When All Hope Seems Lost

Coptic-Arabic manuscript, Ayyubid period, AD 1249-50. Images depict Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene, the kiss of Judas, the arrest of Christ, his appearance before Caiaphas, Peter's denial at cockcrow, Christ before Pilate, and the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.
This week we follow Joseph into prison. If we’re headed to prison with him, let’s recap how we got here. We know that Joseph was born into a family that was trying to follow God’s will but at the same time was highly dysfunctional. Joseph had eleven other brothers, born to four different women. His own mother had passed away. His father Jacob showed favoritism to Joseph because Jacob learned that from his father Isaac.

Joseph has a dream that God will make him ruler, and Joseph’s family will bow down to him. Joseph’s brothers are less than enthused by this dream, and they throw him in a well, expecting to kill him. Now, when I was growing up, my brother and sister and I fought, but we never threw any of us in a well. At least not that I remember. At least not for very long. And we never sold one of us to the Egyptians which is what Joseph’s brother decided to do, rather than kill him.

When Joseph was at the bottom of the well, things looked pretty hopeless. No food, no water, and the only people around that could get him out of the well were the same ones that threw him into the well in the first place. Joseph knew God’s plan for him held great things in store for him, but how were they possibly going to come true if Joseph is dying at the bottom of a well? I think we can learn from Joseph about how to handle serious setbacks in our life and how we should respond. I came up with four ways, but I’m not going to tell them to you yet because the lesson would be over and it’s too early for lunch.

Instead of killing Joseph, his brother decided to sell him to the caravan to Egypt. I was always amazed at that caravan to Egypt that “happened” to come by, right at that moment, while Joseph was at the bottom of the well. How many months had that caravan been traveling to reach that exact spot at that time? From Joseph’s perspective at the bottom of the well, things must have looked bleak. Things must have looked hopeless. But God was in control all along. He knew Joseph would be in a well that day, so months earlier he sent a caravan to pick him up and take him to Egypt to fulfill His plan.

And for a while, it certainly looked like Joseph was living the dream. Head servant to Potiphar, officer to the Pharaoh himself, Joseph is given great responsibilities and freedoms because of his faithfulness and trustfulness. But then, Joseph is a victim of seduction and false accusations. Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph, but Joseph denounces the seduction as a wicked sin. Potiphar’s wife isn’t named in the scripture; she’s one of the unnamed people in the bible, like Lot’s wife or David’s mother or the Magi. Scholars believe her name was Zulieka, married to Ptahwer, an officer of Pharoah Ahmenemhet III of the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, Zulieka’s shade is observed by Dante in the Eight Circle of Hell. She doesn’t speak, but Dante is told the Eight Circle of Hell is reserved for perjurers that violate the ninth Commandment not to bear false witness and she will spend all of eternity with a burning fever. And this is the kind of thing that sidetracks me when I’m studying and I need to get back to Joseph. Joseph flees from the sin of temptation but he leaves some article of clothing behind, and because of this evidence, Potiphar has Joseph thrown into prison.

I think sometimes we tend to think that if we follow God’s will, we will only see God’s blessings. Or perhaps we think that if we’re going through some challenge, we’re in some dark well or we’re in prison to our sin that God has forgotten us. Joseph had been in a tough position, what would be sexual harassment today, a daily temptation. If he resists Potiphar’s wife, she’ll be mad, and if he gives in, Potiphar will be mad. God will be offended. Clearly, Joseph had no choice that was without serious consequences. Joseph chose to do the right thing and was thrown into prison for it. And again, where was God? Would God send the equivalent of another caravan to rescue Joseph? Let’s read Genesis 39:21 and see.

But while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that being the best darn prisoner in all of Egypt is not what Joseph expected when he decided to follow God’s will. But when all hope is lost, when we’re in a well or we’re in some prison and we don’t know how we’re going to get out, we can learn the first way we can respond to serious setbacks in our life. How many ways are we going to study? Four, that’s good, just checking to see if you were paying attention.)

I. We can trust God

We can trust God, that He has a plan and He will see His plan done. While Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him. We might be tempted to ask, well, if the Lord was with him, why was he in prison in the first place?

Well, the Lord doesn’t seem to work like that; there is a place for suffering in the lives of Christians. Paul tells us in Romans 5:3-5 that suffering will produce perseverance, character and hope. James 1:2-4 tells us that the trials we face gives us spiritual maturity. Faith in an all-benevolent, gift-giving God is easy; to increase our faith, God grants us trials so we not only believe in Him, but we learn to rely on Him. God is interested in our circumstances, but He is far, far more interested in our response to our circumstances.

Joseph was in a place of hopelessness, a life imprisonment. The only he had going for him was the fact that Potiphar didn’t execute him, the customary punishment for adultery. Potiphar must have believed him, but it didn’t keep him out of prison. Joseph has no family to comfort him; it was his family’s actions that setup this circumstance in the first place. He’s a slave, in a foreign land. Joseph had one thing and one thing only. Scripture says the Lord was with Joseph.

Sometimes, when things look bleak to us, this is the only thing that can sustain us. The Lord is with us, even when we can’t see it. Family members hospitalized, troubled marriages, abuse, traumatic accidents, lost jobs.

Q: What does it mean to you to trust God? How does the promise of God’s presence build your trust in Him?

We know Joseph’s future. Joseph only has his knowledge of what the Lord has told him in a dream. If Joseph knew what we knew, having faith in prison for a crime he didn’t commit would be easy. Joseph didn’t have such knowledge, but he did have faith that God is true. And that’s the same thing we have. We have God’s word that He is with us, no matter what. You’ve heard it said that if it is written once in the bible, it’s important, but if it’s written twice, better sit up and pay attention? Look at Deuteronomy 31:6 –

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

And Joshua 1:5 –

No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.

And Hebrews 13:5 –

…because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

And Matthew 28:20, Jesus says,

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

God is with us. Emmanuel. God is with us. What’s our first step to dealing with troubles in our lives? Trust in God, for He is with us.

II. We can serve others

Let’s read Genesis 40:1-8 –

Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the same prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them.

After they had been in custody for some time, each of the two men—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were being held in prison—had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own.

When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected. So he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why are your faces so sad today?”

“We both had dreams,” they answered, “but there is no one to interpret them.”

Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”

Joseph could have been wallowing in self-pity. He had a lot to wallow about. He could have used his situation as an excuse; “I can’t help you know, can’t you see I’m in prison? Sheesh!” But instead, Joseph looked to serve others. In verse 4, the term “served them” or “attended them” or “ministered to them” could mean he performed menial service, but Joseph’s care goes further than that. It was Joseph that noticed their faces were dejected. Joseph took the time to care about them, inquire about their welfare, and taking the time to listen to their stories.

And Joseph credited all the dream interpretation to God. Just like Joseph, even when we’re troubled, we can still find a way to minister to others. Joseph used his faith to reach out to others in their need, just as we can serve others in the Lord’s name as a way to comfort others.

Helping others is a sure fire way to take your mind off your own troubles. If you can do nothing else for somebody else, just take the time to listen to them.

One of the reasons we suffer is so that we may understand others who suffer. People afflicted with cancer relate better to a cancer survivor. Recovering alcoholics attend AA meetings to be with other people with the same struggles. A large reason Diane relates so well to the elderly is because many of the aches and pains they have, Diane identifies with them because she’s had them, too.

Nobody understood that better than Jesus. Jesus suffered, died and was buried for our sins. Do you think Jesus can’t identify with your pain? The humanity of Jesus gave him direct access to the worst pain that can be inflicted on a man, and His anguish troubled Him so much His sweat was like blood. Jesus knows suffering. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 –

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

Q: What kind of things can we do today that makes a difference in somebody else’s life?

III. We can seek help

So Joseph offers to interpret their dreams, and the chief cupbearer goes first. Genesis 40:9-15 –

So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, “In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand.”

“This is what it means,” Joseph said to him. “The three branches are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.”

Just giving comfort to others helps us, consider that getting comfort from others blesses them, too. Joseph saw an opportunity for somebody to help him, and he wasn’t afraid to ask. Joseph’s ordeal had him in prison for the rest of his lift, and the prophecy of this dream coming true gave Joseph hope for the future. He was not afraid to ask for help. “Mention me to Pharoah and get me out of this prison.” Sometimes there is a solution to our problem that’s available if we just ask for it.

The cupbearer received good news from Joseph’s dream interpretation. The baker now asked for Joseph to interpret his dream. Genesis 40:16-19 –

When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.”

“This is what it means,” Joseph said. “The three baskets are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat away your flesh.”

Well. Sucks to be the baker, I guess. Actually, there is a lesson here. Joseph approached the cupbearer for help because he knew the cupbearer would eventually be in a position to help him. It’s important to use discernment when seeking help. Seek those who can provide Godly wisdom and comfort or who may be in a position to help. And don’t be a baker in Pharaoh’s prison.

Q: How did God use others to encourage Joseph? How has God used others to encourage and help you?

IV. We can be patient

And lastly, we can be patient and wait on God whose timing is perfect. Genesis 40:20-23 –

Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand, but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation.

The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.

Patience is hard; patience is a virtue. Patience takes practice. There are many places we wait in life. We wait in traffic. We wait for the microwave to finish. We wait for the right job to come along. We wait for the right spouse to come along. We even wait on our spouse to become the spouse God intends, just like our spouse waits on us. We’re waiting for children to grow up, we’re waiting for children to move out, we’re waiting, waiting, waiting.

Have you ever considered that we’re sometimes just waiting in God’s waiting room? We see a situation in our lives or the lives of someone close to us, and we wonder why God doesn’t fix it now. Surely it is God’s will for this thing to happen. Why is He taking His time?

God has great plans for Joseph. Plans to prosper him and not to harm him, plans to give him hope and a future. But for now, Joseph is in God’s waiting room. And sometimes, we are, too. God has a plan for each and every one of us. He wants us to love Him, He wants us to love one another. He wants us to grow spiritually in a closer relationship with Him. And sometimes He uses time to accomplish His will.

Are you waiting on God for something? For somebody to come to faith, for somebody’s heart to soften, for somebody to apologize, for the pain to stop, for the health to improve? I understand, waiting is hard. God understands waiting is hard, but sometimes it takes time for God to work His will, not because God is slow, but because people are slow to respond. As Joseph is getting to depend on the Lord and serve the Lord, he’s waiting in prison. His hope for the chief cupbearer to tell Pharaoh at the birthday party about Joseph’s innocence did not happen. The chief cupbearer forgot. But God remembered, and when His timing was right, we’ll see Joseph delivered. But he has two more years to wait on the Lord.

Be patient. Whatever you are waiting on is a small part of the picture. God sees the whole picture in the fullness of time. When God acts, it may look like good timing, or bad timing, or no timing at all, but its God’s perfect timing. Keep Romans 8:28 in mind,

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

God will act when He knows the time is right. In the meantime, we continue to grow in Him by serving and studying and being obedient and praying. Timothy must have asked Paul about the persecutions and the injustice he saw, and Paul told him in 2 Timothy 3:14 to just continue.

Q: Why do you think the cupbearer forgot Joseph? Why is it so hard to wait when facing a hopeless situation?

Q: Which one of these four steps is the easiest to do? Which one is the hardest?

These four steps take practice. Pray and lean on Him when you’re going through difficult times. Our human nature often leads us to respond incorrectly and in ways that are ultimately destructive. Joseph could have responded with anger and bitterness. He could have said ugly things about Potiphar’s wife. He could have been mad at Potiphar. He could have harbored resentment towards his brothers. Joseph’s life so far includes abuse, abandonment, hatred, slavery, false witness, and now prison, all while Joseph tried to do the right thing. Can you picture Joseph years later, a 90 year man, eaten up with bitterness about how he was treated? Anger and bitterness are not the solution.

Or Joseph could have turned his back on God and taken the situation into his own hands. Joseph could have gossiped about Potiphar’s wife, you know how many slaves she sleeps with, she’s such a tramp. And that Potiphar, what an idiot for believing her. Sometimes we want to take charge of the situation and change it, only to make it worse. Some people see trouble and turn their back on God, not understanding the pain and the waiting could possibly be from a loving God. And they seek other sources of comfort in alcohol, drugs, infidelity, materialism, whatever. Others see the same pain and waiting and understand God’s perfect timing as a time of spiritual growth and develop a deep confidence in waiting on the Lord.

In an Expositional commentary to Genesis, I read this story told by Billy Graham. Billy Graham told a story of a friend that went through the Great Depression who lost his job, all his savings, then his wife and then his home. But he was a believer in Jesus Christ and held onto his faith even through he fought with depression about his circumstances. One day he stopped to watch some workmen doing stonework on a huge church. One man out front was chiseling a piece of stone into a triangle. Curious, he asked what the triangle was for.

See that little opening on the top of the spire? I’m chiseling this down here so it’ll fit up there. And his friend left with grateful tears; God was doing the same to him, shaping him for heaven by chiseling him through his ordeals.

So trust in God. Continue to serve, and to ask for help, and be patient and wait on God’s perfect timing.

Christian Carnival CCXIX

c. 1220
Chasing the Wind is honored to host the 219th edition of the Christian Carnival II, the blogosphere’s best Christian writing. My comments on the post in italics after each entry, but I left the author’s original thoughts when he or she provided them. I included almost all posts I received; I excluded two from the same blog that were more about “the power of positive thinking” that didn’t seem to mention Christianity, and a similar post about raising children from a site mostly dedicated to gardening. Oh, and I excluded an advertisement blog for Branson Missouri. If I excluded your post and you don’t agree, email me and let me know why I erred and I’ll correct it.

Submit your blog article to the next edition of christian carnival ii using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Choices We Make

We’re reading Genesis 13 and 14 today and following Abram, Sarai, and their nephew Lot around the middle east. Lot’s father had died in Ur in the land of the Chaldees, and Abram had taken Lot in with him on his journey with God. Last week, in Genesis 12, the Egyptian Pharoah asked Abram to leave Egypt, and to take his little dog, too. Genesis 13:1-4,

So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold. From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the LORD.

Abram is seeking the Lord. We don’t even know why Abram called on the name of the Lord, and I don’t think it matters. Abram’s made some goofy decisions in his life previously; last week, Abram told his wife to lie to Pharoah and say she was his sister. That was a bad decision; God is truth, and Satan is the father of lies. As Fred taught us last week, we cannot receive God’s blessings if we keep one foot in Babylon. We must follow God with all our heart. Now, we know Abram meant well; he was trying to save his own life. But that’s a lack of trust in the Lord; the Lord does not ask us to sin to accomplish His will. One commentary I read said trying to solve a problem by committing a sin is like “putting a baby in a pen with a rattlesnake and hoping that the presence of the baby will awaken a sense of compassion in the snake.” A snake is a snake. A sin is a sin.

Abram isn’t making the same mistake; he is calling on the name of the Lord. And as soon as he does, fighting breaks out. Genesis 13:5-7,

Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. And quarreling arose between Abram’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.

Society seems to think that because we are Christians, we never have quarrels. I think sometimes we Christians think the same thing. But quarrels occur; scripture cautions us that “in our anger, do not sin.” One mark of a mature Christian is, or course, the peace of Christ within him, but another mark of a mature Christian is how he resolves conflict. With love, compassion, and without sin. Abram has called upon the name of the Lord, and the Lord has given him a problem to solve. Abram answers it admirably, Genesis 13:8-9,

So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”

This town just ain’t big enough for the two of us. Well, actually, there wasn’t a town, and the land was big enough. Abram and Lot had so much stuff they were crowded in the land near Bethel, and Abram gives Lot a choice. Pick any land you want, and I’ll go the other way, and then we’ve removed the source of our conflict.

Lot’s choice is going to affect history for millennia. We know Lot is a righteous man, but righteous men can make bad decisions, too. Lot chose for himself the whole plain of Jordan and set out toward the east and pitched his tent near Sodom. Sodom was already the Las Vegas of biblical times where what happens in Sodom stays in Sodom.

Let’s skip ahead to Genesis 14. In verse 1, we’re introduced to a whole lot of kings with unpronounceable names. I’m not going to attempt to pronounce them, so I’m going to ask Diane to do it. Wait, let’s just count the kings, that’ll be easier. The kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam, and Goiim. That’s 4 kings. And Genesis 14:1 says they went to war against the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela. That’s 5 kings, and it says in verse 4 that the 4 kings ruled over the 5 kings, but after 12 years they had enough and rebelled. The 4 kings went to war to crush the rebellion. I think I’m going to root for the 4 kings because the 5 king team includes Sodom and Gomorrah. Which, coincidentally, is where Lot pitched his tent.

The four kings were very successful and routed many unpronounceable kingdoms that were either allied with the five kings or at least happened to live near them. One of those little kingdoms along the way was the Amorites. The four kings forced the five kings into retreat. In verse 8, the five kings have their backs against the wall, so they draw their battle lines. Here, the five kings are going to make their stand, in the Valley of Siddim. The five kings weren’t the brightest bulbs in the tulip patch, if you know what I mean. The Valley of Siddim was known for their tar pits, and the five kings not only were defeated, but when they tried to flee, they fell into the tar pits and got stuck. The rest fled into the hills. The four kings, as was the custom, seized all the goods in Sodom and Gomorrah as plunder. That plunder included Abram’s nephew Lot and all his possessions because he was living in Sodom.

One of the men who escaped came and told Abram what had happened. Why would one of the five kings come and tell Abram? Because Abram was friends with Mamre, Escho, and Aner who were all Amorites, that little kingdom the four kings conquered on the way to defeating the five kings. Uh oh. When the four kings were fighting against the evil five kings, they trampled an ally of Abram and took his nephew captive. I’m no longer rooting for the four kings, they turned out to be bad people, just like the five kings.

And interesting sidenote here – verse 13 says all this bad news was reported to Abram the Hebrew. This is the first use of the word “Hebrew” in the bible. I suppose because we’re not to confuse Abram with an Amorite; Abram is a Hebrew but he’s allied with the Amorites.

Abram is rich and powerful; it says in verse 14 that he has 318 trained men born in his household. Abram and his trained warriors attacked the four kings, routed them and chased them up the coastline. In verse 16 we read that Abram recovered all the goods, brought back his nephew Lot and all his possessions as well as women and other people.

A fascinating character shows up here; Melchizedek, king of Salem. Melchizedek’s name means “righteousness” and Salem means “peace.” Melchizedek is the king of righteousness and peace. He appears, blesses Abram, shares communion with him, and accepts a 10% tithe, then disappears back into history again. Melchizedek is both a king and a priest in Jerusalem. Psalm 110:4 promises our savior will be a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 7 tells us that Jesus Christ is our King of Righteousness and King of Peace in the order of Melchizedek. We spent an entire lesson on Melchizedek last year when we studied Hebrews; all we’re going to mention today is that the Levitical priesthood was a temporary system; the priesthood of our savior lasts forever and ever.

In verse 17, the rout of the four kings is complete, and one of the original five kings comes to see Abram, the king of Sodom. Don’t you know he must have his tail between his legs and he’s looking up to Abram as the one who freed him. The king of Sodom tells Abram he’d like his people back, but that Abram can keep all the captured property for himself. Abram tells him he’s made a promise to the Lord not to profit from the king of Sodom; after all, Abram had no fight with Sodom. His nephew Lot was living there peacefully until the four kings attacked.

The first of those four kings, by the way, was Amraphel, king of Shinar. The plains of Shinar is where Nimrod, great-grandson of Noah, began to build the tower of Babel which became the center of Babylon. This is where the source of much of the world’s conflict has lasted for thousands of years, and scripture tells us will continue through the last days prophesied in Revelation. Because of Lot’s choice to dwell in the land of Sodom, he is living in the land of the five kings, captured by the four kings, and then Abram goes to war against the four kings to free his nephew, setting up a conflict with Babylon that lasts from approximately 1900 BC to the end of time, nearly 4000 years so far.

There’s a brief look at the history. Now let’s get a good look at the people and see if there’s a lesson for us. What was so bad about Lot’s decision? The answer lies back in Genesis 13:10-13 –

Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.

Where in those versus do you see Lot looking to the Lord for guidance? I think the 5 key words are found in verse 11, “So Lot chose for himself.” Let’s turn to 2 Peter 2:7-9, where Peter is teaching us that God will rescue the righteous while condemning the ungodly:

and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) – if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.

Lot was a righteous man, but when Abram gave Lot a choice, a decision to make, Lot chose for himself. We know Lot was righteous; yet he made a choice that was pleasing to the eyes. He chose land that would prosper himself. It doesn’t sound like a bad decision; he looked over his options and saw plenty of grass for his cattle, plenty of water for his lands, and plenty of opportunity. Sure, it was located next to Sodom and Gomorrah, but who cares? They probably won’t bother him.

But they did bother him. Here in Genesis 13:11, we see “Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east.” Lot has taken one small step toward Sodom. In verse 12, it says, “Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tent near Sodom.” That’s more than just one small step toward Sodom, now Lot has pitched his tent near Sodom. By the time we get to Genesis 19:1, we find Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city.

Lot placed himself close to sin, then closer to sin, and then in the gateway of the city of sin. Let me ask you a question about Lot’s decision that put him in the city of sin. Do you think Christians should avoid people who are engaged in sinful lifestyles?

Several of us saw The Bucket List last night. Excellent movie, and for once I was pleased to see that the upright Christian man, Carter, lived a righteous life and Hollywood didn’t make him out to be a religious wacko for a change. Do you remember the scene at the bar where the woman propositioned him? How do you think his life would have changed if he had made a different decision?

Lot is a righteous man, but righteous men can make bad decisions. Remember when Peter saw Jesus walking across the water? Jesus called to him, and Peter was able to walk across the water. And then Peter saw the waves and storm all around him and took his eyes off Jesus. Peter looked at the world around him. And then what happened? Peter began to sink because he took his eyes off the Lord.

When we are in bondage to sin, Satan has an easy time with us. Given the choice between good and bad, all he has to do is make the bad decision look like fun. Excessive drinking looks fun and loud and can lead to drinking and driving or alcoholism. A one night fling that leads to children out of wedlock or abortion and broken families. Drug abuse, excessive gambling, Satan’s work is easy.

As Christians, we are no longer in bondage to sin, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be ensnared by sin. We are aware of good and evil and we can see better what Satan is up to. So Satan doesn’t offer us such clear-cut choices between good and evil. Satan offers us a poor choice and a really bad choice. Deceived, we sometimes take the poor choice and take one step closer to Sodom.

A need to work late, a female coworker, and an over-inflated confidence in his ability to resist sin. A Christian man finds himself in an affair with a coworker. When discovered, it wrecks one or more families. How did it happen? He took one step closer to Sodom and soon he found himself sitting in the gate of sin.

A disappointment in a missed birthday or that she had to pick up his underwear off the floor yet again. A seed of bitterness takes hold, she begins to criticize things about her husband. Criticized, he works late at the office with a female coworker who tells him what a good job he’s doing.

Or a mother, hurt because her daughter doesn’t call like she used to, tells her daughter she’ll never amount to anything. The daughter, feeling down and unloved, is disappointed that her husband missed her birthday and criticizes him. The husband, criticized, works late at the office.

So many small opportunities to sin. Of course, we’re forgiven. When we accept Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven. He removes our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. But 1 Peter 5:8 tells us that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, and God’s righteous people are tasty morsels if we take our eyes off the Lord. We, too, will be given an opportunity to pitch out tents toward Sodom. We will convince ourselves that we are walking with God, and not even noticing that we are holding hands with the devil.

Every choice is important, and every choice made apart from the Lord can lead to the path of destruction. Most Christians don’t pack their belongings and move to Sodom and Gomorrah. If we take our eyes off the Lord, we pitch their tent a little closer to Sodom today than we did yesterday. We skip one week of church, then we skip another. As Christians, we are to worship the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind. How are we doing with that? Are we truly worshiping with everything we are, or have we found a compromise somewhere, some “rule” that we feel isn’t applicable to us? What’s the best way to evaluate how we’re doing? Ask. Go to the Lord in prayer and ask Him to search you and to tell you how you’re doing.

After the Lord, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. How are we doing with that? Think about where you live. Who is your neighbor? Or where you work, who is your coworker? What are their needs? If you truly love your neighbor as yourself, why don’t you truly know their needs? You know your own needs, don’t you? Or have you found one step toward Sodom as an excuse, that you’re too busy or you’ve convinced yourself that they would rather have their privacy? What’s the best way to find out what your neighbor needs? Ask them. Ask them how you can help.

Who is your closest neighbor? I have no doubt your closest neighbor is your spouse, your covenant mate, given to each other in love. Do you love your spouse as you love yourself? From Proverbs 31 to Ephesians 5 to 1 Corinthians 13, our God tells us how we are to love our spouse. How are we doing with that, or have we allowed ourselves to pitch our tent a little closer to Sodom? Something we hide from our spouse, something we’re not comfortable talking about, a little rudeness or selfishness we’ve allowed into our marriage? What’s the best way to evaluate how we’re doing? Ask. Ask your wife how you can be a better husband; ask your husband how you can be a better wife.

In Genesis 13:14-18, Abram took a different approach than Lot.

The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD.

Abram was looking to the Lord and was in a covenant with God; no matter where Abram went, the Lord had promised to bless him. Lot, instead, chose something that was pleasing to the eyes. Lot chose the richness of the world and let it appeal to his eyes. Lot settled near Sodom, or as Fred said last week, he still had one foot in Babylon. He chose for himself. Abram chose what was pleasing to the Lord, and settled for everything. We experience God’s many blessing when we keep our eyes on Him. If Lot sought the Lord’s will first, perhaps instead of settling near Sodom, he might have made a different choice. Perhaps Lot might have repented of the strife between his family and Abram’s and asked Abram if he could stay instead.

Every little choice is important; every action we do, every word we utter, every thought we have, should be in harmony with the Lord’s will. We all sin; that’s why we need a savior. But we don’t need to settle for sin. Don’t compromise. Don’t fool ourselves that we can walk with God and hold hands with the devil. That one little choice we make that goes against the will of the Lord is one step closer to Sodom. And then another choice, and nex thing we know, we’re pitching our tent toward Sodom. And then we’re sitting in the gate of Sodom, and when destruction comes we wonder how we got here.

We have a choice. We can choose to seek the Lord’s will first, or we can choose for something pleasing to our eyes or our senses. Don’t be fooled by our own righteousness; the bible is replete with examples of righteous people that make poor choices when they took their eyes off the Lord. A lifetime of good decisions can be undone by one bad decision. Lift up your eyes and look to the Lord for everything and He will protect you and bless you. Every choice is important.

God Loves His Creation

Sometimes it can be difficult to remember that God is in control, that God has a plan for us. Let’s open God’s User Manual, Chapter 1, and start at the beginning. Genesis, verse 1:1 begins –

In the beginning, God created…

Let’s stop right there and discuss just those 5 words. Lately on the New York Times Best Seller List, books by atheists have been topping the list. “God: The Failed Hypothesis, How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist,” “The God Delusion,” “Letter to a Christian Nation,” “God is Not Great.” In response, prominent Christian apologetic authors have come out with books like “The Case for Christ” and seminars like the one we recently had from Reasons to Believe.

Usually, an atheist begins his argument with, “prove to me that God exists” as if somehow you’re going to be able to argue him into heaven. How does God answer this question? “In the beginning, God created.” The bible wastes no time trying to explain the existence of God. God is. Remember when Moses asked God what His name was? Exodus 3:14, “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’” God is. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Genesis 1 begins with the understanding that God exists and has always existed and doesn’t spend any time giving evidence to fools who demand to see evidence that already surrounds us.

In verse 2, the second part of the Trinity is introduced, the Holy Spirit which hovers over the formless void. To me, this shows an anticipation of greater things to come; the Hebrew word rachaph is also used in Dueteronomy 32:11, describing how a mother eagle flutters her wings over her young to protect them. The Lord God did not create the world impersonally; creation is very personal to God and he protects us under His wing. If the Spirit of God is hovering, what is He about to do? He is taking a formless void and giving it purpose.

Diane challenged me to read each word carefully, and she’s right, there is so much more to Genesis than a simple story of creation. It’s a story of God’s relationship with His creation and His purpose for His creation.

In verse 3, it says, “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” God spoke the light into existence. I think of this as an introduction to the third person of the Trinity, the Son of God. John 1:9 introduces Jesus as “the true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” Our Savior is the source of all light; our human perspective tells us that light comes from the sun, but if you’ll look down to verse 16, we’ll see that God created the light on the first day, but didn’t create the sun until the fourth day.

Jesus as the source of all light is also revealed in the book of Revelation at the end of time. Revelation 22:5 says, “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”

As science progresses and helps explain the origins of the universe, it’s interesting to see how, thousands of years before science, God’s Word tells us how the world was created. First the universe, then the earth, then the plants and then the animals. Throughout this creation, God declares His creation to be good. Verse 4, Day 1, the light was good. Verse 10, Day 2, God declares the earth and sky and water and land to be good. Verse 12, Day 3, the vegetation with plants and trees and fruit, God declares to be good. Verse 18, Day 4, God creates the sun and the moon and the stars and declares them good. Verse 21, Day 5, God creates the great creatures of the sea and every winged bird and declares them good. Verse 25, Day 6, God creates livestock and land animals and declares them good.

On the 6th day, God creates man, and verse 31, God declares it to be very good. Not just good, very good. Nothing further needed to be made; His creation was exactly what God had planned. God’s creation reflects God’s glory, and God’s creation continues to reflect God’s glory, even if man’s ability to reflect God’s glory is imperfect. Man is different from the rest of creation. On the first 5 days, look at how God spoke creation into existence. God said, “Let there be light.” God said, “Let there be sky, let there be land, let there be seas.” But when God created man in verse 26 it says, “Let us make man in our image.” This phrase is far more personal than the previous 6 days where God effortlessly spoke creation into existence with “Let there be.” The phrase, “let us make” is quite unlike the others. First of all, it’s plural. Let “us” make man. Who is this “us” God speaks of, and why is there no “us” in the rest of God’s creative activity?

The presence of the Holy Spirit and verse 2 and the hint of the Christ to come in verse 3 form the plurality of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is omniscient and knows this creation of man will be disobedient to Him and He knows how much this disobedience will cost Him. The bible tells us in 1 Peter 1:20 that Christ was chosen before the creation of the world to be our redeemer; God knows that the Son will one day be sacrificed to pay for our sins. He planned it during creation.

Why is there no “us” listed in the first 6 days? Perhaps because the first 6 days show God’s creative ability and his omnipotence, but nothing in the first 5 days shows God’s love like the day He created man. God is going to demonstrate and prove His love by creating the one creature to whom God will make Himself vulnerable. For God so loved the world that He gave us His son and planned this love from the very beginning of creation. God created man already knowing the cost to Himself, a love that humans can barely comprehend.

God created both men and women in His likeness, in His image. His image has nothing to do with gender or our skin color or our height or weight or any other differentiation between humans. By creating us in His image, we are to reveal something about God, but we are not gods ourselves.

I think the importance of the phrase “in His image” should not be taken lightly; it underscores the importance of human life to our Lord. In our society, we see many, many debates that degrade the importance of human life. When it comes to the life of the unborn, God values the life long before birth. Pslam 139:13-16 says,

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

In debates about euthanasia, we hear about the quality of life as though we have set ourselves up to be the gods who determined what sufficient quality of life is. Who are we to determine God’s plan for another’s life? Who are we to determine whether somebody else’s life no longer has meaning? For that matter, who are we to determine whether our own lives have meaning? God’s voice is clear – human life is sacred, human life is holy, human life is made in His image.

Genesis 1:29-30 emphasizes the sanctity of life of creation. It says,

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

We see the so-called “natural order” today and can’t imagine the world any other way, but God gave man every seed-bearing plant and ever tree with fruit for us to eat. The next line implies that all the other animals, too, were herbivores. The importance of life is subtly confirmed here. The bible also predicts a future day when respect for all life will yet again be the order of things; Isaiah 11:6-7 says

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.

The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

We know that coming up in a future lesson in Genesis will be about the Fall, when man chooses to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit. After sin is introduced into the world, animals are first slaughtered for human benefit in Genesis 3:21, and were probably used for food for the first time after the flood in Genesis 9:3. The sanctity of animal life will not be fully restored until the future reign of Christ on earth when sin is conquered forever.

The first book of Genesis describes humans as the completion of God’s creation where God demonstrates His love for us. The second book of Genesis describes God’s plan for men and women. In Genesis 2:2, after creating man and woman, God rested on the seventh day, and God blessed the seventh day and made it holy. Was God tired?

God did not rest because God needed rest. God rested, I think, to show us the importance of rest. One day a week devoted to simply enjoying what God has created. We tend to put work first in our lives as though our work was our god, and we work all seven days of the week. The seventh day is holy, set apart, for our benefit, not God’s. God has no need of rest, but he knows that this rest is so important he made one of the Ten Commandments.

That’s not to say, though, that work isn’t important. It’s says in Genesis 2:15 that God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden and told him that his job was to work the garden and take care of it. The Hebrew word for “work” used here means to labor, to work for another, and the serve God. God’s plan is for us to work, not an idle life of recreation and laziness.

Let’s back up to Genesis 2:4 and see the relationship God wants to have with His special, very good creation. Throughout Genesis 1, God is called in Hebrew by the ancient name for deity, Elohim. In Genesis 2:4, God’s is called by His intimate name, Yahweh, or “I am”. It’s appropriate that God’s intimate name is introduced here because God begins to act in very personal ways with His creation. In verse 7, God “formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” The beasts of the earth received life by means of the spoken Word of God, but man gets a personal CPR, a mouth-to-mouth infusion of life that clearly lifts man above the animals. Clearly, God has affection for His creation. Will His creation also have affection for God? It is a test that continues to this day. Will we choose to love God as He loves us?

Just like creation without man is incomplete, the creation *of* man is also incomplete. In verse 18, The Lord God, Yahweh, says that it is not good for man to be alone, and He will make a helper suitable for him. If you’ve ever taken a good look at a giraffe, you know that God must have a sense of humor, and I think God shows his humor here. Verse 18-20,

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

It’s like God is saying, Adam, dude. Pick an animal, any animal, to be your helper. You know, when I go shopping, I’m like most men. We decide we need it, we go out and buy it and bring it home. I’m just glad Adam didn’t go shopping for a helper like I go shopping. All the animals are paraded before him, and Adam says, “Are these my only choices? Well, I guess I’ll take the platypus.”

No, it says no suitable helper was found. Whew. Verse 21-22,

So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

As God created woman, man was deep asleep and observed nothing, preserving the mystery of God’s work. To this day, men don’t seem to understand where women are coming from.

Back in Genesis 1, we read that male and female were created on the same day, but this passage makes it clear that man was formed first out of the dust, then the woman is formed from the man. Man’s need for a helper does not come from man; God says in verse 18 that it is not good for the man to be alone, and that He will make a helper for him.

While the woman would be like him, she would also be different. Man didn’t need another person exactly like himself. God created man with certain strengths and God-given abilities. Then God created woman with different strengths and abilities that complimented man. The verbs used for God’s creation are different; God “formed” man out of dust, just like a potter forms a vessel out of clay. But God “made” woman, built for a specific role. Though man and woman are different, man and woman are made from the same substance and share a tie that can never be broken.

Adam was obviously overjoyed he didn’t settle for a platypus. When he awoke, he said, “Wo, man!” Verse 24,

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

Two separate people become a single unit with shared dreams, hopes, and tasks. Though different, as married couples we are united. Though separate, we function as one. We learn to love the other and treat them as more precious than ourselves, and so get a glimpse of the love our Creator has for us. Like most people, we want others to see us as better than we really are. When we are physically naked, nothing’s hidden. Yet, the man and woman felt no need to hide who they were, even though they were naked. They celebrated their similarities and worked together to accomplish their God-given responsibilities. A man and a woman’s commitment to God and to each other form the basis of a Godly marriage. In marriage, we accept our spouse just like God accepts us, for who he or she is.

It’s far too easy in our society today to abandon God’s plan for our marriage, to bail when things get tough or uncomfortable. God’s plan is obvious; marriage should be a lifelong commitment to help one another as one flesh in a covenant relationship.

Why would God ordain such a relationship? In all of God’s creation, God first expressed a relationship with man. It was on the 6th day that God used the plural to make man in our image, and it was with man that God first intimately breathed life into his nostrils. God loves us, and wants us to love him. True love is a choice, and we can choose not to love him.

Marriage is an interim step toward knowing the love of the Lord. With a partner, we are naked, we hide nothing. Our spouse knows us and should know us better than any person on this earth, better than anybody but God. We are to be one flesh. With our spouse, we are able to give forgiveness, just like Christ forgave us. With our spouse, we are able to receive forgiveness and recognize in ourselves just how much we fall short of perfection. With our spouse, we can practice loving unconditionally. The tears and the joy of sharing one another’s life, helping each other as one flesh, is God’s plan for our lives.

Ephesians 5:25 tells each husband to love his wife sacrificially, just as Christ gave Himself up for us. Men, do we do that? Or do we place things above our wives? Ephesians 5:25-31,

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

And the two will become one flesh. Where have I heard that before? Husbands, let me tell you – whatever sacrifice you think you’ve made on behalf of your wives, it’s not yet enough. Unless you think you’ve sacrificed more for your wife than Christ sacrificed for you.

Wives, you were made for a purpose, to be a helper for your husband, to provide for him things he cannot do for himself. What would you do for Christ if He was in your presence today? If Jesus wanted something from you, would you tell him “no?” Ephesians 5:22-24,

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Your husband is your ministry; you demonstrate your love for Christ by the way you demonstrate your love for your husband. While your husband is called to live sacrificially for you, wives are called to remember that they were made to be their husband’s helper in everything.

They way we serve our husbands needs and the way we sacrifice ourselves for our wives gives glory to our Father in heaven who has a purpose for creation. He has a purpose for us in creation, and we are his most precious creation. Will we remember when we leave this room today that every word, every action, should be pleasing to God, and that our marriage is God’s plan to demonstrate His love for us? Listen to the words of Psalm 8:1-4 as we close today:

O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
above the heavens.

From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

God loves us and desires most of all for us to love him in return, and to demonstrate that love to one another beginning with our marriage. All of creation declares His love for us.

Christian Behavior in God's Church

I’ve discovered how slow to understand I must be. We’ve been remarking that when Chris or Fred teach, they get large amounts of text to cover. Chris had the entire Beatitudes plus half of the New Testament to teach in 30 minutes. Fred gets, like, the entire Old Testament when he teaches. And when I teach, Got assigns me an entire sentence. Today’s no exception; we’re going to study Matthew 18 today.

At this point in the ministry of Jesus, the time of His death and resurrection was approaching rapidly, and Jesus’ teaching begins to focus on preparing His disciples to carry on after His crucifixion. Last week, Fred showed us how Jesus taught about the qualities of the church and how we worship and serve Him in unity and obedience; this week, Jesus teaches about interpersonal relationships and how we are to treat one another within the church.

I. Christian Humility (v. 1-9)

Who is the greatest person in America? George Bush? Hillary Clinton? And what makes a person great in America?

The qualities that make a person great in our society are different than the qualities that make a person great in the eyes of the Lord. In fact, sometimes the qualities are the exact opposite. “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

I read a story about Billy Graham, a man who has consistently demonstrated the light of Christ publicly without wavering. In his early ministry years, he was scheduled to preach in a small town and needed to mail a letter. He asked a young boy where the local post office was. The boy told him, Billy Graham thanked him, and then told the boy, “If you come to the Baptist Church this evening, you can hear me preach about how to get to heaven.” The boy answered, “I don’t think I’ll come. You don’t even know how to get to the post office.”

Let’s look at Matthew 18:1-4

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

What quality makes a person, not just great, but the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Humility. Probably the biggest sin in the bible is pride, because so many sins originate in pride. Pride tells us how important we are, how infallible we are. Pride tells us that we don’t need God.

Humility is the opposite of pride. Humility tells us that we need God. Humility tells us that everything we are, everything we have, and everything we are ever going to be comes from God. Humility helps us recognize that we have not been placed on this earth so that others may serve us, but for us to serve others.

Matthew 18:7 tells us that our world is a sinful place, full of pride and arrogance and independence from God. There’s no avoiding it; you don’t fill a glass full of mud and expect to drink fine champagne out of it. You don’t fill a world with sinful people and expect paradise on earth. “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!” As Christians, as Jesus’ church on earth, we should be diligent about making sure we are not the cause of a brother’s sin. Jesus goes so far as to say that if your foot causes sin, cut it off and throw it away.

Why does this warning come right after Jesus’ admonition to be humble? What does “humility like a child” have to do with worldly sin?

I think it’s related to the pride that is in all of us. None of us are too good to sin. Our human nature leads us to sin constantly. Disobedience to what we know God wants us to do. Gossip. Lust. The only one strong enough to resist the constant temptation in our world is the Holy Spirit that lives in us, and when we lean on the power of God, we can resist all temptation. When we try to do it on our own, we will most certainly fall. Humility helps us recognize the power of the Lord working within us, and not our own work.

II. Christian Attention (v. 10-14)

Humility also helps us see the importance of others. When we are within the church, we are spiritually strengthened. We can encourage and we can be encouraged. But what about those outside of the church? What about those inside the church but spiritually weak?

The human tendency is to see ourselves better than others, to pump ourselves up. Our church is better than that church, our family is better than that family, our country is better than that country. As a follower of Jesus practicing humility, we are instructed to continue to lift others up. See how in verse 10 Jesus says, “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” Since this phrase “little ones” comes so soon after the instruction about being like a child, “little ones” could mean a child, but it can also mean weak or marginal people. Every person in the Christian community is considered important to Jesus, and those who come to faith have a guardian angel that always sees the face of God. Hebrews 1:14 describes these angels as “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.” If these “little ones” are considered so important to God that they have their own angel, shouldn’t they also be important to us? We should take special care to look out for those who need looking out for most. For verse 11 says, “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”

[As an aside, sometimes when I’m studying, I come across “rabbit trails;” interesting tidbits of information that have little or no bearing on the lesson that the Holy Spirit is directing. Verse 11 was a particularly enticing rabbit trail; I discovered that the NIV doesn’t have verse 11 in it. We can talk about it at lunch, but after following this rabbit trail for too much time, I’ve decided that verse 11 should be in there.]

Jesus continues with a mini-parable about lost sheep in verse 12-14 –

Look at it this way. If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders off, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine and go after the one? And if he finds it, doesn’t he make far more over it than over the ninety-nine who stay put? Your Father in heaven feels the same way. He doesn’t want to lose even one of these simple believers.

As we grow in Christ, we should take care that we don’t grow in pride. We grow in humility; we grow in service and caring, and all the more sensitive to reaching out to those who need spiritual nourishment.

III. Christian Reconciliation (v. 15-20)

Jesus next gives His church instruction on how to resolve differences among believers. In verse 15-17 –

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Let’s make sure we know who Jesus is talking about. In the first sentence it begins, “if your brother sins against you,” this is specifically to Christians within the church, when Christians are in conflict with one another. Of course Christians are in conflict with one another. It seems that every time we forget who’s Lord of our lives, we’re in conflict. The measure of our spiritual maturity is not whether we’re ever in conflict, but whether we use the conflict to grow spiritually.

This is so important – we have conflicts within the church, conflicts sometimes right here in this class. And perhaps, just perhaps, once or twice, we’ve had a conflict with our spouse. Unresolved conflicts among Christians destroy our unity, but learning how to resolve conflicts in a Christian way can bring us closer together. This is so important; a few chapters back in Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says,

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Leave your gift; first go and be reconciled. When you are at odds with another believer, your gift practically worthess. God doesn’t want your stuff; He created it, after all. He wants you to be in unity with His church. The unity in the church is what makes the church effective; the unity in the church is what motivates God to be responsive to our prayers.

Think about that; God is responsive when we are obedient and in unity with one another. Do you ever feel your prayers are unanswered? Is there unresolved conflict between me and my spouse? Is there unresolved conflict between me and somebody in this class? These questions are related.

A. Right Attitude

First, be honest with yourself about your role in the conflict. With humility, ask God to show you how you have contributed. Remember, this is conflict with another Christian. I can almost guarantee you that when I am in conflict with another Christian, when I am in conflict with my spouse, there is some measure of disobedience in me. As Christians, we certainly don’t argue because we think we’re wrong. No, I argue because I think I’m right, and my Christian brother argues because he thinks he’s right. If I can’t see my own contribution to this conflict, then I am blinded by my own pride. It’s only with humility that enables me to see my own disobedience. If you have unanswered prayers, ask God to show you how you have been disobedient to Him. Then, leave your gift at the altar and go be reconciled with your spouse or your brother or sister.

B. Right Approach

How do we reconcile? First, we go tell everybody else about the conflict. I mean everybody. “You know what so-and-so did to me? Well, let me tell you. She said this and she said that and I don’t know why God doesn’t send some sort of lightning strike to turn her into charcoal.” We should gossip to as many people as you can.

Or at least, that’s what we often end up doing. Jesus gives us different instructions, and they begin with a private conversation. Let your brother or sister know, with humility, what they’ve said or done that’s hurt you. Do it soon so that the problem doesn’t fester and make you bitter; remember, your prayers are hindered as long as the conflict remains. And do it face-to-face; it says go and *show* him. Don’t send a text message, don’t send an email, and don’t leave a voice mail.

This is the first step toward unity in our marriages and unity in our church, and we often miss this first step. It’s hard, but mostly because our own pride tells us that we’re right, they’re wrong, before we ever have a conversation with them. Humility and being honest with ourselves about our own selfish motives are required before we can resolve conflict with our brother.

Because we rarely complete this private meeting, we almost never get to step two when we bring a third party. Our tendency is to bring along somebody to gang up on them, but Jesus wants us to bring a neutral party as a witness. Step three is to bring the issue to the church, a pastor. Our effectiveness as a Christian, as a married couple, and as a church depends on the unity we create by humbly resolving the differences between us.

IV. Christian Forgiveness (v. 21-35)

And finally, Jesus instructs His church on Christian forgiveness. In verse 21-22 –

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Most manuscripts say seventy times seven; I’ve worked out the math, and that’s 490 times. I recommend getting a PDA so you can keep track of the number of times you’ve forgiven somebody, so that when you get to the 491st time, you know you don’t have to forgive them anymore. If you don’t have a PDA, try keeping a piece of paper in your pocket or purse with their name and a running tally of the number of times you’ve been forced to forgive them. I know Fred keeps such a list, and so far I’m only up to 112 things he has forgiven me for. I’m hoping his version of the bible says 490 instead of 77.

Why such a big number? Of course, we’re not supposed to keep track of our brother’s sins against us. We’re supposed to forgive every time; we’re supposed to constantly forgive. We’re a lot like Peter in this scripture; if we forgive our brother, if we forgive our spouse, we think we’ve done something magnificent. But we feel like there ought to be a limit, at some point, we don’t have to forgive anymore. I don’t deserve this, I can’t take that, I’m through with this. The Jewish rabbis at the time taught that forgiving 3 times was sufficient. Peter felt that by the time he got to 7, he should win some sort of medal. Wouldn’t you? We think we’re showing great faith and love by forgiving 7 times, but Jesus calls us beyond faith and love; he calls us to humility and service by forgiving seventy times seven. The definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13:5 says love keeps no record of wrongs. No record at all.

This is not blind or shallow or careless forgiveness. Philippians 1:9-10 tells us that abounding love also increases our depth of insight and our discernment, so there’s no reason we have to become a doormat. If Chris gives me $100 to go buy pizza for the class, and I decide to buy lottery tickets instead, should Chris forgive me? Of course he should. Should he trust me with $100 again? I sure hope so, cuz I was *this* closing to winning it big last time.

The parable told by Jesus in Matthew 18:23-35 illustrates the importance of forgiveness between brothers and sisters.

“The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.

“The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.

“The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’

“The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.

“The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”

The servant goes through 3 stages of forgiveness. In verses 23-27, the man is a debtor. He owes a lot of money, far more than he can ever pay back. But he thinks somehow that he can pay it all back, given enough time. There is a lack of repentance brought on by pride here; does the man say he’s sorry and confess and repent? No, he’s ashamed he’s caught. In 2 Corinthians 7:10 it says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” Worldly sorrow is just being sorry you got caught.

This servant has no hope of paying off his debt, even if his pride tells him he can. His case is hopeless. The only thing that keeps him out of prison is the grace from the king.

In the second stage of forgiveness, the servant is also a creditor. When the servant thinks the king is out of sight, he comes across another servant that owes him pennies compared to the huge debt that the gracious king forgave. Instead of sharing with his friend the forgiveness that he has already received, the servant mistreats his friend. His friend’s words were almost identical – “I can pay it all back!” But instead of forgiveness, the servant mistreats his friend and demands the money is paid back. The servant was unwilling to be gracious even though he wanted others to be gracious to him.

The servant was absolutely with his legal right to demand payment, too. Nobody denies that he was owed the money. But even though he had a legal right, he didn’t have a moral right.

The last phase of forgiveness is really a stage of unforgiveness. He becomes a prisoner. Through the grace of the king, the servant had been released from prison. Through his own selfish unforgiveness, the servant puts himself back in prison. In essence, the king has given the servant a choice; he can live free through grace, or he can live imprisoned through the law. Through Christ Jesus, we are free. We were so far into debt, we didn’t even know how far in debt we are. We believed we could get into heaven just by paying the debt, by doing good works. But Christ freed us from our debts, and he wants us to experience not only being forgiven, but also forgiving others.

This parable was told to believers, to brothers and sisters in Christ. We have indeed received forgiveness from our Lord, but we often haven’t truly experienced forgiveness. We continue to live by justice, demanding what is ours. When we live this way, demanding justice from others, we are putting ourselves in prison, the prison of the unforgiving heart. We can be just like this servant, ready to receive the forgiveness of Christ, but stingy to share it. God forgives us frequently, readily, and endlessly.

It’s not enough for us to receive this forgiveness. To truly experience forgiveness, we must learn to grant forgiveness as easily as we received it. We have received so much that we don’t deserve, and all we had to do was say, “I accept.” To encourage the type of church of believers that Jesus wants us to be, let us practice forgiving others as our advocate as already shared with us, for it is with Christ Jesus that we have been set free from our prison. As it says in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

edit I am reminded that holding back forgiveness is like putting the one who wronged you in jail – except you have no key to the door. You must stand there and hold the jail cell door shut. While your adversary may be in jail, you are too; you cannot go anywhere if you’re holding the door.

As Christians in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, in order to build the church that He has called us to be, we must have a humble heart, recognizing the pride that keeps us from leaning on our Creator. We must watch for our spiritually weaker and younger brothers and sisters, making them feel welcome and loved so they do not drift away, for Jesus cares for each and every one of His sheep. We must recognize our own selfishness and disobedience and the conflicts that come between us, and lay our gifts at the altar and be reconciled with our spouses, our brothers, and our sisters. And we do this by forgiving them quickly, seventy times seven times, so that we do not become imprisoned by our own unforgiveness, just as we have been forgiven by our loving and gracious Lord Jesus Christ.

Resisting Temptation

I’m sure you’ve all heard the prayer that goes,

Dear God,
So far today, I’ve done all right.
I haven’t gossiped, and I haven’t lost my temper.
I haven’t been grumpy, nasty or selfish.
But in a few minutes, God, I’m going to get out of bed
and that is when I’m going to need a lot of help.
Amen

Sinning is easy. Nobody has to teach child to lie. Nobody has to teach men to ogle women. Nobody has to teach women to gossip. I had to be taught to cheat on my taxes, but that’s only because I’m a slow learner. Not sinning, well, that’s a little harder. The world around us provides sin, tempts us with sin, and keeps many people in bondage to sin.

In Christ, we are free from the bondage of sin. Why are we free? It is because Christians know the truth, and the truth sets us free. We still sin, of course, but we are no longer slaves to sin. We’re able to turn away from sin, and more important, we know why to turn away from sin. The sin in our lives has a price; since we’re not perfect, we’re also not worthy on our own to stand before a perfect God. Who paid the price for our sin?

Jesus.

Let’s consider two men who rob a convenience store. They’re caught by the police, they are tried by a jury, they’re convicted of their crime. When it’s time to receive their sentence, the first robber says, “You can set the other robber free. I’ll serve his punishment.”

Will the judge set the second robber free?

No; each robber must serve his time. The first robber cannot serve for both because he is guilty and has his own time to serve. That’s no different than you and me. Perhaps we’d like to volunteer to take the sins of a father or mother, wife or son, so that they can see heaven, but we can’t do that. We’re too busy ogling girls and gossiping.

But Jesus is different. He was man, so he could be tempted, but He did not sin. As a man, though, he could take away the sins of another, perhaps. As God, though, He can take away the wins of the world through His sacrifice as a man without sin. Hebrews 2:17-18 says,

“For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Is it a sin to be tempted? No, not at all. We live in a world full of temptation, and of course we are tempted. Temptation comes from outside; sin comes from inside. If somebody asks you to lie for them, you haven’t sinned… unless you lie for them.

Was Jesus tempted? And if so, did He sin? And if so, how did He resist sinning? Did He give us an example? Funny you should mention that because we’re studying from the book of Matthew today, so turn to Matthew 3.

While you’re turning there, consider that it is important that Jesus was tempted. For one thing, Jesus had to have free will. Jesus had to have the ability to choose right from wrong. To express his love for the Father, He must have the ability to turn away from love. A faith is made strong when it turns from evil to do good. Innocent faith may be pure, but as we saw in the Garden of Eden, innocent faith is not strong.

I’d love to spend time on Matthew 3:1-11; there is terrific scripture, fulfilled prophecy, amazing imagery. I want to continue focusing on how Jesus resisted sin, though, so we’ll have to go into detail on these early verses some other time. John the Baptist is preparing the way for the arrival of Jesus, from his “voice of one calling in the desert” to his unique appearance. He wore clothes made out of camel hair, very coarse and ugly, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He was not a normal person, which tells me that God can use abnormal people for important roles. There’s hope for me, after all.

John says to the Pharisees and Sadducees in verse 11 that John is baptizing with water for repentance, the forgiveness of sins. There are two other baptisms mentioned here that the one who comes after John will do. Baptism by the Holy Spirit – this is mentioned again in Acts 1:5, and it is the baptism of believers today. When a sinner gives their life to Christ, they become a new creation with the Holy Spirit living inside. The other baptism by Jesus, baptism by fire, is not mentioned in Acts. This baptism refers to the final judgment in Revelation.

And then Jesus arrives to be baptized by water for the forgiveness of sins. Why is Jesus being baptized if He has no sin?

John asks almost the same question in Matthew 3:14. “But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” John is like, “This isn’t right. I shouldn’t be baptizing God.” “Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented. ”

Jesus’ baptism is unique; Jesus is being baptized in obedience to the Father, he is obeying the Law. By being baptized by John, Jesus gives approval to John’s ministry, and John in turn provides witness to Jesus as the Son of God. Immediately after baptism, the spirit of God descended like a dove onto Jesus, and God speaks from heaven to say, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” There’s something unique here, by the way, something more amazing than the visible appearance of the Holy Spirit or the voice from heaven. All three persons of God are present here simultaneously. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

And God says He is well pleased, giving encouragement to His Son and approval of His baptism, and providing the Holy Spirit. Jesus is showing us at this moment the first step toward resisting temptation and leading a sin-free life: obedience. Jesus is obedient to the Lord. Jesus knows what the Law requires, and Jesus is obedient to the Law. What I find very intriguing about this is that Jesus does not put Himself above the law. Jesus is obedient to the Word. The bible isn’t just an interesting book; the Son of God put himself below the Word of God. The first step toward a righteous life of resisting temptation is obedience.

And then, Darth Vader appears. Notice that it’s after baptism and after obedience that the devil appears and offers temptation.

Let me tell you a hunting story. A hunter stops by his friend’s house to ask him to go hunting with him, but he finds his friend groaning, weeping and praying to the Lord for deliverance from the devil. The hunter says to his friend, “You seem to have a good deal of trouble with the devil and he never bothers me at all. And yet you are a good, praying Christian and I am not. Why doesn’t he bother me?”

His friend replied, “Let me explain. When we are out shooting ducks, which do you send the dog after first, the ones that fall dead or the ones that wounded and are trying to get away?”

The hunter replied, “Well, of course, I send the dog after the wounded ones. The dead ones we are sure of and can pick them up later.”

His friend said, “And so it is with Satan. He already has those who are not born again. But those that know the Lord are the ones the devil sends his dogs after. The dead ones he can pick up later.”

The devil’s attack begins when one begins in earnest to do the will of God.

Worldly sin, the sin from the devil, comes from outside. You might remember the old Flip Wilson show in the 70’s where Flip would say, “The devil made me do it!” The devil doesn’t “make” us do anything; the devil just gives us opportunities. The devil doesn’t “make” us eat dessert, does he? He just serves us tres leches on a pretty plate with a little raspberry cream reduction on the side and dusted with powdered sugar, yum. But he doesn’t make us eat it. What we choose and how we choose is up to us and the free will given to us by God. Worldly sin can be divided into three large categories. In 1 John 2:15-17, it says,

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

The three broad categories of sin are –

  • Cravings of sinful man, or lust of the flesh. This includes primitive, self-satisfying desires. Food desires, lazy desires, sexual desires, alcoholism and drug addictions. Things we want because it feels good.
  • Lust of the eyes. This includes the temptation of wealth, the temptations of power, the temptation of coveting our neighbor’s stuff. Things we want because they look good.
  • Boasting of what one has or does, or the lust of pride. Glamour, looking good, thinking of ourselves more than others. Things we want because “we deserve it”.

Want to see how Jesus handled it? Me too. Matthew 4:1-4,

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

This is, of course, the first broad category of sin, the lust of the flesh. Jesus had been in the desert for 40 days fasting. He’s human, he’s hungry. Gimme food. And Satan tempts Jesus, “Why doesn’t your Father feed you? Why did He put you in this desert, anyway?” The devil tries to makes us believe that God doesn’t love us, it’s ok to satisfy our flesh. Eat all we want, have sex all we want, drink all we want, whatever it takes to satisfy us. The devil knows when we take responsibility for satisfying our own flesh, we don’t lean on God.

How did Jesus respond? With scripture. Jesus, just like the people of Israel, wandered in the desert for 40 days. Deuteronomy 8:1-5 says,

Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers. Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.

What tools do we have today to resist temptation? Do we have any tools that Jesus didn’t have? Jesus was able to resist temptation because he kept the Word of God in His heart, ready to quote the Word of God instantly.

We all are tempted, but unlike Jesus, we’re sinners. Sometimes, unfortunately, we give into sin. There’s no need to share, but think for a moment about the sin you are struggling with. We all have them; I freely admit I’m a sinner. Think about your sin; do you know why it’s a sin and what God says about it? Does the bible have instruction about your particular sin? Most importantly, while you’re sinning, what are you thinking about? Yourself, or God’s Word? Ask yourself this; if you could keep God’s Word in your heart with memorized scripture, and when you are tempted by sin, repeat that scripture to yourself, would it be easier to resist that sin?

That’s exactly what Jesus did to resist temptation. He knew what God’s Word said, and God’s Word was Jesus’ shield to resist temptation.

Satan has a comeback; just because you’ve successfully resisted sin one time doesn’t mean you’re free. Satan will double his effort, and worse, Satan has learned from your resistance. Matthew 4:5-7 –

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

I find it very disturbing that Satan knows scripture. You see those old horror movies where people hold up a cross or a bible to protect themselves from the devil, that’s inaccurate. Satan knows scripture, and he’s thrilled to use it against us. Jesus is love, God wants us to be happy, believe in God and you will become wealthy. Satan’s false teachings give rise to cults, weakens the church, teaches legalism and anti-Semitism and how to be intolerant of others. Satan knows scripture; to be honest, he probably knows it better than we do.

If we don’t study and continually learn, we remain ignorant of God and what he wants. The sanctification process isn’t a one time event; we are to continually grow in the spirit for the rest of our lives. It reminds me of a story about a young evangelist walking down his street. As he approached one house, there was an elderly gentleman sitting on the porch. The young evangelist asked the old man, “Are you a Christian?”

The old man said, “No, I’m a Smith. The Christians lives two doors down.”

The young evangelist said, “You don’t understand. I mean, are you lost?”

The old man said, “No, sonny, I ain’t lost. I’ve lived here for 25 years.”

The young evangelist said, “What I mean is, are you ready for the Judgment Day?”

The old man said, “When’s it gonna be?”

The young man said, “Well, it could be today, or it could be tomorrow.”

The old man replied, “Well, please don’t tell my wife, ‘cuz she’ll want to go both days.”

Satan quoted from Psalm 91 but omitted the context; God will indeed protect His children, but Psalm 91 also says that this blessing is for His children who acknowledge Him in all His ways. In fact, Satan’s distortion of scripture sounds suspiciously to me like the “name it and claim it” preaching I’ve occasionally heard. It leaves out an important part of the scripture, the part about obedience to the Lord. The Psalm is addressed to those who rest in the Lord; the Lord will protect those who are doing God’s will. If Jesus tried to force God to perform a miracle, is that God’s will?

Jesus knew not only what God said, but how He said it and why He said it. He knew the Word in context. Notice that Jesus says, “It is *also* written.” If you take one part of scripture and isolate it, you can prove almost anything you want. My favorite example is flipping through the bible until you find, “Judas went and hanged himself,” then flipping through the bible and find Jesus saying, “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus responds to Satan with Deuteronomy 6:16, “Thou shall not tempt the Lord thy God.” If we refuse medical care to force God to perform a miracle, is that the way God works? We cannot test God, we cannot force God to perform miracles on our behalf. Scripture tells us to trust and obey the Lord, not boss the Lord around. When we trust in the Lord, we tell God, “you *are* the boss of me.”

Satan hasn’t given up; he comes back with a third temptation, this time the lust of pride. Matthew 4:8-11,

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Jesus knew the will of the Father; I’m sure the difficulty He faced was knowing the torture, the pain, the sacrifice and crucifixion that was coming. Satan offers a compromise; sure, Jesus, you can be king of the world. Just do it my way. Yeah, you can follow God, but you can follow me, too. You can be king of kings but without all that pain and suffering. Why go through all that? Here’s a shortcut. The ends justify the means.

And so the devil tempts Jesus by appealing to pride. You can have what you want. Just bend the corners, take a couple of shortcuts. Pride tells us that we’re too important to follow the letter of the law, we’re above all that. We’re too good for that. We’re basically good people, aren’t we? And since we’re so good, it’s ok to compromise a little here and there with the world. It’s ok if men and women live together before marriage, we’re basically good people. It’s ok to keep that tithe for ourselves, we’re basically good people, the church will accomplish its goals without my little contribution.

I am convinced that this pride and the selfish compromise that accompanies it is the reason why godly people do ungodly things. A little pride in how good we are, a little compromise here and there, and suddenly we’re like Jim Bakker, in jail for embezzling from the PTL in order to keep a mistress quiet, guilty of tax fraud, embezzling, and racketeering. He’s since confessed and repented, wrote a book called “I Was Wrong” and all the money given back to the PTL. He’s denounced his “prosperity teaching” and he’s been forgiven, but the damage was done, wasn’t it? A little pride in how good we are, a little compromise here and there, and suddenly we’re like Jimmy Swaggert, caught with a prostitute, and telling his congregation that the good Lord told him that it was none of their business. Christians are especially vulnerable to pride and compromise with the devil; we can convince ourselves that our sin is ok because, other than that, we’re doing the Lord’s work. We’re basically good people.

But we’re not basically good people, we’re sinners. We need a savior because we’re all guilty as sin. That little secret you and I have, that little whatever we are doing and justifying and compromising with the devil is *not* ok with God. Eventually, that sin against God will be exposed. Either God will expose it to show light upon our darkness, or the devil will expose it to reduce our effectiveness and do his best to thwart God’s will. The ends do not justify the means, and we are not better that.

How did Jesus combat the sin of pride and compromise? Again, Jesus used scripture and he used it in context and it was ready and in His heart. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” Jesus didn’t need Satan’s offer; while the world may be ruled by Satan, God is the maker of everything and the one truly in control. Psalm 2:8, the Lord says, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.” What the devil promised wasn’t even the devil’s to give; it belonged to the Lord. The devil isn’t the lord of nations; the devil is the lord of plumbing. If you don’t believe me, let me tell you about our hot water heater, our upstairs bathroom, and our kitchen sink this week. Jesus avoided compromise, knew God’s Word, and was obedient unto death. No shortcuts are acceptable when doing the will of God.

“Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” In Luke’s account of the temptations, Luke 4:13, it says, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” If we know God’s Word, we can protect ourselves from the devil… for a time. Angels do the will of the father, and just as they attended to Jesus, they attend to us, too, when we are doing the will of God. But Satan regroups, learns, and attacks again. If Satan isn’t planning an attack on you, then ask yourself, “Why isn’t Satan worried about me? Why isn’t Satan trying to pick up this wounded duck? Doesn’t he consider me a threat to his evil plans?”

If Satan’s attacking, it’s ok. It’s not a sin to be tempted, it really isn’t. It’s how we respond to that temptation that matters; we prepare by being obedient to His Word, we give our life and trust the Lord; we study His word and treasure it in our hearts. We continually grow and seek Our Creator’s will in our lives, we memorize scripture and apply it appropriately in context. When we’re appropriately prepared, then we can successfully resist the temptations that are sure to come. Thanks be to Jesus who gave us this powerful example of how to resist the temptations of the flesh, the temptations of the eyes, and the temptations of compromise and pride.

Waiting on God's Timing

Let me ask you a question about your prayers. I’m sure everybody here prays to God, and there are many forms of prayer. Let’s list some kinds of prayers –

  • Thanksgiving. We pray to give thanks to God. Everything comes from God; material possessions, intellect, outward appearance, everything, and we give thanks for every blessing.
  • Praise. We pray to praise our Father in heaven, to tell God how great He is.
  • Worship. We pray to worship our Father and to submit to his authority, we recognize His power and His love for us.
  • Confession. We pray to confess our failures and those specific things God calls us to do that we know we aren’t doing.
  • Spiritual Warfare. We pray in the battle against evil, to destroy what the devil has been doing. The battle belongs to the Lord, but He uses our prayers as weapons.
  • Listening. We pray for God to speak to us. Often we are quiet or in meditation on God’s word. We listen patiently for God to make His will known to us. If we are always talking, we’re not listening.
  • Intercession. We pray for others, we ask for God’s will to be done in the lives of those ill, those in need, those that are lost.
  • Petition. We pray to God for specific things we want. God knows we want them before we ask, but God wants us to ask for them. If everything comes from God, then it is only right we ask our Maker for what we want and what we need.

God answers prayers. I know and I have confidence and faith in God because God has answered specific and personal prayers in my life. God answered them in the way only God can, with a miracle. Some of them are obvious – the restoration of my marriage to Diane is a miracle from God. Some of them are personal and confidential and perhaps harder to explain, but I know God is and has been at work and it brings me peace and joy to know He is in control.

Does God always answer prayers? Who here has prayed for something specific but God has not delivered? Why hasn’t God answered these prayers?

Some unanswered prayers are easy to understand. If I pray for that rude guy that just cut me off in traffic to have a horrible accident, that’s not a prayer God will answer. God does not answer prayers that are contrary to His will. He doesn’t answer prayers if we have unrepentant sin in our life, sin that we either deny or justify that it’s ok somehow. If I pray for a yacht to float from Caribbean port to port so I can party, that’s not a prayer God will answer. God does not answer selfish prayers with improper motives. God also does not answer prayers if we do not have faith that He will answer them. And God doesn’t answer prayers if we are inconsistent and we give up and stop praying, we are to persevere in our prayers.

But what if you feel you’re fulfilling God’s will, you have confessed your sin, you’re praying unselfishly for God’s will to be done, and you know that what you’re praying for is God’s will, but God still hasn’t answered? Who here has an unbelieving family member or friend that hasn’t accepted Christ? A prayer for a child that is suffering from illness or cancer. A prayer for a righteous person to survive an accident to continue to do God’s work? Isn’t it God’s will that somebody should find Christ? Isn’t it God’s will that a godly person survive to spread His word? Who here has prayed for something that should be pleasing to God, but God hasn’t answered?

That’s what we’re going to study today. Let’s turn to the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk, as we all know, is a Wookie, the co-pilot of Han Solo. The half-brother of Chewbacca, I think. We all love Wookies, don’t we?

The book of Habakkuk is like a Psalm, and it was originally set to music. There are notations throughout to the director of music on how to play and how to pause. In several places you’ll see the word “selah.” Apparently this word doesn’t translate very well. It means pause here and pay attention. It’s used very much like the word “amen,” but it can also mean “forever.” It’s basically a pause in the music that says, that was important, stop and pray about it, amen.

Habakkuk prophesied around 608-605 BC, just after King Josiah of Judah, mentioned in 2 Kings 22. Josiah was a Godly king whose ambition was to destroy false idols and the worship of other gods in Judah. Josiah was killed by the Egyptians and was succeeded first by his son Jehoahaz who was toppled after 3 months by the Egyptians and replaced by Josiah’s second son Jehoiakim who was the exact opposite of his father. Jehoiakim reinstituted the worship of false idols, possibly as an effort to gain favor among the people instead of favor with the Lord. Jeremiah prophesied the people should turn from these wicked ways, and wrote the prophesy on a scroll, gave it to Baruch to deliver to Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim reacted as you’d expect a non-believer to react; he burned the scroll. God told Jeremiah to make another scroll, and Jehoiakim threw Jeremiah into a muddy cistern, expecting to kill him. Obviously, Jehoiakim was not a lover of God’s word. Why oh why did I write the word “Jehoiakim” so many times, it’s impossible to pronounce. Under Jehoiakim, the worship of false idols continued, the Law of Moses was disregarded, and the covenant with God was ignored.

The prophet Habakkuk, a contemporary of Jeremiah, watched these events unfold and openly questioned God. “God, what the heck are you doing?” I’m paraphrasing, let’s look at Habakkuk 1:2-3

How long, O LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?

Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.

There’s a lot of impatience in Habakkuk’s prayer. This is Habakkuk’s first of two complaints against God. God, how long must I endure this? Habakkuk looks at the country of Judah and sees what the worship of false idols has brought. The people were defying God. Habakkuk says, “Where are you, Lord?” There is violence against innocent people. Harassment, abuse, physical cruelty. Did not our covenant God promise to protect His people? Well? Why does God not save?

Habakkuk’s complaint continues with, “why do you make *me* look at” all this? Habakkuk says, I am a man of God, I am serving you, yet I have to tolerate God’s inaction. God, why do you make me go through all this.

Violence and cruelty and destruction and strife and conflict and all sorts of godless living still abound today. Jessie Davis, the woman who is 9 months pregnant and suddenly disappeared this week, home in shambles and furniture overturned, leaving her 2 year old son at home. The two year old told investigators, “Mommy was crying. Mommy broke the table. Mommy’s in the rug.” It’s Gay Pride week, a celebration and a flaunting of disrespecting and disobeying God’s commands against sexual immorality. The murder trial in the news this week of Ashley Benton who killed an MS-13 gang member last June. Daily the news is full of celebration of sinful activities and the violence people do to each other. Where is God? It’s the same question Habakkuk asked. Where are you Lord, and why do I, a righteous person, have to look at this?

God answers Habakkuk. Of course God is in control, and God’s will be done. Let’s see how God answers Habakkuk’s complaint, Habakkuk 1:5-6 –

Look at the nations and watch””
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.

I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
to seize dwelling places not their own.

God says “watch” and “be amazed.” God is in control, and in ways you would not believe. God is raising up the Babylonians (or Chaldeans, the names are used interchangeably), a ruthless, godless people to come and crush Judah. The Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzer would conquer Judah and carry prisoners away to Babylonia. The Chaldeans are described in verses 6-9 as ruthless, impetuous, feared, dreaded, a law unto themselves, promoting their own honor, swift as leopards, flying like vultures, and they gather prisoners like sand.

Hey, hey, good news. The people of Judah may have turned to ways of wickedness, the Lord says, but don’t worry, God has it all under control. He is raising up a wicked, godless army to crush Judah.

I can understand why the Lord would tell Habakkuk to be utterly amazed. Habakkuk’s prayer will be answered in his lifetime, but not the way Habakkuk anticipates. I can appreciate that Habakkuk feels God’s fix is making the situation worse, not better, by sending an invading army.

This leads Habakkuk to his second complaint. He acknowledges God has a plan. He says in verse 12 that, yes, God has a plan, a remnant will live, justice will indeed be given to the idol worshipers of Judah. But Habakkuk accuses God of being contrary to His own nature. Let’s look at verse 13.

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrong.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?
Why are you silent while the wicked
swallow up those more righteous than themselves?

Habakkuk says God cannot tolerate sin, cannot look upon evil. So why is he looking on the Chaldeans with favor? Why is God tolerating the treacherous Chaldeans? If Judah is bad, how could it possibly be God’s plan to allow even more evil to destroy it? Doesn’t evil win? I think Habakkuk thinks he’s trapped God in hypocrisy because he says he’s going to pull up a chair and wait to see what God says about this. Habakkuk 2:1 –

I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

Yup, gonna sit right here, Lord, until I get an answer I can give to the people. I think it’s interesting where he chose to sit. On the ramparts, or the lookout tower, where one would wait for invading armies. Like the Babylonians.

The Lord answered this complain, too. In Habakkuk 2:2, the Lord says, “Write this down.” In Habbakuk 2:3, the Lord says,

For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come and will not delay.

The Lord tells Habakkuk that he has to wait. The revelation awaits an appointed time, and it’s not time yet. It will not prove false; God’s perfect justice will come. Though it linger, wait for it. The Lord says his justice will come at the time of His choosing; while Habakkuk is impatient, the Lord’s timing is perfect.

I sympathize with Habakkuk; I don’t know how many times I have been impatient with God. God, do this now. I was doing some research to see how Christian-friendly the new “Evan Almighty” movie is. I enjoyed the Bruce Almighty movie, and Evan Almighty looks to be just as fun but even more family-friendly. I can’t give away the spoilers because I haven’t seen the movie, but there’s apparently one scene where Evan is telling God about Evan’s plans to become a US Senator. God laughs and says, “*your* plans?” I’m like that sometimes. A lot of times, actually. Even if I feel that what I’m doing is within God’s will, that’s not the same thing as actually doing God’s will. And God may have different plans, but I get impatient with my “God, do this now” attitude.

There was an intriguing passage in a book I recently read, “The Organic God.” Sometimes people struggle to find what God’s will is. They attempt one thing, and then give up. God didn’t bless that. For example, somebody might start a ministry for, I dunno, left-handed Ethiopians. And the ministry flounders, and they say, “what’s a matter with you, God? Don’t you love left-handed Ethiopians, too? Isn’t ministering to left-handed Ethiopians something that you should bless? God, do this now!” The book points out that God’s will is not our will, and it may make more sense to simply participate in a successful ministry that God has already blessed.

So Habakkuk is impatient, sitting on his ramparts, and the Lord God says, “Patience. I do My Will at My perfect Timing.”

And what about Habakkuk’s complaint that he’s trapped God in a hypocrisy? That since God can’t look upon evil, it doesn’t make sense for God to correct the sin of Judah by raising up even more evil to crush it? God addresses that in Habbakkuk 2:4 –

See, he is puffed up;
his desires are not upright””
but the righteous will live by his faith

This is the heart of God’s message to Habakkuk. God contrasts the Chaldeans with God’s chosen people. The Chaldeans are “puffed up” with inflated egos. The Hebrew word is “aphal” which means “to swell” and implies as though the swelling comes from a tumor. The ego of a person without God appoints himself as God, choosing what he wants to do, deciding himself what is right and wrong. The tumor of his ego grows, inflates, pushes out any room for God. He becomes swollen with pride and arrogance. And “his desires are not upright” – his desires are without integrity. God is referring to the inner character of a person who lives selfishly and how it affects their outward behavior. A person who has no respect for God lives selfishly at the expense of everyone and everything. The Chaldeans were like this – unbridled selfishness, violence, wickedness. But also people within Judah were like this – also unbridled selfishness, violence, wickedness. From God’s viewpoint, it doesn’t appear to be much difference. Would it make sense, then, for God to use evil to crush evil?

How does God expect somebody like Habakkuk to live? God says, “the righteous will live by his faith.” This is a contrast to how God describes the unrighteous who are full of themselves, swelled up and selfish. The righteous people live by faith and trust in God. It’s not enough to say you trust in God, the righteous will put this trust into their daily lives. The phrase here implies a steadfastness, an unwavering trust that the Lord will fulfill all promises, even if we cannot see the big picture. That the way we live, day by day, and moment by moment, trusts that the Lord’s justice and mercy are perfect.

The apostle Paul expounds on this in Romans 1:16-17 and how righteous people that seek God ought to live.

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

In trusting in the Lord, Paul says that he trusts in God’s power to save everyone who believes in Jesus. God has the will and the power to offer eternal salvation. With this trust in the power of God, Paul has no shame of the gospel, the Good News of Jesus. And in living with this trust in God to fulfill His promises, we live by a faith in something we cannot truly comprehend and cannot truly see. When we place our trust in the Lord to do the right thing, we must place all of our trust.

So let’s go back to those unanswered prayers we talked about. How many here have an unanswered prayer? Is there an unanswered prayer anybody would like to share?

When we think of these unanswered prayers, have we studied and prayed and meditated on what God’s will is? Then we should know that God’s will is perfect and God will fulfill His promises, even if the timing is not what we expect, or even if we cannot see what God is up to. What is our responsibility as Christians? To place our trust in Him, to live our lives faithful to His teachings. It is not our responsibility to do God’s work for Him, just to do the work He calls us to do. We trust in God to do the right thing, and we live our lives as He would have us live.

The selfishness in me rebels against this. The selfish ego and pride tells me, “well, if God isn’t going to do what I want Him to do, then I don’t have to do what He wants me to do.” That is not living by faith. Living by faith says, “well, even if I can’t see what God is doing, I trust Him and I will live the way He wants me to.” No ifs, no buts. Just trust and faith and living by His word.

The rest of Habakkuk 2 is the Lord’s recognition that the Chaldeans are indeed wicked and that the Lord is not blessing them just because he’s raising them up. Unrighteous living is eventually judged by God. For some, God’s justice comes in this lifetime. For others, God’s justice comes in eternity. But God’s justice is perfect and is always done. To those who would challenge God, He says in Habakkuk 2:20,

But the LORD is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.”

In other words, God is in control and always has been, so sit down and shut up.

Habakkuk must have been awed by the Lord’s response. I think he may have recognized a little of the Chaldean in himself. By having the audacity to challenge the Lord and questioning whether the Lord is really in control or whether the Lord was a hypocrite, Habakkuk must have realized that he was not truly living in faith. Habakkuk was the hypocrite if he claims to be righteous but questions the Lord.

Habakkuk 3 is his prayer to the Lord. Habakkuk praises and worships the Lord in verse 2,

LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD.
Renew them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

Habakkuk goes on to acknowledge the Lord’s power, the Lord’s will, and that the Lord will crush evil when the time is right. The right time was coming; within 70 years of Habakkuk’s prophecy the Babylonians were conquered by Cyrus and the Persians. And by verse 16, Habakkuk responds to God.

I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.

Verse 18-19 –

yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.

How do we live in faith? Do we challenge God to do what He promises? Or does our heart pound, and our lips quiver, and our legs tremble in recognition of God’s sovereignty? Do we wait patiently and expectantly for God to do His will in His time? Do we rejoice in the Lord and remain joyful that our sins are forgiven? Do we take strength in the Lord? The unanswered prayers we have are not unanswered. God hears our prayers. Trust in the Lord, He will always do what is right when it is the perfect time. In the meantime, you have control over your actions. Live in faith, do what God calls you to do without making excuses.

The righteous live by faith.