Today we are continuing our series called The Kingdom of God is Like…and hearing yet another parable from Jesus about the kingdom of God. Remember, a parable is an earthly story that tells about the kingdom of God. So far – we have heard three.
And today we are going to double the number of parables that we’ve heard. We are looking at three very short, one sentence parables from Jesus. Each one offers a similar, but slightly distinct perspective on the Kingdom of God.
Before we begin, let’s pray: 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. …Like a Homeless Fox
The parables for consideration come in rapid fire format from Luke 9 starting at verse 57. It’s in a section where Jesus is walking about with a crowd of people following him. I always think that’s interesting and worthy of a sermon of its own – Jesus didn’t sit around and wait for people to come to him; he went out and found people to bring the message of the Gospel to.
But…I’ve already got three other sermons to go through today, so…I digress.
As Jesus is walking, one man is getting pretty motivated listening to Jesus.
He’s getting pretty excited.
He’s getting pretty pumped up.
So, he shouts: “Jesus, I will follow you wherever you go!” (v.57)
…Jesus doesn’t high five him.
…He doesn’t congratulate him.
…He doesn’t even clench his fist in private celebration.
He says, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of man has no place to lay his head.” (v.58)
Have you ever seen a fox? Foxes can be hard to spot. Little, red, dog-looking things with fluffy tails. They are hard to spot, because they are very good at hiding. And they hide in their fox hole or fox den. Usually it’s thick inside some brush or a hole in the rocks or maybe even some mud in the ground.
It’s not fancy. There’s no Wi-Fi connection – but the fox has a place to be.
And a bird nest is similar. Bird nests are made from twigs, straw, branches, and even some stray dog hairs. They are not worth very much on Zillow, but it is a nice place for the bird to stay.
Think about this:
Foxes have bushy dens.
Birds have twiggy nests.
The Son of God who comes from heaven itself?
Not even a pile of twigs to call his own….
Very literally – during the 3 years that Jesus did ministry, he didn’t have a home. He didn’t have a studio apartment. He didn’t even have a room at the Extended Stay.
He was essentially homeless, staying wherever people opened their homes to him or under a myrtle tree if he had to.
It wasn’t because he was without resources. Remember: He made bread come out of thin air. He found a coin within a fish mouth. He controlled thunder and lightning.
He was homeless NOT because he didn’t have the resources.
He was homeless because he was too focused on his work with the Kingdom of God.
Truth: The Kingdom of God is greater than material wealth.
Because Jesus’ answer gives us a glimpse into the heart of the man who wanted to follow him. Commonly people thought Jesus was the Messiah, but they had a false idea of the Messiah. They thought that the Messiah would lead to political power, a restoration of the Kingdom of Israel, and a toppling of the Roman Empire.
The man probably thought:
“I’ll follow you Jesus! All the way to your future palace. Hopefully there’ll be a room in that palace for me. With my own servants and a plush bed and all the spending money I could desire.”
The kingdom of God was not about material wealth.
The kingdom of God was greater than material wealth.
This absolutely applies today. Because it is so easy to think that material wealth is greater than Kingdom wealth.
Whether it’s giving up money in the offering plate that could be used in a $401k.
Or giving up time on a Sunday that could be used to work on your side business and make some more cash.
Or giving up that good job offer that always has me working on Sunday and could lead to a million-dollar home near a golf course in North Raleigh.
Remember – the Kingdom of God is greater than Material Wealth.
Because material wealth won’t last.
The dollars will dry up.
The things will get old.
The stuff will need to be replaced.
This past week – if you saw the floors here – they are freshly waxed. They look awesome!
But this morning – I stepped with my shoes in the wrong direction and - well – material wealth doesn’t last.
But God’s kingdom does.
God’s kingdom offers forever forgiveness in Jesus.
God’s kingdom offers the promise of eternal life.
God’s kingdom offers the eternal comforts of heaven.
To be fair – Jesus knew that.
And he forsook material wealth in order to win for you eternal riches.
The Bible says this:
Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich.
How poor did Jesus get? He died on a cross.
How rich will you be? He gives you a room in heaven.
While on earth remember – the Kingdom of God is greater than Material wealth.
II. …an Abandoned Burial Plot
As Jesus keeps walking, he turns to another person that he meets along the way and he says to him: “Follow me.” To which the man responds, “First, let me go and bury my father.” (v.59)
Which doesn’t seem like that crazy of a request.
That seems like a very important family task.
Of all the tasks that one could do – burying your family member seems near the top.
But look at Jesus’ response:
“Let the dead bury their own dead, you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (v.60)
Does that seem a little harsh?
If I asked one of you to help me go around the neighborhood and invite people to church and you responded that you needed to work on your dad’s funeral, I would probably tell you. “OK. No worries. I’m sorry for your loss. You are in my prayers.”
But Jesus says, “Don’t worry about your dead father, worry about the proclaiming the kingdom of God.”
If I can be crass for a moment.
At the seminary, one of our professors was talking about ministering at a funeral.
He mentioned that many love to talk about how great a person was in the funeral sermon.
He suggested we don’t do that.
If I can quote my seminary notes:
“The funeral sermon isn’t for the dead. They can’t hear you. They’re dead. The funeral sermon is for those who are alive – that they too, may live.”
Let’s be clear. Jesus isn’t saying that you shouldn’t have a funeral for your family.
But he is saying that even the most important seeming earthly task is nothing compared to the work of the kingdom of God.
To put it simply:
The kingdom of God is greater than any earthly task.
I think our society really needs to remember that.
Because it isn’t as if the struggle is between should I plan my dad’s funeral or tell about Jesus. (If it is, it’s a once in a lifetime struggle)
Usually the struggle is:
Can I go to worship this week? My kid has a baseball game.
Can I attend that Bible study? I’ve gotta do housework – have you seen the leaves at my house?
Should I plan on Garden Kids? Nah…I’ve got to work on some kind of task so that I can get to all my other tasks on my task list.
The Kingdom of God is greater than any Earthly Task.
It’s a task that produces lasting results.
Taking your kids to baseball practice will produce skills that last to high school, maybe collect – league softball and slowly deteriorate.
Raking your leaves? More will fall.
Any kind of task? You will have to do it again and again and again and again…because the benefits only last for a moment.
But the Kingdom of God last forever.
Jesus knew that.
It’s why Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:2)
He kept his mind on the most important task.
You do the same.
III. …a Plow
Final parable. Another person says to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” (v.61)
It’s not as big a task as planning and carrying out a funeral.
It’s just a quick kiss on the cheek, a hug and a goodbye!
But – Jesus’ response is again surprising: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (v.62)
Have you ever used a plow? At the time of Jesus, they didn’t have a one of those big, gas-powered machines. They had a horse or donkey and hooked up to the plow. Your job is to stare where the plow is plowing and help to keep it in a straight line.
If you don’t pay attention, do you know what happens?
You go left.
You go right.
It gets all caddywampus.
And it’s the same with working in God’s kingdom.
If you’re more worried about what your family thinks than what God thinks then…
…I was going to go to worship, but my spouse wants me to Netflix binge with him.
…I was going to teach my kids that sin is wrong, but my sister disagrees with me.
…I was going to lead a pure life, but my boyfriend wants me to do otherwise.
And suddenly your following of Jesus is a caddywampus mess!
Here’s the third truth:
The Kingdom of God is greater than Any Kind of Relationship.
And again – Understand Jesus’ point.
He wants you to love your family. Absolutely he does:
The Bible tells you to love your family.
He’s the one who created the idea of family.
And he’s the one who created your family and gave them to you.
Please – this isn’t Jesus’ way of saying – stop loving your family!
It’s Jesus’ way of saying love your family; just love your heavenly Father more.
Because loving your Father most will actually show your family a greater love than you ever knew possible.
TRUTH: The Kingdom of God is greater than Any Kind of Relationship.
To be fair, our Heavenly Father knew that.
That’s why he was willing to put his relationship with you above his relationship with His only begotten Son.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
IV. What Now?
The message is simple. The message is clear.
The kingdom of God is greater than material wealth, earthly tasks, and any human relationship.
The kingdom of God is of the utmost importance.
Do you want to follow Jesus?
Follow this truth.
Make the God who made you most important be most important to you. Amen.
Whereas we don't normally flee, as in running away, from things in our every day life, we still do flee. In tonight's sermon with guest preacher, Pastor Tom Glende, learn how we can stop fleeing and live better for Jesus.
It isn’t fun to be confused.
It isn’t fun to be confused.
It’s even less fun to be confused about Jesus.
Why is this happening to me?
What does that passage mean?
Why is that story even in the Bible?
Tonight, we are taking a look at a moment when Jesus’ disciple Thomas was confused – I’ll call Biblically confused. Our goal is to see (1) what caused the confusion (2) how we have similar confusion (3) how do we deal with Biblical confusion. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Confusion
This actually takes place on the night before Jesus died on the cross – on Maundy Thursday. The context of the story is that Jesus is eating a private meal with his disciples. While they are eating, he is taking the opportunity to teach them and strengthen them for the very scary things that are coming up the very next day.
But during the night – a few confusing things had already happened:
It started with the feet washing. Jesus had done something really nice and gotten down on his hands and knees to wash their feet. Peter – trying to be nice – refused to let Jesus wash his feet. That seems nice. Polite even.
But Jesus responded by telling Peter he would have no part of him, unless he let Jesus wash him.
To which Peter responded, “wash all of me then!” Again – makes sense.
But Jesus refused. “Your body is clean. You need only your feet. Also…you need to be spiritually clean.”
Wait what? He wants us to be washed but also not to be washed, but to be washed anyways?
Was this a spiritual thing?
A physical thing?
Was this so confusing…
About ½ hour into the meal, Jesus had talked about betrayal. Then, he had prophesied that one of them would betray him. He followed it up by pointing out that the one dipping bread into the gravy bowl with him would be the betrayer.
The dipper in question? It was Judas. But what was the betrayal?
Was Jesus upset that Judas was eating all the gravy?
Had Judas betrayed Jesus and bought gluten free bread?
Whatever it was – it ended with Judas getting up and leaving the meal.
And the third thing – most confusing of all. Jesus was really somber. He was really sad. Why? They finally had a moment’s break. They weren’t surrounded by questions and help requests. It was relaxing – PLUS it was a holiday. It was the Passover. The Passover was a celebration of God’s goodness and keeping Israel safe.
Yet Jesus kept looking at the floor.
A few times tears welled up in his eyes.
He didn’t make a lot of jokes.
Why was he so sad?
It was really confusing.
Then, Jesus spoke a soliloquy. A soliloquy about houses. He said the following:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (v.1-4)
The statement was comforting.
It was beautiful.
It was downright confusing.
And Thomas couldn’t handle it!
“Lord!...We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (v.4b)
If you leave and then summon us without telling us where you are going, how are we gonna get there?
Dude – you need to be clarify. You need to explain to us where you are going and how we can follow you!
And Jesus turned his attention to Thomas.
He nodded his head.
He cleared up the confusion:
“I am the Way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (v.6)
II. Clearing up the Confusion
Now that’s a pretty famous passage. Maybe you’ve heard it before. But in context, I think it’s really, really interesting. Because Thomas is totally confused.
Where is this room?
How do we get there?
How do we get there if you don’t leave us a map?
And then…Jesus responds by saying – I’ll tell you the Way: It’s me!
Thomas thought Jesus was talking physically, locally, geographically.
Jesus was talking none of the above.
He was talking spiritually.
That room? It was a reference to heaven itself. Jesus was about to go there. He would die. He would rise. He would sacrifice himself for their sins and by doing so he would prepare a room in heaven for each and every one of them.
And when the time was right – when the time was right for each of them to die – and join him in heaven - Jesus would send his angels to get them. (They’d die.) Then, they’d live forever in heaven with him, too.
And the way to heaven? It isn’t local. It isn’t geographic. It isn’t physical.
You don’t take a plane. You don’t take a spaceship. You don’t get a ride on the Millennium Falcon.
You don’t live perfectly. You don’t do more good than bad. You don’t just “try to be a good person.”
“Jesus is the Way…No one comes to the Father except through him.”
Do you get it? Thomas already knew the way to where Jesus was going.
He knew him well.
He knew him as a miracle worker, a good friend, and a compelling teacher.
He knew him as a leader, an encourager, and coworker.
He knew him as Jesus.
He is The Way to heaven.
This is so important – because when it comes to spiritual confusion, it always starts with misunderstanding about the way to heaven. The simple answer is that Jesus is the way to heaven. The reality is that every other answer just muddies the waters:
Have I done enough?
Have I tried hard enough?
Have I truly loved enough to get my way to heaven?
These kinds of questions muddy the waters. And if we’re honest – if we want to be clear for the moment – we let them muddy the waters, because we know the clear answer. It’s the answer that Ash Wednesday – and the talk of dust and death and sin makes really clear --- NO!
No, I haven’t done enough.
No I haven’t tried hard enough.
No I haven’t loved enough to get to heaven.
But here’s the truth. Once you face the clear truth to those questions.
Once you face the hard “no.”
Suddenly, it’s a lot less confusing.
Have you ever done one of those puzzles where you have to follow the lines and figure out which one gets where you want to go? They are hard. The tough ones have 10 plus lines of squiggles. And it’s so easy to get lost, to start following the wrong string, and to take the wrong turn and never get there.
But what if the wrong lines were removed.
What if the wrong lines were taken away.
What if the only right way was the only one left?
That’s exactly what Jesus is doing in this section.
Don’t be confused.
I’ve removed the ways that don’t work.
I alone am the Way to heaven.
To a place without sadness.
A place without broken hearts.
A place without hurt and pain.
III. WHAT NOW?
(1) Remember the Answer
Because even as a Christian, it’s easy to get confused.
Have I done enough?
What does this passage mean?
Why is this happening in my life?
Do you remember in Sunday School? How every answer to every question is Jesus? Every time I do chapel with the preschoolers, the very first question that I ask them about the last week’s Bible story is: Who was in the Bible story? And the first answer – no matter what – no matter if he’s mentioned or not – is Jesus!
And every time I always say, “You’re right. Jesus is absolutely the answer. He’s a part of every Bible story.”
I know it’s a simple answer, but “Jesus” is also the answer for a lot of confusing adult questions.
Have you done enough? No. But Jesus did.
What does this passage mean? It means something important in light of Jesus – who lived for you and died for you.
Why is this happening in my life? A lot of reasons – but Jesus loves you. Jesus has you in his hands. Jesus will take you home to heaven.
Jesus is the answer for whatever confusion you have going on right now.
Jesus is the answer for confusion.
(2) Trust the Answer
Because sometimes humans are rational. We want scientific formula and rationale logic written out with numeric formulas in order to explain why it is the answer. Why it is what it is.
But Jesus is God.
And God is decades of eternities smarter than us.
And we aren’t always gonna get it.
Stop trying to figure it out.
Start simply trusting in Jesus.
He is the answer.
He is Your answer.
He is your Way.
He is Your Truth.
He is Your Life. Amen.
We are in Joshua 10 this morning – and quick review – last week we heard about how 5 kings – the Fearsome Five – decided that they were going to gang up on God. They decided to pool their resources, join their armies, and attack the ally of God’s people. They figured – their collective armies would outnumber Israel, give them a tactical advantage and result in their victory.
They were thrown into confusion.
They were routed by the Israelites.
They were pegged by deadly hailstones from the sky.
The daylight was extended an extra 24 hours just so Israel could completely annihilate them.
Today we are picking up right in the midst of the retreat. We’ll see what the five evil leaders – the 5 kings – try to do in order to keep themselves safe from annihilation. In the midst of this chapter, we will learn (1) a hard lesson about fighting against God (2) a wonderful lesson about fighting with God. Before we do, let’s say a prayer: 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 People Against God
This section picks up with the Israelites in hot pursuit of these armies. But while the men of the armies are in pursuit, the 5 kings who incited this fight against God, are slipping away. Now the five kings had fled and hidden in the cave at Makkedah. (v.16)
You can almost imagine the conversation that they are having:
Did anyone see us? Did they see us run in?
I don’t know. I don’t see anyone following us.
This was a disaster AZ! (Adoni Zedek) We got annihilated. We weren’t just fighting men. We were fighting hailstones, confusion and a sun that won’t go down!
Yeah, we weren’t fighting just Israel. We were fighting God.
We almost died! We’re going to die! This is all your fault AZ! This is all your idea.
And as the men took turns blaming one another, AZ stroked his beard.
He held up his finger.
Calm down. Calm down. Listen. We’ll be ok. The Israelites are too distracted. They’ll chase our men. We’ll hide out here. When the coast is clear, we can slip out, pack our bags and travel to Rio de Janeiro. I hear it’s lovely this time of year. Anyways – don’t worry. We may have lost to God. We may not have been able to defeat him…but we should be able to hide from him. He can’t find us.
And as AZ finished speaking those confident words, the kings heard a noise coming from the front of the cave. Like a rock scraping against the ground. As it grew louder, the cave grew dimmer. Until – darkness.
What was that? AZ said with fright.
Another king approached. That? That was the LORD. I think he found us.
So, Joshua and the Israelites defeated the armies completely…And Joshua said, “Open the mouth of the cave and bring those five kings out to me.” So, they brought the five kings out of the cave…He summoned all the men of Israel and said to the army commanders…and said, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous. This is what the LORD will do to all the enemies you are going to fight.” Then, Joshua put the kings to death and exposed their bodies on five poles and they were left hanging on the poles until evening. (v.21-25)
I’ll stop and let you ponder that.
It’s kind of disturbing, isn’t it?
It’s one of those parts of the Bible that you probably wish wasn’t a part of the Bible.
It’s one of those parts of the Bible that you probably aren’t going to teach in Sunday School.
But it’s important.
Do you remember the old anti-drug commercials? They’d say, “This is your brain,” and show an egg. Then, they’d say, “This is your brain on drugs,” and show the egg frying. I was always a bit disturbed by those commercials. (Who wants to think of their brain sizzling on a skillet?) But that was the point: Don’t do drugs and this won’t happen.
Similarly, are those anti-smoking commercials. They show a regular set of lungs—health- looking and good—next to a blackened, charred set of lungs. Kind of gross. The point? Don’t smoke cigarettes and this will not happen.
Joshua 10:26 is one of those moments in the Bible. These men fought against God. These men were defeated. And Joshua parades their bodies like a public service announcement: This is what happens when you fight against God.
Don’t fight against God and this won’t happen.
It was a warning for his armies.
It was a warning for Israelites to come.
It was a warning for North Raleigh residents thousands of years later.
Sure. You might not be preparing an ambush at the church. You might not own a spear that you plan on hurling at the pastor. (Hopefully…Thankfully?) You might not be leading a formal rebellion against God.
Bur fighting against God? That’s what sin is.
And fighting against God has severe consequences.
That means sin has severe consequences.
Sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:15)
This isn’t me being mean.
It isn’t the Bible being mean.
It isn’t God being mean.
It is us being mean (sin) and God being nice (and warning us) and ultimately God doing what is really nice and annihilating the bad!
Stop fighting against God.
If you are doing something that you know is wrong, repent!
If you keep saying things that you know are wrong, stop!
If you are in a relationship that you know is sinful, get out!
If you keep bad mouthing God to your friends, watch out now!
Quit fighting against God.
You will not win.
You will only suffer.
II. Fighting with God
Which makes me think – maybe – maybe we should have similar PSA.
A painting of some kings hanging on a tree? I know it sounds antique and even barbaric – but better to be offended than dead, right?
But then...I got to thinking.
We already have a piece of art like that.
In fact, we look at it every Sunday.
A grotesque reminder of sin.
Because on the cross, someone hung on a tree.
On the cross, someone died on the tree.
On the cross, someone died in our place.
Remember that James passages? Sin, when it is full grown gives birth to death?
Jesus didn’t do any sin.
Jesus didn’t fight against the Father.
Jesus even went to the cross to die when it was a part of the Father’s plan!
Why did he hang on a tree?
Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
That “for” is a very important word.
It explains why Jesus died.
It explains his reasoning.
It explains the purpose.
It explains whose place he took on that cross:
It’s like in baseball when they make a substitute in the middle of the game. They’ll say, “Now batting for the pitcher -- # 27.” That means the pitcher is out and the new player is in. He’s a substitute. He’s taking his place.
Jesus is your substitute.
Jesus took your sins.
That you might live.
This means that God fought on our side…even when we weren’t on his side.
This means that God will fight on our side…if we stay on his side.
It means that if we fight with God, there will be an entirely different outcome.
Because if you skim through chapters 10 and 11, you’ll find a list of countries that Israel has defeated: Maakedah, Libnah, Lachish, Gezer, Eglon, Hebron, Debir, Hazor, Shimron, Acshaph, Mizpah.
Then, you’ll hear a list of lands that the Israelites receive as inheritance: the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills, the mountain slopes, Arabah, Mt. Halak, Baal Gad and the Valley of Lebanon.
In short, the Israelites dominate. God defeats their enemies. God gives them the land of Canaan.
But here’s where it gets interesting. Because at the end of chapter 11, the author explains to us what the secret was behind the Israelite success.
It wasn’t a strong military.
It wasn’t great tactics.
it wasn’t a military grade tank.
It was God.
All these nations were conquered in one campaign because the LORD, the God of Israel fought for Israel. (11:42)
That is what it is like with God on your side.
He defeats your enemies.
He defeats your worries.
He defeats your doubts.
He defeats your guilt.
He defeats your shame.
He defeats your demons.
He defeated your sin.
He defeated the devil.
He defeated death itself.
And you? You get the spoils.
Peace with God.
III. What Now?
(1) Fight with God
Because God wins! If you’re with God, you win!
What’s cool is that when you fight with God, God supplies the weapons. They aren’t Nerf guns or water balloons. They are the spiritual version of AK47s! They are perfect for assaulting the devil and our own sinful desires.
Check out Ephesians 6: Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm, then with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, the with breastplate of righteousness (That I have been declared innocent by God) in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. (Feet ready to go and share that Jesus is our Savior)
In addition, take up the shield of faith, (That I am saved in Jesus), take the helmet of salvation (that I am on the winning team) and the sword of the Spirit which is God’s Word. Hurling the truth of Scripture in the face of temptation and doubt!
(2) Watch Him Fight for You!
And it isn’t as obvious anymore. God doesn’t usually send hailstorms in our favor nor does he extend the daylight for 24 hours so that we can get everything done that we need to.
But he does fight for us.
A while back – I was visiting a friend who had visited our church. I thanked them for coming to worship and they thanked me for having them. They invited me inside and we chatted for a while at the breakfast table.
And while we were chatting, I couldn’t help but notice something on top of the refrigerator. It was a couple of clear cookie jars. Which would get anyone’s attention, but there weren’t any cookies in there. No Oreos. No Nilla Wafers. Not even homemade chocolate chip cookies.
There were simply scraps of paper.
So…I asked. “What are those?”
My friend went up grabbed a jar with a few pieces of paper in it and brought it down.
“This is my prayer jar. These are things that we are praying to God for. We pray them and then we put them in the jar – and wait for God to be God.”
Cool. I thought. And what are the other jars for?
She set the prayer jar on top of the fridge again and pulled down two more jars both full of scraps.
These aren’t prayer jars. These are blessing jars. Once God answers our prayers – we take them out of the prayer jar and place them into blessing jar. Because God has fought for us, and we get the spoils.
Cool, huh? I know it’s the same in your life too. With God on your side, you will be blessed. Peace, forgiveness, and even some temporal blessings – until you receive the eternal blessing of heaven itself.
Thank you, God, for fighting on our side. Amen.
I was standing in line at Kroger the other day and there it was – right next to the package of Certs and Three Musketeer King Size bars that are about the size of an actual king’s scepter.
Improve your Intimacy Now! -- 5 Rules for Better Sex -- Secrets of the Bedroom: How to Connect with Him Better.
I’m not alone in this, am I? There’s at least one of those assertions on the front of every Cosmopolitan. As if intimacy could be achieved by a quick top ten list or the $3.99 magazine that I was going to use on a bag of Doritos.
Fear not. The truth about intimacy is not found on the grocery store aisle shelf. It’s found on the little shelf in the back of the pew in front of you. (Or on your shelf at home.)
I. True Intimacy isn’t about You
The section of God’s Word that we’re looking at today starts in 1 Corinthians 6. It begins in verse 12 by helping us to understand the attitude of the times. This is kind of the way that Corinthian society viewed sexuality and unfortunately it’s the way that many in the Corinthian church viewed sexuality. In fact, it’s in quotation marks in your Bibles because scholars are pretty well convinced that this was a catchphrase of the 1st century day. If there would have been hashtags back then, there would be all kinds of people hashtagging the first part of verse 12.
“Everything is permissible for me.” #EverythingIsPermissable
The idea is pretty simple. If it’s legal in Corinthian culture, then why not do it? Stop being burdened by moral laws and start doing whatever makes you feel good. What do you think? Does that sound familiar?
But listen to the Bible’s objection:
Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial. In other words, “Just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s good.”
Just cause it’s legal to sleep with a cactus in bed, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
Just cause you won’t go to jail for emailing your boss that he’s a no-good-scuzzer-muffin, doesn’t mean you should call him a no-good-scuzzer-muffin.
Just cause you won’t be arrested for drinking the Kool Aid made by your preschoolers with 9 more times the amount of sugar than normal, it does not mean that you should do it!
Just cause doing something sexual with someone you aren’t married to feels good, does not mean it is good.
For your relationship with God.
Look at the next reason that the Bible has for not just doing whatever you want sexually. Paul says, “Everything is permissible to me, but I will not be mastered by anything!”
Thing is: It’s so very easy for sexuality to become your master.
That guy’s no good for me. He beats me. He bad mouths me. He hates that I’m a Christian. But…I really love sleeping with him. So I’ll stay with him.
That was nice looking at porn. Now to spend hours making sure that every bit of it is deleted from the internet history.
I could put my marriage and my job in jeopardy by flirting with this coworker. Oh well. I’ve gotta obey my desires.
That’s the problem. When you’re obeying your own desires, than the only one you’re intimately connected with…is yourself.
Let me say that again. If you are only obeying your own sexual desires, then you are becoming most intimately connected with yourself.
Not with God.
Not with your spouse.
Just yourself and your sin.
One more passage: 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” That’s what we read last week in Genesis 2:24. It’s the blueprint for marriage that husband and wife become one together. That they become so intimately connected that you can’t tell where one starts and the other ends.
What’s it like to become one with sin?
What’s it like to introduce people to porn as your spouse?
What’s it like to run all your decisions through your own sexual addiction?
What’s it like to be so connected with adultery that when you look in the mirror that you don’t see anything else but that?
Lonely. Guilt filled. Far outside the kingdom of God.
II. True Intimacy Starts with God
Kind of like the woman in the Gospel Lesson:
That’s what the men called her. That’s what they were shouting at her. “Adulterous!” “Sinner.” “Death.”
With tears in her eyes, she fell to the ground. A cloud of dust hit the air. It’s what she deserved though. She had sinned. She had broken up someone else’s marriage. Everyone would now. She might be better off dead.
She heart them shouting in the background! “Jesus! Get over here.” “Jesus, join us!” “Jesus, she sinned…won’t you help us condemn her!?!”
Then, it was quiet. She heard whispering, but she didn’t dare look up. She waited. Waited for her impending doom. But it didn’t come. She waited and waited and waited. Nothing.
Then, she felt a gentle voice beckon to her. She looked up. “Woman, has anyone condemned you?”
She looked around. All the angry men were gone. Nowhere to be found. “No. I don’t think so sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.”
If you have been like the woman. If you have let your desire get the best of you. If you have sinned, sexually. Fall at his feet and hear his voice: “Neither do I condemn you.”
And understand this: You were meant for so much more than that. Take a look at 13-14: “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”
Do you get that? You were meant for the Lord. You were meant for the divine Creator of heaven and earth. He wanted you to become intimately connected with him. He didn’t want you connected with a momentary high OR the excitement of a glance combined with the guilty aftermath. God wanted you connected with his divinity, with his holiness, with his wisdom, with his incredible, love!
When we have failed to give up our bodies for the Lord, that’s about the time that He gave ups his body for you. In fact, take a look at this truth:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you? Whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body.
Have you heard of the Antilla? It’s a 27 story high skyscraper owned by Indian business tycoon Mukesh Ambani. It’s huge. It has a garage with room for 168 cars. The lobby alone has nine elevators. It’s estimated at 1 billion dollars!
That’s nothing compared to what God paid for you. He paid his eternal blood.
Do you get that? It’d be as if you went on Zillow or were searching in the real estate ads and there was your Facebook picture. With a list of all the qualities you have – disgusting sinfulness, awful sexual sins from the past, up in the attic are all kinds of skeletons, and what’s under the carpet? Don’t ask.
And God said. Yes. I’ll have that! I will make an eternal, infinite, everlasting deposit of my holy, precious blood so that I can put my name on the deed and she will be mine forever.
That’s how much God loves you.
It means whatever your past – whatever your struggle with sexuality – whatever your devotion to your own public intimacy – God still paid for you. He paid to free you from that master’s clutches. He owns you and that sin doesn’t.
You are forgiven.
III. WHAT NOW?
The more you understand God's forgiveness, the more confidence you will have in God’s love. You’ll stop worrying about yourself and what you need to feel good about yourself and instead… you will start to give over every aspect of yourself – to your spouse.
(1) Reserve Yourself for Your Spouse.
Take a look at 1 Corinthians 7:2-4:
Since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.
Focus in on marital duty. What’s that? Are we talking about the Honey-Do-List? Are we talking about doing the budget? Are we talking about cooking meals? Are we talking about refusing to call the plumber, because ‘they cost too much and all I need to do is YouTube it and I’m sure I can figure it out!”
Nope. Marital duty is Paul’s polite term for sexual intimacy. The beautiful, physical, literal expression of two becoming one.
I know. What the Bible is proposing here is the exact opposite of what our world proposes. Because it is so common for sexual intimacy to be all about when I feel like it and when I want it. But God is telling us to be all about your spouse or your future spouse. Isn’t that something? It means you keep your spouse in mind when temptation comes.
I’m sorry. I can’t do that. That will harm my future spouse.
Honey, I’ll stay away from that guy since he makes you uncomfortable.
I will not look at my coworker like that, because I want to reserve that kind of look for my wife.
(2) Become an Expert In Your Spouse
Guys love to be experts in sports. We love to quote batting averages and drop the names of players from over 40 years ago, just to show off. In fact, I remember back in grade school – trying hard to fit in—and spending each day trying to memorize the stats in the Watertown Daily Times just to be an expert in whatever sport was going on at that time.
What if we put the same effort into learning about our spouse? What if we learned about their likes and dislikes? What if we asked them about their favorite color, favorite ice cream flavor and favorite Backstreet Boy? It’s what God has called us to do! To know them and learn them intimately.
But, pastor, what about my needs? Doesn’t God care about them?
Don’t worry about it. Because in the perfect version of this—guess what? The husband is thinking about his wife’s needs. The wife is thinking about her husband's needs. And their needs are both—taken care of—because God is taking care of them through each other.
God’s smart, right?
He’s smart and he loves you. Which is more than just a witty conclusion to this whole sermon. It’s the truth. He loves you more than you. He loves your spouse more than you do. He knows you more than you. He knows your spouse more than you.
He know you’ll be happiest when you’re intimately connected to him and one another.
TRUST GOD…When It Doesn’t Make Sense
Have you ever needed the help of the Geek Squad? These guys specialize in fixing your computer when it’s got a virus.
I always enjoy the explanation when I go to pick up the computer:
“There was a problem with the beta delta that was hidden in the drop files of the D drive’s code code. So I bypassed the cortex backup using the dual processor 12 and recovered 15 gigabytes which I transferred to the RAM. That was enough to help me break into the BIOS, rediscover the syntax binary, perform a Carthusian wipe on the system, wipe out the virus, and restore power to your system. Make sense?”
I don’t get it. But they’re the experts. I trust them. Just as long as they can get me back up and running before my latest Trivia Crack game expires.
Today we’re looking at something else that doesn’t make sense. It’s the next sermon in our series on Old Testament Faith Tests. In it God asks the Israelites to do something that doesn’t make any sense at all. As you listen, think about your life. Would you have trusted God in that situation? Will you trust God even when it doesn’t makes sense?
I. The Snakes
This test is found in Numbers 21:4-9. A little bit of background. At this point the Israelites had been wandering in the desert for years. They had adding up a lot of mileage by foot and horseback. Israelite parents were sick of hearing the question: “Are we there yet?”
The Israelites were fed up. This aimless wandering didn’t make sense anymore! They made themselves clear with this complaint to the Almighty: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
Let’s examine their four complains:
1) Wandering didn’t make any sense.
If you go back to chapters 13 & 14 of Numbers, the Israelites had actually come to the promised land. Unfortunately when they saw the size of the people living there, they were frightened. The majority agreed that they should turn back to Egypt.
God heard their request. He responded by turning them around. Just not to Egypt. He said they would wander around for 40 more years before their children would return to the Promised Land.
Obviously this was punishment for doubting God. But the Israelites didn’t seem to see it this way. To them it didn’t make sense. Why make it so far to turn back? Did God even care about them?
2) The desert didn’t make any sense for food.
At this point there were thousands of Israelites. That meant there were thousands of mouths to feed. Thousands of little voices complaining “Mom, what’s for dinner?” A scorpion? A tumbleweed? Dust mush?
True—God was providing them miraculous food that fell from the sky. But they didn’t think that wasn’t sustainable. Why hadn’t God taken them to a place with fertile soil? Why hadn’t he helped them set up some kind agricultural infrastructure? Why did he continue to have them dwell in a place that didn’t grow so much as a stalk of celery?
3) The Desert didn’t make sense as a source of water.
That’s what a desert is. Hot. Dry. Not a lot of lakes. Not a lot of water.
True, God had provided water to them in miraculous forms – whenever Moses spoke to a rock – a river came out. But that too wasn’t sustainable. Who gets the first drink? Who gets to shower first? How much water do you get to wash your hair? How were they supposed to set up a water park at this rate?
4) The taste--didn’t make sense.
Maybe you’ve been to a restaurant where that’s the case. They put so many spices on it and try to be so creative that it just doesn’t taste that good.
For Israel, they were tired of eating the same food all the time. Yes, God was providing for them, but couldn’t he do so in a more delicious way. Chocolate manna? Cinnamon manna? Buttered manna? Dorito flavored manna?
This just didn’t make sense. They complained to God, “What’s the point of all this? It doesn’t seem like we are ever going to get to our destination. We aren’t getting to the promised land! THIS DOESN’T MAKE SENSE!”
It isn’t recorded that God said anything in response to these complaints. He didn’t defend himself. He didn’t point out the fact without him they’d still be brutally beaten slaves in Egypt. He didn’t point out that without Him they would have been slaughtered at the banks of the Red Sea. He didn’t point out that without Him they wouldn’t have gotten any food or any water. He didn’t even mention the fact that they had been to the gates of the Promised Land once already, but it was the Israelites, not God, who were too frightened to enter.
The Lord didn’t speak. He simply did.
The Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.
One of the many complains of Atheists and unbelievers in our society is that the God of the Old Testament is a terrifying and awful character. They claim that he is one big jerk and is very cruel to his people.
At first glance, this account doesn’t seem to help his case.
But take a break with me for a second. Here are two reasons that God is absolutely in the right by sending the poisonous snakes:
1) God Hates Sin
Basketball season is upon us. The ACC Tournament is in full swing. That means when Duke is playing UNC, UNC fans won’t be cheering for Duke. Nor will Duke fans be cheering for UNC. State fans won’t be cheering for either of those teams—at least—until they are out of the playoffs altogether.
God is like that. He is good and against sin. Therefore, God loves everything good and hates everything that isn’t good. In the same way, sin loves everything that’s bad and hates everything that is good. Sin and God are utterly opposed to one another. They can’t stand together. God can’t condone bad ever—not even remotely!
That’s exactly what the Israelites were doing. We call it complaining or doubting. God called it evil.
If God didn’t do anything about this evil, then we should be concerned that God just doesn’t care. Racism is wrong. Hatred is wrong. Sexual immorality is wrong. Violence is wrong. Complaining, doubting, and rebelling against God…is wrong! God proves that He thinks so in verse 6. And no amount of – ‘we are God’s special people’ – can stop him from punishing evil.
2) The Real Poison was Unbelief
If you look carefully at the first words of this section, it says that the Israelites were invoked to anger. That verb gives us the sense of stirring up and inciting a feeling. It’s like a sibling who’s poking his brother with no other reason than he wants to get his brother angry.
This is what was happening in Israel. A few people were stirring up other people. It had happened already with a man named Korah. You can check out the story in Numbers 16. It was happening again a few chapters later. People who no longer trusted God were inciting other people to stop trusting in him as well.
Thank goodness social media wasn’t around yet.
Yes—God could have spared their lives. He could have let them continue in unbelief and rebellion against him. But then – eventually – there’d be nothing but unbelief left. As each family taught their children, “God is a big terrifying and awful being. Have nothing to do with him.”
God didn’t want this for the people – even if they deserved it. Because ultimately unbelievers gets exactly what they want– an eternity apart from God in hell.
Can you blame God for thinking that a few people dying physically was worth saving thousands of lives from dying eternally?
TRUTH OF THE WEEK:
The snakes weren’t sent because God is some terrifying and awful being.
The snakes were sent because God is good.
II. The Test
God’s plan worked. As the snakes went throughout the Israelite camp terrorizing the people. The Israelites came to repentance. Check out verse 7, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you.”
The Israelites understood. They realized that they were the ones who didn’t make any sense. God had been protecting them. Yet they had opposed Him. It didn’t make any sense for them to ever question God.
They asked for God’s help. “Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” Their hope was that God would just help control collateral damage. Maybe he would send the vipers away before they all died.
Here’s where you see God’s character. Take a look at God’s response: “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”
That’s a very strange prescription isn’t it. Who here has ever went to the doctor and been told, “You’re cold isn’t so bad. Stop at Walgreen’s. Buy a box of Kleenex. Duct tape it to a broom stick. Then…look at it. You’ll be cured.”
That doesn’t make any sense.
How much less sense with a snake bite? Why didn’t God gift Moses with a vile of medicine? Why didn’t he give the people directions to a nearby plant with healing powers? Why didn’t God make any sense!?!
That’s the test. Did the Israelites really trust him? Did they truly trust Him…even when it didn’t make sense? They weren’t before, would they now?
Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. And you can see God’s mercy by what happens next. When anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. They were healed. The poison was gone from their body – physically. The poison was gone from their hearts—spiritually.
They trusted God once again. God saved them physically. But he also saved them spiritually.
III. What about You?
Three things to keep in mind as you go about the rest of your week.
1) Get Rid of the Poison In your Life
This isn’t a rant about watching out for chemicals and growth hormones in your food which slowly poison your body. This is a rant about chemicals and growth hormones in your spiritual life which slowly poison your soul.
Think about it: What or who causes you to doubt God?
Is it someone on Facebook who repeatedly sends out messages blasting Christianity and its teachings?
Is it your drinking buddy who mocks you for not going drinking with him?
Is it your boyfriend who constantly nags you to sleep with him?
Is it song lyrics that teach you sin isn’t that big of a deal?
Is it a cute social media video which pushes a non-Christian message?
There is a pretty popular video on YouTube that calls Christianity into question. If you look in the comments section, there are lots of people who respond with things like “I knew it wasn’t real. I knew Jesus wasn’t to be trusted. Thanks for helping me with the truth.”
You can Google it later to find a whole website devoted to exposing the lies in this video. But what we’re interested in is the premise: When did looking at an amateur YouTube video produced by a man called TheAngryAtheist sound like a better way to discover truth than going to God himself?
Stop looking to the world to see if God should be trusted! Instead, look to God to see if the world should be trusted. This is what the Israelites should have done. They didn’t and paid the price.
Learn from them.
If there is something in your life not trustworthy – get it out of your life! Do it now before the spiritual poison ruins your faith.
Block those posts on Facebook.
Stop hanging out with the friends that are leading you to sin.
Stop listening to false teachings.
Stop going with your gut reaction to whether something is right or wrong.
Stop scouring science, atheism, and pop culture for answers – when God has given you the answers right here!
Why go to God?
2) REMEMBER: God Has Your Best Interest in Mind.
We saw that in the case of the Israelites. Even when poisonous snakes were attacking, God allowed it to save them eternally.
This is why parents discipline their children. Whether it’s a spanking to keep them away from running in the road or three weeks of grounding to make sure that they don’t get involved in that illegal drug…parents discipline out of love. Even if the kid is screaming and yell and says something like “I hate you.” The parent still does it—because it’s for the good of their child.
God has that same kind of love for you. A love willing to do anything—even the hard things – even shaking you up and making you a little uncomfortable – in order to save your soul.
3) Trust God When it Doesn’t Make Sense--
Is God’s Word hard? It is counterculture? Might it get our laughed at because “that doesn’t make any sense!?!”
Nowhere is this more clear than in the matter of your spiritual salvation. Take a look at this passage from the Gospel for this morning: "14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
Consider what Scripture is teaching you: Some guy 2000 years ago, said some nice things, did some nice things, then he was arrested and killed, but with his death he made you right with God? He forgave you all your sins? If you simply trust in him as your Savior you will be in heaven, not in hell? Is that really what we believe?
Does it make sense? Not to the world. The world doesn’t get God. It can’t. God has heavenly wisdom. Psalm 145 says this, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.”
But just because we can’t fathom it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
Take Easter for example. There’s a reason that I’m so excited for Easter – 3 weeks away – because it is the heart and soul of our faith. Jesus had told his disciples he was going to do something that didn’t make sense. He told them he would die and come back to life.
Then -- he did just that.
If he did that why wouldn’t he be able to forgive all your sins?
If he did that why wouldn’t he be able to bring you at peace with God?
If he did that why wouldn’t he be able to secure your place in heaven?
If he did that why wouldn’t he be able to make whatever strange, countercultural, opposite of modern thought thing he asks you to do in Scripture work out for your eternal good?
Brothers and sisters – TRUST God. He is the expert on a lot of things. He is the expert on you. He is the expert on getting rid of sin. He is the expert of getting to eternal life. He is the expert on living int his world. He is the expert on living for the next world. He is the expert of eternity, divinity, and true love.
He is the expert. Won’t you trust him…even when it doesn’t make sense? Amen.
This week I'm trying to get in shape. Yesterday went alright. The workout called "Insanity" was tough, but I felt good after it. I was looking forward to this morning's workout and feeling the exercise endorphin high afterwards.
Not so much.
Maybe, it was the power squats. Perhaps it was the leg kicks. I know that the walking pushups certainly had something to do with it. Regardless, at the end of the workout I couldn't move. My stomach hurt. My
legs were sore. The only thing I could do was lay and soak.
My dog was amused.
Immediately, I began thinking, "I need to stop this. There's no point. This isn't fun anymore. I think I'm done with Shaun T."
Ever have that happen with church?
You enjoy the first Sunday you attend. It's all about God's grace. The second Sunday is fun too. You are reminded that God is with you every step of the way.
Then, there's that Sunday where the preacher seems to be talking directly to you. He challenges you with a sin that you have been struggling with. Then, he uses God's Word to back it up. Now God is against you.
You don't like it. You feel uncomfortable. It isn't fun.
Time to quit?
"All Scripture is god-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness."
Notice that this verse never makes mention of Scripture always being fun. In fact, it can be difficult! Scripture calls us to deny ourselves. It tells us to fight against our natural bodily urges. It tells us that some things we love are in fact dangers to our eternal welfare!
But just because it isn't fun, doesn't mean it isn't of extreme importance. Because these words of Scripture drive us to repentance. They turn our eyes to the Lord. These spiritual training sessions causes us to fall to our knees in prayer for God's mercy. They turn our hearts to the only way for salvation -- Jesus Christ our Lord!
Then, God gives it! Like a Blue PowerAde after an exercise, God pours out the Gospel of his Son Jesus Christ into our tired hearts. He promises forgiveness of sins, grace, eternal salvation, and his never failing love to those seeking him.
Our spirits hurt. But God heals them. They are now stronger than ever before. Spiritual exercise (aka studying the Bible in church, alone, in a group study) is full of benefits. Pride is cut. Faith is strengthened. Knowledge of God's goodness is increased. Courage mounts. Hope renews. Doubts subside!
Even though I didn't have a lot of fun, I think I will return to working out tomorrow. The benefits are simply too great to not continue.
May I suggest that you return to the Word as well? Make your way back into spiritual exercise - no matter what your reasons were for stopping.
The benefits are simply too great not to!
Valentine’s Day was a week ago. Many men showed their love with flowers, a nice Hallmark card, some chocolates, maybe even a night out. Some really romantic individual may have spent months collecting photos, downloading music, and editing video software in order to get his love a ‘movie’ about their time together.
Sweet, right? At least, I bet you’d consider him more sweet than the guy watching Olympic curling, drinking a beer, who, when asked about Valentine’s Day, simply says, “Yeah, I didn’t do anything for you, but I did think about you. That counts, right?”
Thinking is not the same as doing.
It doesn’t work in our world to say, “Honey, I thought about picking the kids up from school.” “Boss, I thought about finishing the project before the deadline.” “I thought about getting groceries, that’ll keep you from starving, right?”
Thinking is not the same as doing.
And yet, today Jesus says that when it comes to morality, God views our thoughts to be the same as our actions. In other words:
Thinking wrong is the same as doing wrong.
Look at Matthew 5: 21-22, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall no t murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” Again in verse 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
This is not what the world thinks. Society believes that thinking bad things is not the same as doing bad things.
We don’t put people on trial for thinking about stealing.We don’t scold kids for thinking about taking a cookie. We don’t write someone up at work for thinking about touching a coworker inappropriately.
We don’t and (consequently) we can’t. We have no proof about what they are actuallythinking, until it becomes action.
Consequently, because there aren’t immediate societal consequences for thinking, a stigma has developed that “as long as I don’t actually do it, I haven’t sinned.”
In other words: “Yes, I have sinful thoughts. But I haven’t acted on them. Aren’t you impressed, God?”
Society believes – and I fear that we believe – sinful thinking isn’t really sinful at all!
But God says differently. He treats evil thoughts in the exact same manner as evil actions.Take a look at His first example from the 5th commandment. In Matthew 5:21 Jesus say, “You have heard that it was said, “You shall not murder,” and that murderers are subject to judgment, and then in the same breath, anyone who is angry with another will be subject to judgment."
You might say, “Well, this judgment must be different. Death penalty for the murderer, a slap on the wrist for the hater.” But Jesus goes on to describe that judgment in verse 22, “Anyone who says ‘you fool,” will be in danger of the fire of hell!”
God says the same thing about the 6th Commandment sins. He says, “You have heard, ‘Don’t commit adultery.” –That’s having sexual relations with anyone that you aren’t married to in a God pleasing one man and one woman marriage.
Then he says, “If you look lustfully at a woman (or a man, or anyone you aren’t married to for that matter) then, you have committed adultery." The penalty for adultery? Well, it’s so bad that Jesus says, “You’re better off losing your eye than suffering the punishment for lust!”
In other words:
God treats bad thoughts the same way that he treats bad actions! As sin.
Why does God treat them in categorically the same way? From Scripture, I think we see three reasons for this:
1) Bad thoughts lead to bad actions.
In Matthew 15:19 Jesus says this, “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” This makes sense. If you do something bad, you have to first think about doing something bad.
1) Bad thoughts lead to bad actions.
This even happened to the great King David. He saw a woman from the roof top of his palace. Instead of averting his eyes, he began to think about her. He began to lust after her. He thought it would be nice for him to sleep with her.
So guess what he did? He acted on his thoughts!
Then, when it came out that she was pregnant. He thought it would be nice to not be embarrassed by his sin. So, he sent for her husband. He tried to get him drunk. He tried to make him sleep with his wife. (This was before the days of paternity test results on Maury.) When that didn’t work, he sent a letter to his general. He ask for this man to be left alone in the fighting. The man was killed and David had committed murder.
2) Bad thoughts ruin relationships.
Another reason that sinful thoughts are treated with hatred by God is that these thoughts ruin relationships! This is why Jesus says in verse 23, “Settle matter quickly with your adversary. Go and be reconciled to him!” Because without reconciliation, hatred will ruin your relationship! It festers. It causes distrust. It prevent relationships from growing. It hardens your heart and ruins a relationship OR stops one from starting.
Lust is similar. It literally, chemically, rearranges your brain’s neurons. Suddenly, you rewire yourself to find sexual happiness, not in your beloved spouse, whom you promised to only have that special happiness with, but with the secretary down the hall, the pixelated image on the screen, or the character written about in a steamy romance novel!
That doesn’t improve your relationship with your spouse. It ruins it! It’s not like it should be and at worst non existent.
Sinful thoughts ruin relationships!
3) Sinful thoughts, are in and of themselves, sin.
This is the biggest reason of all. Sinful thinking is appalling to God. It’s a open rebellion against Him.
And you can figure this out simply by doing some simple math. If A = B, then C.
Sin is nothing more than open rebellion against God. Consider that. When we think contrary to how God would have us think, we are in essence saying, “Get out of here God! You can have and be anywhere in the whole universe, but stay out of my head. I want to think about what I want to think about it. I want some privacy. I want to hate and lust and be greedy without your stupid rules! Leave me alone.”
If we continue to choose our own thoughts over God, he will leave us alone.
But now I'd like you to combine what we've learned from this portion of Scripture with a few thoughts from other parts of Scripture. It is clear from this section that God hates sinful thoughts. It is clear from other portions of Scripture that God also knows all of our thoughts. Jesus revealed this in Matthew 12:25 when he said that people were thinking that he was the devil. (and he was right!) In John 1:48, He impressed Nathan by revealing that He knew Nathan had been under a fig tree across town before coming to meet him. He told the disciples to toss their net overboard, because he knew that a ton of fish would be caught at his direction.
The point? Jesus preached our portion for today on a mountaintop surrounded by people. He must have known that these people struggled with what was common to humanity-- evil thoughts.
So...in math terms again.
And you know what else? As we read scripture here today, we do so as people plagued by the human condition of sinful thought. Yet God hasn’t destroyed us. Instead, he has brought us here today and through the words of Scripture he has warned us! Why?
Because while God thoughts were filled with hatred for sinners, at the same time, his thoughts were consumed by an even greater thought:
“God our Savior wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
In other words, his thoughts were consumed with love for humans…for you.
But God didn’t sit back on his divine couch, pop a can of Pringles and simply say, "I am thinking about how much I love you." No way! God actually acted on it.
To put it simply: Jesus thought it was better for him to die than for you to.
This means that God, in Christ, forgives you for your hate filled thoughts. It means that God, in Christ, forgives you for your lust filled thoughts. It means, that God, in Christ, forgives you for all your evil thoughts!
And thank God Christ knows all your thoughts! This is scary at first, because you can’t get away from his knowledge, but the comfort is that he didn’t miss one of your evil thoughts. God won’t do an autopsy of you before letting you into heaven, where he says, “Ooops. We missed a lustful thought for his high school classmate in the upper corner of his heart. Guess he can’t go to heaven.”
No! Jesus knew all of your sin –even your thoughts – and he died for all of your sin – even your thoughts. He didn't miss paying hell for even the deepest, darkest, most awful secret thought that you might have.
What an awesome thought! What an awesome action! What an awesome love!
May this love motivate you to act–against thought sins. Instead of continuing in your evil thoughts, do what it takes to prevent those thoughts!
If hatred, go and talk peacefully to the one you hate. Go reconcile with your brother. Go speak kindly to your sister. Get what’s bothering you onto the floor (and do it peacefully). Do what it take, however hard, in order to not have hatred in your heart.
If your problem is lust, then cut out what causes you to lust! Put a filter on your internet. Cancel the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Stop paying for cable. Put all of your steamy romance novels into the recycling. Do what it takes, whatever it takes, to not have lust in your heart.
Now you might be thinking, but if I don’t have this hatred what will I filled my thought life with? If I don’t have this lust, how will I go on? What will I think about?
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is God-pleasing, my brothers, think about such things.”
Brothers and sisters, there is nothing nobler, purer, more lovely, or more God pleasing than the work of our Savior Jesus Christ. Fill your hearts and fill your thoughts with him – the one who filled His thoughts with you.
This is my prayer for you this week and always. Amen.
The Olympics have started. Athletes from around the world are competing for the world to see and we marvel at those who are the fastest, strongest, smartest, even bravest. We watch them hold their hand on their heart while their country’s national anthem plays and we can’t help but be a bit envious.
They are blessed!
Today’s sermon teaches us the opposite. Jesus says that it isn’t the most powerful, the smartest, the bravest, even the most moral who has real blessing.
Rather, Real blessing comes from real weakness.
As we examine some real life situations below, consider what Jesus has to say. Compare it with what the world says. See which one offers real blessing.
For instance, the world thinks, “Blessed are the rich in spirit.”
Like the priest who lives down the road. His stories of religious devotion are astounding. A five year vow of silence. Thousands of hours logged volunteering at the homeless shelter. Rosary beads fashioned with olive wood directly from Jerusalem. Walking into his home is akin to entering a sanctuary. Crucifixes line the walls and religious art takes up the space that awards from his accomplishment don’t fill up.
But, you’d be surprised to discover that he still prays his prayers. He still hails his Marys. He still has this nagging sensation that when God said, “be Holy,” He intended for more to be done than he currently was doing. In fear, he prays for more opportunities to do good. He hopes that someday fear might abandon him and he will have confidence of heaven as his home. Because currently, his own religiosity isn’t offering him any comfort.
Then, there’s that guy who lives down the street. You wouldn’t know it, but he too was a minister for a couple of years. But then, things fell apart. He is constantly haunted by all of his faults: things he should have done differently, words he wished he hadn’t said, sermons he wishes he could have outlined better, and people he wishes he could have stopped from leaving his church. He’s not rich in spirit.
A tear rolls down his cheek and he feels like a failure. He kicks the legs of his desk in frustration. A piece of paper falls onto the floor. It’s faded. He bends over to pick it up. On it is a simple phrase from his seminary days. A reminder of a truth that he was forgetting. “Remember pastor: Christ was crucified for you too.” The man smiles. That’s all that matters isn’t it. His faith is restored.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
The world says “Blessed are those who have happy lives.” Those people whose circumstances are nice enough for them to feel accomplished.
Consider the family man. He lives in a big house. He has lots of money. He’s been married for 25 years. He has four kids: two daughter and two sons. He gets promotion after promotion. He plays golf on the weekends. He is able to afford one home project per month. He hosts block parties. He takes his family away on the weekends to enjoy a vacation.
The world would certainly call him blessed.
As he quietly fishes on a Sunday morning, he considers how blessed he is, but then his thoughts turn to how long it will last. He deals with fears that eventually things will end. He may lose his career, his money, his home. God forbid he may even lose a child. Try as he might to think differently he can’t shake the feeling that his own circumstances might change and then, what would he be left with?
Then, there’s the man who can’t afford a vacation. He spent it all at the bar last night. He stumbles into church during the opening hymn. He smells of cigarettes. His eyes are red from the combination of smoke and sobbing.
But who could blame him? His wife left him a few months ago. He hasn’t felt very happy. His mind has been riddled with all the wrong things he said to her while she was still with him. He misses her. The guilt and loneliness have stopped him from working. None of his three children will talk to him and he knows it’s his own fault. His mood matches the melancholy organ music. He doesn’t even say the confession of sin. His heart is already there.
Then, he hears the gentle words of the pastor: “by the perfect life and innocent death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, God has removed your guilt forever! You are forgiven.” He smiles. That’s right. Jesus loves him and that’s one circumstance that will never change.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
The world says “Blessed are the strong.”
Like the homecoming football quarterback. He’s also the Homecoming king, a member of student council, and the person most likely to be asked by several girls to the dance. He is so well liked. Sometimes he gets a question marked wrong on a test, but he shrewdly argues the teacher into giving him his point back. He got a strong future and he won’t let anyone get into the way of his world.
That’s why he fears graduation. Because what will happen then? Will the world treat him so kindly? Does he have it in him to conquer another place? What if there are people more talented? What if someone is smarter? What if they are better looking?
For some reason, he struggles to find comfort in his own character.
Then, there’s the shy boy who quietly slips into the back of class. He usually is last in line for lunch. Last done with a test. Last to be picked for group work. He isn’t athletic. He’s not that musical. He struggles through school. Some days he wishes he could just skip class altogether!
But he never misses church. Because in church he finds his strength. Because it is there that he hears about the one’s whose character was extremely strong! One who calm waters, drove out demons, and forgave sins. He knows that this Jesus will always be with him and will always be guiding him in high school and beyond – up until he takes him home to a new earth.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
The world say, “Blessed are those who know it all!”
Like the seasoned mother of four children. She has learned so much about parenting that she could probably write her own book. She knows the exact temperature to heat milk to, how to sift through the laundry of a teenage boy, and how to handle your daughter’s first boyfriend. She is a wealth of knowledge so much so that she sometimes impresses herself. It’s why when she sees the invitation to a parenting Bible Class in her email, she simply presses “DELETE.” She doesn’t need that knowledge.
It’s too bad. Because now she’s starting to forget what it takes to get into God’s family. She doesn’t know. Her interested in her own knowledge has left her without that answer.
Then, there’s the single mom, who struggles to keep her new baby from crying. She hasn’t been able to distinguish between a smile of happiness and a smile of constipation. If her baby coughs, she spends hours on WebMD trying to diagnose it. She can’t help but continually to think about how this mom stuff is hard. She knows she can’t do it on her own. She is hungry for some help. Thirsty for some guidance.
That’s why she repeatedly turn to her book. Not “the Baby Book” (although she does read it on occasion), she turns to the Bible. It’s filled with God’s divine wisdom. A wisdom that reminds her of how to live and love. A wisdom that tells her Jesus died to remove all of her single mother sins, errors, mistakes, and what have you.
She reads. She hears of Jesus' love. She is satisfied.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”
The world says, “Blessed are the unmerciful.”
Like the sports star who just keeps pounding his opponent. His basketball team is up by 30 with plenty of time left. But he keeps scoring. He keeps pounding it. He growls at his teammates to keep taking it to them and screams at the referees for blown calls. He’s aggressive. He turns to his opponent and trash talks him till he’s blue in the face. He wins impressively and everyone knows he is a good player! Opponents are afraid to play him. He gets in front of the camera and makes sure that everyone knows he will continue to mercilessly pursue the title of “the best.”
Until he gets old. Then, he will slow down. Then, he won’t be admired.
Then, he will lose his own control.
There’s also his opponent. He’s been called all kinds of awful names by this opponent throughout the game. Now the media want to know what it’s like to play against him. A few thoughts – some awful names flow through his head – but he remains calm. He does what he always does after a game. He gets onto his knees for prayer.
It is because of God’s mercy that he played today. It is because of God’s mercy that he’s ever played. It’s because of God’s mercy that he has been saved!
He quickly turns to the camera and only calls his opponent ‘a good competitor.’ He doesn’t need revenge. He has Jesus.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
The world says, “Blessed (Or maybe…happy) are the immoral. ”
Like the young college student. She doesn’t need to study. She feels like she needs to enjoy the college experience. She is out having fun almost every night. She dresses without leaving much to the imagination. She pops an illegal pill. She flirts to get some boys to buy her a drink. She repays them sexual favors later on. She passes out at 3am. But…it’s all good…right?
Until the next morning. The head and the upset stomach aren’t even enough to mask the guilt that is eating her alive. She decides to plan for the same events tonight. It’s the only way she can think of to make her feelings good again.
Then, there’s her roommate. She the ‘party pooper.’ She enjoys a quiet book and maybe a movie. Her friends think she leads a pathetic life, but she doesn’t care. She used to be out there with them. She’s done plenty that she regrets and even more that bothers he souls.
But about six months ago she learned about Jesus. She heard about what he did to remove her sins. She was baptized into his name. She was washed cleaned and pronounced “pure.” She loves that purity. She loves her Lord. This is a truth that helps her conquer all of the low feelings that she has. (And it comes without any sad side effects.)
Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
The world says, “Blessed are the aggressive.”
Like the business guy who aggressively fights and scratches his way to the top. Everyone knows that you better not wrong him, because he will WRONG you back. He’ll spread gossip around the workplace. He’ll tell the boss about all your flaws. If you are unfortunate enough to work under him, prepare to be belittled and made to feel like a minion. He won’t settle for anything but the best!
In a worldly way, it’s working for him though. He’s assistant to the C.E.O. and he’ll be moving into a larger home real soon. A big home with lots of rooms. Perfect to sit in.
Alone. Without a friend. All that status. Zero love.
Then, there’s the IT guy at the same company. He’s not as impressive and no where near as intimidating. But he is knowledgeable. While he’s working to restore memory on crashing hard drives, he overhears worker after worker complaining about another coworker. He hears them make fun of their bosses dresses, the way he walks, even the way he talks. Then, the IT guy stands up. He quietly reminds them of all the wonderful things this boss has done. He racks his brain for any compliment he can think of. He risks getting made fun of himself.
Why? Because he loves peace! He always has, ever since he learned about the peace that he himself has with God because Jesus spoke on his behalf to a rightfully vengeful Almighty God. It’s a peace that gives him the knowledge that in spite of his sins, his status with God is good. In fact, God calls him his child.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”
The world says, “Happiest are the people who just stay quiet.”
Like the Christian with his friends at the coffee shop. The conversation drifs to recent events and discussion turns to the Creation v. Evolution debate that was all over the internet recently. His friends start to make fun. “Christians are IDIOTS! Who can believe such foolishness? They are all morons! There is no God. We are here by chance and the world is billions of years old!”
The Christian cringes, but simply slurps his coffee. Better to just stay quiet. Although the guilty conscience inside of him is not so quiet. Was his own well being worth denying his Lord?
Then, there’s the guy sitting next to that group. He overhears the conversation. He politely offers his two cents. That God is real. That God is incredible. That God made the world just as he said he did in Sciripture. That humans ruined it and God made a plan – Jesus – to save that world. When he’s finished his cup, he heads out of the coffee shop, but he hears the snickers as he leaves. He hears the “that guy must not have gotten out of fairytale land,” comment followed by the “He didn’t get past third grade,” snicker.
But these stinging comments don’t sting. He has a God that’s greater than this. A God who was persecuted for him. A God who promises to take him to a very real, not so mythological kingdom one day.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for there is the kingdom of heaven."
In these eight beautiful sentences, our Lord Jesus twists human logic around. He makes two very clear points.
1) When we consider ourselves good enough for blessing, then we don’t know what real blessing real is. You see that in the case of all those people who found their comfort and strength in themselves. Whether it was their religiosity, circumstance, character, knowledge, control, morality, status, or well being.
2) On the contrary, blessed are those who realize the shallowness of what they have by worldly standards, that they look to the heavens for their strength. Specifically they look to Jesus. The Lord who died for them. The Lord who won heaven for them. The one who wants them as a part of his kingdom. The one who calls them his child.
This is the opposite of worldly thinking and thank God is it so. Dear believer, look to Jesus for your strength, blessing, and comfort! You won't find it in yourself. Look to the Lord to find blessing and find it...
...in heavenly proportions.
This past Sunday we examined Jesus' directive to "Love your enemies
and to pray for those who persecute you." The link to that sermon is here.
Maybe, you already saw it, but two days ago two 'enemies' met to debate their differences. Bill Nye 'the Science" guy and Ken Ham, the founder of AnswersinGenesis.com, met to debate the origins of the universe. Bill argued for evolution. Ken argued for creation as the Bible describes it.
If you missed it, here is the link.
Now these worldviews are completely opposite. And usually (if you have ever read the comments on an internet article of Creation or Evolution) people get upset at those who don't agree with them. Add tot he fact that thousands of eyes were watching, emotions were high, and the pressure was on. One would expect a war of words -- maybe even some vengeful phraseology.
But, to be fair, the debate was very well done. It was fairly respectful. Emotions were held in check. Viewpoints were discussed, examined, and countered. Thanks to both gentlemen for their work in this.
But as a Christian, I was particularly impressed with Ken Ham. He was debating with someone who had ridiculed the very faith that makes Mr. Ham who he is. Mr. Nye had gone on record to call Christianity and its teaching of Creation foolish and harmful to science. In short, he was debating with someone who has set himself up as an enemy of Christianity. (At the very least, Christian teaching.) If Mr. Ham would have been rude, I wouldn't have been surprised.
But Ken kept his cool. He spoke kindly. He spoke respectfully. He spoke lovingly. Even while he did not falter on the truths of Scripture! He warmly and unapologetically admitted, "The Bible is the Word of God. I admit that's where I start from."
I'm reminded of another Bible passage from Ephesians 4:15, "Speak the truth in love."
Take a look at the debate. As you watch, think for yourself: How would you have answered the questions and challenges of Mr. Nye in a loving and truthful way? How would you show love for your enemy and yet love for your Savior?
Then, pray. Pray that God works through this video to bring the love of Christ to all who do not yet know it. Pray that God provides more opportunities for Christians to speak the truth in public forums. Pray that God gives you opportunities (and courage) to speak the truth to the people you know and love. Pray that God gives you peace to speak these truths in love.
I know I need to pray that prayer too.