I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret to being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. –Philippians 4:11-13
How thankful are you this year?
Maybe, you are feeling really thankful. You made lots of money. You got a new house. You added to your family. You got a boyfriend! This is an all caps, big THANK YOU with turkey stickers on the front Thanksgiving.
Maybe it hasn't been your year. You don't have a lot of money. You lost your job. Your meal isn't going to be much more than Ramen noodles with a few Ketchup packets of contents as topping. For you, this is a "Meh. I guess I'm thankful," kind of year.
Oftentimes circumstances determine exactly how thankful we are at Thanksgiving—and in everyday life.
Yet, in today’s lesson from Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul claims to know the secret to being content--no matter the circumstances. He says in verse 11, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret to being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
There are really three types of circumstances that we find ourselves in --
1) Without Need.
Paul calls it, "living with plenty." Really it means that he doesn't have a single need.
This is the feeling you might get at the end of a two hour epic Thanksgiving meal. The turkey is in your belly. The triptophan is at work. The cranberry sauce is dribbling between the spaces in your tummy left by the stuffing.
To be without need means that one is truly blessed! Oftentimes, this is the circumstance we find ourselves in. We are clothed. We are full. We have a roof over our head.
Yet, when this is our circumstance, how often are we content?
While I was preparing for this sermon on Thanksgiving morning, my cell phone buzzed about 6 times. No, it wasn't last second text messages trying to determine what time Thanksgiving service started. They were emails. Emails from Best Buy, Amazon, and a host of other businesses letting me know about things that I needed and could get a good deal on!
With the world constantly in our face telling us what we need, how long is it before we begin to believe that we are in need!
This leads to the second circumstance we might find ourselves in:
2) Perceived Need.
“I need an iPad. I need a Fiat. I need a Starbucks coffee in the morning and a treat receipt for the afternoon. I need all 8 seasons of the Office on DVD. I need to be first in line to see the Hunger Games sequel!"
Kids do it too: “I need a cookie!" – as if they will faint without the nutrition contained within the chocolate chip. And "I need the Lala Loopsy," because Christmas will be ruined, if she doesn't have it.
Of course, the truth is that we don’t need this stuff. Yet our minds do such a good job of convincing ourselves of this need that we aren’t always so thankful in perceived need. We aren't thankful because our house isn't as nice as our neighbors, our family isn't as polite, and our job isn't as fun.
And if we aren't that thankful when we have perceived need, what does that mean for when we have...
3) Real Need.
You need help in order to pay the rent. You need transportation. You need food. Thanksgiving for people in real need may be a bowl of Ramen with some Heinz Ketchup packets ketchup on top and a can of cold meat.
It is very difficult to be content when you are in real need. When your stomach is growling from hunger, when your legs are tired from walking everywhere, when your eyes are bloodshot red from staying up and working hard.
What kind of circumstance was Paul in when he wrote the letter to the Philippians?
One would expect him to have been 'without need.' It's easy to talk big about being thankful when you have everything you need.
He was in jail.
In other words, Paul was in real need!
Yet, you saw how he reacted. If these verses don’t convince you, read Philippians 4:4 when you have a chance. That says, “Rejoice in the LORD always, I will say it again rejoice!”
How could someone in jail be so thankful?
It wasn’t because he was looking back. Dwelling on memories of times past with the Philippians. While that may temporarily put a smile on a face, and certainly it will for ours too, it only lasts so long as life doesn’t happen!
At some point, you have to realize that you no longer own that 84 Mustang convertible that you loved so much. Remembering a full belly food coma from a Thanksgiving past will not fill your belly in this year’s Thanksgiving.
The secret to contentment is not looking back. Nor is the secret to contentment looking forward.
Paul didn’t just think: “I’m sure I’ll be out of this jam soon. Chin up!” That works for awhile, until a soldier jingling some keys snapped him back to the reality of his situation.
To be fair, there is something to be said for positive thinking in the future. It’s good to have goals. “I plan on having my own house. I plan on having my debts paid.” Good things.
But if that’s our source of contentment, what happens when we never get there? At some point you feel worse off than you are now!
And if you do get there, don’t be surprised to find the “perceived needs” to kick in. “Actually, I need a bigger house.” “Actually, I want to be out of debt and rolling in money.”
The secret to contentment is not looking forward either.
Listen to what Paul says, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.”
In other words, Paul found contentment from looking up.
Because what do you find when you look up? The God who provides all things. He takes care of our earthly needs. He takes care of our earthly wants. He has an endless supply of food, drink, clothing, and shelther.
Beyond that, he gives us what no one else can: forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the promise of spending eternity with him in the glorious riches of heaven!
When your focus is upwards, it doesn’t matter where you are int his life. Whether whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want…in any and every situation, you are content.
Content to be forgiven.
Content to be God’s child.
Content to be in God’s good graces.
So, how will your Thanksgiving weekend play out? I suppose it depends on the circumstances.
As look up, you will be reminded of your circumstances: Jesus loves you. You have a Savior. You are blessed.
Circumstantially, you couldn’t be in a better place.
The other day I went to Starbucks for a coffee. When I entered the store, there were about 10 people in line. My first thoughts were “Ugh! No way!” But I really wanted my coffee to I stayed in line. Good thing too. At least two people in front of me got sick of waiting. They turned around and left. One muttered something about "the cashier needing to get his act together.” The sad part? It took me all of 5 minutes to get my coffee. 5 minutes.
We aren't very a very patient people. Whether it's waiting in line for coffee or waiting in the car for our spouse to finish getting dressed or waiting on our coworkers for completion of a project or even waiting for the signal that to tell us we now have 10 seconds to get across Falls of Neuse, we get very impatient.
Now let's talk spiritual things. It's been 2000 years. 2000 some years since Christ promised to return.
Do you ever get sick of waiting? Tired of doing Christian things for a Christ that doesn't seem to return? Do you ever begin to think: there's no reason, no purpose? In a little bit, I'm going to be handing out invitations to our Christmas service. Your first reaction might be: “NOT AGAIN! There's no point. Jesus won't be coming back any time soon. Why the urgency!?!”
To those who would be waiting for his return, Jesus said, there was a man of noble birth. Noble has the idea of 'well off.' We might think “Upper class.” Perhaps someone who owns one of the 2 million dollars homes right on the golf course behind Falls of Neuse.
The man has noble ambitions. He wants to be named king. Maybe, we could think of a county commissioner. Or member of the school board.
The only difference is that this wasn't a democracy. That's why he needed to travel to a distant country. He needed to get approval from the higher ups. Perhaps he already knew these people, perhaps not. Either way, he was planning to go and make his case for being appointed king of the region.
While he's gone, he doesn't just want his household and business to stall. So he appoints servants to take care of his profit. Each one of them a mina. Ten in all. He tells them, ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’
Does that sound familiar? Can you think of anyone else who left to be appointed king, but before he left entrusted to his servants the very work that he came to do?
Matthew 28:19 “Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (like a king) He continued, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (do the work I've been doing. Continue my business) Do this by “Baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and by teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
The master of this parable then is Jesus. The one who own the Kingdom, the power, and the glory!
People of course react in different ways to Jesus' kingship.
1. SPITEFUL ATTITUDE.
The first attitude is very sad. Look at verse 14“But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ " Think of a group of protestors marching around a government building with signs that say: “Down with the master!”
People usually don’t do that with Jesus today. Instead, they write blog posts and magazine articles about why following Christ and his directives makes you a bigot, an idiot, and an old fashion jerk!
Have things really changed all that much from the Pharisees who wanted Jesus dead? Don’t people still wish for the idea of Jesus to be dead?
Still...the Pharisees couldn't stop Jesus from rightfully taking his place at God's right hand. Neither could these angry protestors stop the master from being made king. He returns.
And just like anyone who makes it to the top, he turns and brings vengeance against all those who hated him. Just peek at verse 27: " '27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’ ”
If that's you, you don't want Jesus to be king. If you refuse to listen to what Jesus has in mind for your life, watch out! Because he threatens to give you what you want -- a one way ticket out of his kingdom--only, it may not be the way you desire.
2. FAITHFUL ATTITUDE.
Remember the master had entrusted his money to his servants. He wants to check on on his business. He decides to stop and see how they've done.
The first servant was faithful. 16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’ Maybe, he made some good trades on the stock market. Perhaps he invested in an up and coming Nazarene carpentry business. Whatever he did, however he did it, he was faithful. He worked hard and it paid off. Not just in multiplying his master's money by ten, but in impressing the king. He says, “17 “ ‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’ "
Then, there's the second servant,. “Sir you mina has earned five more.” His mastered answered, “You take charge of five cities.”
It’s like the McDonald's manager who goes away for a month only to find that when he returns, the restaurant is running properly. Napkins are in order. Customers are happy. The restrooms are up to date. Quarterly sales have gone up! He’s pleased and he now trusts the faithful workers he had put in charge.
Jesus is the same way. He is pleased with those who faithfully do his work. He will be happy to find us happily using his gifts of Word and Sacrament to strengthen the faith of his people and multiply his kingdom!
But is that really the servant that we are best represented by? There's one more servant whose attitude seems all too familiar.
3. LAZY ATTITUDE.
20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. Literally, in the Greek, the word means “face cloth.” A handkerchief. What you are supposed to keep in your front pocket and pull out in the middle of hard work to quickly wipe your brow from hard work. Instead of wiping the sweat off of his brow, this servant simply hid his money inside it.
Listen to his reasoning: 21 'I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’
I find this reaction so paradoxical. If he was afraid of the man, because he reacted violently to those who didn't do work, why then didn't he do work?
It's like the football player who is afraid that his coach will be upset that he didn't work out all summer, so he decides to not work out? Or the employee who knows that his boss will be upset if he doesn't do complete any reports while he's away on a conference call—so he surfs Facebook?
What the servant was really frightened of was not the king. It was of what might happen to him while he worked. He might get tired. He might get trouble from others in the business world. He might fail!
And what are we really frightened of?
If we were really frightened of Jesus, if we really respected Him, if we really knew he was in complete control—then wouldn't we be making use of each and every opportunity to grow in his Word? Wouldn’t we make sure never to miss inviting a friend to church? Wouldn’t we boldly and courageously tell our friends and family about our faith in Jesus? Wouldn’t we confidently put “Christian” down as our religious affiliation on Facebook?
But we're more frightened of what others might do to us, “I can't do a family devotion tonight at dinner, because my kids would rather watch TV. I don't want to upset them.” “I can't get my kids to Sunday School early, because they might throw a fit!” “ I can't give an invitation to church to my coworker, because they might (gasp) give me an annoyed look!”
How sad that we are more frightened of this world, than we are of Jesus!
Listen then to how the master treats the servant who didn't do anything: 22 “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’ 24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’ "
Lord, may it never be! We have been unfaithful. Forgive us!
And God does.
According to 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Again, in Psalm 33:4 He is faithful in all he does!” (Psalm 33:4) In 2 Timothy 2:13 “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself." God is so great that in spite of our unfaithfulness, he still gets the job done.
A lot of people are unimpressed with our government right now. They can’t seem to get the job done. They can’t seem to come to an agreement and properly run this country.
Jesus. He died. He defeated sin. He saved you and me and he did it without anyone else’s help! He did it at great cost to himself! He died. He gave up his life! He gave up his kingdom, his power, and his glory in order to save you.
It worked. Remember he's king, he can do what he wants. This is no more evident than we he showed that he ruled over death and came out of the grave!
This means something very specific for you. Jesus forgives you for your unfaithfulness in studying his Word. He forgives you for your lazy attitude toward the sacrament. He forgives you for not immersing your children in the word as you should. He forgives you for not sharing his Word.
Brothers and sisters, why wouldn't you want to serve this king? Serve him by putting the mina he has entrusted you to work!
You might ask? What minas has the master given me?
Well, everything. And we could get into specifics: artsy, musical, sporty, outgoing nature, money. Certainly, it’s true. God wants us to use our resources faithfully to further his kingdom.
But today let’s focus on the one mina that we all have in common. The most powerful mina of all.
Put the mina of God's Word to work it in your own life (kinda like investing it) so that you might grow in faithfulness! This, by the way, is why church attendance is so important—There you have the Word of God spoken, sung, and the Sacrament.
Put the mina of God's Word to work with others. Share the message of Jesus with your children by telling them a Bible story before bed. Bring them to Sunday school. Take them to church.
Put your the mina of God's Word to work outside your family. Invite your friends. Invite your coworkers. Pray for friends. Pray for coworkers. Tell friends about Jesus. Tell coworkers about Jesus.
Put the mina of God's Word to work, because when you do so, God is at work!
And he is faithful. He is powerful. He is king of all. He doesn't get tired or weary. He never leaves.
He will return! He will faithfully hold us in faith, so that when he returns he will forgive us our unfaithfulness and warmly turn to you to say, “Well done good and faithful servant. Well done." Amen.
Have you heard of the new fad that's sweeping teens across the nation? It's called: Knockout. No it doesn't have anything to do with bowling pins nor does it have anything to do with dressing like you're going to the Prom.
Knockout works like this. You get a camera phone. You started recording. You focus on an innocent bystander walking on the side walk. Then, you hold the camera steady as your friend bursts on screen. You record as he swings his fist with all the momentum he can. You cringe as it connects with that pedestrian's face. Then, you reconvene. Laughing hysterically and awarding points for how 'knocked out' the person is who got hit. Hilarious, right?
These are the times we live in. Times when we have to watch our surroundings at the mall. Times where we are on alert at the movie theater. Times when preschools issues codes for parents to enter and pick up the children.
There has never been a more appropriate time to pray the final petition of the Lord's Prayer over and over again: Deliver Us From Evil!
In our lesson for today, I'm thrilled to tell you that God our Lord will do just that!!! Open up to Romans 3:19.
I. God Reacts to Evil.
“Now we know that whatever he law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.”
Now we might not always believe that God is going to do anything about evil. We might think he's too busy playing a game of Divine Go Fish with the angels in heaven in order to remember to exact vengeance against evil down on earth.
Think about what we see on earth: Groups continually plant bombs and then shoot television interviews in which they ridicule the men and women who are trying to stop them. Sadistic men kidnap and tie women up for years – becoming nonchalant and cocky – “No one will ever catch me!” Blog post after blog post mocking God and scoffing at the very thought that he could ever hold them accountable.
These people think they are getting away with it and we might feel like they are getting away with it.
But listen to the words from Romans 3 again—The whole world will be held accountable to God. Will be. This is future fact. It's a most definite truth. It doesn't say, “Might be,” or “could possibly be,” but “will be.'
When that happens, it won't be like what you see on the People's Court. There won't be any backtalk. There won't be any preconceived perceptions clouding God's judgment. There won't be sappy argument from picketers or internet bloggers that would cause God to sway his decision.
Because God is God. God has the final say. God doesn't forget. God doesn't miss a wrong. God always sees. God always knows. God always exacts justice! And justice is that he declare all evildoers to be unrighteous. Not good. Evil.
Then, He will give them their their punishment. It won't be community service. Not time served. A hefty fine won't be acceptable nor will 40 years at Guatanamo Bay or life in Alcatraz.
Those punishments are way more humane than what God has in mind for evil.
I'll allow Jesus himself to tell us about it. In Matthew 13:41 “God's angels will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
II. The Worst Kind of Evil
There are a lot of different evildoers in this world. Sometimes, we think we can spot them: tattoos, gruff looking facial hair, a turban. In fact, when you see someone who matches that description you might walk down on the other side of the road or quickly lock your car doors.
But what about those people who don't look evil and do evil anyway? The next door neighbor for 20 years? The grade school principal? The artistic teenager?
The worst kind of evil is the evil that you don't expect.
Look back at Paul's words again. You'll see an evil that you might not be expected. “Now we know that whatever he law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.
Who is held accountable in that passage? Could you read it again?
The whole world.
Do you ever find yourselves divorcing yourself from that phrase? As if, it is talking about terrorists, murderers, and the neighbor who listens a little too heavy to his heavy metal, but...not you.
Well, let's do a quick experiment. Lift up your feet. Then, slam your foot to the ground. Did you feel anything? Did you hear a noise? Do you want to know what that was that your feet slammed into?
You are in this world and you too will be held accountable to God . Look at his judgment in verse 20, “No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law. Rather through the law we become conscious of sin--”
Sin refers to bad things. The opposite of Good. The opposite of God.
Now, maybe you're screaming: “Yeah, right! I'm not that bad. I'm not evil! How can God call me that? There must be some kind of mistake.”
Remember: the worst kind of evil is the evil that you can't identify as evil. Consequently, if you were evil, do you think you'd identify yourself as evil? Or would you blatantly refuse to listen to God? Ignore God? Refuse to accept the truth.
Kinda like the defendants on The People's Court.
The truth is God will declare no one righteous because no one is righteous! That means you. That means me. We all deserve divine punishment for our evil. Eternal death in hell.
III. How God Saves Us from Evil
It's very similar to being on death row.
Haunted by what you had done you sit, dehydrated from tears, in a quiet, dull jail cell. Without any tears left to shed, you numbingly, sullenly sit on the edge of your prison bed.
You know what you did.
You know what you deserve.
You close your eyes to hide the fear.
Then, you hear a commotion. You look up. The cell gate rolls open. Your attorney walks in. He's gleaming.
“There's a way,” he says, “There's a way out! They're willing to drop the charge on you. You won't die! You can live and you're free.”
I got news for you. That's exactly what happened. Your attorney, Jesus Christ, has great news for you.
Listen to God's awesome plan for saving you from evil. All evil. Even the evil within yourself!
Romans 3:20 – Now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
Righteousness is what we need to get past the eternal sentence of punishment. Righteousness means that there is no evil--only "right"--ness.
How can evil people like us become righteous?
Think of Winnie the Pooh. He loves loves honey. However, Winnie the Pooh was also a bear. Bears can't make honey. Honey bees can. So, no matter, how hard Pooh Bear tried, he couldn't make honey! He had to get it from the bees.
That's like us. We can't produce any righteousness on our own. So, where do we find the righteousness to be saved from the evil within ourselves? From the only one who can produce righteousness: God himself!
Immediately, you might be thinking: "Let's talk cost. What will God demand of us in order to get his righteousness?"
Remember what we just learned! We are humans. We are sinners. We have evil within us. Therefore, we can't give God anything good in order to earn salvation. Paul says “There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God!
So God gives it to us. Free.
He gives it to you. Free.
All are justified freely by his grace. That's exactly what grace means. Free gift.
Of couse, we shouldn't get the impression that no one paid for this righteousness from God. Take a look at the next part.“All are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
What's redemption? It's the buy back price.
In a kidnapping, there might be a ransom note. A demand that the parents pay a couple million dollars and then, they get their child back.
Evil took hold of us. It threatens to take us to hell. It demands a ransom of God. The ransom? Give up your perfect child in exchange for your evil children.
God didn't even blink.
Verse 24, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.
What's atonement? Break the phrase apart to remember it easily. “At One Ment.” Meaning, we are no longer God's enemies because of our evil deeds, but we are at one with God. We are at peace. Jesus saved us from our own evil!
Now, you might think: “That doesn't seem very just! Is God just deciding to let me – and countless other believers get away with sin?”
Not at all. Look at verse 25 again: God did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished--26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just...
How did God demonstrate his justice by sacrificing Jesus on the cross? Because on the cross, evil got what it deserved! The hellfire, angry wrath of a God who hates sin raged against sin—our sin! On the cross, our evil deeds were punished in the person of the innocent, completely righteouss Son of God.
But God's whole plan was not simply about punishing evil. It's not just about vengeance. It's about you.
God is both just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Justifies means: “Declares not guilty.” “Declares not evil.” That's exactly what God has declared you because of Jesus!
Here's our conclusion then: God will deliver from evil.
He does it in this life. He is the one who protects us in the hood. He is the one who keeps us safe from terrorists. He is the one who commands his angels to guard and protect you from all evil.
And one day, he will bring you to heaven. A place where there is no evil! There aren't any bombs. No nuclear holocaust. No shootings. No walking down on one side of the street while watching your back because you don't know who's gonna get you. There is no evil in heaven.
My grandpa Kiecker was a small town farmer. There's some scary stuff on a small country farm. Fights amongst the hired help -- machinery accidents -- wolves attacking the chickens.
Grandpa no longer has to deal with any of those frightening things. Now he is at home in heaven. Now he is in the loving arms of his God, Jesus Christ -- apart from all evil.
Maybe, you have a Grandpa Kiecker too. Maybe you have a loved one who has gone into heaven. Give thanks to God for that loved one. Give thanks to God for delivering them from evil. Continue to pray that God does the same for you -- even as he already has on the cross.
Deliver us from evil Lord. Deliver us from evil. Amen.
12 If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Cor. 10:12-14, NIV 2011)
Smooth, creamy peanut butter. Delicious melted milk chocolate. A few M&Ms sprinkled throughout. Glazed with a hot fudge sauce. Eaten right out of the oven—warm & delicious.
This is the recipe for Temptation Bars. Or at least, it's similar. (You can Google it and find a bunch of different recipes.) They are called Temptation Bars because they are hard to resist.
Temptation Bars work a lot like real temptations. They look delicious. They taste good while you're eating it, but...after you eat 2 or 3 (or in my case, 7) you have a tummy ache.
Temptation to sin works just like that. It seems cool. It seems fun. It may even feel good while it's going on, but afterwards you are left with the emotional stress of shame and guilt. You may even have caused your body real physical pain. Finally, there is the eternal pain of suffering in hell for falling to temptation.
No wonder we ask Jesus to “Lead us Not Into Tempation” in the Lord's Prayer.
Today we're going to look at that phrase and discuss three common misconceptions about temptaiton. In doing so, we'll reveal the lie and reveal the truth that God gives us in Scripture. The specific part of Scripture we'll look at today is found in 1 Corinthians 10.
MYTH 1: I am powerful enough to overcome temptation.
Ever thought like that? Ever been convinced that temptation isn't a problem with you?
Yesterday was new member Sunday. New Member Sunday recognizes those people who have spent time learning the truths of Scripture in a Bible Basics course and are ready to become full members of the church. In our church, this class takes up about 20 hours of learning for adults—60 45 minute classes for middle school children.
It's interesting that temptation was the topic for this Sunday. Because, if it's the same as it was when I was confirmed, then the devil is quickly at work: “Finally, I made it through. I learned all I need to know about the Bible. I got through Pastor's bad jokes. I no longer have to get up early or stay up late in order to keep studying the Bible. I'm going to be confirmed! Suddenly, temptation won't be such a big deal. I'm confirmed. I'm a professional Christian. I'll never be easily tempted again!I am powerful enough to overcome temptation on my own.”
Perhaps you confirmed awhile ago. Then, you might recognize the strange thinking that takes place, “They think they don't need to be wary of temptation any longer? They've got another thing coming. It's not so easy. Temptation keeps on coming.At least, it did. But I've been a member here for 20 years. I've been spiritually strong. I was confirmed years ago. I can quote Lutheran hymns in my sleep! All the sins pastor normally talks about – hated, greed, lust. I don't have to worry about them. Never have those temptations anymore. That's kiddy stuff. That's new member stuff. I am powerful enough to overcome temptation on my own .”
People think foolishly about temptation at all different levels of Christianity! The goal: get to a place where we can go and do whatever we want, because we're so powerful we can take on any temptation the devil is going to throw at us.
It's as if we view ourselves as Superman whose temptations bounce off of us like bullets to the Man of Steel's chest.
If we don't think like it, at least we act like it! Consider this:
Have you ever knowingly head out for a drink with the same group of people that lead you to foul language and drunkenness every time you go out? Yet, you rationalize: “I'm feeling extra Biblely today. I'll be fine. I won't sing this time.”
Or why do we think that this is the time that we're not going to think lustful thoughts during that “R” rated TV show when it's always been the case every other time? Did God grant you a special level of resistance that allows you to watch smut without being affected?
So, is it true? Are we really? Are Wisconsin Synod Lutherans really impervious to temptations? Are just the stronger members? Is the pastor?
Look at what the apostle Paul wrote: “If you-- and that's plural. He's talking to everyone who reads this letter – If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!"
In order for an NFL quarterback to take a hit, he lowers his center of gravity. He plants his feet. He stands firmly on the ground. It prevents him from being knocked over and helps to keep himself from fumbling.
Similarly, the lady who is at the mall for the 2am Black Friday special stands firm. She knows she needs to in order to keep her place in line. If she doesn't stand firm, she'll fall back—knocked over by the vicious grandma out to get her grandchild the latest bed wetting doll.
Paul meant the same thing: If you think you are standing firm, watch out! Because the truth is that once you start getting complacent, once you stop bracing yourself, once you think you aren't in trouble, you are in the biggest trouble of all.
The myth is that we can handle temptation. The truth is that we are in danger of temptation, because we can fall! We do not within ourselves have some kind of superpower that makes us impervious to temptation! If you think you are above temptation, because you are a member of a church or a long time member of a church-- you have got another thing coming!
MYTH 2: Your temptation is so powerful that you can't help but fall.
On the other hand, you might be totally agreeing completely. “Yes, temptation is great. I can't handle it. In fact, pastor, I have a few temptations in my life that I can't handle. Super temptations! It's borderline –an addiction! I want that chemical or that sneak peek or that anger release so badly that any time I'm tempted I can't help but sin. What's the point in trying to fight back? I'll just sin again and again and again. As soon as the temptation hits, I basically give up. I'm done for.”
And what's really strange? We may take pride in this. We might say, “The devil has to work super hard on me. Sure, I fall to his temptations, but they are super temptations. The regular temptations that other people fall to, I am better than. In order to get me, he has to pull out all the stops. Impressive, right God?”
It's as if we view our own personal temptations as on steroids! We think of them as super temtpations, as if they were bitten by a radioactive spider or fell into a vat of mutagen. Then, they are able to completely conquer us.
But is that true? Do we deal with temptations that are so far superior to us that God will just excuse us because the temptation is too difficult to deal with!?!
Look at what Paul wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.” Literally in the Greek it says “Humanish.”
Understand then what he is saying: The temptations that we experience are normal to all humans! There is no such thing as a “super temptation.” Temptation is NOT impossible to overcome. Your temptations are not impossible to overcome!
MYTH 3: You are fighting temptation alone.
Wow. Talk about depressing. Jesus is saying that the temptations we face aren't even all that impressive and yet we still have to be aware, because we aren't powerful enough to defeat them all by ourselves.
You might be feeling sad. Pathetic. Alone. Stuck in temptation without a way out and without anyone to help us!
But that too is a myth!
Look at the incredible truth of the next passage: God is faithful. Think about that. It's a predicate nominative. Faithful is God. It's his essense. It's who He is. Meaning...He can't not be faithfully there for you, even in the midst of temptation.
You are NOT alone. You are NEVER Alone. God is with you!
You might say: “Yes, he's there. But he's God. He doesn't know what it's like to be tempted by a pretty lady. He doesn't know the pull alcohol has on me. He doesn't realize how upsetting my brother is!”
But remember: Jesus was human. And as we already reveiewd, remptation is common to humankind. Since Jesus was a human it follows that he too was tempted! Turn to Matthew 4 for a specific exmaple of the devil doing just that!
The book of Hebrews says it this way, “Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are.”
Think about that: As a little boy, Jesus was tempted just as we were. To refuse to put his toys away when his mom asked, to throw fits, even to fight with his friends in school.
When he grew older, he would have been tempted to ditch school and go vandalize the Hebrew schule. His eyes would have been tempted to gaze lustfully at the girls by the well.
It didn't change when he was grown up. He would have been tempted to greedily steal some monies from his Apostle's stash. He could have been tempted to take advantage of the women who came to him for help. He might have been tempted to slap and hit all of the men who came to arrest him at night.
Then, to top it all off, he would have been tempted to pridefully look down on all the sinners who surrounded him and even begin to think of himself as better than God the Father himself!
Jesus' human life was just like ours. It was filled with temptation. He knows what you are going through.
But unlike another human who might commiserate with you and say “I hate that sin too, but I don't know what to do about it.” Jesus knows exactly what to do.
Listen to the end of the passages from Hebrews: Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin!
Wow! Think about all the ways you are tempted everyday...by media, friends, and physical feelings. Then, appreciate what Jesus did: He never fell to temptation even once. Never abused his body. Never abused another. Never broke a commandment. Always did what he should all the time!
That's nothing short of incredible. It's nothing short of miraculous. It's nothing short of super!
So, yes, we don't inherently have some kind of super power above temptation. And we don't each have some kind of super temptation that's impossible to resist. But Jesus!-- He is super. He has super power! He defeated temptation in all of its ugly, disgusting forms!
Including the end result: Sin! Jesus defeated sin. He defeated your sin. He destroyed, shatttered, vaporized all of the sins that we have been revisiting through this sermon. Jesus beat them all on the cross! He suffered the wrath of God for you.
It means you are forgiven. Through faith in our Savior, you are forgiven of every single temptation realized—every single sin, you've ever fallen to. All of them. Forgiven.
That's how incredibly faithful God is. We had fallen to temptation. We deserved to fall to hell. Yet God is so faithful to you that he would not let you die even when you deserved it. Instead, he died. Then, he remained faithful in death—coming back to life to continue to suppoort and uplift you to this day!
This is why the Apostle Paul wrote, God is faithful. He didn't write, “He was faithful, or he sometimes is faithful. Or only when he remembers to be faithful. NO! God IS Faithful! He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it!”
In John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the way.” Certainly, he is the way to heaven. Is it so far off to also say that Jesus is the way out of temptation?
It starts with prayer. “Jesus, I'm being tempted right now. On my own, I can't handle it. But with you, I will defeat it. Because you're more powerful than the devil. You're more powerful than any temptation. You are the most powerful, all powerful Lord of heaven and earth! Be faithfull. It's who you are. Help me!”
Then, get away! Run from temptation. Get out of the sinful relationship you are in. Get away from the drug that tempts you. Stay away from the gossip group. Pull the plug on your computer. Take a walk and cool off. Get away from temptation. Run to God!
This might seem scary, but remember: God is faithful! He will always abide. He is always with you—with all of his power and strength.
This is why we pray what we do: Lead us not into temptation! Not that God ever would lead us into temptation, he wouldn't and he can't. He's faithful. It's not in his divine genes!
Instead, we remind God of his promise. We focus ourselves on his incredible power. And we remain confident. Confident to defeat any and all temptation. Confident not because of ourselves AND not because temptation is weak, but because our God is stronger! Amen.
It was a cold day in 1521. A young German monk walked the cold stone halls of the palace. He waded through the spiteful glances of those in attendance. He planted his feet and lifted his head to look into the face of the Holy Roman Emperor.
“Martin, you are accused of heresy. You teach that salvation come to people by God’s grace alone. You have written against the practices of our church body. You claim that good works do not save. You tell people to stop buying the indulgences we sell for the forgiveness of sins. You are calling for a reform of our traditions. Is this true?”
Martin slowly nodded his head.
The Emperor continued, “Give it up! Burn everything you've written. Denounce it. Ask for forgiveness and we won't destroy you.”
Silence. Tension. Sweat.
Martin’s eyes blinked. The dry lines of his mouth opened. He spoke: "My conscience is bound to the Word of God. It is neither wise nor safe to go against conscience. I cannot and will not recant. So help me God. Amen."
Does that sound like a scary situation? Standing before armed guards and holy looking gentlemen and being threatened with excommunication—even death if you don’t change your opinion.
Luther didn’t even flinch.
How is that possible? He must have had some kind of special power. Perhaps he was just being a stubborn German. Maybe, God gave him the special gift of feistiness! It’s also possible that Luther had a secret supply of thick German beer that gave him the guts to speak against heresy. Kind of like Popeye's spinach, only not as healthy.
But Luther himself would vouch that the power that gave him confidence to stand before his accusers at the Diet of Worms and refuse to recant his teachings was the same power that gave him confidence to stand before the Almighty, sin hating God, and refuse to recant his position: “Let me into heaven! I am righteous.”
What was this power of God?
The apostle Paul wrote similarly when he was jailed for his teachings. In Romans 1:16 he said, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." This concept was huge, because at the time Paul wrote it, people had an entirely different perspective of what power was.
Jewish Thought. Jewish thought was that their power for pleasing God came with being a Jew. Somehow, within their genealogical structure, they had little superhuman like powers that enabled them to make themselves acceptable to God. That enabled them to make themselves righteous.
So they practiced this superpower by living differently. They didn't eat shellfish like lesser men. They didn't touch dead animals. They washed their hands more than the preschoolers at Precious Lambs do!
In other words, they thought that the power of God was found within themselves.
Catholic Thought. At Luther's time, it wasn't all that different. The church taught that those who immersed themselves in the traditions of the church would find themselves doing powerful things. Buying pieces of paper to support the building of a new church. Rotely and mindlessly saying the Lord's prayer. Sitting quietly and still through worship services that no one understood. Never getting married. Taking a vow of silence. These were ways that people could practice the power of God that was naturally in them. These were the way they could become righteous.
In other words, they thought that the power of God was found within themselves.
Secular Thought. Nowawadays? We're more casual with our theology. We're chillax. We don't hold God to such high levels of perfection. Certainly, he won't care if we aren't perfect. What matters most is intention. What matters most is trying to do good:
I met a man the other day who professed to be a Catcholic, but not a practicing Catholic. He told me that he didn't go to church, he loved getting drunk, and he was living together with a woman who wasn't his wife. Then, he asked what I did.
You should have seen the look in his eyes. He proceeded to explain away his failures . "I don’t go to church, but I am spiritual. I say prayers. I never drink and drive! I love this woman—ok, maybe, I like her a lot and that’s all that matters!"
Ah, yes -- as if his good intentions were going to make up for outright rebellion against God. Just like the murderer who says to the judge: “I only killed him because he made me angry. I didn’t want to keep on being angry my whole life. That’s not fair to the people I work and live with!” Notice the sarcasm.
Brothers and sisters, I share this with you not to put that gentleman down or make myself look good. I have thought the same way. In fact, that’s why I am sharing this. The attitude is all too common. We get this foolish idea that we can sin against God and it won't matter as long as our intention to do good (at least our version of good).
At least the Jews at the time of Paul and the Catholic church at the time of Luther understood how serious their sins were. They understood them to be so bad that they developed special acts for them to do in order to try and undo sin. We tend to think that sin is such a small deal that a few good intentions will make them disappear.
In the end, isn’t this the same problem that Paul and Martin Luther were dealing with? It’s a lesser version of it, but it’s the same thought: the power of God is found within us.
But is that really the power found within us? Can intentions or good works save? Do humans truly have the power to save themselves? Do humans have the power to be “righteous” or “holy” before God?
God’s Thoughts on Our Power.
Let's listen to what God the Holy Spirit, God himself, revealed to Paul about human beings. In Romans 1: (People) have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.” They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them."
For some reason that doesn’t sound like power for righteousness, salvation, or anything good! Note carefully God’s Words: He says we only have the power to do wrong. To hurt. To harm. To do evil.
You might be thinking: “Evil? Really? That’s a strong word. Couldn’t we call it mistakes? Or ooopsies? I don’t like this evil word?”
While we’re at it, we can go ahead and tell cancer patients that they only have a cold. That’ll stop the tumor, right? (Again, note the sarcasm.)
I get it though. This is a difficult truth. No one likes to hear bad things about themselves. God’s message here: All people are evil. That’s tougher to swallow. For the terrorist or serial killer, we say, sure. Evil. Move on.
But what about the little old lady who never hurts a fly. She walks her Cocker spaniel every morning. She keeps her rose bushes trimmed pristine. She always remembers your birthday. Certainly, God can't label her evil?
In Romans There is no one righteous.
I think the difficulty is in our perception. We are a bunch of sinners trying to define good. In our eyes, people who do outwardly good actions look good. Especially the elderly lady next door. We think, “She better be classified as good, otherwise, what chance do I have!?!”
How can someone who’s sinful properly label something as good? That’s like asking the homeless guy who hasn't eaten in days if the bowl of Ramen was good. He'll say: “Delicious! He's used to eating from the bottom of a trash barrel.” The five star chef will have an entirely different opinion.
God alone determines what is good. He alone determines what is powerful for salvation . And he has determined that all of us are not.
What Is Power of God?
With Paul, it wasn’t himself and his actions. He called himself the “Chief of Sinners.” Same thing with Luther. He didn’t stand confidently because he was without sin! In reality, he had spent years before them cowering in a dark monastery because of his sin.
Paul and Luther understood then that the power of God was not within themselves. It was from God. Romans 1:16 reveals exactly what this power of God is: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes."
The Gospel. The good news. The message of Jesus: He lived perfectly. He died innocently. He rose triumphantly.
How powerful is this message? Here are five powerful things that it does:
1) It Brings Salvation
That’s exactly what the verse says: “The Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes!” In other words, it bring about salvation—a saving from evil! From ourselves.
It’s similar to a doctor's prescription. You need those words written down to tell you what medicine to get. It describes the proper substance that will fight against the danger in your body. It tells the Pharmacist what to give you. It tells you what you need to be saved!
The Gospel tells us about the cure for us. It tells us what saves from sin, death, and the devil. Or rather—it tells us who saves from sin, death , and the devil.
Our Savior is the LORD. The God of all eternity. The God who sitting on his Divine Throne outside the temporal, heard your call for help. From eternity, he came charging down to this earth in order to save you. He absorbed your evil sin and all the awful punishment that it deserves. He powerfully defeated the sin we could not defeat. He powerfully defeated the devil we could not defeat. He even defeat the impossible to defeat death that we could not defeat.
The Gospel then is the message that tells us what Jesus did. It is the message that saves us!
2) The Gospel Declares Us Righteous
How? Look at what Paul wrote, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed.”
Righteousness! That’s the scary word that reminds us we are evil in God’s eyes. How is it that this could be our power?
Ever drive your car to the East just as the sun is rising? You might need to put the blinders down and put on a pair of shades. You know you're looking at the road, but it looks like you're driving right into the sun. It's all you can see!
Talk about power! The Gospel light is so powerfully blinding that Our Holy Father does not see our sinfulness. Instead, he squints his eyes in the righteous light of Jesus’ life. Jesus shines so brightly that God cannot see anything but our His perfection. He smiles and speaks: “Guiltless! This person is not guilty of any sin. They are righteous!”
3) The Gospel is for everyone!
Again, read what Paul wrote, “The Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. “ Not just Jews. Not just 'church people.” Not just people who have enough money to get their name on one of the little bricks that says: “I helped build this community center.”
The Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.
That means it's for the the middle class Northern family. The upper class Southern gentleman. The single mom who works three waitressing jobs. The immigrant who's struggling to learn English. The college student who's far away from home. The widow who misses her husband. The man who's spent time in an earthly jail. The woman who's spent hours with therapists.
The Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.
This means it's for you. The Gospel is God's power to save you!
4) The Gospel doesn’t need your Help!
Did you see the phrase? It is by faith from first to last! First to last.
This isn't like buying a cake mix where some of it has been done for you, but you still need to separate the eggs; mix it all together and bake it for it to work.
The Gospel doesn't require that you first achieve perfection. Or that you add special church traditions. Or that you do anything, anything at all in order to finish the product of salvation!
It is by faith from first to last!
Faith isn’t any kind of doing. It’s believing. Trusting that this message from God is the truth. And it has to be! Because the power of God is the Gospel. It's Jesus. It's not us. We can't make Jesus any more powerful do we need to mix in some of our own ‘good’ in order to complete the product.
Salvation is a finished product. It’s ours by faith.
5) The Gospel Gives Life.
It's how verse 17 ends: “The righteous will live by faith.”
My car battery died the other day. No matter how hard I turned the key (and sometimes I turned it pretty hard), the car would not start. It needed a jump from an outside source. One another car was hooked up to it, the car came roaring back to life.
This is the power of the Gospel. When it connects in a quiet collision with human hearts, it brings these sinful, dead hearts roaring back to life. No longer are they dead in their sins, but they are alive in Christ!
Jesus also doesn’t run out of Jesus. It’s a power that last forever. It is a power that lasts beyond a lifetime. It brings us past earthly death, into the marvelous sanctity of an endless life in heaven. A place apart from the terrors of guilt and shame. A place surrounded by the love of our Savior.
The Gospel is Still Powerful!!!
Back when Paul wrote these words, identifying the power of God, do you realize that in fact he was writing the power of God? Within his Gospel message, nothing more than the scratching of ink onto parchment, he brought the Gospel to the people. He brought the power of God to the people. Hearts changed. A Reformation happened.
Luther did the same. Only instead of parchment, he used the moveable type of the Gutenberg printing press. Ink dried. Pamphlets were handed out. The power of God was brought to the people. Hearts changed. A Reformation happened.
The Gospel still brings us the power of God. The cracking of radio waves in the area. The humming of the TV tube. The clacking of fingers typing. The dial tone of the modem. The gentle words of a Psalmist sung through headphones as you listen to your iTunes!
Brothers and sisters, we have the power of God! It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Do not be ashamed. Stand before those friends who mock and ridicule you, not ashamed, because of God’s power.
And stand before God. Not ashamed of sin, but confident in Jesus’ power. With faith in Jesus, speak confidently, “I am saved by God’s grace through faith.” Amen.