Sermon Notes – February 18, 2018

We Are Beggars

   In our Gospel for today (Mark 1:9-15) it is reported that after Jesus’ baptism the Holy Spirit immediately drove (literally, “threw”) Him out into the wilderness for forty days in order to be tempted [same Greek word as for “tested”] by Satan. Jesus, as we know, defeated Satan in this stand-off (and in any and every other temptation Satan would bring against Jesus). We, as Jesus knows, don’t always fare so well. Sometimes we yield to temptations. So, it is very relevant that when Jesus begins His proclamation of the gospel He says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.”   [Commemoration of Luther; the first thesis & last written words, “We are beggars—it is true.”]

   Now let us turn to our text: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial [same Greek word as for “temptation”], for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12)

   When do we translate the Greek word as “test,” that is “an assessment,” or as “temptation,” that is “an enticement to sin?” It will normally be determined by context. [Brother Denny and the use of the word “drink”] James gives us a lesson in translating as well as theology when he says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Who is doing it? God or God’s adversaries (Satan, the fallen world, our fallen human nature)? When God is doing it, James tells us, “Count in all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” (1:2-3)

   In the Garden of Eden God had included one test of Adam and Eve’s faithfulness—the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. [Genesis 2:16-17] The forbidden fruit was a test put into place by God. When the serpent (Satan) makes use of it, however, it becomes a temptation to sin. [Genesis 3:5]

   It is no small thing when Jesus does something that none of us can do, namely, resist all temptations from Satan and successfully pass all tests given by the Father. Consider that if Jesus had attempted without success to resist all of Satan’s enticements to sin you and I would not be saved, would not be forgiven, would not have a home prepared for us in heaven. Jesus’ perfect righteousness is what makes His sacrificial death effective. Consider that if Jesus had not accepted the challenges placed before Him by His Father, if in the Garden of Gethsemane our Lord had not passed the test of faithfulness (“not my will, but yours be done,” Mark 14:36), you and I would not be saved, would not be forgiven, would not have a home prepared for us in heaven. Christ did what we cannot do. He got a perfect score on every test of obedience and He avoided every temptation to sin placed before Him. [Hebrews 4:15-16]

   In our Old Testament Reading (Genesis 22:1-18) Abraham passes the test of faith God places upon him. Even as he is saddling the donkey, cutting the wood for the burnt offering and rousing Isaac from sleep to begin their journey to Moriah, Abraham believed “God will provide for Himself the lamb.” (v. 8) Even as he is building the altar, binding Isaac, taking the knife and preparing to slaughter his son, Abraham believed “God will provide for Himself the lamb.” And God did. The ram caught in the thicket and God’s Son crucified are the lesser and then the greater fulfillment of the truth that “God will provide for Himself the lamb.”

   Our piety could not achieve our salvation, but God in Christ did. Our good works could not cancel the debt of sin, but God in Christ did. Our love could not advance us into paradise, but God in Christ did. Don’t get me wrong! We should be appropriately pious. Our good works should abound. We should love God with all of our heart and mind and soul. Our inability to do any of that perfectly disqualifies us from achieving our own salvation. And so Christ proclaims to us, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.”

   To be steadfast under trial is first and foremost to believe that God did provide for Himself the sacrificial Lamb, that He did love the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son. Satan will do anything to separate us from faith in Christ. Despair, idolatry, self-righteousness are among his tactics. Avoid it all and in faith accept that it is true, we are beggars before God and He did provide His own Son as the sacrifice for us and through Him gives us the crown of life. Ja? Ja!


February 28, 2016 - Sermon Notes


1 Corinthians 10:13


   Our text is frequently misused to tell us that God will never give us more burdens than we can handle.  With God’s help it is certainly amazing what we are sometimes able to handle, given all of the difficulties life in a fallen world throws our ways.  If we are talking sheer physical endurance, however, there will be that one final burden, that one final assault, that one final breath signaling our mortality. 

   I don’t want to spend too much time on what this text is not about, but you remember in last month’s news the story of Anne Swaney, a local ABC news executive producer who was found murdered in Belize?  When ABC7 asked her father about his strength through this most recent family tragedy (Anne’s older brother died of a heart attack at age 39 two years ago) he answered honestly, “I don’t have it.  I’m not strong.  I’m a mess.”  The poor man died of a broken heart last Tuesday.  He had met his final burden in extraordinarily tragic circumstances.

   What Paul is talking about in our text, however, is something that is “common to man.”  Paul is talking about temptation to sin, and, as one commentator puts it, “It is the kind of temptation that humanity is commonly called on to endure.” (Gregory Lockwood, Concordia Commentary – First Corinthians, ©2000, page 331)  Paul provides examples from Old Testament events, letting us know the Israelites had received the same grace from God that we have received, “but if [we] succumb to the same sins, [we] will be punished just as Israel was punished.” (Ibid)

   Example # 1 – Simple idolatry (“desire evil”) when some people spurned the manna God had miraculously provided and coveted the meat and vegetables of Egypt (leading to the “Graves of Craving” in Numbers 11); and gross idolatry with the golden calf before which “the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” (Exodus 32)

   Example # 2 – Sexual immorality as Moabite women invited Israelite men to participate in their fertility rites in honor of the false god Baal of Peor.  God struck more than 23,000 of those sinners down in a single day (Numbers 25). 

   Example # 3 – Some of the people put God to the test with their unceasing complaining and grumbling, occasionally leading to acts of divine judgment: the poisonous serpents (Numbers 21), the faithlessness of the ten spies (Numbers 14), and the rebellion of Korah and company (Number 16)

   God was always faithful (as Paul announces to us in our text), but some of the people were unfaithful.  They probably said, as people say today, “I couldn’t help myself;” “the devil made me do it;” “if God wanted me to resist the temptations He should have made me stronger.” The temptations then and the temptations now are not irresistible as the Apostle testifies that God “will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 

   Sally Hogshead is a brand consultant who helps companies increase appeal for their products or services.  In 2010 she wrote a book called Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation.  In the book she asserts there are seven universal triggers, the first of which is “lust.”  She writes, “Lust conquers the rational evaluation process, freeing us to stop thinking, and start feeling.” (page 73)  This is, in my opinion, a very true statement.  It is also among the top reasons this world of ours is sinking deeper and deeper into the cesspool of selfish sinfulness.  [NID mission director] 

   The original fascinating triggers are the seven deadly sins (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth).  Today, far from trying to escape the temptations they bring, we just use more and more tools to enhance their availability and their acceptance.  We had better start looking for the way of escape before we end up “overthrown in the wilderness.” (1 Cor 10:5)  Paul wrote in our Epistle, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (v. 12)  Jesus warned in our Gospel (Luke 13:1-9), “Do you think [those who died tragically] were worse offenders than all others…?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  God taught through the prophet Ezekiel in our Old Testament reading (33:7-20), “Your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just.’”  The way of the Lord is the way of escape! 

   The way of escape is to stand firm on the overwhelming faithfulness of God, to stand firm on the redeeming power of Christ’s death and resurrection, to stand firm on the endless work of the Holy Spirit who empowers us through the Gospel.  God does not lead us into temptation; He is in the delivering from evil business.  Through the Gospel of Jesus Christ we are led to the way of escape.  That way may not be sexy but it is quite effective. 

   What, however, about the times that we fail and the fascinating seven deadly sins take momentary control of our lives?  There is still the way of escape.  As John wrote in his First Epistle, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (2:1)  “For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)  With that sinless life He rescues us—He is the way of escape.

© 2018 St Johns Evangelical Elgin
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