The Keys to Happiness

I. Introduction

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Me, I wanted to fly a jet for the US Navy. Something about being at sea, landing on that aircraft carrier. Of course, if I understand it, they use a system of green lights and red lights to tell you when it’s ok to land. And I’m red/green colorblind. That would have been even more exciting.

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Doctors, lawyers, policemen. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, Business Insider ( https://www.businessinsider.com/american-kids-youtube-star-astronauts-survey-2019-7 ) did a survey of what today’s American kids want to be when they grow up. The number one answer? Youtuber.

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They want to be famous youtubers, be their own star of their own YouTube channel and be famous. Fame will make them happy. They see football sport stars, reality television stars, viral videos and think fame will make them happy.

And before we criticize them too much, we’re all guilty of seeking happiness from something worldly. Money, people, shopping, food, social media, toys. Of course we want to be happy. But these things don’t bring happiness. Even in the bible, Solomon was the richest and most famous king that Israel ever had. Solomon had wealth, fame, wisdom, his own YouTube channel… everything except happiness.

Over the years, I can’t tell you how many times somebody that’s going through difficult times has told me, “God just wants me to be happy.”   The most extreme version I’ve encountered in my life was a friend of my wife, who, 10 years ago desperately wanted a husband. And then she started dated a married man. She said, God told her it was ok because God just wants her to be happy.

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I know that God wants good things for His children, and good things make us happy. But way too often we go to God and tell Him to give us something we want that will make us happy. But that’s not how God tells His children to approach the problem of happiness.

God knows everything. He knows, better than we know, what will make us happy. God wants us to rely on Him, not on our ideas, on how to find happiness. Just ask God and He’ll tell you and me what we need for happiness.

In fact, He already did. And surprise surprise, He wrote down His instructions in the Bible for us to find. Today we are going to study the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

II.  The Beatitudes

The word “beatitude” is a weird word. It’s a kind of Englishized translation of a Latin translation of a Greek word, and it’s not even found in the bible. No wonder I don’t use it in everyday conversation. Matthew, author of our Good News today, wrote in Greek, and word he used was “makarios.” It means “divinely happy and supremely blessed,” or happiness that comes from the divine. Weirdly, the English word that is derived from this is “macro”, sort of like “I summed it all up” or “I’ve got everything.”

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Then one of the earliest bible translations from the original Greek into Latin translated this word into “beatus” which means “happy” or “blessed.”

And so Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, this first portion called The Beatitudes, are literally instructions on how to be happy. And just as we mistakenly believe happiness comes from fame or fortune, the Jews that were listening had their world upside down. They believed that Makarios, divine happiness, was based on material blessing and prosperity provided by God. They were also looking for a Messiah to rescue them from Roman occupation, physical happiness. Jesus turned everything upside down, challenging the people to reconsider their idea of blessed and happy by focusing on God’s desires. Moreover, this state of being blessed isn’t anything man can earn, but the result of a declaration from God.

III. Spiritual Bankruptcy

Matthew 5:3, Jesus begins,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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The word poor in the original Greek is “ptochos” which means having literally nothing, totally broke. It’s a recognition that everything we have – our jobs and our house and our family and the light of the sun and the air we breathe and gravity itself are all gifts from God. The world teaches that you can do it all, have it all, and you deserve it all.   But being poor in spirit means recognizing that we bring nothing into this world and we bring nothing out except the very soul God gives us.

In Isaiah 66:1-2,

“Thus says the LORD, “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? “For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD. “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”

What do you think you have that God didn’t give you?

Who do you think you are that God didn’t make?

One of the keys to happiness is learning to stop depending on yourself, and realize God already did everything. Poverty of the spirit is the most important of the beatitudes.   It is how you compare yourself to God.   Do you look at God as a power that can assist you in your goals? Or do you look at God as sovereign ruler of all and how you can assist God in His goals?   To experience true happiness, recognize that God is greater than anything you are, anything you can do, or anything you can imagine.

IV. Comprehension of Sin

The second beatitude, Matthew 5:4,

Blessed are those who mourn,

   for they will be comforted.

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You’re probably thinking I’ve lost it.   The 2nd key to happiness is to be unhappy.

Well, that’s not exactly what this verse means. Certainly there is sorrow in this world, and Revelation says every tear will eventually be wiped away, but remember, the beatitudes are teaching us not to tell God what makes us happy, but to ask God what makes Him happy.

This verse, then, is about spiritual mourning. Maybe we don’t think of God as having emotions – except anger, maybe. And love, for God so loved the world. But God mourns when His people turn away from Him.

Do we mourn for the lost? Do we mourn when God’s will is ridiculed? A lesson I seem to be learning when, as I get older, is that we don’t live forever on this earth. I know, I just found out. But when people die, there’s a great deal of emotion around the loss.   But usually those emotions are for us – we’ve lost someone – or for others – they’ve lost someone.

When somebody dies without accepting Jesus as their savior, God has lost someone. God gives them what they’ve always wanted, a life without God, and God mourns. I think of the story of Jonah I taught earlier this year, especially at the end when Jonah was upset when God didn’t wipe out those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Ninevites . And God taught Jonah that God gave them life and nurtured them and while God agreed that they were terrible, horrible, no good, very bad people, God mourned that He would never have a relationship with them.

Sin separates us from the love of God, paid for only by the shed blood of Christ. And you know God grieved when His son paid that price for us, but today Jesus is resurrected and sits at the right hand of the Father. And we, too, mourn over the sins that separate us from God, but we will be comforted that our sins are washed away so that we have fellowship with our heavenly father in a way we can barely comprehend today.

So the 2nd key to happiness is to mourn over our own sins and failures, the sinfulness of the world, and that God is not given the glory and honor due Him.

V. Humility in Outlook

Then Matthew 5:5, beatitude #3,

Blessed are the meek,

   for they will inherit the earth.

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The Greek word used by Jesus in 5:5 is “πραΰς“ or “praus” which means ‘mild, gentle, humble, kind, forgiving’. It is an attitude toward others of compassion and gentleness. Jesus used this word in Matthew 11:29 to describe himself:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Our daily challenge to meet this beatitude is also illustrated in Philippians 2:5 –

‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who … made himself nothing.’

That’s what we are – ‘nothing.’   Apart from God we are nothing.   We depend on him for our physical existence and for our spiritual life. To be ‘meek,’ to be gentle, is to live with an awareness that Christ lives within us. We want no glory for ourselves and we are therefore willing to be nothing in order to provide good for others.

“Meek” does not mean spineless or weak. Jesus, the Lord of Glory, was meek, and yet, He was tougher than nails. Being meek is deliberate, not passive, actively looking to be kind and good to others. Meek is Jesus, Almighty God, becoming man. Meek is Jesus, the King of kings, permitting the Roman soldiers to hammer the iron nails into his hands, and refusing to call down legions of angels because He loves us. The key to happiness is the gentleness of Christ being evident is everything we say and do.

VI. Need for Righteousness

Ready for beatitude #4? Matthew 5:6,

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

   for they will be filled.

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To be happy, we hunger and thirst for righteousness. There are two parts, a) hungering and thirsting, and b) righteousness.

It’s not enough to enjoy righteousness. It’s not enough to admire righteousness. To be happy, we hunger for it with a consuming passion. To be happy, we don’t seek happiness. We don’t seek fame or fortune or power or beauty or sexuality or anything else. We must understand the first 3 beatitudes of our spiritual bankruptcy, our sin nature, and letting the meekness of Christ live with us, and hunger for it. We should strive to know how far short we fall and hunger for His righteousness.

Too often, this hunger is misplaced.   We hunger for the righteousness of men.   We hunger to be accepted. We see society preaching at us to accept the immorality of the world in the name of loving our fellow man, and we want to be accepted, so we say yes. And this yearning for acceptance leads to destruction of lives and families because our hunger is for the wrong things.

Or we understand the need for righteousness, but it’s a passing thought. We have our busy lives. Who has time for righteousness when we’re looking for a new job or trying to find that perfect outfit to wear Friday night? And when there is no hunger for God’s righteousness, there’s no righteousness at all.

To be happy and blessed, we hunger and thirst for His righteousness. God knows what will make us happy, better than we know ourselves.   In Matthew 6:33, Jesus says,

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

To be happy, hunger for God.

VII. Empathy for Others

The next instruction for happiness is in the next beatitude, Matthew 5:7 –

Blessed are the merciful,

   for they will be shown mercy.

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This is not the same as the earlier beatitude of being meek and gentle toward others. This is a recognition that we live in a fallen world full of sin, in ourselves and in others, and to practice forgiveness.

Because we all sin and stumble in many ways. And when we sin, besides the separation from God, it can cause injury to others.

And when someone injures or insults us, of course there should be justice. They need to pay. They should be punished. But you know what? Not by us.   God promises to make everything right, and leave all vengeance to Him. Our job is to forgive.

When I hear about somebody offering forgiveness in an extraordinary way, it’s powerful. This week I heard it from a story in Dallas, you may have read about the trial. Officer Amber Guyger entered the wrong apartment and says she mistook it for her own.   Botham Jean was sitting on the sofa, watching tv and eating ice cream, when Officer Amber Guyger shot him and killed him, thinking he was a burglar. A jury disagreed and convicted her of murder.

But this next part is where I see Matthew 5:7 in action.

The victim’s brother, Brandt Jean, begged for permission to hug the defendant. He told Officer Guyger, “I forgive you. I love you as a person and I don’t wish anything bad on you.”   Afterwards, shocking many, the judge also hugged her, presented Officer Guyger with a bible, and the 3 of them prayed together.

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Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Because we all sin and stumble in many ways, and we all deserve punishment from God.   But thank our Lord Jesus Christ that He has mercy on us and that we do not bear the punishment for our own sins.   Jesus calls us to share that same forgiveness with everybody that sins against us, the same way He forgive us for our sins. In fact, He puts it this bluntly in Matthew 6:15 –

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

So let it go. You’ll find that the forgiveness you give is the happiness you receive.

VIII. Align with Christ

Matthew 5:8 –

Blessed are the pure in heart,

   for they will see God.

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Who can claim to be pure in heart?   We all know that we are not pure, we have thoughts, attitudes, desires which are not pure. We may hide it from others, but we cannot hide it from ourselves or from God.

And ‘pure’ is an absolute term.   You cannot say a heart is ‘purer’.   Being pure means that it is not defiled, polluted or mixed with impurities.

There are so many impurities that we may think will make us happy, but they don’t. They are empty, dead ends, failures. But true joy and happiness is realizing this world has nothing to offer, and Jesus offers everything.

So, how can we make our hearts pure? It is beyond our ability. It is God who initiates, sanctifies and perfects the heart of man who put his trust in Him. It begins when we realize that we cannot do it on our own. Throughout our life, we go through the process of sanctification that will be perfected when we are glorified in Christ Jesus.

This sanctification is a difficult process. Gold has to go through the furnace to be perfected, to burn off the impurities.   1 Peter 1:6-7 –

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith, of greater worth than gold which perishes even though refined by fire, may be proven genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

So, how can we be pure in heart?   By constantly seeking an active fellowship with God through daily personal time with God in His words and prayer, allowing God to purify us though His Holy Spirit in us.   Philippians 1:6,

Be confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

IX. Identify with Others

Two more beatitudes to go.   Matthew 5:9,

Blessed are the peacemakers,

   for they will be called children of God.

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Jesus said that to be happy, be a peacemaker. This statement would have shocked the Jews in the crowd. Jews were looking for a military messiah to overthrow the Roman Empire and establish an earthly kingdom. But Jesus supports peace and encourages the peacemakers. Once again, Kingdom of Heaven defies the norm of earthly kingdom, which is established by power and wars.

What’s interesting about peace is that the foundation of peace is the love received from God. But what about our enemies who hate us? Jesus says in Luke 6:27-28 –

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

It sounds counterintuitive, like many things from heaven, but to find happiness, don’t just find peace.   Create peace. Actively love our enemies.

The reward for peacemakers is very unique. “They will be called sons of God.” That would bring me happiness, to be called as one of God’s children.

X. Do What is Right

This last beatitude is the most contradictory of all the beatitudes. How can we be happy when we are going through insult, persecution, suffering, even death for doing what is right? Matthew 5:10 –

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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Jesus very clearly proclaims happiness for those who are being persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Now, two different ways we can be persecuted for “righteousness” –

[1] Gospel righteousness, by which we have ceased to trust in our own performance and depend solely on the righteousness of Christ, is offensive to both the nominal believer and the unbeliever, because people do not like to think that salvation is free. Somehow it must be earned.

Every religion of man tells them they have to, and can, earn their way to heaven. But Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship. And it is not about man trying to earn his way into heaven, but about our incredible loving God paying for our way to heaven. Gospel righteousness is therefore a threat to both human pride and human religion.

Some people think that the Christian’s assurance of salvation is actually ‘self-righteousness’ and therefore accuse believers of either hypocrisy or pride. But it is not self-righteousness that allows me to proclaim that I am saved. It is righteousness in Jesus and the trust in His promises that allow me to proclaim that I am saved because He is Lord.

[2] The practical righteousness or goodness which Christians demonstrate in their lives is threatening to the ungodly; it accuses them and exposes their ungodliness and guilt.   This persecution because of Gospel righteousness is the evident background to several of the New Testament letters, where those who trusted solely in the righteousness of Christ were persecuted by those who wanted to base their relationship to God with their own performance of law and ritual.

We find it difficult to grasp rejoicing in suffering because we have not seen the complete picture. Even among many Christians, there is a growing tendency to focus on earthly blessings.   It is not to say that we should not desire good in this life, but Jesus and His disciples always focused on future hope and glory.

There are parts of the world, where people are being persecuted for Christ. For them, following Christ means suffering, rejection and even death. They are blessed and privileged to share in suffering with Christ.

We may not go through physical persecution or suffering, but we all feel being constantly chased after by the enemy of Christ. When we pursue righteousness, we may find being constantly running or fleeing from the spiritual forces, who are after us to knock us down.

It is not in the suffering or pain, we rejoice, but it is in the hope of God’s glory to be revealed. We Christians rejoice in suffering for righteousness, because we participate in the suffering of Christ, that we bear his name, and that we will be overjoyed when Christ’ glory will be revealed in us. It is our privilege to suffer with Christ.

XI. Conclusion

So what are the keys to happiness?   Don’t tell God what will make you happy. Let God tell you what will make you happy.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
   for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
   for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
   for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
   for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
   for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
   for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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To God be the glory.

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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.

Take Part in Missions

Sometimes we bite off more than we can chew. I remember my grandfather saying to me that my “eyes were bigger than my stomach”. He was referring to the way I’d heap food on my plate and then be unable to eat everything. My eyes were bigger than my stomach.

Home remodeling projects can easily be underestimated. Diane and I shared last month about our plumbing issues. I thought we had a little leak, an air conditioning pan with a plugged drain. All we have to do is clean out the drain, right? And by the time it was raining in the master bathroom, wallpaper soaking and sagging, sheetrock being torn off the walls, ripping out old galvanized pipe to replace it with copper tubing, and three large sweaty men carrying old water heaters out of the attic… at some point I realized I had seriously underestimated the project.

I’ve discovered that following Christ is a lot like underestimating a home remodeling project. When Christ says, “yoke is easy and His burden is light” (Matthew 11:30), He means it. Picking up the yoke is easy. But as we give more of ourselves to the Spirit, we find that the home remodeling requires a lot more work than we first thought. Turning away from our surface sins, sins we could easily see, was easy. Turns out there was wood rot underneath that we didn’t know about, with termites happily munching away. Learning to lean on Christ, loving our enemies, turning from pride and materialism… that requires more time and energy.

I think about those South Korean missionaries in Afghanistan from time to time; they didn’t get a lot of media coverage, probably because Taliban fundamentalists executing peaceful Christians wasn’t a topic the news media found interesting. The missionaries certainly found the task far more than they expected. They were beaten and threatened by gunpoint to convert to Islam or die. The pastor, Bae Hyung-kyu, was executed first, and his last words to the remaining missionaries were, “Overcome with faith.” Later, they executed another man, Shim Sung-min. They remaining 21 hostages, 18 of them women, were later freed, but only after the South Korean government agreed to ban further missionary work in Afghanistan.

You know who my compassion goes out to most? Not the pastor Bae Hyung-kyu or the missionaries; their eternal destination with the Lord awaits, where there is no pain or tears. My compassion goes out to the Afghan children that will now be raised by barbarian murderers instead of being exposed to the love and peace of Christ Jesus.

Q: What are Christian missions and who are missionaries?

Our lesson begins today at Matthew 9:35-38, and Jesus tells us why followers of Christ should spread the Good News.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Jesus, of course, sets an example for us; Jesus is on the very first “mission” trip to spread the word that the Son of Man has come. Notice that Jesus went through all the towns and villages. It requires effort to spread the word; you’ve got to get up off the sofa. Jesus does three things here –

– He teaches; what do the scriptures say? How shall we live?
– He preaches; this is different than teaching; the word can also be translated “heralding.” It’s an announcement of something important.
– And he heals. Taking care of the sick and wounded shows compassion on those who need it most.

The crowds were like sheep without a shepherd; those that have not heard the good news, that we can enter heaven without being perfect, that Jesus paid the price for us, are lost. Sometimes they know they’re lost; most of the time they don’t. I know I didn’t. I only know that now I’m found.

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” I mentioned Afghanistan earlier, but there are many, many places where the good news hasn’t been heard, or if it has been heard, the word is confused or distorted. When we went to Kenya a couple of year ago, one thing that struck me was the lack of bibles. A teacher from one of the other classes donated enough money to buy hundreds of Swahili bibles; they were almost devoured hungrily when we gave them away, people that had given their lives to Christ but were now left without knowing what Christ wanted from them. There are so few missionaries with so few resources, and the need is so great. Things haven’t changed much in 2000 years; the size of the harvest is still huge, billions of people, yet so few people sharing the Word. Who owns the harvest, who is the Lord of the Harvest? And who are the workers in His field?

We are the workers. Fred and Joanna are on their way to Damascus in a couple of weeks; Michael & Aura are just back from Honduras; care to share what you saw there?

Once upon a time in our lives, we were called by Christ to follow Him. We experience the love and forgiveness and the peace and joy that comes with giving our lives to Christ. We grow, we become sanctified through Him, we become greater by becoming less. Then what? Think about this – somebody went out of their way to share the joy of Christ with you at some point in your life. Your parents, a friend, an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, a stranger. Isn’t about time you returned the favor and shared that joy with the lost? You are one of the workers in the field. You know the phrase, “they pay isn’t much, but the retirement benefits are out of this world.”

Matthew 10 begins with Jesus’ instructions to his twelve disciples. Not all of this is entirely applicable to us today; for instance, in verse 5 Jesus tells his disciples not to go among the Gentiles or in Samaria. Verse 6 tells them to stay among the lost sheep of Israel. Why the unusual instructions? Part of it was that the experience of the disciples here was limited; perhaps Jesus felt they were not yet equipped to witness among the Gentiles, especially since Jews and Gentiles didn’t get along all that great. Also, time was limited here; Jesus had a mission that would end on Calvary, and in order to use his resources efficiently, Jesus limited this mission to Israel. Also, the Jews were God’s chosen; it only made sense for God to reach out to His chosen people first. I think we can learn from Jesus’ instructions to use time and resources wisely. It’s also worth noting that it was only this first mission that was limited to Israel; later, Jesus himself went into Samaria and Jesus healed among the Gentiles. The Great Commission tells us to go to all nations.

In The Message, Matthew 10:5-8 says,

Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.

We think of missions sometimes as going off to some far off land; but sometimes the most rewarding mission is right here in our own back yard.

What sort of response can we expect when we’re on a mission? Matthew 10:16-23 –

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me, but those who stand firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. “

Apparently, sharing the gospel is hard. The instructions from Jesus now have more concrete instructions to us today. What do you think the phrase “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” means?

Matthew 10:24-33 –

“Students are not above their teacher, nor servants above their master. It is enough for students to be like their teacher, and servants like their master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!

“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

“Whoever publicly acknowledges me I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever publicly disowns me I will disown before my Father in heaven.”

If sharing the gospel is hard, Jesus tells us why we should be reassured and comforted. Jesus warns us that we can expect persecution and danger when we proclaim from the roofs that Jesus Christ is Lord. Satan, after all, “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8). When you are spreading the gospel, when you are witnessing, you are walking into the lion’s den. It’s dangerous.

But do not be afraid. In Afghanistan, the pastor Bae Hyung-kyu discovered that Satan can destroy the body… but Satan has no power over the soul. Evil men can destroy the body… but evil men have no power over the soul. Only God has power over the soul.

As a Christian, remember this: you are a new creation. When you give your life to Christ, you are already dead. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Our earthly lives have been given up, and we have already begun our eternal lives. From an earthly perspective, we’re confused; we think we’re alive, and when we die, we go to heaven. That’s wrong. From a heavenly perspective, we’re dead. When we’re born again, then we go to heaven. We can’t live until we die.

One of my favorite songs on the radio is really, really odd, but I like really, really odd. I think it’s all about missions. The Newsboys in their song, “Wherever We Go,” sing –

Hands up, Holler back here
Let’s throw this party in gear
We brought the welcome mat
Wherever we go, that’s where the party’s at.

Yeah I know, they ended the sentence with a preposition. You know the song?

Hands up, holler back now
We don’t claim any know-how
We’re giving God all that
Wherever we go, that’s where the party’s at.

Wherever we go, the dumb get wise
And the crime rates drop and the markets rise
It’s a curious thing
But it’s just our thing

Bullies make nice, crooks repent
And the ozone layer shows improvement
It’s a curious thing
And it’s humbling

Wherever we’re led, all the Living Dead
Wanna leave their Zombie Mob
It’s a touching scene when they all come clean
God help us, we just love our job

It’s a great song, and it illustrates, I think, our lesson today. It’s shrewd and innocent, certainly, and says we’re being led among the living dead, and once they hear the gospel, they want to leave their zombie mob, too. Just like us.

Once we realize that this life is temporary and real life is eternal, then Satan has no power over us. All he can do is kill us, but we’re already dead. We live for Christ now. Why? Because He died so that we may live. God loves us so much that he gave us His son. So do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Our soul is worth more than many sparrows and the hairs on our head are numbered.

Is this scary? Does this make us afraid? To risk our earthly life, our material comforts? Recognize what’s at stake – those around us without the love of Christ are dead. By risking our lives for them, we’re following the example Jesus set for us. He, too, gave His life for us. Is it too much to ask that now our salvation is secure that we risk our temporary life so that others, too, may live? Somebody did it for us or we wouldn’t be here today. The fear is understandable, but remember; the opposite of fear is faith. Faith is not believing that God can. Faith is knowing that God will.

It sounds from our lesson so far that we are called to share the gospel in unwelcome places, but Jesus tells us that He wants us to share our faith publicly. “Whoever publicly acknowledges me I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever publicly disowns me I will disown before my Father in heaven.” But what about things we’ve all been taught about respect, about peace and love and harmony and getting along and diversity and separation of church and state? If Jesus is always love and peace, then we should only share the gospel only when we’re asked, right? If they don’t want to hear it, as peaceful loving Christians we should keep our mouths shut so that we can all get along, right?

That’s not what Jesus says. Remember, when we’re sharing the Gospel among those who don’t want to hear it, we’re bringing the Living Water to those who are dead. We are to love our enemies; sharing the word of God can sometimes make enemies. If we have to choose between Jesus and peace, what do we choose? If we have to choose between Jesus and anything, what do we choose? Look at Matthew 10:34-39 –

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn

” ‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
your enemies will be the members of your own household.’

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves a son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Jesus is quoting prophecy about the Messiah in Micah 7:6 which goes on to say

But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD,
I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.

Does this sound like the opposite impression of Jesus that our culture teaches us? That Jesus loves peace, he’s passive and never raises a fuss? Jesus own words tell us differently. Jesus is indeed the king of peace, but it is His peace. People are to love people, but they are to love Him more. Sometimes that separates people. I’ve seen first hand, as I’m sure you have too, that talking about Jesus can drive people apart.

God does want us to have a good life, and God does want us to be happy, but he wants us to have goodness and happiness from an eternal perspective. Obedience to God brings goodness and happiness from an eternal perspective, but it may mean risking our comfort in this life. Is this risk worth it? Let’s see what Jesus says in Matthew 10:40-42 –

“He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”

Picking up your cross and following Jesus may mean a lot of hardship, may mean loss of comfort, may mean a loss of life. Does this mean we lose our joy? Now, we are joyous because we love Him who first loved us. Is it scary? Yes, certainly, but perfect love drives out fear. If we don’t risk our lives, do we risk our salvation? No, we are still children of God. But if we want to be disciples of Jesus and grow in the Spirit, we must learn to set aside our fear and our comfort. To love our neighbor is to want to have them in heaven with us, and the only way for them to know the love of Jesus and His perfect sacrifice is for somebody to tell them.

I think that somebody is you and me.

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.