Due to a change in the site hosting audio, we have had to replace the audio player and only audio from 2017-2019 is currently available.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Weeping for the Lost (Luke 19.36-44)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
March 29, 2015
Text: Luke19:36-44

:: Sermon Audio (link)
scroll down for written draft

Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "The Palms" (Linda Jenkins, organ; Rick Bean, piano) (Faure; arr. Fred Bock)
Processional Song: "All Glory, Laud and Honor" (TESCHNER; arr. and chorus, Austell) 

The Word in Music: "Lift Up Your Heads" (Pote)
Offering of Music: "Hosanna/Praise is Rising" (Baloche, Brown)
Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
Song of Sending: "Build Your Kingdom Here" (Rend Collective Experiment)
Postlude: "Build Your Kingdom Here"

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

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 raise your hand?

If you came to Good Shepherd because someone told you about it or invited you to come, would you raise your hand? 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, of which we read part for our call to worship, describes that tradition.

There is every indication that many believed Jesus to be the One God had promised. Starting outside the city, up on the top of the hill with a road down, through a valley, and up to the city gates, they were shouting the line from Psalm 118 – “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 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. 2015

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, which 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.

I believe we shine brightly with the light of Christ here at the corner of Rea Rd and Swan’s Run. People see and hear that God is at work here. We offer guidance 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 so it shines brightly.

But 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.”

I’d like to pause for a moment and ask you to watch the slides on the screens. This is our church neighborhood; this is our first “Jerusalem.” Let your thoughts and prayers go towards the people and places you see. What is God doing? Where might you share in what God is doing?

We are also here to get up and get out 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. Meet people where they are. 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 22, 2015

When Temptation Turns to Trial (Luke 22.47-71)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
March 22, 2015
Text: Luke 22:47-71

:: Sermon Audio (link)
scroll down for written draft

Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Song of Praise: "O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus" (Williams/Enfield) 
Song of Praise: "Psalm 23" (Townend)
Offering of Music: "And No Bird Sang" (Wagner)
Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
Song of Sending: "It is Well With My Soul" (VILLE DU HAVRE)
Postlude: Kelsey Gilsdorf, piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

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’ve talked before 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 asking 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:

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.

At my first church in Lenoir, there 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.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Praying Against Temptation (Luke 22.39-46)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
March 15, 2015
Text: Luke 22:39-46; Matthew 6:7-13; Psalm 32:6-7; Philippians 4:6-7

:: Sermon Audio (link)
scroll down for written draft

Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Song of Praise: "Hiding Place" (Ledner) 
Hymn of Praise: "Go to Dark Gethsemane" (Montgomery/Redhead)
Song of Confession: "Could You Not Watch?" (Hopson)
Offering of Music: "Thy Will Be Done" (Courtney)
Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
Song of Sending: "Draw Me Nearer" (Crosby/Sheets; Arr. Austell)
Postlude: Kelsey Gilsdorf, piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

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 a 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 (Psalm 91, esp. v. 11) 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.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Tempted to Test God (Luke 4.9-13)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
March 8, 2015
Text: Luke 4:9-13; Deuteronomy 6:16-19; Exodus 17:1-7

:: Sermon Audio (link)
scroll down for written draft

Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Song of Praise: "Blessed be Your Name" (Matt and Beth Redman) 
Song of Praise: "We Fall Down" (Chris Tomlin)
Offering of Music: "I Need Thee Every Hour" (Karla Katibah, vocalist) (Indelible Grace)
Song of Sending: "I Need Thee Every Hour" (chorus)
Postlude: Kelsey Gilsdorf, piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

We’ve been considering the full humanity of Jesus, our Great High Priest whom Hebrews says fully sympathizes with us because he has been tempted in every way like us, but has not sinned.  We’ve looked at the temptations Jesus faced in the desert, when Satan came to him.  The first temptation was to self-sufficiency: looking to his own strength and power rather than first seeking God’s will and Word.  The second temptation was to idolatry: offering obedience, service, and worship to someone or something other than God.  Today we consider the third temptation, which was to test God.  We’ll try to understand what that means and how we can follow Jesus’ example and turn away from that temptation.

The Third Temptation

Satan challenged Jesus to throw himself off the top of the Temple in Jerusalem, saying, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here.”  It wasn’t to take his life, but to show His power.  Satan continued, “For it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you to guard you… on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”  Though Satan is quoting scripture (Psalm 91), he mis-applies it.  That Psalm is an affirmation of God’s sheltering and helping hand for those who trust Him and are hard-pressed and in need.  It is not a formula for hurling oneself into danger.  It is no wonder that Jesus responds by saying, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  But there is more to this temptation than the obvious correction to the mis-use of Psalm 91.

For one, this temptation anticipates the crucifixion.  While Satan would not have known the details of Jesus’ obedience and yet-to-come crucifixion, he could imagine how to get Jesus off course.  To take advantage of the position of Son would be to follow the path of Satan’s own sin.  Satan was cast out of heaven for seeking to elevate himself rather than to serve God.  If Jesus would do the same, surely he would thwart God’s plans significantly.  In some ways, this was a re-play of the temptation of Adam and Eve, but with even more at stake, if that is possible.  While Adam’s sin led to the downfall of the human race, now the redemption of humanity is at stake.

Even at the end of this passage, when Satan leaves, it is only until he can return at “an opportune time” to continue his efforts at sabotage.  There is a cosmic battle being played out here, and Jesus proves faithful again and again.

While all that is true, I’d like to focus on the human part of this.  What does this temptation have in common with us?  And how can we follow Jesus’ example and not yield to this temptation?

Jesus’ quotation of God’s Word points us in the direction we need to go.  He quotes again from Deuteronomy 6 (as he did with the second temptation).  The rest of that passage reads as follows:
You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah… you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord… (vv. 16-18)
Jesus is again affirming obedience to God’s will and Word.  This has been his response to all three temptations, and it is our way out as well.

But let’s track down the reference to Massah – that is where God’s people were said to have tested God.  Let’s see what they did.

Testing God at Massah

This story comes from Exodus 17.  It is the first of two stories of water from the rock.  In this story, the people are in great need, desperate for water, and they complain to Moses, who prays to the Lord.  God provides water through the obedience and faithfulness of Moses.  So in what way did the people test God?

I ask this question because it is not immediately clear what it means to test God.  After all, there are examples of testing God in scripture: twice Gideon put out a fleece to verify what God was telling him to do.  And here, is it not okay for the people to call out to God and ask for water, which they need to live? 

The key to understanding what is meant here is in verse 7, in the explanation for naming the place Massah, which means quarrel:
[Moses] named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us, or not?”
They tested the Lord by questioning whether the Lord was with them or not.  They did not go to Moses and say, “Will you ask God to help us, to give us water?”  They argued with Moses and demanded that he provide water.  They no longer believed that God was with them. 

The difference between what the Israelites did at Massah and what Gideon did with the fleece is that Gideon was seeking God’s will and Word.  The Israelites had given up on God and were beginning to turn on their leader, Moses.

This was the choice Satan put to Jesus.  Throw yourself off the Temple and we’ll see if God is really among us or not.  Certainly, God could have proven Himself that way, but Jesus took the route of Gideon, not the faithless Israelites: he continued to seek, listen, and obey God’s will and Word rather than make his own way apart from God.

Tempted to Test God

This is a very real temptation that we face.  And the heart of it is not just doubting God or having periods of struggle with faith.  That kind of struggle and doubt can find resolution.  This particular temptation is to pin our faith on God’s coming through for us.  It is the prayer that says, “This is what I need, and if God doesn’t answer this, then I’m giving up on God.”  That’s the kind of temptation that can ruin us and take us down for a long time.

One of the reasons I hear often given by people who no longer attend church is something like this: “One time there was this horrible situation; I prayed to God to fix it and He didn’t, so I don’t believe in God any more.”  That’s where Satan longs to go with that temptation – to have people’s prayers not be about seeking God’s will, but about fulfilling our wishes and grading God on the results.

One of the defining moments for me personally was when I was twelve years old.  My best friend’s three year old sister was rushed to the emergency room as a matter of life and death.  I prayed hard all night while she was in the ER, as did many in my church.  It would have been easy to pin my faith on God’s answer to those prayers, for it to become a matter of life and death to my faith.  She did not die, but it didn’t turn out the way I had hoped either… trying to understand that was when my faith grew up.

Listening to God: the way to freedom

Hebrews says that Jesus is the Way and he is the way through temptation.  In each case where he was tempted by Satan, he faced temptation and did not sin because he looked for God’s will and Word.  God’s Word is my ultimate sustenance.  Worshiping God is my greatest joy.  Praying for God’s will to be done – and for mine to line up with that; that is the way through.

The Good News is that this is not about us being sinless like Jesus.  Jesus did what we cannot do.  The Good News is that he did, and he has made a way for us to be restored to a right and lasting relationship with God.  Along the way, he has demonstrated the way to resist temptation without sinning, and has provided a way of hope and peace in this life. 

Put your trust in Jesus Christ and follow diligently after him.  He will show you the Father and give you what you need.  Amen.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Tempted by Idolatry (Luke 4.5-8)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
March 1, 2015
Text: Luke 4:5-8

:: Sermon Audio (link)
scroll down for written draft

Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Come Ye Sinners" (arr. Indelible Grace)
Song of Praise: "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name" (GROSSER GOTT) 
Hymn of Praise: "Come Ye Sinners" v. 5 (arr. Indelible Grace)
Song of Confession: "Give Us Clean Hands" (Charlie Hall)
Communion Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Song of Sending: "Lord, Who throughout These Forty Days" (ST FLAVIAN)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

We are considering the full humanity of Jesus as God-come-among-us.  Hebrews says that Jesus, our great High Priest, fully sympathizes or suffers with us, because he has been tempted in all things as we are (yet without sin).  That truth is a source of confidence and hope for us.

Last week we looked at Satan’s first temptation of Jesus at the end of his 40 days of fasting and praying in the desert.  That temptation was for Jesus to turn the stones into bread, to rely on his own authority and power rather than to first seek God’s Word and purpose for him. We also looked at one woman’s story – the Samaritan woman at the well, who was making the best of her situation, but trapped by that same situation. We talked about the limitations of self-reliance apart from God.

Today, we look at the second temptation.  We do so not just to learn about Jesus, but because Hebrews describes Jesus as being tempted in all ways as we are, yet doing so without yielding to sin.  We will also see how we are tempted in this particular way and consider the way through that God’s Word, Jesus’ example, and Jesus’ faithfulness provide for us.

Tempting Jesus

I spoke last week about how Jesus had spent 40 days fasting and praying in the desert.  This was the beginning of his traveling and teaching ministry, and he was beginning it with prayerful attention to God’s Word and will.  Throughout his ministry there is a tension between the Messiah-expectation of the people around him and his own understanding of being God’s anointed.  Many looked for him to be a revolutionary and take on the military power of Rome.  Satan’s temptation was not just a “you can have all this” line, but a short step away from the already existing expectations for the Messiah. 

This is also the deal that endless stories have been based on.  It’s the “sell your soul to the devil” story.  If you will only worship me, you can have it all.  It’s the deal at the crossroads, and Jesus resisted by standing on God’s Word. 

He quoted Deuteronomy 6, as he also did in response to the other two temptations.  He said, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”  Worship is the first and highest purpose of being human, and Jesus refused to give away his humanity.  Rather, he leaned on God’s Word and declared his intent to love, obey, and serve God alone.

The Human Story

This temptation is one of those most common to humanity.  Even when God is the one promising or giving the riches and blessing, Satan would rob God of worship.  That’s the bottom line.  The “stuff” is just the carrot, but Satan does not want God to be worshiped or served.  In the passage Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6, God is telling His people not to fall into the worship of a false god.  Listen again to what is going on there:

…when the Lord your God brings you into the land… great and splendid cities… houses full of all good things… cisterns… vineyards… olive trees… and you eat and are satisfied… then watch yourself, that you do not forget the Lord. (vv. 10-12)

Listen to the next part, in verse 13:

You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.  You shall not follow other gods…

When surrounded by plenty, even God-given plenty, how easy it is for human eyes to wander!

It reminds me of the story of the first humans, Adam and Eve.  They were in Paradise, and yet they heard the same whispered temptations from Satan: “Listen to me; do this; you can be like God!”

How much we desperately need Jesus to make a way for us!  He has shown us the way through and he is the way through!

Tempted by Idolatry

I think this temptation translates into our lives in more than one way.  One is the confusion between “success” and “blessing.”  Even within Christianity, maybe even particularly there, these are confused as many teach a “prosperity or health-and-wealth gospel.”  But God seems clear about the difference in Deuteronomy.  God is the source of blessing – it is not the doing of the Israelites.  And God’s warning to those enjoying his blessing is to “watch yourself, that you do not forget.”  Forget what?  Not that this came from God, but that God is the One who brought you out of slavery – who rescued and saved your life.

Success is something human beings strive for, measure, and accomplish on their own.  It is defined in worldly terms, in dollars and cents, and as a measure of power and status.  Success means you are educated, or wealthy, or comfortable.  It does not correspond to God, godliness, or faithfulness to God, except perhaps as one is willing to give it away and serve others.  You may sense that two different lines of thought are present.  There is one theme of success and prosperity and there is one of worship and obedience.  The great lie and temptation of Satan is to tie those things together.  The subtle lie is to link faith with prosperity.  Satan will take that deal, for it’s easy to give up on God when He doesn’t come through with the money or the deal.  The more open lie is to erase God from the picture altogether and to serve other gods in an effort to achieve success or prosperity. 

Milton captured this lie precisely in Paradise Lost when he has Satan giving a speech to the condemned of Hell and telling them that he would rather reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.  That is exactly Satan’s lie – that we are better off on our own with some level of material success than first and foremost loving, obeying, and serving God. This second temptation builds right on the first of self-reliance to keep our eyes and hearts away from God.

Do Not Forget

Each week Jesus will illustrate for us the truth and significance of Hebrews 4:14-16…

Since we have a great high priest who can fully sympathize with our weaknesses, having been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin, let us hold fast to our confession and approach the throne of grace with confidence to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

He quotes Deuteronomy 6, which warns, “watch yourself, that you do not forget the Lord who brought you out of slavery.”  That passage leads to the same point Jesus made to Satan: love, obey, and serve God alone.

That is the way through the temptation to chase after the false gods of success and discover the riches of being blessed – that is, lined up and following after the will and Word of God.  Jesus demonstrated this way and he is the Way. 

This is not to say that you can’t do well financially or that poverty equals godliness.  It’s a wake-up call to see that one of the things we most often take for granted (success and prosperity) are not to be the lord of our life and cannot be the savior of our soul.  God’s path may well be one of suffering, but there is no more blessed way than wherever love, obedience, and service to God’s will and Word lead you. Amen.