Focus on Pleasing God, Not People

Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4b NLT, second edition).

God did not make you to be what somebody else wants you to be. God didn’t make you to be what your parents want you to be, what your girlfriend or boyfriend wants you to be, what your spouse wants you to be or your boss or your friends want you to be.

God made you to be you. If you’re going to become all you can be, you have to refuse to be defined by others.

Hebrews 11:24 says, “By faith, Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” (NIV).

Moses had an identity crisis. He was born a Hebrew slave but raised as Egyptian royalty, the grandson of Pharaoh. When he grew up, he had two choices: He could pretend to be Pharaoh’s grandson for the rest of his life and live a life of luxury and fame and power.

Or he could admit who he really was: a Jew. If he did, his family would kick him out to live with slaves the rest of his life. He would be disgraced and humiliated and live a life of pain and drudgery.

Which would you choose?

Most people today are living lies. They’re trying to be people they’re not. But Moses refused to live a lie because he was a man of integrity. He insisted on being who God made him to be against all kinds of peer pressure.

Here’s my question for you: Who are you letting determine your identity?

Is it your friends and family? Some of you have parents that died years ago, but you’re still trying to live up to their vision for your life. Some of you are hanging on to what some ex-husband or wife said to you, and you’re trying to prove that person wrong. Some of you are trying to keep up with what social media and culture and the competition says you should be.

But the Bible says this: “Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4b NLT, second edition).

The first resolution you need to make is this: “I resolve that no more will I let other people press me into their mold. I’m going to be what God wants me to be. I’m going to do what God wants me to do, and I’m going to fulfill the plan that God has for my life, not somebody else’s plan for my life.”

Friends, that is real success. Real success in life is being exactly who you were created to be and nothing more.

Talk It Over

  • Who or what is pressuring you to be something you are not and shape your identity?
  • Spend some time writing down who you are in Jesus Christ. How does he define your identity?
  • How can you discover who exactly God made you to be?

How to Overcome Temptation

Without any question – without any question at all, the biggest problem that Christians have is temptation. By far, it’s the biggest problem. If you can eliminate temptation, you can eliminate sin.

A pastor once told his congregation, “I learned a great lesson from a dog.” He said, “His master used to put a bit of meat or a biscuit or some kind of food on the ground, and he’d say to the dog, ‘Don’t eat that,’ and the dog would run over and eat it, so he’d hit the dog. And he put another piece of meat on the ground. He’d say, ‘Don’t eat that.’ The dog would go over and eat it, and he hit him again. Well, after awhile, the dog got the message: eat meat, get hit. So the dog decided he wouldn’t eat the meat.” But the man telling the story related how that the dog never looked at the meat. The dog evidently felt that if he looked at the meat, the temptation to disobey would be too great, and so he looked steadfastly into his master’s face and never took his eyes off him, and thus the temptation never caused a problem.

Now, temptation works like that. As long as we stare at it…as long as we look at the baubles or the bangles that Satan dangles in front of our eyes…as long as we entertain ourselves on that and feed on it, we’re susceptible, obviously. And temptation is a very common problem for all of us, and perhaps, victory over temptation is not so common. And the problem is the same problem the dog had. The problem is we entertain ourselves by looking at the temptation rather than staring into the Master’s face.

 

And tonight I want us to get our eyes off temptation in a sense, and I want us to focus on the Master, Jesus Christ. And in order to do that, I want you to turn in your Bibles to the fourth chapter of Matthew. And I wanna show you how to overcome temptation by showing you the perfect example of one who did, Jesus Christ. Matthew chapter 4, and we’ll consider verses 1 through 11. Now, this message tonight is sort of slipped in the slot between the conclusion of Revelation and the beginning of our series on the body of Christ and the book of Ephesians, but it’s one that we feel is very important and have been a long time waiting to give. We believe God has led us to this subject for tonight because this, as I said, is the number one problem that we face as believers.

Now, as I said before, in order to be victorious over temptation, we have to put our focus on the person of Jesus Christ. We cannot entertain ourselves with the temptation and then wonder why we get into problems. There was an occasion where a girl became pregnant, and she came to the person that she was talking to…it was a youth director…and she said, “I don’t understand it. How could it happen? We prayed before every date.” The youth director said, “What’d you do after you prayed?” See, real good. Started out with prayer and then proceeded to get involved like that. Evidently they started out with their eyes on the Lord and then took them immediately off the Lord, put them on each other, and the problem was obvious.

The only way to overcome temptation is to look at Jesus Christ. It’s the only way. Get your eyes off of temptation, and get them on Jesus. You say, “Why should we look at Him?” And the answer is in the Book of Hebrews in several places, if you remember it. The Bible says in Hebrews 3:15, “For we have not a high priest who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities but was in all points”…what…”tempted like as we are, yet”…what…”without sin.” The reason we wanna look at Jesus Christ in temptation is because we know He’s been there, and we know He’s wise enough to show us the way out. Why, Hebrews 2:18 says this, “For in that He Himself was tempted, He is able to help those that are tempted.” See, he’s been there.

And so in the midst of temptation, we’re to fix our eyes upon Jesus Christ, not only for sympathetic understanding, but for victory, for He knows the victory. And the Apostle Paul said, “There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man. But God is faithful who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able but will, with the temptation, also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” You’re never tempted above that you’re able…never…not one time in your whole life after Christ, not one time.

We wanna look at Jesus Christ. If you have trouble focusing on Jesus Christ in the midst of temptation, you haven’t learned how to live the Christian life. The Christian life, my friend, is nothing more than practicing the conscience presence of Jesus Christ. That’s all it is. Beautiful thought. That’s all it is. Just constantly practicing the presence of Christ. It’s never taking my eyes off Him. Why do you think Paul says, “Pray without ceasing?” Because he wants you to keep your focus where it belongs. Why do you think he says, “Set your affections on things above and not on things on the earth?” Because he wants your mind to be _______ with God. Constantly, constantly, constantly. And we’re gonna see this.

And I want you to see Jesus Christ when He was tempted so that you’ll understand why to keep your eyes on Him. Now, in His temptation, in Matthew 4:1-11, we see some tremendous things. I wanna pull out three points: the preparation, the temptation and the triumph. And having seen Jesus in His temptation, we’re going to see victory, the possibility of victory, and we’re gonna understand why and how Satan operates. And I trust we’ll learn to keep our eyes on Christ.

First of all, I want you to notice the preparation. Chapter 4, verse 1 through the first part of verse 3: “Then was Jesus led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the Devil. And when He had fasted 40 days and 40 nights, He was afterward hungry. And when the Tempter came to Him…” We’ll stop right there. Now, here we get the background. The first event in our Lord’s ministry, which Matthew records, after His baptism is His temptation. Immediately after Christ’s baptism, which you remember was a declaration of His ministry, the Spirit of God descended like a dove, anointing Him. God’s voice came out of heaven saying, “Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” and Christ began His ministry. And immediately after the exaltation and the anointing at His baptism, He immediately went into direct confrontation with Satan.

And it’s an interesting thing that it is a very common experience of men. The times of special spiritual endowment or exaltation are followed immediately by occasions of special temptation. That’s exactly what the Bible means when it says, in one sense, “Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall.” Satan knows that when we are at the highest pinnacle, we are most easily deflated.

Arnold Coinby, the historian, made it clear in one of his books that the most dangerous period for a civilization is when it thinks it’s safe and no longer needs to face further challenges. Same thing is true of an individual. Same thing is true of Christians who have experienced some spiritual victory, and they’re misled to think that they can bask in that spiritual victory for an undefined amount of time. They cannot. The Christian life is lived one moment at a time with focus upon Jesus Christ. And just because you have reached a point of spiritual victory at one time doesn’t guarantee your spiritual victory even for the next moment. In fact, it almost always assures you that Satan’s gonna hit harder than he has before. It’s the very precise point when we think we stand that we have to evaluate ourselves lest we fall.

This was graphically illustrated to me in highschool. We had a third-string halfback whose name was Henry, and Henry wasn’t really too good, but his father gave a lot of money to the school. Anyway, he was on the team, and I remember we were winning this game 36-0, and there were just a couple of minutes to go, so they put Henry in the game. And he came into the huddle; he was so excited, just _______, excited, first time all year. So we kinda, “Just calm down, Henry.” Got in the huddle, and we called a play for Henry. We’re on about the sixth yard line, and we’re gonna go in for a touchdown. The quarterback got the ball, handed the ball to Henry. The hole opened…the hole was so big you coulda driven the fifth armythrough it…just gigantic, see. Henry grabbed the ball, right into the end zone. He was so excited when he crossed the goal line. The glory of it all hit him. Now, I’ll never forget this as long as I live, standing right there in the field. With the thrill of going over the goal line, he was overwhelmed. He had the ball tucked under his left arm, and as he was racing through the end zone in all the glory, he was waving to the stands. And he ran right through, waving to the stands, hmm, he hit the goal post dead center. The whole goal post went like this, (ringing sound). Split his helmet clear down the side, knocked himself completely cold, and the ball squirted up in the air and fell down.

I looked back on that and thought, “Now, that is a perfect illustration of the moment of victory turning to abject defeat.” You know, the same thing has happened in your life and mine, hasn’t it…spiritually speaking? We just get up to the top, and all the sudden, Satan starts firing away, and we just come crumbling down. That’s the way he works. He likes to find us in the moment of glory when our defenses are down. You see, that’s why Jesus said, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” Don’t ever take your eyes off the adversary. How graphically this is illustrated by the temptation of Christ. In full cognizance of His divine mission, just having experienced His baptism, His sacred human nature was filled through and through with the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. He was moving out to His great and glorious messianic ministry. His soul was aglow with the warmth of the Spirit of God, the job of communion with the Father, the contemplation of a blessed work that lay before Him. Finally, after 30 years of obscurity, He was gonna step into the limelight.

But it didn’t last very long. No sooner was He anointed by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit Himself drove Him into direct confrontation with Satan. Now, I want you to understand one thing that I believe with all my heart. I do not believe that Christ went into that wilderness on defense. I think He went in there on offense. My Bible says this, “Jesus was led up by”…whom…”the Spirit.” Listen, I don’t think Satan wanted that confrontation. I think he would have liked to avoid that as long as he could. I think the Spirit of God made that happen, drove Jesus Christ into direct confrontation with Satan to establish his victory over Satan at the beginning of his ministry. And so Jesus Christ was put into direct and fierce conflict with Satan.

Now, we have no right to assert that during the first 30 years of His ministry He was never tempted because He was. Matthew 16:23, He says, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” He evidently recognized Satan. He understood what Satan was doing. And you can go back when He said to His disciples, I think it was Luke 22:28…He says, “Ye are they who have continued with me in my temptations.” Satan worked on Christ for a long time. He said, “You are the ones who’ve been with me in my temptations,” and they weren’t up there in this place when He was tempted. I don’t think Satan ever let Christ alone. I think he tempted Him right down until he had Him sweating great drops of blood in the garden. Satan never let up on his attack. He wanted to overthrow the Messiah, and what better time could he take than this time, perhaps. If God was gonna put him in confrontation, he’d use this time to overthrow Messiah at the beginning of His ministry. So the Holy Spirit leads Jesus Christ into conflict with Satan to prove victory.

Notice the character of the area. It says, “He was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness.” Now, the wilderness is an interesting place. The Old Testament calls this area, which is down between…well, Jerusalem is a plateau and then the Dead Sea. And down on the edge of that plateau is called the Devastation, and that’s this area. George Adam Smith described it this way: “It is an area of yellow sand, of crumbling limestone and of scattered shingle. It is an area of contorted strata where the ridges run in all directions as if they were warped and twisted. The hills are like dust heaps. The limestone is blistered and peeling. Rocks are bare and jagged. Often, the ground sounds hollow. It runs right to the Dead Sea, and there comes a drop of 12,000 feet down to the Dead Sea. In that wilderness,” says Smith, “Jesus would be alone, more alone than anywhere else in Palestine.”

But Jesus went there, first of all, to be alone because prior to His direct conflict with Satan, He was alone with God, a time for sustained prayer, a time for solitary preparation for His task, a time for communion with the Father. And you’ll remember that Moses had to spend some time. Elijah had to spend some time. Paul even spent three years. These men had to spend time in preparation before God, in meditation, before they engaged in their ministries. And so does Christ. And He spends this 40 days preparing His heart before God. In His perfect humanity, He needed that. He needed time for quiet thought. He needed time to collect Himself. He needed time to brace Himself for the life that was coming, to realize the tremendous change that was on hand from the obscurity of Nazareth to the limelight of Jerusalem. It was a time of preparation.

And you know, this was His strength. He was so prepared for the conflict with Satan that by the time it came, Satan was hopeless, didn’t have a chance. Jesus had spent that time with the Father as an example to us, that when we are in time with the Father, preparing ourselves for the conflict and the contention of the adversary, it is certainly ineffective. That’s why the Bible says, “Watch and pray.” Not only watch for Satan, but be in communion with God all the time prior to Satan’s temptations. And so Jesus was.

I might add at this point just a thought that fits into this point, and that is that the greatest enemy of the Christian is spiritual unpreparedness. It’s a failure to be ready for temptation. That’s our greatest enemy. We’re just not ready for it. We’re not ready for it because we’re not watching for it. And secondly, we’re not praying. We’re not in constant communion with God. Peter illustrates this graphically…so perfectly. Peter was just a tremendous apostle, and he loved to be where Jesus was. But when he got removed from the presence of Christ, he faltered and fell and stumbled and denied Him. And the same thing is true with us. As long as we’re focusing on Jesus Christ, there’s resource. But as soon as we stop praying…that is, we stop that constant communion with Him…we are vulnerable.

Now, I want you to notice the tempter. It says He was led into the wilderness to be tested by the Devil, by the Devil. Satan is real. There’s no question about it. I’m sure you remember the old story of the ink stain on the wall of Martin Luther’s room in the castle of Wartburg in Germany. There’s a great big ink stain there, and it was caused by Luther one night was being tempted by the Devil, and he picked up his ink well and threw it at him. That’s how vivid the Devil was to Martin Luther. He’s a vivid adversary. He’s real. He is the tempter in every case. God never tempts. No man is tempted of God. The Devil goes around doing the tempting.

So we see the place and the person. The place: the wilderness. The person: the devil. Notice the plan. Here comes the strategy. Verse 2, “And when He had fasted 40 days and 40 nights, He was afterward hungry.” Now, Jesus had been fasting for 40 days, and as Luke puts it in his gospel account, “When they were quite ended, He was afterward hungered.” Evidently, what this means was that Jesus never even sensed hunger during those 40 days. 40 days without eating anything, and He had no hunger. You say, “How did that work?” I believe God gave Him supernatural endurance, supernatural endurance. During those 40 days, He was tempted…not just at the end of it, but during those 40 days…for both Mark and Luke say that He was tempted for 40 days. All that temptation, in the midst of His communion with the Father and His tremendous hunger, and He never sensed it. He was never conscious of it. I believe God gave Him a supernatural ability to sustain Himself without hunger.

Now, I want you to notice Satan’s approach. The temptations that Satan brings Christ…and there’s gonna be three of them, and I’m gonna open up some new areas of it, I hope, to you tonight. But the temptations that come could only come to Jesus Christ. They couldn’t come to me or you. I would not accept the temptation to jump off the pinnacle of the temple. No way. I could not possibly accept such temptations because I can’t make stones into bread, nor could I possess the kingdoms of the world. They are not temptations that are universal for all of us. But I want you to see a fantastic lesson here: Satan tempts us at the point of our own abilities. Did you get that? Well, that’s important. We are tempted through our gifts. The temptation was the problem, for Jesus, the temptation was the problem of what to do with supernatural power. And so it could only come to one who was supernatural. The temptations that come to us are what to do with our gifts and our abilities. We’re always tempted according to our gifts and our abilities.

For example, the person who’s gifted with charm will attempt to use that charm to get what he wants. The person who’s gifted with the power of words will be tempted to use his command of words to produce glib excuses to justify his conduct. The person with a vivid and sensitive imagination will undergo agonies of temptation that a more stolid person will never experience. A person with great gifts of mind and intellect will be tempted to use them for himself to become the master, not the servant, of men. And this is even true in spiritual gifts, my friends. If a person has the spiritual gift of teaching, he will be tempted to lord it over others. If a person has the spiritual gift of whatever the case may be…the spiritual gift of healing, even, in the New Testament, he would tend to exalt himself. Some of them in Corinth, evidently, had the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues, and they turned it into a joke as they made a mockery out of it. We can take the spiritual gifts that God gives us, and we will find that Satan will tempt us right at the point of our gift to misuse it, because it’s the one thing we do effectively, to misuse it for our own glory.

It is always the fact…and the grim fact it is…that in temptation, it is where we are the strongest that we must forever be on the watch. Satan does not want to lessen our strength at the point of our gift. He wants to use our strength for his advantage, see. If you do something well, my friend, that’s exactly what Satan wants you to do, only he wants you to do it for him.

Now, we’ve seen the preparation. Let’s look at the temptation beginning in verse 3. “When the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.’ But He answered and said, ‘It is written: Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.'” Now, there’s temptation number one, Satan gets Him. First of all, Satan says “if”. He always plants that doubt. “If you are the Son of God, then do this.” And the if could just as well be translated since. I mean, “If You’re making these claims or since You’re making these claims to be the Son of God, why don’t you prove it.” That’s the way he always does it, sticks the doubt in there, “Oh, you better prove it. You better verify it. It might not be so.” If he can create doubt, he’s got a foot in the door. He tempts us to doubt. He suggests again and again to our minds that terrible if, harassing our souls with fear, the doubts of God’s love, the doubts of God’s revelation, the doubt that we’re really saved and many other doubts.

Now, he knew that Jesus was God’s Son, and Jesus knew that Jesus was God’s Son, but Satan still began with a seed of doubt, and oh, he uses doubt. Then comes the temptation itself, and look it, he told Him to make bread, “Turn those stones into bread.” Now, it has been said that this is a temptation of the flesh, that what really is involved here is he’s saying to Christ: “You’re hungry, so make some bread.” Well, the only problem with that is, if that’s all there is to this temptation, it’s no sin. What’s the sin of divine power making a little bread and eating it? There’s no sin there. Nothing wrong with eating. It’s not the lust of the flesh to have a little bread. There’s far more to this. If the only temptation was the temptation to eat bread, then there’s not even a temptation there because there’s no sin involved unless of course it was gluttony, and Jesus was gonna stuff Himself with bread, which is highly unlikely.

But let me show you what Satan’s saying here. You might word his temptation like this: “Jesus, did God say, ‘Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased?’ Did He say that? And then did God say, ‘You shall not eat?’ Why, that’s really strange, Jesus, that God would say, ‘Oh, You’re my beloved Son,’ and then He would deprive You of food. That’s kinda strange. I mean, no loving father’s gonna deprive his child of food. Why should you starve in the wilderness, Jesus? Why, you have the power as God’s beloved Son to turn the stones to bread. I mean, didn’t history justify it, Jesus? Didn’t God give His people manna in the wilderness? Didn’t God say, ‘I will rain bread from heaven for you’? Did God, through Isaiah, say, ‘They shall not hunger or thirst’? Didn’t God feed His people by repeated miracles in the wilderness? If God did all that for His people, my, couldn’t You do one little miracle and make a little bread? It seems like no big deal. Well, what would’ve become of God’s plan for Israel?”, Satan’s thinking. “If they’d all died in the wilderness. God had to feed ’em, you know, gotta take care of ’em. I mean, what would become of God’s plan for the Messiah if you just die out here without food. You better make some bread there, Jesus.”

You see, the point of the temptation is not the feeding of the hunger. It’s the suggestion that what is going on is incompatible with Jesus being the Son of God. Do you see that? Satan is saying, “If you’re the Son of God, what are you doing being hungry? God has fed His people all throughout the centuries. You’re out here starving, and You’re the most beloved of anyone.” You see, here’s what Satan’s trying to do…watch it, mark it down. This is a temptation to exercise personal, selfish authority to do what would satisfy His own wants. See, He felt hungry at this time. He was hungry. And this was a temptation to be selfish. Satan was saying, in effect, “You were born in a stable, but You’re the Son of God. You were hurried off to Egypt for fear of Herod’s wrath, but You’re the Son of God. A carpenter’s roof supplied You with a home in the obscurity of a despicable town in Galilee. You spent 30 years, but You are the Son of God. A voice from heaven proclaimed it in Your ears at the Jordan. You’re the Son of God. Listen, Son of God, what are You doing hungry? See? You’ve suffered enough indignity, Son of God. If You’re the Son of God, grab some satisfaction. Why linger for weeks in this desert, wandering among these wild beasts and craggy rocks, unhonored, unattended, unpitied, ready to starve for the necessities of life. Is this befitting the Son of God? Use Your authority. Make some bread.”

And after the temptation, Jesus says, “It is written,” – He always used the Scripture, didn’t He? “It is written,” – the Son of God, full of the Holy Spirit…mark it…uttered the first words of His ministry, three words. You know what they were? It is…what? Written. Isn’t that what anybody’s ministry ought to be. That’s how He began His ministry. “It is written.” That’s a biblical ministry. He relied on Scriptures. What did David say? “Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.” “He answered and said, ‘It is written: man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.'” What’s He saying here? What’s He saying here? Listen. He’s pointing to the fact that food won’t keep a man alive unless God says he’s to live. You know that. You can eat all the bread you want, and if God says you die, you die, with or without bread. And you can eat no bread, and if God says you live, you live. Right? You don’t live by bread. You live by every word that proceedeth, what? Out of the mouth of God. God determines whether you live or die, not bread. Boy, what an answer. What an answer.

Jesus was saying this: “God wills that I live. And if God wills that I live, I will live, bread or no bread.” See? Tremendous truth. Jesus says this…now, here’s His answer: “I will not work a miracle,” – you get this – “which God has not willed in order to effect what God has willed.” See? “I will not take God’s control out of His hands and control my own life.” That’s what Jesus says. “I await my Father’s divine supply. When God’s ready to give me bread, I’ll have all the bread I need and not until.” You see, Jesus will not exercise His own will to supersede the will of God. You see it there? That’s it. that’s the whole key. Christ said this: “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me. I don’t need bread. If God says I live, I live if I never eat another loaf.” That’s tremendous truth.

The lesson is simple. Philippians 4:19, “But my God shall supply all your needs.” That’s it. We don’t need to get uptight about it, say, “Oh, God, I don’t have all my needs, God. I’m gonna have to grab a little satisfaction, God. _______ getting rough out here.” Jesus said, “No, my circumstances may be terrible. My life may be going down the drain.” Satan comes and says, “Hey, Your life’s really messed up, man. It’s a sad life, lots of tragedy. Whew, it’s not going good. Grab a little satisfaction. Live it up. Go over here. Mmm mmm, looks good.” See? And _______ steps back and says, “No, sir, Satan. I will never supersede the will of God. He’ll supply.”

Oh, how many times have we been tempted to run ahead of God, huh? How many times? “God, this is what I need. I’m gonna go get it.” See. “My God shall supply half of your needs,” right? All of ’em. All of ’em. God’s end does not justify any means. No, it doesn’t do it.

The lesson in this temptation is a beautiful one, so simple. “In God’s time, and in God’s way, He’ll supply. And it’s not for me, even the Son of God, to presume on God’s supply. I cannot do it. It is not my prerogative. I will live by the mouth of God, not by my own making of bread.” Now, Satan’ll tempt you that way. That’s the lust of the flesh. Did you know that? That’s exactly what it is. You know what the lust of the flesh is? “Oh, I need that. My body needs that.” See? And you stop trusting the supply of God, and you grab for something that God doesn’t want you to have.

Now, watch the second temptation and how he builds it on the first one. The second temptation comes in verses 5, 6 and 7. “Then the Devil taketh Him up into a holy city, Jerusalem, setteth Him on a pinnacle of the temple and saith unto Him, ‘If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down, for it is written: He shall give His angels charge concerning Thee, and in their hands, they shall bear Thee up lest that any time, Thou dash Thy foot against a stone.’ Jesus said unto Him: ‘It is written again: thou shalt not put the Lord thy God to the test.'” Oh, this is tremendous. The Devil comes back, and the Devil is sharp. He is really sharp. He’s the second sharpest. He knows what he’s doing. And he comes back with this very subtle approach.

Now, watch this. The Devil, once again, insinuates the doubt about Christ being the Son of God by adding the word “if” there in verse 6, though he knows it, and Christ knows it. But he says, in effect…here’s what’s in the Devil’s thoughts, “If Christ will not prove His messiah-ship by working a miracle to save Himself from starving to death…if He won’t do this Himself, maybe He’ll prove His messiah-ship by letting God work a miracle.” Mmm. You see the problem in the first temptation was Christ would be doing a miracle independently, right – independent of God’s will. So He wouldn’t do it. So Satan comes back and says, “Hey, Christ, why don’t You just get God to do a miracle Himself? And see, that eliminates the problem with the first temptation, doesn’t it? You don’t have to do it, Jesus. All you gotta do is just, hmm, swan dive off the pinnacle, and God will do the miracle.” Mmm, that’s a pretty subtle temptation because it eliminates the problem with the first temptation.

But you wanna know something? This is a worse temptation. This is a worse sin. This is a terrible sin. You say, “What’s the sin here?” Well, in eliminating the problem with the first temptation, you know what you’ve done in this case? You’ve put God to the test. You’ve said, “Okay, God, here I go. You better do it.” You ever done that with God? “God, I’ll give you ’til next Tuesday. God, the phone rings in the next two hours, I’ll know it’s Your will.” You ever put God to the test? You say, “But I put out a fleece.” Don’t get upset about that fleece thing. That happened once. Special miracle God took care of. Not all of us can put out a fleece. Listen, you don’t…that’s called presuming on God. “God, I got myself into this mess. Now, get me out.”

You see, Jesus would be tempting God. He would be putting Himself in a position where God had to get Him out of there, and that is the gross kind of sin. As the psalmist prayed, “Lord, keep me back from presumptuous sins.” Don’t ever test God. Don’t ever test God. This is the sin of presuming on God. Don’t ever push God into a corner and say, “Now, God, you’ve gotta get me out of this.” Don’t tempt God. So many times as Christians, we do that. We go some place where we don’t have any business being. You say, “Well, I’m here God. Could you get me out of this mess.” See? What are you doing there in the first place? Or, “God, I’ve really been going down the drain. Here I am down here at the bottom level of the drain. God, will you get me out of here?” Well, what are you doing down there to start with? You’re doubly sinning, not only in the sin but in the presumption that you put yourself in that place willingly and then with the thing in mind, “Well, God will get me out of this.” Don’t presume on God. God is not your utilitarian genie.

There’s another thought here too. This temptation is not only presuming on God, but it’s taking the easy road to success. I mean, let’s face it. A prodigious sign like, you know, diving off the pinnacle of the temple and just coming to a nice soft landing on your feet carried down by angels would…you know, I mean, that would do it. You know, the whole town would say, “Ooh, ooh, that’s the Messiah.” There wouldn’t be any doubt about that. Because, you see, the Jewish people knew that Malachi said, “The Lord whom you seek shall suddenly come to His temple.” And you can just imagine, you know, they knew Malachi’s prophesy, and there He comes, see.

And all these false Messiahs promised to do that. Theutusled the people out, and he was gonna do a great miracle. He was gonna split the Jordan. He led the whole population of Jerusalem out and made a great motion to split the Jordan, but it didn’t split…obviously. Then the famous Egyptian pretender in Acts, chapter 21, I think it is, promised with a word that he’d lay flat the walls of Jerusalem. That didn’t work either. Simon Maguspromised to dive off the pinnacle of the temple. He did, and there was nothing wrong with the dive, but the landing messed him all up.

But you see, Jesus could have come off the pinnacle of that temple, and He would have been immediately accepted. But you wanna know something? Now, listen to this…He didn’t come to be accepted. He came for one reason – to die. He came to be rejected. You read Isaiah 53. He came to be rejected. He didn’t come for a popularity contest. He came to be killed. So if he’d had fallen into this temptation, He would have bypassed the cross. He would have sinned in perverting the reason of His coming. Public acceptance would have been what He was after, and that’s not the case.

You know, whenever you attract a crowd with sensations, all you get is a sensation-seeking crowd, and you gotta have a bigger one tomorrow, or you can’t keep ’em. His followers would have been lovers of sensation and not lovers of God. Remember in John 6:26, when the multitude followed Him across the Sea of Galilee, they all came running up, and Jesus said to them, “You seek Me because you want the food.”

You don’t use God’s power to test God. Oh, no. There’s no point, my friends, in seeing how far you can go with God, no point at all. There’s no reason to put yourself deliberately in some threatening situation, do it recklessly and needlessly and expect God to rescue you from it. That’s tempting God. God expect the Son of Man, and God expects you and I to take risks for Him, but He doesn’t expect us to take risks just to enhance our own prestige. Faith which depends on signs and sensations isn’t faith at all. If you can’t believe without sensations…if you can’t just trust God without putting yourselves in strange positions and then begging God to get you out, then you don’t understand what faith is. Faith that doesn’t believe without sensations isn’t faith; it’s doubt looking for proof and looking in the wrong place. So Jesus refused the way of sensation, and He refused to put God on the spot. He refused to say, “God, if you don’t act by this in this way and this way and that way, I’m not gonna believe You.” He would not do that. He didn’t want to pervert the plan of God and didn’t want to tempt God.

Satan tried a third temptation, verses 8 and 9. “Then the Devil taketh Him up into an exceedingly high mountain and showeth Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them and saith unto Him, ‘All these things will I give Thee if Thou wilt fall down and worship me.'” Now, asJesus came to save the world. That’s right. Didn’t God say in Psalm 2:8, “Ask of me and I will give Thee the heathen for Thy inheritance and the uttermost part of the earth for Thy possession”? Didn’t He say that to His Son? Didn’t God say, “I’ll give You the world”? Came for the world. Satan says, “I’ll give You the world. Here it is. You want the world? See it all? You can have it.” “What do I have to do to get it?” “Bow down to me.”

You see, that’s getting the right end but the wrong way. That’s called compromise. Compromise. Satan says, “Come to terms with me, and I’ll give you the same thing you’re looking for anyway.” Oh, boy, compromise. Satan tempts to compromise so often. So many Christians compromise, flirting with Satan and flirting with the world and entertaining the world and the world’s attitudes and the world’s desires and the world’s objects. “Come to terms with me,” Satan says, “and I’ll give you what you want. Don’t put your demands so high. Wink a little bit at evil and questionable things. You know, lots of people are doing ’em.” The temptation was to advance by retreating, to change the world by becoming like the world, and it doesn’t work.

Satan is saying to Jesus, in effect, “Look, why fight it all Your life. Why don’t You have me as an ally?” See? A triumphant progress to supreme earthly power and such glory as no Jew or Gentile ever dreamed of could have been Jesus that day. All He would have had to do was bow to Satan, and He wouldn’t do it, of course because God only should be worshipped. Verse 10, “Then saith Jesus unto him, ‘Be gone, Satan. Get out of here. For it is written: Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.'” Jesus wouldn’t take any shortcut to the kingdom, not at all.

And I’ll tell you, friends, Satan will tempt you to shortcut. He’ll tempt you so often that way. He’ll tempt you to bypass the consistent Christian life to get something that you don’t need until God’s good time and God’s good way to give it to you. There’s no shortcut to God’s will.

Just wrapping up our thoughts: Jesus experienced the ultimate in temptation, and I wanna show you why. Satan tempts us until we yield. You know that. He just keeps tempting and tempting and tempting until we finally collapse. Now, watch this. Jesus never yielded. You know what that means? That means because He never yielded, He took all the temptation that Satan could possibly give. Satan kept tempting; He never yielded. You see, as soon as you yield, the temptation stops, right? Because Jesus never yielded, He took all the temptation that was possible to give. He took every bit of it. He had the ultimate in temptation. He declared His trust in God and said, “God will not let me starve. I don’t need to make bread.”

The evil one then suggested, “You show Your trust in a stronger way. You trust God; oh, that’s terrific. Show how much you trust Him by diving off here,” and the Lord says, “I will not put God to the test. I already trust Him. I don’t need to test Him.” Do you get that? Any Christian that comes along and says, “Well, God, You gotta prove Yourself by next Thursday or this by two hours by now or You gotta show me this or something’s gotta fall out of the sky or let the phone ring or have a card come in the mail or this…”, you’re just putting God to the test and indicating you don’t believe.

And then the evil one comes and says, “Well, why don’t You just align with me, and You won’t have to fight it?” And Jesus says, “No, I’ll worship God, and I’ll face the peril of death.” He refuses an alliance with Satan, chooses obedience and loyalty to God, whatever the cost may be.

Now, what are the lessons for us here? Three lessons. Number one, Satan tempted Christ, and He’ll tempt you – watch it – to distrust the providential care of God. Did you get that? He’ll tempt you to distrust the providential care of God and make you think you’ve gotta get it all in yourself, provide for yourself, make sure you got it all in control, to distrust the providential care of God. God’ll take care of you. He promised. How stupid to take up your own problems. How stupid to become neurotic. Every time I get an ad comes on my desk, and it has on it, “Christian Counseling Clinic,” I say, “No, that’s not right.” It oughta be called the “Doubters Counseling Clinic” because if you trust God, what are you gonna worry about? Satan will tempt you to distrust the providential care of God.

Second thing he’ll tempt you to do – get this – he will tempt you to presume on God. Presumption or wanton appeal to promised safety. I always think of the illustration of 1 Samuel 4. Remember the children of Israel fighting the Philistines, a big war, conflict. Israel was losing, hadn’t paid attention to God in years. But they were losing badly. You know what happens when you really get into a bad thing, and you start losing, all the sudden you think about God. “Whoa, we’ve gotta get God? somebody…where’s God? God’s over there in Shiloh where the Ark is. Oh, go get God.” They run back to get the Ark, run out, the Ark is here, “Hooray, hooray,” and everybody’s yelling, “Hooray, hooray, hooray.” Guess what happened? The Philistines stole the Ark. God doesn’t operate like that, see. God does not operate like that. You do not presume on God. God wrote one word over Israel in that chapter, and that word was Ichabod, and that means “the glory has departed.” God says, “I’m not there anymore, folks. Sorry. I’m gone.”

The third thing Satan’s gonna tempt you to do is this – listen to it. Satan will tempt you to ambition and to fulfill that ambition in his way, not God’s way. Remember James and John sent their mother to Jesus. Real, mmm, men’s men. “Mother, would you go ask Jesus if we could be if we could be on each side of Him in the Kingdom?” So mother comes to Jesus, says, “Can my boys on each side of the Kingdom…each side of You in the Kingdom?” Jesus says, “Do you think they could bear what I’m gonna bear?” You see, that wasn’t the way to get the goal. Jesus said, “He that is least among you shall be greatest in the Kingdom.” You don’t seek the elevated position. God’s way is to be humble.

Judas…Judas wanted the Kingdom. He wanted to be part of the Kingdom, only he went the wrong way. He went Satan’s way to get what he thought he wanted. If he’d done it God’s way, he would have inherited the Kingdom forever, wouldn’t he? Instead, the Bible says he hanged himself. The rope broke, and he dashed his body against the rocks below, and he went to his own place. That’s hell.

And so Satan will tempt you to distrust the providential care of God. He will tempt you to presume on God, and he will tempt you to ambition to fulfill it in his way, not God’s way. Isn’t it easy to do that? Even good things, like wanting to be a success in the ministry, and Satan will try to get you to do it your own way with your own ideas and your own message, bypassing the faithful ministry of the Word of God and the things that the Spirit leads.

Well, in this kind of temptation, to whom do we turn? We’re gonna get this temptation. We get it everyday. Well, where do we go? We go to Jesus Christ, whom on all points was tempted like as we are, yet was without sin. And as long as we keep our eyes on Him, we know He’s got the victory for us. Get your eyes off the things of the world. Keep ’em on Jesus Christ. You say, “We can’t go through the world with blinders on.” Oh, yes you can. You don’t need to stand around drooling at the world’s entertainments, the world’s baubles, the things that Satan dangles in front of your eyes, then wondering why you fall.

Well, we see the preparation and the temptation. Look at the triumph, very quickly, verse 10: “And said Jesus unto him, ‘Be gone, Satan.'” Boy, who was in control of this one? “Be gone, Satan.” Remember another time, He said, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” He had pretty good control over Satan. “For it is written: thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve. Get out.” Oh, I like it. Remember, Romans chapter 16 tells us that for the believer, you know where Satan is? The Bible says in Romans 16, he’s under your feet. I don’t know what that does to you, but it makes me wanna go stomp about ten times every minute. Whenever Satan gets on me…I kinda have practical about that. Whenever Satan gets going on me, I just get out of my chair and start stomping on the floor. Take that. And I say, with Jesus Christ, “Be gone, Satan. Get out.”

May I add this thought? Jesus and Satan don’t occupy the same heart at the same time. You know that? If your heart and mind is filled with the presence of Jesus Christ, there’s no room for Satan there. See, that’s why the Christian life boils down to that: Christ-consciousness, keeping your eyes on Him, focusing on Him, thinking about Him. You say, “Can you do that all the time?” No, you just do it one moment at a time. That’s all. That’s all. When my wife says to me, “Do you love me?” She doesn’t want me to say, “I don’t know. Hit me in five years.” No, she wants to be loved right now. God doesn’t want you to say, “Some day, God, I’m gonna…” No, right now, right now, right now. Your whole life is lived now. When I got married, went down the aisle, “Do you promise to love this woman ’til death do you part?” I mean, I could say I promise, but I don’t know. I might not like her in two weeks. I haven’t even lived with her. So I thought to myself, “Well, I can’t love her forever ’cause I…I don’t know. I just love her right now.” You know what, that now is still going on, and it’s better than it ever was. And you know, she doesn’t wanna be loved in the past or the future. She wants to be loved now. And the Christian life is practice the presence of Jesus Christ. When? Yesterday? No. Tomorrow? No. What? Now. Now. Set your mind on Him right now. That’s all. Keep your eyes on the Master. And you can say with Him, “Be gone, Satan. Be gone.”

Oh, and then I love verse 11. Oh, this is so good. “Then the Devil leaveth Him.” What else could he do? And watch this: “And behold, angels came and ministered unto Him.” See, what did they have? Bread. Lots of bread and other delicious things. And they must have cared for His physical needs and just gave Him rest and comfort. Listen, don’t worry about God taking care of you, brother. If you can just bypass the temptation, in God’s good time, He’ll minister to you, every need you have in this world. So Jesus dismisses Satan. He’s defeated but not destroyed. He’ll be back. He’ll be back. And the Word of God says, “The angels came, and they ministered to Him.” Listen, God takes care of His own. In God’s good time, every need of Jesus was met. And so will yours be, won’t they. All in God’s good time. Don’t presume on Him. Don’t distrust His providential care. And don’t try to get there your own way or Satan’s way. Just wait. Trust Him. He’ll bring it to pass.

Jesus Christ was then exalted and lifted on high. At the end of His ministry, all the temptations ceased, and someday that will happen to us. We’ll be exalted to be with Christ, and all temptation will pass away.

Now, remember this passage, and remember this: this is Jesus’ spiritual biography. You know how we know about this passage? Jesus must have told Matthew and Mark and Luke. He must have told them His personal conflict with Satan. Nobody else was there, were they? This is Jesus’ spiritual biography. He was laying bare the inmost attitudes of His heart. And Jesus was saying, “I’ve been there. I’ve been there. And I can take you, in the midst of your temptation, and I can help you because I’ve been there.” Jesus draws the veil back from His own struggle, that we may see Him in His glory and that we may join in His victory over temptation.

Watch, your eye on Satan. Pray, constant communion with God, never ceasing, the presence of Jesus Christ pervading my thoughts. That is how to overcome temptation. You say, “Well, I can’t seem to keep Jesus in my thoughts. I can’t think about that all the time. I mean, I…how do you keep it in your mind?” I’ll tell you how. You see this book? You hide it in your heart. You know something, the more you read this, the more it’s running around in your brains, you know that. You know, I have just realized this in the last few years of my ministry. Just about 24 hours a day, my brain is jammed with biblical truth. It’s running around in there all the time. And I praise God for it because the hardest times that I have as a believer is when I go on vacation, both days. And I just have to get away from the Word, and other thoughts start coming into my mind that Satan can use to begin to apply temptation. And I am driven back to the Word of God to begin to read it, that God’s thoughts might be in my mind.

Listen, folks, you start the day with something of God’s book. Get some of God’s thoughts in your mind. Then go out to meet the adversary. Makes all the difference in the world. A believer’s watchfulness is like a soldier. A soldier’s on the sentinel, let’s say, and he’s outside, and he’s watching the enemy, see. The enemy’s coming toward the fort. What does the guard do? Does he stand out there and fight the whole army? Not if he’s smart, he doesn’t. He runs inside and reports to the commanding officer. You know what a Christian does? The same thing. That’s what I’ve learned to do. “Hey, Lord, here he comes again. Get him.” See? “I can’t do it, Lord. I can’t do it. But You can.” I’m gonna get in on it if I can. Watch. As soon as you see him coming, “Lord.” Watch and pray. See? “God, here comes the adversary.” So the Christian doesn’t attempt to fight temptation in his own strength. His watchfulness is an observing the approach of the enemy and reporting to the commander. That’s prayer. And He can give the victory, can’t He? Let’s watch, and let’s pray.

And then James adds this, “Resist the Devil…”, if you’ve gotten to him, and you’ve resisted him, “and he will…”, what, “flee from you.”

Your First Step of Discipleship

God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love — like Christ in everything” (Ephesians 4:15 MSG).

God wants you to grow up: “We are not meant to remain as children” (Ephesians 4:14a Phillips).

Your heavenly Father’s goal for you is to mature and develop the characteristics of Jesus Christ, living a life of love and humble service. Sadly, millions of Christians grow older but never grow up.

They’re stuck in perpetual spiritual infancy, remaining in diapers and booties. The reason is because they never intended to grow. Spiritual growth is not automatic; it takes an intentional commitment. You must want to grow, decide to grow, make an effort to grow, and persist in growing.

Discipleship is the process of becoming like Christ, and it always begins with a decision:“‘Follow me and be my disciple,’ Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him”(Matthew 9:9b NLT, second edition).

When the first disciples chose to follow Jesus, they didn’t understand all the implications of their decision. They simply responded to Jesus’ invitation.

That’s all you need to get started: Decide to become a disciple.

 

Talk It Over

  • Think of the moment when you chose to follow Jesus. What did you understand about what it meant to be a believer?
  • What are some of the characteristics of Jesus that God has been developing in you?
  • How do you want God to work in your life? Take some time to pray, and ask God to grow you in these areas — and for trust and patience as he does it in his time.

Create a Spiritual Growth Chart

“It’s crucial that we keep a firm grip on what we’ve heard so that we don’t drift off”(Hebrews 2:1 MSG).

As you grow to spiritual maturity, you will have to cooperate with God in the process.

One way to do that is to believe God is working in your life, even when you don’t feel it. Spiritual growth is sometimes tedious work, one small step at a time. Expect gradual improvement. The Bible says, “Everything on earth has its own time and its own season” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 CEV).

There are seasons in your spiritual life, too. Sometimes you will have a short, intense burst of growth (springtime) followed by a period of stabilizing and testing (fall and winter).

What about those problems, habits, and hurts you would like miraculously removed? It’s fine to pray for a miracle, but don’t be disappointed if the answer comes through a gradual change. Over time, a slow, steady stream of water will erode the hardest rock and turn giant boulders into pebbles. Over time, a little sprout can turn into a giant redwood tree towering 350 feet tall.

Keep a notebook or journal of lessons learned. This is not a diary of events, but a record of what you are learning. Write down the insights and life lessons God teaches you about him, yourself, life, relationships, and everything else. Record these so you can review and remember them and pass them on to the next generation (Psalm 102:18; 2 Timothy 3:14).

The reason we must relearn lessons is that we forget them. Reviewing your spiritual journal regularly can spare you a lot of unnecessary pain and heartache. The Bible says, “It’s crucial that we keep a firm grip on what we’ve heard so that we don’t drift off” (Hebrews 2:1 MSG).

Talk It Over

  • How have you seen yourself grow in spiritual maturity in the last month? The last year?
  • What season of spiritual growth are you in right now?
  • What are some ways that you can keep a spiritual journal without having to use pen and paper?

How to Remove and Replace Your Old Habits

“Practice these things. Devote your life to them so that everyone can see your progress” (1 Timothy 4:15).

While you were given a brand new nature at the moment of conversion, you still have old habits, patterns, and practices that need to be removed and replaced.

Let go of the fears that keep you from growing. The truth will set us free, but it often makes us miserable first. The fear of what we might discover if we honestly faced our character defects keeps us living in the prison of denial. Only as God is allowed to shine the light of his truth on our faults, failures, and hang-ups can we begin to work on them. This is why you cannot grow without a humble, teachable attitude.

Stop basing your identity around your “defects.” We say, “It’s just like me to be …” and “It’s just the way I am.” The unconscious worry is that if I let go of my habit, my hurt, or my hang-up, who will I be? This fear can definitely slow down your growth.

As I wrote yesterday, good habits take time to develop. Remember that your character is the sum total of your habits. You can’t claim to have integrity unless it is your habit to always be honest. A husband who is faithful to his wife most of the time is not faithful at all! Your habits define your character.

Remember: You have to practice every day the habits that will make you more like Christ.

“Devote your life to them so that everyone can see your progress” (1 Timothy 4:15b GW).

Talk It Over

  • What bad habit have you let define you?
  • How can you humble yourself and show God that you are ready to face your hang-ups?
  • What do you need to change about your life — your schedule, who you hang out with, how you spend your free time, etc. — so that you can work every day to develop better habits?

God Grows Us One Step at a Time

“So get rid of your old self, which made you live as you used to — the old self that was being destroyed by its deceitful desires. Your hearts and minds must be made completely new, and you must put on the new self, which is created in God’s likeness and reveals itself in the true life that is upright and holy” (Ephesians 4:22-24 TEV).

Although God could instantly transform us, he has chosen to develop us slowly. Jesus was deliberate in developing his disciples, just as God allowed the Israelites to take over the Promised Land “little by little” so they wouldn’t be overwhelmed (Deuteronomy 7:22). He prefers to work in incremental steps in our lives.

Why does it take so long to change and grow up? There are several reasons:

  • We are slow learners. We often have to relearn a lesson 40 or 50 times to really get it. The problems keep recurring, and we think, “Not again! I’ve already learned that!” But God knows better. The history of Israel illustrates how quickly we forget the lessons God teaches us and how soon we revert to our old patterns of behavior. We need repeated exposure.
  • We have a lot to unlearn. Since most of our problems — and all of our bad habits — didn’t develop overnight, it’s unrealistic to expect them go away immediately. There is no pill, prayer, or principle that will instantly undo the damage of many years. It requires the hard work of removal and replacement. The Bible calls it “taking off the old self” and “putting on the new self” (Romans 13:12; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:7-10, 14).
  • Growth is often painful and scary. There is no growth without change; there is no change without fear or loss; and there is no loss without pain. Every change involves a loss of some kind. We fear these losses, even if our old ways were self-defeating, because, like a worn-out pair of shoes, they were at least comfortable and familiar.
  • Good habits take time to develop. Remember that your character is the sum total of your habits. You can’t claim to be kind unless you are habitually kind. Your habits define your character.

There is only one way to develop the habits of Christ-like character: You must practice them — and that takes time! There are no instant habits. Paul urged Timothy, “Practice these things. Devote your life to them so that everyone can see your progress” (1 Timothy 4:15 GW).

Talk It Over

  • Why do you think God allows us to go through pain and loss while we are growing spiritually?
  • What is the bad habit that you’ve had trouble changing in your life?
  • What one thing do you need to practice doing every day so that you are developing Christ-like character?

There Are No Shortcuts to Spiritual Maturity

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT, second edition).

It takes years for us to grow to adulthood, and it takes a full season for fruit to mature and ripen. The same is true for the fruit of the Spirit. The development of Christ-like character cannot be rushed. Spiritual growth, like physical growth, takes time.

Before Christ invades our lives at conversion, he sometimes has to “soften us up” by allowing problems we can’t handle. While some open their lives to Christ the first time he knocks on the door, most of us are resistant and defensive. Our pre-conversion experience is Jesus saying, “Behold! I stand at the door and bomb!”

The moment you open yourself to Christ, God gets a “foothold” in your life. You may think you have surrendered all your life to him, but the truth is, there’s a lot to your life that you aren’t even aware of. You can only give God as much of you as you understand at that moment. That’s okay.

Once Christ is given a foothold, he begins the campaign to take over more and more territory until all of your life is completely his. There will be struggles and battles, but the outcome will never be in doubt. God has promised that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6 NIV).

Talk It Over

  • Describe your pre-conversion experience with the Lord. What did he allow to happen in your life that was meant to soften you up? How did you respond?
  • What are the areas of your life that you have not yet surrendered to the Lord?
  • What kind of fruit do you want God to produce in your life?

The Foolishness Of The World

If you have your Bibles this morning I’d like to ask you to turn to the first book of Corinthians and the first chapter. As I mentioned this morning, we are in a series dealing with the purpose of the church insofar as its message is concerned. This morning we talked about the fact that the message that the church preaches is a divisive message, that is that if the church is to really be the church the message that it preaches is going to divide people, that the church can never court the world it must be its antagonist. And then we presented the portion of Scripture in Matthew chapter 7 where we saw those who were religious people standing before the judgment seat of Christ…or I should say the judgment of Christ who were not able to enter the Kingdom of God because they had not fulfilled the requirement of doing the will of God. We found out then that Christ came not to bring peace but a sword and that must be the message of the church in any age.

Tonight I want to take that a step further and I want to talk about the foolishness of the world and the foolishness of preaching. In 1 Corinthians chapter 1 beginning at verse 17, the Apostle Paul says this, “For Christ sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect, for the preaching of the cross is to them that are perishing foolishness, but unto us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign and the Greeks, or the Gentiles, seek after wisdom but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block and unto the Gentiles foolishness. But unto them who are called both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God because the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” May we pray.

Father, as we approach this most important passage, together may we see what is the message that we are to preach. May we see that preaching is an indispensable part of that which has been assigned to the church and that the message of the preacher must be the message of the cross. Perhaps tonight, Father, we shall see anew the cross, a glimpse of it that we have never seen before, to that end we pray and to the end that those who know not Christ might this night meet Him and be saved for it’s in His name we pray. Amen.

 

Verse 17, Paul says, “For Christ sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel not with wisdom of words lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.” Paul says that the issue of priority in the ministry is simply the issue of the cross. It is not to be set aside and substituted with the wisdom of words. Nothing is less important that when…than what you think or what I think. The thing that it is of priority is the cross of Jesus Christ, that is what He said. Christ said, “If I be lifted up I will draw all men unto Myself.”

Paul’s desire then was to set before men the cross of Christ in its simplicity. That was the message which he proclaimed. He didn’t want to decorate it with any cleverness. He didn’t want to add to it any little fancy words to make men think more of the language than the cross. He didn’t want to add dimensions to it that would make men think more of the speaker than of the message. He only wanted the cross of Christ to stand out. And he as a preacher of the gospel wanted to find his life hidden behind that cross so that he was totally invisible.

Now the situation in Corinth when this epistle was written was a very problematic situation. The Corinthian church was the most fouled up church in existence. Paul had to take the first great long series of chapters to tell them how messed up they were before he could even get in to how to help themselves. And they had one particular thing that was an issue in Corinth at that time and that was the idea that wisdom was all in all. It was a place of philosophers. And it was a place where people accepted other people on the basis of how delicately they could handle words. And the man who was articulate and clever in the way he said things would gain a great following for they sought after philosophy.

And as a result of that, if you’ll notice back in verse 12, well actually you can go clear back to verse 10 and he says there are divisions among you, and then when he comes to verse 12 he says, “Some of you are following Peter, some of you are following Apollos, some of you are following me, and some of Christ.” Now what was causing this division? Well it was simply this, they were among themselves deciding whose words they liked the best. Whoever sounded the wisest to them was the one they went after and it became sort of a contest where some would say, “Well Apollos is definitely the greatest preacher.” “No, no, no, Peter is the greatest preacher.” “No, no, no, Paul is the greatest.” “No, Christ even in all of the beautiful simplicity of His message He’s still the greatest.” And they were all divided over the issue of who was the most clever speaker. And wisdom was the big issue in Corinth and it had caused divisions.

The Apostle Paul says, “Wait a minute, folks, wisdom isn’t the issue at all. The issue is the cross of Jesus Christ. Wisdom has nothing to do with that. In fact, in the minds of men,” he says, “it’s foolishness.” All the wisdom of man is a futile attempt at anything.

Who was the wisest man who ever lived? Who was it? Solomon. “Who said, `Vanity, vanity, all is vanity?'” Solomon. Wisdom never brought Solomon anything but the realization that he didn’t have anything. Wisdom, the wiser he got allowed him to see that the more wisdom he had the better he was able to understand that he didn’t have anything. And he said, “I sought for wisdom but vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

Paul says, “I’m not coming to you with clever words, I’m coming to you with the cross of Jesus Christ. That’s my only message.” And I say to you right now as a pastor, that’s my only message. When the day comes that I start trying to entice you with clever words, that’s the day you can kick me out because that’s the day I’m through. The only message that I can proclaim and still be as God would have me to be is the cross of Jesus Christ, not clever words but the cross of Christ.

Then Paul uses a great preacher’s technique. Having mentioned the cross of Christ in verse 17, he sort of comes up in verse 18 with this, “By the way…” have you ever heard a preacher get off the subject? You see, he’s been talking about wisdom, hasn’t he? And he’s been talking about the divisions in Corinth. And he’s talking to a specific issue at Corinth and all of a sudden he says, “The cross of Christ…by the way, let me tell you about the cross of Christ.” I like that about Paul because I do that. He says, “By the way,” verse 18 to 25 is his aside, if you please.

The cross must be preached. It is the only standard and so in verses 18 to 25 Paul suggests three features of the preaching of the cross. Now you’re going to find out the longer you come here that I like to have three or four points that are very clear so that you can kind of have something in your brain to hang the truth on. If we can nail three little nails in your head then you can hang something on those and you can remember it a little better…at least I can, it helps me and I trust it will help you.

So Paul suggests three features of the preaching of the cross. First of all, he talks about the dynamic of the preaching of the cross. Then he talks about the demand for the preaching of the cross. And then he talks about the defiance toward those who preach the cross and toward the cross itself. The dynamic, the demand and the defiance and we’ll see these as we go from verse 18 through verse 23 in particular and then we’ll note verse 24 and 25.

First of all, then, the dynamic of the preaching of the cross is in verse 18. “For the preaching of the cross is to them that are perishing,” for it’s a linear tense, “foolishness, but unto us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Now the Greek word for power is dunamis, it’s the same word from which we get our word “dynamite.” The dynamite of the gospel is the cross, the dynamic of the gospel is the preaching of the cross.

Now you will notice that he says “for the preaching of the cross.” Now the word “preaching” is really not the right word for preaching, it is the word logos, a very familiar word to anyone who studied the Bible. It means the word of the cross. Now that’s a very important thing and I want you to see it because he has just said in verse 17 that I am not preaching the wisdom of…what?…words and now he makes a fantastic contrast in verse 18, “But I am preaching the word of the cross.”

Now I want you to catch something there initially. Did you notice that the wisdom of words is plural? Does that suggest a degree of confusion? Is there any more obvious characteristic of philosophy than words and more words and more words and more words? And is there anything more beautiful than the simplicity of that single word “the word of the cross?” Do you see the complexness of the wisdom of words that tangle in the very term? And all of a sudden Paul shifts gears in verse 18 and says, it’s not the words of the cross, it’s the simple unified concept of the cross itself. There’s a difference right there.

Now the term logosis very important. It doesn’t mean just word. There’s another Greek word for word itself and that’s the word rhema, that means just a word. Logosis something completely different. Logosmeans a body of truth, like if you go to your friend and you say, “Hey, give me the word,” which is common vernacular. “Hey what’s the word on so-and-so?” You don’t mean one word, do you? You mean the totality of truth about that certain thing. “Give me the word on this, or give the word on that,” you mean what about it in totality. And so the Greek term logosis the same thing. And what Paul is saying here is “For the word, or the totality of truth about the cross is the power of God.” It’s not just a wooden stick that’s the power of God. It’s the totality of that which surrounded the cross that is the power of God.

You remember in John’s gospel in the first chapter in the first section there he talks about the Word was made flesh. Now who is the Word there? Christ. Now do you see what he’s saying? He uses that same term logosbecause Christ was the totality of truth in human flesh, wasn’t He? He was the very embodiment of truth about God. He was the revelation of the self-disclosed God. He was God in human flesh. He was total God. And so John calls Him the logos. You see, the logos, John picked that term up from philosophy because to philosophers logoswas the whole truth about anything. And so God says…John says, “Are you looking for the whole truth about God? Look at Jesus, He is that logos, He is that body of total truth about God.” And here Paul picks it up again and he says this, “The logosor the total truth that has power is the cross.” And so it’s very important to realize what he’s saying here. The preaching of the cross is the only dynamic that the church of Jesus Christ has. It’s the only power to transform the souls of men. It’s the only thing, he says at the end of verse 18, that can save, the power of God. And so Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:2, “For I determined to know nothing among you save Christ and Him…what?…crucified.” And so he says in Galatians 6:14, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And he says in 1 Corinthians 15 and verse 3, “I delivered unto you first of all that which I received how that Christ died according to the Scriptures.” And he goes on to say He was buried and rose again the third day.

The preaching of the cross is the dynamic of salvation. Not only was this the burden of the heart of the Apostle Paul, but this was Peter’s message. And I want you to just grab your Bible and we’re just going to fly through a couple of chapters in the book of Acts because I think they’re important to us in this regard. And they’re much more important than anything I would have to say personally so let’s look right at what the Word says. And I want you to see there’s four sermons in Acts that Peter preached, four fantastic sermons, and I want you to see the theme of every single sermon and then I want you to file this concept in your brain for a few minutes later I’m going to come back to it and you’re going to see something really exciting about Peter.

In chapter 2 verse 22 Peter’s preaching and notice the theme of his message, “You men of Israel, hear these words, Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs which God did by Him in the midst of you as you yourselves also know Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God you have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” Now what’s the theme of that message? The cross.

Now watch his next message in the third chapter and notice verse 13. “The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers hath glorified His Son Jesus whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate when he was determined to let Him go and you denied the Holy One and the Just and desired a murderer to be granted unto you and kill the Prince of life.” There’s the same theme, the cross of Jesus Christ.

We’re not done. Look at Acts chapter 4, Peter is preaching again in verse 10, “Be it known unto you all and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified.” And he goes to talk about the resurrection, again the same theme.

And then you go over and you see him again in Acts chapter 10 and in verse 38 we read this, “How God,” and this time he’s preaching not to the Jews but he’s preaching to the Gentiles, “How God…particularly in the house of Cornelius…how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power who went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil for God was with Him and we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem whom they slew and hanged on a tree.”

What is the theme that recurs in every single sermon of Peter in the book of Acts? The cross of Jesus Christ. That is the only theme. It is always the cross in all of Scripture. Do you remember how that on the road to Emmaus in Luke chapter 24 Christ said, “O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken, ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” Do you know what the theme of the Old Testament is? The cross of Christ. Every single sacrifice in the Old Testament pointed to that final sacrifice.

The cross looks like idiocy to the world. It looks like pure foolishness but it is not. What looks like weakness is really the greatest power in all the universe, the cross of Christ. The word “foolishness” is an interesting verse…interesting word in verse 18, it’s the word, listen to this one, Greek, moron. It’s an interesting word. Do you know what it means? Stupid. You knew that.

Now the idea of stupid is the idea of pointless…pointless. And what they’re saying is…Paul is saying to people who don’t know Christ the cross is one great big pointless piece of stupidity, it’s a waste of time. You say, “Well why does the world say the cross is so pointless?” I’ll tell you why. What’s the world hung up on? Look back at verse 10 to 17, what’s the world’s problem? What did they…where are they searching for the answer, in what? In wisdom, aren’t they? They’re looking for the answer in human wisdom. And when somebody comes along and says it’s in the simplicity of the cross, they can’t buy that because it rejects all philosophy, it rejects all the books and treatises and theses and volumes that have ever been written, it’s too simple and looks stupid. It’s not even very profound to the observer.

But what looks like stupidity because it is not the wisdom of men is really the highest wisdom of God. Even religion, if you’ll notice, when man contrives his own religion, have you ever noticed how complex it gets? Have you ever talked to anybody who is in another religion or a cult or an occult or something else and have you ever tried to figure how out complex that whole situation is? Whenever man does anything he relies on his own wisdom and he comes up with some kind of a complex elaborate conglomeration leading nowhere. You see, man’s afraid that he’s going to have to crush his ego if he’s going to accept the simplicity of the cross. And you want to know something? He’s right, he’s going to have to crush his ego. There’s no place in the cross of Christ for your ego or mine.

That’s a hard thing for man to swallow. It’s too big a sacrifice and he can’t quite understand it. But, you see, that’s what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:14. You remember what he said? “The natural man understandeth…what?…not the things of God, to him they are…what?…foolishness.” Why? Because they’re spiritually discerned and Paul says he’s spiritually dead. And I always use the illustration, if you stick a dead man with a pin, what happens? Nothing happens. If anything does, you’re in a lot of trouble. Nothing happens. And the reason nothing happens is because to be dead is to be insensible to physical stimulus. The same thing is true in the spiritual world, did you know that? The unsaved man gets jabbed with spiritual truth and what happens? Nothing, he’s spiritually dead, he’s insensible. And so the cross looks to him like the greatest stupidity because it doesn’t require anything on the part of his brain or intellect or the wisdom of men. But the cross is still the theme. The cross based on the sacrificial plan of God from the beginning without the shedding of blood there was no remission for sin. From the time of Abel until 70 A.D. till the temple was destroyed by Titus, for those years all that time God had in motion a sacrificial system. You know why it stopped in 70 A.D.? Because that was after Christ died and there was no more need.

And, you know, you confront an orthodox Jew today and ask him one question that he’ll never be able to answer…ask him why they don’t sacrifice anymore? You and I know why. Because in the economy of God, Christ became that final sacrifice, the veil of the temple was rent and access was wide open, there’s no need of sacrifice anymore. And the book of Hebrews paints the picture, doesn’t it? We are under the blood of a new covenant, aren’t we? All the prefiguring and prophesying of the Old Testament points toward the cross of Christ. And did you know that the New Testament centers on that? Have you ever looked at the gospels? Two-fifths of Matthew deals with the events around the cross. Three-fifths of Mark deals with the events around the cross. One-third of Luke deals with the events around the cross. And one-half of John’s gospel deals with the events around the cross.

Paul gave priority to the cross, didn’t he? Peter gave priority to the cross. In Hebrews the writer gave priority to the cross, he said He put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Revelation 5:12, John says, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.” The cross is the reigning theme from one of the Bible to the other. Paul says it’s the message of the power of God. It’s the scarlet thread that runs from the beginning to the end. There’s no Christianity without the cross. There’s no answer to anything without the cross. There’s no answer to the problem in the longing of the heart of a man without the cross for it’s the dynamic of God.

You say, “But is the cross necessary? Why not a bloodless Christianity? Why do we have to have that cross?” Well, you know, a lot of people ask that question. You know, there was one guy in the Bible who really didn’t…and we’ve talked about him, this is why I had you remember what Peter said in his sermon…because Peter didn’t think the cross was necessary. If you’ll remember correctly Peter was very reluctant for the Lord to suffer. Now he knew that He was the Lord and he knew the system that God had ordained, but do you remember that in Matthew 16 Peter was there and Christ said, “Who do men say that I am? And Peter said, Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God.” What a fantastic statement. “And Christ looked him in the eye and said, Flesh and blood didn’t tell you that, Peter, My Father in heaven did, you got that right out of heaven. That’s a divine statement, Peter.” Peter made a divine statement, “Thou art the Christ,” what a tremendous statement. He knew He was the Christ, but, you know, he never thought that the crucifixion or suffering had anything to do with that. The very next thing Jesus does is tell them He’s going to die and Peter comes to Him and says, “Lord, let it not be so. And Christ said to him, Get thee behind Me, Satan.” You see, Peter with his mouth confessed that Jesus Christ was the Son of the living God but he couldn’t see the need of the cross…not at all. And then in the garden in John 18, do you remember what he tried to do? When the soldiers came to take Jesus Christ, he grabbed a sword and tried to stop them, didn’t he? He only got as far as the first guy and he only got as far as the first guy’s ear. Christ gave him a new ear.

You see, Peter still didn’t understand that the suffering was necessary. Christianity isn’t Christianity without suffering, without the suffering Savior. In Acts 3:18 it says, “But those things which God before had shown by the mouth of all His prophets that Christ should suffer, He hath so fulfilled.” Even Peter didn’t see that. But do you know what happened? You know what happened to Peter after the cross? He became an Old Testament scholar because he saw the need of the cross. Do you know what the theme of 1 Peter is? Take a wild guess…the cross. And what was the theme of all four of his sermons? The cross. First Peter 2:24 Peter just wells up everything that’s within him and he says, “Christ who His ownself bore our sins in His own body on the tree that we being dead to sins should live unto righteousness by whose stripes we are healed.”

The post-cross Peter really knew the significance of calvary. The Old Testament, you remember, that it was a part of the sacrificial system, that there was one who would bear away sin was symbolized by the scape goat in Leviticus 26, the goat was symbolically the recipient of the sins of the people and then he bore them away. And is it not true that it is Christ who has borne away our sin? Who has paid the penalty for…excuse me…for us? And the veil was rent and instant access is ours. Yes, the dynamic…the dynamic of the preaching of the gospel is the cross of Jesus Christ. It is the power of God unto salvation.

What about the demand? Why do we have to preach the cross? Verses 19 to 21, “For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”

Here is the demand. We’ve seen the dynamic of the preaching of the cross. Here is the demand for it and it is this, that the world with all of its wisdom doesn’t know anything. And he says I’m going to destroy the wisdom of the wise, I’m going to take all their wisdom and add it up to zero, I’ll bring it to naught, he says. And then he asks, “Where is the wise? Who is really wise? Who is really a scribe? Who is really an effective debater? Hasn’t God taken all of the wisdom of man and made it foolishness?”

All that has been written, all that has been said adds up to nothing. The Apostle Paul had it right when he said they’re ever learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. It is the complex world that is stupid and it is the simple cross that is profound, is it not? This is what demands that we preach Christ and Him crucified, the inability of men by their own wisdom to come to any answers about reality and peace. Paul uses two quotations here in verses 19 and 20. He quotes from Isaiah 29 and Isaiah 33 to point out how human wisdom is going to fail and be destroyed. You know, there is a way and it seems right to a man but the ends thereof are the ways of…what?… Human wisdom doesn’t lead very far. In verse 19 he’s going to bring it to nothing, what a statement. All of the world’s wisdom adds up to zero, nothing. And in chapter 3 verse 19 of this self-same letter Paul says, “The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” It’s zero. InJeremiah 8:9, Jeremiah in chapter 8 is standing outside the temple gate, he used to pick the greatest places to preach, and he’d stand out there and he indicted the wise men of Israel, the guys that sat around spinning all the stuff off the top of their heads and this is what he said, he told the people, he said, “These wise men have rejected the word of wisdom of the Lord and therefore what wisdom is in them?” Boy, what a statement.

I mean, if you reject the only real truth, what wisdom do you have? All the wise men of all time end up with a pile of nothing if they neglect the one basic truth in all wisdom, the cross of Jesus Christ. Verse 21, “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God.” You couldn’t find God by wisdom. Impossible. “But it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”

Do you know that the wisdom of man was a calculated act on the part of God? Did you know that? Did you know that God gave man a certain amount of wisdom just so he could run himself into a stone wall? That’s what that verse says. That says, “In the wisdom of God,” you know what that means? That means God had a plan and His plan was this…watch the next phrase…that the world by wisdom knew not God. God planned for the world to use its brains to come to zero.

You say, “Why would He do that? Why would God make a plan to allow men to run to the extreme of their brain and come up with nothing?” You know why? Because He wanted them to come up with nothing so that they would realize that on their own they couldn’t do anything, they had no answers. They had no power for self-salvation. Paul says with all their wisdom in Romans 1:22, professing themselves to be wise they became…what?…fools. That was a calculated plan of God. He wanted men to run up against a stone wall.

If you’re here tonight and you’ve been hoping that your own wisdom, your own brain is going to bring you the answers. You’re wrong. And, in fact, you may be on the path that God has set you on so that you’re going to hit that stone wall so hard that you’re not going to be able to pick yourself up the next time and you’re going to cry out to God and ask Him to pick you up. That’s what He wants. Human philosophy, human theology, man-centered and man-authored ideas may tax the limits of the human brain, they may run to the very extreme of human ability and when they get to the very extreme of the human capacity, they’re just inching up on God’s scales toward stupidity. That’s what he says. Notice, God planned to frustrate man that man might fall on his face and cry out to God.

In Romans 11:32, great verse, listen to it, he says, “For God hath concluded,” did you get that? God worked it all out. “God hath concluded…listen to this…He hath concluded them all in unbelief that He might have mercy upon them.” Fantastic truth. Romans 11:32, I’ll say it again, “He concluded them all in unbelief that He might have mercy on them.” God ran them against a stone wall, they were all wiped out with nothing to believe in, then God could come with mercy.

Did you know that Christ can never enter your life until you’re a broken man, broken woman, until you’ve run the gamut and found out you’re zero, till you know that by yourself you can’t figure out what life’s all about? You haven’t got any purpose to life, you don’t know where it is. When you come to that place then God can have mercy on you.

Well we’ve seen the dynamic of the preaching of the cross. We’ve seen the demand for it, that men can’t find it by their own wisdom. Now let’s look at the defiance toward the preaching of the cross. What happens when the cross is preached? You think these men would hear it in their frustration but they don’t. Notice verse 22 and 23. “For the Jews require a sign and the Greeks seek after wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified.” Now what does it do, what’s the reaction? “Unto the Jews it’s a stumbling block and unto the Gentiles it’s foolishness.”

Here is the defiance toward the preaching of the cross. Now let’s notice the Jews very quickly and we’ll be done in a moment. Let’s notice the Jews first. He says the Jews are seeking a sign and that’s their hangup. He doesn’t say that but, I mean, you know, that’s what he means….aha. The Jews are seeking a sign and that’s their problem. And they look at the cross and they say…Oh, that’s a stumbling block, that’s not the sign we’re looking for.

Do you know why the Bible says that…John recorded it, he said, “He came unto His own and His own received Him not,”…do you know why the Jews won’t receive Christ? Do you know why the cross of Christ is a stumbling block? I’ll tell you why. Two reasons, number one is incredible, it is absolutely incredible to a Jew that the one chosen to be Messiah would end up nailed to a cross. They can’t buy that. You know, as a matter of fact, Judas was in on the whole thing because he thought that Christ was going to set up the Kingdom and he’d be a part of it. And if you don’t think that’s true, he was a worse guy than James and John, and what were they in it for? Do you remember that they sent their mother to Jesus? And they said, “Mother, would you ask Jesus if we could sit next to Him in the Kingdom?” See what they had on their minds. It’s incredible to a Jew that the Messiah would end up nailed to a cross.

You say, “Well why?” Well in Deuteronomy 21:23 you know what it says? “Cursed is every one who hangs on a tree.” Now by the very…the very law of Israel it was a curse to hang on a tree. How could they accept a crucified Messiah? It couldn’t be done. Amazingly enough the crucifixion instead of proving Christ, you know, they didn’t see Isaiah 53, they didn’t see that at all…the fact that He was going to suffer…no, no. They still don’t understand what that’s all about. But all they could see was the idea of the curse of hanging on a tree. And so instead of the crucifixion proving Christ, it eliminated Him. They couldn’t understand the cross.

And then secondly why they don’t believe, not only because the cross is an offense to them, but secondly because they want a sign and Christ didn’t give them any signs. It’s an old story with the Jews, very interesting. They were always looking for Messiahs who could do tricks. And they would come along from time to time, there was a guy named Thudis(??) 45 A.D. who had a whole plan figured out…no, it was 45. B.C., 45 B.C., he had a beautiful plan. He was going to take all the people of Jerusalem out and divide the Jordan River, just part it like that and they would all walk across a dry shod. Well he got the crowd out there but he just couldn’t do it. Then there was an Egyptian who came along and he came along about oh about nine years later in 54, around there, and his plan was to go up to the Mount of Olives and say, you know, “zap” or something or other and all the walls of Jerusalem would fall down. Now would you believe that history records for us that 30 thousand Jews gathered with him on the Mount of Olives to watch the walls fall down? And 30 thousand Jews made their way back to their homes.

There was another one who came along and claimed that he could dive off the temple. He did, beautiful. The only thing that was bad was the landing. They were always looking for a sign. And do you know that Satan tempted Christ this way? Do you remember that the third temptation of Christ was for Him to dive off the pinnacle of the temple? Why would he tell Him to do that? Because all the Jews would have to do would be to see somebody bail out off the top of that thing and angels come and carry Him and land Him on the ground and that would be it. But Christ came to die. He came to suffer.

In Matthew chapter 12, you remember the scribes and the Pharisees came and they said, “Master, we would see a sign from Thee.” He said, “No sign is going to be given this evil adulterous generation.” And then the Pharisees joined up with the Sadducees, which was a very strange relationship, and they came to Him, I think it’s the sixteenth chapter, and they said again, “We want another sign,” and He never gave them a sign.

It was the idea that if You could do some tricks that are really fantastic, we’ll follow You. And they looked at Jesus Christ and they saw Him meek and lowly, they saw Him deliberately going around avoiding the spectacular. They saw Him ending on a cross and He brought no earthly kingdom…an impossible Messiah. And so He was a stumbling block and so was the cross.

Now what about the Gentiles? It says the Gentiles seek after wisdom. Well we’ve been talking about that. The Greeks and the Gentiles, they were hung up on the wisdom end of it. They were mental acrobats. One writer in early church history says that they sat around in the cities and croaked like frogs. This is kind of an interesting comment on the kind of discussions they had. They were really…they were really excited about glittering words and they would sit around discussing hair- splitting trivialities and spinning theories off their brains and everything was in the terms of human wisdom. You remember at Athens when Paul arrived at Athens in the Gentile world and he started talking about Christ being resurrected? And they got together and they said, “Oh, we’ve got a guy with a new theory. Let’s get him up here.” And they besought Paul that he would come up and spin his new theory…anything new, any new doctrine to chew on. You see, Gentiles can’t accept the simplicity of the cross, it’s too simple. Human wisdom was and is too much a part of the heart of man and this is a self-designing world and it can’t admit to itself that everything it’s come up with is useless in matters of the soul.

Now I’m not disparaging wisdom in all their other areas. But in matters of the soul, all the wisdom of the world is nothing. You say, “Wow, this is kind of a hopeless passage. We might as fold up the church and go home, nobody is going to believe.” Wait a minute…verse 24 and 25, “But unto them who are called both Jews and Gentiles,” isn’t that interesting how God goes right by the barriers and calls some? “Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God because the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

It did look kind of hopeless there, didn’t it? It looked like maybe no Gentiles would ever believe. It looked like maybe no Jews would…. But wait a minute, God’s a lot wiser, a lot more loving, a lot more gracious, a lot more merciful and so He reaches down and calls those of us who are to be His, both Jew and Gentile. The Jews won’t come apart from their religion and the Gentiles won’t come apart from their wisdom. But Jesus Christ strips both aside and in His love and grace and in the call of God He brings to His side those who are His own from both the Jews and the Gentiles. What tremendous power is in the cross, is it not?

Let me ask you tonight as we close. Are you looking for a sign? Do you expect religion to be some fantastic thing where all kinds of things are going off in space and all kinds of strange things are happening? You’re not going to get a sign. Are you hung up on some kind of religious rules and laws to reach favor with God and the cross offends you? You’re never going to get to God by keeping any rules. Or maybe you’re so eager centered…ego-centered that you’re spinning out your own ideas about God, about reality and about eternal truth.

Let me ask you tonight, what foolishness, what foolishness is keep you from the wisdom of God? May we pray.

Our Father, we again thank You for this tremendous portion of Scripture. We thank You for the clarity with which the gospel is presented, through the cross of Jesus Christ. O God, we just rejoice in the cross, our souls love it for it is that by which Thou didst purchase us. O God, Thy grace is multiplied a million fold and manifest in the fact that even though some seek a sign and some follow after wisdom, Thou dost still call those both Jew and Greek to be Thy own, Thine own to join Thee in Thy Kingdom. Lord, we don’t know the hearts of those here tonight. Perhaps there are some who have been going along depending on human wisdom…God, strip them completely naked and bare, cause them to arrive at zero, knock them down so that they cannot get up and cause them to ask Thee to lift them. Father, tonight if there are some here who don’t know Christ, who do not know the cross of Jesus Christ, the wisdom of God, right now may they receive that self same Christ into their life for it was on that cross that He bore their sins and Thou hast said that all we have to do is believe on Him and receive Him into our lives and our sins are forgiven and the cross becomes to us wisdom and truth. God, we pray for those. May this be a night when they make that decision and they open their heart to Jesus Christ.

And right now why don’t you just say, “I can’t do it on my own, God, I want Christ to come into my life. I accept the work that He did for me on the cross, to forgive my sin, I invite Him in to my life right now.” Can you pray that right where you sit?

Lord, Jesus, I believe in You, I accept Your work on the cross for me and I invite You into my life. I can’t do it on my own, I realize that. Take control.

Invite Him in right now. Did you invite Him in? If some of you did, He came in. Praise the Lord. He always comes when you call.

Nothing Worthwhile Is Ever Easy

“Let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9 NLT, second edition).

There are many things that work to keep us from completing our life missions. Over the years, I’ve debated whether the worst enemy is procrastination or discouragement. If Satan can’t get us to put off our life missions, then he’ll try to get us to quit altogether.

The apostle Paul teaches that we need to resist discouragement: “Let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up”(Galatians 6:9 NLT, second edition).

Do you ever get tired of doing what’s right? I think we all do. Sometimes it seems easier to do the wrong thing than the right thing.

When we’re discouraged, we become ineffective. When we’re discouraged, we work against our own faith.

When we’re discouraged, we’re saying, “It can’t be done.” That’s the exact opposite of saying, “I know God can do it because he said …”

Ask yourself these questions:

  • How do I handle failure?
  • When things don’t go my way, do I get grumpy?
  • When things don’t go my way, do I get frustrated?
  • When things don’t go my way, do I start complaining?
  • Do I finish what I start?
  • How would I rate on persistence?

If you’re discouraged, don’t give up without a fight. Nothing worthwhile ever happens without endurance and energy.

When an artist creates a sculpture, he has to keep chipping away. He doesn’t hit the chisel with the hammer once, and suddenly all the excess stone falls away revealing a beautiful masterpiece. He keeps hitting it and hitting it, chipping away at the stone.

And that’s true of life, too. Nothing really worthwhile ever comes easy in life. You keep hitting it and going after it, and little by little your life becomes a masterpiece of God’s grace.

The fact is, great people are really just ordinary people with an extraordinary amount of determination. Great people don’t know how to quit.

Talk It Over

  • What does your attitude toward a tough situation reveal about your faith?
  • What have you been ready to give up on?
  • How can God’s Word help you endure? Who in your life can encourage you to keep going?

Are You Afraid of Making the Wrong Decision?

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3b NIV).

Often we’re afraid of making the wrong decision, and that creates stress.

Maybe you’re facing a decision about a major issue: “Should I hold on, or should I let go?” “Should I get in, or should I get out?” “Should I get married?” “Should I find a new job?” “Should I move?”

When you can’t make up your mind, you stagger through life. In fact, the Bible says when we remain double-minded, we become unstable in everything we do (James 1). The Greek word for unstable literally means “stagger like a drunk.”

But God says there is an antidote to our indecision. Psalm 23:3 tells us, “He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake” (NIV). We handle the stress of decision-making by letting God guide us.

You may be thinking, “But I’ve tried this!” You asked God to guide you, but then you became more confused than before. You still couldn’t figure it out. Now you wonder, “Why is knowing God’s will so difficult?”

Is God playing games with us? Of course not! God wants to guide us. He wants us to know his will more than we want to know it. Our problem is we often look for the wrong thing when we’re trying to find God’s will.

For example, some of us look for a feeling. We want to be swept off our feet by some emotion so we can say, “That’s how I know what God’s will is!” Some of us want a methodical approach to God’s will. We want somebody to give us a recipe or a formula to apply. Some of us take a magical approach to God’s will.  We’re looking for God to do some fantastic sign — write it in the sky, call us on the phone, send us an email.

All of these ways lead to frustration and cause us to miss God’s will. God’s will is not a feeling or a formula or something he wants you to be frustrated or fearful about.

God does not want you confused, and he does not want you stressed over making any decision. He is there, guiding you every step of the way.

Talk It Over

  • What is a big decision you’ve recently been faced with? How did you seek God’s will?
  • Why does God want you to use the Bible to help you make a decision?
  • What keeps you from trusting that God will guide you through every decision you have to make?

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