Our sermon series is all about the fight that goes on between humans and temptation.
Fighting temptation is something that we all are familiar with in some shape or form…
Fighting temptation is something that we all struggle with in some shape or form.
I have every confidence that this will be a good series for you to be a part of.
To start our study of temptation, we’re going to watch a film.
If you’ve ever been in a sport before, maybe you’ve done that. You’ve watched films of those who are good at the sport in hopes that you’ll learn how to be better at the sport.
And if you wanted to be a better fighter, there is no shortage of epic fights that you could watch.
Muhammad Ali against Joe Frazier in the Thrilla at Manilla.
The Immortal Hulk Hogan versus Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania III.
Holly Holm defying the odds and taking out Ronda Rousey at UFC 193.
If you want to learn to be a fighter, it is valuable to watch the best fighters battle against some of their most feared opponents.
Today we’ll do that. We’ll examine a one-on-one battle between the Undefeated Against Temptation, Jesus, and the Master of Temptation, Satan, the devil himself. Before we do, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Stakes
The battle we’ll look at today is recorded in Luke 4:1-13. But before we get into the specifics of the fight, I think it’s important to look at how high the stakes were.
Because epic fights, usually have high stakes:
A championship belt.
A gold medal.
Even a $100,000,000 purse.
What were the stakes in Luke 4?
1. Title of “Most Powerful”
The devil is powerful.
He has been winning temptation battle after temptation battle since way back in the Garden of Eden! Back then, in the first temptation battle ever – Satan did not really break a sweat in getting Adam and Eve, two people who had never sinned, to…sin.
Since then, the devil had been on a rampage causing person after person after person to fall to temptation.
Hundreds of millions of people…
All people in all of history up to the point of Luke 4…
All losers to the devil.
Along came Jesus.
He was supposed to be the Savior…
Could he be the One to break the devil’s power?
2. Unblemished Record
Up to this point, Jesus hasn’t sinned. The reason takes a bit of explanation:
Jesus, unlike any other human ever, was born differently.
He was born of a virgin and God.
As a result, he didn’t have a naturally sinful heart like all other humans do.
And was not tempted by his own sinful heart like all other humans are.
In short, he had no sin.
But in Luke 4, the devil gets a chance to go at Jesus in a one-on-one attack out in the desert, away from other people, in a desert wasteland. All with the goal of taking Jesus’ perfect record and adding one blemish to it.
If he can only do that, he can do more than ruin Jesus’ perfect record against temptation, he can also ruin…
3. Your Salvation
The Bible teaches that “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) We have sinned; we deserve death; even eternal death in hell. The Bible also teaches that Jesus came to be our substitute. He would pay the wage of our sins for us by dying on the cross.
In order for Jesus to be able able to pay for our sins, Jesus needed to live his own life without any sin.
Otherwise, when he went to the cross to pay for our sins, the Father would look down at Jesus’ record, see his own sinful blemish, and say, “The wages of sin is death.”
It’d be similar to me having one dollar and wanting to pay for your Dollar Menu Item at McDonalds and the cashier at the register says, “Sir, before you can pay for your friend’s McChicken, I’m going to need you to pay for your own Dollar Fries.”
Sorry, dude. No McChicken for you.
If Jesus sinned – even once, he would have to give his life to pay for it.
And then he couldn’t pay for ours.
And then we wouldn’t be saved.
II. The Fight
The stakes are high. Let’s look at what happens:
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. (Lk. 4:1-3)
Right away, did you notice that the deck is stacked against Jesus?
He’s Alone. No one else is around. No one to encourage him not to sin. No one to tell him, “Hey, don’t do that.” Sometimes the harshest temptations hit us when we’re alone. That’s not a good start.
In the Wilderness. There aren’t any amenities around to get his mind off the temptation. He can’t relax in the hot tub. He can’t grab a drink from the minibar. He can’t just ignore the devil while watching HBO in the hotel room.
He’s hungry. Like…he hasn’t eaten in over 40 days. That’s crazy. Because…I have a hard time fighting off the temptation if I don’t eat every two hours!!! We call that hangry.
And the devil knows it.
This is the opportune time.
Hit ‘em, while he’s weak.
1. Round One
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” (v.3)
It wouldn’t be hard for you. You control the elements. I know you changed water into wine not that long ago. This should be as easy as a snap of your fingers.
Because…yes…I know the Father promised to care for you but…. 40 days!?! Without food? That’s love!?!
He forgot about you.
He doesn’t love you.
And those pangs in your stomach?
Take matter into your own hands.
Make that stone into some bread.
At first, does that even seem like it’d be sinful. Because Jesus absolutely had the power to change stones into bread.
He once turned five loaves of bread into food for 5,000.
He also turned 7 loaves of bread into food for 4,000.
It wouldn’t have been hard for Jesus to turn stones into a nice warm loaf of Subway herbs and cheese bread, smothered in butter!
But that’s not really the heart of the temptation.
Because Jesus had gone into the wilderness because the Spirit led him there.
He went into the wilderness because it was part of his Father’s plan.
He went into the wilderness trusting his Father loved him and would keep him alive.
The heart of the temptation isn’t: “Use your powers,” it’s, “Distrust God’s Love.”
That’s important to recognize.
Because specifically speaking this is a temptation that the devil could never bring to you or me. Because if the devil told me, “Change that stone into bread,” I would simply say, “I can’t.”
But categorically? He uses this all the time.
“If God loved you, you wouldn’t be so far behind on your rent. Better take it into your own hands. Commit a little fraud on your taxes.”
“If God really loved you, why would he let your relationship be so difficult? Go ahead. Start flirting with other women.”
“If God really loved you, your sister wouldn’t be so sick. Denounce him. Move on.”
The temptation to distrust God’s love is great.
I’ve failed at this plenty of times, too.
But look at Jesus. He says, “It is written: (pay attention to that phrase, we’ll hear it again) ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” (v.4)
In other words:
It isn’t bread that sustains. God does.
It isn’t bread that determines that God loves me, the fact that I’m alive does.
And I’m alive so…
Devil, you lie.
I trust God’s love; not your words…
It’s like the devil came in with a few left jabs, Jesus blocked them and countered with a punch to the gut.
Round One. Jesus.
2. Round Two
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. (This is a bit of a miracle. Don’t forget. The devil is powerful. Not all-powerful, but powerful. And in an instant he shows him the kingdom of Israel, the Roman Empire, parts of Asia, down into Africa and maybe the futuristic Kingdom of Raleigh NC in 2019.)
And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” (v.6-7)
Because Jesus… I know God’s plan.
I’ve read the Scriptures.
He said that once you’ve finished your work on earth, that you will sit at his right hand and rule over all things.
Once you’ve finished your work…
Doesn’t your work involve betrayal?
Doesn’t it involve being arrested?
Doesn’t it involve you being punched, beaten, whipped, crowned with thorns, nailed hand and foot to a cross, and dying by asphyxiation on two old, blood stained pieces of wood?
That sounds awful.
That sounds terrible.
That sounds…like a BAD plan.
Jesus, I’ve got a better plan.
Bow down to me.
It’ll be quick.
It’ll be painless.
All of this will be yours.
And it will all be yours.
Never mind the fact that the devil doesn’t actually rule anything.
Never mind the fact that the devil’s promise was something he couldn’t deliver on.
Focus in on the temptation.
Because the heart of the temptation isn’t: “Bow down to me, but “Distrust God’s Plan.”
Specifically, this isn’t a temptation that could apply to us. God’s plan is not for you to suffer and die on a cross.
Categorically this temptation is something I am sure you have dealt with.
Is God’s plan really that you be kind to your enemies at work? That’s foolish. We need to go call them a few very specific names.
Is God’s plan really that you stay faithful to your spouse? You’re missing out. Check out this xxx website and you’ll feel instantly better.
Is God’s plan really that you sweat your way up the ladder? That’ll take too long. Go on Facebook and spread rumors about your coworkers. You’ll get the promotion faster…
Is God’s plan really that you share the Gospel? They’ll probably ridicule you. Just listen to my plan. Clam up. It’ll be a lot easier.
Wow. That’s a good temptation.
I’ve failed at it too many times to count!
But Jesus responds his way, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (v.8)
In other words:
It isn’t you who is all-knowing, God is.
It isn’t you who is all-loving, God is.
It isn’t you who is all-powerful, God is!
Devil, you lie.
I trust the Father’s plan, not yours…
The devil tried to come back with sideswipe, but Jesus stepped out of the way and clocked him in the back of the head.
Round Two. Jesus.
But the devil hasn’t given up. He slugs some water, spits out some blood and heads to the final round.
3. Round Three
The devil led Jesus to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.” (v.9)
Because, I get it. I misjudged you, Jesus. I really did.
You trust the Father implicitly!
You trust His love.
You trust His Plans.
You trust His Word.
Let’s do something to show that trust. Just jump. The southern most part of the temple is only about 450 feet about the ground. It’s scary. But…you’re so good at trusting. Look at what God promised:
For it is written: (“I know you’ll like that Jesus. It’s the Scriptures.”) “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
You won’t strike your foot.
And you won’t splat.
Trust your Father, Jesus.
Wow. Talk about tricky.
The devil makes jumping off the Wells Fargo Building in downtown Raleigh sound like it should be our next church outing.
Something like that would be sinning if we didn’t do it!
But it isn’t.
Because God never told us to.
This temptation is tricky.
It isn’t a temptation to MISTRUST, but to TRUST.
Specifically: It’s a temptation to Trust Presumptuously.
To trust beyond what God promised.
To let your trust lead you into a realm that God has clearly forbidden!
To be fair – you’ve dealt with similar temptations:
It’s good to trust God. He promised to always protect you. So, go ahead: Drink and drive.
It’s good to trust God. He promises to hold you in faith. So, go ahead: Stop going to worship.
It’s good to trust God. He promises to always forgive you. So, go ahead: Sin as much as you want. In fact, if you don’t go on sinning, you aren’t very good in trusting God’s forgiveness.
If you are a long-time Christian, be especially careful of this one. Because the devil plays on our desire to feel like a good Christian at the expense of being a good Christian!
He only tells half the story.
He only brings up half the truth.
And Jesus knew that: Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (v.12)
Because the Father is the one who sets limits.
And the Father is the one who determines when those limits are broken.
Devil. You’re wrong. God is the one testing, not the one to be tested.
And the devil unleashes a barrage of jabs to Jesus’ stomach,
But Jesus just stands there, absorbing the blows.
And delivers a killer upper cut to knock the devil out.
The Most Powerful of All.
The Unblemished by Sin.
Your Salvation-Winning-Savior – Jesus Christ.
III. WHAT NOW?
1. Celebrate His Victory!
Because you may have fallen to temptation.
You might have lost to the devil.
You might have lost to the devil so often that you feel like your record is 0 - 76,845.
You might feel like a loser.
But you aren’t.
Because Jesus won.
He defeated the devil.
He didn’t sin.
When he died, he paid the price for your sins!
And then – three days later…He rose triumphantly defeating the devil’s counterpart known as death!
Jesus is victorious!
And as a result…
You are victorious.
You are forgiven.
For all the times you have mistrusted God’s love, you are forgiven.
For all the times you have mistrusted God’s plans, you are forgiven.
For all the times you have trusted God presumptuously, you are forgiven.
Take a moment.
When the devil tries to get you to think about all the times that you have lost to him…
Remind him about how he lost to Jesus!
2. Fight with your Greatest Weapon
A phrase that Jesus uses time and again throughout this entire fight is “It is written.” It’s a reference to Old Testament Scripture. And it’s Jesus’ favorite way of fighting temptation.
I think that’s incredible!
Because if I was predicting how this battle would go, I would imagine that Jesus would have sent lighting bolts to turn the devil to a crisp.
Or maybe called down a bunch of flying monkeys to toss him off the top of the 450-foot temple point.
Or even imprisoned him inside of a heavenly cage where he isn’t allowed to eat bread for 40 some odd days!
Jesus doesn’t use his miraculous power.
He simply uses God’s Word.
A weapon – that you and I have access, too.
Hebrews 4:12 says this, “The word of God is living and active sharper than any double-edged sword.”
Friends, use God’s Word to battle temptation.
I don’t mean pick it up and swing at the devil.
I mean use God’s Word.
It tends to knock the devil out.
When he tempts you to lust, tell him, “It is written: Don’t lust.”
When he temps you to hate, tell him, “It is written: Don’t hate.”
When he tempts you to doubt God, tell him, “It is written – that Jesus kicked you in a one-on-one temptation battle. Then he died and rose again. Tell me again…Why should I doubt God?”
3. Fight Alongside Jesus
You don’t need to fight on your own.
You don’t need to take on temptation by yourself.
You have the Savior on your side.
And what happens when Jesus fights the devil?
Check out the last verse.
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left… (v.13)
Did you catch that?
He gave up.
He submitted at the hands of Jesus.
That is what Satan will do when you fight along Jesus.
And as a believer in Jesus, you fight along Jesus.
May God give you confidence to fight temptation this week and always. Amen.
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
Have you ever had one of those moments of sheer terror at being caught? I mean the total anxiety panic of knowing… there is no way out of this. If you know what I mean, it was probably when you were younger? Though maybe not, contrary to what we like to think of ourselves, the youth do not corner the market on stupid decisions.
Whatever it was you were doing or did, I’m sure it was very attractive. The thought of all you could gain from going down that path was irresistible. It was so simple, required so little effort, and the benefits, well, they were pretty amazing. I’m guessing that the thought of being caught or the consequences never actually entered your mind. Maybe you had to think about one or two ways to smartly keep it hidden, but the fact that it was just wrong never really was part of the decision-making process.
At least, until you were caught.
You were… not so clever as you thought. Or you over-reached out of greed and arrogance. And if you’re remembering that moment from your life right now just like I am, you can feel the panic. Feel the fear grip your heart as you face whatever might be coming.
And that might be the worst of it. You don’t know what might be coming. I suppose it depended on what it was, how old you were and the like? Maybe privileges would be taken away. Maybe it would just be the shame of letting someone else down. Maybe it would break a relationship. Maybe it would be legal action. But the fear of knowing you’d been caught and there was no getting out of it, that tightening of your heart… that’s what I’m talking about.
Now why… why would I make you relive something like that this evening? It’s bad enough when those memories haunt us at quiet moments during the day or night. Why drag them up on purpose?
Well because that is exactly the feeling I want you to think of when you picture what it’s like to stand before God almighty and try to justify yourself to him.
To better appreciate this evening, I’d like to walk you through… well it’s a metaphor. This isn’t really how things will happen at the end, not literally. But the truth of it holds. So, imagine with me. Imagine the moment comes. Your earthly life has ended, and you are waiting to see what happens next. You’ve heard that Heaven is the place to be and Hell, well not so much.
Though there is some nervous anticipation, you’re feeling – pretty good about what’s to come. You’re a good person. You were a good son or daughter, a good spouse or a good parent. You did right by the people around you. You worked your job, you went to church, you helped those in need. This should go well.
And the time comes that your name is called. You are escorted from a waiting area into a courtroom. There is no jury, only the judge. And there are no witnesses, only the judge. God. One look from his piercing stare and it all comes crashing down. The intensity of that gaze opens your own eyes and you know. You know, and you remember everything he knows about you.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;
The façade of goodness that you wear becomes as flimsy and fragile as tissue paper. All the selfishness that backed all those “good” deeds. All the times that the cost of doing the right thing was a little too high for you so you just walked by on the other side of the street. The secret thoughts, the greed, the lust, the selfishness, the anger, and more than any of that all the times you just thought you knew better than God.
That’s the panic moment. You’re caught, there’s nowhere to go, and you are utterly guilty. You did all of it, thinking no one was looking, no one would notice, but he saw it. There’s nothing to say in your defense. Anything you could think of in your own mind falls so flat that you can’t even utter the words.
Is there nothing to be done? You survey the crowd. Surely someone could speak up on your behalf and ask for leniency, mercy, or just to ask the judge to let this one go? Someone some authority or power or charisma or money could maybe do something for you…
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
A man does step forward. Not the one you were looking for. He is not wearing anything fancy. He has no regal bearing about him. You do not recognize him as anyone rich or influential. He instead looks like someone in as much need of help as you are. If you were not simply frozen by the terror of the moment you might motion for him to blend back into the crowd.
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
He draws the judge’s attention. The man speaks.
“I did it.”
“Every charge you are about to read. That was me. I openly confess to every one of those crimes. I did it.”
“You are aware of the punishment?” the judge asks.
“I am. It was me.”
The confession is accepted. The man is bound and led away. What could you do? It might seem dishonorable to let him go in your place, but the terror of what waits at that end is too much to face. You let him go.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
You know what it means for that man. You know what you were expecting. The terror of hell itself. That the mercy and grace of God would be completely cut off from you. Absolutely lost in the outer darkness where there is no light and no hope and nothing but terror and pain forever. Maybe you didn’t grasp it before but you do now. That’s death. To be cut off from the source of life and creation is death.
It should’ve been you, but it wasn’t. What he suffers is of your making, no mistake. You earned and created the hell he is suffering now. You can’t help but stare at the door they led him through. It’s conflicting. You’re haunted by what he suffers in your place but there is still relief that it won’t be you.
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
As you muse, the judge speaks again.
“The guilty party having confessed and punishment rendered, the accused is declared not guilty. With no outstanding accusations, you are free to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Dumbfounded, you step forward. Heaven? You started with confidence you had no right to. It was quickly crushed and for what seems like an eternity you stood there with no hope, trying to accept the fact that you were going to die. And now so quickly that has changed to heaven? It seems so impossibly unlikely, but it’s happened.
You walk to the exit of the courtroom and the entrance of the kingdom. The reward is not just a perfect kingdom, it’s a perfect you. The last remnants of evil within yourself are stripped away and now you not only live in a place that will never cause you pain – you yourself will not be the cause of your own pain anymore.
This is your end. The eternal, loving, unchangeable God as your perfect king. The one who cares for you perfectly. You, made perfect, and living the life you were meant to live from the beginning. All the things from before that gripped your heart with fear are just… gone. There absolutely cannot be a better end. And this is your end.
And what of that man that so boldly confessed to your crimes? The one that was led away to die in your place?
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
He lives. He is your king. He is the judge. He is your God. He died. He lives. You live.
There was something wrong with the night.
I mean, they knew that, they had been told that, but even so, even if you didn’t know – it just felt… off.
Maybe it was a chill beyond the usual that settled on the desert when the sun dropped beyond the horizon. Maybe it was the way all the people in the homes around them were also rushing about to make their final preparations, to make sure nothing had been overlooked. People were just a little more frenzied than usual for the end of the day. Even if you hadn’t been paying attention, you’d notice – something was wrong.
And something was wrong, after all. Death was coming that night. Not that their lives were any picnic either. Slavery in the desert was all they knew. Many of them each day were worked to death before night ever fell. But this was different. This time, there was a statement from God. This night, the oldest male of each generation, the firstborn son would be struck dead before dawn. The threat, the warning of God hung in the air like a fog that refused to move. And so the Israelites faced down this evening of death on their last night in Egypt.
There is something wrong with your life.
Maybe you know that already, maybe you don’t. But if you don’t, I doubt hearing that really shocks you.
Even if you don’t know it as head-knowledge, you can probably feel it already, can’t you? Something about your life just feels… off.
Maybe it’s just a feeling, like something just out of the corner of your eye that you just can’t see.
Something ominous and looming out there in the shadows – dangerous, but it’s never there when you turn around. I don’t mean there’s something literally stalking you though, I just mean this sense that there’s something wrong, there’s some danger there just out of perception but you can never quite look at it.
In fact, maybe you could see it if you tried, if you turned and looked. But the truth is you’re terrified to. After all, who knows what it might really be. No, no better to ignore it, better to stay distracted by what you’re doing than try to figure that out. Focus on what you’re doing right now, on the job, the wife, the kids, the checkbook. It’s probably just a trick of your imagination anyway, stop thinking about it and it will go away. Or at least, if you concentrate hard enough on what you’re doing, you won’t notice it anymore.
But even that doesn’t quite work. Rolling up your sleeves and plunging in elbow-deep to the work in front of you, it works sometimes, but it really doesn’t. It’s still wrong. Something is still wrong! Why? All the promises made to you when you were a child never seem to come true. You work hard, you try your best, you have at least some of the things you were promised would make you complete, right? A family, a home or a few nice things… where’s the peace? Where’s the contentment? Why does it still feel wrong? Maybe you’re still missing part of the puzzle. You search for the one missing thing – each one you think, “this is it, now that I have this, I’ll be good and that feeling will go away.” A vacation, a nicer house, a new home theater, a stronger relationship, a better paying job with less stress, each time something else and this time it will work.
But it never works. I told you, there is something wrong with your life. A statement from God himself hangs over your life like a fog that refuses to move. Death is coming. And not just any death. Not just the end of this life, the end of your life forever. God has programmed into you this truth; those who do evil will be punished. Evil, huh? Well then why am I nervous? I’m not evil. Aren’t you? The world around may lie to you, tell you that’s not you, but the disquiet within you says otherwise. You would never really ask those closest to you “do you think I’m evil?”, but even if you did they would say “of course not.” That doesn’t mean they’re right.
But you know things they don’t know. You know there’s not a perfect record stretching back across your life. You’ve worked hard, done your best, but it’s not been perfect. There were moments when you gave in and did what you wanted and maybe the cost for you or someone you cared about was high. Maybe there didn’t seem to be any cost at all, but you could tell it wasn’t right. And now you drag the guilt of that behind you.
I invite you to stop shifting your eyes away from it, to stop seeing this just out of the corner of your eye and look square at this; our God describes for us exactly what it is. It is ugly and it is scary, but we cannot deal with it if we do not know what it is. There is something wrong with your life; there is a hole running through you, a tear in your very self that we call “sin”. That doesn’t really tell us enough though.
What is “sin”?
Sin is what God is not. Sin is shadow and darkness when God is light. God is good, God is perfect. Sin is not. God operates on one driving principle; selfless love. God seeks the good of everyone else above his own at all times, regardless of what it costs him. Sin is the opposite; sin is to grab for yourself regardless of what it costs others. I hope you see that you do not qualify on your own for holiness.
Maybe you like to think of yourself as a pretty selfless person; but have you been at all times to everyone? Don’t lie to yourself, it does no good. We are all of us, unholy. Sinful.
Now understand this. Holiness and sinfulness are not just choices or lifestyles. In a sense, they are like forces of nature, light and dark, magnetic poles and gravity. Sin cannot exist in the presence of the Holy. And that is where the fear comes from. God is Holy. You are not. This life will end, and God tells us that you will either be brought in to be with him or you will be thrown out to spend eternity without him.
If you are sinful, and if sin cannot exist in the presence of the holy, then which will it be for you? This is what is wrong with your life. A sentence of eternal death hangs in the air….and there is nothing you can do about it.
But the Israelites in Egypt were not panicked. Frenzied, hurried, maybe even a little fearful, sure. But not panicked. God told them, warned them what was coming. But he also told them exactly what was needed to escape the death that came that night. It would take the blood of a lamb. A single ewe lamb, one year old, spotless and without defect. The lamb would die instead, the blood was to be painted on the door frames of their houses. God would see the blood shed, and spare those inside.
So they did this. That night, as God promised, an angel of death passed over Egypt as by God’s decree, the firstborn son of each household was struck down in his sleep. But wherever there was the blood of the lamb, the angel stayed his hand. The angel saw the household through the blood, and they were spared. God had given the warning to all of Egypt, and he had given his directions just the same. Those who ignored the feeling that something was wrong; those who did not listen and did nothing about it – there was death in that house that night. Those who listened to God, who trusted his words of warning and deliverance were safe.
And so, I am not panicked either, and neither should you. Yes, there is something wrong with our lives.
We should feel the weight of how important this is. Yes, we should maybe even be a little fearful just because of the stakes involved. But truly afraid? No. God has warned us about this hole in our lives, about the holiness we are missing not to terrify us, but so that we pay attention, because of just how important this is. He shouts that this is life and death to get eyes on him. Because God tells us exactly what we need to escape the death that’s coming for us. It will take the blood of a lamb. A single ewe lamb, spotless and without defect. The lamb will die instead and his blood will cover you; and death will pass over you.
As a remembrance of what he had done for them, God commanded the Israelites to observe the Passover every year. At the same time of year, at the same day, at the same hour, each household would again sacrifice a single ewe lamb, one year old, without defect or blemish, to remember how God spared them from death. Then, over a thousand years after the first Passover, on Friday of that week, the day that the lamb was killed, just before the moment when the sound would resonate from the Temple informing everyone that now was the time to sacrifice the lamb; the following happened:
After this, knowing that everything had now been finished, and to fulfill the Scripture, Jesus said, “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine was sitting there. So they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished!” Then, bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.
The time had come, the lamb was to be sacrificed. But not just any lamb. The real Lamb. The one who was intended all along. Everything that went before it was a show, foreshadowing. It had no real effect.
Only an equal sacrifice could count for you. It had to be another person. Yet if it was just another person, what good would that do? Even if that person didn’t need saving themselves, their sacrifice would only save you. But what if God himself were both a person and God? How could you ever tip the scale of human life to outweigh that? You can’t. The one sacrifice would pay for everyone. And the Lamb did just that.
You are not holy? Jesus is. You committed crimes against God? Jesus didn’t. The Lamb had no defect and no blemish. He is what you are not. He has what you lack. God was ready to pour out his justice against all the evil ever committed, all in one fell swoop. Jesus, his Son, the Lamb, stood up and took your place. He climbed on the cross and there he took everything that your sin earned. He became your sin, he became your curse. And when it was done, he uttered those words. “It is finished.”
One word really, and I’d like to render it a little differently tonight if you’ll permit me. “Complete.” That is what happened on the cross right then. God’s plan to stand in your place so you would not suffer was completed – he died in your place. The foreshadowing he’d been showing the world since the first Passover meal was completed – the Lamb was sacrificed so that death would pass over you. You, missing the holiness God requires to be in his presence forever, you are completed. At that one moment, everything was made complete, everything was made the way God intended from the beginning.
Look at the cross. Realize what the sacrifice there has done for you. There may have been something wrong with your life once, there may have been a hole, something missing, something terrifyingly wrong, but Jesus has filled that with his death. The blood of the lamb was shed for you and so death holds no power over you. You are complete with Jesus’ gift of himself. You are given what you once lacked. God the Father will gladly welcome you into his kingdom when this is all over. You are complete in him.
Tonight, we gather in reverent awe to pay our respects for the tremendous sacrifice our Lord went through on our behalf. There is sadness, yes, because when I look at him hanging to die I know it is my fault he is there. When his lifeless body is removed and placed in the grave, it is because of me that this happened. But we are not here to leave this evening morose and depressed. We know that God did this willingly, out of love for you, individually. He knew you. He knows who you are. He could’ve spared himself that much more suffering by not including you in his sacrifice, but he didn’t. He wanted to do it. And as we close the tomb and walk away tonight we needn’t pretend we don’t know what Sunday will bring. If Sunday did not bring what it does, then tonight would be meaningless. We may leave tonight somber and reverent, but we still leave with hope and joy in our hearts. We know what this night means for us. Jesus made us complete. In him, we are what we are meant to be forever.
I cannot tell you what will happen in your life in the days between now and the time you are called eternal rest in him. I can tell you that in Jesus and his sacrifice, it doesn’t matter. In him, your end is set and will not be changed. Your life is complete. In Jesus, your sins are paid for, the gift of holiness is given to you, heaven is yours. There is nothing else to chase after. There is nothing else to fear. There is nothing else wrong with your life. The Lamb has made you complete. Amen.
This Sermon is based on Matthew 26:15-18, 20-22
15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus[b] Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!
Pilate slipped into the tub & let the bubbles cover his body until they tickled his nose.
This was so much better.
Earlier that day he had averted disaster. An angry mob had been awaiting him at dawn. They had demanded the blood of this guy named Jesus. Pilate had interviewed him and, found him to be a bit crazy, but unworthy of the death sentence these Jewish people wanted to inflict upon him. Pilate had tried to release him, but the people would have none of it. They wanted blood and they weren’t leaving until they got it.
So…Pilate shirked his responsibility. He sent Jesus to his friend Herod. Herod was the one who was supposed to be in charge of the Jews anyways. Plus – Pilate didn’t like him that much. It made him smile to think of Herod dealing with all those awful people while he was letting the warmth of the tub soothe his muscles.
“Enter.” He told one of his servants as he lifted a glass of wine to his lips.
Umm…sir. They’re back. The Jews. With Jesus.
The wine came flying out of his mouth. Him?
I. The People’s Choice
After Pilate had re-robed, he made his way out toward the angry crowd.
15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd.
Similar to the Presidential pardoning of turkey, only instead of a turkey, each year the governor would pardon a criminal. He wouldn’t choose just any criminal. He wouldn’t choose one that was advantageous to him. He would let the people decide. It was a show of goodwill. A way to endear him to his people. A way to settle down the crowds.
So…The people chose the man to release, but he would choose the options.
16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. 17 So… Pilate asked the crowd, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas or Jesus…the Messiah?”
A little bit about Jesus Barabbas. John 18:40 calls him an “insurrectionist.” That means he had revolted against the government. He had caused civil unrest. He hated the current politics. And Mark 15:11 says he had “Committed murder.” That’s probably the actual charge that had gotten him thrown into prison. Murder. Probably during the insurrection.
Murder done in the name of politics.
Kinda sounds like a terrorist, huh?
In essence, this is the choice before the people. Do you want me to release Jesus the Terrorist OR Jesus the Savior of the world? Granted, Pilate didn’t view Jesus as the Savior. He viewed it more like Jesus the Terrorist versus Jesus the mild mannered, slightly off his rock, theologian.
Still…the choice was obvious wasn’t it?
For a moment, Pilate stood with his arms crossed. For a moment, he smiled a smug smile. For a moment, he outsmarted those pesky Jews. For a moment, he had saved an innocent man. For a moment, he had hopes of a relaxing luncheon. For a moment…
…then the crowd made their choice.
21b “Give us Barabbas!”
Pilate was in shock. “Are you serious? You want the terrorist? You want the murderer? You don’t mind that your families won’t be safe and the marketplace might be filled with discord. You don’t have a problem with another possible attack in the future? You’d rather get rid of this Jesus guy simply because you don’t want to have to deal with your sins?"
22 What do you want me to do with Jesus?
The answer was simple…and disgusting, “Crucify Him!”
II. Your Choice
Sometimes they make bad choices on the Oscars. Do you agree?
I remember a few years ago trying to watch every Oscar nominated film. Films that were described as “artsy;” "compelling” and “thought provoking.” After I had seen them, if anyone had asked me for a description of the film I would have used the adjectives: “boring, actionless & mind-numbing.”
Of course -- you’re talking to a guy who still doesn’t understand why Minions didn’t even get nominated, but…Do you get my point?
As bad a choice as they sometimes make in the Oscars, how much worse of a choice did that crowd make outside Pilate's palace!
Instead of someone who gives life, they chose someone who ended it.
Instead of someone who promotes peace, they chose someone who disrupted it.
Instead of someone who provides a heavenly kingdom, they chose someone who broke down earthly kingdoms.
But enough about them.
What about you?
Who did you choose?
Pastor, what are you talking about? I’m not 2,000 years old. I wasn’t there at the palace...I haven’t even been to Israel. I’ve never seen the Roman palace.
True. Your choice was probably not presented by a first century Roman governor.
Maybe it was presented by a friend…
…by an internet link.
...by a guy you met at the bar.
…by the group that likes to complain after church.
Who did you choose?
Jesus? Not always. Barabbas? No. Perhaps someone else. Someone with…
A name like PORN.
A name like GREED.
A name like RACISM.
A name like RAGE.
Names like ADDICTION, SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE, HOMOSEXUALITY, COMPLAINING, PRIDE, LUST, VITRIOL, DOUBT and SELFISHNESS.
Here’s the deal. We know how bad these things are. We know that PORN ruins families. We know that GREED ruins marriages. We know that COMPLAINING destroys the work of the church. We know that ADDICTIONS destroy the body. We know that IMMORALITY ruins our self worth. We know that PRIDE is intolerable to God.
And we know that Jesus is the Savior. He brings forgiveness. He brings eternal life. He brings love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Yet we still find ourselves struggling to choose Him!?!
Hebrews 6:4-6 says this, “Those who fall…are crucifying the Son of God all over again!” You are driving a nail into his hands. You are swinging the hammer with all their might. You are joining your voice with the crowd.
You are NOT choosing Jesus.
III. God’s Choice
I’ll tell you what:
My arms are tired. I’ve been swinging the hammer so often lately. I’ve been choosing my sins over Jesus. I’ve done wrong.
I…I…I am Barabbas.
I deserve punishment.
I deserve death.
I deserve the cross.
But…God won’t bring it. God provided a substitute.
Do you remember our Old Testament lesson? It was that section that talked about animal sacrifices. For those who are living in downtown Raleigh and are convinced that meat comes from a plastic wrapper at a local McDonalds – this sounds a bit disturbing. If you have ever lived on a farm, then you might understand the sacrifice that animals need to make for you to feed your belly and live.
But here’s where this section is still strange. The goat in the section we were talking about – was not to be eaten. It wasn’t being turned into a burger. It wouldn’t become a delicious slice of goat jerky. It would be killed. It’s blood collected and it was sprinkled…on the altar, on the ground, and on the people. Disturbing? It should be! Because that’s how disturbing our sinful choices are to God! Remember: “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
But look at why the animal was killed: "Sacrifice the Goat for a sin offering.” In other words – it would die in the place of the people. It would die for the people’s sins.
UNDERSTAND THIS: These animals didn’t actually take away the sins of the people; they were simply an illustration of one who would die and would take away the sins of the people.
Another substitute. An eternal one.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin…” That’s Jesus! He lived a perfect life. He chose God every chance he could. He never chose wrong. He never chose sin.
Then, God chose to sacrifice Him.
As bad as it might be picture an innocent animal dying, how much greater when the one dying is God’s eternal, perfect, Son?
But look at why it happened: God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us! Jesus was our substitute. God chose him to suffer. He chose you to live. It wasn’t just Barabbas who got to live because Jesus died.
It’s you. Grasp that.
It’s kind of like having the choice to get a new 2016 Lexus with chrome plating, auto driving capabilities, bluetooth hook up and even a mini bar in the back seat...AND a 1987 Chevy Lumina minivan – with exhaust problems, a missing tire, and a busted radio.
God chose the broken down minivan! He chose you.
Because He chose Jesus, because Jesus died for you, because Jesus rose again three days later conquering sin and death, God chooses to say to you, “You are forgiven. Believe me. Be saved.”
IV. What Now?
1. Relish God’s Choice.
Today is selection Sunday. Basketball teams across the nation will be waiting to see if they make the big 64 team tournament. Some are locks. Some are pretty sure and some are on the bubble.
For those on the bubble, when they find out that they are in, they’ll celebrate! They’ll take a moment and take it all in – to enjoy the confetti, try on tournament shirts and ball caps, and tweet to all their friends how excited they are.
You. Take the day. Take today. Take today and relish this: God chose you!
Because there are plenty of times that we aren’t chosen. Someone else is chosen for the job. Someone else is chosen for the date. Someone else is chosen for the promotion. Someone else is chosen for the part in the school play. Someone else is chosen first for the kickball team at recess…in fact, everyone else might be chosen first.
But today we are reminded that God chose you. He chose you over his Son. He gave up his perfect Son Jesus for you. I need you to write that down. “God chose me.” Write it down and place it somewhere you will read it. Hang it on your fridge. Place it on the dash in your car. Label an alarm on your phone to come up and remind you of that truth everyday!
This will give you strength to follow our section action point…
2) Choose Jesus.
As soon as the worship songs stop, as soon as I shake your hands and wish you a good week, as soon as you get out those doors, the devil will strike. “Choose complaining -- that person is cutting you off in the parking lot!” “Choose bitterness – those kids are running in the hallway.” "Choose gossip – Because it looks like that one lady has information about that other lady.”
Be ready for it. Be ready and choose something different.
Choosing Jesus is choosing to love.
It’s choosing to honor your wife.
It’s choosing to love your kids.
It’s choosing to obey your parents.
It’s choosing to do what it is Jesus did, when he chose us and gave his life up for us!
Choose Jesus and…
3) Avoid the Voter’s Booth Mentality
You aren’t supposed to talk politics with each other. As North Carolina has its primaries, you might be nervous to tell others who you voted for. You may just simply say “mm hmm," to whoever they ask if you vote for. It’d be a great way to avoid confrontation.
If you want to do that with politics, fine. I will. But when it comes to Jesus, don’t hide it. Don’t keep your choice to yourself. Make it obvious. Make it loud. Tell your coworkers your plans to worship Jesus this Easter. Tell your friends what an awesome message from God you heard today. Pass it on via Facebook. Pass it on via Twitter. Take an Easter invite – don’t throw it away – and (gasp) INVITE SOMEONE!
Let the fact that God chose you empower your choosing of him. To the Lord be glory forever and ever! Amen.
I’m sure it seemed like every other, run of the mill crucifixion.
As the Roman soldier adjusted his cincture and wiped his brow after hoisting the heavy cross under the hot Middle Eastern sun, he was prepared for things to go just as they normally did. There would be cries of pain and moan of agony from the convicted. There would be crowds of people gathering to watch, more for the sport of it, than out of compassion. There would be curses hurled at the criminals, blood splattering the dust, and a few tears from the loved ones of the condemned. Slowly, just as always, he would have a front row seat as he watched the life of another human being gradually drift away from him.
At first, it looked like every other crucifixion he had been a part of. But then, it became very different.
It started with the criminal. Usually they were no good, scum of he earth types. They would curse those who were cursing htem. They’d spit and spew forth insults as their dying breath enabled them.
But this guy, this Jesus, remained silent. He didn’t say much. He didn’t sweat. He didn’t insult. In fact, the first time he spoke, he said words of kindness.
“Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
This Jesus had a sign above his head. It was common for crimnals to have signs which explained their crimes. But the sign above Jesus didn’t say, “Murderer,” or “Adulterer.” It didn’t say, “Thief,” or even “Tax Evader.”
It said: “King.”
And the crowds. Never before had so many come to watch a crucifixion. The tone of this crowd was violent too. They vehemently hated this man. They despised him. It seemed that they couldn’t get enough of hurling insults at him.
But others…others loved him. As the soldier stood at his post, he couldn’t help but overhear some of the things they called him, “Savior,” “Redeemer,” “Messiah,”….”Friend.”
Then things got very strange. It was the middle of the day, the hottest part of the day, the part when the sun is the strongest.
That’s when it grew dark. Nighttime dark. Can’t see your hand in front of your face dark.
While the soldier couldn’t see; he could hear. He heard the voice of this JEsus. Strong. Convicting. Careful. Loving. The gentle words of this Jesus penetrated and haunted his brutal, Roman heart.
Then, Jesus cried out. He cried out and shouted, “It is finished.” With finality. With authority. With joy…almost.
Then, he spoke once more, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Then, he died.
And as he died, at that exact moment of his death, the One who controls earthquakes, seemed to respond. The earth began to shake. It trembled. It trembled a powerful tremble – and as the soldier braced himself against he foot of the cross – he saw rocks splitting into two.
Then, the earth calmed. The soldier thought. He thought about what had happened. He thought about who this Jesus was.
He came to a terrifying conclusion: “Surely this was the Son of God.”
Can you imagine the terror going through his mind? He had just participated in the killing God’s divine Son? He had killed the divine Savior. He had murdered God Himself!
I’m sure his mind began racing. “What have I done? How will I ever be forgiven? I won’t. I killed God’s son. He’ll come after me. The Lord of heaven and earth will come after me, find me, and obliterate me.”
The soldier beat his chest. This was a terrible realization.
But to be fair. This soldier was not alone in killing God’s Son. He wasn’t the reason Jesus had died. Nor was it the fault of the other soldiers, the crowd that chanted “Crucify,” Pontius Pilate who condemned Him, or even the chief priests who plotted this whole death months in advance.
These people didn’t killed Jesus.
Romans 4:25 says this, “Jesus was delivered over to death, for (or “because of”) our transgressions.”
Do you understand what that is saying? It says that the reason Jesus was up there, the reason Jesus died, The reason he hung on the cross was your sins. He hung as a substitute. He hung to take the brutal punishment that your sins deserved.
It really forces you to rethink sin, doesn’t it? It’s so easy for us to go through life and think of sin as “no big deal.” “I’m not perfect.” “Everybody sins.” “I’m not as bad others.”
But you are bad enough that your sins resulted in Jesus dying on the cross.
I don’t care what kind of sin it was either. Your sins led to this. Whether “big sins” like adultery, murder, or brutal violence – or “smaller sins” greed, a white lie, a little name calling, not really worshipping God with all your heart.
Sin is Sin. Sin caused Jesus to die. Sin killed Jesus. Your Sin killed Jesus. My sin killed Jesus.
Our sins killed God’s Son.
The soldiers was right. Surely this was God’s Son. It’s a terrifying thought.
But we are gathered here today, not because what happened thousands of years ago is terrifying. But because it is good. Good Friday.
Consider Romans 4:25 again, “He was delivered over to death for our sins.” He was the substitute. He took the brunt force of God’s wrath against sin and there is no force of wrath left for you.
It’s true that you deserved to be on that cross 2000 years ago, but it’s also true that Jesus died for you. The punishment that happened – is over. There is no punishment that remains.
How do you know it’s true for you? How do you know that it’s not just true for his followers – his really good followers – the people who haven’t done as much wrong as you?
Remember the words of the soldier: “Surely, this was the Son of God.”
Jesus’ life was no ordinary life. His death was no ordinary death. His blood was no ordinary blood.
Jesus’ death covers your sin. And your sin. And your sin. And your sin. It covers every last one of your sins.
It covers the big sins that haunt your heart. It covers the repeated sins that you struggle against.
It cover the sins that have ruined relationships. It covers the sins that have kept you from God.
The Son of God is powerful. Just as he had done miracles all his life, so he did miracles on that Good Friday. As he had cleansed men from leprosy, so he cleansed you from sin. As he cast out demons, so he cast out the devil. As he made the mute to speak, so he causes us to shout in joy. As he restored the health of the sick, so he restored our spiritual health. As he stopped storms, so he stopped death. As he brought people back to life from the dead, so he brought us back from the dead—he gave us spiritual AND eternal life.
I read the first part of Romans 4:25 earlier, “He was delivered over to death because of our sins.” Now…let me read the second part, “He was raised to life because of our justification.”
Keep this in the back of your mind. Jesus’ substitute worked. The Father looked down at his Son and said, “Well done.” He looked down at the world and said, “Be at peace.”
He looked down at you and said, “You are forgiven.” He said, "You are my child." He said, "One day, by faith in my Son, you will join me in heaven...forever escaped from the very things that made Good Friday so sad."
No more Sin. No more sadness. No more pain. No more sorrow.
No more death.
And Jesus? Don't worry about him. In fact if you look at the words of the soldier one last time there is reason to rejoice:
"Surely this is the Son of God."
"Surely death cannot hold him."
"Surely he will rise."
Please join us for Easter. Amen.