We are in the middle of our Fighting Temptation mini-series. So far, we’ve watched Jesus defeat the devil in a one-on-one temptation battle, learned some lessons from the champ, and contrasted the cost of fighting temptation with the cost of NOT fighting.
But maybe so far you have said, “Pastor, this has been nice. It sounds important. I should fight temptation. So…I’ll put it on the schedule for some time this summer.”
It’s like one of emails that goes to your junk mail. You peruse down the list and about 6 emails down is an email, written in all CAPITAL LETTERS, that says, “URGENT” with a few exclamation points behind it!!!
And you blink quickly, move the mouse, and click away.
Is someone in trouble?
Is a friend trying to reconnect?
Am I late on a bill?
“Hello sir. Just a note that there is currently a deal for 10% off pictures frames down at Michaels. We wanted to let you know – because you shopped here…one time…for your wife. This deal is only available for a limited time. So, act now! It’s urgent.”
Until…I get very similar email the very next week.
Maybe, it’s not so urgent.
Do you feel that way about fighting temptation? As if it isn’t urgent?
Today Jesus himself is going to explain to us the urgency of fighting temptation. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. An Urgent Warning
We are studying Luke 13 today. Look at what verse 1 says, “Now there were some…who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.”
This is a bit strange, so a bit of background. Galilee was a country that was in the northern area of the Holy Land. Galileans were people who lived in Galilee. Apparently, some Galileans had been in the temple offering sacrifice (aka worshipping God) when the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate (he’s going to become very important as we get closer to Good Friday) ordered that they be killed. It’d be similar to a church shooting. Which unfortunately, is not unheard of.
It wasn’t unheard of back then either! According to Josephus, a Jewish historian, Pilate did this about five different times during his reign. Each time it was violent. Each time it was awful. Each time it was a very disheartening event.
That’s why the people were talking to Jesus about it.
It was troubling.
Like some kind of awful current event (take your pick: shooting, bombing, kidnapping, rape, etc.), they were trying to make sense of what had happened.
The answer that was most popular?
These guys must have been terrible sinners.
They must have done something really, really, really bad.
I heard that they were running an illegal drug ring through the temple.
This was a punishment for them!
Jesus overhears it and, being true God, He offers a unique assessment that a sinful human being would never be able to offer:
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (v2-3)
First thing to understand about Jesus’ statement:
Sin is sin is sin. The Bible teaches that, “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) It teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” (Romans 3:23) It teaches that “If you stumble at just one point, it’s as good as breaking all of God’s law.” (James 2:10) Sin is sin is sin. It’s all awful to God. Therefore, these Galileans killed in the temple were not worse sinners than any one else.
The slaughter in the temple wasn’t some kind of special judgment by God against a special breed of sinners.
But in case you’re reading this and you’re saying, “Well, okay. This wasn’t. It was done by Pilate. A sinful human being acting in a sinful, fallen world. But what about natural disasters? That’s the kind of stuff that only God can control. What about tornadoes down in Mississippi and flooding in the Midwest? Is that God’s judgment against them?”
Look at Jesus’ next words: “Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them (a natural disaster. Not a murder. Still horrific.) —do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (v.4-5)
The Galilean slaughter was not a special punishment.
The Implosion of the Siloam tower was not a special punishment either.
Stop looking at these horrific events for the sake of others.
Look at them for the sake of yourself.
As a warning.
A reminder that life is short.
As a wakeup call to repent! To get right with God. To stop sinning before God acts against you!
Here's the first truth God wants you to get through your head this morning: “Don’t view disaster as an indictment of others, but as a warning to yourself.”
Stop pointing at others.
Stop ignoring your own sins.
Stop thinking, “I love this sermon. Go get ‘em pastor! In particular, look at this guy right next to me. He needs to hear this.”
You need to hear this.
Even if you’ve been a Christian for 40 plus years.
You need to hear this.
Because if you don’t…
Jesus continues. From horrific current events to gardening:
“A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any.“ (v.6)
Ever had a fig before? They’re pretty tasty. This man must have really liked them. In fact, I picture him having a gigantic, fig tree farm with thousands and thousands of fig trees growing. It makes him a lot of money for fig jam, fig jelly, and fig Pop Tarts.
Every once in a while, he takes a break from the paperwork of owning a fig tree farm to go and walk through his product line. He marvels at the beautiful of the trees. He samples some of the figs as he goes. He whistles to himself as he is so happy for how well everything is growing.
There’s that one tree again.
(He remembers it from last year)
Not a lot of green.
Seems kinda sickly looking.
“The owner said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to Look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any.’” (v.7a)
It isn’t producing. It isn’t doing what we planted it to do. A fig tree without figs on it is…worthless.
“Cut. It. Down!” (v.7b)
Friends. This is more than garden tip.
This story has a spiritual meaning.
God has brought you into his family.
To fight sin.
To bear fruit.
To bear the fruit of the spirit: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
And if God is walking through his rows of Spirit fruit trees…
And he walks past the section where you are planted…
And you aren’t bearing fruit?
Instead of love – hatred.
Instead of joy – complaint.
Instead of peace – grumbling.
Instead of fighting temptation – enjoying the sin that you’re doing.
What do you think the Father will say?
It’s the worst three words that God could ever say about you.
Cut. It. Down.
II. A Patient Promise
Thankfully for the fate of the fig tree this isn’t the end of the story. Because while the owner is the one who paid for him to be planted, he has another friend who cares for him.
The gardener is the one who has been watering this tree for three years.
He’s seen it struggle.
He’s weeded it.
He’s fertilized it.
He’s even gotten up at 5am to come out and sing Eric Clapton to it.
For three years, he’s put his heart and soul into getting that fig tree to bear figs.
And he isn’t ready to give up…not yet.
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (v.8)
Friends, you have a gardener, too.
You have someone who cared so deeply for your soul that when he saw your fruitless, sin-filled life, he came to earth and died on a tree to save you.
Jesus is an advocate on our behalf! The Bible says, “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous one.” (1 Jn. 2:1) It says, “Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for us.” Romans 8:34) It says, “Jesus is our Great High Priest…that we approach God’s throne with confidence.” (Hebrews 4:14, 16)
Do you get it?
Jesus is pleading to the Father on your behalf, while pleading to you on behalf of Him!
And here’s the good news: It’s working.
How do I know?
Well, you’re here today.
You’re listening to this message.
You get to hear Jesus’ voice calling to you right now.
No matter how barren your branches are.
No matter how dead your spiritual life looks.
No matter how shriveled your attempts at fighting temptation have been.
God has been patient with you.
You have not been cut down.
And it isn’t as if the gardener said, “If it bears three times as much fruit next year in order to make up for the past three years of not bearing any at all, fine.”
He didn’t say, “I think that this tree will be worth the wait because it’s fruit will make some top-notch jam—better than the rest.”
He didn’t say, “As long as it produces 27 figs by this time next year, then we won’t cut it down.”
The fig tree doesn’t need to earn the right to be called a fig tree.
It simply needs to do what it was made to do.
And you don’t need to earn the right to bear fruit.
You simply do what God called you to do.
You won’t be cut down!
You’ll one day be transplanted from your life on this earth – to eternal life in heaven.
III. What Now?
With the urgency of death lingering and the promise of God’s grace patiently keeping us alive, WHAT NOW for this week? A few things:
It’s a phrase that appears twice, word for word in this section from Jesus. If Jesus thinks it is important enough to repeat, I think we should repeat it:
Unless you repent, then you too will perish. (v.3, 5)
Repent means to turn.
To do a 180.
To turn from sin to Savior.
To turn from falling to temptation to fighting temptation.
To turn from unbelief to faith in Jesus.
It’s like watching Pee Wee Football. And there’s that little running back, the one that looks like his pads are gonna swallow him up. It’s the end of the game and the team is up by 4 touchdowns, so the coach calls a play to give him the ball. After the quarterback hands it off, he turns, he runs…and goes in the exact opposite direction of his endzone.
And the coach is screaming, “TURN AROUND! TURN AROUND!”
And the crowd is shouting, “TURN AROUND! TURN AROUND!”
And his teammates are chasing after him to tackle him and stop him and turn him around!
That’s what God is doing with us here today.
When we sin, we go the wrong way.
Today, God calls out to you – repeatedly, persistently, patiently, lovingly – TURN AROUND!
Turn to Me.
Turn to salvation.
(2) Be Urgent about It
Because absolutely nothing in Jesus’ words today imply that you’ve got all the time in the world.
Nope. In fact, the point is that you don’t know how much time you have at all.
Before Pilate has you murdered.
Or a tower falls on top of you.
Or you get sick.
Or in a car accident.
Or have a stroke.
Our time is short.
Do not wait on repenting when you’re older.
Get urgent about fighting sin.
Fighting addiction? Seek help today.
Fighting greed? Give more money in the offering plate.
Fighting hatred? Ask God to soften your heart.
Fighting sexual temptation? Stop putting yourself in situations to sin.
If you’re fighting the temptation to continue to NOT follow Jesus – keep fighting against it!
Put your trust in your Savior.
Be urgent about fighting temptation because Jesus was urgent about fighting for you.
He came swiftly off his heavenly throne.
He suffered death.
He quickly and efficiently defeated it by rising from the dead.
(3) Be Patient about Others
Because it is so easy for us to be patient with ourselves, “C’mon guys. Greed is a hard thing. Give me time to get past this sin.”
But not so patient with others, “That dude was a jerk to me AND it’s the second time! God!?! Get him.”
But we can’t react like that. Not when God has every reason to cut us all down simultaneously right now, but he hasn’t.
Because God is patient with us, we are patient with others.
We forgive them.
We love them.
We kindly rebuke them…again and again and again and again.
We share the Gospel with them…even if it’s 8 years running.
There’s this one guy that I invite to Easter every year. I’ve invited him for seven years in a row – this year will be my eighth. Sometimes I invite with a text message. Sometimes with an email. Sometimes with a voice message. Sometimes it includes a graphic design. Sometimes it includes a Bible passage. Sometimes it includes a brief synopsis of the Gospel.
Every year? He doesn’t come.
I was thinking about not doing it this year.
About wiping my hands.
And shaking the dust off my feet.
I’ll guess I’ll invite him again.
Friends – be patient in your interactions with others.
Take advantage of the Easter season.
Share the Gospel.
Share the Gospel.
And after you’ve done that.
Share the Gospel some more.
Patiently planting while urgently fighting temptation! Amen.
Last week we started a new series called “The Kingdom of God is like…” It’s a series in which Jesus himself, the expert in the Kingdom of God, teaches us all about God’s kingdom through parables. A parable is a short earthly story that teaches about the Kingdom of God.
Last week’s parable taught there are many different reactions to the Gospel message. Some instantly reject it. Some quickly grow faith and quickly lose faith. Some have faith for a long time, but then worries and wealth choke out their faith. Some believe, grow, and reproduce – planting Gospel seeds in the hearts of others.
If you were listening last week, maybe you started thinking…
How do I make sure that every soil is like the good soil?
How do I ensure that everyone I tell about Jesus believes in him?
Afterall, Christianity has been around for over 2,000 years.
There have been a lot of smart Christians.
Surely, someone must have come up with some kind of identifiable, outlinable process to growing faith in someone’s heart with 100% accuracy!
It’s kind of like HelloFresh. Have any of you tried it? They send you recipes for a meal, all of the ingredients for the meal, and the exact amount of each ingredient for the meal. It’s broken down in such a simple, step by step process that even people like me (who previously were only really good at making Pop Tarts) able to cook Chicken Cordon Bleu w/ braised Asparagus.
And it’s edible.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was something like that for sharing Jesus?
Something with 100%, all the time, positive results.
Today we are looking at a second parable from Mark 4. It shares with us the secret to planting seed in the kingdom of God. 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. How to Grow a Seed
The parable is from Mark 4:26. That’s the same chapter we were in last time. That means Jesus told it to his disciples shortly after telling them about the 4 different types of ways that the seed would grow.
Perhaps they were wondering the same thing we wondered earlier: Jesus, how can we ensure that all the plants grow!?! Give us some kind of a Ten Step Process.
Jesus gives them the answer.
With another parable:
This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.
Sound familiar? That’s almost the exact same thing as the previous parable.
Only instead of a farmer sowing seed, it’s just a man sowing seed.
And instead of focusing on the various result, it’s focusing on the process involved with achieving the desired result:
Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. (v.27)
Focus in on what the man is up to. He is not always sowing.
Sometimes he’s sleeping.
Sometimes he’s awake.
Sometimes he’s eating a hearty sower breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage and a bowl of hot grits with a slice of butter melting from the top down.
Sometimes he’s reading his copy of Farmer’s Digest magazine.
Sometimes he’s watching HGTV.
Sometimes he’s on Facebook marketplace looking for a good deal on a pair of coveralls.
To be fair, in the midst of this – he takes time to plant, time to water, time to weed, time to add fertilizer.
He absolutely tends to the plants.
But…for a long time, nothing seems to be growing!
Nothing seems to be happening.
It’s just a pile of dirt with a stick and the seed packet over the top of it – so he doesn’t forget where he planted.
After many days.
After many nights.
There is a plant.
And when he’s excitedly talking to his spouse that night he tells her:
It grew! And I don’t know how.
I don’t know if it was the watering.
Or the fertilizer.
Or playing my Weird Al hitlist on Pandora for it.
I don’t know exactly what happened to make it grow, but…it grew.
God made it grow.
Here’s the first key truth of the parable:
The secret to faith growing is that there’s no secret!
There’s no special phrase to say.
No special Kool Aid to drink.
No special pressure point you need to push to make faith grow.
Faith grows from using God’s Word.
It’s no secret.
It’s simple, everyday use of God’s Word.
That’s really important to remember.
Because sometimes, we get the sense that we need to concoct the perfect scenario to grow faith in someone’s heart.
The coffee needs to be bold.
The signage needs to be exquisite.
The ushers need to be on point.
The band needs to be well rehearsed.
The sermon needs to be energetic.
And the call to faith afterwards needs to be dramatic and it needs to happen in about 3 minutes or less -- or faith will fade.
And we should probably add a smoke machine and fireworks just to help their faith grow.
Don’t get me wrong. Those things are fine. (Some of those things are fine) They might even be good. We want to do our best for God.
But what those things don’t create faith.
God’s Word creates faith.
Because remember – God’s Word is the seed.
The seed contains all the power within it to grow!
When it didn’t grow in last week’s parable, the problem was never the seed. It was the soil.
When faith doesn’t grow in someone’s heart, the problem isn’t God’s Word – it’s the heart.
Therefore - the secret to the growing faith is faithful use of God’s Word.
It’s reading a passage from the Bible to your kids.
It’s typing a few words from the sermon on Facebook.
It’s telling a friend that Jesus is their Savior.
It’s texting your cousin a message from the Psalms.
It’s inviting your friend to join us for worship for Pentecost 21.
The mysterious secret to growing faith is found in the common, everyday use of God’s Word.
And while that might seem common…
It is far from it.
Because constant reminder of God’s forgiveness melts the disgusting guilt of sin away.
The simple melody of Jesus Loves Me may chase away the devil himself.
The ums and the ahs of a mediocre sermon – becomes the powerful, booming, authoritative voice of God himself declaring YOU. To. Be. His Child.
Keep planting God’s word in common, everyday ways and God’s Word will work to grow faith.
II. The Sprout Timeline
Next question: How long you need to do it?
I remember Miracle Gro. Do any of you? Its claim was that you toss one little thing of Miracle Grow into your watering can and it would immediately and efficiently cause your plants to grow. All it took was one application and soon you would be on your way to a prize-winning pumpkin!’
How long does it take to grow faith? Check out verse 27 again: Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. (v.27)
Notice there’s no time frame on how long he cares for the seed.
37 some odd years trying to get something to grow in that soil?
It’s indefinite, because the answer is indefinite.
Faith growing might take a day.
37 some odd years.
I’ll just go ahead and say I’ve witnessed this firsthand.
There have been people like Rebecca. We met. I got them into Bible Basics. I shared the Gospel. It took 1, maybe 2 plantings and faith grew.
Then, there are people like Eliza. We met. I, and the PL teachers, spent a year sharing Jesus with their kids. Then, the kids helped share Jesus with the parents. Then, there was another year of it. Then, a third year of it. Then a 4th year of it. Then, sometime around year 5 of it, I was able to get her into Bible Basics – Share faith, get her to church, wait another couple of months of that happening until finally: A plant of faith.
Do you understand the take home? It’s easy to get discouraged. Easy to think that faith is never going to grow. Easy to doubt that your attempts at sharing Jesus with your kid, your friend, your spouse will never work.
But the truth is:
The Timeline of faith growing is indefinite.
It’s different for different people.
You don’t stop sharing God’s Word with your spouse because I’ve been doing it for so long. It probably won’t work.
You don’t stop inviting your friend, because I’ve been doing it for so long...it probably won’t work.
You don’t stop telling your coworker about Jesus because I’ve been done that twice. If it hasn’t worked now, it won’t work ever.
If the person you want to share Jesus with is still alive, there’s still a chance for God’s Word to work.
If you think you should stop because they’ve kept telling you no, perhaps you’ve focusing too much on their reaction AND not enough on the powerful seed you have in your hand.
God’s powerful seed.
Share God’s Word.
III. The Rate of Faith Growth
One more thought.
Sometimes when someone comes to faith…
Sometimes when they confess their faith on a New Member Sunday…
I get super excited!
I think they are going to get so involved.
They’ll be here every weekend.
They’ll be fantastic givers.
They’ll be itching at every chance to get into God’s Word and do Bible Study.
That doesn’t happen.
And when that doesn’t happen, the temptation can be to say:
Fine then! Get out of this church.
Fine then! I’m taking your photo off the photo wall.
Fine then! Don’t expect me to keep after you; you’re on your own now!
But here’s the deal. Just as initial faith-growth is varied; so is maturing faith-growth. What I mean is that you the seed doesn’t get put into the ground and the next day you have an ear of corn stick straight out of the dirt. Nor do you get an apple popping out of an apple tree when it’s simply a twig on the ground.
There’s an order to growth. Check out verses 28-29:
All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.
Again - the length of that growth can vary.
Oftentimes, it’s an issue with the soil.
It’s an issue with someone not getting into God’s Word.
But…when we are talking about other people -- Your job? It isn’t saying: “This thing isn’t growing as fast as I want. I’ll get out my garden hoe and dig it out of the ground.”
Your job is simply to tend to the plant with God’s Word.
It’s why you baptize your child, but then, you keep telling your kid about Jesus.
It’s why you bring your spouse to church once, but then you ask them to come again.
It’s why you get excited about the new believer getting connected to God's Word, but then you keep them connected to God’s Word.
But the endgame is the harvest.
It’s the end game of the apple lover. They plant the apple tree in order to taste that delicious bite of the first apple.
It’s the end game of the carrot lover. They plant the carrot plant in order to take a crunchy bite of that first carrot.
It’s the end game of the Brussels sprout lover. They plant the Brussels sprout bush in order to torture their children. No…because they want Brussels sprouts.
And that’s why God planted faith in you, he wants you to join him in heaven.
It’s why God grows faith through His Word he wants many in the harvest of heaven.
It’s why you will share your faith with those that you do, because you want them to share in the harvest of heaven.
Keep that in mind.
That’s the end game.
The Harvest of heaven. Amen.
I’ll admit it. During the holiday season, I struggle with patience.
I remember very specifically – my grandma had sent a large gift in the mail and placed it under the tree. It was huge! It took up about 1/6th of the space under the plastic evergreen. And Grandma sent it early--about two weeks before Christmas. Every day it stared at me. It taunted me. It stuck it’s tongue out at me and said, “Nanana boo boo, you can’t open me yet.”
One day, I had my chance. Mom had to run to the store for a moment and I was going to be home alone for 15 minutes. I acted nonchalant, “See ya later,” and waited until I heard the car pull out of the driveway, and immediately ran over to the tree. I took my finger nail. I aimed for the back of the present. I figured if I just opened a finger nail’s worth of wrapping paper – no one would know I looked and I would know what it was.
Carefully. Surgically. Slowly. I slit and I saw: Brown. The brown of a big cardboard box. No words. No clue. Nothing.
I pulled a bit more. Still no clues. Still nothing.
I kept pulling until I could read a word or two: “Nutrition facts: Hydrogenated oil.” UGH! I was foiled by a present inside a box that wasn’t from the original present!
And I tried to put the wrapping paper back, but by now the mark was too big. Too huge. The best I could do was turn the present upside down, hope no one noticed it, and blame my dog if they did!
Patience…It’s hard. It’s really hard at Christmas. Waiting for presents. Waiting in line. Waiting in parking lots. Waiting for Christmas break. It’s hard to wait for Christmas, to the point that impatience, frustration, and anxiety become the main themes of the season.
Today we are going to continue our series called Old Fashioned Christmas. We will look at how people remained patient before the very first Christmas ever arrived. Something they waited for longer than a month – longer than a year – but thousands of years for! (Can you imagine waiting that long for a gift?)
Today’s goal is to: (1) Understand why Old Testament Israelites were willing to wait so patiently for so long for the first Christmas (2) grab some of their patience and use it as we await Christmas – and better yet -- the return of our Savior. Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Old Testament Patience
Our lesson this morning comes from the Psalms. The book of Psalms is a collection of poetry and songs that marvelously declare the praises of God in rhythm and rhyme. Because of that some of the most well-known Bible passages come from the Psalms: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.” (Psalm 23) or “God is our Refuge and strength and every present help in trouble. (Psalm 46)
The particular Psalm we want to look at is numbered 130. It is an authorless Psalm. Not that no one wrote it, but that the author is unknown. It doesn’t tell us who wrote it.
It think that’s neat. Because it helps us to understand and attribute the feelings of the Psalm to common, everyday Israelites. Kinda like me – a common, everyday, Raleigh-an.
Look at the problem the author is having: 1 Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy…with you there is forgiveness.
Again -- the specifics of the author’s problem isn’t mentioned. But it’s bad enough to be described as “the depths.”
Think of the bottom of a well. Dark. Musty air. Hard to breath. Scary.
But the author isn’t referring to physical depths. He talked about forgiveness which is a very spiritual concept. The author was dealing with guilt. The author was dealing with the consequences of sin. The author was dealing with the loneliness of separation from God.
Have you ever been in spiritual depths?
Of course, not, Pastor! I’m fine. It’s Christmas. I’m feeling holly, jolly, decking the halls with Falalalas and having a Merry Christmas.
But if we’re honest, spiritual lows are more common around Christmas than you think:
• Finances are challenging – and hopefully I can get a Dollar Tree gift or two for our kids. They wouldn’t be challenging, if I hadn’t have made so many mistakes.
• I won’t be getting a Christmas card from that person on Facebook – I said what I shouldn’t have said. No amount of merry or eggnog can fix it.
• I’ll be alone this Christmas. My family? They don’t want to see me. I’ve done too much wrong to each of them.
• I can’t listen to that song on the radio! The merry and happy that I hear – just isn’t how I feel and I feel even worse when I realize that I don’t feel that way either.
• Hospital rooms aren’t very exciting. All I want for Christmas is a CANCER FREE diagnosis.
The reality behind Christmas is that we’re still sinners. We still have guilt. We still have spiritual lows because of that guilt. Maybe that’s by we love Christmas. Maybe we love the happy singing, happy gifts, and happy drinks because they take our minds off of the spiritual depths for just a second. We feel happy for just a second. We feel ok for just a second. We’ll hear someone say, “You are kind. You are so nice…” as opposed to the inner voice that says, “You’re a bad mom – a no good father – a good for nothing friend.”
Christmas cheer can erase that!...
…Until December 26th. Then, we realize it’s all still there.
Your financially poor decisions are still a part of your credit report.
That person on Facebook still won’t talk to you.
Your family that was angry with you is still angry with you.
And your sins against God are still written down.
In fact, look at what the Psalmist writes about God – If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand? (130:3) There’s a similar thought in a cute, kids’ Santa Claus song. "He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty or nice.” That means his list says your name. It says naughty or nice. It determines whether you get coal or a new, metallic Slinky.
God’s list is much different.
God’s list has your name – and every last sin that you ever did written underneath it in 12 point Times New Heaven font!
God’s list doesn’t miss anything.
8:23am Pulled into parking lot and swore at the car who took your spot.
8:25am Refused to hold door for fellow employee because “I just don’t like him that much.”
8:26am Looked down that woman’s shirt who stood on the elevator in front of me.
8:26am and 32 seconds Checked out her rear as she left the elevator.
8:27am Ignored the “hello” of that one guy at work, because he didn’t say hi to me yesterday.
8:31am Told a lie about the boss’ love life because it’s fun to bring him down a notch or two.
8:34am Logged onto Facebook because I don’t feel like working.
8:39am Typed an angry political comment into a blog and called someone a bunch of names, because they are those bunch of names.
8:41am Typed a vulgar reply to a person who typed a vulgar reply to my political comment.
8:43am Typed an even more vulgar reply to a person who typed an even more vulgar reply to my political comment.
8:47am Saw Bible passage – scrolled through it quickly. Tried not to think about God.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand?
None of could stand.
All of us would be convicted.
No amount of garland...
No amount of gingerbread cookies.
No number of Elf on the Shelf positions could save us.
4 But, with you, O Lord, is forgiveness.
Do you get it? This is why the Psalmist was waiting on God. This is why the Psalmist was waiting on his promise of the Savior. Because there was no one else and nothing else that could fix that problem.
No one else that could fix sin.
No one else that could remove guilt.
No one else that could say, “You’re forgiven” and have that last eternally!
Hence the author waited.
Hence the Old Testament people waited.
And for a long time!
The timeline of the Savior starts with a guy named Abraham. God shows up and tells Abraham that he will one day send a Savior through his family. Abraham waits. Abraham grows old. Before Abraham dies, he passes that on to his son Isaac. God tells Isaac the same thing. One day the Savior will come through his family. Isaac waits. Isaac grows old. Before Isaac dies, he passes it on his to his son Jacob. And it’s the same thing with Jacob to his son….and his son to his son…and so on and so on and so on and so on. For close to 8000 years.
That’s a long time.
That’s a lot of waiting.
That’s a lot of patience.
And during that time Israel could have stopped hoping. And many of them did. The Old Testament talks all about that. Some started worship statues. Some started worshipping artistic poles. Some stopped thinking about God and worried more about the bank.
In essence, some stopped waiting for God.
But some waited.
From generation, to generation, to generation, they waited.
Until one night in Bethlehem…
Until a great, great, great, many times over grandson named Joseph had a son.
Until a Savior was born. Christ, the Lord.” (Lk. 2)
II. New Testament, You, Patience
But it’s hard to wait like the Psalmist. It’s hard to wait for God.
Story of not waiting for God.
God is worth waiting for.
Why? Look at verse 7. With the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins. There’s three key reasons to wait for God contained within that very verse.
(1) His Unfailing Love
If you put up Christmas lights, you know all too well that they can fail…easily. Usually it’s after you’ve tested them out, checked out every light, turned each one to make sure they are inserted correctly, strung them up on the outside of the house, and plugged it in...for about five seconds of oohs and ahs before bzzt!!! The lights go out and you gotta start all over.
God’s love is not like that. God’s love doesn’t bzzt! and shut off. God’s love is constant. His promise of forgiveness is constant. His eternal promise of heaven is constant.
With the Lord is unfailing love. (v.7a) His unfailing love is worth waiting for.
(2) Full Redemption
That’s a bit different from the majority of holiday sales. Sometimes they are too good to be true. You’ll be walking in the mall and a big sign 90% off! catches your eye. Who doesn’t stop for that sale? That’s $10 for a $100 item.
Then, you get inside. And…
The sale items are the ones with the yellow dot.
The items with the yellow dot are on the back-clearance rack.
The items on the back-clearance rack are nothing else than a few pairs of extra small slacks and a bright pink necktie that clashes with just about every shirt you own.
God’s redemption is not like that. God’s redemption is not just for the sins that are small OR the sins that no one thinks that much about in the back corner. God’s redemption found in Jesus is for all sins. It’s for every bit of every one of your sins.
It’s a complete payment. With him is full redemption. (v.7b)
A payment worth waiting for.
(3) He Himself
And it comes from God himself.
That’s what my mom always told me about a certain someone at Christmas. He had elves that worked for him. At the mall, he wasn’t even there himself. That’s too tough to get one on one time with him! Besides – how would these helpers ever get the message about my Red Ryder BB Gun to the big red guy in the first place?
But God is the one who personally came for your salvation.
He didn’t send a helper.
He didn’t send an angel.
He came himself.
That’s what the angel means when he says, “This is your Savior, Christ the Lord.” He means this is your Savior – God himself!
It means, God’s perfect, incredible, never failing, full redemption giving hands, took care of your salvation.
That’s a guy worth waiting for. That’s a God worth waiting for.
That’s why the Psalmist was so excited. He wrote, 5 I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his Word I put my hope. 6 I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Have any of you ever worked at night? Back then, there weren’t clocks, so the only way you knew that your job was almost over was the amount of darkness in the sky.
1:30 am. Still dark.
3:00 am. Darker still.
But come 4:45 am. It’s a dark grey.
5:15 am you can see your hand in front of your face.
6am, you start to get excited. You start to walk back to the office. There’s a beat to your step, because soon you look and...the sun peeks over the horizon. The day is here.
Wait for God like that.
With joy…because one day in this dark, sad, sin filled world, you’ll wake up. You’ll look at the horizon. The Son will come.
It will be morning.
Out of the dark depths of sin, guilt and shame.
Into the light of forgiveness, joy and God’s love.
It’s worth waiting for God. Amen.
One of the first Scriptural principles that we learn about in Bible Basics OR Catechism is that suffering comes as a result of sin. If Adam and Eve hadn’t brought sin into the world, there wouldn’t be sin today AND there wouldn’t be suffering as a result of sin.
There wouldn’t be hangovers as a result of drinking too much because no one would drink too much.
There wouldn’t be heartache at the loss of a lover because people would get married and stay faithful to their spouse.
It’s easy to see why suffering happens when it's a direct result or natural consequence of sin.
…what about when the one who’s suffering is the one who’s following God?
I. The Godly Reaction to Suffering
Take a look at James 1:2. It says this, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Did you see that word? Pure joy! In the Greek, it says todo xara or all joy. As in, “The only feeling that I have about this situation is joy!” No sadness. No anger. No frustration. Complete joy. This is the kind of feeling you have when you win the new car on the Price is Right or when you get a hefty tax return or when your crush says, “Yes” to the dance.
That’s not uncommon for the Bible to tell us to be joyful. At Christmas “Joy to the world!” At Easter it’s a “Joyful Eastertide.”
But notice when James tells us to have that feeling. It isn’t during a festival. It’s “whenever you face trials of many kinds.”
Here’s what that meant for 1st century Christians. They were facing all kinds of trials. Some of them were thrown in prison. Others had stones thrown at them. Some were attacked by the vicious words of their families. Others were attacked by the vicious claws of the lions. Some were scolded by the teachers of the law. Others were ridiculed by the Roman soldiers. But no matter the trial, James gives them the same guiding principle for how to react to these trials.
Notice it says, “Of many kinds.” Not just 1st century Jewish Christian kinds. That means God wants Christians of all centuries to consider it joy. He wants Christians of the 21st century to consider their trials pure joy.
He wants you to consider your trials of all kinds joy.
Consider it joy…when your phone breaks.
Consider it joy…when you don’ t make the baseball team.
Consider it joy…when you lose your job.
Do a dance…when you can’t pay the rent.
Jump up and down…when you get diagnosed with cancer.
Praise God…when someone calls you an idiot on Facebook.
Is that how you usually react to suffering? Not so much. (I’m not even that nice if I have to suffer through a lukewarm coffee.)
Truth is that if you aren’t responding to suffering with joy, then you’re not responding the way God wants you to.
II. The Reason for Joy
OK, so I have been reacting to my suffering in a sinful manner, pastor! Fine. That’s wrong. But how am I supposed to be joyful? What is there to be joyful about?
Ever gone running before? I don’t think anyone likes to go running. At least not based on the way it makes you feel while you are running. Your lungs starts to burn. Your calves get tired. You get a side ache. It’s hard to breathe. Sweat gets into your eyes and stings your pupils.
Yet there are thousands of people who go running every morning within a one mile radius of this church. It doesn’t fail. Whether it’s early in the morning or later in the evening, I see plenty of people out on the sidewalks running, struggling to get in a workout.
But it isn’t the suffering that causes them to run.
It’s the results.
It’s the same thing with suffering through whatever trial God has given you. Take a look at what the next verse says about it: Consider it pure joy, because…the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
If you quit running, you’ll never be able to run the 5k.
If you quit lifting weights, you’ll never be able to bench press 200 lbs.
If you quit dieting, you’ll never lose the 20 lbs you were hoping for.
If you quit going through the God directed trials that you’re going through, you’ll never learn to persevere.
Read that again.
If you quit going through the God directed trials that you’re going through, you’ll never learn to persevere.
What that means is: If you decide you’d prefer to curse God and do whatever you want… You will not have learned perseverance.
There are other options:
I’ll steal some money so that I don’t have to be poor.
I’ll disown God so my atheist friends won’t make fun of me.
I’ll quit this Christian thing because it hasn’t gotten me any of the earthly blessings I was looking for.
There are other options; but none of them are godly. None of them teach perseverance.
Therefore, 4 “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
If you looked into Ms. Julianna’s office, you’ll see some baby chicks. We’ve had those chicks for three weeks. Hatched them from eggs. Flipping them three times a day. Keeping the make shift ice box incubator at a balmy 100 degrees. Putting in fresh soaked sponges so that the humidity was just right.
As it got closer to a due date, it gets tougher. You want to help the chicks out. You want to help crack the eggs. You want to help them so that they don’t have to go through the pain of being cramped up, surrounded by a heavy membrane and using all of their newborn energy just to break free.
But you can’t. You can’t help them, because your help condemns them. If you help them, they’ll be too weak! They won’t survive in the world. They won’t persevere.
When you are suffering from God’s induced trials, understand – God is teaching you to persevere. That’s what he wants for you! He wants your faith to continue to grow. To come to maturity. To become so strong that it will remain in Him through the next faith threatening trial.
Think of it this way:
If you’ve lost your job before and God kept you safe, why wouldn’t you trust that God would provide for the rent money this month?
If you’ve lost a boyfriend before and God still provided you with fulfillment, isn’t it easier to trust that God will get you through the next break up?
If you’ve gone through a life threatening illness and God pulled you out just fine, then what’s another life threatening illness to you?
And here is God’s ultimate goal: It isn’t to just get you through the weeks without a paycheck. It isn’t just to get you through the pain of a breakup. It isn’t just to get you through a couple more months on this earth.
It’s to get you through life – this sin filled, struggle filled, unfair life -- with faith in Him. It’s this:
12 “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
Immediately, our thoughts go to our Lord. Our Savior Jesus who lost everything! Our Savior who lost his heavenly home. Who lost his earthly family. Who lost all of his friends, all of his supporters, all of his freedom. He was handcuffed, falsely accused, and spat on until he lost all his dignity. He was beaten, punched, and whipped until he lost most of his blood. He was nailed hand and foot to a cross until he lost his life.
But Jesus never stopped the suffering. He never gave up. Why? Because of the crown of Life. Because He wanted to get the crown of life. Only – it wasn’t his crown of life.
It was yours. A crown of life that he won for you. A crown of life that he has given to you.
A crown of life that he doesn’t want you to lose…so badly that …He’s willing to do whatever it takes to help you keep it.
Ever heard the story of Job? Job was a godly man. He worshipped the Lord when others didn’t. He gave God thanks when no one else remembered to. He offered sacrifices to God for his sons and daughters in hopes that God might have mercy on them for their sins!
But the devil couldn’t believe it. He came to God and said, “The only reason Job likes you is because you give him stuff. If you give him any kind of suffering, his faith will fail. He will not follow you.”
So…God took everything away from Job.
Sabeans attacked and stole all of his donkeys.
The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up his sheep and their shepherds.
A group of raiders surrounded his camels and made off with every last one of them.
A tornado-like wind collapsed the house that his children were eating in and all of his children – every last one of them – died.
To top it all off, his body was filled with sickly boils that caused him to spend his weeks in the dust, in the sun, slowly waiting for God to bring relief.
His friends couldn’t handle it: “Curse God and die! You idiot! He doesn’t care for you. Take your life. Give up! Stop acting like God is going to save you. Stop suffering and leave this world.”
But…Job didn’t. Job held on. Job spoke: I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me.
His heart. It yearns?
That’s joy. That’s the crown of life.
God kept Job safe. God used that calamity to strengthen his faith. By the end of the book, Job’s faith is remaining strong and God grants relief.
Question: Do you think there was anything that would ever be able separate him from faith in God? Not so much. He persevered.
Capture the mindset that the Apostle James uses to summarize this section. 17 “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
Notice it says every gift. Not just the ones that look like good gifts. Not just a new job, a healthy diagnoses, or a new friendship. Give thanks for the lost job, the unhealthy diagnoses, and the broken friendship.
Every gift is good – even the ones that look bad -- because our Heavenly Father is in control. He won’t let anything happen to us that isn’t for our eternal good.
When that becomes your mindset, then suddenly even the trials become pure joy.
Pure joy because God cares.
Pure joy because God loves.
Pure joy because God is strengthening you to persevere.
Pure joy because God has a crown of life in store for you.
The other day I went to Starbucks for a coffee. When I entered the store, there were about 10 people in line. My first thoughts were “Ugh! No way!” But I really wanted my coffee to I stayed in line. Good thing too. At least two people in front of me got sick of waiting. They turned around and left. One muttered something about "the cashier needing to get his act together.” The sad part? It took me all of 5 minutes to get my coffee. 5 minutes.
We aren't very a very patient people. Whether it's waiting in line for coffee or waiting in the car for our spouse to finish getting dressed or waiting on our coworkers for completion of a project or even waiting for the signal that to tell us we now have 10 seconds to get across Falls of Neuse, we get very impatient.
Now let's talk spiritual things. It's been 2000 years. 2000 some years since Christ promised to return.
Do you ever get sick of waiting? Tired of doing Christian things for a Christ that doesn't seem to return? Do you ever begin to think: there's no reason, no purpose? In a little bit, I'm going to be handing out invitations to our Christmas service. Your first reaction might be: “NOT AGAIN! There's no point. Jesus won't be coming back any time soon. Why the urgency!?!”
To those who would be waiting for his return, Jesus said, there was a man of noble birth. Noble has the idea of 'well off.' We might think “Upper class.” Perhaps someone who owns one of the 2 million dollars homes right on the golf course behind Falls of Neuse.
The man has noble ambitions. He wants to be named king. Maybe, we could think of a county commissioner. Or member of the school board.
The only difference is that this wasn't a democracy. That's why he needed to travel to a distant country. He needed to get approval from the higher ups. Perhaps he already knew these people, perhaps not. Either way, he was planning to go and make his case for being appointed king of the region.
While he's gone, he doesn't just want his household and business to stall. So he appoints servants to take care of his profit. Each one of them a mina. Ten in all. He tells them, ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’
Does that sound familiar? Can you think of anyone else who left to be appointed king, but before he left entrusted to his servants the very work that he came to do?
Matthew 28:19 “Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (like a king) He continued, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (do the work I've been doing. Continue my business) Do this by “Baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and by teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
The master of this parable then is Jesus. The one who own the Kingdom, the power, and the glory!
People of course react in different ways to Jesus' kingship.
1. SPITEFUL ATTITUDE.
The first attitude is very sad. Look at verse 14“But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ " Think of a group of protestors marching around a government building with signs that say: “Down with the master!”
People usually don’t do that with Jesus today. Instead, they write blog posts and magazine articles about why following Christ and his directives makes you a bigot, an idiot, and an old fashion jerk!
Have things really changed all that much from the Pharisees who wanted Jesus dead? Don’t people still wish for the idea of Jesus to be dead?
Still...the Pharisees couldn't stop Jesus from rightfully taking his place at God's right hand. Neither could these angry protestors stop the master from being made king. He returns.
And just like anyone who makes it to the top, he turns and brings vengeance against all those who hated him. Just peek at verse 27: " '27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’ ”
If that's you, you don't want Jesus to be king. If you refuse to listen to what Jesus has in mind for your life, watch out! Because he threatens to give you what you want -- a one way ticket out of his kingdom--only, it may not be the way you desire.
2. FAITHFUL ATTITUDE.
Remember the master had entrusted his money to his servants. He wants to check on on his business. He decides to stop and see how they've done.
The first servant was faithful. 16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’ Maybe, he made some good trades on the stock market. Perhaps he invested in an up and coming Nazarene carpentry business. Whatever he did, however he did it, he was faithful. He worked hard and it paid off. Not just in multiplying his master's money by ten, but in impressing the king. He says, “17 “ ‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’ "
Then, there's the second servant,. “Sir you mina has earned five more.” His mastered answered, “You take charge of five cities.”
It’s like the McDonald's manager who goes away for a month only to find that when he returns, the restaurant is running properly. Napkins are in order. Customers are happy. The restrooms are up to date. Quarterly sales have gone up! He’s pleased and he now trusts the faithful workers he had put in charge.
Jesus is the same way. He is pleased with those who faithfully do his work. He will be happy to find us happily using his gifts of Word and Sacrament to strengthen the faith of his people and multiply his kingdom!
But is that really the servant that we are best represented by? There's one more servant whose attitude seems all too familiar.
3. LAZY ATTITUDE.
20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. Literally, in the Greek, the word means “face cloth.” A handkerchief. What you are supposed to keep in your front pocket and pull out in the middle of hard work to quickly wipe your brow from hard work. Instead of wiping the sweat off of his brow, this servant simply hid his money inside it.
Listen to his reasoning: 21 'I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’
I find this reaction so paradoxical. If he was afraid of the man, because he reacted violently to those who didn't do work, why then didn't he do work?
It's like the football player who is afraid that his coach will be upset that he didn't work out all summer, so he decides to not work out? Or the employee who knows that his boss will be upset if he doesn't do complete any reports while he's away on a conference call—so he surfs Facebook?
What the servant was really frightened of was not the king. It was of what might happen to him while he worked. He might get tired. He might get trouble from others in the business world. He might fail!
And what are we really frightened of?
If we were really frightened of Jesus, if we really respected Him, if we really knew he was in complete control—then wouldn't we be making use of each and every opportunity to grow in his Word? Wouldn’t we make sure never to miss inviting a friend to church? Wouldn’t we boldly and courageously tell our friends and family about our faith in Jesus? Wouldn’t we confidently put “Christian” down as our religious affiliation on Facebook?
But we're more frightened of what others might do to us, “I can't do a family devotion tonight at dinner, because my kids would rather watch TV. I don't want to upset them.” “I can't get my kids to Sunday School early, because they might throw a fit!” “ I can't give an invitation to church to my coworker, because they might (gasp) give me an annoyed look!”
How sad that we are more frightened of this world, than we are of Jesus!
Listen then to how the master treats the servant who didn't do anything: 22 “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’ 24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’ "
Lord, may it never be! We have been unfaithful. Forgive us!
And God does.
According to 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Again, in Psalm 33:4 He is faithful in all he does!” (Psalm 33:4) In 2 Timothy 2:13 “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself." God is so great that in spite of our unfaithfulness, he still gets the job done.
A lot of people are unimpressed with our government right now. They can’t seem to get the job done. They can’t seem to come to an agreement and properly run this country.
Jesus. He died. He defeated sin. He saved you and me and he did it without anyone else’s help! He did it at great cost to himself! He died. He gave up his life! He gave up his kingdom, his power, and his glory in order to save you.
It worked. Remember he's king, he can do what he wants. This is no more evident than we he showed that he ruled over death and came out of the grave!
This means something very specific for you. Jesus forgives you for your unfaithfulness in studying his Word. He forgives you for your lazy attitude toward the sacrament. He forgives you for not immersing your children in the word as you should. He forgives you for not sharing his Word.
Brothers and sisters, why wouldn't you want to serve this king? Serve him by putting the mina he has entrusted you to work!
You might ask? What minas has the master given me?
Well, everything. And we could get into specifics: artsy, musical, sporty, outgoing nature, money. Certainly, it’s true. God wants us to use our resources faithfully to further his kingdom.
But today let’s focus on the one mina that we all have in common. The most powerful mina of all.
Put the mina of God's Word to work it in your own life (kinda like investing it) so that you might grow in faithfulness! This, by the way, is why church attendance is so important—There you have the Word of God spoken, sung, and the Sacrament.
Put the mina of God's Word to work with others. Share the message of Jesus with your children by telling them a Bible story before bed. Bring them to Sunday school. Take them to church.
Put your the mina of God's Word to work outside your family. Invite your friends. Invite your coworkers. Pray for friends. Pray for coworkers. Tell friends about Jesus. Tell coworkers about Jesus.
Put the mina of God's Word to work, because when you do so, God is at work!
And he is faithful. He is powerful. He is king of all. He doesn't get tired or weary. He never leaves.
He will return! He will faithfully hold us in faith, so that when he returns he will forgive us our unfaithfulness and warmly turn to you to say, “Well done good and faithful servant. Well done." Amen.