My Yoke is Easy

  I.      Introduction

We’re only going to study 5 verses today.  How long can that possibly take?  Let’s start by turning to Matthew 11.

When I just sit down and read the bible, I often just read quickly without slowing to ponder the meaning.  But once I stop to examine a passage, often I find a deeper meaning, a revelation, a message to ponder.  When I find one of these passages, I highlight it in my bible.  And now, today, every passage is highlighted.

So I guess what I’m saying is that getting through 5 verses that hold an exceptional amount of meaning that can take all day.  I hope you brought your lunch.

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Let’s put the Matthew 11 in context.  Jesus has been speaking and teaching to Jews in the towns of Galilee.  Galilee is a province in the northern part of Israel, the other provinces being Judea and Samaria.  Jesus spent much of His ministry living and teaching here and his life and miracles are captured in the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Interesting, the book of John primarily focuses on Jesus’ life in Judea, not Galilee.

Beginning in verse 20, Jesus warns those that do not repent of their day of destruction, and the very presence of Jesus performing miracles in the towns of Galilee is to give evidence that Jesus is who He says He is, the very Son of God, and the miracles are given to give weight to Jesus words of repentance.  But a great many people see the miracles, and even want the miracles for themselves, but do not want to believe.  And we come to our first verse to study today, Matthew 11:25.

II.      Matthew 11:25, Truth Revealed to Little Children

Matthew 11:25,

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.

Jesus praises God the Father for who He is, and rightly proclaims God the father to be Lord of heaven and earth.  In John 10:30, Jesus says, “I and the Father are One.”  During the life of Jesus, though He was also God, He lived His life as man, and it was proper for Jesus to show us how to live, including giving all honor and glory to God.  Jesus, Son of God, God the Son, gives praise to God the Father.

Jesus is One with the Father, He is Emmanuel, God with us.  But to demonstrate to us what it means to live a life free of sin, Jesus talks to the Father, not as an equal, but as a faithful servant.  He speaks to God the Father as a man.

I looked up the Greek word for Father used here, and you might have heard plenty of sermons where Jesus uses the phrase “Abba” to call to His Father, a phrase a toddler might use when he just wants to be held.  But that’s not the word Jesus uses here, he uses “pater,” and uses the same word to begin the Lord’s prayer, “Our ‘pater’, who art in heaven.”  When applied to God the Father, Strong’s Dictionary defines it this way,

God is called the Father

  1. of the stars, the heavenly luminaries, because he is their creator, upholder, ruler

  2. of all rational and intelligent beings, whether angels or men, because he is their creator, preserver, guardian and protector

  3. of Christians, as those who through Christ have been exalted to a specially close and intimate relationship with God, and who no longer dread him as a stern judge of sinners, but revere him as their reconciled and loving Father

  4. the Father of Jesus Christ, as one whom God has united to himself in the closest bond of love and intimacy, made acquainted with his purposes, appointed to explain and carry out among men the plan of salvation, and made to share also in his own divine nature

 

Could there be a better description of our heavenly father?

Then Jesus says, “because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

The “wise” that Jesus mentions here likely refer to the self-righteous Pharisees who obeyed the letter of the law but understood not the intent of the law.  From a human perspective, they were wise and learned.  They knew the Old Testament scripture, and were not afraid to apply to others and be judgmental about how other people lived their lives.

How can we best understand that being wise is foolish?  The first step toward wisdom is recognizing our own ignorance.  We do not, and cannot, know everything.  We will never be omniscient, knowing everything that ever was and is and is to come.  Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 2:4-8.  Paul says,

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.  We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.  No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.  None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

There are clearly two kinds of wisdom.  There is worldly wisdom and there is Godly wisdom.

The source of worldly wisdom is man’s own human intellect.  It is human ideas and human reasoning and human philosophy.  There is nothing wrong with human intellect as long as it is based on spiritual truth.  Building intellect on spiritual truth is like building or foundation upon rock.  The book of James talks about this at length.  You might be familiar with James 1:5 that says,

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

James tells us that if lack Godly wisdom, all we have to do is ask God.  Less well known is what James says about worldly wisdom in James 3:15,

Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

Worldly wisdom misrepresents truth and leads many Christians into gross errors.  It looks good.  It sounds noble.  It seems to make sense.  But worldly wisdom can lead us astray, from seeking God’s will.  It fosters doubt, makes us question God’s goodness, teaches us to put faith in ourselves and our own smarts.  The “wisdom of this world” appeals to the flesh and to our carnal nature.  We listen to worldly wisdom because we can do what we want instead of what God wants.

What does God want?  Well, knowing that comes from godly wisdom.  We just have to ask God.  He gives graciously.  But first we have to acknowledge that, compared to God’s incredible knowledge and wisdom, our own meager worldly wisdom pales in comparison.  We are like children.

And that’s not just a metaphor.   Jesus wants us to be innocent in worldly wisdom and abundant in godly wisdom.  That’s why he says in our verse today that God reveals his truth to little children.  Jesus reinforces this is verses like Matthew 18:1-5,

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Why does God hide his wisdom from the wise and learned?  Well, that’s the next line of scripture in our study today.

III.      Matthew 11:26, Because It Pleases Him

Matthew 11:26,

Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

I think that many times God works through weakness, and that belief is reinforced in scripture.  Paul had a thorn in his flesh, and when he asked for it to be removed, God said His strength is made perfect in our weakness. But then I want to ask, “Why?  Why can’t God’s strength me magnified in our strength instead of our weakness?”

This verse says this is God is pleased to do this.  I don’t really know why.  Well, part of me knows that when we depend on our own strength, we just give credit to ourselves for our good works.  We pat ourselves on the back and say, “good job.”  But when we can’t do it ourselves, we have to acknowledge we are not in control, and that our Creator has a plan bigger than us.

Job asked some of these same questions.  Job had a really bad day and lost his family, his property, and grew boils all over his body.  Job’s friends said it was because Job had some sort of hidden sin that he needed to confess, but Job said that that view wasn’t scriptural, and besides, Job was a righteous man.  But then Job got to wondering, “so why, then, am I being punished?”  And Job demands an audience of God.  Job believes that, since he is righteous, God owes him a good answer for these boils.

God finally does answer, but not in the way Job expects.  God asks Job some questions.  Where were you when I created the universe?  When I marked off the dimensions of the earth, where were you?  When I give the command to the morning where the dawn’s light should shine, where were you?  The Lord commands the constellations, counts the number of clouds, directs the lightning bolts, Job, where were you?

And Job realizes that his righteousness is insignificant compared to the majesty of the Lord.  God doesn’t provide any answers to Job.  God wants Job to be obedient because of God’s superiority.  There is no one like God. In essence, God’s answer to His children is, “Because I said so.”

This morning, while you and I were setting our alarm so that we would show up to church on time, and trying to decide what we wanted to wear, God was orchestrating the universe and telling the galaxies what to wear.  Isaiah 55:8-9 says,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways,”

declares the Lord.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Because He said so.

So who can know the will of the Lord?

IV.      Matthew 11:27, To Know the Father, Know the Son

Matthew 11:27, Jesus says,

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Just two verses earlier, Jesus was praising God the Father and calling Him the Lord of heaven and earth, but Jesus has been given this authority.  All of these things have been given to the Son by the Father.    Jesus, as God’s only begotten son, has a special and intimate relationship with God the Father.  And because Jesus alone has intimate knowledge of the Father, it is only through Jesus that the Father can be known.  No one knows God the Father except through Jesus the son.

And here’s an interesting phrase at the end.  The scripture says that Jesus knows the Father, and those Jesus chooses can know the Father.

Who does Jesus choose?  Does He choose those who are already righteous and do good works?  Does He choose tall people, or people who are good in math?  No, Jesus chooses sinners like you and me.  Only those God calls can hear the message, and Jesus repeatedly invited those who had ears to hear.  Why?  Because God said so.

Again, I think it’s so God can demonstrate His power and glory through our weakness.  He didn’t choose me because I was some great whoop-de-do (although I am tall and good at math).  No, he chose me while I was still a sinner, and I am forever grateful.  Literally, forever grateful.

And to those Jesus chooses, He reveals the Father.  In Matthew 11.27, the word “reveal” comes from the Greek word apokalupto, to take off the cover; to disclose or reveal.

In Old Testament times, the Shekinah glory of God dwelled within the innermost part of the Tabernacle behind a veil. No one could enter behind that veil except the High Priest, and even then under the strictest set of rules.

Exodus 40:34

Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

 

When Moses received the Law, God’s Glory shone upon him so much that he “glowed” with the heavenly radiance.

Exodus 34:35

And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with God.

 

God’s plan is to reveal Himself in the Son.  God sent His Son so that we may “see” the Father.

John 14:8-9,

Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”

 

When Christ died for us, the veil that separated us from God was torn in two from top to bottom.

Matthew 27:50-51,

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.  And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.

Whereas in Old Testament times only the priest could see the shekinah glory of God, now Jesus is our high priest forever and ever.

Hebrews 4:14-15,

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

When we want to see the Shekinah glory of God, we only need to look to Jesus.  Or, under the burden of the law, all we have to do is follow the 613 old testament laws to be saved.  Did you know the Old Testament specified 613 commandments?  There are 365 Negative Mitzvots (to remind us not to do bad things every day of the year) plus 248 Positive Mitzvots (the number of bones in the human body, so we can obey the laws with our whole body.)  Here’s a list:

Here’s a list of all 613 mitzvots.

Obey all 613 Mitzvots, and you will be saved.

  V.      Matthew 11:28-30

Goodness.  613 commandments.  If I thought following the Ten Commandments was difficult enough, how am I supposed to remember all 613 commandments, let alone follow them all?  That sounds like a lot of work, and I’m weary just thinking about it.  Fortunately, I know where to find rest for the weary.  It’s in our scripture verses for today.

Matthew 11:28-30,

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  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.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

 

The yoke of the law was not light.  613 Mitzvots is a lot of mitzvots.  What exactly is yoke, anyway?

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In a literal sense, the word ‘Yoke’ means a bar of wood, harnessed around the necks of two animals (usually oxen), enabling them to work in the fields, drawing loads, pulling farming equipment.  In the Bible, it is figuratively used as a symbol of bondage and oppression, such as in Isaiah 9:4,

For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders,

especially bondage to sin, as in Lam 1:14:

My sins have been bound into a yoke, by his hands, they were woven together

The farmer would bind the yoke upon the neck of the oxen so that it would not fall off or be shaken off.

Why did the Pharisees rebel against Jesus? Because the Pharisees were intellectually and spiritually proud and would not become little babes in humility and honesty.  The Father reveals Himself to the Son, and the Son reveals Himself and the Father to those who are willing to come to the Son in faith.  These verses indicate both the sovereignty of the Father and the responsibility of the sinner. Three commands summarize this invitation.

“Come.” The Pharisees all said “Do!” and tried to make the people follow Moses and the traditions.  But true salvation is not found in works, it is found only in a person, Jesus Christ.  To come to Him means to trust Him. This invitation is open to those who are exhausted and burdened down. That is exactly how the people felt under the yoke of legalism.

“Take.” This is a deeper experience. When we come to Christ by faith, He gives us rest. When we take His yoke and learn, we find rest, that deeper rest of surrender and obedience. The first is “peace with God” as shown in Romans 5:1 –

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

And then “Learn.” The first two commands represent a crisis as we come and yield to Christ; but this step is into a process.  As we learn more about Him, we find a deeper peace, because we trust Him more.  Life is simplified and unified around the person of Christ.

As we learn, we find the “the peace of God” in Philippians 4:6-8.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

 

Farmers, when binding their oxen, often bound an experienced ox to a younger, untrained ox.  They did this so the new oxen would learn in the experienced oxen’s ways.  When we submit to Christ, we yoke ourselves to Him so that we may learn.  The word “easy” means “well-fitting”; He has just the yoke that is tailor-made for our lives and needs.  The burden of doing His will is not a heavy one.  On the contrary, when we are in the will of Christ Jesus, we find abundant joy.

Jesus was saying that any kind of law-keeping is a burden and amounts to a “heavy yoke” of oppression because no amount of law-keeping can bridge the gap between our sinfulness and God’s holiness.  God says through Isaiah that all of our righteous deeds are like a “polluted garment.”  Paul said in Romans 3:20 that “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.”

Jesus brought good news.  To all who come to Him, He will give us rest from the heavy burden of trying to earn our way into heaven and rest from the oppressive yoke of self-righteousness and legalism.  Jesus encourages those who are “heavy laden” to take His yoke upon them, and in so doing they will find rest for their souls. The yoke of Jesus is light and easy to carry because it is the yoke of repentance and faith followed by a commitment to follow Him.

This is what Jesus says in Matthew 11:20.  His yoke is easy and His burden light.   Is there is really a difference between the commandments of Jesus and the Jewish Law?  Isn’t the same God responsible for both?  If anything, one might argue that the commands of Jesus are even more burdensome because His Sermon on the Mount actually goes above and beyond outward conformity to the Law and deals instead with the inner person.

What makes Jesus’ yoke easy and His burden light is that Jesus fulfilled the Law of God.  He has already carried the burden that we were meant to carry.  His perfect obedience is imputed to us through faith, just as His righteousness was exchanged for our sin at the cross.  Our obedience to Jesus then becomes our “spiritual worship”.

And we have the Holy Spirit who works in our lives to mold us into the image of Christ, thereby making the yoke of Jesus easy and His burden light. The life lived by faith is a much lighter yoke and a much easier burden to carry than the heavy and burdensome yoke of self-righteousness under which some continually strive to make themselves acceptable to God through works.

 

VI.      Conclusion

So are you striving hard to be a good Christian?  Are you trying to follow some man-made law that tells you who you are?  You are more than a set of rules.  You are more than a secretary or an engineer.  You are more than a mom or dad.  Your struggle for the approval of others can be set at the foot of the cross, it’s not a burden you were meant to carry.  You are an adopted child of God, righteous in His sight.  Worship our Lord with your obedience, but don’t make your obedience a definition for who you are.  Christ sacrificed Himself so that we are free from the burden of works.  His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.

To God be the glory.

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.