January 27, 2013

Follow Me - Jan 27, 2013

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During this Epiphany season we’ve been reading in the Gospel of Matthew for our sermon meditations. We’ve been studying the early life and ministry of Jesus in order to learn who He really was, and what He was all about.

So far, we’ve heard testimony from God the Father, from Satan, and last Sunday we heard from Jesus Himself. Today our sermon reading helps us to see what Jesus was all about by telling us about a choice that He made.

Early in Jesus’ ministry He worked alone. But before long He chose a group of twelve men to be His inner circle of disciples. Surely we can learn something about Jesus by examining the men Jesus chose to take His message into the world. We read from…

Matthew 4:18-22 (ESV)

18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
I guess the first thing to note about the men that Jesus chose to be His apostles is that they were fishermen. All four of these men worked the Sea of Galilee with nets in the dark of night, sorting their catch in the morning, and mending their nets so they were ready for the next night of fishing.

Commercial fishermen are known for their toughness, and for being a little rough around the edges. And this characterization was especially true back then when you WERE the motor for your boat, and you WERE the winch for pulling in a net of fish. This wasn’t a job for whiners.

Maybe it was the bustling fish trade and the toughness it required that made Galileans a little more fiery than your average Jew. In any case Galileans were known for this. And the little team of fishermen that Jesus called to be apostles was a bold bunch.
Peter is well known for being bold and impulsive. He often spoke on behalf of the rest of the disciples, whether they asked him to or not. When Jesus walked on the water, Peter was the one who asked if he could do it too. And when Jesus told Him yes, Peter actually stepped out onto the storm. When a mob of torch and weapon bearing thugs came to arrest Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, it was Peter who unsheathed his sword first and tried to defend the Master.

We know less about James and John, but the Bible tells us enough to know that they too were bold Galileans to the core. On one occasion, James and John, along with their mother, requested to be seated on the left and right side of Jesus when He sat on His throne in heaven. That’s kinda bold. On another occasion, when a Samaritan village refused to welcome Jesus, James and John asked if they should pray for fire to descend from heaven and consume the village. Jesus said, “No.” And if these little anecdotes aren’t enough to convince us of their character, Jesus’ nickname for them should do the trick. Probably with a roll of His eyes Jesus dubbed James and John the “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17).

Andrew seems to be the only exception to the rule in this bunch of fiery fishermen. We don’t know much about Andrew, but of the few stories we have, three of them describe him bringing people to Jesus. But perhaps Andrew was only a LITTLE less bold than the rest of them.
It appears that while these fishermen were tough guys, they were also spiritually minded. They were drawn to John the Baptist and accepted his teaching. They too confessed their sins openly on the banks of the Jordan River and were baptized for the forgiveness of sins, trusting in the promised Savior to come.

The history happened like this. John the Baptist was telling people to repent of their sins and to be baptized because the Savior was coming soon. Andrew and John traveled down to hear John the Baptist’s preaching and became his disciples. John the Baptist introduced them to Jesus and they believed Him to be the Christ. Before long John the Baptist was arrested and imprisoned, Jesus moved up to Capernaum and began preaching, and the fishermen went back to their work on the Sea of Galilee.

When Jesus called these fishermen from their boats, it wasn’t the first time they’d met Him. The story of Jesus calling the four fishermen to be his apostles is not miraculous. He was simply saying to them, “I choose you”, and they immediately responded. They were NOT going to let this opportunity slip away from them. This was the Christ – the Savior who the world had been waiting for for millenia. They would follow Him and learn from Him.  

The fact that they accepted Jesus as the promised Savior, and were willing to put their jobs on hold to follow Him testifies to the truth of Jesus’ claim to be the Savior. But the more important testimony that we see in this short story is the testimony found in Jesus’ choice.

Jesus didn’t choose these men because they had lots of money to back His campaign. They were common laborers. They may have been doing well enough to hire some extra help, but that didn’t mean they had barrels of cash laying around. And Jesus was taking them away from their work.

No, Jesus didn’t choose these men because He needed their money.

And he didn’t choose them for their talent either. They could haul a line and handle a boat, but what good would those skills be in a ministry setting? The list of reasons Jesus shouldn’t have called these men is much longer than the list of skills they had to offer. They had some education, but certainly not under any Scribes or Pharisees. No real serious Bible education. No training for public speech.

No, Jesus didn’t choose these men for their talents.

When Jesus called them on the beach that day, He simply said,

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19 ESV).

Jesus was calling these men in order to give them grace. To give them the gift of forgiveness. And after giving them this gift, He would enable them to pass it on. He would make them “Fishers of Men”.

It’s an interesting analogy, fishing and sharing the Gospel of Christ. Fish don’t want to be caught. And that’s exactly the case with bringing people to Christ. Sinners don’t want to be brought. They’re afraid of being in the hands of the God who created them. They’re afraid of all the rules and regulations they thinkHe’s going to put on them. They’re afraid of all the things they won’t be able to do anymore.

But these fears are misplaced. For it’s like we’re all fish in a doomed reservoir. Before long it’s going to be drained. And only the fish that are caught can be relocated in a suitable habitat. That’s why they need to be caught – so they can be rescued, not fried.

That’s what the Gospel of Christ is all about. We’re all doomed because of our sins, but in Christ Jesus we’re offered rescue. Because He suffered hell on the cross, in our place, our punishment for sin has been absorbed by God. All who trust in Christ now stand forgiven in full.

With our future secure, we can now turn to rescue others.
When I was in high school I tried out for track and field. We all had to run some events, and do some field events. One of the field events I chose was pole vaulting.

How would you all like to learn how to pole vault?

Doesn’t sound good? It was a little scary for me too. I mean seriously, take this 15 foot pole, run as fast as you can down this runway, jab the stick down and kick your legs up above your head.

Yeah, right.

But here’s what the coach did to get us started. He simulated a vault by having a rookie hold one end of the pole and then having four or five of the strongest vaulters on the other end fling you up and into the big cushy pit.

It was awesome. You just held on and kicked your legs up, and they put all the power into the fling. And not only was it fun, it made you begin to see that it was possible to learn how to do this.

After God calls us to forgiveness through faith in His Son, He then calls us to share the message with others. To be “fishers of men”. But like pole vaulting, this task seems impossible and scary. But God doesn’t ask us to do it all alone, or without direction, or with our own power. He says, stand here, where I put you in life. Speak to people you know. Tell them what I’ve done for you, through Christ. Tell them I want them to have the same forgiveness, and a new life.

We just stand there holding on. The Gospel provides the power.
Do you think it was scary for those fishermen to become Gospel sharers? I do. It’s one thing to be bold and arrogant, it’s another thing to be like Jesus wanted them to be. Strong in the word, but willing to give up everything else. Insisting on God’s Message and God’s way, but compromising in all else for the good of others.

When God calls us to be “Fishers of Men” it scares us. It sounds so difficult. Maybe even impossible. How could I ever convince someone to trust in Jesus? But the power isn’t in the person, it’s in the word of God. It’s in the message of sins forgiven for free, through Christ, God’s only Son, crucified in our place, and raised to life on the third day.
There isn’t much to learn from these fishermen following after Jesus. Throughout the centuries people have been drawn to religious teachers of one kind or another. But we can learn something very precious from Jesus’ choice of these men. They weren’t chosen for their riches, or their talent, or for anything else they had to offer. They were chosen because Jesus wanted to save them from sin’s punishment and make heaven their final home. These blue collar working men. These ordinary sinners. These fiery Galileans.

Jesus came for the simple, undeserving sinner. He came for people like you and me. And after He reaches us with the Gospel, He uses us to reach out to more who need to know His love and forgiveness.

May God bless us so that when we hear our Savior, we respond like Peter and Andrew, James and John, putting all things on hold, to follow the Master’s call.


January 20, 2013

Jesus Testifies - Jan 20, 2013

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During the season of Epiphany we study Jesus’ ministry to learn who He was, and what He was all about. This year we’ve been reading from the Gospel of Matthew. So far we’ve heard the testimony  of God the Father speaking audibly from heaven, and we’ve heard the testimony of Satan as He tempted Jesus in the wilderness. Today we hear the testimony of Jesus Himself.

Now, if you’re expecting some dramatic words from Jesus explaining who He is and what He’s doing here on earth you’re going to be disappointed. He doesn’t testify in this way – at least not in our reading for today. His testimony for today is much more subtle.

Matthew 4:12-17 (ESV)

12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15     “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16     the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
       and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.”
17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
During Jesus’ earthly life, He seldom acted like other people expected He would or should. Examples abound when it comes to this fact.

He was the Son of God, but born in a stable. He was sinless, but He Himself requested to be baptized. He in no way condoned sinful behavior, but He associated with thieves and prostitutes. He was a brilliant teacher, but His inner circle was made up of common laborers and outcasts. When demons that Jesus cast out of people started proclaiming, in truth, that they knew He was the Holy One of God, Jesus told them to be silent.

His teaching was full of unexpected things also. He contradicted the current religious authorities on just about every topic. Give your coat to the robber who already took your shirt.  Love your enemies and pray for them. Don’t worry about food and clothing, but seek most diligently for God’s reign in your heart. Blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek ones – that’s what the citizens of heaven are like. True worship is about the heart, not what can be seen.  

Yes, Jesus was unpredictable. He ate when others were fasting. He fasted when others were eating. He prayed when others were sleeping. He slept when others were working. At one point, Jesus’ mother and brothers thought He had gone crazy. He was teaching and doing miracles so nonstop that they thought He was going to work Himself to death!

But Jesus wasn’t crazy. He was focused. And not focused on doing what people thought He should do. He didn’t care what the polls said about public opinion. He was operating according to His Father’s plan. And when the game was over, the world would look back and see that every strange thing He had done had a reason and a purpose. They couldn’t see it back then. But when the whirlwind of Jesus’ three years of ministry were over – when Jesus had been crucified, and resurrected, and had ascended back to heaven – THEN His disciples would think back over  the events they had witnessed and they would understand how it all made perfect sense. How so many things that Jesus had done, things that puzzled them, were NECESSARY so that EVERY Old Testament prophecy about Him was fulfilled.

If you don’t know where the car is going, you might not understand why the driver turns the way he does. If you’ve never had the entrĂ©e, the ingredients might seem oddly paired in the recipe book. If you’re the soldier in the field, the general’s orders might seem stupid and foolish.

But this is just because you don’t know the destination, the finished meal, or the plan of battle.

Jesus knew.
When John the Baptist was arrested, it seemed the perfect time for Jesus to step up and take his place. John himself had deferred to Jesus at His baptism. John himself had directed his own disciples to follow Jesus. When John’s followers got worried that Jesus’ disciples were baptizing more people that John’s were, John gently told them that Jesus was the main event, John was just the warm-up band.  Jesus must loom larger, John must fade away.

Now, John had been taken away. Imprisoned. Surely, if Jesus was serious about this ministry thing, now was the time to take up preaching in earnest where John had been, and maybe now was even the time to start moving closer to Jerusalem, the holy city, the place of the Lord’s Temple. The place where the influential religious teachers of the day lived and worked.

But instead, Jesus withdrew. He moved away from the Jordan River where John had been baptizing, and away from Jerusalem, the great epicenter of Jewish religious life.

And He wasn’t moving back home to gather up locals who supported Him. Jesus went back to Nazareth, packed up and moved to Capernaum, a fishing town on the Sea of Galilee. A town located in Galilee, of all places. A region that had been influenced by pagan cultures and false worship for hundreds of years.

Almost a thousand years previous to Jesus living there, Galilee had been part of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. You probably remember that long ago the Nation of Israel had split into two kingdoms, the northern one retaining the name “Israel” and the southern one being called, “Judah”. Well, the Northern Kingdom, which included Galilee never had a king that followed the Lord. They worshiped at idol shrines instead. Eventually, God sent the foreign nation of Assyria to destroy the Northern Kingdom. That’s why it was called a place of darkness and of the shadow of death. Not only was it full of the spiritual deadness of unbelief, it was also a place where ancient armies had decimated the people, deporting them until the land was all but uninhabited.

In the years approaching Jesus’ ministry the region of Galilee was well inhabited again, but it was still very influenced by Gentiles. By non-Jewish people who didn’t worship at the Temple.

Why in the world would Jesus start His religious career here?!

Well, like Jesus said Himself,

“…It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matthew 9:12 NIV).

But another reason was this – the prophecy said the people who lived darkened land would see a great light. And so Jesus came and lived among them, bringing them the light and life that is the Gospel.

Don’t misunderstand our text when it says that Jesus began to preach,

“…Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17 ESV).

Jesus didn’t JUST preach “repent”. He also told them the Good News about the Savior that God promised to send. Mark 1, verse 14 says…

14 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 and saying,  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15 NKJV).
It’s a pretty simple reading for today. When others thought Jesus would step into John’s shoes, Jesus withdrew and went to Galilee. Unexpected, but perfect. In doing so Jesus fulfilled prophecy and brought the Good News to a region that sorely needed it.

Later on Jesus would not withdraw, but would go forward to Jerusalem when others thought He should stay away. When Jesus KNEW that His enemies were determined to murder Him, He purposefully went south to the Holy City. When Jesus stepped forward to meet the mob that would arrest Him, His closest followers resisted in fear. They didn’t know the way.

But Jesus did.

He had the Father’s plan in mind, not the ideas of men. And when all was said and done, your sins and mine had been suffered for, and washed clean off our record for good.
I guess the major takeaway from our reading today is this – Jesus fulfilled the prophecies made about the Savior in the Old Testament. He did this even though nobody at the time knew what in the world He was doing. And in this way, Jesus testified for future generations that He is the Son of God, and the Savior of the world.
But there’s another thing to take away from our reading today. Don’t second guess God. Don’t question His wisdom when His word is clear about what you should do in a given situation. God’s plan for Jesus didn’t match up with what people thought He should be doing. Why should God’s plan for Jesus’ followers match up with what people think we should be doing? When God’s word is clear, let’s just follow it, and see what happens.

When He says go, let’s go. When He says speak, let’s speak. When He says trust, let’s trust. And let’s let the history of Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension to glory be the thing that reassures us that God’s plan is gonna work out for the best.


The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

January 13, 2013

Satan Testifies - January 13, 2013

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During the season of Epiphany, we seek to learn who Jesus was by studying His life and ministry. Last week we saw Jesus baptized, and heard the testimony of God the Father. As Jesus stepped up from the waters of the Jordan River, a voice rang out from above, saying,

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV).

This week we hear testimony from an even more unusual source. Today, Satan unintentionally testifies that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. We read from…

Matthew 4:1-11 (ESV)

4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
       “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
       “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
       “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord
your God to the test.’ ” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
       “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’ ”
11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
Five hundred years before Christ was born, a Chinese general by the name of Sun Tzu wrote a book called  “The Art of War”. The thirteen brief chapters of that book became know as the definitive treatise concerning the waging of war. Since that time “The Art of War” has continued to shape military tactics, business approaches, legal strategy, and even the way competitive sports are played. Millions of people have read “The Art of War”.  

While Sun Tzu’s book is an interesting read, and full of wisdom, much of what he says is simple, common sense. For example, Sun Tzu writes…

“You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked” (Sun Tzu).

Sun Tzu not only points the commander of an army to common sense, he also directs him to prioritize. If a city poses no real threat, and will be of no great help if it is taken, Sun Tzu would counsel the wise general to march by that city and take the whole province instead.

War is a costly, ugly business. You don’t wage war because it’s fun. You wage war because you have to. And within war, if you’re a masterful general, you don’t fight battles just to fight battles. You fight battles that lead to your objective being obtained.
As crafty and elusive as the Devil is, when he tempted Jesus out in the wilderness, he revealed his hand. He revealed that Jesus truly IS the Son of God, and the Savior that God had sent to rescue sinners from hell.

Why do I say this? Because Satan is a wise general. He doesn’t waste his time taking down those who pose no threat to him. He attacks with a purpose. If Jesus had been a faker, Satan would have happily let Him continue on without any resistance. But Satan knew better.

So Satan tried to USE the truth that Jesus really was the Son of God against Him. Satan said, “Go ahead and prove that you are the Son of God” and then Satan offered different ways for Jesus to prove this truth. But here’s the catch, these different ways would be sinful in one way or another if they were done. In this way, Satan wished to make Jesus sin. ONE SIN would make it impossible for Jesus to offer Himself for us. Only a sinless sacrifice could be accepted by God.

Satan had to take this chance. But in doing so, he actually ends up testifying to the truth of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
And this isn’t the only thing that Satan reveals here. Satan also reveals some of his methods for tempting people. For example, we’re told that Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights. He was alone and hungry. It was then that Satan stepped forward to tempt Jesus with the possibility of food.

In “The Art of War” Sun Tzu said,

“…in war, the way is to avoid what is strong, and to strike at what is weak” (Sun Tzu).

In the human body of Jesus, Satan saw a weakness. “If you’re the Son of God, just make some bread for yourself and stop the hunger pains.” Satan knows that we get tired and hungry. That our emotions get more edgy at these times. He knows our own personal conditions and what things will make us more likely to succumb to his temptations. And he uses these things to his own advantage.

Satan knows that temptation is more effective when we’re physically, mentally, or spiritually weak. It’s at these times that we need to run to God’s Word and call out for God’s help through prayer.

But Satan’s  approach didn’t work on Jesus. Jesus refused to use His God powers to feed Himself. Instead He reminded Satan that the Bible says there are more important things than food and clothing. More important things than physical strength and health.

In 1 Timothy 4, it says…

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8 NIV).  

In Matthew 6, Jesus says…

31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33 ESV).

It’s not the economy we should be worried about. It’s not our physical health. It’s our spirits that we should tend most closely.
Note that each time Satan tempts Jesus, Jesus responds by quoting God’s Word. Now, we might not all be real great at memorizing Scripture, but that’s not the point. The point is that in the face of temptation, Jesus finds guidance from what God says. Even if we can’t remember chapter-and-verse or word-for-word if we’re in regular contact with God’s Word, we’ll have that word in our hearts and minds as a shield when temptations come.
In “The Art of War” Sun Tzu said,

“…Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing” (Sun Tzu).

Satan took note that Jesus responded to his first temptation by quoting the word of God. And since the appeal to Jesus’ weak body didn’t work, Satan moved on to another approach – an appeal to spiritual strength.

In verse 6 Satan brings Jesus to the top of the temple in Jerusalem. Once there, he tells Jesus to throw himself off the top because God has promised in the Bible that he’ll send angels to watch over and protect His people from harm. Satan actually quotes Scripture that seems to say that angels will catch Jesus before He hits the bottom.

If this was indeed what Scripture says, then if Jesus hesitated even for a moment He would have been displaying doubt over His heavenly Father’s power to rescue and His faithfulness to His promises.

But the fact of the matter is, Satan was misquoting Scripture. Psalm 91 to be specific. This Psalm expresses the security that one has who trusts in the LORD. In poetic description it speaks of NOTHING being able to harm the person who trusts in God. The faithful follower of God is described as trampling over lions and poisonous snakes, without being hurt.

Does this then mean that true Christians are impervious to snake bites? No. It’s simply saying that God will not let anything stand in the way of the good of His followers. He’s not encouraging us to be reckless showoffs.

Think about it like this. In the Bible God promises that He’ll never leave us nor forsake us. Does this mean that we don’t have to work for food then? That if we start to starve in our laziness then God will have to feed us miraculously in order to keep His promise to never leave us? This is the type of silly reasoning Satan wants us to embrace.

When Satan tempted Jesus he was appealing to Jesus’ spiritual strength.  When he tempts us with this method, he’s appealing to our spiritual pride. He’s basically saying, “You’re a good follower of God, so just put His word into practice!” But what Satan offers us to put into practice isn’t really God’s word. He has twisted and altered what the Bible says so that it now says what Satan wants it to say.

Countless Christians have fallen into Satan’s trap by TRYING to do what God wants them to do. Only to find out later that what they were doing was all wrong. A misinterpretation of the Word of God. A twisting of the concepts of the Bible.

Of course, this method didn’t work on Jesus, because He saw through Satan’s misinterpretation of Scripture right away. He knew that the part that Satan quoted was poetry, expressing that God is powerful to care for His people, not pointing Christians to “go ahead and jump because God will catch you”. Jesus points out that instead of testing God, we should just trust Him. In other words, don’t jump off the cliff to see if God will catch you. But trust that if you do fall off, He will.

So, how do we know when Scripture is being twisted and misapplied? How can we avoid being duped by Satan’s quoting of the Bible? Again, by being in the word regularly. By knowing what God says, so that when we hear it quoted, we already know the context. We already know five other places in Scripture that talk about the same subject. If we know God’s Word, Satan will find it more difficult to fool us with his misquoting of it.
In “The Art of War” Sun Tzu said,

“All warfare is based on deception… …Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him” (Sun Tzu).

When Satan saw that his twisting of Scripture would not fool Jesus into acting rashly and stumbling into sin, Satan played his final card. At least, for this round. Satan took Jesus up on a mountain and miraculously showed him the kingdoms of the world in all their glory. He held out the bait of wealth and glory. And then he said, “Just fall down and worship me, and I’ll give you all this”.

When Satan is unsuccessful in tempting us according to weakness and worry, he tries tempting us with greed. And what he really wants is for us to knock God off the throne of our hearts, and to replace God with something else. He doesn’t really care what it is, all Satan wants to do is get God off the throne of our heart, then he wins our soul.

Of course, this temptation didn’t work on Jesus. He again quotes Scripture as His shield, saying that the LORD God alone is to be worshipped and served. Not the things that were created by God.

How silly is that thought?! That the pottery is somehow more impressive than the potter who made it. That the machine is more worthy of honor than its inventor. And yet, that’s what Satan has convinced countless people who believe God doesn’t exist, or that that our world came to it’s present condition through random chance alone, and not through the care and crafting power of the Great Creator.

How do we defend ourselves against Satan’s attempt to knock God off the throne of our heart? One way is by remembering to be thankful in our prayers. When we thank God in prayer for the things we enjoy, we are reminding ourselves that HE is the source of these blessings. And if HE is the source, than why would we elevate the gifts He above Him?
Now, to be sure, Jesus offers us a good example in this account. He is faithful. He responds to temptation by quoting Scripture as His guide. But the major takeaway is not Jesus’ example here. It’s the fat that Jesus was successful in the face of temptation, where you and I would have failed.

Later on in His ministry, Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray. One of the things He told them to say in prayer was, “Lead us not into temptation”. It’s a puzzling phrase that we say every time we say the Lord’s prayer. Why would we ask God not to lead us into temptation? Are we really worried that God is bent on getting us into bad situations? We gotta ask him to remember not to do this? No.

When we say, “Lead us not into temptation”, let’s remember how Jesus really was LED INTO TEMPTATION in our place. And where we would have certainly fallen, Jesus did not. He stepped out of the wilderness, still holy. Still able to offer Himself to erase our sins. That’s the main point of our reading today.
At the beginning of our mediation today I said that by tempting Jesus in this way, Satan was actually testifying that Jesus was a serious threat to him, that Jesus really was the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

Our text closes with another reminder from the Father that this indeed was the case. After the temptation of Jesus was ended, the Father sent angels to minister to Him. To provide the things that He needed. To care for Him.

Let’s not overlook this last passage. May it instead remind us that God doesn’t leave His children, but stays with them, and sends powerful help to them in the way that is right, and when the time is perfect.

So, whatever the temptation appeals to, whether to a personal weakness, or to an inner pride, or to an inner desire – may we flee to God’s word for protections. And when we fail, let us flee to Christ Jesus, the one who never failed, and who through offering Himself as a sinless sacrifice, has given us the forgiveness of all our sins.


The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

January 6, 2013

The Father Testifies - Jan 6, 2013

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Thematic Statement: Today God the Father testifies that Jesus is His Sinless Son.


One of the great blessings of living in the United States is that we have a police force to protect us, and a judicial system dedicated to defending the innocent and punishing the guilty.

But of all the tools the judicial system has to pronounce just verdicts, a crystal ball is not one of them. Judges and juries have no way of being transported back to the scene of a crime to see what happened for themselves. So, they have to depend on physical evidence, and on the testimony of witnesses who were there.

During the season of Epiphany we seek to learn who Jesus really was. We have no way of being transported back to the time of Christ, so, like a judge or a jury we also must depend on the testimony of witnesses who were there. Today, we hear the testimony of a voice that spoke from heaven when Jesus was baptized.

Matthew 3:13-17 (ESV)

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
God the Father is the star witness for Jesus today. But before we get to the Father's testimony, we've got a couple other witnesses to hear from. The first of these is John the Baptist.

John the Baptist was sent by God to get the people ready for Jesus. His main message was, "You're all going to hell unless you get some serious help. You're guilty sinners who don't have a chance unless you turn around and come back to God for cleansing."

In addition to preaching, John baptized people in the Jordan river. The Bible says that John's baptism was a "baptism of repentance". In other words, when people came to John to be baptized, they were effectively saying, "I'm a sinner, and I need God to cleanse me. Help me God!"

When people came to John openly, confessing their sins, he baptized them, reassuring them that God forgave them because of the Savior who was to come. But people who were genuinely sorry for their sins were not the only ones who came to John. The Bible says that the Pharisees and Sadducees came also. These people were the hypocritical church goers of the day. John knew they were coming out to the Jordan River just to see what was going on out there in the desert, or perhaps to somehow add to their holy reputations.

John did not welcome these people. This is what John said to them: (Matthew 7)

"...when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:7-10 ESV).

John had no room for the two-faced Pharisees and Sadducees, and neither did God. Not if they continued to embrace sin. Not if their confidence of heaven continued to rest on their own ethnicity, or on the goodness of their own lives.
But when JESUS stepped into the Jordan River to be baptized by John, John's fiery tone changed completely. John knew Jesus. How much John knew about Jesus is a bit unclear, but from our sermon text alone it's obvious that John considered Jesus much holier than himself. The idea that Jesus would come to John for cleansing seemed all wrong to John. John should be baptized by Jesus, not the other way around!

But what John didn't understand was that Jesus wasn't coming to His baptism as a sinner seeking cleansing. You see, John's baptizing had created a division among the people. There were those who accepted God's prophet and his message and therefore came to be baptized, and there were those who rejected God's prophet and his message and therefore refused to be baptized. Jesus didn't need cleansing from sin because He had never sinned. But He certainly wasn't going to associate Himself with people who rejected God's message, so Jesus came to be baptized anyway, even though He was not a sinner. He would be grouped with God's true followers, and not with the hypocritical Pharisees.
But there was even more to Jesus' baptism than this. In the past, kings and prophets were anointed to show that they were chosen by God for their office. This anointing was done with oil. It was poured on them in a ceremonial way. Today we don't use oil when installing people into the office of president or judge or whatever, but we often observe some sort of ceremony to show they have been chosen.

Jesus' baptism marked the beginning of His public ministry in Israel. But instead of merely being anointed with oil, Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit. As He stepped up from the waters of the Jordan River, the sky was split open above, and the Holy Spirit fluttered down in the form of a dove and rested on Jesus. This was to show that what the Old Testament prophet Isaiah had foretold was coming true.

"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound" (Isaiah 61:1 ESV).

Up to this point Jesus had lived a quiet and unassuming life. He had learned how to be a carpenter. He had quietly attended worship at the synagogue. He had been a model citizen, but one that didn't stick out from the crowd. Now things would change. Now the power of God would shine out from Jesus in everything that He said and did. Now the time to teach and perform miracles had come. Now the world would see who this Jesus really was - the very Son of God and promised Savior of the world. This man would win forgiveness for all people by taking their sins on Himself.
Our sermon text includes a very important word. A word that is used in the Bible to get our attention. In fact, when this word is used, it's like writing "ATTENTION" in all capital letters. The word that I'm talking about is "behold".

We've heard the testimony of John the Baptist, and we've seen the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Now the Gospel writer uses the word "BEHOLD" to introduce the most important testimony our text offers - an audible voice from heaven. After the Holy Spirit was resting on Jesus' shoulder we read…

"…and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’" (Matthew 3:17 ESV).

In saying this, God the Father made it clear that Jesus was not just one more of His followers, this was the unique Child of God, the beloved, only begotten Son of God. This was the Son who had always existed at the Father's side in eternity, and had now come to earth in true human form to rescue sinners from hell.

Do you remember from Sunday School what God said after each day of creation? After each day God declared that what He had created on that day was "good". And when everything had been finished God put the final seal of approval on His perfect and sinless creation by pronouncing that it was "VERY GOOD".

At Jesus' baptism God the Father put this same seal of approval on the Son. "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am WELL PLEASED."
You know, there's a old proverb that says, "Familiarity breeds contempt". If you spend your days sorting through gorgeous pearls in a factory, pearls because common. I think that we Christians are so familiar with the idea that Jesus was sinless, that we lose perspective on this fact. Jesus was the only human being who EVER met the Father's demanding standards when it came to pure thoughts, right actions and good words. Nobody else even came close.

As the ONLY sinless human being, only Jesus could stand before the Father and offer a sacrifice capable of washing our sins away. And because Jesus was also fully God, His sacrifice was valuable enough to cover the sins of more than one other person. His innocent suffering and death was enough to wash away the sins of ALL people.

When our conscience kicks in and condemns us for our sins, lets remember the Father's testimony: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Through faith in Christ, this becomes our status. Through faith in Christ, God is well pleased with US.

In Romans 10 it says...

"...with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:10-13 ESV).

When Jesus was baptized, God the Father testified that Jesus was His Sinless Son. Through faith in Christ we have become the same. God’s children. Sons and daughters of the Holy God. Glory and thanks be to God.


The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus.