The severity of sin and its remedy – Matthew 18:7-9

Jesus was never light on sin.  While infinitely gracious, compassionate and kind toward flawed and fallen people like ourselves, he understood the depth of our affliction.  He absolutely refused to minimize it.  As he saw it, both the tempter and the tempted put themselves at the most serious risk of judgment.

“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire (ESV).

No solution for sin and its effects is too radical for Jesus.  Cut off the guilty body part and throw it away.  But here the depth of the problem is revealed.  We might imagine ourselves amputating till there was almost nothing left and still struggling against sin.  The source of our guilt cannot be found in the hand or the eye, or anything else that is removable.  Sin thrives in the lowest recesses of the heart.

David grasped this when he prayed in Psalm 51:10,

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.

And this is what God promises in Ezekiel 36:26-27,

26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

This is what we need – a heart that desires to please God.  We don’t need one less limb or useful organ.  We need to become new people.  Receiving new life in Christ accomplishes this.  If we don’t have it, then that is what we need.  If we do have it, we need to learn to walk in it.  This is clearly summed up in the words of Paul.

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.  

Sin is severe – and probably more awful than we can understand, since our very perception of it is distorted by, well, sin!   Jesus took it so seriously he paid for it on the cross.  A new heart, a whole new self, is now available to us in Christ.

Resisting temptation – Matthew 4:1-11

When Jesus was confronted by the devil in the wilderness, he might have just destroyed the devil once and for all.  Or, he might have used a bit less of his own divine omnipotence and suddenly shut the devil’s mouth.  After all, hadn’t the Holy Spirit just descended upon him at his baptism in the last chapter?  Wasn’t he ready to engage in a mighty public miracle-working ministry?  Maybe so, but those options would not have taught us the same lesson as what he actually did.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’

and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
    and him only shall you serve.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

Instead of somehow rendering the devil powerless, Jesus, who was empowered by the Spirit and led into the wilderness by that same Spirit, confronted the devil with Scripture.  Instead of doing something that only Jesus could do, he did something that any Christian can do just as well.

When confronted by temptation, we can rely upon the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures to resist it.  That is not always easy to do because the devil tends to catch us off guard, when the Spirit’s indwelling presence is the last thing on our minds.  Arguably, Jesus also knew the Bible better than we do.

Alas, these may be real reasons, but they are not good excuses.  We should find it encouraging that Jesus did what he did in the way that he did it.  The lessons learned are to stay conscious of the Holy Spirit’s presence within us and to grow spiritually from a steady diet of the Bible.  You never know which obscure verse, say from Deuteronomy, is going to come in handy. 

Let’s continuously pray for the Holy Spirit’s help and continuously take in regular doses of God’s Word.  When temptation comes, we will be ready to resist it just like Jesus.

Every Trial Has Its Limits

This evening at Horizon Central in our series 66 Books, we’re looking at the book of Job.  Going through the book verse-by-verse can be a long, arduous process – almost a verbal version of Job’s actual trials.  It is also, however, a book with the happiest of all endings and that’s where the big lesson is.  James sums it up well for us in the New Testament:

Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord-that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.” – James 5:11 (NKJV)

Every trial has its limits.  Every temptation has its way out.  Every difficulty has an “end intended by the Lord,” through which He will reveal His very compassionate and merciful character.

No temptation [trial, test] has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted [tested, tried] beyond what you are able, but with the temptation [trial, test] will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NKJV)

Job also gives us an insight into the character and nature of Satan – which is just the opposite of God’s.  He was only interested in destroying Job.  His goal was to harm him, hurt him, make his life miserable, so that Job would give up, give in and ultimately reject God Himself.

This same cosmic struggle is played out each time we face a trial or temptation.  Every such moment is a moment of truth, in which we have the chance to succumb to the enemy’s wishes or trust God with all of our heart.  In submitting to the Lord’s will and waiting upon Him, we actually hand the devil one more crushing defeat.