Wednesday, February 24, 2010

“When Grace Doesn’t Make Sense”

Luke 15:11-32

[Various helps such as Pulpit Commentaries, Archaeological Study Bible, A Tale of Two Sons by John MacArthur and other sources were used in helping formulate this message.]

Last week we witnessed the transformation of a sinner- the lost son- from realizing his lostness to true repentance of his sins. This prodigal son cashed out his inheritance and proceeded to trash his life with wild living. When he cycled down to nothing he realized that his father might be merciful toward him and so he headed home and experienced grace.

This is us: lost sinners becoming found saints. Men and women spiritually dead until we receive Jesus Christ into our lives and then we become God's saints. Only grace can do this.

Grace is: forgiveness when forgiveness is undeserved, generosity where generosity is absurd and giving love to those before they are even ready to receive.

I can testify that before coming to Christ I was searching for love in the wrong places. My life was full of confusion and doubt. I was on my own boulevard of broken dreams. I was living somewhere between nowhere and good-bye.

But then Jesus found me. And I have never been the same. God has blessed me with a wonderful spirit filled wife, two great children who love God and now too husky grandsons. And hopefully more of those! God has blessed me and as I have testified before, if it were all to end today and if this is as good as it gets then I would consider myself the most blessed man on earth.

But I happen to know that God has more for me and my family. I tell all of this because none of this would be here- me, my wife, kids, grandkids- none of this were it not for God's amazing and wonderful grace.

This week I want us to see a picture of grace when grace doesn't make sense. And certainly this prodigal son coming home to salvation doesn't make sense. Grace doesn't make sense to those Pharisees who were waiting for the prodigal to get his "come-uppance." Grace doesn't make sense to an agency and bureaucracy that have rules and memos to live and die by. Grace only makes sense to Christians who have experienced grace and have not forgotten what it means to be saved. And even then we oftentimes find ourselves struggling to grasp this mystery of the gospel.

So what does the picture of the lost son's father tell us about our Savior's love and grace for us?

  1. OUR SAVIOR'S FORGIVING HEART.

Forgiveness is us getting what we don't deserve. This younger son spent all he had on wild living. He cashed out his father's deeds and titles for pennies on the dollar- or bekas on the talents. He then took his inheritance and threw the money down the sewer in all sorts of wasteful spending. When he bottomed out he knew the only place to return would be to home; home to his father.

What a fearful thing that must've been. Coming to your senses and realizing all those wasted years and opportunities.

I notice a few characteristics of this father's forgiving heart.

a)Forgiveness without question.

If one of my kids comes in late after curfew or had run off with my credit card and returned later what would I do? I'd be asking questions!

"Where were you? What were you doing? You spent all my money on what?" There would be quite an interrogation. But we don't find that here. The father asks no questions. He simply forgives.

b) Forgiveness without explanation.

The father runs to his lost son that has returned home and immediately stops him short of making any promises to do certain things or requests to become something or explaining his actions.

That is significant.

I remember being at a camp meeting where a couple of friends went to the altar seeking forgiveness and promising to become preachers if God would forgive them. Not right. That is not the way grace works. Grace asks no questions.

This son simply confesses and doesn't promise to be a good boy and to never do it again, nor does he get the chance to ask to be a hired servant (or a pastor, or a missionary or a Sunday School teacher or an audio/visual man or anything of the like). The father grants forgiveness without question.

c) Forgiveness without humiliation.

A possible scenario is that this boy was walking towards the village where this family lived. Other villagers may have already seen him coming and were ready to hurl insults at him. And so the father takes off running towards his son rather than wait for his son to come to him.

There were probably those who saw this father running towards his returning son and may have been thinking: "The boy's gonna get it now!" But instead they see this Father throw his arms around his lost son, kiss him profusely, likely weeping in the process and then walk back with his arm around this boy.

I'll bet they asked themselves, "What kind of man is this? I would have that boy publicly flogged and in stocks by sundown." However, our Savior is not about public humiliation. Yes, there is a time and place for public confession- especially by Christians seeking reconciliation with the body of Christ. But this was not that time or place.

I am reminded of Hebrews 12:2- "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

d) Forgiveness with sacrifice.

Understand the kind of forgiveness this lost sinner boy was receiving came with a sacrifice. This was no closed door forgiveness in order to save face with the public.

What we see is this father- representing our Savior Jesus Christ- taking public humiliation in order to bring forgiveness to this sinner. To run he had to lift the hem of his robe and then not simply walk at a fast pace or a jog but the Greek word is used that actually means "sprint." This father sprinted to his sinner son.

No father of those days of this man's stature would allow himself to be undignified in public in any way. But by sprinting to his sinner boy with his robe gathered up so that he could run as fast as he could, he threw off all dignity. In other words, this father took on shame in order to reach his son.

Another concept of this sacrificial forgiveness is that this father put loving hands on this boy. He touched him, not to punish him, but to heal him.

And then he kissed him. Now in that time there was the "handshake kiss" that is often still seen today in the middle east: two people would give a peck of the lips on each other's cheeks. This was a mere formality. Many times the peck never touched skin. It was a simple gesture of business or acquaintance and not necessarily friendship.

But here we see the father kissing his pig-smelling, raggedy son. The act of kissing in such a way was one of not simply friendship but one of love. This father loved his son and he was not going to be embarrassed by it.

Then as a part of the forgiveness process he gives his son gifts: a new robe, a new ring and new sandals. In a sense, outsiders must have thought this man was rewarding his son for his degenerate behavior.

But I want us to notice something.

As this father runs to his son, he is not embarrassed to do so. I think of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who is not ashamed to be counted among the sinners.

As this father expresses publicly his love for his son, I think of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ expressing his love for us by dying on the cross in our place.

As this father then gives his son gifts, I think of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ giving us the gifts of being saved. The gift of eternal life, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the blessings of being in a grace relationship with him.

This is grace that doesn't make sense. But that is the way our Savior is- he does things that seems like foolishness to humanity. He forgives based on himself and not on us.

Besides our Savior's FORGIVING HEART, we also see in the picture of this father…

2. OUR SAVIOR'S GENEROUS CHARACTER.

As I had closed out the previous point we learned that the father gave his son gifts or rewards. What we see is this father's expressions of his character of generosity. This goes way beyond anything any regular father might do. I can't think of too many parents who would do as this father did. And rightfully so. The point of this parable is not to necessarily teach us about parenting skills or how to carry out Dr. Dobson's tough love concepts. But it is to point out to us the love of our Lord and in this point, more particularly, his generous character toward us.

I want us to look at the three specific gifts that this lost sinner receives:

a) The long robe of distinction.

The father saw his son coming from a distance. This son was most likely dressed in rags. It is not even realistic to think that this boy who had no money and whose last job was hog-slopping would have the money to dress nicely. He comes down the road smelly and beggarly looking.

The father's response? Put the best robe on him. What a statement to all of those witnessing the occasion. It wasn't simply, "get him some clothes" but put the best robe on him.

b) A signet ring of authority.

Putting the best robe on him wasn't enough. Now he proceeds to put a ring on his finger.

In those times rings were much like a class ring that some of you have. It identified you as an executer of the estate. On the ring would have been the family's personal insignia that was used in business dealings. When a letter would be sent, for example, the letter would be sealed with wax and then the ring pressed into the warm wax. The ring was also used as a signature of the father of the estate. He did not need to be there to sign something. Instead, those with the ring could do his business.

This father was giving his son, in a literal sense, the keys to the whole estate. He is giving him signature status. This boy can now do any kind of business he deems necessary or desirable in the name of the father's estate.

c) Sandals for a son.

And then he puts shoes on his feet. It would not due for his own son, his partner in business to go without shoes. Servants, slaves and hired hands might go without shoes but not a son.

d)Fattened calf for a special occasion.

A young goat would have certainly been less expensive than the fattened calf. But to this father the very best was all that was good enough for his son. To him, being in the family meant something.

And for you to be in God's family means something. The ground at the cross is level. Every person is the family of God is of the same status and stature. Just because I'm pastor doesn't make me better or more deserving than anyone else.

3. OUR SAVIOR'S LOVING NATURE.

What we finally get to see is the overarching and overreaching love of our Savior. This cannot and must not be missed by us- especially those of us who are Christians.

The unmistakable message that Jesus tells his audience then and now is that he loves the sinner and the saint, the Jew and the Gentile, the clean and the unclean. I do not find it a stretch in the least to make a sweeping assumption in saying that our Savior's love goes beyond anything we could imagine.

And believe you me, the Pharisees standing in the crowd that day listening to Jesus weave his parable about this lost son would never truly see Jesus for who he really was to them: a Savior who loved them far more than the people who feared them.

Isn't it like God to love someone as unlovable as the prodigal son who rejected the ways of his father, squandered his father's hard-earned money and then ended up living with pigs? And isn't it like God to love someone as unlovable as those hypocritical Pharisees who didn't have a wit of mercy in their cold bones for anyone but love to flout their obedience to the letter of each rule but lacked true obedience to the Spirit of the Law?

And isn't it like God to love someone like you and I, who have done nothing, inherited nothing and could give nothing? Let me tell you about our Savior's loving nature:

a) Jesus loves the bad son and the good son.

In this parable the father looks at the good son who is rightfully angry because he has stayed and tilled the field, obeyed the rules but yet never even had a meaningless goat offered to celebrate him. (No offense to goats but they were used for secondary type of parties; the fattened calf was used for the best of parties.) The father assures him that "you are always with me and everything I have is yours."

For those of you in families where you have made the right choices and then watched your sibling make terrible choices and then witnessed mom and dad helping them way more than you; if this upsets you then I must simply say this: get over it. Don't get jealous. Leave it in God's hands. (next week we'll deal with the angry older "good" son.)

b) Jesus came to save the Jews and the Gentiles.

I love what Romans 1:16 tells us: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew and then for the Gentile."

This gives us hope for anyone. This father understood that regardless of his son's terrible choices there was still one choice that would change everything.

And I can't help but wonder about God looking down into the Garden of Eden and watching Adam and Eve make a terrible choice of eating from the forbidden tree.

c) Jesus came to save you.

What does it mean to become a Christian?

Admit that you are a sinner. This boy came to his father with a heart of repentence and confession.

Believe that Jesus died for your sins. This prodigal son knew the only place to get salvation from his misery was his father. In the same sense, you realize that the only place you can get true salvation is by believing in Jesus Christ.

Confess Jesus as Lord. This lost sinner came to that place where he was willing to submit to his father. In a similar fashion, you now confess that Jesus is Lord of your life.

CONCLUSION: How to reach your children and grandchildren.

REMEMBER how Christ impacted your life.

  1. We all like sheep have gone astray. (Isaiah 53:6) We were all once sinners lost in our sin. Yes, some have committed fewer and less criminal sins than others but any sin separated us from God.
  2. We all needed a Savior like Jesus. No one- not any one- could ever live such a perfect as not need Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross for their sins. We needed a Savior to rescue us from our sins and grant us eternal life through him.
  3. We all still need Jesus- desperately- everyday. None of us could live the kind of life that the Bible calls us to live without the very life of Jesus living within us. This is important for us to remember and then to model this Spirit filled life.

Not only must we remember these

DO something about the lostness of your children and grandchildren.

We are not helpless. God has made a way for us to make a difference. These seven suggestions I believe will help all of us in making a difference in their lives.

  1. Love your kids- all of them. Favoritism does no favors for anyone. The favored child grows up feeling entitled and the unfavored child grows up bitter.
  2. Pray for them every day. Daily prayer for your children and grandchildren should be a habit.
  3. Watch out for them, watch for them. Have faith that God will be faithful in speaking to them.
  4. Pray for them at night. Are you prone to awaking during the night and have a hard time going back to sleep? Then pray for your kids. Walk to their room while they are sleeping and weep over their souls that God will protect them.
  5. Wait for them to hear from God. Be patient with God. He will be faithful to the fervent prayers of a righteous person. (James 5:16)
  6. Pray all the time for them. Did I mention prayer a couple of other times? Be diligent in prayer during the daytime and the nighttime.
  7. Love them with the love of Christ. Forgive them even before they ever come to you. And what if they never come to you? So what! You forgive them and not hold it against them.

Show them a grace that doesn't make sense.

One more thing this father shows us: He was not weary in well-doing. (Galatians 6:9) And when you get weary of the arguments, the bad phone calls, the frustration with their sinful lifestyle, borrowing money and not paying it back, and it seems that nothing is changing just remember the example of this father. Furthermore, remember the example of our Savior who patiently waited until we were ready to hear the good news that he and he alone saves.

An Amazing Grace that doesn't make sense.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When Grace Knocks on Your Heart's Door

February 14, 2010

Luke 15:11-24

Jesus tells the story of the Lost Son after sharing two other parables: The Lost Sheep, the Lost Silver. In each of these something or someone is lost but then is found. In each, someone is desperate to find something or someone. In each of them a great celebration is a result of the reunion.

A parable is a simple metaphor or simile conveyed in story form. It is taking a story- real or made-up- and making a comparison to a real life situation. In this case, Jesus is telling these stories to make a point about God’s grace that supersedes judge-mentalism and about his particular love and sacrifice for the lost sinner. His audience are his disciples, others who are listening in and especially the Jewish leaders- the Pharisees- who hated Jesus, all that he did and stood for, and hated the sinners he was reaching.

Charles Dickens famously called the story of the Prodigal Son “the greatest short story ever told.” And over the centuries scholars, preachers, teachers, students and the like have been enamored by this parable as great literature.

A lot of us can in some way place ourselves in the story. We were once lost but now found. We once lived a life of terrible sin and transgression. We were all guilty of sin. The Bible is clear that there is none righteous-no not one! All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Truly this story describes for us the very fact of Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Some scholars believe that Jesus may have been sharing a real life story that either he had heard about growing up in Nazareth or had witnessed somewhere. It is possible. But let’s not miss the point of the lost sinner coming to Christ as we follow the story line.

And so without further ado, let’s dive into this parable

1. A Rebellious Spirit.

vv. 11-12 There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So he divided his property between them.

My wife tells of the time when she was a child that she decided to run away from home. She had had enough of the rules and everybody bossing her around. She made the announcement as she ran to her room and slammed the door. A few minutes later her dad came in. He didn’t try to talk her out of it. Instead, he started helping her pack. He suggested various articles of clothing such as a sweater and coat because it will be cold at night. It wasn’t long before she was crying for forgiveness.

There probably isn’t a kid anywhere who at one time or another didn’t like the home they lived in. Some, of course, have it worse than others and there are situations where running away from home is necessary. However, in this case, the issue is not abuse or neglect by the household. The issue is rebellion plain and simple.

a. The son dreamed of throwing off all restraint.

This was not a runaway from abuse but a runaway from rules and the responsibility that dictates those rules. You cannot truly live a free life without rules and responsibilities. It is impossible. We all live by some sort of set of standards. Some stricter than others. Even the most hardened criminals have certain rules they live by.

Jesus warned that even the mere thoughts of unrestraint thinking was sinful. Why? Because it pointed a person’s thought life to things that are wrong and in so doing a person sets themselves up to commit the very act they think about.

b. The son deliberately separated himself from true love.

He separated himself from his family values, his cultural heritage and his religious upbringing.

As parents we strive to teach our children how to rightly and properly live. We teach them good manners, we set an example for them of right living and we discipline them appropriately so that these values are reinforced. Why? Because we love them too much to let them grow up doing wrong things because it brings harm to them and to others.

This prodigal son wanted to be set free from all of this. He wanted freedom from his father, who loved him; his community who cared about him; and the Lord God who he saw as a killjoy. None of this meant anything to him. In a very real sense he was…

c) Putting authority to death.

For a son to want his inheritance while his father was still alive was the same thing as wishing his father were dead. But on the other hand, for a child to rebel in such a manner in those times, the son would have been considered dead.

Now I have heard of children who have disappointed their parents so badly by not doing what the parents wanted them to do, that the parents actually considered their child dead. A long time ago in my college years I knew of such a family. Thankfully after years of rebellion this child returned home to good graces but the parents would not allow even the mention of their name brought up.

An ordinary citizen like this father would have considered his son as good as dead. But we see later that this is no ordinary father.

And so the father did as the son desired.

d) The matter of free choice.

Wow. That is still blows me away. Here is the son basically wishing his father was dead already, demanding his inheritance before his death and leaving everything and everyone behind. And the father does as the son wishes.

But why?

Consider the reality of God and his relationship with humanity. God allowed Adam and Eve to make the wrong choice of eating the forbidden fruit. He did not intervene to stop them. Furthermore, God will not intervene to stop you from doing what you have set your heart on doing.

God desires for people like us to willingly serve Him and to willingly love Him. He is not looking for mind-numbed robots to unthinkingly do things for Him. He created us with the circuit board of choice. We can either choose poorly or choose wisely. This prodigal son was choosing poorly. And the result of his poor choices was a…

2. Counterfeit Happiness.

vv. 13 Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth on wild living.

You’ve heard it said that money can’t make you happy. Well, I’ve mostly not had money and when I have it has made me feel happy. I couldn’t imagine winning a big sweepstakes or suddenly coming into a large sum of money. Would it make me happy? Of course! However, money misappropriated for the wrong things only buys a counterfeit happiness.

And that is what happened to this young rebel without a cause. He used his inheritance for the wrong reasons. It started with how he got the money in order to bankroll this counterfeit happiness he was pursuing. It started with…

a. Selling his inheritance.

His father obviously was very wealthy. Most likely in the tradition of those times he inherited the properties from his father and his father’s father. This man perhaps may have owned large lands and cattle. However, like a lot of wealthy people, his money wasn’t in real cash but in titles and deeds. Therefore, the son was handed his share of the titles and deeds. Since these would not finance his counterfeit happiness he had to cash them in. In other words, “I want my money and I want it now!!”

Understand, the property was not accessible until “the old man was dead.” So to sell these, the son had to take a severe cut in its real value in order to have any money. MacArthur suggests that perhaps this boy walked away with pennies on the dollar. It wasn’t long after the doling out of the inheritance that this young fellow set foot towards any number of places to engage in his dreams.

He sold his inheritance for mere pennies on the dollar just so he could have immediate gratification. And what he was doing was…

b. Short-changing his potential.

All that his future held was now literally in his hands. He could have begun working the properties himself for profit but instead he sold it all.

How many here can look back at missed opportunities. They may have been a financial investment that you were a tad nervous about, watched someone else make the investment and- WA-LA- they hit the jackpot. Or you might look back and wish you had finished college, treated a boss more respectfully and any other choice that was really in your hands.

This boy made a huge mistake- bigger than what most people might make. He sold it all for a bowl of pottage in the kingdom of self-indulgence

In all of his living for the benefit of self, this prodigal son was sowing wild oats. But never forget in all of our efforts to do life our way that payday will come someday. And this fellow was heading straight down the path of self-destruction. The result was…

c. Sacrificing his soul.

Jesus suggests elsewhere in scripture “What profits a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his own soul?” This young son was spending every bit of his resources and energy for wild living. He was doing what he wanted and there was no restraint on his rebellion against his father.

The result of counterfeit happiness is very simply…

3. A Joyless Life.

vv. 14-16 After he had spent everything , there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

Notice the downfall of this young man by his choice:

a. He made a fatal investment.

He spent everything he had without concerning himself about the future but only of the moment. He wanted his happiness and he wanted it now. A fatal investment leads to…

b. A Famine of the Soul.

There was an emptiness of his heart. The pleasures of sin for a season had run out. And now he was left with nothing.

In those days famines were a very common disaster. Famines come because of poor weather conditions, bad farming techniques and war. When famine strikes as it seems to have in the far away country, he found himself starving.

There will always be disasters- both natural and human influenced. Somewhere he lost everything. How one responds is not a matter of what one possesses tangibly but what one possesses spiritually. However, for him there was a famine of the soul that leads to…

c. A futile life.

When the money runs dry, the friends will run out. He discovered that real joy and happiness cannot be bought. He had to hire himself out and lived with and served the pigs. Something that was not merely anti-Jewish but must have made Jesus’ Jewish leaders squirm with horror.

You see, a person who throws off restraint and let’s sin lead their life can never say they would never do something. Prisons are filled with men and women who did things they thought that they would never do.

This prodigal found himself hired out to serve a citizen of this foreign land. Remember, he deliberately left the Promised Land to go to a foreign land. Let’s not miss the inference. Where he lived was where God wanted him to be. What he traded all of that for was to live in a land of sin. And now, in order to merely survive, he finds himself working for a sinner of that land.

And then something happens. In the midst of hunger, in the midst of a famine of his soul, as he longs for even the pods that the pigs were eating, grace knocks on his heart’s door.

Let me pause for a moment and encourage those of you whose sons and daughters have walked away from the faith: keep up your prayers, keep on believing and trust that grace will knock on their door someday soon.

And when it does, something amazing happens: “The prayers of a righteous man availeth much.” God intervenes and speaks to his heart about…

4. An Amazing Grace.

vv. 17-20b When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.

Watch the sequence of how this grace process works itself in his heart:

a. He came to his senses.

Grace is always relational. Grace may be God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense but also understand that these riches of God cannot happen in your life with you coming to your senses spiritually. You need to see your need of God’s grace.

This man not saw with his eyes but his heart listened to his conscience. Furthermore, his mouth then expressed a confession. As a result…

b. He determined to change direction.

This meant leaving the far away country of sin and going home where there is plenty of food for even the lowest of men.

In those times a slave was actually better off than a hired servant. A slave had quarters to live, food provided and even money in his pocket. A hired servant was less than a slave. He would be the day laborer who showed up for that extra work in the fields. When this boy understood was that his father was such a gracious man that even the lowest of workers were paid well enough to have plenty to eat. And so…

c. He put feet to his decision.

He not only decides he needs to change his life he knows where he needs to go to get this kind of change. And so he heads home.

5. The Return Home.

vv. 20b-24 But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate.

I love how Charles Spurgeon describes this last scene: “He was resolved to come, yet he was half afraid. But we read that his father ran. Slow are the steps of repentance, but swift are the feet of forgiveness. God can run where we scarcely limp, and if we are limping towards Him, He will run towards us.”

a. Jesus is the “Father” waiting for the lost to return.

I want us to understand that in this parable the “father” is not representing our heavenly father but actually representing our Savior Jesus Christ. In the search for the lost sheep he is the shepherd. In the search for the lost coin he is the light. And in waiting for the lost son he is the Savior. Notice his reaction when he sees his son coming down the road:

b. The Father ran to his son.

Men of stature that this father likely was were men who were reserved and gentlemanly. They did not run to the slave, the hired hand or the rebel son. In fact, they would not even be looking for this boy. But remember this father was no ordinary father. He was always watching, praying and waiting for this son to come to his senses. And when he saw him from a distance, he lifted is robe and ran to his dead son.

c. The son made true repentance by his confession.

Not only did he rehearse these words before hand in the land of sin but now he is carrying out what he had vowed to do.

The father had every right to punish his son publicly. In fact, it was expected for this rebellious son to be publicly humiliated. And I’m sure this son was braced for the punishment. But that isn’t what happened. Instead…

d. The son was given his position as “son.”

He was restored to the position that he was supposed to have. Perhaps he refused to do his father’s work before but now he is given not simply a new robe but the best robe, he receives the signet ring so that he can do business in his father’s name. Furthermore, new sandals are put on his feet. This beggar in rags is not a child of the devil but a child of God.

Similarly when we come to Christ we are restored to the status that we were created for: God’s child. We are restored to the divine image before the fall in the Garden of Eden.

e. Salvation is always something to celebrate.

And the partying begins. This son who was dead is now alive. He was lost but is now found. The fatted calf that was likely prepared for someone of stature perhaps coming soon to visit was intercepted and slaughtered. A great party took place. Why? Because the father experienced the return of his lost son.

It shows us that God loves celebrations. He celebrated when you received Jesus in your heart. And if you are not a believer yet, he will celebrate with the angels in heaven when you finally come home.

WHAT IT MEANS TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN:

Admit that you are a sinner.

Believe that Jesus died for your sins.

Confess Jesus as Lord of your life.

From the Desert to the Cross

“We want anything but a suffering Messiah.” So writes Philip Yancey in his book The Jesus I Never Knew. I think he’s on to something. In fact, Yancey goes so far to suggest that perhaps this temptation above all others was the one to “hit a nerve” with Jesus. Jesus would have to face this temptation to dodge suffering and to take the easy way out at different junctures of his ministry.

Jesus made a regular sacrifice of not taking the easy way out. He understood that there are times you keep your nose to the grindstone and don’t turn to the left or the right. We know that he was tempted in all points as we are but sinned not. WHAT ABOUT YOU?

How do you handle temptation? How do you deal with the continual struggle between doing what is right and what is wrong? What do you do when that well of bitterness begins to rise again in your heart when you encounter the wrong person or get the wrong telephone call? What do you do when you are tempted to lust, swear, get greedy, want first place or any other temptation that comes your way?

Jesus shows us how he dealt with temptation and how you can be a victor over sin.

There are five times that Jesus faces the temptation to avoid suffering and go ahead and become Lord of the world. Five different times that Jesus was given the opportunity to stop, drop and short-cut the plan. Five times that Jesus could put on the ring of power and become king of the world but each time Jesus does not give in. Each time Jesus finds a way to overcome the temptation and carry on with the Father’s plan.

1. Jesus in the desert. (Luke 4:9-13)

In this passage Jesus is being tempted by the devil to leap from the Temple Pinnacle. Surely if someone jumped from it and survived there would be astonished believers.

The Pinnacle was the by far the highest point of the temple. It was the role of one of the priests to go to the highest point of the temple and watch for the sunrise. As soon as the sun began to show itself over the horizon a ram’s horn would be sounded and the worship activities of the day would begin in the temple.

Solomon’s temple pinnacle was 207 feet. I spoke with Josh’s professor at IWU about the height of the Temple Pinnacle. Dr. Berenice (sp?) suggested that Herod’s Temple, of which Jesus would now be taken to, was much bigger and higher. He said the height depended on which side of the temple pinnacle you jumped from. There are estimates of nearly 700 feet which would be a dazzling feat for anyone. (Scripture Backdrops www.bible-history.com) Most conservative estimate would be 200 feet.

Can you imagine how quickly the people would be turned to Christ? If you jumped 200 feet and an angel rescued you wouldn’t that require a hard look? Wow! They would surely be convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. There wouldn’t be all the mess of gathering a small group of guys and trying to convince them to live by faith. Instead, Jesus would have a captive audience.

But honestly, the idea sounds good but it would really be too good to be true. We all know that you can’t buy loyalty and honest followers. Jesus wisely and rightly did not give in to temptation. But it would come back.

Jesus overcomes temptation by using scripture.

2. Jesus rebukes Peter. (Matthew 16:21-23)

One day Jesus is curious about his disciples and tests them about who they think he is. He gets various answers but then asks them point blank: Who do you think I am?

Peter answers, “You are the Christ.” He nails it and goes to the head of the class. Peter certainly must have felt great.

Then Jesus shares about his rejection, his suffering and eventual death. This is God’s plan. But suddenly Peter leaps to his feet and shouts, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!”

A nerve is touched once again. The old temptation is back. Jesus immediately rebukes Peter, “Get behind me Satan.” For centuries we Christians have wondered if Jesus was calling Peter Satan- which we generally he wasn’t- or was Jesus seeing Satan’s work through Peter coming out- which we generally think was happening. I want to also suggest that Jesus saw the old temptation, as well meaning as Peter may have been, coming to the fore-front and once again trying to gain a foothold in Jesus’ life. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus was making sure that not Satan and his disciples knew that he was following through with the plan but that he himself was certain of his intentions.

Once again Jesus overcome temptation but this time by rebuking it.

3. Jesus withdraws from the Crowds. (John 6:14-15)

Jesus must have known that when he made bread for the 5000 that something would happen. He must have sensed the dangerous ground he already was on. But the people could not be ignored. Yes, he was being faithful in meeting their physical needs of healing and spiritual needs with sound biblical teaching but he now needed to attend to their physical nourishment. And so with two small fish and five barley loaves, he multiplies the food and there are twelve basketfuls of bread crumbs leftover.

But a problem is beginning to take shape. He knows that by meeting their needs at every point- spirit, soul and body- they want more. They have suddenly caught a glimpse of a whole new world with Jesus as king. They saw a world where would be no limit to what they could do, they would never hunger again and never be sick again.

Jesus sees from afar their scheme: make him king whether he wants to be king or not. And so what does Jesus do? He withdraws to a mountain to be by himself. He avoids any confrontation, avoids any sense of explaining himself once again and gets with his Father for some alone time.

Jesus withdraws from temptation’s snare and goes to be alone on a mountain. Temptation is defeated once again.

4. Jesus in the Garden. (Matthew 26:39-44)

The whole plan is coming down to the nitty-gritty. By now the Pharisees are livid, Judas agrees to betray him and the Romans soldiers notified. Jesus takes his entourage into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Interestingly, his closest followers are asked to be in prayer. Instead, they sleep. Jesus prays that this cup might pass from him. And then he prays, “Not my will but yours be done.”

I noticed something that I hadn’t really seen before. He calls on his disciples to pray that they would not be tempted. I could not help but wonder if somehow Jesus wondered about his own temptation? He is strengthened by an angel and he prays more earnestly until his sweat became blood drops.

Was Jesus facing temptation even then? Mel Gibson seemed to think so in his portrayal of Jesus in the Garden. And I have to agree.

However, temptation is defeated a fourth time and this time by prayer.

5. Jesus on the Cross. (Luke 23:39; Matthew 27:42-43)

Perhaps the most vicious of the temptation came when Jesus was on his deathbed.

First, people passing by were saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself. Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God.”

Second, the Jewish leaders were saying, “He saved others but he can’t save himself. He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.”

Third, the criminal taunts Jesus by saying, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save us and save yourself!”

Jesus overcomes temptation on this occasion by staying focused on the prize. He gives of himself as a sacrifice for sin and to him he has gone too far to turn back now. Earlier Jesus had told Peter as Peter tried to defend him by cutting off a Romans soldier’s ear by saying: “Do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” Matthew 26:53

Conclusion: VICTORY OVER SIN.

And maybe its here that I pause to challenge everyone here about temptation. Jesus faced the same kind of temptation to short-cut his way to God’s will. But folks, there is no short-cut to God’s future for you, his will for your life or for you to be holy as he is holy.

The British journalist, Malcolm Muggeridge, says it well: “Jesus had to but give a nod of agreement and he could have constructed [Christianity], not on four shaky Gospels and a defeated man nailed on a Cross, but on a basis of sound socio-economic planning and principles… Every utopia could have been brought to pass, every hope realized and every dream made to come true… Instead he turned the offer down on the ground that only God could be worshipped.”

As we partake of the Lord’s supper I must ask: What about you? Are you striving to do life as you see fit or as God sees fit? Are you looking to your own will and way or to God’s will and way? Are you facing the facts of sin in your life for which you need forgiveness and cleansing?

“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” “There is none righteous, no not one.” These verses truly describe the condition of the human heart before coming to Christ. But perhaps there is a brother or sister who has been struggling with temptation and have been hammered by evil in their life.

Now is the time to seek God for cleansing. Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

You see, Jesus knew that the only way for sinful humanity to be set free from sin would be by his perfect sacrifice on the cross. We could not be saved otherwise. Jesus’ faithfulness in the face of dazzling temptation proved him faithful to you. And now you can claim 1 John 1:9 as yours: “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Jesus gives us an EXAMPLE of how we must live as his disciples. What is IT that the Holy Spirit wants you to have total victory over?

Through Jesus Christ -and him only- do we have the answer to the temptations that come our way. Through Him we have the POWER and the TESTIMONY to be victors.

Revelation 12:11 They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

· Confess your sins. There is no other first step. Whatever it is you are dealing with surrender that issue to our Lord. In confession you are determined that this is a turning away from sin. “If we confess our sins, 1 John 1:9a

· Believe that He will forgive you of your sins. Jesus paid the price for your sins. His death on the cross was the perfect sacrifice. “…he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins…” 1 John 1:9b

· Accept His cleansing of your heart. “and cleanse us from all sin.” 1 John 1:9c

· Walk in His steps. “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) There is a restoration within the family of God as well as with our heavenly Father. Something miraculous happens to us. We long to be into God’s word as well as be around God’s people and participate in the worship of God.

“But there was no rescue, no miracle, no easy, painless path. For Jesus to save others, quite simple, he could not save himself. That fact, he must have known as he faced Satan in the desert.” Philip Yancey The Jesus I Never Knew



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