the only one at your Super Bowl party today cheering for the Falcons & everyone else is decked out in Tom Brady jerseys – that’s not as much fun. You can’t celebrate with all the gusto you want. You feel like you have to smile politely when something good happens – that’s all your celebrations are limited to. You have to endure teasing & raucous cheering when things go bad. Essentially – you, by yourself – are the enemy.
Don't be a bandwagon fan when it comes to Jesus.
Don't do it just because your family did.
Don't follow just because your friends do.
Follow because Jesus leads to life.
(2) Remember the Goal
As Jesus watched the backs of thousands of people, people who had been sitting at his feet just yesterday – but now were leaving him because he was crazy. He looked back at his closest friends – Peter, Andrew, James and John – the men that he had called from the fishing boat “Follow me.” He said, “You don’t want to leave too, do you?”
It was quiet.
The men looked at each other.
All eyes focused on Peter.
He nodded his head and stood up.
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Peter was right.
There was no other road for him.
There was no other road for the other disciples.
There was no other road for life.
And even if it was hard, even if it was lonely. There was no way he was turning around.
May God impress upon us the exact same confidence to follow Jesus…even when we’re all alone. Amen.
Who do you follow?
It’s interesting because thanks to Social Media, it is now very easy to see who you follow on Twitter or Instagram. If you looked at my profile, you’d find out that I follow a bunch of famous pastors, Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb (there's a lot of Packers), and like 17 versions of Jesus.
But the most followed people on Social Media? Kim Kardashian – probably because people like to see her fashion and learn what’s hip and in. Lebron James – because people like to get insights into the life of such an incredible baller. Taylor Swift-- millions of followers aiming to see what her latest music is.
And here’s something interesting – you can now advertise to get more people to follow you. For instance, you might be scrolling through Facebook and an ad will pop up of a delicious looking cup of coffee “Follow Sola Coffee and get a free coffee NOW,” or there might be a cute cat video, “To see more cute cat videos, follow cutecatvideos.com.”
Of course, what goes on in Social Media is just a minuscule version of what happens to each of us – spiritually. Lots of voices – each day – calling to us “Follow me. Follow us. Follow our way of thinking.”
And while following the wrong person on Social Media might mean a few months of lame jokes and some of your friends thinking you aren’t as cool as they thought you were, following the wrong one spiritually has much worse consequences:
It determines your relationship with God.
It determines the peace you have in your life.
It determines where you spend eternity.
Today we are going to begin a sermon series called FOLLOW. We’re going to discuss what it means to follow Jesus as a 21st century, millennial, Raleighian. Today, we want to start by sifting through the voices that call us to follow them. We want to (1) become wary of voices (even religious voices) that point us in the wrong direction and (2) hear Jesus’ voices – and the incredible results of following him.
Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Be Wary of the Voices
Our lesson today takes place in John 1: 29. A bit of background on John 1 – This takes place around 30 AD. At the time, the Roman Empire is in control of large portions of Europe, Asia, Northern Africa – and even Israel. But while the government was controlled by these foreigners, the day-to-day religious life was governed by the reflections and suggestions of the religious leaders – a group of men called the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were zealots. They loved God’s law. They loved it so much that they couldn’t help but improve upon it. God’s law said to wear a prayer shawl which were giant, jewel studded aprons. God’s law said to rest on Saturday; they made sure to not take more than 500 steps. God’s law said to give 10% of your income; they gave up 10% of their salt shaker – measuring it, funneling it, and taking it to the temple for all to see: “Here’s my ten percent of salt. Did you remember your 10% of salt? I’m just 10% of salt better than you at connecting with God.”
They sound like wonderful guys, right?
But honestly – they were viewed that way. The people at the time looked up to them. From the outward perspective, these guys seemed to have it all together. They had money. They had religious things to say. They looked like they knew just what it took to get to God and to heaven. So many followed them. They listened to them. They learned from them. They hoped to be them.
John was different.
John ditched the long flowing robes and prayer shawls for camel skin clothing.
He ditched the bread baked for the holy show bread table for locusts and grasshoppers.
He ditched the decadence of the temple for the desert.
He ditched the quiet argumentation of the wise at the synagogue for the loud, hellfire and brimstone of a sports fan who's had too much to drink!
John was different. Compared to the Pharisees he looked like a perennial homeless guy complete with wily hair and a pungent odor. You wouldn’t expect that many people to follow him on spiritual matters.
But people did. In fact, the Gospel of Luke says that there were “crowds of people coming to him.” (3:7) The word, in the singular, gives you a picture of a church full. A crowd. But it’s in the plural – crowds of people. Like a group gathering downtown at the amphitheater to listen to Taylor Swift – that’s the kind of crowds that John was drawing to him.
More importantly – that’s the kind of crowd that the Pharisees were losing to him.
So they went to investigate. Take a look at John 1:19. “The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask John who he was.” Follow that question – Who are you? Who in the world do you think you are? Knowing what we know about the Pharisees in every other part of Scripture, you almost expect an element of "What gives you a right to take all these followers away from us?"
And if you’re John – looking around at all these people – seeing how they hang on your every word -realizing that so many of them had left the flock of Pharisees to come and hear you – wouldn’t you expect a bit of pride to swell in his heart? Maybe a sarcastic answer:
I’m everything you guys aren’t.
I’m a better leader than you.
I’m the guy these people are following. Who are you?
But instead look at how John replies – He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” (1:20)
Let’s talk about that. Messiah is a Hebrew word. It means “Anointed One.” The Anointed One was a part of the Jewish faith. Thousands of years earlier God had promised Abraham – the man from whom the entire genealogy of Israel was based – that one day someone would come from his family – one anointed to bless all people. That promise was repeated by God, “The Anointed One is coming! The Anointed One is coming!”
Prophet after prophet came.
Prophet after prophet spoke about the Anointed One.
Prophet after prophet was not the Anointed One.
Now a group of people was convinced that John might be the Messiah. He spoke so powerfully and his message was so intriguing. Maybe he was the Messiah. Maybe he was the one to lead them away from Roman power. Maybe he was the one to save them.
John could have said, “Yes, I am. Give me your money. Get me a hammock. Get me some of those big bunches of dark purple grapes and a few beautiful ladies to feed me – and I’ll tell you what to do next.”
But he doesn’t. He confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” (1:20)
Ok. But he still seemed pretty important and they still wanted to follow him. Follow their train of thought, “Then, who are you? Are you Elijah? He’s a really famous prophet from ancient Israel. He’s dead, but…maybe you are him come back from the dead? We’ll follow you!"
Are you the Prophet? A prophecy about Moses – arguably the most famous prophet of ancient Israel and how a prophet would come that was greater than him! Are you that prophet?
Then, who are you? We give up. Tell us who you are and we can start your fan club.
John said this, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (v.23)
Do any of you have a GPS? What’s pretty neat about a GPS is it tells you everywhere you want to go. It tells you step by step, turn by turn directions on how to get to Cameron for a Duke game or PNC for a State game or how to get to Asheville to go skiing.
What’s also cool about a GPS is that you can change the voice of the one talking to you. You can have it speak with a pleasant Southern accent, “Ya’ll turn right.” A Northern Wisconsin accent, “You betcha that’s a left turn there.” OR you can even have it speak as Mr. T. “I pity the fool who don’t make a U-turn right now!”
But Mr. T doesn’t really know what all these directions. He’s not sitting in some suite in downtown Raleigh with a headset on, Google maps pulled up and giving you directions where to go. He’s simply a voice – telling you what he’s been told to say.
That’s what John was. He was a voice. A voice that had been prophesied about by another voice – but a voice nonetheless.
A voice who would come before the Messiah.
A voice who would point people to the Messiah.
A voice who was not the Messiah.
A voice who told people – I’m not the Messiah.
Of course, that’s not always how it goes, is it? People don’t always say, “Don’t follow me. I’m not the answer.” Oftentimes people give you the impression that they are the Messiah – or at least that they’ll fix all of your problems.
And I think there are three areas of society where this is especially true:
We just got done with a political season in which people put all their hopes and dreams on various political candidates. He’s my Messiah. No, she’s my Messiah. He’s going to make my life better. No, she’s going to change my world.
People follow them. People put their hopes in him. People think they are the one who are going to fix things for them and are horribly disappointed when they don’t.
Understand this when politicians are running for office they need to do everything possible to explain why they are the best person for the job and why they will be your personal Messiah – even if they know they can’t be.
What I mean is – it wouldn’t be a very good political campaign if I said, “Vote for Kiecker. I’m ok – not terrible, but not great either. I’ll try hard…most of the time. I probably won’t make that much change in your personal life anyways.”
In the end, politicians have voices. Their voices elevate themselves. But be careful. Political candidates are not the Messiah.
This is interesting. Because pastors are supposed to be voices pointing people to the Messiah. But sometimes it becomes all about them.
Sometimes, it might not even be their fault. Listen to that pastor. He has it all together. He’ll turn your life around and if he ever leaves, it’ll be a disaster again!
Sometimes, it is their fault. Here’s what I did in my life. Here’s why it worked. Here’s why you need to follow me and do what I did (and send some money my way in the process.)
But here’s the problem: The pastor is not the Messiah. I’m not the Messiah. Joel Osteen is not the Messiah. Joyce Meyers is not the Messiah.
There is not a pastor right now who is the Messiah.
If a pastoral voice tells you to follow the Lord, awesome.
If a pastoral voice tells you to follow himself, be careful. Be very careful.
And if I ever start doing that – somebody slap me.
And then, there’s probably the trickiest voice to deal with. It’s one that you’ve heard before. It’s one that has influenced you throughout your life. It’s one that I guarantee you struggle with.
Your own voice.
We are so cleverly, stupid:
ON. MY. OWN.
Here’s the reality that John the Baptist realized – he was not the Messiah (and he had crowds of people following him!) You don’t have crowds of people following you. You might have hundreds of people following you on Instagram, but guess what – none of them think you can fix their life!
You are not the Messiah.
So stop trusting yourself as the Messiah.
It will have eternal consequences.
II. Follow the Lamb
Who is the Messiah then? Who should we put our trust in?
Read a bit farther with me. In fact, it’s the very next day. The crowds have returned. Some are disappointed. John isn’t the one. They have to keep searching, keep looking, and keep hoping to find the Messiah one day. John sense their frustration. John himself has that same frustration.
But then…he sees him. Walking slowly. Head down. Covered up in a tunic. Unassuming and unimpressive.
But John knows him and John points: John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Look at the Lamb.
See the Lamb.
Follow the Lamb.
That’s a really interesting name for the Savior. Because Lambs are not really that intimidating.
There aren’t any NFL teams calls the Lambs.
There isn’t any professional wrestler called “Lonnie, the Lamb.”
Where you hear that word – it doesn’t strike me with fear. I’m not suddenly concerned that the Lamb is going to suffocate me with his wool.
Why would you follow a lamb? Wouldn’t you just be counting him jumping over the same gate over and over until you fall asleep?
Don’t tune out just yet. John gives three awesome reasons to follow the man referred to as the Lamb.
(1) He Takes Away the Sin of the World.
This one has a lot to do with the culture of Ancient Israel. In the Old Testament, God had people sacrifice animals. Sometimes out of thanks. Sometimes out of trust. And sometimes for the forgiveness of sins.
When it was for the forgiveness of sins, God was making something clear to the Israelites: I hate sin. I hate it because it wrongs your fellow brothers and sisters. I hate it because it wrongs my children. I hate so much that I must punish it with death!
When lambs were sacrificed for sins, it was a constant reminder to the people of the divine, eternal consequence of their sins.
The only problem? If you were an Old Testament Israelite you probably saw lots of lambs killed. A lamb for my morning sin. A lamb for my 2 pm sin. A lamb for my evening sins. Lambs for the sins that I missed last week. Lambs for your sins and my sins and lambs for Uncle John’s sins. Lambs here, there, everywhere, up, down and in between. Lambs everywhere that Dr. Seuss could think of to describe it!
The sad reality?
Animal blood cannot take away sin.
But Jesus wasn’t an animal.
He wasn’t an cute, fluffy lamb.
He wasn’t even a man.
He was God’s Son.
With his death, he would take away the sins of the world.
With his death, he took away the sins of the world.
That means this: When you follow Jesus, your sins are forgiven.
The sin that can’t seem to leave your mind? Forgiven.
That sin your friends won’t let your forget on Facebook? Forgiven.
That sin that cost you your job? Forgiven.
That sin you struggled with for the past twelve years of your life? Forgiven.
Forgiven because the Lamb of God gave his blood for you.
(2) He’s Been Around Awhile.
One of the key talking points in a political race is experience. How many years have they been in government? How much experience do they have serving people? How many years of tenure do they have under their belt?
Look at what John says about Jesus, "The one who comes after me (Jesus) was before me.” Literally, he existed long before me!
This doesn’t mean John was bad at math. Because if you follow the story of Jesus, John’s birth was announced about six months before Jesus’. John was ½ a year older than Jesus.
But Jesus was not just human.
Jesus was also God.
It means he’s been around the block. He’s been around since the beginning. He’s been around since the formation of the earth. He’s been around since an eternity and half before there was an earth.
Talk about experience. He’s seen it all. He’s been through it all.
Making him the perfect one to follow.
Think about what you’re going through. Jesus gets it.
Financial struggles? He’s seen that and helped people through it.
Relationship struggles? He’s seen it before and comforted through it.
Struggles with guilt and shame?
Nervousness about a sickness?
Problems at school?
Doubts about the direction of your life?
Jesus has seen it. Jesus has helped people through it. Jesus will help you through it.
(3) Awesome stuff happens around Him.
In fact, John lets us in on a secret - the reason he was so confident that Jesus was the Lamb of God and the one to follow.
He says this “I saw the heavens open up.” And can you imagine that? We’re not talking about the clouds parting and there being a sunny day. We’re talking about some incredible, divine, never before seen moment – the sky is rendered. There’s a glimpse into heaven. There’s a brilliant light that even sunglasses won’t allow you to look into.
And a silhouette – a divine dove – starts hovering down from the split in the sky. It hovers to the right. It hovers to the left. All eyes are on it. Until it comes to rest right on Jesus’ shoulder.
And then, a voice – not John’s voice – a voice – a booming voice – a voice – not coming from some microphone system because microphone systems didn’t exist yet!
A voice from God himself says this, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
It was a moment that made John go “wow.”
It was a moment that made everyone else who saw it go, “That was incredible.”
It was a moment that made people stop and think – This guy is worth following.
My prayer is that it makes you stop and think the same – This guy, this God, this Lamb is worth following.
Recommit yourself to following Jesus in 2017. Amen.
Christmas is over. I am filled with all kinds of preservatives and saturated fats. I have a few more PEZ dispensers to add to my collection. I’ve seen my fair share of sappy Christmas movies.
I’m feeling quiet, meditative and reflective. So muse with me…WHY?
Not WHY did I eat that whole bag of Chex Mix in one sitting, but why?
Why Christmas in the first place?
Why did Jesus come to earth and become a man?
Why didn’t God come up with some other plan for our salvation? Why the incarnation?
This morning we’re going to let God answer that question in his Word according to Hebrews 2. (It’s kind of a follow up to Hebrews 1 – which went through on Christmas Day. If you haven’t heard that sermon yet, check it out online after this.) Page to Hebrews 2 in your Bibles and let’s get ready to come up with 5 answers from Hebrews chapter 2 alone as to WHY Christmas.
1) To Call you Brother/Sister
Check out verse 11 and 14. “Both the one who makes men holy, that’d be Jesus, and those who are made holy, believers in him, are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers…Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.”
If you have been getting any Christmas cards or been on Facebook these past days, then you’ve probably noticed how families look alike. They might share in the same color hair. The same eyes. The same jawline. The same love for Duke basketball!
I saw a Facebook post from my seventh grade teacher (yes, I’m Facebook friends with my seventh grade teacher) and he’s about 7 feet tall. Now his kids are all grown up and in his family’s Christmas picture, all five of his kids are just about as tall too.
For Jesus and us to be a family, we needed to share in some traits too. For that to be the case, he needed to have something in common with us. He needed to become human.
Because it doesn’t work the other way. In spite of what the Mormon church teaches, human beings cannot become God.
Did you do any miracles this Christmas?
Did you snap your fingers and clean up all the Christmas wrapping paper like that?
Did you heal your kids’ runny nose with a wave of your hand?
Were you able to make it a white Christmas just by walking outside and saying, “SNOW.”
We can’t become God.
Or to think of it another way, we can’t become perfect. Have you ever tried that? Have you tried to be perfect? Were you even perfect over Christmas Day? Honestly the only way you will have succeeded in being perfect is if you are lying….which is a sin…and means you’re imperfect.
We can’t become like God; so God became like us.
2) To Destroy the Devil.
"Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power over death, that is, the devil.”
This goes back to the Garden of Eden. It was the devil who walked away from God. It was the devil who dressed up as a snake. It was the devil who tempted Adam and Eve to sin. It was the devil who got them to take a bite of forbidden fruit. It was the devil who brought sin into the world. It was the devil who brought death into the world.
He still has that power today.
It’s kind of like how someone might tempts you with some leftover fruitcake OR a nice sausage. “C’mon. Have a bite. Don’t you like it? Do you think I’m a bad cook? Prove it by eating twenty pieces.” Their temptation causes you to put on calories. In a sense, they have power over the calories you eat.
Same thing with the devil. He tempts. He causes to sin. Sin causes death. He has the power over death.
That’s a sobering reality. Thought about that lately? Death doesn’t come from cancer. It doesn’t come from terrorism. It doesn’t come from drunk driving, smoking, overeating, or icy roads.
It comes from sin. Sin comes from the devil.
But here’s the good news in the above verse. Jesus came to earth to destroy the devil. NOT to beat him. Not to rough him up a bit. Not even to put him in a full nelson for awhile.
Jesus came to destroy the devil. To annihilate him. To completely wipe him out forever! To take him out of power.
Did you watch the Poinsettia Bowl? Boise State 55 Northern Illinois 7. It wasn’t even close.
It wasn’t even close with Jesus and the devil. It was a route. Jesus blanked him.
3) To Free Us from Fear
He shared in their humanity so that by his death…he might free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
It’s interesting how that’s stated. All their lives held in slavery by their fear of death. It’s true, isn’t it? Death casts a looming shadow over all of us – from childhood to adulthood to seniorhood.
When you’re young and grandpa passes away, "Why is he in the casket? Why can’t his body move?”
When you’re a teen and see your first rated R movie with a scary murder scene that keeps repeating as you drift to sleep.
When you’re an adult and see another terror attack reported on the nightly news.
When you’re at your Doctor’s appointment and he says “This is more serious than we thought.”
When you’re at the hospital – surrounding by the sanitized smell of death – will this be my last night alive?
Death is scary. Maybe this is why we treasure times like Christmas so much. It might be our last time together as a family. It might be our last time to enjoy each other. It might be our last time in merriment, because…you never know.
But what if you did know?
What if you always knew there would be another day?
What if death wasn’t really a threat?
What if someone made it so that you would always be?
Understand this: That’s exactly why Jesus came. So you…wouldn’t have to fear. So you…would always be.
How did he do it? Why did he have to be human to do it? (I told you we would come back to this.)
4) To Sacrifice…Himself.
Check out verse 17 He had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.
A high priests. High priests were an integral part of Old Testament Israelite life. They were Old Testament pastors. They were go between between the people and God. They would sacrifice for the people’s sins.
Day after day this happened.
A man comes in tears because of the sin he has committed. The priest sharpens his knife. Grab the rope. Leads he goat, lamb or cow by the rope. Walks through the eerily quiet hall ways of the temple. Stop at the steps of the altar. Grabs the knife. Sharpens the knife. Take a deep breath and kills the animals.
It’s kind of disgusting to think about.
But it illustrated a very important, eternal truth: The wages of sin is death. Death is the only payment that God will accept to allow a sinner back into his family.
Enter Jesus. Jesus came to earth to be a high priest. He came to make atonement for the sins of the people. But nowhere in Scripture do you ever hear of Jesus offering a sacrifice. Not a bull. Not a calf. Not a goat or even a lamb.
What did he sacrifice?
This is key in answering why he needed to become human. Because God is eternal. God doesn’t die. God can’t die. God is unending.
But the moment, Jesus became a one celled little organism within the body of his mother Mary, Jesus could die. In fact, he would die. He did die to make atonement for the sins of the people.
To make atonement for the sins of you.
It’s amazing too. We struggle to sacrifice for the sake of reconciliation. The holidays teach us that.
5) To Help You BEAT Temptation
This last one is kind of a BONUS result. Because number 4 was key. Being a sacrifice of atonement was definitely Christ’s number one goal in becoming man. But number 5 is a pretty neat byproduct.
Verse 18, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Because that’s what happens when you are a human on this earth – you are tempted. The same was true for Jesus.
Case in point:
Jesus is 12 years old. He is in Jerusalem – the big city. He came with his mom and dad, his aunts and uncles, his cousins and all his family. They were to stay for a few days, do some religious things, and then return home to Nazareth.
But when the family left for home, Jesus wasn’t with them.
What should a 12 year old boy do when his parents aren’t there?
There certainly are plenty of temptations:
I wonder if Mary and Joseph’s minds did think about any and all of these behaviors as they rushed back to Jerusalem frantically searching for him.
But they found him in the temple.
With the religious teachers.
Telling them about the Bible.
That’d be like discovering your kid's light on way past their bed time, rushing in to see the iPad on, expecting to find Subway Surfer being played, but instead seeing Biblegateway.com up on the screen.
Same with Jesus. This time. Every time. He beat temptation every time. It’s why the whole sacrifice thing worked. If He had had sinned, then ”The wages of sin is death.”
But he didn’t. He took on our sins. He beat them for us.
AND he knows exactly what you’re going through.
It’s easy to feel like no one does. If you are struggling against a sin, it’s easy to feel like no one understands – addition to drugs, homosexual attraction, not sleeping with your boyfriend, not being so greedy, doubting God’s Word at every turn.
True or false: It’s easy to feel like no one will get you?
Still. That statement is dead wrong. When no one else gets you, Jesus does. He gets it. He gets you. He gets your temptation.
AND he beat your temptation.
This isn’t like like trying to get advice from a drunkard on how to stop drinking OR how to stop looking at porn from a porn director. This isn’t like trying to get advice from me on how to eat less Doritos. I have no idea. I haven’t mastered it.
Jesus wins every time. He’s on your side. He’s got your back. Whatever you’re struggling with, he has set you free from sin’s consequences and he will set you free from temptation’s power!
This leads us back to where we were Christmas Eve night. Because all these reasons for Jesus becoming a baby on that first Christmas – lead back to you. To be your brother. To destroy the devil’s power over you. To set you free from fear. To make atonement for you. To help you beat temptation.
These are all a result of Jesus’ work.
Jesus’ work is all a result of Christmas.
Christmas is a result of you. It happened because of you.
Keep that in your heart. Meditate on it the rest of the week. That’s how much God loves you.
Why Christmas? Because…you. Amen.
Today we’re looking at a time in Scripture where a few people felt all alone and completely outnumbered. It’s the next sermon in our series on Old Testament FaithTests As you listen, think about your life. Would you have trusted God in that situation? Do you trust God even when you feel all alone?
I. The Intrigue
This test is found in 2 Kings 6:8-17. Take a look at the background that verse 8 gives us. “The King of Aram was at war with Israel.” Now commonly in ancient battles warfare was a lot like you see it in the movies. One army lined up facing the other army. Then they would fight in hand to hand combat.
The king appears to have been getting creative in his warfare. Verse 8 continues, “After conferring with his officers, he said, “I will set up my camp in such and such a place.” He had in mind a surprise attack and was hoping to catch the Israelites off guard.
But it wasn’t working. Every time they went and hid behind a hill or in the forest…they would wait. And wait. And wait. The Israelites would never come.
Here’s why: 9 Elisha, the man of God, sent word to the king of Israel: “Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there.” 10 So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places.”
As you might expect, the Aramean king was getting upset. 11 This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, “Tell me! Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?” He suspects a mole and begins a full scale investigation into who was leaking their tactical information.
But the answer surprises him. 12 “None of us, my lord the king,” said one of his officers, “but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.”
How did Elisha know?
It wasn’t because he had a spy camera. He hadn’t paid off an Aramean servant. He didn’t place a wire tap in the back room. Elisha knew because God informed him. He had divine information. The “little bird” that told him about the Aramean plot was none other than the Divine, All powerful, Eternal Lord of Heaven and earth.
It’s nice to have God on your side.
But the Aramean king didn’t give up. “Go, find out where Elisha is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back: “He is in Dothan.” 14 Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.
II. The Test
The next morning Elisha’s servant awoke. I imagine he went about his daily business. Rubbed his eyes. Said his prayers. Combed his beard. Got dressed and walked outside to grab some water from the well. Maybe he was sipping his morning coffee, trying to get awake.
But something else woke him up before any caffeine would have an effect. 15 The servant of the man of God (saw) an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city.
Can you imagine the fright? The jumping of his heart? The terror that was in his mind? Here they were in a small city of Dothan. The Israelite army wasn’t near them. They didn’t have anything to defend themselves with. They were severely outnumbered.
He felt alone.
“Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.
Elisha remained calm. “16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
Can you imagine the servants response?
“Don’t be afraid!?! What are you talking about? We’re surrounded. They have chariots. They have horses. They have an army. We have a few buckets, a broom, and some seminary students. How can you be so calm? This is the perfect time to panic! We’re outnumbered. We’re alone!”
There isn’t really a word for “smirk” in Hebrew. But if there was, that might describe what Elisha did next.
17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. God’s divine army was on their side. Though it looked like they were alone, they never were. Angels were with them. Angel armies were with them.
GOD was with them.
III. What about You?
Ever feel like Elijah’s servant? Ever feel like you are all alone? Ever feel like the world has surrounded you and is all against you?
Maybe you’re a single mom trying to have a career, pay for school, and pay for doctor visits all alone.
Maybe you’re a college student far away from home and far away friends.
Maybe you’re surrounded by bill collectors asking for money you don’t have.
Maybe you live on a block where people of a difference race avoid you because of yours.
Maybe you’re the only one at work who’s Christian and all your coworkers love to remind you of it.
Maybe you’re a widower who spends long, quiet hours at home alone.
That’s about the time the devil comes along. He convinces you that you’re all alone. He whispers that no one cares about you and that you'll never get out of the jam you’re in.
When that happens. Remember these three truths:
1) God is Always With YOU.
I don’t have the same connection as Elisha did. God isn’t going to open up our eyes to see the flaming chariots of fire that are parked next to my Ford Explorer outside. Nor do I own any kind of X Ray scanner to show you where the angels are sitting right now in this church.
But that doesn’t mean God isn’t with you.
Remember the passage we read from Psalm 139. “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
What’s the point? God is omnipresent. He is present everywhere. That’s what makes him God. When you’re downtown at night, God is there. When you’re alone on the weekend, God is there. When you’re up to your ears in bills, God is there. When you’re coworkers are making fun of your faith, God is there. When racism makes you feel ostracized, God is there. When you’re depressed, saddened, and you feel like giving up – DON’T! God is there.
2) GOD is Always With You.
I’ve gotta be honest. I feel more comfortable walking around with some people than others. If I’m downtown late at night, I’d rather have a 95 pound German Shepherd that can produce a mean sounding growl with me rather than my 20 pound puppy that runs underneath the bed because it thinks it heard a chipmunk.
Understand who it is that is always with you. It’s not your grandma. It’s not your nana. It’s not your childhood friend or the tough guy at your work. It’s not even a UFC fighter or a member of secret service.
It’s the almighty God and Father of this earth. It is the divine—earth creating Lord. It’s the one who destroyed the sin that surrounded your soul. It’s the one who conquered death! It’s the one who reigns on high and reigns in your heart. God Almighty is the one who is with you.
3) God is Always With Us.
Easter is coming up. Did you know that? 2 weeks away. Have I mentioned it?
We’ve got our sights set high. 4500 invitations mailed. 500 personal invitations passed out. 10,000 impressions on Facebook. A church jam packed for Easter.
How can we do that? We’re the tiniest church on Newton Road. Some people pass by and think we look like a Doctor’s office. We are approaching it, but still don’t quite average 100 people a Sunday. How can we possibly think we can affect the community with the Word of God?
We are not alone. We have God with us. We have God blessing us. With God’s blessing, we will share his Word in this hurting, lonely community.
Do you know someone who’s lonely? Someone’ who surrounded by negativity? Someone who is heartbroken by the guilt of their past. Someone who is surrounded by the constant reminders of their sin?
Be with them. Tell them God is with them. Tell them what Jesus did for them. Tell them about Easter.
I know you can get pumped about it, ready to do it, about to ask them, and then…the butterflies in our time frighten you and scare you away.
You’re not alone. God Almighty is with you. Amen.
10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
We are currently in the middle of a sermon series on Faith Tests. These have been a chance for us to consider how we would have acted in that Old Testament situation and how we do react in similar situations. The man being tested in today’s lesson is Jacob.
Jacob came from a family of faith. He was Abraham’s grandson and Isaac’s son. He had been raised in a God fearing family. He had been blessed by God with lots of wealth.
But when we meet Jacob in chapter 28 of today’s lesson, he doesn’t have any of that stuff. He is in the wilderness. He is all alone.
I imagine that as Jacob tried to start a fire and prep a campsite for the night that he couldn’t help asking the same thing.
I. Jacob’s Fear
Jacob was the younger of two twins. But he was not identical to his brother Esau at all. Jacob liked to sit at home. Esau liked to be in the wilderness. Jacob liked to tend sheep. Esau liked to hunt. Jacob had smooth skin. Esau had gruff, red hair all over his body.
Traditionally that meant he would not receive the family blessing. Instead, the family farm would go to his older brother Esau; Esau would get double the inheritance of his family’s wealth; Esau would carry on the family’s name; and in a special blessing that was only given to Abraham’s family – the firstborn would have the promise of the Savior given to his genealogical line.
Jacob—the younger son –wouldn’t get any of that.
As Jacob stoked the fire – he wished he had just let it be.
Jacob had learned that his father was going to give the blessing to Esau over a special meal. While Esau went out into the field to kill something extra tasty for this special moment with his dad, Jacob and his mom plotted. She began preparing some stew of her own and Jacob created a disguise. He put on his brother’s clothing and then covered his arm with goat fur so he’d be just as hairy as Esau. By the time he was dressed, his mom was done with the stew and Jacob went in to see his dad.
Now – you might think that a dad would know the difference between his two sons –especially two sons as different as Jacob and Esau. But Isaac was very old. His eyesight was fading. When Jacob entered with the stew, all he saw was his favorite meal.
Still – Isaac was cautious. He questioned if it really was Esau returning from the fields so quickly, but his nose caught a whiff of Esau’s clothing and his heart was at ease. Similarly when his ears became on alert when he heard Jacob’s voice, but the hairy goat skins convinced him that Esau must have just had a very bad cold.
Isaac blessed Jacob when he thought he was blessing Esau.
As the sticks his was rubbing together started to smoke, a tear rolled down his eyes. Jacob had done wrong. He had deceived his father.
Moments later Esau came in from the field. He was ready to have that special moment with his dad. They were both furious to find out that Jacob had just been in and received this irrevocable blessing.
Esau was furious. He immediately plotted to get revenge. He was going to kill Jacob.
As Jacob stoked the fire, he couldn’t blame Esau for his anger. He had done wrong. He had stolen from his brother.
But that wasn’t the worst. Another memory popped into Jacob’s mind. It was the memory of his mother’s assurance – “God himself has promised that you will be the one receiving your father’s blessing. Though you are younger – God has promised that you will be the one who gets the birthright. Don’t worry.”
Jacob had worried. He had doubted. He had deceived his dad, he had stolen from his brother, and worst of all – he had doubted God!
Now he had run away. He didn’t have his crime mate – his mother with him. He didn’t have the wisdom of his father. He didn’t even have the headlocks and playful fighting of his brother. He was all alone.
II. God’s Test
I imagine it was hard for Jacob to sleep that night -- not just because he was using a rock for a pillow. Like a YouTube video on repeat – his mind kept replaying his sins over and over again.
“If only I hadn’t deceived my father…If only I hadn’t stolen from my brother…If Only I had trusted God…”
It was frightening to stay awake because all he could think of was his sin. But when exhaustion kicked in and he began dreaming, it got a whole lot more frightening:
He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth with its top reaching to heaven. This wasn’t just some stone made stairway to the plateau that his brother and him would climb to check out all of their ranch. It was other worldly. It reached to heaven. It was intimidating.
It was filled with angels. Verse 12 continues the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Not sheep. Not cattle. Not his dad’s servants. Not even a bunch of clones of his brother Esau – who had been running through his mind.
Angels. Glowing with light, dressed in white, sometimes winged, always otherworldly—angels.
There above it – at the top of the staircase --stood the Lord. God himself. The Holy, world creating, floodgate opening, hurricane twirling, earthquake shaking Lord of heaven and earth himself.
Can you imagine how frightening that was for Jacob? There stood his Holy God—His Holy God who HATED sin. He hated deception. He hated stealing. He hated those who didn’t trust in Him.
Jacob had just done all three of those!
Now God had found him. Now God had caught up to him. Now God was going to deliver the final blow!
Jacob winced as God spoke:
I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.
Wait, what? Suddenly this wasn’t so terrifying after all. Suddenly this meeting with God had become very awesome.
For starters, God hadn’t destroyed him. As Jacob felt his body to make sure it hadn’t been burned to a crisp, he must have been elated. God was giving him a second chance. God held back his holy and righteous anger against him.
Instead God spoke kindly to him. There’s no hint of terror in what God is saying. He introduces himself as “The LORD.” That’s the Old Testament name that referenced God’s covenantal love. He calls himself “the God of Abraham and Isaac.” This filled Jacob with thoughts of God providing a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of Isaac and thoughts of God gifting his family with blessing after blessing. It reminded Jacob of God’s promise to send a Savior from sin. A Messiah. The Christ.
And from his own family’s line.
Then, God blesses him. Write those blessings down. He promises to bless Jacob with the land that he’s lying on. He promises to bless Jacob with many children –to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south. (A promise that meant he would live! God wasn’t going to kill him like he deserved.)
Then, take a look at that last part of verse 14. He promised that “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.” That’s the promise of the Savior. The promise he had stolen from Esau. The Promise that God had promised beforehand would go to Jacob. In spite of the wrongs Jacob had committed, God was blessing Him with that incredible honor.
For Jacob it took on a new meaning. It didn’t just mean he would have a neat place in the line of salvation history. It meant he was forgiven. God had forgiven him for deceiving his Father. God had forgiven him for stealing from his brother. God had forgiven him for not trusting in Him.
But that wasn’t it. God continued, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
God Promised to be With Jacob. Though Jacob was hundreds of miles from home and though there wasn’t a soul in sight. God now promised to be with him. Not just as a buddy either. He promised to watch over Jacob. Not just for a day either. Or a few weeks. He promised to not leave…until He had done what He promised.
III. Jacob’ Response
Then, Jacob wakes up. No sign of the stairway. No sign of the angel. No sign of God.
Did Jacob really believe that God could love him and be with him even though he did wrong?
16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was in awe and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
Fear had changed to joyful awe! There’s a whole character change that takes place. Jacob trusts God and is in awe of God’s. His awesome power and his awesome love.
He makes a confession of faith. “Surely the LORD is in this place!” He doesn’t say, “Surely I had some bad mushrooms for dinner.” “Surely I had a restless sleep with strange dreams.” He says, “The LORD is here!” He believed it. He trusted it.
Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. It wasn’t that there was anything special about the stone, other than the fact that this was the place he heard God’s Word. So Jacob regards the place he heard from God as holy. He called it Bethel which literally means “House of God.”
Then, Jacob reveals that he is all in, “If God will be with me…then the Lord will be my God…and of all that you give me, O God, I will give you a tenth.” Jacob is confident that God is His God. He is confident enough to devote his life to him. He’s ready to change. Ready to be truthful. Ready to be trusting. Ready to give (even his wealth) to God because he trusts God. He trusts his words. He trusts his mercy.
IV. Your Response
What does this mean for you? Three things.
1) Trust God When You’ve Done Something Wrong.
Have you ever felt like Jacob before? Have you ever done something wrong – so wrong that you have lost friends over it? Or lost a spouse’s trust? Or lost a job over it? Have you ever done something that is so wrong you feel like God couldn’t forgive you? In fact, you run away from God. You avoid church. You avoid prayer. You never open your Bible, because you are convinced that you have done too much wrong for God to want to be by you.
Do you see the problem? You’re looking at you.
Today’s lesson reminds us to look at God. He is merciful. He is loving. He is compassionate. He is forgiving.
Remember that promise he mentioned to Jacob? He promised that through Jacob all nations on earth would be blessed. That’s because one of Jacob’s offspring ---great, great, great, many times over grandchild—was Jesus. Jesus lived perfectly, died innocently, and rose triumphantly for our forgiveness.
When you’ve done something wrong, don’t avoid God. Don’t ignore his love. Don’t try to numb your mind with alcohol. Don’t give up and dive head first into your sin.
Come to God. Confess to God. Trust that he will respond with mercy just as He did with Jacob.
2) Regard the Place You Hear from God as Holy
When he woke up, there was just a rock. No ladder. No angels. No glory of the LORD. It didn’t look special at all. Yet Jacob considered it holy. The simple looking place remembered for an incredible message from God.
Today we also have a simple looking place that we hear the Word of the Lord. No heavenly ladders. No Angels. No shining glory of the Lord—20 some wooden pews, white washed walls, and a few brown sided front that until a cross was added recently, some had mistaken for a doctor’s office. Doesn’t sound like much.
But it is. This place. Gethsemane. This is where we hear God’s Word. We hear it in song. We hear it lessons. We hear it as we study God’s Word.
Regard it as holy!
Don’t just think of this as a social club. Don’t just think of it as a place to gossip. Don’t just think of it as a place to get your fill of donuts on a Sunday morning.
This is the place where you hear from God. It’s the place where you hear of God’s love. It's where God reminds you that you are a sinner and that God sinner.
Consider this place holy. Make every effort to be here. If you can't, hear from God on the web. Then, make time in God’s Word a special time. In your car on the way to work with your SmartPhone blasting the Word of God. In an easy chair with your Bible opened. Whatever it it...Make it a time that you don’t want to miss. Take advantage of the next step opportunity to hear from God! Tell your friends to come and hear of his love too!
3) Devote your Life to Jesus
When Jacob got up, what else could he do? He had been all alone. Now he realized he was with his compassionate Lord. How could he not listen to him? He owed him an unpayable debt of gratitude. He could figure out now better way to serve God than to devote life to Him.
You do the same. Serve the Lord. Serve him by getting involved at church. Serve him by telling your kids about Him. Serve Him by giving your money to support the ministry going on here. Serve the LORD by taking the Easter invitations and sharing the message of God’s love.
Now as you finish reading this, you are about ready to go back into the world. Soon the devil will come into your thought. Your memory will be jogged to some wrong you have done. He will try to convince you that you can't be forgiven. Your pride will get you to think "I need to do better and then come to God."
Remember the story of Jacob.
Remember that God is compassionate.
Remember what God did for you.
Jacob must have done that. When haunted by his sins, he looked back to when he saw God at the top of the ladder and God was compassionate.
You do the same. When haunted by your sins, look up. Look up at --not the ladder-- but the cross. See God at the top of it. See his compassion. See his mercy. See his love.
Trust God...Even When You've Done Wrong.
Over confirmation, I hope that these two young people learned a lot from me. But I do have to admit that I learned from them as well. Specifically, I learned some brand new lingo. (Apparently “groovy” and “neato” or no longer “cool").
For instance, I learned about the word “fangirl” or it’s counterpart “fanboy.” Have you heard the word? It's a term used to describe someone who is fanatical for a certain pop culture item or person. You can be a fangirl of Justin Bieber. A fanboy of Harry Potter. A fanperson of the Hunger Games.
This is basically a word to describe "Trekkies" or “Wolfpack fans.”
Today, you confirmands are professing to be "fans" of the Lord. You are professing to be followers of Christ. You are professing publicly to be people of God.
This is why I don't think there could be a better day to start our summer sermon series entitled: People of God. It is important for you confirmands and you (former confirmands) to remember exactly what it means to be a Person of God.
To see what a person of God is we're going to look 1 Peter. Peter is an expert on what a person of God looks like. Peter had spent time with and learned from God himself. He had been rebuked and restored by God himself. He had been given a commission from God himself. If anyone knew what it meant to be a "Person of God"-- it was Peter.
Take then at the first truth he reveals about the people of God in verses 1-2. Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, that's who's writing it. "To God's elect those chosen to be people of God. Believers. That's an expected and important theme throughout Scripture.
But then Peter calls these people of God a strange word: Exiles. Refugees. Strangers. Specifically, in the Greek, the words means "temporary dwellers." They are only passing through and won’t be here forever.
This isn't a physical thing. Peter isn’t saying that they are strangers in south Italy and need to return home to Israel. He isn’t saying that we are strangers in North Carolina and need to return home to the Midwest.
He is speaking to all Christians everywhere and reminding them that they are strangers on this earth.
I. Strangers are Scattered
Maybe you're a positive person. Perhaps you think, "Home is where the heart is." As long as you are with all the people in your family, you're at home.
But the people of God aren't in the same place. They are all over. Look at the words again: scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Asia and Bithynia. This meant that the family of Christians was scattered. They were in small house churches that had to deal with persecutions all around them. They couldn’t even be together and encourage each other. They were scattered.
This is still true today.
It was never more evident just how scattered than this week at the Youth Rally. There were teenage people of God from all over. Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, even Alberta, Canada just to name a few. And it was awesome. Awesome to be with Christians your age from all over the world. Awesome to see 2000 some young people filling up the seats of an auditorium with praise.
But now we're apart. The youth group shrunk. It’s less impressive.
Maybe this has happened to you:
It's hard to be scattered from one another.
That's not all. Remember that word “stranger.” The implication is that there is a permanent place where we belong. This is where our Father dwells. It's heaven.
The history of the world explains what happened. God created earth. He created a beautiful earth. He created a beautiful garden on that earth for humans to dwell in peace with him as his family members forever.
Then, humans sinned. They rebelled against him. They placed a separation between God and them.
This is still true today. We are a part of that sinful, dangerous, guilt filled, hateful, scary world. . We, the people of God, are scattered the perfect presence of our Father on an earth far from perfect.
But there is an interesting phenomenon that takes place when you move away from your hometown. Think about college. At first, you live life just like you did back at home. You love going to McDonald's. You listen to alternative rock. You eat chili the way your mom makes chili -- with the noodles in it.
After time that starts to change. You try different things and your opinions, likes and dislikes, evolve. Suddenly, you love going to Chick-fil-A. You listen to the Country station on the radio. You like your Chili without noodles in it!
Now this isn't necessarily a danger when you are move from one earthly place to another. But it is a danger when you forget all about your heavenly home.
Here's a way for you to see if you starting to get too comfortable with this world. I want you to tally up one for each side after I give you some options. The option listed first is from this sinful world; the option listed second is from God’s heavenly home. Think about which one makes you more comfortable. Are you more comfortable….
...at the bar or at the Lord's Table?
...saying swears in public or saying a prayer in public?
...inviting your friend to an R rated movie or to a Bible study?
...navigating to XXX.com or Biblegateway.com?
…never missing a church service or never missing an episode of Family Guy?
...listening to what CNN has to say about homosexuality or what your pastor does?
...confessing your how awesome you are to your friends or how sinful you to God?
Brothers and sisters, if you are more comfortable with worldly things, there's a problem. You are comfortable with a place that will not last. You are comfortable with a place that cannot exist in eternity. You are comfortable with a sinful world that God cannot tolerate. You are a comfortable with a place that he will simply obliterate.
Repent. Turn to your heavenly home. Ask your Father for forgiveness.
Because He misses you.
II. Strangers are Missed
Your parents will miss you if and when you go to move out. They will call you on the phone. They will email you. They will text message you. Facebook you. Twitter you. Whatever it takes to get your attention and let you know that they miss you and love you.
If you have gone astray, know this: God misses you right now. If you haven't remotely kept up your Confirmation promises, God wants you back!
Look at verse 1-2, "To the elect…you have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of the Father." Do you understand what that is saying? It is saying that God knows you well. He knows you better than you. He has known you longer than you. From before the creation of the world, he knew that you would be born into sin. He knew that you would be born into a sinful world. He knew that you would need a Savior from this sinful world.
That's why he sent his Son. Jesus. The only one who had not left his Father to earth. Jesus, who is divine and out of this world, became a stranger in this world.
But he never adopted the way of this world. He never was lost in sin. Instead, he conquered it. He lived perfectly. He died innocently on a cross and rose triumphantly for you. When it was time for him to go home? He ascended to heaven. He ascended to fulfill his promise from our Gospel lesson, "In my Father's house are many rooms, I am going there to prepare a place for you."
It's as if Jesus is fixing your room. Cleaning it up. Fluffing the pillows. Putting up your favorite posters. Making sure that God's house in heaven is ready for you. Ready for when God brings you home.
But God is also busy preparing you!
It’s similar to a family reunion. As you prepare to go to one, you have to get mentally prepared. You have to memorize names so that you don’t mistakenly refer to your Uncle Joe as Uncle George. You have to remember what it is your Second Cousin does for work again. You have to breathe deeply so that you stay calm when you speak to Aunt Louise –who really upset you last time.
God wants to prepare us for our heavenly home as well. This is why God gives his Spirit. Again, look at verse 2. "Through the sanctifying work of the spirit." Sanctifying. That’s a word we learned it catechism It means "setting apart as holy." It's God's work of changing our lives here on earth.
And it starts with faith. Faith that Jesus is God's Son. Faith that Jesus knows the way back to heaven. Faith that he will bring us...home.
This is why God has given us his Sacraments. The Holy Spirit works through them to bring to faith and strengthen faith. In baptism, God promises that we are his children. Though we are in this strange world, we are his and he will one day bring us home to him. In Lord's Supper, God send us a divine meal. Just like mom sending a care package when you are off in college, God has sent us a divine care package. It's his true body and blood. A promise that your sins are forgiven and you will be in heaven.
III. Strangers Live Differently
So…what now? As People of God, you are strangers. But how does this affect your life now? Here are three suggestions from our text.
1) Live according to your Father’s rules.
As Peter reminds us, “You have been chosen…to be obedient to Jesus.” Obedience to Jesus means faith, but it also means living a life of faith that God and his way of living is the correct way.
Think about this:
Once you leave your parents household, you might feel emancipated! You can live by your own rules. You don't have to follow the rules of your mom and dad.
But then, over time, you realize how good those rules were. You realize that going to bed at a decent hour is a wonderful idea. You understand that it is important to have a clean house. You may even eat some broccoli every once in a while, because it keeps you feeling healthy.
Don't forget the rules of your Divine dad." In preparation for returning home to him, live according to God’s laws. The Ten Commandments? They are there for a reason. Not because he hates you, but because He loves you!
And you know what, nothing will please your mom and dad more than calling them up on the phone and saying, “I am wearing clean clothes. I am eating a balance meal and I am saving my money.”
Similarly God is pleased when he sees you following his rules for life!
This then is a way to say Thank You to the Lord. It’s a way to give thanks to the one who gave up his only perfect Son for the forgiveness of our sins.
And another way?
2) Be proud of your Strange Foreign Heritage.
You can tell when someone is proud of their foreign heritage. They bring lots of reminders of home with them. They have pictures on the wall. Candles lit in certain places. Colors and clothing that express the culture of the former city.
Be proud of your Christian heritage. Proclaim. Be bold. Make sure others don’t just know from your words, but from how you act and live your life.
Be proud of your Christian heritage even down to the soap youuse.
Ever notice that sometimes people from different areas have different soaps. They don’t have Dove or Irish Spring. Nothing like that. They have soap made from honey. Soap made from Goat's milk. Soap made from oatmeal, hemp plant, and even bees wax.
The soap of your heavenly Father is strange too. It's blood. Blood, which stains and doesn't get you feeling Zesty fresh on the outside. But this blood isn't for cleaning the outside. Jesus' blood cleans from within. It purifies us from all sin.
The only thing is you can't see it. You can't look at the mirror and see "Did I wash all of the dirt off the back of my leg?" or touch your face and think, "Did I get all the oil washed off?" There's no way to look and see if you have really been completely cleansed of all sin. Other than God's promise.
So, think about it. Meditate on it. Don’t wash with the stuff of the world. Alcohol, sex, drugs, sports, money. They can’t wash a guilty soul. Only Jesus’ can. His promise of forgiveness. His promise that through faith in him all of your guilt is removed.
Use this soap. Wash daily with the Word. Come to church. Come to communion. Come and wash with the precious blood of Jesus!
3) Surround Yourself with Gifts from Home.
Peter concludes this opening address with the words: 'Grace and peace to you." These are gifts from God to his people. The gifts of grace (forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation for free! By faith alone) and the gift of peace (peace with God -- He has forgiven all sin). These are his gifts to us. Gifts, not to hide in a cardboard box, but gifts to be displayed. Gifts to be remembered. Gifts to meditate on.
I received a cup a gift from my wife about a month after we moved down to North Carolina from the Midwest. It says “Minnesota Twins.” She simply left it with a note be thankful for and always remember where we come from. To remember our parents, the lessons we have learned, and to always be thankful.
Now think of a cross. Brothers and sisters, it reminds you of whose child you are. It reminds you where your dad lives. It reminds you that one day you will go back there.
Surround yourself with this truth. Surround yourself with people who will remind you of this truth. Surround yourself with God’s Word. Never forget it. Never forget where you came from and where you are going.
It’s 4:45pm. The workday is almost over. You turn to your computer to close down what you have been working on.
You close out of the instant message dialogue box that had contained a plethora of nasty jokes about your boss. It had been tempting to add one of your own, but you had resisted. Then, you check your email last time. One message is a Facebook update. One of your friends has liked Miley Cyrus wearing more clothes than usual (but still less than appropriate). It’s tempting to look out. The other update is a link to a “Science” article attempting to prove that God doesn’t exist. The arguments are tempting you to doubt your faith.
You head out the door only to pass by a coworker that you don’t like very much. It’s tempting to frown at him. Then, your boss reminds you that you have reports to finish at home this weekend. It’s tempting to give him a piece of your mind.
You get into the car and turn on talk radio. The conversation is anger. It’s tempting you to get angry. Then, a car pulls out in front of you. You’re tempted to let that anger out. Fortunately, a giant billboard for Victoria’s Secret catches your eye and eases your angry (by tempting you to lust).
Finally, you get home. You’re exhausted. Temptations were everywhere today. It’s nice to be where you are safe.
Then, your phone buzzes. It’s a text message from your friend. A Groupon for ½ drinks at a local bar. It’s accompanied by the simple text: “Don’t B a Loser!”
Temptation is everywhere. In today’s society, that has never been more true. Thanks to technology, shady activities that formerly involved heading to the seedy part of downtown at night, are now accessible from the comforts of your own living room. And it’s always getting newer and more dangerous. New technology needs to new temptations. The iPhone 5 should really called the iTemptation 5!
With temptations everywhere, how is a Christian to survive?
Today we’re going to focus in on part of Jesus’ life when temptation surrounded him. Even though these temptations had nothing to do with technology, I think you’ll see that they are very similar to temptations that you and I face today. But unlike, how you and I deal with them, Jesus deals with temptation in a entirely different fashion that has worlds of meaning for us.
1) Temptation comes in real circumstances.
Scripture tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” Immediately, you may notice that Jesus was not in the best condition to face temptation.
He was hungry. He hadn’t eaten for 40 days and 40 nights. Tell me if you’re the same as me, if I haven’t eaten for a few hours, I start to get cranky! 40 days and nights? I can’t even go a few days without a bag of potato chips.
And when humans are hungry, how do they do with temptation? This is so carnal and yet so true. Think about yourself.
*Are you more likely to kindly share the last stack of Pringles, if you are really hungry?
*Does not having enough food help you focus and be productive instead of being lazy?
*Are you more likely to say a happy “good morning” if you haven’t had your coffee yet?
Of course not. Hungry is a real circumstance that puts us in real danger of temptation.
Jesus was tired. Not getting the nutrients that his body needed had to leave him tired. Plus he was in the desert. Last I checked there aren’t a lot of Serta mattresses growing wild in the wilderness. How does being tired play into the temptation battlefield?
*Are you more irritable when you get a good night’s rest or when you toss and turn all night?
*Are you more likely to spend time with your kids when you’re exhausted from the demands of work or when you’ve been enjoying a leisure Saturday?
*Is it easier to get up and go to church, when you’ve been out all night partying or when you turn in early?
Tired is a real circumstance that puts us in real danger of temptation.
Jesus was alone. There wasn’t anyone else around. Just Jesus. Some trees. Sand. Maybe, a scorpion or two. How does being alone affect the human battle against temptation?
*Does your smart Phone tempt you to look up porn at lunch with your pastor or when you by yourself at home?
*Do you commonly say swears while driving the kids to swim practice or commuting in the car by yourself?
*Do you slip a box of pencils from the supply cabinet while office manager is watching you or when everyone else is busy?
Alone is a real circumstance that puts us in real danger of temptation.
Consider this then: Jesus, was suffering a severe circumstance of all three of these. 40 days hungry. 40 days tired. In the desert, alone! It was the perfect time for the devil to strike. Listen to the three different ways that the devil tempts Jesus. See if they sound familiar.
2) Temptations are real tricky.
Scripture says that The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread. Immediately, he plays on Jesus’ situation. “You haven’t eaten in days! Your Father is going to let you die. Why don’t you do a quick miracle and feed yourself? And…maybe…at first glance, that sounds just fine to us. Jesus turned water into wine. Why not stones into bread?
It wasn’t the act itself that would be coated with sin. It was the attitude behind it. Because Jesus was the Messiah! He knew that it was God’s plan to have him suffer and die on the cross not to starve in the desert. He also knew that God would sustain him until then.
Jesus also knew that miracles were for people to see. They were to be see by people everywhere and bring them to faith in Jesus as Messiah. If he did this miracle, it would be selfish and against God’s plan.
Bottom line: The devil was trying to get Jesus to doubt God’s promises.
Has he ever done that to you?
"God won't provide for you. He’s abandoned you. Go ahead and cheat on your taxes.”
“God doesn’t love you. He won’t forgive you. Just drown your guilt in alcohol.”
"God won’t strengthen your faith when you study his Word. That’s foolish. Make church your last priority.”
When the devil has tempted you to doubt God, how have you done?
Jesus listened to God’s promises over the devil’s lies: 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Jesus = 1. Satan = 0.
The devil didn’t give up so easily. Verse 5 tells us that the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
Notice how tricky the devil is. This time he uses God’s Word. He quotes Psalm 91. He makes it seem like the good option is for Jesus to show his faith and jump off!
But the devil was twisting God’s Word. God tells us not to be foolish too. Satan conveniently left that out.
Has the devil ever done that to you? He focuses you on one part of God’s Word – which isn’t the whole picture – and gets you to ignore another part?
* God says, “he will spread his word to the nations,” so there’s no reason for me to share it with my friends.
* God says, ‘Treat others as you would have them treat you,’ so I guess I should condone my friend’s homosexual lifestyle.”
* God says, “You are forgiven! So you can do whatever you want.”
When the devil has tempted you to twist God’s Word, how have you done?
Jesus did great. He held to God’s Word – both his promises and his commands – in every aspect. Jesus calls him out: “It is also written: (In Deut. 6:16) ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Jesus = 2. Satan = 0.
Finally, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Notice the outright lie. The devil claims to have power to have earthly authority. He ignores God’s authority. He then promises to give it to Jesus.
This temptation runs deeper than that. For when Jesus had completed the work of his salvation, “God gave Jesus the name above every names, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow.” (Philippians 2) In other words, Jesus would have this authority after completing the Father’s plan.
Listen to the devil’s words again: “Sure, you could have that rule and authority after suffering a viciously cruel death on the cross. Why would you want to do that? I have an easier way. A less painful way. A better way. Bow down. Worship me. It’s yours.”
The devil was trying to Get Jesus to dishonor God’s Authority.
Has the devil ever done that to you? He gets you to doubt that God is in control OR that he’s even the best one to be in control?
*God’s too old fashioned to let run your life. The Bible? That’s hogwash. Modern society says so.
*You don’t need God. You’re smarter than him. He doesn’t have time for you. Why don’t you be in charge of you? Do what you want. Ignore him. Ignore his Word. Ignore his authority.
* You’re sick. Denounce God! Tell him and your family how God doesn’t know what he’s doing. Obviously he isn’t in control OR he just doesn’t care.
When the devil has tempted you to dishonor God’s Authority, how have you done?
Marvel at Jesus. When he was faced with dishonoring God, he refused! Even if it mean that he would suffer and die!In verse 10, Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’
Jesus = complete victory. The devil = defeated.
3) Jesus gave real obedience.
Now, this whole section about temptation, probably makes you feel very glum. In a sense, it serves as a reminder of our failures against temptations. (It does for me.) But if that’s where your thoughts remain, Satan is tricking you yet again.
Because this section isn’t about you! It’s about Jesus. Jesus’ and his real obedience.
Notice that he never sinned during the Desert Battle. In fact, when it is over, Scripture says that 11 Then the devil left him,” He didn’t start celebrating. He hadn’t won. He left with his tail between his legs like a dog losing a fight. Then, Scripture says, “angels came and attended him.” Angels who work for God. God who judges how we do with temptation. God who had judged Jesus’ work in the desert as victorious.
But this wasn’t the only time that Jesus defeated temptation. Jesus never sinned during the rest of his life.
* Hebrews 4:15 says, “Our high priest (Jesus)...has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin.”
* 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him (Jesus) who had no sin, to be sin for us.”
* Hebrews 7:26 says, “ (Jesus) meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, and set apart from sinners.
* 1 Peter 1:19 calls Jesus, “A lamb—without blemish or defect.”
This remains true, even during his death. Because that’s probably the only time where Jesus was in worse circumstances than the desert. He was hungry. He was tired. He had been physically beaten. And he was alone – literally attacked on every side by his enemies. Yet, even at that time, Jesus did not sin. He did not fall to temptation.
How do we know? The proof is in the empty tomb.
If Jesus had fallen to temptation – whether in the desert, in the streets, in a house, in the temple, even on the cross, then Jesus would not have risen. He would be suffering the punishment that God prescribes for all sin – hell!
But Jesus came back to life. Meaning that he had no sin AND meaning that his innocent death was not suffering for his own failures. But for ours!
Now we’re going to bring it full circle. Because now we can focus on how:
4) Jesus is our real help.
First, he offers forgiveness for our failures.
He forgives you for the times you have doubted God’s promises. He forgives you for the times you have twisted his Word. He forgives you for the times you have dishonored God’s authority. He forgives you for all the times that you have fallen to temptation.
Trust Jesus. Remember he doesn't sin. Lying is a sin. Therefore, it's the devil who's lying when he says, "You've fallen to temptation too much! You can't be forgiven."
Jesus crushed Satan's head on the cross. He is a whiny loser who can't get over the fact that he lost. Your champion Jesus is the one to trust. A champion who says that “whoever believes in him will be saved!” (Mark 16:15)
Second, Jesus is a champion to turn to.
As we saw today, he dealt with real temptations in the midst of circumstances that put him in real danger of falling. Whatever temptation it is that you just keep falling to, know that Jesus knows what it is like to face that temptation.
But, here’s the difference, Jesus has faced those temptations, but unlike you or me or anyone else in the world, Jesus completely defeated them!
So pray to him! Ask him for help. Ask him for strength. Ask him for guidance. Don’t ignore the opportunity to have help from the One who has mastered all temptation!
Finally, Jesus gives us words to wield.
Notice that every time he was tempted in our text, his reply to Satan was, “It is written.” “It is written.” “It is written.”
Jesus knew that God’s Word is powerful! He used it to thwart Satan’s plans.
You can do that too! It’s why we read Scripture. It's why we hear it. It's why we learn it and memorize it. We take it to heart so that when we are tempted by Satan, we can throw God’s all powerful Word in the devil’s face.
Try it! If you need help locating passages that expose your temptation as the sin it is, contact me. I’ll help you. Then, put those words to memory. And think them. No. Speak them. Shout them at the devil. “I will serve the Lord!”
Friends, it’s a battle out there. On our own, we don’t stand a chance against Satan. But Satan doesn’t stand a chance against Jesus. And Jesus, is on your side. Praise be to God for the one who gives us victory over temptation – now and always! Amen.
12 If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Cor. 10:12-14, NIV 2011)
Smooth, creamy peanut butter. Delicious melted milk chocolate. A few M&Ms sprinkled throughout. Glazed with a hot fudge sauce. Eaten right out of the oven—warm & delicious.
This is the recipe for Temptation Bars. Or at least, it's similar. (You can Google it and find a bunch of different recipes.) They are called Temptation Bars because they are hard to resist.
Temptation Bars work a lot like real temptations. They look delicious. They taste good while you're eating it, but...after you eat 2 or 3 (or in my case, 7) you have a tummy ache.
Temptation to sin works just like that. It seems cool. It seems fun. It may even feel good while it's going on, but afterwards you are left with the emotional stress of shame and guilt. You may even have caused your body real physical pain. Finally, there is the eternal pain of suffering in hell for falling to temptation.
No wonder we ask Jesus to “Lead us Not Into Tempation” in the Lord's Prayer.
Today we're going to look at that phrase and discuss three common misconceptions about temptaiton. In doing so, we'll reveal the lie and reveal the truth that God gives us in Scripture. The specific part of Scripture we'll look at today is found in 1 Corinthians 10.
MYTH 1: I am powerful enough to overcome temptation.
Ever thought like that? Ever been convinced that temptation isn't a problem with you?
Yesterday was new member Sunday. New Member Sunday recognizes those people who have spent time learning the truths of Scripture in a Bible Basics course and are ready to become full members of the church. In our church, this class takes up about 20 hours of learning for adults—60 45 minute classes for middle school children.
It's interesting that temptation was the topic for this Sunday. Because, if it's the same as it was when I was confirmed, then the devil is quickly at work: “Finally, I made it through. I learned all I need to know about the Bible. I got through Pastor's bad jokes. I no longer have to get up early or stay up late in order to keep studying the Bible. I'm going to be confirmed! Suddenly, temptation won't be such a big deal. I'm confirmed. I'm a professional Christian. I'll never be easily tempted again!I am powerful enough to overcome temptation on my own.”
Perhaps you confirmed awhile ago. Then, you might recognize the strange thinking that takes place, “They think they don't need to be wary of temptation any longer? They've got another thing coming. It's not so easy. Temptation keeps on coming.At least, it did. But I've been a member here for 20 years. I've been spiritually strong. I was confirmed years ago. I can quote Lutheran hymns in my sleep! All the sins pastor normally talks about – hated, greed, lust. I don't have to worry about them. Never have those temptations anymore. That's kiddy stuff. That's new member stuff. I am powerful enough to overcome temptation on my own .”
People think foolishly about temptation at all different levels of Christianity! The goal: get to a place where we can go and do whatever we want, because we're so powerful we can take on any temptation the devil is going to throw at us.
It's as if we view ourselves as Superman whose temptations bounce off of us like bullets to the Man of Steel's chest.
If we don't think like it, at least we act like it! Consider this:
Have you ever knowingly head out for a drink with the same group of people that lead you to foul language and drunkenness every time you go out? Yet, you rationalize: “I'm feeling extra Biblely today. I'll be fine. I won't sing this time.”
Or why do we think that this is the time that we're not going to think lustful thoughts during that “R” rated TV show when it's always been the case every other time? Did God grant you a special level of resistance that allows you to watch smut without being affected?
So, is it true? Are we really? Are Wisconsin Synod Lutherans really impervious to temptations? Are just the stronger members? Is the pastor?
Look at what the apostle Paul wrote: “If you-- and that's plural. He's talking to everyone who reads this letter – If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!"
In order for an NFL quarterback to take a hit, he lowers his center of gravity. He plants his feet. He stands firmly on the ground. It prevents him from being knocked over and helps to keep himself from fumbling.
Similarly, the lady who is at the mall for the 2am Black Friday special stands firm. She knows she needs to in order to keep her place in line. If she doesn't stand firm, she'll fall back—knocked over by the vicious grandma out to get her grandchild the latest bed wetting doll.
Paul meant the same thing: If you think you are standing firm, watch out! Because the truth is that once you start getting complacent, once you stop bracing yourself, once you think you aren't in trouble, you are in the biggest trouble of all.
The myth is that we can handle temptation. The truth is that we are in danger of temptation, because we can fall! We do not within ourselves have some kind of superpower that makes us impervious to temptation! If you think you are above temptation, because you are a member of a church or a long time member of a church-- you have got another thing coming!
MYTH 2: Your temptation is so powerful that you can't help but fall.
On the other hand, you might be totally agreeing completely. “Yes, temptation is great. I can't handle it. In fact, pastor, I have a few temptations in my life that I can't handle. Super temptations! It's borderline –an addiction! I want that chemical or that sneak peek or that anger release so badly that any time I'm tempted I can't help but sin. What's the point in trying to fight back? I'll just sin again and again and again. As soon as the temptation hits, I basically give up. I'm done for.”
And what's really strange? We may take pride in this. We might say, “The devil has to work super hard on me. Sure, I fall to his temptations, but they are super temptations. The regular temptations that other people fall to, I am better than. In order to get me, he has to pull out all the stops. Impressive, right God?”
It's as if we view our own personal temptations as on steroids! We think of them as super temtpations, as if they were bitten by a radioactive spider or fell into a vat of mutagen. Then, they are able to completely conquer us.
But is that true? Do we deal with temptations that are so far superior to us that God will just excuse us because the temptation is too difficult to deal with!?!
Look at what Paul wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.” Literally in the Greek it says “Humanish.”
Understand then what he is saying: The temptations that we experience are normal to all humans! There is no such thing as a “super temptation.” Temptation is NOT impossible to overcome. Your temptations are not impossible to overcome!
MYTH 3: You are fighting temptation alone.
Wow. Talk about depressing. Jesus is saying that the temptations we face aren't even all that impressive and yet we still have to be aware, because we aren't powerful enough to defeat them all by ourselves.
You might be feeling sad. Pathetic. Alone. Stuck in temptation without a way out and without anyone to help us!
But that too is a myth!
Look at the incredible truth of the next passage: God is faithful. Think about that. It's a predicate nominative. Faithful is God. It's his essense. It's who He is. Meaning...He can't not be faithfully there for you, even in the midst of temptation.
You are NOT alone. You are NEVER Alone. God is with you!
You might say: “Yes, he's there. But he's God. He doesn't know what it's like to be tempted by a pretty lady. He doesn't know the pull alcohol has on me. He doesn't realize how upsetting my brother is!”
But remember: Jesus was human. And as we already reveiewd, remptation is common to humankind. Since Jesus was a human it follows that he too was tempted! Turn to Matthew 4 for a specific exmaple of the devil doing just that!
The book of Hebrews says it this way, “Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are.”
Think about that: As a little boy, Jesus was tempted just as we were. To refuse to put his toys away when his mom asked, to throw fits, even to fight with his friends in school.
When he grew older, he would have been tempted to ditch school and go vandalize the Hebrew schule. His eyes would have been tempted to gaze lustfully at the girls by the well.
It didn't change when he was grown up. He would have been tempted to greedily steal some monies from his Apostle's stash. He could have been tempted to take advantage of the women who came to him for help. He might have been tempted to slap and hit all of the men who came to arrest him at night.
Then, to top it all off, he would have been tempted to pridefully look down on all the sinners who surrounded him and even begin to think of himself as better than God the Father himself!
Jesus' human life was just like ours. It was filled with temptation. He knows what you are going through.
But unlike another human who might commiserate with you and say “I hate that sin too, but I don't know what to do about it.” Jesus knows exactly what to do.
Listen to the end of the passages from Hebrews: Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin!
Wow! Think about all the ways you are tempted everyday...by media, friends, and physical feelings. Then, appreciate what Jesus did: He never fell to temptation even once. Never abused his body. Never abused another. Never broke a commandment. Always did what he should all the time!
That's nothing short of incredible. It's nothing short of miraculous. It's nothing short of super!
So, yes, we don't inherently have some kind of super power above temptation. And we don't each have some kind of super temptation that's impossible to resist. But Jesus!-- He is super. He has super power! He defeated temptation in all of its ugly, disgusting forms!
Including the end result: Sin! Jesus defeated sin. He defeated your sin. He destroyed, shatttered, vaporized all of the sins that we have been revisiting through this sermon. Jesus beat them all on the cross! He suffered the wrath of God for you.
It means you are forgiven. Through faith in our Savior, you are forgiven of every single temptation realized—every single sin, you've ever fallen to. All of them. Forgiven.
That's how incredibly faithful God is. We had fallen to temptation. We deserved to fall to hell. Yet God is so faithful to you that he would not let you die even when you deserved it. Instead, he died. Then, he remained faithful in death—coming back to life to continue to suppoort and uplift you to this day!
This is why the Apostle Paul wrote, God is faithful. He didn't write, “He was faithful, or he sometimes is faithful. Or only when he remembers to be faithful. NO! God IS Faithful! He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it!”
In John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the way.” Certainly, he is the way to heaven. Is it so far off to also say that Jesus is the way out of temptation?
It starts with prayer. “Jesus, I'm being tempted right now. On my own, I can't handle it. But with you, I will defeat it. Because you're more powerful than the devil. You're more powerful than any temptation. You are the most powerful, all powerful Lord of heaven and earth! Be faithfull. It's who you are. Help me!”
Then, get away! Run from temptation. Get out of the sinful relationship you are in. Get away from the drug that tempts you. Stay away from the gossip group. Pull the plug on your computer. Take a walk and cool off. Get away from temptation. Run to God!
This might seem scary, but remember: God is faithful! He will always abide. He is always with you—with all of his power and strength.
This is why we pray what we do: Lead us not into temptation! Not that God ever would lead us into temptation, he wouldn't and he can't. He's faithful. It's not in his divine genes!
Instead, we remind God of his promise. We focus ourselves on his incredible power. And we remain confident. Confident to defeat any and all temptation. Confident not because of ourselves AND not because temptation is weak, but because our God is stronger! Amen.