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Monday, March 31, 2008

==THE FULL HUMANITY OF JESUS Index (Luke 4, 19, 22)==

During Lent and Easter of 2008, we looked at the full humanity of Jesus the High Priest, as described in Hebrews 4:14-16.

[click on individual sermon for link to streaming audio]

03-30-08 Would I Know Jesus if I Saw Him? (Luke 24:13-35) mp3

play "Burning Hearts" (Austell/Dawson)
03-23-08 The Living One (Luke 24:1-12) mp3 [Easter] 03-20-08 A Preview of Things to Come (Luke 22:14-23) mp3 [Maundy Thursday] 03-16-03 Weeping for the Lost (Luke 19:36-44) mp3 [Palm Sunday] 03-09-08 When Temptation Turns to Trial (Luke 22:47-71) mp3
play "It is Well" (arr. Austell); sung by Maddie, Katie, and Robert
03-02-08 Praying Against Temptation (Luke 22:39-46) mp3 02-24-08 The Temptation to Test God (Luke 4:9-13) mp3 02-17-08 The Temptation of Idolatry (Luke 4:5-8) mp3
play "Life" (Maddie Shuler) play testimony: John Shuler
02-10-08 The Temptation of Self-Reliance (Luke 4:1-4) mp3

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Would I Know Jesus if I Saw Him? (Luke 24:13-35)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
March 30, 2008
[Scroll to bottom for audio of the sermon-song, "Burning Hearts"]

Nick and Tom are two men with real interest in the things of God. Nick grew up in and around the people of God, learning the scriptures, hearing the stories of old and how God desires for his people to live. He’s the kind of person that brings his family to church and makes sure his children participate in the youth program. Tom got involved later in life, but eagerly participates in everything that’s going on. He’s the kind of person that participates eagerly in Sunday school and sings loudly in church. Each man has a complaint, though. Nick is worn out from being thoroughly religious and just doesn’t find any meaning or fulfillment in all his religious commitments. Tom is excited about all the activities in which he participates, but he isn’t sure that he believes the message. Are these two people unusual? I don’t think so… I think most of us can relate to one or both of them?

Knowing Without Seeing

Two people walked away from Jerusalem. Their names were not Nick and Tom, but they were kindred spirits. The two walkers had been involved in the recent events during the week of Passover. They saw Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, and were deeply saddened by his death. They had even heard that his body was now missing. And they were deep in conversation about all that had happened.

Now a stranger walks up alongside them and involves himself in their conversation. He wants to know what they are discussing. They can’t believe that the stranger hasn’t heard about the recent events in Jerusalem. The stranger asks them to tell him about these things. So, with downcast faces, the two travelers describe Jesus of Nazareth.

"He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed…" they say. "We had hoped he was the one who was going to redeem Israel."

They knew about Jesus. They knew something of the prophecies about a savior – a Messiah. They knew about the empty tomb. But these two travelers did not see Jesus for who he was. They didn’t see God’s "vision" for humanity. And so, even with Jesus himself standing there before them, they didn’t see.

In many ways, their problem was that shared by Nick. They knew the teaching of scripture and knew that Jesus was a great teacher and religious figure, but they didn’t see God’s "vision" for us. Like Nick, they would probably bring their families to church, knowing that the children would learn good values. They would be faithful people, believing that God rewards good behavior and clean living. They would know that God wants something of us and they would strive to gain God’s blessing and approval. They would even realize that others who followed Jesus would think well of them for being devoted followers. But, perhaps like Nick, they would eventually wear out. Perhaps that is why they found themselves leaving Jerusalem rather than staying with the disciples. Perhaps their hopes had not been fulfilled and they just needed a break.

In a phrase, the travelers, along with Nick, knew without seeing. They have some knowledge, but they lack the vision of God’s purpose and will – the ability to see what God is doing in the world. And without that, religion becomes a wearisome exercise in futility.

Seeing Without Knowing

Our two travelers were also not unlike our friend Tom. And we might describe Tom’s problem as the opposite of Nick’s. Tom was struggling with seeing without knowing. And the two travelers demonstrated this limitation as well.

In literal terms, they "saw" Jesus there, but they just didn’t know who he was. They even welcomed him into their conversation and asked him to stay when he began to leave them. They saw that he was a teacher when he opened the scripture to them, and they saw him break the bread as they ate together. But until the very end, their minds were closed to his true identity. And this is just the difficulty Tom experiences. He is an active participant in all that the church does, and while his intentions are sincere, he is really just along for the ride. The meaning of all those songs, hymns, prayers, and sermons eludes him. He sees everything going on and jumps in eagerly – perhaps hoping to understand, but in his heart he doesn’t know God in a personal and concrete way.

And after a while, Tom starts to ask questions like "Why do we sing such long hymns?" And "Why are we asked about personal faith and acts of service in Christ’s name?" And "Why does the Church demand such high priority in my life?" If only there were some tangible way to experience God… if only I could know God in a real way…

Would I Know Jesus if I Saw Him?

Does this sound like a confusing and frustrating way to live? It sounds so familiar to me. I have been each of those people at different times in my life. What is the way out? Is it a matter of accumulating more knowledge, or somehow just looking harder for God?

The key must be there in the story, for by the end the two travelers "saw" and "knew". Something happened… something triggered a connection and they recognized Jesus for who he was… the risen Savior and Lord.

Partly, increasing their knowledge helped them to see. Jesus "opened" the scriptures to them, leading them through the Old Testament teaching in the Law and in the Prophets. He showed them how God’s righteousness and the requirements of the Law necessitated the suffering of the Christ. He recounted the prophecies that spoke of God’s Messiah, who would be both King and Servant, and who would redeem God’s people. So Jesus addressed their lack of knowledge with clear teaching from God’s Word.

And Jesus also helped with their sight. He repeated the act of communion that he had recently shared with the disciples. He came to them in a familiar way so that their blurry and dim vision might see a familiar sight. He did something ordinary and recognizable – he broke bread with them, giving thanks and sharing with them in the manner of the Last Supper.

These two acts certainly helped two travelers who were struggling with "knowing" and "seeing". But there is one more detail that is the key to understanding what happened in their recognition of Jesus. After he disappeared, they asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?" Their "burning hearts" revealed faith stirring within them.

In the book of Hebrews, faith is defined for us. Faith is "being sure of what we do not know…" and "being certain of what we do not see." Faith does not come through knowledge or through concrete "proof" of something. Rather, faith is confident belief in what we hope for – that is, in God’s love and promises for us.

Faith is stirred by God’s Spirit working in our lives. Often the hearing and application of God’s Word in scripture and the experience of shared worship and sacraments can kindle faith or accompany it. God stirred faith in the two travelers on the road to Emmaus, and God stirred faith in the lives of Nick and Tom.

Nick, who had trouble seeing God’s vision for his people, is Nicodemus, a Pharisee who was the religious of the religious. He crept to Jesus one night to try to see just who Jesus was. Jesus talked about being "born again," and we weren’t sure if Nicodemus understood or not. But we read about him coming in the daylight to bury Jesus’ body in the tomb. Apparently his eyes were opened along the way and he discovered what Jesus meant by being "born again."

Tom, who couldn’t "know" the reality of God without concrete proof is Thomas the disciple, who missed Jesus’ appearance to the other disciples and demanded to touch Jesus’ wounds before he would believe. But Thomas’ heart was opened when he saw Jesus. He didn’t have to touch the wounds to know Jesus, but believed in faith, crying out, "My Lord and my God!"

Is God Creating Faith in Me Now?

This is the question of the burning heart. It is the question of faith: is God stirring your heart so as to create a certain hope that extends beyond proof, knowledge, verification, sight, and experience? Are you experiencing a "burning heart?" If you are, I urge you to open yourself to God in faith. Your hope will not be misplaced or disappointed. For God’s love and promises are real and trustworthy. You will find faith confirmed and encouraged in scripture and worship, but faith itself is a gift from God. Search yourself this day, for God desires to be in fellowship and relationship with you. If God is creating faith in you now… if your heart is burning within you, act in faith. Talk to someone; talk to me or an elder or someone you know has a relationship with God. Confirm what God is doing in your life. That kind of hope does not disappoint.

And if the answer that question of faith is "No" or "I don’t know," be reassured that if you keep opening yourself to Word and Sacrament, God is at work in you. For God’s Word and Sacrament are effective means through which God stirs and creates faith. God’s Word is a "two-edged sword" – it either turns one away or draws one to God. So take heart, if you hear God’s Word to you, God is already at work in your life. Come back and keep asking the question of faith.

Burning Hearts (Emmaus Road)
By Gerrit Dawson and Robert Austell, 1999

On Emmaus Road, heads hung low,

A stranger joined who didn't know
Of Jesus and the Christ he seemed,
Now dead, except in rumor's dream.

Weren't our hearts burning within?
More than we dared to hope,
To see Jesus alive again!

As if he'd written every word,
He taught the Scriptures and we heard
Of the Christ who first had to die
To enter his glory on high.


He made to go on, but we cried
Oh stay with us, evening is nigh
He broke the bread, gave and we knew,
Our eyes opened--it was all true!


Monday, March 24, 2008

The Living One (Luke 24.1-12)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
Easter Sunday – March 23, 2008

Easter is the climax of the Christian faith. It, not Christmas, is the biggest day of the year for a Christian. And it is not about Jesus on the cross – that’s Good Friday. That was the defeat of sin, but there’s more after Jesus’ “It is finished” on the cross. Easter is the empty tomb and the defeat of death itself. Easter is the news that Jesus is risen from the dead. And that’s what I want to talk to you about today.

I want to focus with you on one key question in the verses you heard today. It is the question that was asked to the women who came to the tomb to see Jesus’ body:

Why do you seek the living One among the dead? (v. 5)

That is a critical question for people of faith and even for people without faith. It gets at the very heart of what Christianity is all about and why we sometimes struggle to believe in or experience God at all. These verses – and Easter itself – claim that Jesus is alive. Let’s consider some ways that each of us struggle with an Easter faith.

Nonsense and Belief

I’m going to move through today’s text out of order, but I think the order will make sense to our experience. First, look at verse 11. The women came from the empty tomb to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive.

But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them.

Remember, these were the disciples – holy men of faith, right? No, they were just like you and I. They had followed Jesus; they loved Jesus. But they had been disappointed and were hurt and frightened. And despite having seen amazing things, this was too much for their minds to believe. It sounded like pure nonsense, maybe even the wishful thinking of hysterical women.

This is where so many people get stuck with Christianity. It sounds like nonsense to our adult minds. We want to stick to what we can taste, touch, smell, hear, and see. Maybe we once had some faith – maybe as a child. But we’ve lost too much and been hurt too much, and we’ve come to believe only in what is tangible and provable.

Jesus is one more fairy tale – perhaps the last one to let go of, but a fairy tale nonetheless. The disciples had reached the logical end of that way of thinking… they were hunkered down and hiding out, with only themselves to depend on. And like every other human being, trapped by the limits of our short lives, they were depending on the walking dead.

Why do you seek the living One among the dead? Are you looking at all?

Hiding and Seeking

Is there any other option for the adult mind? Is there any other option when you’ve been burned and disappointed by God? Many people, particularly if they once had a religious experience will describe God either as “nonsense” or say, “Well, if He’s there, He’s hiding from me.”

I would submit to you, though, that God was not and is not the one who is hiding. In these verses, it is the men who are hiding. They don’t think they are hiding from God, but they are hiding from those who killed Jesus. They are hiding from what they fear. But look what changes this:

But Peter got up and ran to the tomb… (v. 12)

Other disciples apparently remained, hiding out, but Peter got up, stopped hiding, and started seeking. He went looking for God and went to the place where this news of a living Jesus originated. He went to check it out for himself, and he left “marveling at what had happened.”

One of Jesus’ recurring invitations in his life was to “come and see.” As long as we’ve written God off, it is unlikely that God will ever sound like more than nonsense or a fairy tale for children. But God says more than once in the Bible, “Seek and you will find.”

Why do you seek the living One among the dead? What are you looking for?

Forgetfulness and Remembering

Peter ran to the tomb, which is what the women had already seen. They each saw evidence of Jesus’ body being gone, yet that was just a start. One cannot prove God with evidence. One cannot be saved or find assurance of salvation through intellectual arguments. Such arguments may provide a start – they may support faith; but they are not faith.

Why do you seek the living One among the dead?

The women had forgotten. The rest of the message to them was this:

He is not here, but he has risen. Remember how he spoke to you while he was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. (v. 6-7)

They had an experience of Jesus when he was living. They had heard his words of promise and hope. And they had forgotten. We go on to read that after the reminder of what he had said, “They remembered his words.” (v. 8)

Some of us here – perhaps many of us here – have experienced God in our lives at some time. Perhaps we were children or teenagers, or perhaps it has just been a long time. God was as real to us as the love of a parent or spouse. God’s promises were just as real. And either we’ve retreated to hide out of disappointment or we’ve simply forgotten.

And the angel’s question gets at all of that.

Why do you seek the living One among the dead?

God is not a fairy tale. God is not a set of religious principles. God is not a dusty book of ancient wisdom. Jesus was not a first century wise man. Christianity is not a set of do’s and don’ts. God is not a psychological concept we’ve concocted to either get us through or to grow out of. If God were any of those things, God wouldn’t be a true God, and we wouldn’t find Him. That’s looking among the dead, and God isn’t there.

The key to the angels’ question is in the description of Jesus. He is the “living One.”

The Living One

To find God, we must believe, we must seek, we must remember. But those are all things we do and they are secondary to the declaration and reality that Jesus is the “living One.”

Only a living God can offer you more than you can see, touch, taste, hear, and smell.

Only a living God can rescue you out of anything we might consider the “universal human condition.”

Only a living God can speak any word after death.

Only a living God can be a relational God.

Only a living God can answer your hurt, disappointment, fear, and loss. A dead God cannot begin to do so.

Only a living God can continue to speak words of truth, hope, and life generation after generation to a struggling and changing world.

Only a living God is worth your belief, searching, and trust.

And Jesus Christ, risen Son of God, is the living One.

That’s the big deal about Easter. Amen!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Preview of Things to Come (Luke 22.14-23)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
Maundy Thursday – March 20, 2008

One of my favorite parts of going to the movies is getting to see the previews for upcoming movies. They get me excited about what’s coming, whether that’s the next summer blockbuster or more subtle offerings. Every now and then, you’ll see an early preview. I saw one of those a while back. The perspective of the camera was that of a person running desperately through the streets of New York City. It was clear that something big and scary was going on. But the preview only lasted for ten seconds, then the date of release flashed up and it was gone. I’ve heard it is from the creators of the TV show Lost. I imagine closer to the time we’ll see a more revealing trailer for the movie. I can’t wait to see what it is!

In many ways, tonight’s service is kind of like a trailer to a movie. Though the song asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord,” we were not literally there. We can think about it, imagine it, read about it, and believe in it; but we were not there. And yet, God has given us several “trailers” for those events, such that we are able to view and experience the events of Jesus’ passion almost as if we were there.

Sometimes, a movie will have more than one trailer. Such is the case tonight. There are at least three previews in tonight’s service by which you can get a sense of what happened, perhaps even experiencing those events in some way.

The “Seven Last Words”

One way we get to look at and experience Jesus’ suffering and death is through the Bible. It is the eyewitness account of those close to him, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit and preserved for us to read in faith. Tonight’s cantata takes the words of Scripture, particularly the last words Jesus spoke, sets them to music, and sings them to us that we might envision what happened and what Jesus experienced. The service will conclude with the cantata. Each of the seven words will begin with a short devotional thought on Jesus’ word and the events surrounding those words. Then, the choir and soloists will sing those same words of Christ set to music.

Listen closely to those words. Not only do we have an account of Jesus’ last hours on earth, we also have these windows into his thoughts and prayers. We hear his agony and his compassion; we hear his graciousness and his forsakenness. This is better than a movie trailer, for it will transport you into the midst of those last moments. Soak it in and listen with ears of faith.


A second preview of things to come is mentioned briefly in tonight’s text, in verse 15. Jesus and the disciples are gathered in a room to celebrate the Jewish Passover meal together. Passover had been (and still is) observed by faithful Jewish people ever since the original passing over in Egypt, when the Angel of Death passed over those households marked with lamb’s blood. Moses was leading God’s people out of slavery and into freedom. Passover was a memorial meal, to always remember God’s faithfulness. But it was also like that short, mysterious preview I mentioned. It hinted at a God who might once again deliver His people from slavery into freedom through bled shed and applied in faith. Note Passover there in the text – it is a preview of things to come.

The Last Supper

The Last Supper began as the Passover meal, but ended as something else. Jesus made clear what was once hazy. He connected the dots and made clear that God was indeed about to deliver His people again. He took the Passover bread and told his friends it was his body, broken for them. He took the Passover cup and told them that God had made a new covenant or promise with his blood.

Jesus also told his friends that this would be his last supper with them until all was fulfilled in Heaven. But he told them (and us) to share it among ourselves and to keep remembering what God had done, is doing, and will do. What we now call the Lord’s Supper is a special kind of preview. It reminds and shows us what God has already done – these are the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. It reminds and shows us of what God is doing – even now offering forgiveness through the faithfulness of Christ. And it reminds and shows us what God has in store – a feast together one day in His presence in Heaven.

When you come to this Table and share in this communion, it is also a preview of things to come. Soak it in; eat and drink in faith that God will meet you here. Amen.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Weeping for the Lost (Luke 19.36-44)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
March 16, 2008

I’d like to start a little differently this morning. I’d like to try a little exercise. I’m wondering about what brought you here… I mean originally. If you discovered Good Shepherd from driving past it or from the phone book or the Internet – more or less on your own – would you stand up? If you came to Good Shepherd because someone told you about it or invited you to come, would you stand up? Thank you.

Palm Sunday, A.D. 33

Today is Palm Sunday, the day on which we remember Jesus’ “triumphal” entrance into Jerusalem five days before his arrest and crucifixion and one week before his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

There is much to celebrate about Palm Sunday. Everybody loves a parade, and even our small procession this morning gives you some small sense of the fun and excitement of such an event. It was a Jewish Passover tradition on this Sunday to process into Jerusalem and up to the Temple. Psalm 118, which we read part of for our call to worship, describes that tradition.

There is every indication that many believed Jesus to be the One God had promised. They were shouting out “blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” and probably had Jesus in mind as that king. It was an exciting moment and the people and disciples were caught up in it. Even Jesus did not seem to avoid or downplay it. When some Pharisees tried to calm down his followers, Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” In other words, this was a time of praise to God and all creation knew it.

I feel that way sometimes after a particularly meaningful worship service. …or after an especially close time together with other Christians, like on a mission trip. Yes, there are many times we doze off and our attention wanders, but when God is present and we are tuned in, it can be really exciting. I hope each of you has had or will have the opportunity to experience something like that in your lives.

I describe all this to highlight the extreme nature of the mood-change when Jesus drew near to Jerusalem. Look, there in verse 41…

Jesus Wept

Before I read that verse, do you know the shortest verse in the Bible? It is John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” It’s in the middle of the story of Lazarus, Jesus’ close friend who had died. Jesus delayed going to see Lazarus when he was sick, and by the time he got there, Lazarus was dead. In the story, Jesus is talking to the sisters, Mary and Martha, who are both crying and full of emotion, and Jesus weeps. It is very interesting, because we can read the story to the end and know that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Why would you weep for a dead friend when you have the power to bring them back to life and plan on doing so? It would seem that this Jesus who so deeply shares our humanity was just moved deeply by the sorrow of his friends and the moment.

Do you know how many times Jesus cried in the Bible (that we know of)? Twice. One was in John 11:35, at the death of his friend, Lazarus. The other is in today’s story, halfway through a very exciting, exhilarating, and celebratory parade. All of a sudden, with Jesus getting something like a hero’s welcome, he breaks down and starts crying. And it’s not the single, subtle tear on the cheek, he is weeping over something he sees when he looks at the city of Jerusalem.

He says (to Jerusalem), “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace!” (v. 42) Jesus is referring to his own entrance into the city. The coming of the Messiah was to usher in God’s peace to His people. Jesus probably says “even you” because the word Jerusalem means “city of peace.” If anyone should recognize God’s peace when it comes riding into town, it is this capital city of peace, full of God’s own people. And yet, Jesus also sees what lies ahead for Jerusalem. He knows there is a plot brewing against him. He foretells enemies of Jerusalem barricading and surrounding the city to overtake it. This comes to pass within a generation, when Jerusalem is attacked and the Temple destroyed in A.D. 70. And Jesus pins this fate on the fact that “you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” We will see, as this “holy week” progresses, that while many gathered to shout hosannas as Jesus entered the city, many more would shout ‘crucify’ and turn against him.

Jesus, the bringer of God’s peace, was weeping because he recognized that so many would not receive God’s great gift even as it was among them. Jesus was weeping for the lost souls of Jerusalem.

Fast-Forward, A.D. 2008

Has that much changed in 2000 years? It is easy for the followers of Jesus Christ to gather and celebrate, to process and pray, and to go home feeling topped-off spiritually until the next service or study.

And yet I think Jesus could stand right here in this room, receive our praise and worship, and weep for all the same reasons he wept that day. He is still God’s gift of peace, particularly of peace with God, and we have that message and that hope right here. It’s what we hear and respond to week in and week out. But we also live in the midst of a city not so different from Jerusalem. It’s a spiritual city, full of churches and southern culture. And it’s full of people who seek peace – peace at work, peace at home, and peace with themselves. But like those who missed Jesus the first time around, our friends and neighbors who do not know God risk living and not recognizing the time of God’s visitation.

Why does it matter? Why should we care or risk offending them with caring? Like you and me, our friends and neighbors are surrounded and barricaded by things that will hurt them. Our children are growing up in a scary and uncertain world. Young adults are taking longer and longer to find a place to take root, and many get lost along the way. Our older adults find themselves living in an increasingly alien culture, and one that doesn’t seem to value their wisdom and insight. People need the peace of God that is found in the news of Jesus Christ, that is found in the person of Jesus Christ.

But most of all, we should care and risk sharing our faith with our friends and neighbors because God cares. He weeps for those who do not know Him. And if we are truly His, we will weep at the things at which God weeps.

For some time, we have been talking about being a lighthouse church and a searchlight church. If those terms are fuzzy to you, it’s okay – I’ll remind you what they mean.

I believe we are an increasingly effective lighthouse church. By that I mean that we shine brightly with the light of Christ here at 3307 Rea Road. People see and hear that God is at work here. Like a lighthouse, we offer direction and safe harbor to all who notice us and come to check us out. We have effective and clear ministries to children, youth, and adults, particularly in the arts and teaching ministries. One of our main challenges is to continue tending the flame as a lighthouse.

But remember the question we started with? Is it enough to build a great church and wait for people to wander through the doors? I believe every visitor who comes in this place feels warmly welcomed, hears the good news of Jesus clearly presented, and senses the special bond of family here.

But what of Jerusalem? What of Charlotte? What of all the other addresses on Rea Road and Swan’s Run and in Old Providence, Candlewyck, and Chadwyck? God does not sit still, waiting for worship; God is a seeking and finding kind of God. He sent His Son, Jesus, into the world to seek and save the lost and hurting. And so He sends us. Jesus prayed that in John 17: “Send them into the world as you sent me into the world.”

We are also to be a searchlight church. We are to get up and out of here because God’s heart is in the homes and the circumstances of each house up and down these streets and in your neighborhoods. I’m not talking about some sort of mass conversion program. I’m talking about going where God goes and inviting people to hear or glimpse God at work. Yes, invite people to church. That’s a great start. Invite people into your homes and lives. BE salt and light – that’s what God made you for.

Next Sunday and each Sunday through the end of May I will be trying to speak as simply and clearly as I know how about Jesus and the peace and hope God offers us through him. This is a great time to invite friends and neighbors to come and see. Tell them what to expect – from the music to the preaching to the friendly people. Tell them their children will be well-cared for. Invite them to go out to lunch afterwards. Whatever you want… but go where God’s heart is. Amen.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

When Temptation Turns to Trial (Luke 22.47-71)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
March 9, 2008
play - "It is Well" sung by Maddie, Katie, and Robert

We have been looking at the temptations of Jesus for several weeks. We’ve been doing that because Hebrews 4:14-16 tells us that Jesus, our great high priest, has been tempted in every way as we have, yet is without sin. We have seen that this has two key implications for us: that Jesus is the Way and the way through. Though fully God, he was fully human so that, as the one and only perfectly faithful human, he might be the Way of salvation. As the one who has faced everything we might face, he also shows us how to seek and live within God’s will, the place of blessing and peace.

Today we are going to see what happens when the heat gets turned up even more, when temptation turns to trial. Last week we saw that Jesus prayed that “this cup” would be taken from him, but wrapped up those desires in the prayer that God’s will would be done. Today we see him begin to drink this cup – to experience the beginnings of the trial and suffering that will end at the cross.

We continue to ask, “What are our choices when facing temptation, and particularly when we are undergoing trials?” We will see again that Jesus is the Way of salvation and the way through all that we might face.

From Temptation to Trial

We heard two passages today. They are separated by a third that we didn’t read, the story of Peter’s denials. I simply want to note several broad patterns of behavior and response that happen in these passages.

The setting is what I am calling trial. By that I mean that Jesus and the disciples have moved beyond temptation, where the matter at hand is yet to be acted out or decided. You can be tempted to steal without stealing – it’s just the thought or the potential. For Jesus and the disciples, it’s beyond temptation now. The events – the action – is upon them. Jesus is being betrayed and Satan is physically acting against Jesus through the soldiers and others who show up.

What this might look like for you and me is more than a hypothetical or potential temptation in our head, but being in the midst of an actual situation that tests us. It might be an inappropriate situation with a member of the opposite sex. It might be being surrounded by those who have already chosen the wrong thing and being forced to make a choice yourself. Teenagers find themselves in that position all the time, but so do we adults – more than we realize! It may be that we are under attack – from those who would do us harm or from disease or depression.

The point is that this text speaks to our choices in the midst of things – a step past temptation. That’s what I mean by trial.

Fight or Flight

Broadly, the disciples demonstrate two wrong choices in response to this particular trial. Interestingly, these are two of the responses that have been described by social scientists as the most basic human instincts: fight or flight.

In the garden, the disciples geared up for a fight. One attacked the slave of the high priest, who was probably leading the group as the on-site representative of the high priest. The disciple cut his ear off – probably not what he was going for! Jesus ordered him to stop and said, “No more of this.” The point here isn’t a teaching on pacifism, but on being in step with God’s will. Jesus fully intends to be arrested and go with them, and the disciples are actually the ones getting in the way of God’s will!

How would they have known to do otherwise than defend their beloved Master? Consider the preceding passage. They were to pray against temptation and presumably to seek God’s will as Jesus did. And they fell asleep, at perhaps the first opportunity to get in step with God’s will. Then, in the midst of betrayal, they call out to Jesus, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” But they didn’t wait for an answer. We talked in previous weeks about not running ahead of God and that’s just what they did.

In the next scene, which we didn’t read, we find another typical human response to trial and testing: flight. It is the story of Peter denying Jesus. From what we can tell, most of the other disciples fled altogether. Peter was lurking around, but when questioned, he fled direct association with Jesus by denying more and more vehemently that he knew Jesus. This, too, is a natural reaction to a difficult situation. In terms of the analogy of not running ahead or lagging behind God, remember the story of Jonah. He had a very clear message about what God wanted him to do and he literally tried to run in the other direction. This, too, is not faithfulness. For that, we will have to turn to Jesus as our example.

Faithful Obedience in Trial

The second passage we heard, from verses 66-71, recount part of the actual trial of Jesus. This is the religious trial, where the Jewish elders – chief priests and scribes – gathered to examine Jesus. They are questioning his claim to divinity as grounds to accuse him of blasphemy. In a clear combination of telling the truth and obeying God’s will, Jesus tells them who he is and confirms their charges.

As with the earlier temptations, Jesus could easily have stepped off the path God had laid before him. Here and again before Pilate and Herod, he could have denied the charges and gotten off with a warning or a beating. The government officials did not want to arrest or kill him. But Jesus would not deny who he was, nor would he abandon the course God had set for him.

So, just as he did in the face of Satan’s temptation, he does now in the face of trial, suffering, and death – he seeks and follows God’s will for him.

It is important to seek and follow God’s will when we are tempted. It keeps us from sinning. It is all the more important to seek and follow God’s will when we come under fire, are hard pressed, are being crushed. God is our “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 42:1)

Basically, what Jesus demonstrated and what the Bible teaches us is that when we are in the midst of a trial, faith (and obedience) are more important than fight or flight. Now, I’m going to qualify that before we’re done, because sometimes God says, “Run for your life!” And sometimes, God calls us to stand and fight. But the important question is what God wants us to do. We may run ahead of God and blunder into the right course of action, but if we are following God’s will, we will always be right where we should be.

God’s Provision in Trial

What does this mean for us on a practical, day-to-day level?

Does all this mean that we have to go to our death as Jesus did? No, that is not the point here, though there is a biblical sense of “taking up our cross” daily to be considered. But the point here is that whatever we face, whether it be life and death, testing by God, tempting by Satan, a mess we create all on our own, difficult circumstances with no apparent rhyme or reason, or more trivial day-to-day matters… the point is that we do our best to talk to and listen to God and follow the path He sets before us. The point is that if we do that, God will provide what we need when we need it most. Remember, Jesus is our way through temptation and trial. We have his example to get through all that we will face in life and death.

More importantly, Jesus is our Way of salvation for what we could not and cannot do on our own. One of the most difficult passages to understand is at the very end of Jesus’ life, when he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” At that point Jesus faces the full consequence of human sin so that we will not have to. He obediently followed the path God set out before him, not so that he would die, but that he would be judged on our behalf. Jesus is God’s ultimate provision for us because that is a trial we could not survive.

Because of that salvation, God’s promise to us to never leave us and never forsake us takes on new significance. Whatever we may face or struggle with, we are never alone! As I read of Jesus’ faithful progression to the cross, I am reminded of the 23rd Psalm, which we used as a Call to Worship today. Among other things, I believe it chronicles God’s shepherding presence with His Son, Jesus, as he moved toward the cross. Note particularly verse 4:

He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me…”

I believe this is exactly what the Father was doing for the Son, and what He promises us when we seek Him in faithful obedience.

Perfect Peace

What does God promise to those who seek Him and obey Him? He promises His presence and peace. Listen to this verse from Isaiah 26:3. We sang this earlier in the service:

The steadfast of mind you will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in you.

The Bible consistently reaffirms the principle of seeking, hearing, obeying, and following God’s Will. Sometimes God may have us fight; sometimes, flee; sometimes stand firm. We’re not always going to hear God perfectly, but we can avoid the mistakes of the disciples: falling asleep, not waiting for the answer, running ahead or falling behind.

The key question is, “How can I be faithful?”

Let me end with one short story as application.

One of my dear friends at my previous church was a lady named Millie. I think Millie was in her 80s, but I’m not sure – we didn’t talk about it. Millie was a widow and dearly missed her husband. Millie was in constant pain, with ulcerative colitis, arthritis, and numerous other debilitating health concerns. Several times over the six years I was there, I was called to the hospital because she had passed out from the pain. And Millie loved the Lord and the Church. If she could have, she would have been there every time the doors opened. But, she simply wasn’t able to do that. I know that she would have been happy to go on and be with the Lord, but apparently it wasn’t her time. I remember her sitting me down one time to tell me about how the Lord was using her. I think it probably took her a while to come to this understanding, but she figured if there was anything she could still do for the Lord with all her limitations, it was pray. She wore out the church prayer list praying for it. She prayed morning, noon, and night. She prayed for me and my family specifically each morning. She read the church newsletter and the newspaper and called the pastors and prayed for everything she could think of. If you’ve ever heard the term “prayer warrior” – that’s what she was. A five foot tall, grey-haired, 80-something year old warrior.

I don’t know if Millie ever prayed for healing or for the pain to go away. I’m sure she must have. I think she probably also prayed for the Lord to take her home. But I know that in the midst of her life, which just about anyone would admit was a trial of significant proportion, she knew God’s peace and presence because day after day she sought God’s will and followed after it.

In temptation, Jesus has shown us the way and he is the Way.

When temptation turns to trial, Jesus has shown us the way and he is the Way.

May God give us ears to hear! Amen.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Praying Against Temptation (Luke 22.39-46)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
March 2, 2008

For the last three weeks we have looked at Jesus’ temptations. Hebrews 4 tells us that Jesus is our great high priest who fully sympathizes with us because he has been tempted in every way as we have, yet is without sin. We have looked at some of the temptations Jesus faced as his ministry began. Today, and for the rest of the weeks leading up to Easter, we will look at some of the temptations Jesus faced during the last week before he was crucified.

We will continue to see how Hebrews 4 is proven true as Jesus turns away from temptation and remains faithful and obedient. He continues to show that he is both the Way and the way through. He is the Way of salvation, because of his perfect obedience on our behalf. He is the way through because he shows us and calls us to follow after him.

Jesus’ Prayer

The situation in our text was this. Jesus and the disciples had just finished the Last Supper. Luke tells us the story that is so interesting to consider alongside the foot-washing that followed: the disciples got into an argument about which one was the greatest among them. Judas had slipped away to meet with the religious leaders and was preparing to betray Jesus. And Jesus, knowing what lay ahead, went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Apparently all the disciples went, but Matthew tells us that he took Peter, James, and John into the Garden to pray. I’ve been there. It’s about a 15 minute walk from the Jerusalem city gate, and it’s a small area with trees, perhaps twice the size of this sanctuary.

Jesus said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

Then, Jesus went further in, not far, to pray alone. Now listen carefully to the words of his prayer:

Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.

Remember, too, the context. This is not a sweet bedtime, prayer… Jesus is sweating blood and is very near the end of his earthly life, about to face a grueling 12 hours of torture, suffering, and death. This is the prayer of a man facing death and worse.

Consider three things about his prayer and his situation:

1. He shares his desires with God. He asks God to spare him and find another way. I don’t think we can begin to comprehend what he was going to go through. But notice this: Jesus was perfect and sinless, and he expresses his desires to God. This scene is the counterpart to what we talked about last week. He is testing God in the right way, asking God to reveal His perfect will to him… making sure that he is indeed following the right path. But he wraps those desires in prayer for God’s will to be done.

2. As we talked about last week, he wraps his desires up with the prayer that God’s will be done. He is not putting God to the test, denying God’s existence if God doesn’t answer his prayers the way he wants. He is seeking God’s will and does not hesitate to make his suffering and desires known to God.

3. Remember the third temptation? Satan wanted Jesus to test God by hurling himself from the Temple, and quoted scripture to say that angels would catch him so that he would not be hurt? We noted the misapplication of hurling oneself into danger. Here, that scripture is shown to be true and applied in the right context. To the godly one, who is suffering in anguish and seeking God’s will, God sends an angel from heaven to strengthen him. In his moment of need, God provides what Jesus needs to continue in God’s will.

The Disciples’ Prayer

Now let’s consider the disciples. They were instructed to pray so that they would not enter into temptation. I’m not sure what their temptation was, whether the coming temptation to fight or flee or the temptation to doze off, as they do. They were not facing the same thing as Jesus, but the root temptation was probably the same: to not diligently seek God’s will in the moment.

As you know, they fell asleep. It was not late – probably only 9 or 10pm. And this was the night of the Passover, when Jews normally kept vigil and stayed up all night. Luke, alone of the Gospels, tells us that they were sleeping “from sorrow” (v. 45). Jesus had already told them (cf. John 14) that he was going to leave them, and they were apparently worn out with grief and emotional weariness.

Jesus wakens them saying, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” This suggests that there is still temptation to face, specifically the fight or flight that many will display in the hours to come.

What we should note here is two-fold:

1. Though Jesus presents us to the Father and the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf and the Father knows our every need, we are commanded to pray. One of the things we are to pray about is that we will not yield to temptation. Even when we sin and fall short of God’s will, we are again challenged to pray.

2. Sometimes the easiest time to pray is when we are desperate. But sometimes that is the hardest time to pray. When we are exhausted, depressed, discouraged, and weary from sorrow, it’s easy for our spirit as well as our body to “go to sleep.” Jesus says, “Wake up and pray!”

High Priest for our Sake

But remember Hebrews 4. Remember who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Our turning from temptation, praying faithfully, and being obedient are not the basis of our salvation. If those were, we wouldn’t be (saved)! Jesus’ faithfulness, obedience, and self-sacrifice are the basis of our salvation. He is high priest for our sake. His prayer in the garden and his submission to God’s will purchased our forgiveness and rescue for all time. Jesus is the one and only Way of salvation.

There is a place for our faithfulness, obedience, and prayers. It is in response to what Jesus has done and is part of our discipleship – our following after him. And our obedience bears fruit in our life. Through it God blesses us. For this, Jesus has shown us the way through temptation.

The whole story of the Bible is in this one story. It begins with Jesus asking his human disciples to be faithful and pray. And they aren’t and don’t. It is dominated by Jesus’ faithfulness on our behalf, despite the full weight of his impending sacrifice on his shoulders. And it concludes with Jesus, having been faithful, asking the human disciples once again to awaken and pray faithfully. Doesn’t that remind you of God’s charge to Adam and Eve, their disobedience, God’s perfect provision, and our ongoing challenge to faithful follower-ship?

How Shall We Pray?

Once the disciples asked Jesus, “How should we pray?” I think that is a natural question that comes out of a text like the one we have looked at today. You know one answer to that question… Jesus taught his followers the Lord’s Prayer, and we still say it today. It has the key phrase in it that we’ve focused on today and the past few weeks: thy will be done. (Matthew 6:10) Remember, there is no better place we can be than seeking and following the will of God.

But Jesus demonstrated that it is faithful and right to also pray and ask God for the desires of your heart, while wrapping those prayers up in not my will, but yours. Consider then these verses also as a model for prayer, and note the blessing that is promised in them:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
It was this same peace that God gave Jesus in response to his own prayer, letting his requests be made known to his Father, wrapped in “Thy will be done.”

When you pray, pour out your heart to God; wrap those desires up in the prayer that God’s will be done, not as magic words to say, but as an attitude of trust and faith; and know that God promises his presence and peace as we live out His will. Amen.