We are four weeks into our Fighting Temptation series.
Question: How is it going with that?
Are you on a hot streak against temptation like never before?
Have you been sinless for three weeks?
Are you a perfect, 1,567-0 against every temptation in the month of March?
Maybe a better question is:
Have you won any temptation battles?
Today we’re going to talk about what to do when you have failed at fighting temptation. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Two Different Reactions
The lesson we are going to look at is from the book of James 4. James is a letter written by James, a pastor in the early Christian church to Christians everywhere. In his letter, James gives all kinds of guidance to FIGHT temptation. He tells them to not be prideful (1:11), to be slow to anger (1:19), to get rid of moral filth (1:20), to watch their tongues (1:24), to not show favoritism (2:1), to care for others (2:15), to not curse (3:10), to not be envious (3:14), to be peace-loving (3:17), to not fight amongst each other (4:1), to not covet (4:3), and to not be romantic with someone that isn’t your spouse (4:4).
That’s a lot of commands.
That’s a lot of opportunity for temptation.
But about midway through chapter 4, James begins to talk about what to do if you find yourself falling to temptation. He identifies two completely different approaches to losing: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (4:6)
Have any of you been watching the NCAA Tournament? Teams win and teams lose. It’s interesting to listen to teams when they lose – whether it’s in an interview or Twitter – there’s really two different reactions to losing:
Some say, “We lost. We didn’t play well. We didn’t deserve to win. We failed.”
Others say, “It was the refs’ fault.” “My teammate didn’t play up to his potential.” “I read a mean tweet and I wasn’t able to focus like I should.”
Two different reactions:
Humility and Pride.
It’s the same thing when we fail at temptation.
We can respond in humility or pride.
God opposes the proud.
God gives grace to the humble.
II. Types of Pride
But it’s not necessarily that easy.
One of the trickiest things about pride is that pride tends to be very good at disguising itself.
It’s very good at not realizing its own sinfulness.
It’s very good at making you think – that it’s not prideful at all.
Because of that – I would submit that each and every one of us -- even long time Christians – struggle with some version of pride when we fail to temptation.
Here’s a list of a few different prideful ways that we respond when we fall to temptation. Which one are you?
1. The Bar-lower-er
It’s like the high jump. Did any of you have to do the high jump back in high school gym class? It isn’t easy. You have to time your run, time your approach, plant off the back foot while arching your back in the air, throwing your feet back and then jack-knifing over the top.
If you aren’t very good at it, what happens? The coach lowers the bar. From 5 foot to 4 foot 6 inches to 4 foot to…maybe let’s try laying the bar on the ground.
Bar-lower-ers do the same thing with the bar of conduct that God has set:
“God, I know you said to love my spouse – but marriage is hard. You should be happy! I wasn’t that rude.”
“I know the Bible says, ‘Don’t lust,’ but that’s unrealistic. God’s probably happy that I didn’t actually sleep with her…for long.”
“I know the Bible says, ‘Love your neighbor,’ but have you met my neighbors? I’ll tolerate them. What more can you really ask for?”
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the bar-lower-er makes it over the fake bar that he set up – while ignoring the divine bar that God set up way over his head.
2. The Fixer
That name comes from politics. A fixer is the person on your political team who has the ability to fix any negative, dirty laundry news story and make you into the hero of the narrative. If you’ve ever watched Scandal, this is Olivia Pope’s job. She finds out the bad story that’s going to hurt her client, she reworks it, and feeds that story out instead in order to make her client look good.
The Spiritual Fixer responds to sin the same way.
Bitter and angry at work? No. I was just standing my ground against all the bitter and angry people who were challenging my ideas!
Cheated on my wife? Nope. I’m just a romantic. A fan of true love. I’m the good guy in the story.
Said something racist? Nope. I was baited into it…by some other friends…who knew it would happen. They’re the real racists.
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the fixer imagines himself the hero of his story --- even when God says he’s clearly not.
3. The Accountant
Kudos to actual accountants. They do impressive work. They take numbers. They take receipts. They take line items and mistakes and put them all together to try and make the numbers balance – no matter how it is.
This is hard work. It’s why Kevin from The Office developed a “Keleven” It’s a made up, magic number he uses to balance the numbers when he can’t figure out the mistake.
The Spiritual Accountant does the same thing. They try to take the seeming “good” that they’ve done and balance it against the bad that they just committed. Like some kind of magic number, they try to make it balance.
Sure. I was grumpy this morning. But I was nice from like 1:15-3:30p yesterday afternoon so…
I have been gossiping a lot lately. But I did go to church Sunday and Wednesday for the Meditation service.
I know I told a lie there. But this morning I told like 4 truths. Things like “Good morning” and “I had an egg for breakfast.” It all balances out.
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the Spiritual Accountant thinks they’ve made up for their wrongdoing – even when God says the only way to make up for sinful wrongdoing is death.
4. The Bootstrapper
This type of person “Pulls themselves up by their Bootstraps.” Have you heard that phrase? Apparently, it means to be lying on the ground with your boots on and then, to grab ahold of the strap at the top of the boot until you are standing. This isn’t actually that possible. It’s really, really, really hard. Hence the phrase, “Pulling yourself up by your bootsteps” being an exemplary thing. If you can do that, then people will forget all about the fact that you fell – they’ll be way too impressed by the fact that you pulled yourself up by the bootstraps.
Spiritual Bootstrappers think they can do the same thing. They focus on how they’ll get themselves out of sin to distract themselves – and God – from the fact that they have sinned.
I know. I know. I got drunk for the 8th day in a row You might even call me addicted. No worries. When I get out of this, it’ll be that much more impressive.
Yes, I lost it on my kids again. But I’m gonna keep improving, keep working harder, and I’ll figure out how to deal with 4 whining kids all by myself.
And…I said things that made my spouse mad at me. But I’ll fix it. I’ll buy flowers. I’ll buy a nice card. I’ll send her a cutesy emoji. I’ll pull myself out of the pit I dug.
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the Bootstrapper distracts himself from his severe sin by looking at his half-hearted, sin-tainted, feeble efforts at righting it.
5. The Humble Looking
This seems a bit like an oxymoron. Because this type of response to sinning doesn’t seem prideful at all. In fact, they sound humble. They say things like, “I am a miserable sinner.” “I did an awful job.” “I am a horrible, no good, very bad person – God!”
It sounds humble.
God, I have so much sin, that it’s too much for you to handle on your own. I’ll try to help.
God, I’ve done so much wrong. I don’t think your blood can cover it all.
God, I really messed up. I can’t ask you to help. I don’t belong in church. That wouldn’t be right.
There’s false sorrow.
There’s false humility.
And there’s this strange clinging to a tiny ounce of sinful dignity, because “I’ll feel better about myself if I can help God out with getting rid of my sins.”
Here’s the truth:
All five of these responses to sin are prideful.
All five of these responses to sin set oneself up against God.
The Bar-lower-er says, “God, your bar wasn’t good enough. I’ll make my own.”
The Fixer says, “God, you don’t know the whole story. You’re wrong for rebuking me.”
The Accountant says, “God, if you don’t accept all the good I do for you, you’re the one who isn’t any good.”
The Bootstrapper says, “God, don’t patronize me. I don’t need your help. Even if you tell me I do need your help.”
The Humble Looking says, “God, you can’t do this on your own. You need my help.”
All five of these responses to falling at sin will leave you…imagining that you’re up and on your feet again.
When in reality…
You’re still lying on the ground.
You’re still beaten.
You. Aren’t. Getting. Up.
God opposes the proud…
God gives grace to the humble. (v.6)
III. Blessings of Humility
Our Old Testament lesson was from the book of Judges. Have you ever read the book of Judges? It fits in really well with today’s lesson, because it is filled with a very repetitive theme:
Repeated, repetitive failures to temptation.
It’s a cycle.
Israel falls to temptation.
God warns them to stop.
Israel has too much pride to listen.
God warns them again.
Israel still doesn’t listen and…
God is against them.
God sends a foreign nation to overtake them.
Israel is overrun by the Assyrians, the Moabites, the Philistines.
The once proud people of Israel are defeated – lying flat on their backs.
As they are on their backs…
They realize that they cannot get themselves out of the predicament.
Their story changes.
They ask God for mercy.
He sends a conqueror.
He sends a hero.
He fights for his people and gives them the victory!
Friends, there is blessing in humility. Look at what James says:
1. The Devil Flees
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (v.7)
Which seems strange. Because you would expect your best chance at beating the devil to involve puffing your chest out, getting really big, really prideful. Like scaring off a grizzly bear. You act as impressive as possible so as to scare him off.
The devil is not scared of you.
Not one bit.
On the other hand, when you are humble…
When you admit that you can’t do it alone…
When you call out for help…
He’s absolutely terrified!
2. God Comes Near
This is the reason the devil is terrified. Look at what James writes, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (v.8)
Because God is a God of mercy.
He is a God of compassion.
He is a God who helps those who need help.
He erupts volcanos.
He flicks his wrists to send hurricane like winds.
He pours out rushing flood waters.
He is the undisputed, undefeated, champion against temptation – and there is no love lost between him and the devil.
God shows up and the devil runs.
He does one of those things that the Roadrunner used to do in Looney Tunes and leaves a cloud of dust behind.
James writes, “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (v.8b)
Because the reality is that falling to temptation can feel awfully icky.
It can feel like the end of a long day working outside.
There’s dried sweat on your forehead.
Dirt under your finger nails.
And this…stench that just seems to be deeply entrenched in your skin.
He washes us cleans.
He washes away your guilt.
He washes away your shame.
He washes away the stink and the stench.
And replaces it with the beautiful perfume of the phrase: “Forgiven.”
4. Uplifting to the Highest Heights
James writes, “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (v. 9-10)
The truth is the humbling yourself means that you will be lowering yourself.
There’s a moment when you say, “I am a sinner.”
A moment when you say, “I failed, again.”
A moment when you say, “I can’t do this on my own.”
During that time, you can feel really low.
God forgives you.
God uplifts you.
God lifts you up beyond where you were before – and places you up beside Him – in His kingdom!
Do you get it? If you fall and a friend picks you up, your feet are back on solid ground.
But if you fall and God picks you up…your feet are on heavenly ground.
IV. What Now?
The one WHAT NOW? It’s pretty simple:
When you fail against temptation…
Humbly seek God’s help.
Humbly hear his promise of forgiveness.
No matter how many times you’ve fallen to temptation.
Like the son in the story that Jesus told.
Remember what he did?
He came up to his dad – long before his dad was dead – and said, “Give me my inheritance! I’ve had enough of living under your roof. I’m sick and tired of doing what you tell me to do. I’m sick of being here. There’s a whole world full of life out there. Give my money. Give my money so I can leave and never have to look at your ugly face again.”
And his dad was sad.
But he gave him the inheritance.
A couple hundred thousand dollars.
And the son takes the money.
He heads to the city.
He goes downtown.
He rents a high-rise $4,000 a month apartment.
Every night he goes to the finest steak restaurants.
He drinks top notch scotch after drinking top shelf vodka after drinking a $25 dollar shot of whiskey.
And he buys for his friends.
And he buys illegal drugs for him and his friends.
And he buys women for him and his friends.
And he wakes up around 2 pm the next day.
And does it all over again.
The money’s out.
No one will hire him.
He gets evicted.
His “friends” ignore his text messages.
He pretends to have enough cash for an Uber out of the city – only to pretend like he left his wallet in the other pants when he gets to a local pig farm that’s hiring.
And he gets a job.
Feeding the pigs.
He gives them slimy old applesauce.
He gives them moldy old cheese.
He gives them this greenish, brownish muck that he’s not sure – isn’t snot.
It looks so good.
He’s so hungry.
And he says to himself, “I should never have done it. I should never have left my dad. I had it good in my dad’s house. I was fed. I was clothed. I was…home.”
I don’t deserve to be his son.
But…maybe he’ll let me clean the outhouse. And gives me a few pieces of bread for supper.
He makes his way to his dad’s house.
When he reaches the dirt road, the long dirt road that leads to his Father’s house…
He takes a deep breath…before he walks up.
But before he can get far, way off in the distance…his dad. He sees him! And he takes off down the dirt road.
And the son thinks, “Here he comes. He’s going to give it to me. He’s going to scream at me. He’s going to tell me how awful and terrible I messed up and that I should buzz off and never be around again.”
And as his dad approaches.
He lifts up his hand.
And his son braces himself to be smacked on the cheek.
His hand doesn’t hit his face.
It embraces him.
But the son shrugs him off! “Seriously, Dad! I sinned. I did wrong. I don’t deserve to be your son! Let me work my way back. Let me do my own thing. Let me be a worker on the lowest run in your farm.”
But the dad…isn’t listening.
“Hey Walter! My son’s back!! Run; tell the cooks to get the steaks from the freezer. Go grab some of my finest wines. And text everyone that I know. There’s a party at my house tonight.”
Because…This son of mine is lost; but NOW? is found.
Friends, this is God’s reaction to you.
When you fail against temptation, humbly return.
And you’ll be welcomed home.
I’ve been experiencing some problems in my prayer life recently.
The things that I pray for don’t seem to be happening.
This has been going on for years!
I prayed for a pony when I was younger; never happened.
I’ve prayed for it to rain Doritos. Not once.
I’ve prayed for a couple million bucks to show up in my bank account. (I don’t know that there’s ever been a million that passed through the account since its inception)
On a more serious note – my wife and I have been praying for a child.
But…we’re about seven years in.
No little pastor.
No little Julianna.
Maybe the same thing has happened to you.
Maybe you’ve asked for something “good” and God has answered with something “bad.”
What’s the deal? Doesn’t God understand how prayer works?
Jesus has something to say on the matter. Check out his words from Matthew 7: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?”
Think about it:
If your son came up to you with his big, tear-filled eyes and said to you, “Mommy, my tummy’s grumbling. Can I have a piece of bread?” Would any of you say: “Sure, son!” Walk away. Grab a plate, a knife and some butter and then SLAM a big old rock onto the plate. “Bon Appetite!”
If your daughter really wanted a pet and said to you, “Daddy, I want to get a gold fish and name it Princess.” How many of you would say, “Sure, honey. Anything for you.” Get into car, you head to the pet store, and come back with a poisonous King Cobra. “Here you go sweetie. Although…I don’t know if we should name him Princess.”
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (v.11)
If you then, though you are an imperfect, sin-tainted, selfish human being, know to give a good gift to your child…
What do you think your perfect, holiness-radiating, selfless God will give to you?
God can ONLY give good gifts.
So…what’s the rub then? Why does God’s answers to our prayers sometimes seem disappointing? Two reasons. And they both involve inaccurate assumptions on our part.
(1) Assuming Your Request is Good
Think back to the Doritos prayer. I thought raining Doritos would be good.
It would also ruin the ecosystem, result in my digesting all kinds of germs, and probably ruin the Cool Ranch flavor!
Your child may think they know what is best. They may truly believe that staying up late and eating ice cream is what’s best – it’s certainly what they want most at that moment. However, a father who truly loves his children knows that staying up late and eating ice cream will result in children who don’t feel good shortly after and will have a following 12-hour period of crabbiness. The father looks at the whole picture, and knowing better than his child, may tell his child no – out of love!
The same is true for some of our real deal, difficult requests…
They may not always be centered in ‘goodness.’
They may be centered in “our sinful, imperfectness.”
Back to the prayer for a child.
One of the main reasons that I am praying for one?
I want one.
I want to be a father.
I want to teach them how to play catch.
I want to teach them how to ride a bike.
It sounds nice…
Did you hear what I was praying?
I want…I want…I want.
What about what God wants?
What about God’s desire to increase his eternal family?
What about planting the message of Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh?
What about God’s desire to shape and mold myself and my wife and grow our faith as we dig deeper into His Word for answers?
What about the fact that I might not know what is good – eternally, absolutely, perfectly…good?
Friends, I don’t know your prayer requests.
But I know you too are an imperfect, broken, human being.
Could it be that our imperfect, broken human heart requests imperfect, broken things from our Father?
Thank God he doesn’t give us exactly what we want.
Thank God that he gives us exactly what is good.
Thank God that when I ask for a snake…God gives me a fish.
Thank God that when I ask for a stone…God gives me some bread.
(2) Assuming God’s Answers Can Be Bad
Because sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes. Your boyfriend is leaving you.”
Sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes, you will lose that job.”
Sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes. It’s confirmed. You have cancer.”
The temptation might be to say, “God, bad answer.”
The reality? God doesn’t give bad answers.
We might not always know how.
We might not always know why.
We might not always know much of anything.
But we do know one certain and sure reality:
God’s answers are only good.
Because God is only good.
Case and point? The cross.
We asked for a Savior.
We asked for God to send someone to help us.
We asked for God to get rid of our guilt, grief, and shame.
We probably pictured some type of superhero-looking guy.
A modern-day Avenger.
With an epic Thor like weapon and luscious, Chris Hemsworth looks.
We didn’t get that.
We got a carpenter’s apprentice.
A guy without a home.
A mild mannered dude who got roughed up and physically beaten on more than one occasion.
He was cursed at.
Arrested, convicted, bloodied, and killed.
And it’s easy to look up at the cross.
At his broken, bloodied, beaten body…
And say, “This can’t be any good. God, you didn’t answer my prayer. God, you don’t know what you’re doing!”
But we’d be wrong.
Because three days, later…
Three days later, Jesus didn’t just beat evil.
He didn’t just destroy sin.
He didn’t just wipe out death forever.
He guaranteed eternal life to you.
Do you see it? God answered your prayers.
Praying for a better life? God answered.
Praying for removal of guilt? God answered.
Praying for a Savior from all the junk you’re dealing with? God answered when he sent Jesus.
And Now? God keeps giving good gifts.
God isn’t hit or miss.
His gifts are always good.
That boyfriend? Could lead you away from faith.
That job? Could distract you from teaching your kids about their Savior.
That cancer? It’s will draw you closer in faith to me AND allow you all kinds of opportunity to witness to your family and friends until you join him in heaven apart from cancer…forever.
Because that’s the ultimate good.
Brothers and sisters, God’s answers all always good. Trust Him.
Whether he gives you some bread, some fish, or an eternal Savior…
God’s answers are always good. Amen.
We are in the middle of our Fighting Temptation mini-series. So far, we’ve watched Jesus defeat the devil in a one-on-one temptation battle, learned some lessons from the champ, and contrasted the cost of fighting temptation with the cost of NOT fighting.
But maybe so far you have said, “Pastor, this has been nice. It sounds important. I should fight temptation. So…I’ll put it on the schedule for some time this summer.”
It’s like one of emails that goes to your junk mail. You peruse down the list and about 6 emails down is an email, written in all CAPITAL LETTERS, that says, “URGENT” with a few exclamation points behind it!!!
And you blink quickly, move the mouse, and click away.
Is someone in trouble?
Is a friend trying to reconnect?
Am I late on a bill?
“Hello sir. Just a note that there is currently a deal for 10% off pictures frames down at Michaels. We wanted to let you know – because you shopped here…one time…for your wife. This deal is only available for a limited time. So, act now! It’s urgent.”
Until…I get very similar email the very next week.
Maybe, it’s not so urgent.
Do you feel that way about fighting temptation? As if it isn’t urgent?
Today Jesus himself is going to explain to us the urgency of fighting temptation. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. An Urgent Warning
We are studying Luke 13 today. Look at what verse 1 says, “Now there were some…who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.”
This is a bit strange, so a bit of background. Galilee was a country that was in the northern area of the Holy Land. Galileans were people who lived in Galilee. Apparently, some Galileans had been in the temple offering sacrifice (aka worshipping God) when the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate (he’s going to become very important as we get closer to Good Friday) ordered that they be killed. It’d be similar to a church shooting. Which unfortunately, is not unheard of.
It wasn’t unheard of back then either! According to Josephus, a Jewish historian, Pilate did this about five different times during his reign. Each time it was violent. Each time it was awful. Each time it was a very disheartening event.
That’s why the people were talking to Jesus about it.
It was troubling.
Like some kind of awful current event (take your pick: shooting, bombing, kidnapping, rape, etc.), they were trying to make sense of what had happened.
The answer that was most popular?
These guys must have been terrible sinners.
They must have done something really, really, really bad.
I heard that they were running an illegal drug ring through the temple.
This was a punishment for them!
Jesus overhears it and, being true God, He offers a unique assessment that a sinful human being would never be able to offer:
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (v2-3)
First thing to understand about Jesus’ statement:
Sin is sin is sin. The Bible teaches that, “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) It teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” (Romans 3:23) It teaches that “If you stumble at just one point, it’s as good as breaking all of God’s law.” (James 2:10) Sin is sin is sin. It’s all awful to God. Therefore, these Galileans killed in the temple were not worse sinners than any one else.
The slaughter in the temple wasn’t some kind of special judgment by God against a special breed of sinners.
But in case you’re reading this and you’re saying, “Well, okay. This wasn’t. It was done by Pilate. A sinful human being acting in a sinful, fallen world. But what about natural disasters? That’s the kind of stuff that only God can control. What about tornadoes down in Mississippi and flooding in the Midwest? Is that God’s judgment against them?”
Look at Jesus’ next words: “Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them (a natural disaster. Not a murder. Still horrific.) —do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (v.4-5)
The Galilean slaughter was not a special punishment.
The Implosion of the Siloam tower was not a special punishment either.
Stop looking at these horrific events for the sake of others.
Look at them for the sake of yourself.
As a warning.
A reminder that life is short.
As a wakeup call to repent! To get right with God. To stop sinning before God acts against you!
Here's the first truth God wants you to get through your head this morning: “Don’t view disaster as an indictment of others, but as a warning to yourself.”
Stop pointing at others.
Stop ignoring your own sins.
Stop thinking, “I love this sermon. Go get ‘em pastor! In particular, look at this guy right next to me. He needs to hear this.”
You need to hear this.
Even if you’ve been a Christian for 40 plus years.
You need to hear this.
Because if you don’t…
Jesus continues. From horrific current events to gardening:
“A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any.“ (v.6)
Ever had a fig before? They’re pretty tasty. This man must have really liked them. In fact, I picture him having a gigantic, fig tree farm with thousands and thousands of fig trees growing. It makes him a lot of money for fig jam, fig jelly, and fig Pop Tarts.
Every once in a while, he takes a break from the paperwork of owning a fig tree farm to go and walk through his product line. He marvels at the beautiful of the trees. He samples some of the figs as he goes. He whistles to himself as he is so happy for how well everything is growing.
There’s that one tree again.
(He remembers it from last year)
Not a lot of green.
Seems kinda sickly looking.
“The owner said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to Look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any.’” (v.7a)
It isn’t producing. It isn’t doing what we planted it to do. A fig tree without figs on it is…worthless.
“Cut. It. Down!” (v.7b)
Friends. This is more than garden tip.
This story has a spiritual meaning.
God has brought you into his family.
To fight sin.
To bear fruit.
To bear the fruit of the spirit: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
And if God is walking through his rows of Spirit fruit trees…
And he walks past the section where you are planted…
And you aren’t bearing fruit?
Instead of love – hatred.
Instead of joy – complaint.
Instead of peace – grumbling.
Instead of fighting temptation – enjoying the sin that you’re doing.
What do you think the Father will say?
It’s the worst three words that God could ever say about you.
Cut. It. Down.
II. A Patient Promise
Thankfully for the fate of the fig tree this isn’t the end of the story. Because while the owner is the one who paid for him to be planted, he has another friend who cares for him.
The gardener is the one who has been watering this tree for three years.
He’s seen it struggle.
He’s weeded it.
He’s fertilized it.
He’s even gotten up at 5am to come out and sing Eric Clapton to it.
For three years, he’s put his heart and soul into getting that fig tree to bear figs.
And he isn’t ready to give up…not yet.
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (v.8)
Friends, you have a gardener, too.
You have someone who cared so deeply for your soul that when he saw your fruitless, sin-filled life, he came to earth and died on a tree to save you.
Jesus is an advocate on our behalf! The Bible says, “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous one.” (1 Jn. 2:1) It says, “Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for us.” Romans 8:34) It says, “Jesus is our Great High Priest…that we approach God’s throne with confidence.” (Hebrews 4:14, 16)
Do you get it?
Jesus is pleading to the Father on your behalf, while pleading to you on behalf of Him!
And here’s the good news: It’s working.
How do I know?
Well, you’re here today.
You’re listening to this message.
You get to hear Jesus’ voice calling to you right now.
No matter how barren your branches are.
No matter how dead your spiritual life looks.
No matter how shriveled your attempts at fighting temptation have been.
God has been patient with you.
You have not been cut down.
And it isn’t as if the gardener said, “If it bears three times as much fruit next year in order to make up for the past three years of not bearing any at all, fine.”
He didn’t say, “I think that this tree will be worth the wait because it’s fruit will make some top-notch jam—better than the rest.”
He didn’t say, “As long as it produces 27 figs by this time next year, then we won’t cut it down.”
The fig tree doesn’t need to earn the right to be called a fig tree.
It simply needs to do what it was made to do.
And you don’t need to earn the right to bear fruit.
You simply do what God called you to do.
You won’t be cut down!
You’ll one day be transplanted from your life on this earth – to eternal life in heaven.
III. What Now?
With the urgency of death lingering and the promise of God’s grace patiently keeping us alive, WHAT NOW for this week? A few things:
It’s a phrase that appears twice, word for word in this section from Jesus. If Jesus thinks it is important enough to repeat, I think we should repeat it:
Unless you repent, then you too will perish. (v.3, 5)
Repent means to turn.
To do a 180.
To turn from sin to Savior.
To turn from falling to temptation to fighting temptation.
To turn from unbelief to faith in Jesus.
It’s like watching Pee Wee Football. And there’s that little running back, the one that looks like his pads are gonna swallow him up. It’s the end of the game and the team is up by 4 touchdowns, so the coach calls a play to give him the ball. After the quarterback hands it off, he turns, he runs…and goes in the exact opposite direction of his endzone.
And the coach is screaming, “TURN AROUND! TURN AROUND!”
And the crowd is shouting, “TURN AROUND! TURN AROUND!”
And his teammates are chasing after him to tackle him and stop him and turn him around!
That’s what God is doing with us here today.
When we sin, we go the wrong way.
Today, God calls out to you – repeatedly, persistently, patiently, lovingly – TURN AROUND!
Turn to Me.
Turn to salvation.
(2) Be Urgent about It
Because absolutely nothing in Jesus’ words today imply that you’ve got all the time in the world.
Nope. In fact, the point is that you don’t know how much time you have at all.
Before Pilate has you murdered.
Or a tower falls on top of you.
Or you get sick.
Or in a car accident.
Or have a stroke.
Our time is short.
Do not wait on repenting when you’re older.
Get urgent about fighting sin.
Fighting addiction? Seek help today.
Fighting greed? Give more money in the offering plate.
Fighting hatred? Ask God to soften your heart.
Fighting sexual temptation? Stop putting yourself in situations to sin.
If you’re fighting the temptation to continue to NOT follow Jesus – keep fighting against it!
Put your trust in your Savior.
Be urgent about fighting temptation because Jesus was urgent about fighting for you.
He came swiftly off his heavenly throne.
He suffered death.
He quickly and efficiently defeated it by rising from the dead.
(3) Be Patient about Others
Because it is so easy for us to be patient with ourselves, “C’mon guys. Greed is a hard thing. Give me time to get past this sin.”
But not so patient with others, “That dude was a jerk to me AND it’s the second time! God!?! Get him.”
But we can’t react like that. Not when God has every reason to cut us all down simultaneously right now, but he hasn’t.
Because God is patient with us, we are patient with others.
We forgive them.
We love them.
We kindly rebuke them…again and again and again and again.
We share the Gospel with them…even if it’s 8 years running.
There’s this one guy that I invite to Easter every year. I’ve invited him for seven years in a row – this year will be my eighth. Sometimes I invite with a text message. Sometimes with an email. Sometimes with a voice message. Sometimes it includes a graphic design. Sometimes it includes a Bible passage. Sometimes it includes a brief synopsis of the Gospel.
Every year? He doesn’t come.
I was thinking about not doing it this year.
About wiping my hands.
And shaking the dust off my feet.
I’ll guess I’ll invite him again.
Friends – be patient in your interactions with others.
Take advantage of the Easter season.
Share the Gospel.
Share the Gospel.
And after you’ve done that.
Share the Gospel some more.
Patiently planting while urgently fighting temptation! Amen.
Last week we started our Fighting Temptation series by looking at Jesus’ one-on-one battle against the devil. We watched him effortlessly defeat Satan’s attempt at trying to make him sin. Jesus is the Undisputed, Undefeated, Unblemished Champion against Temptation.
But maybe you also noticed that the battle had some cost for Jesus.
It cost him time with his friends.
It cost him a stress-free month.
It cost him a delicious meal for about 40 days.
Truth is that temptation costs…
Is it worth it?
A couple of years back one of the dads at Precious Lambs taught karate. With some encouragement, I tried it out. And I enjoyed it! I liked learning the proper way to punch. I enjoyed learning a few combos. I think I looked pretty good in the ghee.
But after about a month of training, the Sensei invited me to a sparring match against another gym. I wouldn’t do any sparring, but I could watch more experienced classmates in action. He said, “In the future, this could be you.”
So, I watched.
It looked pretty fun.
I thought, “I sure would like to do that.”
Until about 30 minutes in. One gentleman began a reverse turn while lifting up his back leg (almost parallel to his head). As he completed his revolution, he brought his heel down in a striking manner towards his opponent’s head. Now – his opponent was ready and put his arm up to block the heel kick.
He did everything right.
And I thought: “I think I’ve had enough karate…”
It cost too much.
Today we’ll examine fighting temptation when it costs. Our goal this morning is to identify those costs, compare them to the costs of NOT fighting temptation and get some motivation to keep fighting even when it costs. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Costs of Fighting Temptation
The lesson for this morning comes from Philippians 3:17-21. A brief bit of background. This is from a letter written by a pastor named Paul to his former congregation in a city called Philippi. One of the key parts of the letter is to encourage the believers in Philippi to fight against temptation.
In 1:10 he says, “Be pure” and fight sexual temptation.
In 2:1-3 he says, “In humility consider others better than yourself” and fight selfish temptation.
In 2:14 he says, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing” and fight temptation to discord.
In 3:2 he says, “Watch out mutilators of the flesh” guys who taught you needed to be circumcised to be saved and fight the temptation of trusting your own works more than God.
All of this fighting temptation talk leads up to verse 17. Paul writes, “Join together in my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.”
Fight temptation like I, Paul, have fought temptation.
That sounds nice.
Paul was an apostle.
He fought temptation well.
It’d be good to fight like him.
Do you know what happened to Paul for fighting temptation?
I don’t know exactly how this letter got to the Philippians. But if it is anything like today, there’d be a return address up on in the corner of the envelope containing the letter. And…based on where Paul was when he wrote this, the return address would have said something like this:
Roman Inmate #1764
Roman Federal Prison
Rome, Italy 2761 Jailbird
And I bet the church thought:
Did we break some kind of legal code?
Is someone asking our church for money?
Did one of our youths from youth group get in a bunch of trouble?
It’s just your former pastor…
And yet Paul tells them! I’m in Chains for Christ!
“I’m in jail not because I fell to sin. But because I didn’t fall to sin.
Because I kept preaching the Word of God.
Because I kept telling others about Jesus.
Because I kept sharing the Gospel even when the temptation (and the temptation was great) even when the temptation was to stop sharing the Gospel.”
And now Paul tells the to join in his example, to fight temptation just like him.
But if I’m one of the Philippians reading this message, I’m not so sure!
Because if fighting temptation means going to prison, then…
Fighting temptation has a cost.
It costs you time with your family.
It costs you your job.
It costs you your freedom.
It costs you 6 am fresh coffee from Sola Coffee Café!
It’s like one of those commercials for a new drug. The voiceover tells you that this new, simple pill will allow you to grow back your hair in only 3 months. Everyone in the commercial looks happy. They all have a full head of hair. And you think: “Sure I’m interested. I’d love to get rid of my balding look.” Then, at the end of the commercial, there’s that part where they run through a few of the side effects in 10-point font:
Side effects include: nausea, headache, joint pain, dizziness, loss of sleep, too much sleep, loss of taste, loss of vision, loss of hearing and loss of hair.
Fighting temptation has side effects.
Fighting temptation has costs.
Here are a few common costs to fighting temptation
1) Earthly Relationships
I remember one time that I found a pretty good devotional. It was talking about a hot topic social issue. I posted this pretty good devotional on a hot topic social issue despite the temptation to maybe…move on. The result? I had a friend message me that if I ever did that again – he would block me. We wouldn’t be friends on Facebook.
Fighting temptation can cost you relationships.
“No, I won’t meet together for coffee and complaining anymore.” And they reply, “I guess you’re not our friend.”
“No, I won’t support your addiction and tell you that you don’t have a problem.” And they respond, “Okay. I’m done with you.”
“Significant other…I love you, but NO I won’t be sexually intimate with you until the promises of marriage.” And they say, “Well, then. You don’t love me. And we’re done here.”
2) Career Path
If you’re looking at Paul’s career strictly from an economic perspective, he made a big mistake by using his oratory skills to preach Jesus. Before he did that, he followed the Pharisees. He was an up and comer. Rich people liked him. He was a made man – a future leader in the city of Jerusalem. Thankfully Jesus intervened and taught Paul the truth – about what to believe and what to preach.
But then he taught about Jesus.
That landed him in jail.
Fighting Temptation can cost you your career path.
“No, I won’t fudge the numbers of my sales calls…and I’ll probably lose the promotion to the guy who does.”
“No, I won’t bad-mouth my coworkers…and I’ll probably lose the bonus to the guys who do.”
“No, I won’t hide my faith at work…and I’ll probably have to get a talking to from HR.”
3) Bodily Pleasure
Easy example. Think of the temptation to overeat. The temptation to have the third eclair is great! To say, “No!” comes with the cost of not having the pleasure of enjoying it.
Fighting temptation can cost you bodily pleasure.
“If I say NO to porn, it will cost me an excited feeling.”
“If I say NO to getting drunk, it’ll cost me a wonderful relaxation.”
“If I say NO to letting all of my rage out on that loser over there, then It’ll cost me the opportunity to get my stress out.”
4) Human Glory
For Paul, he lost all kinds of glory! He could have been something big. He could have been a guy that people walked by and said, “Now that guy’s impressive. He’s really good at following God’s laws. He’s so religious. He’s so holy.”
Instead? “That Paul guy is a loser.”
Fighting temptation can cost you human glory.
“If I say NO to racism and stop bad-mouthing people of another culture, it’ll make me feel inadequate because I won’t be able to distract people from my own flaws.”
“If I say NO to berating my wife, she might feel valuable and worthwhile to this family at the expense of me feeling like the sole provider!”
“If I say NO to pride, it’ll cost me all those people over there knowing how awesome I am!”
“If I say NO to making that funny dirty joke, all my grade school friends won’t think I’m cool anymore”
“If I say NO to drugs, all my high school friends will think I’m a loser.”
“If I say NO to supporting that sinful thing society says is “OK,” all my adult friends will think I’m a bigot.”
There is no doubt that Fighting Temptation comes with costs.
There is no doubt that Fighting Temptation will be painful.
There is no doubt that the temptation to not Fight Temptation is enticing.
II. The Cost of NOT Fighting
Before we give up on fighting temptation and give in to whatever sin is tempting us, we need to look at this from the other side.
We need to compare the cost of Fighting temptation with the cost of NOT fighting Temptation.
That’s exactly Paul’s next point. Look at what “not” fighting temptation costs:
For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. (v.18-20)
Did you catch it? Let’s break it apart to find some of the costs of not fighting temptation:
1) A Relationship with God
Specifically, Paul writes, “Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” (V.18) Before we said, a cost of fighting temptation is that you might lose some relationships: friends, family members, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc.
But if you stop fighting temptation and live in sin? You’ll forfeit your friendship with God.
And it isn’t that you’ll be an acquaintance or some guy on the bus that you have a neutral feeling with.
But you’ll be an enemy of God!
Why do that?
Why would you want to be an enemy of the One who gave his life for you to save you from sin and death?
Why would you want to be an enemy of the One who is all powerful? Who conquered death itself and will have no problem conquering YOU?
Understand: Giving up on Fighting Temptation means that you will be giving up on your relationship with God.
2) Eternal Path
Paul writes, “(Those people who don’t fight temptation) their destiny is destruction.” (v.19a) Contrast this with the loss of our career path.
Because “Yes,” fighting temptation may mean you lose out on the career prestige of this world, but NOT fighting temptation leads to a change in your eternal destiny.
Instead of the promise of eternal life forever in heaven?
It’s like a soda can. When you are done with a Pepsi, you might throw it on the ground and crush it. Destruction.
Do you really want your destiny to be the same as that of an aluminum 7-Up can?
That’s the cost of not fighting temptation.
3) Heavenly Pleasure
Paul writes, “Their god is their stomach.” (v.19b) Think about that. If your stomach is your ‘god,’ that means that it is the most important thing to you. Everything that you do in life is for your stomach and to serve your stomach.
But…what can your stomach give you?
A full feeling…for about 2 hours.
How about constipation?
If your stomach…better yet…if your physical body is your God, then your pleasure will be momentary.
But if Jesus is your God?
You have the pleasure of forgiveness.
You have the pleasure of a peace with God.
You have the pleasure of knowing your salvation is certain.
Not fighting temptation costs you that heavenly pleasure.
4) God’s Glory
Paul writes, “Their glory is their shame.” (v.19c) It’s an interesting verse. Because we said earlier that if you fight temptation, you might lose some of your own glory! Pride helps you feel good about yourself. Pride makes the world pay attention. Pride makes everyone in church pay attention to how awesome you are! It gives you a human version of glory.
But at the same time that it earns your momentary, human glory, it forfeits eternal heavenly glory.
And heavenly glory lasts!
Heavenly glory lasts forever.
Heavenly glory comes from the mouth of God himself as he says,
“You are forgiven.”
“You are mine.”
“Come, dwell with me…forever.”
Giving up on saying “No” to temptation forfeits that glory.
It forfeits heaven.
III. Other Reasons to Fight
Do you know the process for becoming a citizen in the United States?
You must have a valid Green Card for at least 5 years. There are costs involved in that.
You must apply and do paperwork and do some more paperwork. There are costs involved in that.
You must attend classes, take tests, and await results. There are costs involved in that.
Finally, you must be approved and take an oath of citizenships. Again – there are costs involved in that.
It costs a lot of money.
It takes a lot of work.
It involves a lot of time.
But that’s nothing compared to becoming a citizen of heaven!
God says we need to be holy.
God says that we need to be perfect.
God says that we need to love him with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind…all of the time!
We could never earn his citizenship. We fall to temptation too often.
The fact remains…
Dear believing friends…
Our citizenship is in heaven. (v.20)
Jesus paid for all of it.
Jesus did all of the paperwork.
Jesus has made you a citizen of his kingdom.
God the Father has approved you because of Jesus’ work.
You are a citizen of God’s kingdom.
And as a result, you have an incredible reason to fight temptation:
1) You are a Citizen of God’s Kingdom
A citizen of the United States may join the military and fight for our country.
Athletic citizens of the United States may join the Olympic team and win a gold medal for the U. S. flag.
Ambassador citizens of the U.S. may go to another country to watch out for and keep safe the U.S. Citizens in that foreign country.
If you are United States citizen, you do things on its behalf.
If you are a citizen of God’s kingdom? You do things on its behalf.
You fight temptation.
You are part of the one and only eternal kingdom of God Himself.
He fought for you and gave up his life to get you there.
Live like a citizen of His kingdom.
2) Fight on the Winning Side
Paul writes, “And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (v.21b)
Savior implies that he does saving.
Which implies that he is successful at saving.
Which implies that he wins every battle against anyone that tries to stop him from saving.
Which implies that he is a winner.
Which implies that whoever is on his side…is also a winner!
In Christ, you are a winner, too.
Remember – Jesus destroyed the devil in that one-on-one temptation battle last week.
Then he went on to crush Satan’s head with his work on the cross.
And as an encore, he destroyed death by emerging victoriously from the grave.
And in him – you are victorious.
In Jesus, you are a winner.
In Jesus, you will receive all of the victory spoils.
3) The Promise of a Glorious Body
Paul writes: “Jesus, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (v.21c)
Our bodies are lowly.
I can sleep for 8 hours and I’m still tired.
I can do about 30 pushups and then I just lay on my stomach.
I can resist putting a second Dorito into my mouth – for about 5 seconds.
Our bodies are lowly.
They are tired, weak and dying.
God promises that our bodies will be transformed.
After our bodies die.
After our souls are in heaven.
On the Last Day, when God does an incredible miracle and brings our bodies back to life.
They will still be our bodies, but…
They will be glorious!
Just like what happened to Jesus.
When rose from the dead, he made his way to see his disciples on that first Easter evening.
Think about all he went through.
Surely, his body would be weak.
But when Jesus walked in…
He was different.
He had nail marks in his hands, but they weren’t bleeding, bruised, or scabbed. His body was without pain.
He had a smile on his face and no sweat on his forehead. His body was without weakness.
The sin that he had taken on his body – our sins – was gone! His body was without shame.
That same kind of body is promised to you.
In eternal life, there will be no pain.
In eternal life, there will be no weakness to temptation.
In eternal life, there will be no remembrance of sinful failures.
There will be no guilt.
There will be no shame.
Friends, the benefits to following Jesus and fighting temptation far outweigh the benefits to not fight temptation.
May Jesus empower us to keep fighting temptation even when it costs.
Guest Preacher Pastor Tom Glende
Life-changing questions. Identity & purpose. Matthew 5:13-16.
It’s a question that might sound deceptively simple if we just kind of get surface deep. If salt loses its saltiness, what good is it? And you’d answer, ‘well, none.’ But the question proves to be huge when we actually dig in, and see the deeper truth to which Jesus’ question is attached, namely: our identity and purpose in life. That’s what we want to meditate on tonight.
This is a rather light example to begin with, but I want to use it to lead into our deeper issue. Has anyone konmaried their home yet? Konmari is a pretty big movement. Marie Kondo wrote the best-seller, the Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. It has spun into a Netflix show. And she has even been named one of Times 100 most influential people. There’s organizational elements to her method, like folding clothes so that they stand vertically for storage, and thus are all easily seen and accessed. Sounds intriguing. And when you get to the part about what to get rid of… The tactic used in Konmari is: hold each item, and evaluate its worth by answering, “does it spark joy?” You keep only those things that bring joy.
I think this could really help one de-clutter. But it might get taken too far. If none of your socks spark joy when you hold them, you might still want to hold on to some. (Please, if not for your own sake, then for the sake of us all.)
Pastor James Hein in a blog picking up on these limits of the “does it spark joy” method of decluttering life commented: “If you’re holding a screaming, poopy-diapered baby in your arms, it’s unlikely that unmitigated joy is running through you.” It wouldn’t be good to just discard everything in life, and every task in life, that doesn’t spark joy.
He went on to talk about the bigger picture of life…
“The method itself is logically too simplistic to be a significant life tool. Though the method’s popularity is clearly tapping into a public sentiment – i.e. in a postmodern, subjective, ‘you do you’ world.”
Think about that outlook, or worldview: a ‘you do you’ approach to life. Do you hear any indication of what an individual’s purpose in life is going to look like, if this is the focus? It’s a view that our sinful flesh could leverage to a lot of harm.
In contrast to that, as we hear Jesus tonight asking the question “what good is salt if it has lost its flavor,” we are directed to the kind of purpose he gives to our lives as Christians. And from purpose, we’re going to get back to the issue of identity as well.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. - Matthew 5:13-16
Jesus makes the statements: “You are salt. You are light.”
With these examples Jesus describes a very different outlook for us. What salt and light have in common is: they stand out. Jesus talks about us being distinct and different in the world, with the ultimate goal being that people would be directed to God, our Savior.
You are salt. You are light. Now those talk about purpose you have as a Christian. But… and this is huge to keep this distinction in view… these statements, connected to Jesus’ question about salt, don’t tell the story of what made you a Christian. If you want to see what made you – and what makes you – a Christian, you have to look back further.
Where does your identity come from?
Earlier in Matthew 5 we hear the very telling description of “the poor in spirit.” That’s you and me when we recognize our sin. We lack holiness. We “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” We turn to the Lord. We plead for His mercy. We trust in Him to make us right.
That’s what we gather in the Lenten season to hear and see.
Now rewind to Jesus’ words to us: You are salt; You are light. Being salt and light describes the purpose God has for us as His people, but it doesn’t speak to how we become – and how we remain – God’s children.
Do you see how important it is to keep that distinction in place?
Where would we be left if our identity would come from what we do, from how well we are salt or light?
And that is precisely what enables us to be salt and light.
In a really great book on this topic, “Through the Looking Glass, Your Passport to Identity,” it states it like this:
“Not ‘living up to’ requirements, but ‘living out’ our identity in Christ describes the Christian’s life.” &
“True humility is knowing that in Christ you are everything you could ever be, have everything there is worth having. You have nothing to prove, nowhere to climb. From that position of strength you, like your Savior, can find great joy in serving.” – Through the Looking Glass, Your Passport to Identity.
To wrap up, just think about how much this issue of identity plays into our day-in-day out lives.
Teenagers, and even you children who are younger, this topic - “where do you and I look to find our identity” – is important for you too.
Where do you look for your identity? In other words, does your identity ever seem tied up with… a) how good of a student you are (heading toward a career goal you have targeted); b) having good friends & being a friend, or another way maybe to view that is how much positive social interaction you have; c) being successful at an activity – whether that is as an athlete, or a musician, or some other interest? Or if you’re a little older, some additional possibilities may arise: d) a relationship with that special someone; and even, e) how your children turn out – if they’re stable, productive, successful.
It’s good for us to look closely – do some evaluating – to see: have I slipped and shifted from seeing my identity coming from Jesus, and turned my attention to other things for answering the question of where my identity comes from?
You might score 32 on the ACT, you might be the varsity sports star, you may end up making a six figure salary with the profession you arrive at, you may be adored by the special someone or be appreciated for your role in the family. But none of that determines your identity of what makes you who you are in God’s sight.
You might work your best to get average grades, you might get cut at the tryouts for the sports team, you might have a blue-collar job at a trade that will never get you to a six-figure salary. But none of that touches your identity. None of that changes the fact of where you stand with God.
Think about the joy and relief to be able to come time and time again back to the truth: your identity in God’s sight is entirely based on Jesus. He has made you who you are: holy, forgiven, loved by him, with His truth planted in your heart. And from that position, you get the wonderful purpose in life: to be a reflector of His love. You’re enabled to pass on what He has given to you: His Truth, love, forgiveness, self-less service. This is Jesus’ life-changing truth for us. Amen.
Our sermon series is all about the fight that goes on between humans and temptation.
Fighting temptation is something that we all are familiar with in some shape or form…
Fighting temptation is something that we all struggle with in some shape or form.
I have every confidence that this will be a good series for you to be a part of.
To start our study of temptation, we’re going to watch a film.
If you’ve ever been in a sport before, maybe you’ve done that. You’ve watched films of those who are good at the sport in hopes that you’ll learn how to be better at the sport.
And if you wanted to be a better fighter, there is no shortage of epic fights that you could watch.
Muhammad Ali against Joe Frazier in the Thrilla at Manilla.
The Immortal Hulk Hogan versus Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania III.
Holly Holm defying the odds and taking out Ronda Rousey at UFC 193.
If you want to learn to be a fighter, it is valuable to watch the best fighters battle against some of their most feared opponents.
Today we’ll do that. We’ll examine a one-on-one battle between the Undefeated Against Temptation, Jesus, and the Master of Temptation, Satan, the devil himself. Before we do, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Stakes
The battle we’ll look at today is recorded in Luke 4:1-13. But before we get into the specifics of the fight, I think it’s important to look at how high the stakes were.
Because epic fights, usually have high stakes:
A championship belt.
A gold medal.
Even a $100,000,000 purse.
What were the stakes in Luke 4?
1. Title of “Most Powerful”
The devil is powerful.
He has been winning temptation battle after temptation battle since way back in the Garden of Eden! Back then, in the first temptation battle ever – Satan did not really break a sweat in getting Adam and Eve, two people who had never sinned, to…sin.
Since then, the devil had been on a rampage causing person after person after person to fall to temptation.
Hundreds of millions of people…
All people in all of history up to the point of Luke 4…
All losers to the devil.
Along came Jesus.
He was supposed to be the Savior…
Could he be the One to break the devil’s power?
2. Unblemished Record
Up to this point, Jesus hasn’t sinned. The reason takes a bit of explanation:
Jesus, unlike any other human ever, was born differently.
He was born of a virgin and God.
As a result, he didn’t have a naturally sinful heart like all other humans do.
And was not tempted by his own sinful heart like all other humans are.
In short, he had no sin.
But in Luke 4, the devil gets a chance to go at Jesus in a one-on-one attack out in the desert, away from other people, in a desert wasteland. All with the goal of taking Jesus’ perfect record and adding one blemish to it.
If he can only do that, he can do more than ruin Jesus’ perfect record against temptation, he can also ruin…
3. Your Salvation
The Bible teaches that “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) We have sinned; we deserve death; even eternal death in hell. The Bible also teaches that Jesus came to be our substitute. He would pay the wage of our sins for us by dying on the cross.
In order for Jesus to be able able to pay for our sins, Jesus needed to live his own life without any sin.
Otherwise, when he went to the cross to pay for our sins, the Father would look down at Jesus’ record, see his own sinful blemish, and say, “The wages of sin is death.”
It’d be similar to me having one dollar and wanting to pay for your Dollar Menu Item at McDonalds and the cashier at the register says, “Sir, before you can pay for your friend’s McChicken, I’m going to need you to pay for your own Dollar Fries.”
Sorry, dude. No McChicken for you.
If Jesus sinned – even once, he would have to give his life to pay for it.
And then he couldn’t pay for ours.
And then we wouldn’t be saved.
II. The Fight
The stakes are high. Let’s look at what happens:
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. (Lk. 4:1-3)
Right away, did you notice that the deck is stacked against Jesus?
He’s Alone. No one else is around. No one to encourage him not to sin. No one to tell him, “Hey, don’t do that.” Sometimes the harshest temptations hit us when we’re alone. That’s not a good start.
In the Wilderness. There aren’t any amenities around to get his mind off the temptation. He can’t relax in the hot tub. He can’t grab a drink from the minibar. He can’t just ignore the devil while watching HBO in the hotel room.
He’s hungry. Like…he hasn’t eaten in over 40 days. That’s crazy. Because…I have a hard time fighting off the temptation if I don’t eat every two hours!!! We call that hangry.
And the devil knows it.
This is the opportune time.
Hit ‘em, while he’s weak.
1. Round One
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” (v.3)
It wouldn’t be hard for you. You control the elements. I know you changed water into wine not that long ago. This should be as easy as a snap of your fingers.
Because…yes…I know the Father promised to care for you but…. 40 days!?! Without food? That’s love!?!
He forgot about you.
He doesn’t love you.
And those pangs in your stomach?
Take matter into your own hands.
Make that stone into some bread.
At first, does that even seem like it’d be sinful. Because Jesus absolutely had the power to change stones into bread.
He once turned five loaves of bread into food for 5,000.
He also turned 7 loaves of bread into food for 4,000.
It wouldn’t have been hard for Jesus to turn stones into a nice warm loaf of Subway herbs and cheese bread, smothered in butter!
But that’s not really the heart of the temptation.
Because Jesus had gone into the wilderness because the Spirit led him there.
He went into the wilderness because it was part of his Father’s plan.
He went into the wilderness trusting his Father loved him and would keep him alive.
The heart of the temptation isn’t: “Use your powers,” it’s, “Distrust God’s Love.”
That’s important to recognize.
Because specifically speaking this is a temptation that the devil could never bring to you or me. Because if the devil told me, “Change that stone into bread,” I would simply say, “I can’t.”
But categorically? He uses this all the time.
“If God loved you, you wouldn’t be so far behind on your rent. Better take it into your own hands. Commit a little fraud on your taxes.”
“If God really loved you, why would he let your relationship be so difficult? Go ahead. Start flirting with other women.”
“If God really loved you, your sister wouldn’t be so sick. Denounce him. Move on.”
The temptation to distrust God’s love is great.
I’ve failed at this plenty of times, too.
But look at Jesus. He says, “It is written: (pay attention to that phrase, we’ll hear it again) ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” (v.4)
In other words:
It isn’t bread that sustains. God does.
It isn’t bread that determines that God loves me, the fact that I’m alive does.
And I’m alive so…
Devil, you lie.
I trust God’s love; not your words…
It’s like the devil came in with a few left jabs, Jesus blocked them and countered with a punch to the gut.
Round One. Jesus.
2. Round Two
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. (This is a bit of a miracle. Don’t forget. The devil is powerful. Not all-powerful, but powerful. And in an instant he shows him the kingdom of Israel, the Roman Empire, parts of Asia, down into Africa and maybe the futuristic Kingdom of Raleigh NC in 2019.)
And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” (v.6-7)
Because Jesus… I know God’s plan.
I’ve read the Scriptures.
He said that once you’ve finished your work on earth, that you will sit at his right hand and rule over all things.
Once you’ve finished your work…
Doesn’t your work involve betrayal?
Doesn’t it involve being arrested?
Doesn’t it involve you being punched, beaten, whipped, crowned with thorns, nailed hand and foot to a cross, and dying by asphyxiation on two old, blood stained pieces of wood?
That sounds awful.
That sounds terrible.
That sounds…like a BAD plan.
Jesus, I’ve got a better plan.
Bow down to me.
It’ll be quick.
It’ll be painless.
All of this will be yours.
And it will all be yours.
Never mind the fact that the devil doesn’t actually rule anything.
Never mind the fact that the devil’s promise was something he couldn’t deliver on.
Focus in on the temptation.
Because the heart of the temptation isn’t: “Bow down to me, but “Distrust God’s Plan.”
Specifically, this isn’t a temptation that could apply to us. God’s plan is not for you to suffer and die on a cross.
Categorically this temptation is something I am sure you have dealt with.
Is God’s plan really that you be kind to your enemies at work? That’s foolish. We need to go call them a few very specific names.
Is God’s plan really that you stay faithful to your spouse? You’re missing out. Check out this xxx website and you’ll feel instantly better.
Is God’s plan really that you sweat your way up the ladder? That’ll take too long. Go on Facebook and spread rumors about your coworkers. You’ll get the promotion faster…
Is God’s plan really that you share the Gospel? They’ll probably ridicule you. Just listen to my plan. Clam up. It’ll be a lot easier.
Wow. That’s a good temptation.
I’ve failed at it too many times to count!
But Jesus responds his way, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (v.8)
In other words:
It isn’t you who is all-knowing, God is.
It isn’t you who is all-loving, God is.
It isn’t you who is all-powerful, God is!
Devil, you lie.
I trust the Father’s plan, not yours…
The devil tried to come back with sideswipe, but Jesus stepped out of the way and clocked him in the back of the head.
Round Two. Jesus.
But the devil hasn’t given up. He slugs some water, spits out some blood and heads to the final round.
3. Round Three
The devil led Jesus to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.” (v.9)
Because, I get it. I misjudged you, Jesus. I really did.
You trust the Father implicitly!
You trust His love.
You trust His Plans.
You trust His Word.
Let’s do something to show that trust. Just jump. The southern most part of the temple is only about 450 feet about the ground. It’s scary. But…you’re so good at trusting. Look at what God promised:
For it is written: (“I know you’ll like that Jesus. It’s the Scriptures.”) “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
You won’t strike your foot.
And you won’t splat.
Trust your Father, Jesus.
Wow. Talk about tricky.
The devil makes jumping off the Wells Fargo Building in downtown Raleigh sound like it should be our next church outing.
Something like that would be sinning if we didn’t do it!
But it isn’t.
Because God never told us to.
This temptation is tricky.
It isn’t a temptation to MISTRUST, but to TRUST.
Specifically: It’s a temptation to Trust Presumptuously.
To trust beyond what God promised.
To let your trust lead you into a realm that God has clearly forbidden!
To be fair – you’ve dealt with similar temptations:
It’s good to trust God. He promised to always protect you. So, go ahead: Drink and drive.
It’s good to trust God. He promises to hold you in faith. So, go ahead: Stop going to worship.
It’s good to trust God. He promises to always forgive you. So, go ahead: Sin as much as you want. In fact, if you don’t go on sinning, you aren’t very good in trusting God’s forgiveness.
If you are a long-time Christian, be especially careful of this one. Because the devil plays on our desire to feel like a good Christian at the expense of being a good Christian!
He only tells half the story.
He only brings up half the truth.
And Jesus knew that: Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (v.12)
Because the Father is the one who sets limits.
And the Father is the one who determines when those limits are broken.
Devil. You’re wrong. God is the one testing, not the one to be tested.
And the devil unleashes a barrage of jabs to Jesus’ stomach,
But Jesus just stands there, absorbing the blows.
And delivers a killer upper cut to knock the devil out.
The Most Powerful of All.
The Unblemished by Sin.
Your Salvation-Winning-Savior – Jesus Christ.
III. WHAT NOW?
1. Celebrate His Victory!
Because you may have fallen to temptation.
You might have lost to the devil.
You might have lost to the devil so often that you feel like your record is 0 - 76,845.
You might feel like a loser.
But you aren’t.
Because Jesus won.
He defeated the devil.
He didn’t sin.
When he died, he paid the price for your sins!
And then – three days later…He rose triumphantly defeating the devil’s counterpart known as death!
Jesus is victorious!
And as a result…
You are victorious.
You are forgiven.
For all the times you have mistrusted God’s love, you are forgiven.
For all the times you have mistrusted God’s plans, you are forgiven.
For all the times you have trusted God presumptuously, you are forgiven.
Take a moment.
When the devil tries to get you to think about all the times that you have lost to him…
Remind him about how he lost to Jesus!
2. Fight with your Greatest Weapon
A phrase that Jesus uses time and again throughout this entire fight is “It is written.” It’s a reference to Old Testament Scripture. And it’s Jesus’ favorite way of fighting temptation.
I think that’s incredible!
Because if I was predicting how this battle would go, I would imagine that Jesus would have sent lighting bolts to turn the devil to a crisp.
Or maybe called down a bunch of flying monkeys to toss him off the top of the 450-foot temple point.
Or even imprisoned him inside of a heavenly cage where he isn’t allowed to eat bread for 40 some odd days!
Jesus doesn’t use his miraculous power.
He simply uses God’s Word.
A weapon – that you and I have access, too.
Hebrews 4:12 says this, “The word of God is living and active sharper than any double-edged sword.”
Friends, use God’s Word to battle temptation.
I don’t mean pick it up and swing at the devil.
I mean use God’s Word.
It tends to knock the devil out.
When he tempts you to lust, tell him, “It is written: Don’t lust.”
When he temps you to hate, tell him, “It is written: Don’t hate.”
When he tempts you to doubt God, tell him, “It is written – that Jesus kicked you in a one-on-one temptation battle. Then he died and rose again. Tell me again…Why should I doubt God?”
3. Fight Alongside Jesus
You don’t need to fight on your own.
You don’t need to take on temptation by yourself.
You have the Savior on your side.
And what happens when Jesus fights the devil?
Check out the last verse.
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left… (v.13)
Did you catch that?
He gave up.
He submitted at the hands of Jesus.
That is what Satan will do when you fight along Jesus.
And as a believer in Jesus, you fight along Jesus.
May God give you confidence to fight temptation this week and always. Amen.
What do you value?
Maybe even your God?
Let me ask again: What do you value?
And I don’t mean what SHOULD you value?
Or what do you think that I AM expecting you to say that you value.
But…reflect…what do you really value?
Sometimes my wife and I have a hard time deciding what we value. For instance, on a Friday evening we might be trying to figure out what we want to do. We could head over to Gonza’s Taco and have a delicious Mexican food style evening, or we could head to the local Pho joint for some delicious Vietnamese soup.
And I say, “I Don’t care.”
And she says, “You pick.”
And I say, “It doesn’t bother me.”
And she says, “I don’t know.”
So…what we do is we throw fingers. It’s a game used to decide what to do – kinda like casting lots. I count to three (1-2-3) and then we both hold out any combination of fingers (1, 9, or maybe 3). Then, we add up the total between the two of us. If the number is even, we go out for Vietnamese; if it’s odd, we go out for tacos.
It usually works.
But sometimes, what happens is that we throw out the number, it’s odd and I say, “Good. We’re going to tacos. It’s settled.”
But Julianna says, “Yes, but…can we go for Pho?”
Isn’t how much you value a “thing” best revealed in your reaction to not having the thing?
It’s the difference between missing out on your morning orange juice and missing out on your morning coffee.
It's the difference between missing a non-Conference game AND the UNC/Duke showdown.
It’s the difference between missing the “women tell all” episode of the Bachelor and the “After the Final Rose” episode.
It’s the difference between not getting a birthday present from an acquaintance and not receiving one from your spouse.
How much you value a “thing” best revealed in your reaction to not having the thing.
If that’s the case…
The biggest problem.
Not that it isn’t true, but that it reveals the things we really value…to. Our. Shame.
“Should I get some sleep or stay up late talking to my friend in need?” I choose sleep, because I value it more.
“I could go home and spend time with my kids, but…I want my boss to be impressed.” I value my career more.
“I could sit down and ask my spouse about their day…OR I could watch a rerun of the Office on Netflix…” I value it more?
Jesus has something to say about value. He says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Mt. 6:25-26)
Birds don’t seem to have a lot of value.
They aren’t very big.
Most are the size of my hand.
They can’t get jobs in the tech industry.
They don’t often receive medical internships.
They aren’t even valued enough to get a job in fast food!
Yet…God cares for them.
He gets the nightcrawler out of the ground for the little robin to eat.
He reserves a few kernels after the squirrel’s ambush for the sparrow to be nourished.
He uses a few bread crumbs tossed by a three-year-old down at Lake Lynn to give the duck a kinda fat gut!
Birds don’t have a lot of value.
Yet…God cares for them.
And if God cares for birds of little value, how much more will he care for you…of great value!
He’ll feed you (and if you were at the Fellowship meal – he maybe fed you more than enough).
He’ll clothe you. (and it appears he did that for all of you today)
He’ll give you a roof over your head. (And we have one over ours right now!)
More than that – Jesus died for you.
Because Jesus didn’t come to earth to save sparrows.
He didn’t die on the cross to redeem robins.
He didn’t rise triumphantly to triumph trumpet swans!
He did that for you.
You are more than a body.
You are more than organs, blood and bones.
You are more than a temporal, physical vessel that will be here for 70 years – 80 if we have the strength.
You are more than evolved slime.
You are more than a smart animal.
You are more than just “the dominant species.”
You have a soul.
You have an eternal soul.
You have an eternal soul that God wants to spend eternity with – so much so that He is willing to shed His Own divine blood on the cross!
Do you get that? When God was faced with the choice between losing you OR losing his life…
He didn’t haven’t to throw fingers.
He couldn’t bear the thought of losing you eternally and so he gave up his life just to be with you.
So…What Now? Two things:
(1) Understand Your Eternal Value
Because it is easy to feel valueless.
It’s easy to feel worthless.
It’s easy to look at how other’s treat us, get in our head, and conclude: “I really, don’t have a lot of value. If any!”
When that happens, hear God’s voice.
Your value isn’t determined by how many hours a week you work.
Your value isn’t determined by how many pounds you can lift at the gym.
Your value isn’t determined by how many followers you have on Instagram.
Your value isn’t determined by how perfectly you parent.
Your value is determined by God.
And God was willing to die for you.
Because to God, you are invaluable.
(2) See the Eternal Value of Things
I used to collect baseball cards. I collected baseball cards because my friends collected baseball cards. It was the thing to do.
I remember that I was trading cards with my friends and I saw this card pop up: A Juan Beringer.
I thought he looked cool.
He looked intimidating.
Also – it was signed!
I offered to trade for it.
What would I give my friend?
I’ll give him the Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card!
Turns out? Bad assessment of value.
Griffy Jr. Rookie? Worth over a hundred.
Juan Beringer? About five cents.
The more we understand our intrinsic, eternal value to God, the more we will value the things that have intrinsic, eternal value.
Things like a midweek Lenten meditation.
Things like personal Bible study.
Things like Baptism.
Things like Lord’s Supper.
Things like singing Jesus Loves Me with your kids.
Things like meditation.
Things like sharing the Gospel with your coworker.
Things like sharing the Gospel with our spouse.
Things like sharing the Gospel with our neighbor.
Friends, this is easier said than done. We live in a world that tells us to value anything but our Savior.
Best case it’s confusing, worst case – soul damning.
But tonight’s message is that Jesus values you.
More than His own life.
And you will have eternal life. Amen.
Today is a Transfiguration Sunday and we are celebrating the Transfiguration of Jesus. Yet – you might not have ever heard about that.
It isn’t a national holiday.
Nobody takes off of work.
There isn’t a Charlie Brown Transfiguration Special.
There isn’t a Transfiguration Sunday section of the Greeting Cards.
So, our goal today is simple: (1) understand what the Transfiguration is and (2) determine how it affects us. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. What is it?
First, we should define “transfiguration.” Because it isn’t a word that we use on a day to day basis. People don’t say things like “My Molly, you really have transfigured since yesterday!” If you did, Molly might respond by saying: “Take that back…you!”
The dictionary definition of transfiguration is this: “A complete change of appearance into a more beautiful or more spiritual state.”
The first thing I think of is the movie “She’s All That.” Remember that 90s movie with Freddie Prinze Jr? It’s about a guy who is challenged by his friends to turn the “geek” of the school into the prom queen. But…I don’t know how hard it is. Basically, all he does is have her take off her glasses and let her hair down and – voila – Prom Queen.
The transfiguration we are celebrating today is about whole lot more than letting your hair down and taking off your glasses.
It started out like a normal day. Jesus took a few of his disciples up a small mountain. He wanted to get some time for peace, quiet, restoration and prayer.
And when they get to the top, Jesus went over to the nearest rock.
Got down on his knees.
Propped up his elbows on the rock and immediately devoted himself to deep prayer.
The disciples follow suit.
They found their own rock.
They propped their own elbows up.
They began their prayers:
“Dear Lord, Thank you so much for your…ZZZZZZ.”
“Huh? I mean…thank you so much for the manamanamah.”
They were sleepy.
They were tired.
I imagine Peter enjoyed a pleasant dream of fishing on the Galilean Sea – and pictures himself holding up the prize-winning bass about 5 feet long.
A bright light.
It isn’t the camera flash of the Paparazzi photographing his fish.
The bright light isn’t coming from the dream world.
Peter opens his eyes and immediately is blinded.
Squinting cautiously, he tries again.
“It must be the sunset,” he thinks. “I must have been sleeping for a while.”
But Peter feels the warmth of the sun overhead.
That means the light isn’t coming from a sunup or sundown.
He squints harder.
It’s coming from the face of Jesus.
Like the sun.
But it’s not just his face! It was his clothing, too.
To be fair – Jesus wore a white tunic. That was common. But they had been out in a desert-like climate. Over time dirt affects pure whites. They start to yellow with some brown climbing up from the bottom of the tunic.
They hadn’t come up to do laundry.
And yet – Jesus’ clothes were a brilliant white.
A shining white.
A gleaming white.
Then, Peter’s eyes went to the right. Next to Jesus stood an older man with a long beard. I always picture him with two giant tablets of stone with what appears to be 10 commands written on them.
Peter thinks: “Wait. I know my Sunday School stories. That can be none other than Moses. The prophet God used to lead Israel out of slavery in Egypt. But…wait…isn’t he…”
Before he could finish, another man…a bit younger looking.
‘Elijah and I are excited to be here!” Moses said. “It’s amazing really! I lived thousands of years ago – Elijah lived hundreds. But both of us were doing our work, preaching what we did, telling the people about the coming Messiah. And that Messiah is YOU Jesus! We are so excited to see your work in progress.”
Peter listened as they continued.
He listened as they spoke about God’s plan of salvation.
He listened as they spoke about Old Testament prophecy.
He listened as they spoke about God’s love for his people.
Until…he couldn’t handle it anymore!
I’m…I’m…Peter. I fish!
It’s amazing to see you here! That you took time out of heaven to join us.
And Jesus – you’re glowing and shimmering and doing an incredible miraculous thing!
You can do anything!
So…um…I know you’re visiting from heaven, but…how I can help your stay more comfortable?
I know! I can build a tent for you out of a few olive branches! It’ll be just like you’re at home…
Before anyone could answer, a cloud began developing.
A thick, dark cloud.
It enveloped Elijah.
It enveloped Moses.
It enveloped Jesus.
It enveloped the other disciples.
It enveloped Peter.
He could no longer see Jesus, but a faint, glowing light from where he had been standing.
Then, the fog did something else unusual.
“This is my Son, whom I have chosen. You must listen to him.” (Luke 9:35)
Peter fell to the ground.
This wasn’t fun and games ANYMORE!
He was in the presence of the Holy, All-powerful, Sin-hating and sin-punishing God of heaven and earth!
And…he, Peter, was a sinner.
Peter made himself as flat as he could to the ground.
Pretending that he was mud.
Because he felt like mud.
And he thought that if he blended in with the mud, God might just leave him.
Which would be better than being left a pile of smoke at the hands of God’s almighty wrath.
Things grew quiet.
The voice stopped speaking.
A bird cawed in the distance.
A hand gently patted Peter’s back.
“Peter, it’s okay. Get up.”
He looked up to see the warm smile of his Savior.
The cloud was gone.
The light was gone.
The prophets were gone.
It was only Jesus.
And Peter got up.
And Peter dusted himself off.
And Peter followed Jesus.
Nobody said anything about what they had seen.
Not James or John.
They just let things get…back…to normal?
II. Why is it Important?
This is the Transfiguration. Whether Peter knew the word or not, that’s what he saw.
And it’s not just “a transfiguration” because I don’t know that there ever is a more incredible, more divine, more fantastic change in one person’s appearance than THE face shining, tunic gleaming, heavenly people entertaining, cloud encompassing, divine voice speaking, Transfiguration of our Lord and Savior.
But why would God go to this trouble?
What message is He bringing to his disciples?
What message is He bringing to You?
A few things:
1) Jesus is Divine
Have you ever seen an episode of Scooby Doo before? At the end of the episode, after the kids in the Mystery Van have trapped the bad guy in some kind of comical, haphazard way – there’s the unmasking. Velma, the smartest of the group, walks over to the ghoul or goblin and grabs him by the scruff of their neck to reveal – it was the Janitor! (He would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids).
In the Transfiguration, Jesus unmasks. Not that He is wearing any kind of mask at all. But for the majority of his lifetime Jesus appears to be an everyday, ordinary a human.
He eats like humans do.
He sleeps like humans do.
He grows like humans do.
He does humans things like humans do.
He is 100% human.
But along the way, every once in a while, he also does things that ordinary humans can NOT do.
He speaks to a blind man’s eyes, and those are instantly able to see.
He walks on liquid water.
He tells storms to stop and they do.
He changes water into wine.
He raises the dead.
Think of these miracles like glimpses into the fact that Jesus is not just human – but something else spectacular.
Someone else spectacular.
At the Transfiguration?
The mask is off.
He’s not just a human being.
He’s also true GOD.
He is divine.
He is able to make his face glow, his clothing gleam, souls from heaven appear, a cloud to envelope and the simultaneous voice of the Father speak.
That’s even what the voice says! The voice says, “This is my Son.”
When a human says that about a person, he is generally referring to a different person.
A human fathers another human.
But when God calls Jesus his Son.
God fathers God.
But since God is eternal.
And God is one.
Jesus is not a lesser God.
But the one true God who always has been.
Maybe stop with the logic of the situation and look only at the miracle of the Transfiguration.
Jesus is God.
And if you have been spending your lifetime looking for God…
If you’ve practiced yoga and drank tea to get in touch with the Spirit…
If you’ve read books and studied world religions to find the ONE…
If you’ve done experiments and tried to identify the specific God…
There’s no need to look any father.
Jesus is God. And he came to earth with a purpose.
Which leads to our second main truth about the Transfiguration:
2) Jesus’ Main Purpose was Dying for You!
Because you would think that once God was up on that mountain surrounded by people in awe of Him, he would love it.
He would tell Peter to build him a throne.
He’d tell James and John to go get others.
He’d sit up on the mountain, gleaming brilliantly and waiting for people to come and worship Him.
Jesus returns to his human appearance.
He walks down the mountain.
He begins his journey to Jerusalem where he will eventually die on the cross.
The Transfiguration makes it clear! Jesus’ death wasn’t unstoppable.
If he wished….
…he could have dazzled so brightly that the crowd coming to arrest him would have been blinded.
…he could have called down from heaven every believer who’d passed and handed them a sword of fire to vanquish the soldiers who came to arrest him.
…he could have swallowed the crowd of people who were going to convict him in the courtroom and had the booming voice of the Father speak to his accusers: “This is my Son! Let Him Go.”
He could have prevented his death.
But He didn’t.
Because His death didn’t happen on accident! His death happened because it was His main purpose was saving you.
Think about it: God could have remained up in heaven.
God could have said “Ya’ll messed up this world with your sin and the only thing I’ll send is a few lightning bolts to destroy you.”
Instead, God said, “I will send…myself.
I will live perfectly when you can’t.
I will die innocently in your place.
I will rise triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins!
I will save YOU!”
3) Our Salvation is CERTAIN
If I could underline, bold, italicize and put in 160-point font and still fit it on the Power Point slide, I would. Because that is only a smidgen of the confidence that we have of our forgiveness.
Jesus is not just some nice guy.
He isn’t just a well-meaning friend.
He isn’t just some person who says, “Let me know how I can help,” but when you mention a way to help says, “I’m playing golf that day.”
Jesus is God.
God always helps.
He always wins.
He always saves.
And since Jesus is God.
He saved you.
And it is absolutely, 100% certain.
No matter what you think.
No matter what others say: “You’ve done a lot of wrong.”
No matter what the devil says: “You aren’t worthy of being helped.”
No matter what you might think in your darkest hour: “I am not loveable.”
God’s voice is BIGGER.
God’s voice is LOUDER.
God’s voice comes from within the ethereal, divine cloud and says:
This is my Son, Jesus.
I chose Him.
He saved you.
You are forgiven.
III. WHAT NOW?
1. Fear God, but Don’t Fear God
That might seem like an oxymoron. But it’s the tension that the disciples who were on the mountain had to live with.
Because when they were on top of that mountain, enveloped in the cloud, with the booming voice of God shaking the earth under their feet, they were terrified! They fell to the ground, hoping and pleading with God not to destroy them.
We need the same respect for our God.
When we gather to worship, it isn’t just to hang out with some people we like.
It isn’t just to sing some songs that we like.
It isn’t just to eat some cookies that we like.
It’s to come as sinners to worship the divine, Holy, Almighty God.
And yet…don’t be terrified.
Just like Jesus, who just revealed himself to be that divine Holy God, touched his disciples on the shoulder and gently said to them, “Follow me.”
God says the same to you.
You are forgiven.
You are at peace with God.
Come into his presence without fear.
Come without terror.
2. Listen to Him!
Do you know what Bible story comes right before this? About 8 days earlier, Jesus gathers all 12 of his disciples together and he tells them that he will very soon go to Jerusalem where he will be arrested, convicted, suffer and died.
And Peter’s response?
“ABSOLUTELY NOT! I won’t allow it. That’s a terrible idea Jesus, I have a better one.”
Fast forward eight days, to Jesus’ transfiguration, when the Father’s voice speaks to him: “This is my Son…LISTEN TO HIM!”
A few days later…when Jesus again gathers his disciples together and repeats: “We are going to Jerusalem where I will be arrested, convicted, suffer and die.”
Peter doesn’t fight him this time.
Do the same.
Even if you think you know better. Listen to Jesus.
Even if your friend tells you differently. Listen to Jesus.
Even if your society makes a sophisticated argument. Listen to Jesus.
Even if a university professor tells you they know better. Listen to Jesus.
Even if you feel differently than what Jesus is saying…Listen to Jesus.
Even if your own voice tells you: “You don’t matter. You are worthless. You aren’t valuable.” Listen to Jesus.
You do matter.
You are worthwhile.
You are valuable enough to die for.
Listen to Jesus.
3. Come Down the Mountain
Examine Peter’s only words on recorded on the mountain: “Let’s setup three tents – one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah.” Part of the reason behind that statement, is that Peter is in love with what he is seeing. It’s so encouraging. It’s so obvious. It’s so uplifting. It is so certain that Jesus is God – that he doesn’t have any doubts at all. And rather than go back down that mountain to the world where people doubt, where people question, where people make fun, where Peter isn’t feeling so confident…Peter would prefer to stay on that mountain.
But he couldn’t.
Jesus had a mission to do.
Peter had a mission to do.
And you can’t either.
You have a mission to do.
Because while it’s nice to hang out together…
And it’s wonderful to be uplifted by God’s Word...
And Jesus tells us to spend time together in His Word…
Eventually we need to go.
We need to leave the mountain.
We need to leave these walls and go on our mission to Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh.
Guys – this isn’t my idea.
This is God’s.
The face-shining, tunic-gleaming, cloud-encompassing, divine voice-speaking Transfiguration of our Lord and Savior.
Listen to Him.
Come down from the mountain.
Share His Word.