Missing the Point

Please read Luke 24:1-12 in your Bible.

The Last Supper (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

There was a Christian lady who did a lot of traveling for work, requiring her to fly often.  Airplanes made her nervous, so she always took her Bible along to read and it would help relax her.

On one of these flights, she took her seat and took her Bible out of her purse.  A man seated next to her chuckled a bit at the sight of a Bible, and he asked, “You don’t really believe all the stuff in there do you?”

“Of course I do,” she replied, “this is the Bible.”

“Yeah, well what about that guy who was swallowed by a whale?”

She nodded.  “Jonah.  Yes, I believe that happened.  It is in the Bible.”

“OK,” the man said, “how do you suppose he survived all that time in a whale?  Why wasn’t he suffocated?  Digested?”

The woman looked the skeptic squarely in the eye and said, “I don’t really know.  I guess when I get to heaven I’ll ask Jonah.”

“What if he isn’t in heaven?” the man asked sarcastically.

“Then you can ask him,” she replied.

This lady got the point; I wonder if the guy did.  Easter is one of the two big occasions during the year where those of us who get it have special opportunity to share it with those who don’t.  The thing to which I am referring is the point of the whole Easter scene: life is available to all who receive Jesus Christ!  It is LIFE, abundant and free!

Don’t celebrate the Resurrection but miss its point: you are alive!

  1. The evidence proving the Resurrection.

Clue #1 = The stone had been rolled away.  By design, these stones were meant to be put in place and left there. They were heavy.  They were set in an angled track so you had to roll uphill to move it out of the way.  As grave robbing was a legitimate concern at that time, graves were made in such a way as to deter robbery.  This was a rich man’s grave, so it was of the highest quality.  Moving it in and out of place required the work of several men.

Clue #2 = They didn’t find Jesus’ body.  Though grave robbing was a problem, the robbers didn’t bother taking the corpse.  The women came to embalm Jesus’ body so they were surprised to find it missing.

In this situation, the only people with any motive for taking Jesus’ body had nothing to do with it.  The Jewish authorities might have done it to prevent the grave from becoming a shrine.  But no, they asked Pilate to seal it tight and he did.  The disciples might have done it to fake a resurrection.  But no, they were socially isolating in fear of the Romans.  Admittedly, it would have been hard to know what to make of this clue all by itself.

Clue #3 = The appearance of angels.  Though verses four through eight refer to them as MEN, the details make it clear the two messengers are angels.  Consider the three aspects of their description:

– They appeared SUDDENLY, as angels often do.

– Their clothing GLEAMED LIKE LIGHTNING.  (Biblically, that description is reserved for supernatural beings.)

– The reaction of the women was to be frightened and to bow before them, WITH FACES TO THE GROUND.  That’s how people in the Bible react to angels, never to persons.

In the Bible, angels are a separate race, but they sometimes take on human form.  The word translated as angel means “messenger,” and this duo had a five-part message for the women.

– “WHY DO YOU LOOK FOR THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD?”  They make it sound a little odd that the women expected Jesus to be there.

– “HE IS NOT HERE, HE IS RISEN!”  As He had already been resurrected, Jesus was not there at that moment.

– Not that any of this should have surprised them; they’d been warned “REMEMBER WHAT HE TOLD YOU.”

– “HE MUST BE DELIVERED INTO THE HANDS OF SINFUL MEN.”  In other words, it had always been the Father’s plan that Jesus should come briefly under the power of evil, so he would killed by them.

– “CRUCIFIED:” Jesus’ death was sacrificial, an effective remedy for the universal problem of sin.

– “ON THE THIRD DAY RISE AGAIN:” this part of Jesus’ teaching should have prepared them for this morning: they should have come to the garden ready to worship their Risen Savior, not to anoint His body for burial.

Clue #4 = They remembered Jesus’ words.  Well, sure.  Having a pair of dazzling angels remind you would be a great memory-refresher!  This is important because it meant that they had context for the angels’ message and therefore knew what it meant.

Clue #5 = Peter ran to the tomb.  What drove Peter to go to the tomb?  What made him so eager to get there?  It may have been simple curiosity or he may have been desperate to be forgiven.

Whatever mixture of thoughts and emotions drove Peter to run there, what he saw was a clue: Jesus was gone, but the strips of cloth that had covered His body were left behind.  Anyone stealing the body would surely have taken it cloths and all.

Additionally, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had prepared Jesus’ body for burial before the stone had been rolled in front of the tomb.  The spices were sticky and smeared on the body.  Removing the linen strips would have taken time and effort; there was no reason for a grave robber to do that.

Put all these clues together and the inescapable conclusion is that Jesus rose from the dead.  It is the only explanation that is supported by all the data.

  1. In spite of all these clues, the disciples still missed the point.

THEY DID NOT BELIEVE THE WOMEN; THEIR TESTIMONY SEEMED LIKE NONSENSE.  The women were eyewitnesses, but the menfolk did not believe them.  Why? Social bias certainly had a role to play; women were not allowed to offer testimony in court.  People often refuse to believe anything they haven’t seen for themselves.  Remember, they’ve been shut up and in hiding since Jesus’ arrest.

Worse, the women’s TESTIMONY SEEMED LIKE NONSENSE.  Given what they’ve just experienced, you could understand if the women were excited.  They were probably talking fast and over one another.  In their grief, these men would likely have even less patience with something that sounded to them – pardon this politically incorrect expression – hysterical females.

The Gk word translated as NONSENSE was a medical term for the ravings of a fevered insane person.  Not to be trusted.  The claims of the women were dismissed as emotional rather than rational.  Ironically, their slowness of heart to believe is one of the things that proves the Resurrection actually happened.  Think about it; this indicates skepticism, depression, and a paralyzing fear.

Nuts who put forth conspiracy theories about the disciples lying and creating a false resurrection are proved wrong; these men were in no shape to create any kind of conspiracy.  They had no vision, no desire to create a new faith, no plan at all.  They were utterly defeated and without faith on this occasion.

Peter socially isolated himself, WONDERING what had happened.  To his credit, Peter is alone among all the male disciples, in taking the women seriously.  In fact, Luke tells us that Peter RAN TO THE TOMB.

I can tell you from personal experience it takes a lot to get a fifty-something guy to run anywhere.  For Peter, however, this is typical behavior: to run off impetuously. When he got there, what he saw in the tomb – the strips of linen – did not immediately suggest a solution to Peter.  So he wandered and WONDERED, trying to find an explanation that fit the facts and suited his preconceived notions.  After all, dead is dead, right? Not in this case.

  1. How to prove you’ve got the point.

Believe it: Accept the evidence.  Let the liars and skeptics say what they will; the biblical evidence is clear.  The Resurrection did happen.

From there, we believe the following.  The Crucifixion was necessary because I have a horrible and recurring problem called sin.  I am powerless to fix this problem and it has the most serious outcome: separation from God in this life and in eternity.  The Resurrection establishes God’s solution to my sin: the sacrificial death of Jesus.  As I receive God’s solution I am forgiven and graciously gifted with life: abundant life in this world and in eternity.  Receiving God’s life changes everything: I will spend the remainder of my life unpacking its meaning, but it always starts with loving obedience to God.

Think it: Learn the evidence.  Study God’s word.  Let it change your heart and mind.  Understand how the truth about Jesus affects your priorities and shapes your world view.

Say it: Testify to the evidence.  Bring Jesus into every conversation.  Look for opportunities to speak His name. Be prepared to tell your personal story of faith.

Do it: Act upon the evidence.  Bring Jesus into everyday life by making the same choices He would make. Prioritize your spiritual life: give God the first and best of your time, money, and all other resources (they are His after all).  Fellowship with other believers; God created the Church for our good, not the other way around.  Mutual service, worship, and discipleship are essential resources for our spiritual maturity.

Don’t celebrate the Resurrection but miss its point: you are alive!

As the angels said, “WHY DO YOU LOOK FOR THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD?  HE IS NOT HERE, HE IS RISEN!”  All the evidence is before you.  Though the conclusion seems too good to be true, it is!  Life is ours because life is in Jesus!

Maybe for some, the Good News seems to good to be true.  They’re like a little boy from a long time ago who was a big fan of two children’s TV icons; Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers.

One day it was announce that Mr. Rogers would be paying a visit to Captain Kangaroo, appearing on his show!  The boy was ecstatic!  Both his heroes on at the same time!

When the day finally arrived, the whole family gathered with the little fellow around the TV.  There they were.  Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rogers.  Together.  At the same time!

The boy watched eagerly for a minute, then surprised everyone by getting up and leaving the room.

Puzzled, his father followed him and asked, “What is it son?  What’s wrong?”

“It’s too good,” the boy replied.  “It’s just too good.”

If Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers can bring about such a response, surely Jesus rising from the dead could too.  Maybe this is why the disciples were slow to believe the women.

After all, life had just dealt them a catastrophic disappointment.  Three years of life with Jesus had come to an abrupt end.  This is the kind of thing we’ve experienced about this world.  Disappointment abounds.  Hope gets crushed by tragedy.  Happy endings are fiction.

Observing Easter apart from our church family feels like one of those experiences.  Perhaps like me you’ve felt anger, grief, denial, bargaining and other emotions of loss.  It feels that COVID-19, like the Grinch, has stolen Easter.

But of course, that’s nonsense.  Easter is not about traditions and church and families gathered.  Easter is something much more.

Easter is life.  Don’t allow anything – good or bad – to distract you from that most important point.  Easter is your life.  Live it.

Purple is the Color of Royalty

“A pastor visiting the U.S. related what happened on Nov. 9, 1989 – the day the Berlin wall fell.  It was not a “planned” event.  There was a huge meeting taking place. It was a worship service. The order for service was scripture reading then sermon then a chance for anyone who wanted to come to the microphone and speak and then of course they closed with prayer.

“There were 2,000 people in the church, but there were another 5,000 outside, listening on speaker placed outside the building.  When it was time for people to come to the microphone, a woman came into the building. She was all excited. She couldn’t get to the mike, because of all the people. So she shouted from the door that she had come in. The wall had fallen. East Germany was now free.

“There was dead silence – but only for a moment. The people started to stomp their feet. That is what they do for applause. There was joy and shouting.

“Ten minutes later – when the sound subsided – the pastors realized that the 5,000 people outside the church hadn’t heard the announcement. The woman hadn’t gotten to the mike, and wasn’t heard outside. The announcement was repeated and there was 10 more minutes of foot stomping and shouting outside.

“People were going crazy. Freedom! When they heard it on the radio, even those with doubts no longer had doubts. This was like a Palm Sunday for them.”

From a sermon by Wally Seibel, The Three Praises of Holy Week, 3/23/2010, accessed at SermonCentral.com.

Like Palm Sunday, the fall of the Berlin Wall provoked a spontaneous celebration of good news, the joy of freedom finding expression in the lives of ordinary people.  Palm Sunday was also a parade given to honor Jesus as King – which He was – though not necessarily the kind of King everyone wanted.  Today we observe Palm Sunday with a celebration of our own, rejoicing in this fact:

Jesus is the King of Kings: He deserves our devotion and obedience.

  1. The signs of His sovereignty.

Witness #1 = His lineage and His birth.  The lineage of David is an aspect of the HUMAN side of His kingship.  The genealogies of Matthew 1 and Luke 3 trace the ancestry of Jesus back to King David and beyond.  This is important to establish Jesus as King of Israel.

The Fatherhood of God is an aspect of the DIVINE side of His kingship.  The Virgin Birth establishes Joseph is Jesus’ adoptive father, not His biological father.  Jesus was born King of Kings because God was His Father.

Witness #2 = Jesus’ own testimony.  Jesus’ trial before Pilate is the only occasion where Jesus is asked directly if He was a king.  Here, Jesus replied to Pilate’s question, “Are you a king?” in the affirmative: “Yes, it is as you say.”

Witness #3 = The testimony of friendly witnesses.  We can cite three friendly witnesses; the Old Testament prophets, Jesus’ disciples, and the gospel record of His Triumphal Entry.

The Old Testament prophets predicted an eternal king in David’s lineage.  In Isaiah 9:7 it is written: OF THE INCREASE OF HIS GOVERNMENT AND PEACE THERE WILL BE NO END.  HE WILL REIGN ON DAVID’S THRONE AND OVER HIS KINGDOM, ESTABLISHING AND UPHOLDING IT WITH JUSTICE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS FROM THAT TIME ON AND FOREVER THE ZEAL OF THE LORD ALMIGHTY WILL ACCOMPLISH THIS.  In Jeremiah 23:5 we read, “THE DAYS ARE COMING,” DECLARES THE LORD, “WHEN I WILL RAISE UP TO DAVID A RIGHTEOUS BRANCH.”  In Daniel 7:13-14 we are introduced to the “Son of Man.”  “IN MY VISION AT NIGHT I LOOKED, AND THERE BEFORE ME WAS ONE LIKE A SON OF MAN, COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.  HE APPROACHED THE ANCIENT OF DAYS AND WAS LEAD INTO HIS PRESENCE.  HE WAS GIVEN AUTHORITY, GLORY AND SOVEREIGN POWER: ALL PEOPLE OF EVERY LANGUAGE WORSHIPED HIM.  HIS DOMINION IS AN EVERLASTING DOMINION THAT WILL NOT PASS AWAY, AND HIS KINGDOM IS ONE THAT WILL NEVER BE DESTROYED.”

Jesus’ disciples declared Jesus’ kingship on at least two occasions.  In John 1:49 NATHANAEL DECLARED, “RABBI, YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD, THE KING OF ISRAEL.”  Reading John 6:15, we see this incident; JESUS, KNOWING THEY INTENDED TO COME MAKE HIM KING BY FORCE, WITHDREW AGAIN INTO THE HILLS BY HIMSELF.

The most obvious testimony to Jesus’ kingship occurred at His Triumphal Entry.  In John 12:13 we read,

THEY TOOK PALM BRANCHES AND WENT OUT TO MEET HIM, SHOUTING, “HOSANNA!”  “BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!”  “BLESSED IS THE KING OF ISRAEL.”  That event fulfilled to prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, where it is written, REJOICE GREATLY, O DAUGHTER OF ZION!  SEE YOUR KING COMES TO YOU, RIGHTEOUS AND HAVING SALVATION, GENTLE AND RIDING ON A DONKEY, ON A COLT, ON THE FOAL OF A DONKEY.

Witness #4 is the testimony of “hostile witnesses.”

The Roman soldiers mocked Jesus while they tortured Him and while He hung on the cross.  In all four Gospels (Matthew 27:27-31; Mark 15:16-20; Luke 23:36-37; John 19:1-5) they called Him “King of the Jews,” put a royal purple robe on Him, and jammed a crown of thorns on His head.

The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate also referred to Jesus as the King of the Jews.  In Mark 15:9+12 and John 19:14-15 he introduced Jesus to the mob as the King of the Jews.  Also, the sign above the cross identified Jesus as the King of the Jews.  When the Jewish clergy protested and asked the sign be removed, Pilate refused.

One of the thieves crucified with Him.  ONE OF THE CRIMINALS WHO HUNG THERE HURLED INSULTS AT HIM: “AREN’T YOU THE CHRIST?  SAVE YOURSELF AND US!” (Luke 23:39)

The Jewish clergy and other onlookers were also hostile witnesses.  Their testimony may be read in Matthew 27:41-42; Mark 15:31-32: IN THE SAME WAY THE CHIEF PRIESTS, THE TEACHERS OF THE LAW AND THE ELDERS MOCKED HIM.  “HE SAVED OTHERS,” THEY SAID, “BUT HE CAN’T SAVE HIMSELF! HE’S THE KING OF ISRAEL!  LET HIM COME DOWN NOW FROM T CROSS, AND WE WILL BELIEVE IN HIM.”

In modern practice of law, a “hostile witness” is someone whose opinion is contrary to one’s client but whose testimony will prove the client’s point.  All of these people we’ve cited did not believe Jesus was the King of the Jews, but by their referencing Jesus as the “King of the Jews” by their questions and mockery, prove the point that His kingship was the point under contention.

Witness #5 = the first generation Church.  Read 1 Corinthians 15:25: FOR [CHRIST] MUST REIGN UNTIL “HE HAS PUT ALL ENEMIES UNDER HIS FEET.”  This passage is a statement of the faith of the first generation Church.  It is the result of eyewitness testimony and is the core of our faith.  Here Paul affirmed that Jesus Christ reigns as King and will do so until all His enemies (the last of which is death; v. 26) are defeated.

In 1 Timothy 6:15 Paul wrote about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, which GOD WILL BRING ABOUT IN HIS OWN TIME – GOD, THE BLESSED AND ONLY RULER, THE KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.  Revelation 1:5 & 19:16 directly affirm the kingship of Jesus ON HIS ROBE AND ON THIS THIGH HE HAS THIS NAME WRITTEN: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

  1. The proper reaction to the King is to worship Him (Philippians 2:5-11).

This passage is a hymn of the first generation Church.  As hymns do, it expresses our faith.  It contrasts Jesus’ voluntary servitude with His exaltation.

It describes our worship.

– EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW in awe, wonder, admiration, and respect.

– EVERY TONGUE CONFESS the truth; which is…

– THAT JESUS CHRIST IS LORD.  He is King of all creation.  He reigns even over those who refuse to believe in Him, who refuse to bow or confess the truth.

– TO THE GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER.  This is the ultimate purpose of our lives and the greatest good we can do.  Worship is the pinnacle experience as we are directing attention to God, who is the greatest good.

  1. Why do we need a King?

Our King can forgive our sins.  Because He sacrificed Himself on the cross to make forgiveness possible, Jesus can exercise His divine authority to completely remove our guilt and shame.

Our King makes us rulers and priests.  In Revelation 1:6 & 5:10, we are promised that God will make us a KINGDOM AND PRIESTS who are in service to God.  Our King delegates His authority to us!

Our King makes laws for the citizens of His kingdom to obey.  In Mark 12:20-31, Jesus set forth the two greatest commandments, both of them having to do with love.

Our King commissions us for royal service.  Matthew 28:18-20 is called “The Great Commission.”  It is there Jesus tells us that our main job is making disciples.  Those two words take in both witnessing (making new disciple), and edifying (maturing existing disciples).  He offered teaching and baptism as two means of doing these.

Jesus is the King of Kings: He deserves our devotion and obedience.

“Did you know the United States once had an emperor? Believe it or not, it’s true – at least, it was in the rather confused mind of Joshua A. Norton.

“Norton lived in San Francisco during the gold-rush days of the 1800’s. When speculation in the rice market brought him to financial ruin, something happened to Norton’s mind. He declared himself “Emperor of These United States.” It might have been a practical joke, or it might have been the result of a clouded mind. Whatever the initial reason, Norton’s pretending soon grew into a delusion. In 1859 he published a proclamation that he was emperor according to an act of the California legislature. He found a sword, stuck a plume in his hat, found a cape, and marched the streets in colorful costume.

“The citizens of San Francisco were amused by this ploy they played along. They gave him recognition with free tickets to special events. He was invited to gala opening nights. In fact, they allowed him to collect a small tax and issue his own currency. It was all done in the spirit of fun.

“When he died in 1880, more than ten thousand curious people attended Norton’s funeral service – one of the largest funerals ever to take place in California. He lived and died in his own delusion of grandeur. He didn’t hurt anyone; in fact, he brought a bit of a smile and a chuckle to people who came across his path.

“But make no mistake about it. Joshua A. Norton was never really the emperor. Had he really insisted on a confrontation with the United States government, he would have been disposed of rather quickly.

“Imagine the poor soul who enters eternity convinced that life was all about him, that she was the focus of the universe. What a shock to find that the Bible’s title for Jesus is accurate. He is King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and no pretend emperor will ever take his place.”

(From a sermon entitled “He is King of Kings” by Andy Cook , retrieved from LifeWay.com.)

Today we declare our allegiance to our King Jesus Christ and swear to Him our love and obedience.  Palm Sunday is about more than commemorating an historical event; it is about each of us picking up our palm branch and celebrating Jesus as OUR King.  During this Holy Week especially, let’s make it personal, folks.

 

RESOURCES:

Message #966

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/76289/heart-by-sermoncentral?ref=TextIllustrationSerps

https://www.lifeway.com/en/articles/sermon-jesus-king-of-kings-palm-sunday-hebrews-3-12

Defined by Faith and Fear

phobia

Phobias are fears that deeply affect the sufferer.  They are not entirely rational, and in fact, can be so strong that rational thinking is hijacked by the fear.  As we’re on the subject of fear this morning, I thought we’d begin with a look at some of the strangest fears people have.

“Nomophobia” is fear that your cell phone, for whatever reason, is going to stop working.  It’s estimated that over half of all cell phone users are affected by this fear.  Based on my experience, I’d say it’s worse than that!

“Ancraophobia” and “anemophobia” are two words for the fear of wind.  People with this phobia are anxious next to an open window or under a hair dryer.

You might guess “spectrophobia” is a fear of ghosts, but you’d be wrong.  It is a fear of mirrors and a dread of seeing one’s image in a mirror.

“Linonophobia” is a fear of string.  There is an online test you can take to assess the severity of your fear, but I’d think just waving a string around would be easier.

“Ablutophobia” sounds like a fear of Popeye’s adversary Bluto, but it’s a fear or bathing or cleansing.  Interestingly, this rare fear is more common in women and children than it is in men.

“Allodoxophobia” is, believe it or not, a fear of opinions.  Don’t you wish politicians and media types would get a dose of this?  The 24 hr. news channels would go out of business!

These are some unusual, new, and weird examples of things that people fear and they sound amusing.  However, in real life, phobias can be severe to the point of crippling a person’s life.  In those cases, serious steps need to be taken to relieve these fears.  God did not create us to live in fear, but in freedom.  While we may not be bound up by a phobia, fear still affects our thinking, attitudes, and decisions.  In our passage today, Jesus sets forth two kinds of fear.  One is good and necessary; the other is bad and unnecessary.  We’ll analyze this passage to understand which is which and how we are to deal with fear.

CONTEXT (v. 1) = Acc. to 11:38, this set of teachings was delivered in or near the home of a Pharisee, following some very strong rebukes Jesus delivered to the Pharisees.  It’s hard for us to picture a crowd this size gathering to listen to the goings-on in or near a person’s home, but it happens in the Gospels. There were so many people, Luke wrote that they numbered in MANY THOUSANDS and THEY WERE TRAMPLING ON ONE ANOTHER.  This is Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew’s Gospel.

What provoked Jesus’ rebuke was His host’s fussing about Jesus not going through the ritual of washing His hands before the meal.

Followers are defined by faith, not anxiety.

  1. Three things we must not fear.

In verse four Jesus taught, “DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THOSE WHO KILL THE BODY AND AFTER THAT CAN DO NO MORE.”  Followers of Jesus know there is more to life than what this world holds. Everything in this world, including pain, is temporary.  In a sense, even death is temporary as we are raised to life to face judgment.  No matter the persecutions and trials we face in this life, we can be encouraged to know they’re nothing to be afraid of because they are temporary. Don’t waste a moment being anxious about worldly things, no matter how scary they may seem; God is more powerful than all of them and He will deliver you.

In verse seven Jesus urged, “DON’T BE AFRAID.”  His reason?  God has not forgotten you.  He cares for the most common kind of bird: you can be sure that He cares for you.  Put anxiety away; trust in his knowledge of you (HAIRS) and His high evaluation of you (MANY SPARROWS). Anxiety gains power when we doubt God loves us or that He exists at all.

Similarly, in verse seven, Jesus said, “DO NOT WORRY” referring to anxiety over people who oppose our faith.  Jesus warned His disciples that the leaders of their own people would drag them into court and persecute them.  He promised that they needn’t worry about such experiences, even about what they might say in their own defense.  His promise was the Holy Spirit would supply a defense; He would inspire them with the best possible words that would result in the best possible testimony to their persecutors.

  1. Three things we must fear.

Jesus commanded, “BE ON YOUR GUARD AGAINST THE YEAST OF THE PHARISEES, WHICH IS HYPOCRISY” (v. 1).  This section is an example of how the context aids interpretation.  We observed the context section above that a huge crowd had gathered.  Notice the detail in v. 1; JESUS BEGAN TO SPEAK FIRST TO HIS DISCIPLES.  This is a sidebar Jesus held with the Twelve.  He used this occasion to give them a warning about the YEAST that is HYPOCRISY.  In other words, don’t be a hypocrite.  Put these facts together and here’s what Luke is depicting: the vast crowd felt like a victory.  The temptation in this kind of situation will be to please the people so they will stay and come back for more teaching later.  This is human nature.  How many times have we seen people with a distinctly Christian witness in music or preaching become popular and immediately their witness changes, it gets watered down in order to maintain that popularity.

Jesus used the image of YEAST because it is something that works silently but effectively permeates the whole loaf.  That’s why He warned them about hidden and secret things coming to light.  Sneaky compromises with the world made just to be popular will always backfire.  Our God who sees all will also tell all, so avoid hypocrisy.  Be afraid of being exposed as a hypocrite and be sincere from the beginning.

Jesus delivered the most serious warning in verse five, “FEAR HIM WHO…HAS THE POWER TO THROW YOU INTO HELL.”  While it may not sound good, this is the good kind of FEAR, the kind that motivates us to be wise to know what God commands and obedient to Him.  To be sure we get it, Jesus said “FEAR HIM” twice in this verse.

Don’t bother worrying over human violence that can only kill your body: instead, be concerned about God who has THE POWER TO THROW YOU INTO HELL.  The worst any person can do is hurt and maybe kill you TEMPORARILY.  They are not worthy of fear.  What God does is eternal and HELL is eternal separation from God, which is literally THE “fate worse than death!”

Having delivered that warning in verse five, Jesus gave two promises in verses six and seven that are positive motivations to FEAR God.  First, God is mindful of SPARROWS and you are much more important than them.  Relax in the knowledge God has not FORGOTTEN you. Second, Jesus said God has taken the time to number the hairs on your head.  That kind of knowledge indicates intimacy and constant watch care over us.

Wise people fear God above all others and don’t have any fear left for hypocrites or violent punks or any other kind of threat the world can mount.  Fearing God means we don’t abuse grace by accepting His gifts and avoiding our responsibilities.

Verses eight to ten direct us to fear the consequences of disowning God.  Before that, Jesus made a promise to His followers.  Verse eight might be paraphrased as follows: “You be faithful to me and I promise I will be faithful to you, especially when it matters most; at the gates of heaven.”  Loyalty in this life is rewarded in eternity.  We don’t EARN eternal life by being loyal, but our loyalty to Christ is one aspect of a true, saving faith.  It’s interesting how Jesus referred to Himself directly in the present time and to Himself as the SON OF MAN at that future time.  If you understand the meaning of that term as it originated in Daniel 7, then you understand its significance.

Verses nine and ten are a warning to unbelievers.  Jesus is NOT trying to make His disciples anxious about their salvation; that is a bad kind of FEAR.  Instead, He is attempting to motivate unbelievers to come to faith & be saved.  To DISOWN Jesus is to be guilty of disbelief.  Disbelief is refusal to accept the truth and be changed by it reveals a person who has no faith at all.

Back to Jesus’ warning about HYPOCRISY (v. 1): these verses are a warning to unbelievers who have only a pretense of faith.  A superficial faith is more likely to turn from Jesus because of temptations or trials.  The consequence is dire: the worst possible circumstance imaginable.  DISOWN Jesus and He will DISOWN at the worst possible time, on Judgment Day.  Such a person will be lost for all eternity, cast out of God’s presence.

Verse ten has confused a lot of people.  Rather than list all the ways this warning has been interpreted, I want to tell you what I believe Jesus meant, based on the context.  Jesus’ warning there is an “unforgivable sin.”  As it is unforgiveable, the guilty party can’t be saved.  It is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because it is a rejection of the Holy Spirit’s witness to an unbeliever convicting them of sin and calling them to repent, putting their trust in Jesus.  It is unforgivable because, as the previous verse indicates, the person has denied Jesus all the way to death.  When he/she stands before the throne of judgment, it is too late; they are self-condemned.  Logically, God cannot forgive those who refused His offer of forgiveness.  Our just God gives them what they wanted in this life; separation from God.

Followers are defined by faith, not anxiety.

Commenting on this passage, Darrell S. Bock wrote, “This passage asks fundamental questions about our identity.  Will we fear God or the masses?  Does our affirmation come from above or from our neighbors?”  People-pleasers are fearful folk.  We’re seeing the results of the Church in America trying to “fit in” with the culture.

On the liberal side, there is an evil spirit of accommodation.  In that case the Church has followed the dictates of political correctness, adopting it as “gospel.”

On the conservative side, there is an evil spirit of adaptation.  We have attempted to use worldly weapons of politics and money to fight ungodliness.  In fact, Charles Colson wrote in The Body, “Ironically, political flirtations and dalliances have threatened the church’s independence in the West even more than the direct opposition of Communists in the East.”

The most biblical and godly way is once again in the middle of these extremes.  We need to stay true to Scripture and away from worldly philosophies and methodologies.  We need to be sensible consumers and critics of culture, employing prayer, scripture, and positive responses as often as possible.

This battle is not for our culture, but for the people mired in it.  We direct our efforts at individuals to save them.  Culture and government are not our tools.  We rely on the Holy Spirit and the word of God.  We do not have to win in this world because we know this world is doomed to destruction and are assured that God is going to win.  Only what is of Him survives.  That is our only concern.

 

RESOURCES:

The Body, Charles Colson

The NIV Application Commentary, Darrell L. Bock

Ten Completely Bizarre And Completely Weird Phobias

 

A Torn-up Love Letter

A Torn up Love Letter (1)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

You may wonder why we’re devoting such attention to the church in Ephesus.  Part of the answer is that Ephesus is arguably the pre-eminent Gentile church in the New Testament.  More is written about the Ephesian church than any other church except Jerusalem.  It’s thought the Gospel of John was written there.  What we can learn about the church in Ephesus serves us as a guide to our own problems and their solution, describing the way our life together should be, with God’s help.

CONTEXT = Between the description of Jesus in ch. 1 and the visions that begin in ch. 4, John’s Revelation has two chapters of love letters written to churches located in Asia Minor.  The fact that Ephesus appears first in the set may be suggestive of the pre-eminent place of the church in the history of how the Gospel spread throughout Asia Minor.

This morning we get to see the mind and heart of Jesus reflecting on the church in Ephesus.  The heart-breaking image communicated in RVN 2:1-7 is that of a torn-up love letter.

Legalism & ungraciousness are signs of having forsaken Jesus Christ, our “first love.”

  1. The Author identified Himself. (1)

First identifier: HIM WHO HOLDS THE SEVEN STARS IN HIS RIGHT HAND.  This image is repeated from 1:16.  The SEVEN STARS are identified in 1:20 as the angelic messengers to the seven churches receiving these letters.  STARS are associated with angels in JOB 38:7 and Revelation 9:1.  In Daniel 12:3, faithful witnesses are said to shine like stars.  The RIGHT HAND is a symbol of authority.  To be at a ruler’s right hand was to be in a place of power and security.  Put it all together and this is an image of the authority of Jesus over His church; the angels are His messengers.

Second identifier: HIM WHO…WALKS AMONG THE SEVEN GOLDEN LAMPSTANDS.  This image is repeated from 1:12-13 and has already thereby been attributed to Jesus Christ.  In 1:20 the SEVEN GOLDEN LAMPSTANDS are identified as the seven churches in Asia Minor.  In Zechariah 4 the prophet was given a vision of a golden lampstand with seven lights, oil fed to it directly from 2 olive trees.  The message there was, ‘NOT BY MIGHT NOR BY POWER, BUT BY MY SPIRIT,’ SAYS THE LORD ALMIGHTY. (Zechariah 4:6)  Placing Jesus AMONG the LAMP-STANDS implies His closeness to His people.   He is with His people, not apart.  In total, the Author of the letter has identified Himself as an authority figure who is in relationship with His Church.

  1. The Author commended the church in Ephesus.

First, He commended them for their DEEDS; for their HARD WORK. (2)  This Greek word can be translated as “wearisome toil,” yet it has NOT made them GROW WEARY.  Presumably, this work includes good deeds and witness to the Gospel.

On a related note, He commended their PERSEVERANCE. (2+3)  The Ephesian believers ENDURED HARDSHIPS FOR MY NAME – for His sake – because of association with Him.  They had NOT GROWN WEARY to the point of giving up, but stayed true to Christ.  PERSEVERANCE is commended by Paul in Galatians 6:9, LET US NOT BECOME WEARY IN DOING GOOD, FOR AT THE PROPER TIME WE WILL REAP A HARVEST IF WE DO NOT GIVE UP.

Second, Jesus commended the Ephesus church for their discernment. (2)  They did not naively assume fast talkers were apostles.  They did not TOLERATE WICKED MEN.  Rather than suffer the effects of wickedness in their midst, the rightly expelled WICKED people for the fellowship.  They TESTED THOSE WHO claimed TO BE APOSTLES, exposing their falsehood.  In this, they followed the teaching of John: DEAR FRIENDS, DO NOT BELIEVE EVERY SPIRIT, BUT TEST THE SPIRITS TO SEE WHETHER THEY ARE FROM GOD, BECAUSE MANY FALSE PROPHETS HAVE GONE OUT INTO THE WORLD. (1 John 4:1)

Third, Jesus commended their hatred of THE PRACTICES OF THE NICOLAITANS. (6)  Note they hated THE PRACTICES, not the people.  “Hate the sin, love the sinner” is the time-tested maxim.  One of the qualities of a love letter is that the text mentions things known to the lovers but unknown to another reader.  Similarly, we can only guess who these Nicolaitans were and why Jesus hated them.  Where they the WICKED MEN mentioned in verse two?  We don’t need to know the details; it is enough that the Ephesian believers didn’t put up with their false teaching and wickedness.

  1. The Author condemned the church.

The heart of the matter is expressed poignantly in verse four: YOU HAVE FORSAKEN YOUR FIRST LOVE.  This is our key verse.  This is a very emotional statement but we are not told its specific meaning.  Given the warning that follows in verse five, to REMOVE their LAMPSTAND, it is a sin, one so serious that threatened the church’s existence.  Also, the word FIRST indicates an earlier part of their Christian experience, something which they had more recently FORSAKEN. The phrase, REMEMBER THE HEIGHTS FROM WHICH YOU HAVE FALLEN (5) implies a way in which the church can regain their FIRST LOVE.

Though He commended their DEEDS, the Author called them to action. (5)  To call them to REPENT means that the church was guilty of a sin.  In addition to repenting, they were to DO THE THINGS YOU DID AT FIRST.  Here’s that word FIRST again.

Putting all of this together, we are not over-interpreting if we say that the church in Ephesus had somehow gone away from the spiritual status they enjoyed when the church was founded.  Going back to Acts 19:19 we’re reminded the new converts burned 50,000 drachmas worth of magic scrolls.  That showed a literal and figurative fire, a love for Jesus that cancelled all the appeals of superstition and the occult.  We can guess that the fire needed to be rekindled.  We have all experienced periods where our enthusiasm and the excitement of faith waned.  Whether on an individual or church scale, formalism, judgmentalism, legalism take the place of a living faith.  We quit learning and growing, and thereby start dying.

He warned them: IF YOU DO NOT REPENT, I WILL COME TO YOU AND REMOVE YOUR LAMPSTAND FROM ITS PLACE. (5)  Since the LAMPSTAND is the symbol of the spiritual existence of the church, this is a warning of death.  Church people tend to worry over the “Killer B’s,” Buildings, Budgets, and By-laws; these are not the real life of the church.  The real life is our love for Jesus Christ and any time a church loses that, they’ve ceased to be a church.  At that point, the Killer B’s that are left merely mark the presence of a corpse.  To summarize, the most important church in the Greek-speaking world was in danger of not being a church at all.

  1. The Author made a promise to the “overcomers.” (7)

An overcomer is herein identified by two qualities.  First, an overcomer is one who listens to the Spirit = HE WHO HAS AN EAR, LET HIM HEAR WHAT THE SPIRIT SAYS TO THE CHURCHES.  The presence of the Holy Spirit is one of the signs of true faith.  The presence of the Holy Spirit is verified by actions in conformity with what the Spirit teaches; an overcomer follows the Spirit’s lead.

Secondly, an overcomer is one who does what the Author commends, not what He condemns.  He is faithful in word & deed.  All believers are to do the whole work of righteousness: avoid evil and do good.  We learn about overcomers in these letters and elsewhere in RVN (7:14; 12:11; 15:2).

Jesus promised that overcomers will receive an eternal home in heaven: they are given THE RIGHT TO EAT FROM THE TREE OF LIFE.   The TREE OF LIFE bookends the Bible; it is PARADISE lost and restored.  It appears first in Genesis 2:9 as one of the trees given to Adam and Eve as food.  It was lost to them when they sinned.  It appears again in Revelation 22, where it gives life to the people who live with God in the New Jerusalem.  The TREE OF LIFE is a symbol of the eternal life God gives to His people.

In both Genesis and Revelation, the TREE OF LIFE IS located IN THE PARADISE OF GOD.  The word PARADISE was borrowed from the Persian language and refers to a park or garden, exactly the place you’d expect to find a tree.  It is a symbol of life after death, the reward God graciously gives to the people who are His.

Legalism & ungraciousness are signs of having forsaken Jesus Christ, our “first love.”

Jesus warned against this abandonment of love: “Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:12–13).  Notice that both the warning and the promise are the same ones delivered by angel to the church in Ephesus.

In an article entitled “Have You Left Your First Love?” Greg Morse wrote, “They had a zeal for orthodoxy, but they had lost their love for Jesus. They showed up for Bible studies and debated the heretics, but lost their pure love for their Lord. They stood against evil in their midst, but tolerated a sluggish love towards Jesus and each other.

“It is a scary reality that the road to hell is not only paved with good intentions, but good deeds and theological precision as well.”  He called it a “paralyzing lack of happiness in God.”

 

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Revelation, Alan F. Johnson

Harper’s New Testament Commentary, St. John the Divine, G.B. Caird

And I Heard a Voice, Brett Best

Message #868

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/have-you-left-your-first-love

Someone IS Watching and it DOES Matter

Sheep and Goat

Please read Matthew 25:31-46.

Our works will come under scrutiny on Judgment Day.

                The picture of the lamb and goat above were rendered to emphasize the “cute” anthropomorphic aspect of this parable.  Jesus chose to tell a parable that substituted animals for people.  Everyone hearing it understood this was a metaphor because Jesus made that clear in verse 32.

Having preached this passage three times previously in my 30+ years of preaching, I have always wondered why Jesus chose to substitute animals for people.  Part of the reason is that He often starts parables with a familiar scene and then veers off in an unexpected direction. But this one is blazing a new trail from the first verse.  Something else is going on, and that answer has never really satisfied my curiosity.

Another answer was revealed to me in a nightmare three days ago.  The details of the nightmare are gone from my memory, but I recall lying awake in bad silently crying as the Lord made it clear to me.  The use of animals and the tedious repetition of the good deeds is designed to set an emotional counterpoint to the fact that this is a nightmarish scene on the left hand of the Shepherd King.

Life is serious, folks.  To die and then face Judgment Day is most serious.  Jesus brilliantly told this parable the way He did because it emphasizes the horror of sin and its deadly consequences.  The parable packs a greater emotional punch because it was told the way Jesus told it.

The glorious light of the Son of Man on His throne is not a gentle glow, but the blazingly bright searchlight that reveals the insides of person.  Like an x-ray, it exposes human personalities, laying bare guilt and innocence.

The contrast of the sheep going to heaven and the goats going to hell reveals this scene is not just a throne room, it is more than a court room, it is also a slaughterhouse.  To make the contrast even more visceral, the condemned are sentenced to eternal conscious torment.

When you strip away the anthropomorphic metaphor and realize these are human beings – not “goats” – who are finally and eternally rejected, the scene becomes as frightening as it should be.

Let’s not confuse the Gentle Shepherd of John 10 with the Shepherd King of Matthew 25.  They occupy opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.

One more thing to consider: both the sheep-people and the goat-people are surprised by the Shepherd King’s verdict.  This passage is meant to slap self-confidence right out of our heads.  This was Jesus’ last word to His disciples before His death.  It is a provocative one, meant to motivate us to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves and prepare to meet our maker.

  1. The context and the one main point. (31-33)

All parables in chapter 25 deal with Judgment Day.  Understand that Judgment Day is not a trial; it is a sentencing.  God knows all and he knows all of us perfectly.  At this point the issue of heaven or hell is already decided; this is a sentencing hearing.

Of the three parables in chapter 25, this parable is the only one to describe Judgment Day.  It is written; THE SON OF MAN will be IN HIS GLORY, seated on HIS THRONE IN HEAVENLY GLORY.  In His glorified state ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE GATHERED BEFORE HIM.  All people who have ever lived will be gathered, and then separated one final time.  God will bring to pass the end of all evil.

The separation of the people is described in verse 33, the purpose for it in verse 46.  In verse 33 we see the SHEEP will be gathered to His RIGHT hand.  The GOATS will be gathered on His LEFT hand.  Verse 46 reveals that the purpose is to pronounce judgment: to reward the sheep and condemn the goats.

These parables come between Jesus’ teaching about the last things in chapter 24 and His arrest and trial in chapter 26.  Jesus would experience His own “last days.”  There is an ironic similarity between these teachings and what comes next in Jesus’ life.

The main point of the parable is this: our works are important on Judgment Day.  If all you knew was this parable, you’d think works are the determining factor.  Note that the parable doesn’t actually say that, it simply does not mention any other factor.  Parables are, by their nature, narrow in their focus, designed to reinforce the one main point. Because we have the entire Bible, we know works are a secondary factor.  The primary factor of judgment is each person’s acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

The secondary factor of works is evidence of the primary decision about Jesus.  They are proof of what’s truly in a person.  The works are evidence of God’s justice: God is right to exclude the GOATS and include the SHEEP, as their deeds demonstrate.

  1. He will keep the sheep. (34-40, 46)

The Shepherd King pronounces a blessing on those at His right (34).  There are six facts to be noted about the blessing.

One, He invites them to come into God the Father’s presence.

Two, He urges them to take their INHERITANCE, a place in God’s KINGDOM.

Three, their blessing has been in the works SINCE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD.  This highlights God’s sovereignty.

Four, their reward is ETERNAL LIFE (46).

Five, in biblical culture, the RIGHT side is the side of intimacy and influence.  After He ascended to heaven, it was the place of honor Jesus occupied when He ascended to heaven.

Six, Jesus used SHEEP as a symbol of God’s faithful people because that was a biblical image.  God is symbolized by a Shepherd.

The reason given for their blessing: they helped the needy (35-36).  Six different kinds of needs are listed.  Jesus offered these as a representative sample, not as a preferred or exhaustive list. These are everyday needs involving people in ordinary situations.

Who are THE LEAST OF THESE BROTHERS? In the Bible, God identifies Himself with disadvantaged people.  That usually meant the poor, widowed, orphaned, and foreigners.

The reaction of the sheep-people to the blessing is surprise (37-40).  The text identifies them as THE RIGHTEOUS.  Their benevolent actions are evidence of their righteousness.  Their surprise is a measure of their innocence.

They had done all these things out of the love in their hearts.  They had no expectation of reward because their motive was love; they acted without any hint of a mixed motive or desire for reward.  In other passages, heavenly rewards are promised for godly living.  Acting to earn such rewards is an approved motive.

  1. The goats have got to go. (41-46)

The King pronounces a CURSE on those to His left (41).  We note four features to the CURSE.

One, He orders them to DEPART.

Two, they have no place in God’s kingdom but are exiled to a place of ETERNAL FIRE.

Three, as was the case with the sheep-people, the place of the goat-people has also been prepared, but it was created for someone else; THE DEVIL AND HIS ANGELS.

Four, their condemnation is described as ETERNAL PUNISHMENT.

The Shepherd Kings gives the reason for their cursing: they did not help the needy (42-43).  The same set of six needs is listed four times here and always in the same order. This attention to detail underlines God’s justice; He is comparing “apples to apples;” He is judging them fairly.

The reaction of the goat-people is also surprise, but for a reason entirely opposed to the sheep-people’s surprise (44-45).  The goat-people failed to do these things because neither the love of God nor the love of neighbor was in their hearts.

Their protest might be paraphrased as follows; “If we’d known it was You, we would have done these things.”  They are surprised to hear that Jesus identified Himself with people they dismissed as lowlifes, bums, and human trash.  They judged their fellow man as unworthy of charity; in response, Jesus will judge them as unworthy of a place in heaven.

Our works will come under scrutiny on Judgment Day.

Anyone who reads this parable and does not come away with a healthy fear of the Lord has missed the point of this parable.  The stark contrast between the sheep and the goats ought to have every one of us rethinking how we are using the magnificent gift of life.

Proverbs repeatedly tells us fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  Job 31:23 puts into words the form wise fear should take: FOR I DREADED DESTRUCTION FROM GOD, AND FOR FEAR OF HIS SPLENDOR I COULD NOT DO SUCH THINGS.  This is Job explaining his personal motivation for being a good guy and doing the right thing.

Persons who hoard their gifts, legalize their definition of neighbor, or have a flip attitude about Judgment Day are in peril of being unpleasantly surprised on that Day.  Jesus warned of the peril of hypocrisy in Matthew 7:21-23.

Proverbs 11 delivers a similar warning about wasting God’s gifts on selfish pursuits.  Verse four states, WEALTH IS WORTHLESS IN THE DAY OF WRATH, BUT RIGHTEOUSNESS DELIVERS FROM DEATH.  In verse 6, it is written; THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE UPRIGHT DELIVERS THEM, BUT THE UNFAITHFUL ARE TRAPPED BY EVIL DESIRES.

The refusal to do good is sin (James 4:17).  Sin has deadly and eternal consequences.  Only the intervention of Jesus Christ will save us from the fate of eternal separation from God.

Let us spend our days vigilant for opportunities to do good to others.  Be willing to speak up, offer help, and do right by those who need you.  The consequences of failure are too nightmarish to accept.

 

RESOURCES:

Messages #1169, 685, 33

Smith & Helwys Bible Commentary, Ben Witherington III

The Devil DIDN’T Make Him Do It

tempting

Please read Matthew 4:1-11.

         Let’s go back to the Old West, to the historic transcontinental railroad.  As the Union Pacific line was being constructed, an elaborate trestle bridge was built across a large canyon.  Before the bridge saw use, the builder loaded a train with extra cars and equipment, doubling its weight.  The overburdened train was then driven to the middle of the new bridge and left there an entire day.

One worker asked his boss, “Are you trying to see if you can break our bridge?”

“No,” the builder replied, “I’m trying to prove the bridge won’t break.”

We have a similar feeling when trials and temptations – times of testing – come into our lives.  We think God is trying to break us.

Instead, He is trying to prove to us that we can take it after all.  He is reminding us to trust in Him, rely on Him, and believe He has already given us all we need to endure the trial faithfully.  Just as Jesus triumphed over His temptations, so can we!

Jesus won His battle with temptation by staying secure in God’s word.

  1. Prologue. (4:1)

It seems strange to read that Jesus was lead by the Spirit into temptation.  That’s the opposite of the Lord’s Prayer: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).  Everyone knows that God doesn’t tempt His children (read James 1:13).

The location also feels wrong.  The DESERT is where Israel disobeyed God and then had to wander around 40 years.  In worldly logic, the DESERT is the opposite direction of where Jesus should be headed: Jesus should launch His ministry In Jerusalem.

You can sense God the Father left Jesus to deal with the devil and the desert alone.  Did the Spirit lead HIM INTO THE DESERT (1) only to drop Him off?  It’s possible; the next time any supernatural support is mentioned is after it’s over (v. 11).  It is human nature to feel or assume God’s absence when we hurt.  God is not absent during our trials. That’s discouragement talking, not faith.

  1. The first temptation: bread. (4:2-4)

The devil appears AFTER Jesus endured 40 days and nights of fasting.  I have a friend who has repeatedly fasted throughout the 40 days of Lent.  If his experience is typical, abstaining from solid food  does weird things to the body.

One might assume this experience left Jesus in a weaker physical and emotional state.  Commentator Rodney Reeves interprets the lack of food as being a further sign of God the Father separating Himself from Jesus.  After all, God provided daily food for Moses (Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8).

It’s no surprise the devil’s first run at Jesus involves something as simple as food (3).  But the devil didn’t just lay out a loaf of bread and invite Jesus to eat it.  Instead, he used Jesus’ hunger as bait and said, “IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD, TELL THESE STONES TO BECOME BREAD.”

The temptation is not eating but using His supernatural authority to feed Himself.  The promise of food appealed to Jesus’ physical body; the desire to prove His identity appealed to His pride.
In His reply, Jesus transcended mere human nature & kept His focus on God the Father (4).  All three of Jesus’ replies are quotes from Deuteronomy 6 + 8.  This quote is part of Deuteronomy 8:3, where

Moses reminded the people that God had kept them alive in the desert by providing daily bread for them.

Jesus’ reply refutes the temptation saying, “I do not need bread to survive, but I cannot last a minute apart from God’s word.”  In keeping His focus on the Father, Jesus turned away from His physical hunger.

Ironically, later on in His ministry, Jesus will miraculously provide bread in the wilderness, feeding five and four thousand men at a time.  The bread and the power are not the only issues; it’s also the timing and the motive.

  1. The second temptation: fame. (4:5-7)

The second one is about shortcuts or laziness.  The devil supernaturally and bodily moved Jesus to THE HIGHEST POINT OF THE TEMPLE in Jerusalem (5).  It’s hard to imagine a more visible location in all of ancient Judea.  If Jesus were to have done as the devil suggested, it would have been a very visible, very public miracle.  It would have launched His earthly ministry in a spectacular way.

This temptation – like the first – dares Jesus to establish His identity as the Son of God: “IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD.”  The devil also knows Scripture and attempted to twist Psalm 91:11-12 to provoke Jesus into doing what amounted to a “publicity stunt” (6).

In His reply, Jesus rejects earthly power, popularity, and sensational stunts in attempts to “prove” God’s existence and/or His  character.  He quoted Deuteronomy 6:16, a section where Moses urged people not to test God’s patience with their disobedience, as they did at Massah.  Massah/Meribah both mean “quarrel.” It was there the people quarreled with one another, Moses, and God (see Exodus 17).  They complained against God and Moses and said, “Is the Lord with us or not?”  We are not to repeat their lack of faith, doubting God’s love or power.

All temptations are shortcuts because we trust our self rather than God and follow worldly ways instead of God’s way.  In this case, a successful jump from t temple’s roof might have allowed Jesus to assert His privilege and avoid that messy cross business.  It was a shortcut.

OR, in an unsuccessful jump, Jesus’ body would have been destroyed, His blood would have been shed for no good reason.  Either way, the devil would have won.  Happily, Jesus refused the shortcut and reaffirmed His trust in God the Father.

  1. The third temptation: power. (4:8-10)

The scene shifts again for the third temptation: Satan takes Jesus to A VERY HIGH MOUNTAIN (8).  Why go atop a mountain?  In ancient cultures, high places were the places where idols were worshiped.  As the devil wanted to be idolized/worshiped by Jesus, this is an obvious choice.

With this temptation the devil abandoned subtlety.  Showing Jesus ALL THE KINGDOMS OF THE WORLD AND THEIR SPLENDOR, he offered them to Jesus if Jesus would BOW DOWN AND WORSHIP him (9).

As all hypocrites do, the devil thought everyone has the same motives he did.  He guessed Jesus would find this tempting for all the reasons he did.     But was this even tempting to Jesus?

My guess is that, to Jesus, this was the least appealing of the three temptations.

Jesus’ response is to go right back to the same section of Deuteronomy 6. Verse thirteen says, FEAR THE LORD YOUR GOD, SERVE HIM ONLY AND TAKE YOUR OATHS IN HIS NAME. It’s as if Jesus said, “Don’t disobey the 1st commandment; don’t worship to anything other than God.”  Jesus refused to worship anything other than God no matter what He was offered.

Jesus rejected Satan’s offer so thoroughly, He ordered Satan to get lost; “AWAY FROM ME, SATAN!”  He rejected an offer of authority by exercising His authority over Satan.

If this was possible at any time, I wonder why Jesus endured three temptations?  The experience prepared Jesus for difficulties the next three years would throw at Him.  Christ set a pattern for us to follow when we are tempted: trust God; follow His commands.

  1. Epilogue. (4:11)

The devil had to leave Jesus.  Jesus’ power is irresistible; the devil can be resisted (see James 4:7).  After the devil left Him, Jesus was attended to by angels sent by God t Father.  The text doesn’t say how they attended to Him, but my guess is that they…

…brought Him bread.

…assured Jesus they would protect Him from suffering harm before He got to the cross.

…encouraged Him that after this was over, He’d be seated at t right hand of God the Father.

In other words, as tokens of His victory over temptation, the angels gave Jesus all the things Satan had promised but never delivered.

Jesus won His battle with temptation by staying secure in God’s word.

Picture a married couple in bed.  The husband is having trouble getting to sleep.  He rolls over and says to his wife, who was having no trouble falling asleep, “Honey, are you awake?  Can I ask you a question?”

She rolls over and says, “I’m awake now.  What’s your question?”

“Is your love for me beyond temptation?” he asked.  “Say Paul Newman was trying to woo you away.  Would you still love me?”

She smiled at him and said, “Of course I would love you, dear.  And I would miss you very much!”

It doesn’t sound like she’s planning to try very hard to resist temptation, does it?  If we are to find victory over our own temptations, we have to follow Jesus’ example instead.

In this passage we’ve seen Jesus resisted the devil by doing the following:

1) Recognize temptations and trials will come – be prepared by prayer and Scripture knowledge.

2) Trust God’s promise that He has provided all you need to say no to temptation.

3) Expose falsehoods with the truth of the Bible.

4) In Jesus’ name, resist the devil; order him away.

 

RESOURCES

The Story of God Bible Commentary, Rodney Reeves.

Message #1133.

A Resurrection Meditation

A Guided Meditation on JOHN 20:10-18

If you’ve never before attempted a guided meditation, here’s what I suggest.  Play some recorded music as an emotional backdrop.  The best choice is instrumental (not vocal), Christian, and of a slower tempo – something that doesn’t demand your attention.  Read the following aloud, stopping to think and feel about what you’re reading.  Don’t take notes – the emphasis here is on this moment and what may be gain by opening your heart to God.  Take your time; “Good things come to those who wait.”  Reserve an hour for yourself and God to meet privately or with a small group.  Be comfortable without becoming sleepy.  End with prayer where you tell God what you received through this exercise.

THE DISCIPLES WENT BACK TO THEIR HOMES

  • No one saw the scene depicted on our bulletin cover. No one saw the stone rolled away.  No one saw Jesus walk out.
  • You can understand how no one on the scene that first Resurrection morning knew just what to make of the stone rolled away and the linens left behind.

BUT MARY STOOD OUTSIDE THE TOMB CRYING.

  • Mary Magdalene and the others had forgotten what Jesus had said about being put to death and rising from the dead. The darkness that shrouded her world as she journeyed to the garden is a symbol the mystery yet to be revealed to her.
  • They hadn’t yet received one of the great gifts of Easter: hope. Hope is steady confidence in God, in his ultimate triumph, and in his goodness and love.
  • Feel the rough stone under your fingers as you lean on the rock as Mary might have, steadying herself against a world that shook her to her core. The sights, sounds, and smells of the garden are lost to you; your awareness is limited to your own broken heart.

AS SHE WEPT, SHE BENT OVER TO LOOK INTO THE TOMB

  • Having steadied her weak knees and steeled her resolve, Mary decides to take a risk. To look for herself.  Not content to take the word of others, she must see with her own eyes what Peter and John described before they walked off and left her.
  • It takes courage to stare into the darkness. We have faith, but faith is hard-won when our eyesight fails us.  Like a penitent, Mary had to stoop to look within the tomb.  It was a sign, an illustration of the humility of her heart.
  • Her faith, like all genuine faith, was rewarded.

[SHE] SAW TWO ANGELS IN WHITE, SEATED WHERE JESUS’ BODY HAD BEEN, ONE AT THE HEAD AND THE OTHER AT THE FOOT.

  • You won’t see the supernatural until you look for it with faith-sensitized eyes.
  • Peter and John didn’t see them. They didn’t get it.  They didn’t take any chances.
  • Good for Mary! We honor her boldness and rejoice in her privilege to see God’s messengers.  She not only saw them, but heard the voices of heaven use simple human words.

THEY ASKED HER, “WOMAN, WHY ARE YOU CRYING?’

  • These angels expressed the heart of God Himself. God was concerned.
  • It was for Mary’s sake the question was asked. He wanted Mary to not just look outward, to not just dwell on the appearance of the angels; He wanted Mary to look inward too.  She would have to know her own heart in order to answer.

“THEY HAVE TAKEN MY LORD AWAY,” SHE SAID, “AND I DON’T KNOW WHERE THEY HAVE PUT HIM.”

  • Granted this vision from heaven, Mary nonetheless fails to free her thoughts from earth. She has beheld something few mortal souls have beheld, and yet her concern is for a corpse.
  • You remember Mary came to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus; to properly prepare it for burial. She had no hope of seeing Him alive; her memory of His teaching failed her.  We can applaud Mary’s single-mindedness.  She had taken the risk of leaving home before the sun graced the horizon.  She had come to the tomb to do one last thing for her beloved master and had been thwarted.
  • But she hadn’t given up. She insisted on following through with her plan.  Indeed, the spices and cloths lay on the ground near her, right where she dropped them in surprise at seeing the stone already rolled away.
  • Disappointment did not deter this woman on a mission!

AT THIS, SHE TURNED AROUND AND SAW JESUS STANDING THERE, BUT SHE DID NOT REALIZE THAT IT WAS JESUS.

  • Perhaps He stood between her and the rising sun. That would be appropriate, wouldn’t it?  The Risen Son silhouetted by the rising sun?

“WOMAN,” HE SAID, “WHO IS IT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR?”

  • What kind of question is this for Jesus to ask her? He knows the answer full well.
  • Once again, God is trying to get Mary to look within herself. Jesus wanted her to go all the way in faith and answer, “You.  I’m looking for you, Jesus.”

THINKING HE WAS THE GARDENER, SHE SAID, “SIR, IF YOU HAVE CARRIED HIM AWAY, TELL ME WHERE YOU HAVE PUT HIM, AND I WILL GET HIM.”

  • Poor Mary. Now we begin to feel sorry for her.  She has practiced “selective seeing” and now “selective hearing” as well.  Her mind almost fully in the world, she neither sees the form of Jesus nor hears his voice.
  • In this moment, Mary is a symbol of the majority of humanity. People do not expect Jesus to be God.  They don’t believe He rose from the dead.  In their lack of faith, they neither see nor hear Him.
  • Jesus does not give up on them, however, just as He did not give up on Mary. He tries one more time.  He says her name.

JESUS SAID TO HER, “MARY.”

  • We all enjoy hearing our name spoken aloud. It gets our attention in a way other words fail to do.
  • In that precious moment, the world fell away from Mary. She saw and heard, as if for the first time.  There was no gardener.  There was only Jesus.
  • This is how we all come to faith, if ever we listen to the voice of Jesus. If ever we have faith to see beyond what the world is willing to allow as truth.  God appeals to each of us personally.  He calls us by name.
  • We are startled by a sudden awareness of the truth.

SHE TURNED TOWARD HIM AND CRIED OUT IN ARAMAIC, “RABBONI!” [WHICH MEANS TEACHER.]

  • Why did Mary have to turn toward Him again? When she saw and heard a gardener, Mary despaired and turned from Him.  In all our days, despair seeks to turn our gaze away from Jesus.  We look away in the moments we need Him most.  How tragic those moments are.
  • Recognition hit Mary suddenly. All her senses suddenly came alive, aware of the incredible truth: He was not dead!
  • The awareness flooded her conscious mind. Not moving by volition but purely on instinct, Mary reached out to touch Him; to hold Jesus and never let Him go again.  Like a child reaching out to grasp a flower or a butterfly or any beautiful thing, she wanted to possess Him.  But we don’t let our children crush the beautiful thing with their clumsy, excited fingers, do we?  We restrain them.  Accordingly, Jesus said,

“DO NOT HOLD ON TO ME, FOR I AM NOT YET RETURNED TO THE FATHER.  GO INSTEAD TO MY BROTHERS AND TELL THEM, ‘I AM RETURNING TO MY FATHER AND YOUR FATHER, TO MY GOD AND YOUR GOD.’”

  • With her mind now on heavenly things, Jesus commissioned Mary. He made her a partner in His Resurrection Day plans.  He made Mary one of His messengers.
  • Where God the Father had sent angels to Mary, now God the Son now sends Mary to His disciples. What an honor and privilege it is to carry the message that Jesus is not dead; He is alive forever.
  • May we see ourselves as sharing that honor and privilege with Mary, the one who held it first.

MARY MAGDALENE WENT TO THE DISCIPLES WITH THE NEWS: “I HAVE SEEN THE LORD!” AND SHE TOLD THEM THAT HE HAD SAID THESE THINGS TO HER.

  • Mary was faithful. Mary obeyed Jesus.
  • Forgotten in the excitement and no longer needed, she left the burial spices and burial cloths in the garden. That mission was rendered obsolete and she discarded it to take up this new mission with the same single-mindedness that brought her to the garden in the first place.
  • Mary went to the garden in darkness, to do her best for Jesus. She left the garden with enlightenment, determined to do her best for Jesus.
  • Pray to be spiritually alert, receptive to the direction of God the Holy Spirit. Pray to be  God’s messenger, making the good news known to all who should be our brothers and sisters.  Pray to be a minister of the resurrection, serving our risen Lord.