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.
It is Christmastime, correct? It’s the holidays! Everyone is supposed to be holly jolly and everything is supposed to be merry and bright.
And maybe you’ve even felt like that!
You wake up with a smile on your face.
Your pumpkin spice latte is already cooking in your pumpkin spiced latte maker.
You put on some sparkly Christmas socks, turn on Bing Crosby, and sit by the fireplace.
Everything is so merry and bright!
You check your news feed.
11 killed in synagogue massacre.
3 killed in roadside bombing in Afghanistan.
KKK numbers rising.
And on Facebook…
Aunt Hilda still struggling with cancer.
Cousin Johnny is getting a divorce.
Your friend Melanie committed suicide around this time three years ago.
It’s supposed to be a bright time.
But life can be so…dark.
How did it get this way?
Today we will focus on how the Light of the World shines against the darkness. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. How’d it Get so Dark?
To find out the answer to that question, we need to go all the way back to the beginning, the very first book of the bible called Genesis. It literally means “beginning.”
And “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (1:1) At the end of it, there is a small little phrase that God utters about creation. He says:
“It was very good.” (1:31)
That’s an important phrase. Because when God says, “Very good,” he means something very different than when I say it.
For instance, when I finish up wrapping a Christmas present, there’s crooked tape here, off-kilter tape there, and a big gap in the back exposing that it’s a box from Target…and I get done and I say, “It’s good.”
Understand. That’s not what God means.
When God says, “It’s good.” God means, “Perfect.”
That means when God created the world, there weren’t any of the “dark” things that we mentioned before.
There was no such thing as terrorism.
There was no such thing as racism.
There was no such thing as adultery.
There was no such thing as addiction.
There was no such thing as cancer, criminal offenses or cattiness in the church fellowship hall.
God made the world good.
There was no darkness.
Before I get into that you need to understand something about perfection.
In God’s mind, the concept of perfection involves love.
And in God’s mind, the perfect concept of love is not coerced, but freely and willingly given.
I think we get that. Case and point: If you have an Alexa robot, one of those Google inspired devices that can be programmed to listen to your voice and do whatever you ask it to do – and it does it. In addition to the Alexa robot, you have an Alex, a human child, who gets his toys stuck in the carpet, forgets to clean up the LEGOs and generally makes messes even when you tell him to clean up.
QUESTION: Between Alexa and Alex, which one would you say loves you?
Alex, of course.
Because Alexa is literally programmed to do whatever you say.
Alex can choose to blow snot bubbles or to come and give you a hug.
And when he chooses to give you a hug – that’s love.
God knew this.
When God created humans, he made them with the ability to love to him or to not love to him.
Specifically, he gave them one specific way to show this unforced, non-coerced love:
God said to them: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (2:16-27)
Did you follow that?
God told them to show love to him by not eating from one specific tree.
No thank you notes necessary.
No finger paint art work that says, “I love you.”
Just don’t eat from the one tree.
It’s like when preschoolers come and give me a hug around the legs so that I can’t move, and they say, “Mr. Pastor, I love you.”
And I say, “Thank you. But do you know what will show you love me even better than this hug? If you line up like I’ve told you to do, about 17 times.”
Adam and Eve had a chance to show active love for God by not eating from the tree.
So how did they do with that?
One day, the two of them are walking through the garden. As they pass by the middle where the one tree that they aren’t supposed to eat from is located, a snake begins to talk to them.
Yes, a snake.
The snake is none other than Satan, the devil, Lucifer. The exact origins of Lucifer are unclear, but a few things to note:
God created him.
God created him in the same way he created humans – with a choice to serve him.
Lucifer chose to NOT serve God, but to oppose him.
And that’s exactly what he does here.
He says, “Did God really say that you must not eat from the fruit of this tree?” The answer is yes.
He says, “...You will not die.” But God said they would.
He says, “You will become like God.” But they already were.
Whom should you believe?
The Holy, perfect God who created you and gave you the whole world?
Or a talking snake?
Adam and Eve look up at that fruit.
They see its faux shine.
They grab it off the branch.
They sink their teeth into it’s delicious nectar.
And, for the very first time, they taste:
Look at what happens:
Then, the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (v.7)
For the first time ever, they experience mistrust. “What is she looking at my 3 pack of abs? Stop judging me. There’s not a lot of exercise equipment in this garden.”
For the first time ever, they experience anxiety: “I wonder if I’m enough for him. He’s been looking at one of the other women…in this garden of so many women.”
For the first time ever, they experience judgment: “He does look like he’s had a few too many blueberries lately.”
For the first time ever, they experience marital disunity: “Leave me alone while I go over here and cover myself. You go over there and cover yourself.”
And then: They heard the sound of the Lord walking in the garden, so they hid from him. (v8)
For the first time ever, they experience fear of God: “What will he do to us?”
For the first time ever, they experience shame: “I don’t want him to see me like this.”
For the first time ever, they experience guilt: “We did the one thing we shouldn’t have done.”
And when they do come out of the bushes to talk to God:
“It was the woman! She did it!” Not my wife. Not my love. That woman.
“It was the snake! He did it!” Not me. Not my fault. I am the victim here! Some animal.
“It was the woman YOU put here God.” Really…the evil is on YOU.
Do you see it?
Darkness is firmly a part of history now.
Sin is here.
Sin is here to stay.
And God responds as only a Holy, Light-filled God who hates sin can respond. By doling out consequences:
Pain. Painful childbirth. Painful toil. Painful slivers and hangnails. Painful arthritis and headaches. Painful diseases and injuries.
Relationship Issues. He’ll be a jerk! Because he’s a sinner now. He’s had a taste of the darkness and it won’t stop him from calling you things that you should never call a woman. And to be fair – you won’t take it sitting down. You’ll tell him that you NEVER loved him and he’s a worth pile of dirt.
Work Issues. Because now it won’t be fun. Now there will be weeds in the ground. Now there will be computer crashes. Now there will be plumbing issues. Now there will be back stabbing, infighting, and gossip that ruins your career.
Death. For “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” (v.19) This is the origin of cancer, of car crashes, of terrorism, mass shooting, and terrifying nights in the E.R.
And that’s just the beginning…
It’s only gotten darker.
It’s only gotten crueler.
It’s only gotten harder to deal with.
II. The Light Shines against Darkness
Did you know that God didn’t just give consequences to the humans?
He also gave consequences to the snake.
God says he’ll crawl on his belly (v.14)
God says the snake will eat dust all the days of his life. (v.14b)
Some scholars wonder if maybe the original form of the snake had some little tiny legs. (Which is pretty horrifying thing to think of. Long, slithering, disgusting with legs?)
But then – pay careful attention to the final consequence for Satan:
I will put enmity between you and the woman; between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head. (v.15)
Did you hear it?
This is more than just a consequence for the devil.
This is a promise for the people.
One day someone will come who will crush the evil one and destroy all of his power.
One day someone will come to overpower the evil.
One day someone will come to shine against the darkness.
One day…right around the very first Christmas:
In Jesus was life and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)
This is why Christmas matters.
We live in a world of darkness and death.
We needed the Light. We need Life.
And we have both in Jesus.
Because our world is only darkness.
And adding darkness to the darkness to try and get rid of the darkness, doesn’t work.
For instance, no one ever says, “It’s dark in here. Let me get out my sunglasses because I’m sure that will make things brighter.”
Or: “Honey, I know you’re scared of the dark. Let me turn OFF the hallway light. That’ll make it easier to see.”
Adding darkness to darkness only leads to more darkness.
Since we live in a world infected by spiritual darkness, we cannot expect the light to come from that darkness.
We cannot expect the light to come from ourselves.
What I mean is, the solution to the darkness IS NOT and CANNOT EVER be:
“Just try harder.”
“Do your best.”
They are all a version of:
Let’s add more darkness this darkness because I’m sure that will make it brighter.
The light of the world needs to come from outside of the world.
The light of the world needs to come from the place of light.
The light of the world needs to come from heaven itself.
That light of the world is Jesus.
And like a candle coming into dark room…
Jesus shines against the darkness.
And he always overcomes it.
Think about that. No matter what kind of darkness you are dealing with this holiday season, Jesus is the light that will overcome it.
When you’re dealing with the darkness of a relationship that has spoiled, he brings the light and says, “I will never leave you.”
When you’re struggling with the guilt of some kind of sin you committed around this time six years ago, Jesus says, “I forgive you.”
When you’re dealing with the dark effects of racist attitudes to you at work, Jesus shines the light and says, “I love you as you are.”
When there’s nothing but drama and disorder amongst your family, Jesus speaks to you and says, “We are at peace.”
When there’s financial struggles that leave you filled with anxiety, Jesus says, “I’ve got this” and drives the darkness away!
The light overcomes the darkness.
Even in the darkest of times.
There is no greater darkness in this life than death.
There is probably nothing that you will face in life greater than death itself.
Or that of a loved one.
That’s exactly what a man named Jairus was dealing with.
His daughter was sick.
And he had done everything he could think of to fix her.
He went to the doctor.
He went to the physician.
He got medicines and herbs and essential oils.
So, as the darkness of “I might lose her” settled in, he made his way to Jesus.
“Please sir! Help my daughter. Please sir! Do something. Heal her.”
But as Jesus and Jairus made their way to his house, what little life was left in her eyes…went out.
And when Jairus made his way to his daughter’s bedroom, he no longer saw her.
Only a cold, lifeless body.
As Jairus began to sob uncontrollably, clinging to his wife as if she could soak up the dark sadness that had overcome his soul.
Jesus walked past.
He approached the girl’s body.
He took her hand.
He looked her in her cold, dark eyes and said:
As Jairus watched, her eyes – he saw it:
She sat up.
Jesus is the light of the world.
Jesus is the life that brings light even in the face of death.
Years later Jesus himself faced death on the cross.
He died, but then came back to life.
He is the light of the world.
He is the LIFE of the world.
And the life always overcomes death.
Again – consider that deeply –
In Jesus, you will conquer death.
You will conquer death in all its form.
That arthritis that reminding you of decaying body, Jesus will overcome that.
That pain in your heart from missing a dearly departed loved one, Jesus will overcome that.
That cancer that leads you to a hospital bed, Jesus will overcome that.
That child that you lost, Jesus will overcome that pain.
In fact, Jesus brings LIFE!
To you. To me. To all who believe.
III. What Now?
The only way to overcome the darkness is with Jesus. Make that your number one this Christmas season.
Make sure you tell your kids about Jesus.
Make sure you meditate on your Savior.
Make sure you’re in worship.
Make sure your singing Jesus songs.
If you don’t get all the lights up…
If you don’t get all the presents wrapped…
If you don’t get all the mistletoe hung…
Those things don’t make Christmas bright.
May He shine as a light against whatever darkness you are facing. Amen.
Joshua bristled at the bitter boldness of his morning coffee.
It was stronger than normal, since he was a bit drowsy. It had been a long couple of days. They had marched around Jericho for a whole week, seen the walls topple down, entered into the city and completely destroyed it. They toppled every wall, killed every citizen and burned to the ground every building.
Then, they partied.
Today, it was back to work.
Today they were attacking the next city in Canaan.
Ai was a much smaller city. Located in the countryside to the west of Jericho, it lacked the fortification of Jericho. In fact, there’s not even a reference to any kind of wall. And when spies came back to report on it, they recommended that Joshua give most of the men rest. They would only need 2 or 3 thousand soldiers to easily take the city.
If taking Jericho was a miracle…
Taking Ai was expected.
So, Joshua had the trumpeters gather the small group that he would send against Ai. His speech was simple: “We took the great city of Jericho – this won’t be that hard. Let’s go in, get the job done, and get back to celebration.”
So, the army marched to Ai.
They marched boldly.
They marched confidently.
They marched directly into a route.
About three thousand men went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about thirty-six of them. (7:4-5)
How can they go from conquering Jericho – a huge city with a gigantic double wall – to getting routed by the agricultural community of Ai?
Before we take a look at the reason and learn a few very important lessons about sin, let us pray: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is truth. Open our eyes to see what YOU want us to see. Open our ears to hear what YOU want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what YOU would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Route of Ai
Take a look at verse 7. We’re going to find out what happened at the same time that Joshua found out what happened. Because -- take a look at Joshua’s words – he is absolutely dumbfounded as to why Israel was unsuccessful:
Joshua tore his clothes because he was so upset.
He fell face down on the ground.
He stayed there weeping.
Then, he spoke: “Alas Sovereign LORD, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! Pardon your servant…what can I say?" (7:7-8)
Why did you do this if you just wanted us to lose?
Why the escape from Egypt?
Why the splitting of the Jordan?
Why make the walls of Jericho tumble?
Why all the promises?
Why did you do this to us?
And in response,
God let’s Joshua finish.
Then, He clears his throat:
The LORD said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant.” …They have taken some of the devoted things.” (7:10-11)
What were the devoted things? In chapter six, God mentions this to Joshua again and again. Unlike some of the other cities coming up – which God would allow them to reoccupy and use what’s there – Jericho was God’s. As such, it was to be completely destroyed. All the people. All the animals. All the buildings…and the few things not destroyed: Gold and Silver were to be saved for use in religious ceremonies.
God said, “Keep away from the devoted things... Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction.” (6:18)
So, what does this mean when God tells Joshua that Israel had taken devoted things?
It means the loss at Ai wasn’t God’s fault.
It was Israel’s.
TRUTH #1 -- You can’t blame the results of sin on God.
I bring this up because humans do this all of the time.
My wife and I are feeling disconnected. You must not be blessing our marriage God. And no, I don’t think it has anything to do with the porn that I look at on my phone.
Work is hard. No one likes me. That’s on you God! Not on the fact that I’m a total jerk.
My boyfriend left me! And I feel terrible. God why do I have such emotional pain? It certainly has nothing to do with the fact that I was living together with him and sleeping together with him – long before we were married!
The reality is that the results of sin are not God’s fault.
The results of sin are on us.
Just like the results of sin – the loss at Ai – was on Israel.
II. Achan’s Story
And Joshua should have known that.
God wouldn’t have broken his promise. If they lost at Ai, the only option was that Israel had sinned! It’s why God tells Joshua to “Stand up!” He needs to quit moping and start acting.
And God has a plan. He tells Joshua to bring all of Israel out together -- a mass meeting. Then, Joshua would cast lots. He’d assign a number to each tribe and then roll a pair of dice. The number that was rolled would represent the tribe that was at fault – and so on it would go down from tribe to clan to family to man.
His heart skipped a beat.
No, no, no. They know someone took the sacred things? I was careful. I made sure no one was looking. I…I… I’m sure this won’t work. There’s millions of Israelites. That game of chance will not reveal me. Better to stay hidden.
And the first lot was cast.
Ok…That’s coincidence. There’s a 1 in 12 chance. It’s unlucky, but Judah is the biggest of the tribes. There’s still hundreds of thousands of others. I’ll be fine. Just stay calm. Stop sweating. Breathe deeply.
What!? Don’t panic. Another lucky guess. That’s all. There’s still hundreds of other people. There’s still hundreds of other chances. No one knows what you did. No one…
Except maybe God. O I hope he takes my brothers. Maybe I could frame him. Or my cousin? He’s been in trouble before. Please don’t let that lot fall to me. Please don’t let that lot fall to me. Please don’t let them find out it’s me!
And Achan fell to the ground.
God had been behind that investigation.
God had revealed the culprit.
And Joshua approaches, “Son, give glory to God and tell me what you’ve done.”
And Achan stops hiding.
He stops pretending.
He’s been caught.
I have sinned.
TRUTH #2 -- You can’t hide sin from God.
To be fair – you can hide sin from your pastor.
You can hide it from the elders.
You can hide it from the other people at church.
But not God.
You can hide it from your family.
You can hide it from your parents.
You can hide it from your spouse.
But not from God.
In fact, Scripture says this, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13)
And laying it bare means ‘it’s uncovered.’ It’s like if you have a bunch of mold under your sink, but you cover it up with all kinds of bottles and cleaner and always keep the door shut. That way no one knows about it.
But God is like the Home Inspector who comes in, walks right over to the kitchen sink, throws open the doors, takes out the bottles and shines a light on the mold. God has a way of making sin known.
Whether it’s through the rolling of dice in Achan’s fault or whether it’s through internet search history, phone records, stories that don’t match up, funny receipts on the credit card, or just plain that “weird feeling about him,” God will make sin known. Or whether it’s through the divine fiery judgment of Judgement Day, God will make hidden sin known.
III. God’s Mercy
So, don’t hide your sin; but confess it.
Because in Achan’s case, it was God who revealed the sin and God who held Achan accountable.
Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan, the silver, the robe, the gold bar…and all that he had. Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. (7:24-26)
Which might seem harsh…but remember:
(1) Wages of sin is death.
(2) He had repeated opportunities to confess.
(3) His sin led to the death of 36 people! 36 involuntary manslaughters.
But I think there’s one more thing that’s important.
One more thing that’s missing.
There’s no call for mercy.
No call for God’s love.
That’s striking. Had Achan confessed rather than been caught, does the situation change? Maybe.
It certainly does for you. That’s what God tells us in 1 John: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us all of our sins.”
(1 John 1:9)
Why trust this? Because: TRUTH #3: God is the ultimate eradicator
In fact, may that be motivation for your confession. Because the reality is that God already knows all of your sins. He already knows what you’ve done. He knows and, in fact, he knew. He knew and he went to the cross for you. “He himself bore our sins” (1 Peter 2:24) in his body on the cross.
Jesus died for every last one of your sins.
He took your sin in his body on the tree.
He brought them to the cross for eradication.
When you confess, all your trust is in his eradication abilities. It’s like signing the dotted line for the Terminix man. When you do that, you trust that he’ll be able to poison, burn, trap, and eradicate every single pest that you have in your house.
Trust in Jesus to do the same.
He'll go under the floor boards, look in the cupboards of your heart and eradicate the sins that even you didn’t know were there!
Jesus eradicated every one of your sins.
Jesus will eradicate their eternal consequences.
Confess and trust in his mercy.
III. What Now?
(1) Eradicate Temptation.
Because God didn’t eradicate the consequences of your sin, just to leave you in sin. God wants you to eradicate sin from your lives. That’s what Israel does. They eradicate Achan and the stolen devoted things.
You do the same.
Get rid of the unrestricted access to internet porn.
Set limits on late night with boyfriend so you aren’t tempted to sin.
Throw out the alcohol.
Flush the drugs.
Stop the late nights that prevent you from church in the morning.
“Break up” with the group of ladies that wants to sit around and gossip.
Whatever the sin might be – eradicate the things that tempt you to do it.
It’d be like the exterminator telling you that the reason you have so many rats in your house is that you have been stacking your half-finished pizza boxes in your living room.
Get rid of the pizza boxes.
Get rid of temptations.
Be free from sin, guilt and shame.
(2) Watch God Work.
After the Israelites do all of this – God says, “Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged…Go up and attack Ai.” (8:1)
Which if I was an Israelite, I’d probably think, “Don’t be afraid? We just got our butts kicked. God, you didn’t help us. It was our fault, but how do we know that sin is really forgiven?”
But God promises.
So, they trust. They attack Ai. They are more than victorious.
Trust God to eradicate sin.
Trust that he already eradicated its consequences.
Trust that He will eradicate its power.
Trust that he will enable you to eradicate temptation.
Jonah took a deep breath.
This was it. He was out of the fish. He was on dry land. He had marched for miles across the middle east in order to get to Nineveh.
This wouldn’t be easy. The city had close to a million people living in it. It took 3 days to walk through – if you didn’t stop and tell people God’s Word all along the way. But Jonah didn’t have a lot of time.Jonah had 40 more days. 40 more days and Nineveh will be destroyed.
It was a strange message. A message from the LORD to a people who didn’t believe in the LORD.
Jonah didn’t think this would work. But…he didn’t really feel like being inside a giant Nemo again, so:
“40 More Days! 40 More Days and Nineveh will be destroyed. 40 more days for you to repent and turn to the Lord.”
And Jonah sweated. And Jonah shouted. And looked like one of those street preachers that you see downtown from about 2 blocks away and cross to the other side of the street just to avoid them. And Jonah finished going throughout the city. And Jonah finished. And Jonah left the city. And Jonah thought “There’s no way that worked.”
…The people started talking:
Did you see that strange fellow? He was talking about God.
I know it seemed weird, but I know he’s right. We haven’t been doing right.
I feel terrible. I don’t want to be destroyed. Maybe…the God, this Lord will have mercy.
v.5 The Ninevites believed God.
And they began to fast. Each one refusing to eat food, because suddenly it didn’t seem that important.
And they put on sackcloth. A harsh, itchy, scratchy substances that was extremely uncomfortable. It represented on the outside the discomfort they felt on the inside.
And they prayed. LORD we’ve sinned. LORD, I didn’t know. LORD, I was wrong. LORD, please don’t. LORD, have mercy.
And they all did it. From the greatest to the least. From the rich merchant that owned a chain of restaurants, to one of his dishwashers who worked for food scraps. From the elderly scholar who needed a cane to get to the sackcloth store – to the young preschooler who needed his mom’s help in getting it on. From the lifelong Ninevites who prayed in the language of Nineveh, to the foreigner who prayed using completely different words.
Even the King! The King himself who was in charge of the whole city and who never felt threatened by his people – felt threatened by God. He was convicted. He repented. He traded in his royal robes for sackcloth. He refused to eat the pork roast he was going to have for breakfast. He stopped making people kneel before him and instructed all to kneel before God.
They thought: “Who knows? Maybe God will have mercy…”
And God? He did.
v.10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he threatened.
This is an amazing chapter. It kind of changes the story of Jonah. It isn’t so much about him. Literary analysis shows us that it’s more about God. God saved Jonah in the fish and he saved the people of Nineveh with Jonah’s words. God was merciful. God loved the city of Nineveh and didn’t want to see it destroyed.
But Nineveh isn’t the only city God loves.
Today we want to dig into that chapter in order to compare Raleigh with Nineveh. Our goal is to see that (1) Raleigh is in dire need of saving just as much as Nineveh was and (2) we want to learn who it is that God has sent to bring that message of salvation to Raleigh. Before we study God’s Word, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The New Nineveh
A) Same Sin.
Go back with me to Jonah 1:2. God gives the reason for his anger against Nineveh. He says, “Its wickedness has come up before me.”
What was so wicked? This is a picture of Dagon. Dagon looks like a fish. He’s not a Transformer or a TMNT. He’s a false god. A stone statue that people prayed and worshipped.
And they didn’t do it in the most pleasant way.
How did they do it? By having group sex! Together. In the temple. In front of their statue of a god.
Why they did do it? For money! More and more money. They thought Dagon would bless them with money – even if they had to gouge the poor and steal from the rich.
Wicked, right? That seems like a good word to describe Nineveh.
But is it a good word to describe Raleigh?
I like Raleigh. The people are fairly pleasant. People hold doors as I enter Starbucks. I get high fives from people at the dog park. My neighbors sit out on their porch and greet me – any time of the day!
I think Raleigh is pleasant. But I’m sinful. My opinion is skewed.
Understand this: You and I see people as sinful and think, “Well, we’re just imperfect. We’re still pretty good.” But God looks at Raleigh and sees people. People who sin. Sin that he hates. Sin he calls wicked.
To be honest – there are plenty of things in Raleigh – Plenty of things in our own hearts that we might even call wicked:
Racist hate blogs.
Worship of self on social media.
Business with extracurricular and no time for God.
Worship of nature and outside and no time for God.
But it’s not what they were doing at the time of Nineveh!
True. Our sins are different. (We’ve got 21st century sins.) But they’re the same. (They are detestable to God).
It’s kind of like all the different kinds of Doritos. Have you seen them? They make Cool Ranch and Nacho Cheese. There’s Cooler Ranch and Nacho Cheesier. There’s Taco flavor, Blue Cheese Flavored, Sweet and Spicy flavored, even Pizza flavored! There are different Dorito types, but the same result: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and a tummy ache.
It’s the same thing with sin. There are different sin types – Old Testament Ninevite sin and 21st century Raleighian sin – it’s sin. Still. It’s sin. In God’s eyes, it's the same awful sin. Sin that God will remove.
Through total Annihilation.
I’m not just being doomsday-ish. Look at Jesus’ own words about the last day. He says "Those who have done wrong will go away to eternal punishment.”
He means business.
B) Same Need of Mercy.
The Ninevites were in trouble. They had done wrong. The LORD himself was breathing down their necks. They had no other choice than to wave the white flag, to confess their sins, and plead for God’s mercy.
And? God did. V. 10 God did not bring on them the destruction he threatened – Mercy.
They didn’t try to make it better. They didn’t try to pay God off. They simply grew sorrowful. They pleaded with God. They put on sackcloth and fasted sure. Mostly because they were super sorry! They didn’t think: “If I stop eating, that’ll make up for my sins. Or if I put on uncomfortable clothing, God will forgive me for messing with my neighbor’s wife.” No!
They thought: “I’ve sinned. I can’t get away from God’s judgment. O Lord. Be merciful.”
They were right. God’s mercy saved them.
We need the same thing. People of Raleigh -- we need the mercy of our Lord.
Romans 9:16 says it this way, “It does not depend on man’s desire or effort.” Meaning you aren’t going to escape God’s wrath from trying your best. It doesn’t come from doing better than others. It doesn’t come from being a "generally good person.” Nope. It doesn’t come from fasting. It doesn’t come from praying. It doesn’t come from wearing sackcloth. It doesn’t come from having been a Christian or having been a part of church.
…It depends on God’s mercy.
And God had mercy! He came down out of heaven. He became a human being. He lived perfectly when you could not. He died innocently in your place. He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
He has had mercy on you. It’s what we need. It’s what all of Raleigh needs.
And remember: It didn’t matter who you were in Nineveh – from the greatest to the least – you needed God’s mercy. Whether you were Jewish or Ninevite, rich or poor, king or 1st grader. You needed God’s mercy.
And when they turned their hearts to God, it still didn’t matter who they were. They all received it! It wasn’t just the king. It wasn’t just the king’s court. It wasn’t just the people with lots of money.
They all received God’s mercy.
The same is true for you. Turn to the Lord; he will have mercy.
It doesn’t matter who you are.
It doesn’t matter if you’re the boss or jobless.
It doesn’t matter if you have a Doctor’s degree or no degree.
It doesn’t’ matter if you’re in good health or very sick.
It doesn’t matter if you have lots of followers on Instagram or if you don’t know what Instagram is.
It doesn’t matter if you are 7 foot 1 or 5 foot 2.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman. White or black. Asian or Latino.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve done something that even you are having a hard time forgiving yourself for.
God has had mercy. Jesus died for you.
By faith in Jesus, God will have mercy. God will forgive you.
And when others in Raleigh hear this message and turn to him – God will have mercy on them too!
It’s why we need to tell them. It’s why you need to tell them.
C) Same Command.
Maybe you’re thinking. Hold it! “I’m not a Jonah.” I don’t have a directive from God. If I did, sure. But thank goodness I didn’t.
Take a look at what Jesus said to his disciples – his followers – his men and women who believed in him and followed his teachings: "Go and make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Are you a believer? He’s talking to you.
Do we live in a nation? He’s talking about Raleigh.
God wants us to go. He wants us to go with his message to the people of North Raleigh. It’s why we exist. “Gather to the Garden.” That means to bring people to the message of Jesus. And when we can’t get them here – to bring the message of Jesus to them!
Which means we’ve got to keep our eyes open.
God wants it to be kind of like Play-Doh. I don’t know about you, but every time I get close to a thing of Play-Doh I feel the urge to open up the container. Get the Play-Doh out and roll a Play-Doh snake. Every time.
God wants us to see this world the same way. Every time we see a someone – anyone – from any background – any culture – any social status – any sin that they are struggling with – God wants us to bring the message of repentance to them. He wants us to share the Savior.
He wants us to. In fact, he wants us to so much that he commanded us.
Go and Make. Baptize and Teach.
D) Same Urgency.
Remember what Jonah was telling the people of Nineveh 40 more Days! 40 More Days! That’s not a lot of time.
Then again, there’s a lot that you could accomplish in 40 days. You could make enough money to pay off your credit card. You could make a list of things to do in Raleigh and do them. You could watch the entire Doctor Who series on Netflix. You could do a lot in 39 days and then on the 40th day, set your Smartphone to go off to the “End of the World as we Know it,” and quick get to church to confess your sins and turn your life around!
40 more days has some urgency – some.
How long do we have? How long do the people of Raleigh have?
Here’s the thing: We don’t know! Jesus said this, “No one knows the day or the hour – not even the Son, even the Father.” That means it’s even hidden from Jesus. God’s own Son.
That means the end could be 40 years from now. It could be 40 days. It could be 40 minutes. We don’t know when the world will end; we don’t know when each other will end.
Hence the urgency.
Don’t wait to tell your husband about the Savior. It could be too late. Don’t wait to invite your neighbor to church; you may miss your chance. Don’t wait to start sharing posts on Facebook; Facebook may be destroyed before your click send!
Life is short. Jesus is eternal. Share Jesus now.
II. What Now?
1) Share it whether you’re greatest or least
This is not just a pastor thing. I can’t do it by myself. I don’t do it by myself. You are a part of this.
YOU are a part of sharing God’s Word.
You are a part of saving Raleigh.
Did I tell you about one of the preschool parents? She stopped in my office a while back and told me this story. She said that she had been on Falls of Neuse. She said that it had been loaded with traffic. She had had a bad work day and was very stressed, so that when the car in front of her cut her off she slammed her fists on the steering wheel and muttered to herself.
And her daughter spoke up from the back, "It’s ok, Mommy. Jesus it taking care of you."
Mom told me that she wanted faith like her daughter.
You’re never too old to share Jesus. You’re never too young. You’re never too rich; too poor; too tall; too short; too sinful; too blameless; too anything.
And neither are the people who you are sharing with:
2) Share It with Greatest and Smallest
All people means all people.
The guy who has a BMW and the guy who has an old minivan held together by Duct tape.
The worker at Starbucks and the worker at Dunkin' Donuts.
The UNC fan. The Duke fan. The State fan.
Your mom. Your child.
Your black friend. Your white friend. Your Asian friend. Your Latino friend. Your Middle Eastern friend. Your enemy!
All people need God’s mercy. Your neighbors need God’s mercy. You have God’s mercy. Share with them God’s mercy.
So what I want you to do today is to think about someone who you can share God’s mercy with. Someone that you want to tell about Jesus. Someone you want to invite to church. Do you have them on your mind? Good. I want you to write their name down on the back of this connection card. What I’m going to do is I’m going to keep that in prayer this week and contact you to encourage in sharing God’s Word.
Because all of this can be intimidating. It was intimidating for Jonah.
But remember: Jonah wasn’t alone. He had a God who had controlled a storm to get Jonah back. A God who found Jonah in the bottom of a boat. A God who sent a giant fish to swallow Jonah alive.
You’ve got that same powerful God. The God who was with Jonah is the same God on the cross is the same God out of the tomb is the same God who is with you.
Share His Message. He’s got your back. Amen.
Today we are continuing our series called DEEP by taking a look at DEEP HUMILITY. We want to find out what kind of humility our God requires of us, assess how well we are doing at that, and reflect on the humility of our Savior Jesus Christ. We are going to start today by taking a look at Numbers 12.
Miriam shook her head in disgust. “Look at that smug look on his face. He’s got his fancy robe and “godly” walking staff. That Moses sure thinks he’s something.”
Aaron nodded his head in agreement as he watched his brother dart from the tent of meeting. Moses had plenty of those meetings. They were one on one conversations with God. Conversations where God spoke to him. Conversations where God told Moses what he wanted the people of Israel to do.
God never did that with them.
As a group of leaders approached Moses for spiritual guidance, Miriam continued, “And why does everyone thinks he is so great! Do they realize he isn’t even married to an Israelite? He’s got a Cushite – a CUSHITE – as his wife. Not an Israelite. He doesn’t even follow the laws that God gave him.”
Aaron tensed his jaw, “What gets me is how these people seem to think that Moses is the only one God has used to lead them. Don’t they remember the story of the burning bush? Sure. God came to Moses and asked him to lead us out of slavery. But Moses was a wimp about it. He didn’t want to do the talking because he was “slow of speech and tongue.” Remember? He was too scared. I’m had to speak for him. If it wasn’t for me, this Exodus would never have taken place.”
"I hear ya,” Miriam continued, "After all, if it wasn’t for me, Moses wouldn’t even be alive. I helped mom hide him in the basket to keep him safe from the king’s murderous decree. I watched from the reeds to make sure he floated in the river. I helped the Egyptian princess find a way for her to raise him as her son. I’m just as important as Moses is!”
As Moses dismissed the men he was talking to, Aaron sneered. "I just don’t get it…What makes Moses so great!?!"
I. The Biggest Threat to Humility
Miriam and Aaron kind of have a point. Moses is the big wig in the Exodus account. Still, even today, the answer to a jeopardy question about the Exodus is almost always Moses. Charleston Heston played Moses, not Aaron in the Ten Commandments. The Bible story that kids learn isn’t called, “Miriam Keeps Moses Safe while He floats down the River in a Basket.” Generally speaking society does not place Aaron and Miriam on the same level as Moses.
Let’s try and put it into perspective. Think about your job. Imagine you’ve been working at your company for years. You always come on time. You always finish your projects by the deadline. You always make the boss’ coffee just as he likes it – three packers of sugar, two things of cream, and 1 swish of the wrist.
After all those years of hard work and dedication, how do you feel when the promotion goes to the guy who's been there six months? Do you run to give them a high five? Do you gather around the water cooler and tell all of your coworkers how that guy is the most deserving guy in the history of deserving guys? Do you put a nice Facebook post online about how “My coworker just got a promotion that I deserved lots more and I am absolutely and completely in agreement with it!” Do you get them a cake from Kroger with icing that says “Happy Promotion Day!”? Or if you connect the sprinkles underneath the icing does it read, “This promotion should have been mine, what a loser.”
If you struggle to be happy for someone else’s successes, then jealousy has affected you!
It's what happened to Aaron and Miriam. Listen to how the Bible describes it in Numbers 12:2, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?”
What's interesting in this section is how jealousy inflates pride. Aaron and Miriam feel the need to talk about how important they are to make up for the fact that they don't feel that important in reality.
When I was about five years old, my dad took my younger sister and me ice fishing. We were in a small town in Minnesota out on a small lake. My dad was probably pretty pumped up for some Father-Kid time. He got us dressed. He set up the ice shanty. He drilled a hole with the auger.
Then, somehow my sister accidentally put her foot through the hole. She lost her boot and her foot was all wet.
My dad immediately helped her up. He took her into the shanty. He dried her foot. Her gave her those little foot warmer thingies. He poured her some hot chocolate from the Thermos.
And I got jealous! I started thinking, "I'm cold too. I'm your child too. Don't I deserve some hot chocolate? Don't I deserve some attention?"
So I put my foot in the hole.
Needless to say I got attention -- just not good attention.
Isn't that the way people roll? Don't we begin to sing our own praises as soon as we feel we've been overlooked? We think there's no time to be humble; it's time to be prideful!
II. The Origins of Jealousy
Where does jealousy come from? Is it a product of unfairness in the world? In other words, if other people treated you right and gave you the respect you deserve, would you even have a problem with jealousy?
Consider Aaron and Miriam’s case. They were convinced that this was all Moses’ fault as if he were some kind of ancient, propaganda machine. Granted this was long before Tweets about how awesome it was to hang out with God and Instagram photos of him having a private meeting with the pillar of cloud, but maybe Moses accomplished this through a whisper campaign, through paying off some of the tribal chieftains to recognize him as leader.
This contradicts the very next verse in our story. 3 Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth. This means we should probably cross off Moses as the reason that so many people looked up to Moses rather than the Miriam and Aaron.
…Do you know who wrote Numbers? Moses. Suddenly, verse 3 doesn’t seem to carry as much weight. Moses becomes his own character witness!
It’d be like a mom and dad going into civil court for custody of their children and starting off their time on the stand by saying, “I’m an awesome parents. I’m one of the best. Trust me your honor. The kids will be better off with me. That’s the truth. Documents? No, I didn’t bring any. Specific instances? I don’t have one. But trust me. I’m the best.”
Now it’s Moses’ word against Miriam and Aaron’s.
Then, an infallible witness makes an appearance. Scripture says, “4 At once the Lord said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you.” It’s kind of like getting called into the principal’s office – only instead of detention, you might be banished from God’s kingdom forever. "So the three of them went out. 5 Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam."
God said, “When there is a prophet among you, I the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams. 7 But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” Talk about a character witness. God has Moses’ back.
But this isn’t so much about God boasting about Moses. Look closely at his words, “My servant Moses” as in, “I chose him to be that servant.” “I speak to him face to face,” as in, “I chose to speak to him.” “I let him see my form,” as in, “I allowed him this privilege.”
Miriam and Aaron didn’t have a problem with Moses. They had a problem with God.
WRITE THIS DOWN: The heart of jealousy is discontent with God. Essentially, subconsciously, Miriam and Aaron were saying, “God you’ve got it wrong! How dare you choose Moses for this honor instead of me!?!”
Essentially, subconsciously, when we are jealous of others, we too are discontent with God.
· “I can’t believe how much money that person has – you are a fool for giving it to them God.”
· “I am angry that woman has children and I don’t – it’s not fair God.”
· “That guy got the promotion and not me? God what’s your deal?”
· “That person is in an authority position at church – God you must not to spread the Gospel as much as you say…”
Look at what happens next. "9 The anger of the Lord burned against them, and he left them. 10 When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous—it became as white as snow.”
Leprosy is nothing to scoff at. It eats away at your skin. It is highly contagious. It’s incurable.
This isn’t a coincidence. This wasn’t the result of Miriam getting too close to the leper colony that was located outside the camp. No. Not with how quickly the change happened. This was God. This was his judgment.
God’s message is clear. He hates jealousy!
III. Humility Solves Jealousy
Miriam’s sneer had turned into a look of shock. She shook with fright. Aaron was just as shaken up. He had fed into the jealousy. He was just as guilty. Miriam’s disease – her impending death was a result of his jealousy, his pride, his sin!
Aaron thought for a moment. He fought back tears. He did the only thing he could do.
He got down on his knees.
“Please, my lord, I ask you not to hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. 12 Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.”
In other words – “Forgive us and save us.”
Notice Aaron doesn’t even go directly to God. He isn’t that presumptuous and jealous anymore. He doesn’t think he’s earned special treatment. He can only plead through mercy through the man he was once jealous of.
A change underwent Aaron. His heart was no longer jealous, but humble. God’s Word this morning urges you to do the same. If you struggle with jealousy, take a note from Aaron. Humble yourself!!! Admit your struggle. Confess your sins to God.
That’s how we start our service. Open your bulletin and back up with me. Look at that section called “Confession of Sins.” We say together, Merciful Father in heaven, I am altogether sinful from birth. In countless ways I have sinned against you and do not deserve to be called your child. Talk about humility! We read that together, think about what’s happening!?!
· Longtime “holy looking” church members are called to confess , “I am sinful from birth.”
· People who spend hours making sure their Social Media profile presents them as the “perfect mom” or the “Christian man” are recalling “the countless ways I’ve sinned against you.”
· Self-made entrepreneurs who demand they get what they deserve are telling God, “I don’t deserve this.”
· People who take pride in standing on their own; get down on their knees and ask “God help us!”
Here’s why humility is more valuable than jealousy. Jealousy sees blindly and incurs God’s wrath. But humility sees clearly and receives God’s forgiveness.
James 4:6 says this, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
This is true in Aaron and Miriam’s case. Look at what happens next. Moses cried out to the Lord, “Please, God, heal her!”
And God? He wasn’t prideful. God didn’t insist on doing harm. God didn’t make Miriam grovel on the ground for awhile until He was satisfied – though HE CERTAINLY COULD HAVE.
God was humble. God forgave. God healed. But this wasn’t even the most humble God ever was.
Hundreds of years later Jesus – who lived in a beautiful, divine, heavenly mansion of gold, left it for the humble abode of earth. Then, He lived a life perfectly. A life worthy of a statue being built. A perfect life worthy of being boasted about.
But he didn’t. Instead, He humbled himself. He went to the cross. He looked up at our Heavenly Father and said, “God – do you see that guy in row three of Gethsemane Church? His sins? I did that. Punish me.” "And do you see that woman over their who’s listening to the sermon online? Her sins? Those are mine, too. Punish me.” "In fact, do you see all those sins in the world – sins that would make someone scum beneath even the most devilish of people’s toes? – Those are mine too." Talk about humility.
He did it in the worst way. Philippians 2 tells us, “Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but… he gave himself up to death – even death on a cross!”
Death on a cross was humbling. It was a terrible capital punishment. It was reserved for the worst of criminals. It was observed by thousands who would flock to see the punishment and ridicule the punished.
But Jesus underwent this because his humility would conquer our jealousy.
It’s because of this that our Confession of Sins doesn’t just end with confession. It continues, “God, our heavenly Father, has forgiven all your sins.” Your sins of jealousy. Your sins of pride. They are forgiven. “By the perfect life and innocent death of our Lord Jesus Christ, he has removed your guilt forever.” The guilt for sinning against God– has been removed. You are his own dear child – though you don’t deserve it, you are!
It’s about humility NOT jealousy!
Here’s the thing. As deeply humiliating as that was for Jesus, it resulted in glory. Because in spite of the humiliation of false accusations, false blame for sins he didn’t do, and a horrifying death -- was – he defeated it. Three days later, he came out of the grave, alive and well. Free from accusation. He humiliated sin. He humiliated death. He humiliated the devil!
He promises that through faith in him – so will you!
This past week – a tragedy happened in Oregon. Maybe you’ve seen the news. A gunman went into a community college and shot students and teachers.
Accounts from those who survived have been leaked. Did you hear about them? The gunmen approached students. He aimed the gun at their head. He mockingly said, “Are you a Christian? If so, you’ll see God in a minute?”
She said, “Yes.” The gunman shot her. I’m sure he smirked. In his own twisted mind, he thought he had brought Christians down a peg or two.
But it didn’t end as the gunman thought. Because these young men and women weren’t humbled. Their end was not lying on the ground in a pool of blood.
They are in heaven. Through faith in their Savior, God exalted them to his right hand as forgiven, loved, children of God!
Brothers and sister, may God grant us deep humility! A vibrant, believing faith in Him. Amen.