The Gospel Truth
Today I want to talk about the “Gospel”. That word has been hijacked a bit by our culture so I want, at the outset, to clarify what that word even means. The term “The Gospel Truth” has actually become an idiom in our culture – meaning a group of words that have a meaning you can’t get from the words themselves. Like “it’s raining cats and dogs” (which means there’s a lot of rain coming down), or “beating round the bush” (which means to avoid talking about something), the words “the gospel truth” have now become idiomatic for something that is supposed to be unquestionably true.
A quick Google search for showed people using the phrase in concert reviews (“she loves singing, that’s the gospel truth”. scientific studies (“don’t take this study as the gospel truth”), marriage advice (“here’s some advice, but don’t take it as the gospel truth), and of course, attacks against mainstream media (“CNN, NBC, ABC all present their claims as the gospel truth”). It seems to either a way to double down on how truthful you are, or to squirm out of having people totally buy what you are saying.
The word “gospel” comes from the Greek word EVANGELION, which is where we get our word “evangelism” or “evangelist”. An “evangelist” is someone that tells the “good news”. The world simply means “good news”. When Mark begins telling the story of Jesus, he starts with the word EVANGELION: This is the good news. At the time the word meant any kind of good news. 2000 years ago if someone knocked and said “Have you heard the good news?”, you wouldn’t immediately think they were religious, but simply thought it could be a good sale down at the camel emporium or they just found some money in their sock drawer. [Did ancient Greeks have sock drawers?] Today, however, the word “Gospel” or “good news” is synonymous with the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now, when knocks on your door or stops you in the street and says “have you heard the good news?” almost everyone immediately knows this person is going to say something about Jesus!
My least favourite example of culture appropriating the word “gospel” is from the old Disney movie “Hercules” which opens by presenting the Greek myths with gospel-style, church music, using the hook on the chorus “and that’s the gospel truth”. It’s annoying to me that they would use what sounds like upbeat church music to present myths. It puts the Bible at the same historical accuracy level as Homer’s Odyssey. Which simply isn’t true.
Not a Myth
Christians don’t follow myths. What we believe is not based on philosophy or stories that make us feel good. Instead, we believe the true gospel, the real gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ, really happened. Jesus life, death, and resurrection were the plan of salvation, the gospel, that God had written since the beginning of time. We stake our lives and our eternities on it.
Open up to 1 Corinthians 15. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 the Apostle Paul writes to the church about the importance of remembering that the resurrection of Jesus really happened. He says:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
He’s telling the Christians that no matter what happens in this world, the reason we can have hope is because of the historical reality that Jesus really was raised from the dead. He reminds them that this is what was taught to them, this is what they believed, and when the world around them starts to shake, this is what they need to “hold fast to” – not because it is a nice story, but because it’s true. God’s plan, “according to the scriptures”, was that Jesus would die on a Roman cross. He really was buried and He really did rise three days later. And how could they be sure? Ask Cephas and the apostles, who were still around. If you don’t believe them ask one of the other five hundred witnesses who are still around.
Some people had come to the church and said, “That’s impossible! People don’t come back from the dead!” To which Christians reply, “No duh. That’s why it’s so special! That’s why we have a great big celebration about it every year! Because it’s a miracle.”
But some of the people in the Corinthian church had forgotten the good news were starting to lose faith – and this was only 30 years after the resurrection! As they lost their faith in the resurrection they started to lose hope, which meant the foundation of their lives started to wobble, which caused them to flail about looking for something to make the world make sense, and they were starting to wander into sin, hopelessness, fear, worldliness, sadness, greed, and anything else that would distract them or some level of control – and their pastor, Paul, blows the whistle and calls everyone back to the centre so they can do a big reset.
I’m an Edmonton Oiler fan and I’m very glad to see my team back in the playoffs this year. It’s been a long time. But I still remember 2006 when they made the trade for a big defenseman named Chris Pronger who took the team to the playoffs. He was a huge guy with lots of experience on a team that no one thought would be able to win. I remember watching as the Oilers would get behind, start chasing the puck, start freaking out, and then 6 foot 6 inch, 220 pound Chris Pronger would get the puck, look around at the rest of the guys and reset the whole team. It happened time and again. The young, inexperienced guys, would be buzzing around, and Pronger would basically stop the game and give everyone a chance to get back to where they needed to be.
That’s what Paul did to the church. He stopped their buzzing and reset the whole church. “Guys, remember the truth! Remember what you heard! Remember what you believe and why you believe it! Put down the idols, sin, greed, fear, and foolishness and remember that God is real, Jesus has risen, the Holy Spirit is active, and you are His!”
He goes on to say in verse 12 that if Jesus has not be raised from the dead, if the resurrection isn’t true, then there is no point in being a Christian – life has no hope. He says: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting
“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
That’s what we are proclaiming today. My message and the message of this church is the same. “In fact, Christ has been raised from the dead” and therefore we have hope. Adam sinned and brought death to the world – but Jesus’s death made it so that we could be alive again.
I opened the Good Friday service with a prayer that I want to read part of again because I found it so powerful. It said, “It was on the cross that grace removed our burdens and heaped them onto Jesus, where he was made a transgressor, a curse, and sin for our sake…. Christ was all anguish that we might be all joy, rejected so we could be accepted, cast off so we could be brought in, trodden down as an enemy so we could be welcomed as friends, surrendered to hell’s worst so we could attain heaven’s best, wounded that we could be healed, thirsty so we would be able to drink, tormented so we could find comfort, made shame so we might inherit glory, entered darkness that we might have eternal light. Jesus Christ, our Saviour, wept so that our tears might be wiped away, groaned in agony so we could have an endless song to sing, endured all pain so that we could have unfading health, bore a crown of thorns so we could have imperishable crowns of glory, life, and righteousness. He bowed his head so that ours could be lifted to heaven, he experienced reproach so we could be accepted, closed his eyes in death so we could gaze on the unclouded brightness of God. He died so we could live forever.”
The world seems upside down right now, but, Christians around the world proclaim today: remember the gospel! In a world awash with bad news, and a life full of frustration, remember the good news.
We all need some good news these days, don’t we? But for some reason, the media doesn’t really like reporting “good news”. Can you imagine turning on the TV to your favourite news program and hearing only good news for 30 minutes straight? I can’t even fathom what that would be like.
How about instead of saying “1 in 6 people lie on their tax form”, they could say, “Did you know that 83% of people are very honest and do a great job on their taxes every year!” Instead of hearing about how the legal system is failing, the police have problems, and the bad guys are getting out of jail on a technicality, we heard stories like “The police saved countless lives this month by giving out tickets to people who drive too fast, took care of special needs people by giving out tickets, arrested lots and lots of bad guys, saved many families from harm, and visited a whole bunch of schools to help children have a better life.” Instead of hearing about the crooked bankers, wouldn’t it be nice to hear that like 99.9% of the people at the bank aren’t crooked and are just trying to do a good job. That’d be a nice change, wouldn’t it?
I would love to turn on the TV and see some positive stories: “This just in… 20 kittens were born today – here’s some pictures. Baskin Robins has a deal on waffle cones – here’s a coupon. And now for the weather: Hey, the sun us up, it’s nice outside, there are flowers blooming in the park, and everyone should go outside and play. Now for the sports: Almost every athlete in every sport practiced really hard, played exactly by the rules, worked well with their team mates, made lots and lots of money, donated some of it to charity, and the vast majority are still very happily married. Oh, and half the teams won their games! And now for entertainment news from Hollywood: there are actually a bunch of fun movies to take your kids too … and some of them are in 3D.”
Yes, I know that life sucks sometimes and everyone wants us to freak out all the time. ISIS is killing people, Christians are being blown up while they sit in their churches, Syria is gassing civilian woman and children, the US just dropped the biggest non-nuclear bomb in their arsenal on Afghanistan. Add to that the incredibly difficult things that we are all facing in our day-to-day lives – addiction, abuse, illness, pain, loss, depression, anxiety, sadness… and it’s easy to start to feel hopeless.
As the world presses in and our foundations start to shake, we also start to flail about looking for something to grab onto to steady ourselves. Even committed Christians find themselves wondering what God is doing, where Jesus is, why we are going through this, and we start to grasp for immediate answers and instant comfort. Our fight or flight instincts kick in and we want to rail against those around us, or do anything for a moment’s peace – even if we know it will harm us.
But we need more, don’t we? We need more than just a quick fix or a boost of good news from the world around us – we need something ultimate, some piece of good news that we can build our whole lives on. Something that, when all is lost, the world is dark, the demons are swirling, we feel desperately hungry, angry, lonely, tired and sad, that holds us fast. Some people call this a metanarrative – an overarching story that gives meaning to everything. And that metanarrative, that overarching meaning, that good news is found in the resurrection of Jesus.
What the Good News Means
Some of you know that my family has been through a rough time lately. And I know from talking to you that many of you are also facing some very difficult situations personally, emotionally, financially, relationally. And so I want to share with you, from a bit of a personal side, what the Good News means to us – what it means to me – especially during dark times.
On Easter Sunday we wake up early, put on our itchy pants and fancy dresses, come to church and celebrate, sing about, and talk about the resurrection of Jesus. And we sometimes phrase it as “God did this for the world. God loves everybody.” But today I want to close with what the good news means to me… and hopefully you can resonate with it.
I could do this in 10 words: “The gospel of Jesus Christ means everything to me.” Or I could preach endlessly, for hours and hours, about the ways Jesus has changed my life, what the scripture says, what I have studied in my theology books, and what He has done for me in my darkest times.
No doubt you are wondering which one I picked. You’re hoping for the 10 word conclusion, and hoping against the endless one, right? Well, I’m hoping to lean more towards the former than the latter, if that means anything.
So, when the world is at it’s darkest and I need good news, I am reminded of the resurrection of Jesus and all that it means for me and those who believe. Let me share a little of what gives me hope during those hard times.
First, the resurrection of Jesus means that absolute truth and absolute morality exist. What a horrible insecurity it is to believe that there is no such thing as truth that nothing can be certain, everything is pliable, and that everyone’s opinion, conjecture and feelings are equally valid. That somehow even if something is a lie, it can be the “truth to someone”. That’s an unsettled, foundationless existence.
I have comfort in the knowledge that there are some non-negotiables in this world – that not everything is up for grabs. Some things are categorically bad, and others are absolutely good. Yes, there arere some grey areas I don’t understand, but its good news that God has given us black and white. Jesus died to save me from the wrath of God against sin which leads to eternal death, and because of Him I can be free and clean. It’s as black and white as that. There is right and wrong, good and evil, saved and unsaved, and those things are set by God – not man, not me, not anyone but God alone.
I Am Loved
Second, the death and resurrection of Jesus tells me that I am overwhelmingly, undeservingly, and unconditionally loved by the One who created me. When life is at its worst. When I feel like I’m on the edge of madness, people let me down, and I am utterly confused, I look to the cross and know that God loves me, to the tomb and know that Jesus is alive and with me. It is He who gives me comfort, teaches me, holds me together, and willingly grants a peace that passes understanding. When I can’t count on anyone, I can count on Him. When no one will listen, I can talk to Him and He understands. And when I am alone, I can listen to Him because He really does speak. When I am alone He’s always there. He will never leave me, nor forsake me.
If I had to continuously wonder if I had done enough to earn God’s love, I would be forever paranoid and afraid of Him. If God only loves me because of the good things I do, say, think then I am in real trouble, because, in truth, I know that am a wretched, selfish, sinful man.
But He doesn’t. God so loved the world, and so loved me, that He sent His one and only Son to earth, to live as a human being, and to take the punishment that you and I deserve. He did this because He loves us with an everlasting love.
I Have a Purpose
Another piece of good news that Jesus reminds me of is that we are specially created to have a purpose and a destination. I am not a being who is simply tossed upon the winds of time and space, only to exist for a moment and then disappear into nonexistence. The bible teaches me that God knew us before we were born, put us together in a very specific way, with special gifts and talents and a unique temperament. He chose our parents, where we would grow up, and designed us in such a way that we have a reason to live.
In a world where we are taught we are the summation of a random occurrence of molecules and that we are governed more by chemistry and electrical impulse than an eternal soul… were we are only as valuable as long as we are producing and being good consumers, but where life has no ultimate meaning, there is no assurance of a bright future, and only oblivion to look forward to in eternity… it is good news to know that the opposite is true.
God Has Power
The resurrection also reminds me that no matter how bad life gets messed things up, God is big enough to fix it. Jesus showed that, if He desires, He has the power to solve every problem and turn every bad thing into something good. From making the blind see and the lame walk to turning water into wine just so someone wouldn’t be embarrassed, He showed He isn’t just about big problems but He is also concerned with everyday problems too. He fed 5000 people with one kid’s lunch to show that we never have to worry about provision when He’s in charge. When all of the disciples were terrified that their boat would capsize in the storm, Jesus stood up and literally rebuked the wind and waves and the storm just stopped. And He can, and has, done the same thing for the storms in my heart, my mind, and in my life as well. And the resurrection proves that even death has no power over Him! When things look bleak, it is good news to remember that God not only loves us, but has great power.
I Am Free
And of course, the best news, to me and anyone else who believes, is that we are free from the consequences of our sins. This is the core of evangelism – that because of Jesus we are free. Jesus knows what I’ve done. And Satan, who’s other name is the Accuser, has every right to stand on the other side of God’s courtroom and proclaim to the Judge of all mankind, that I am guilty and deserve death, hell and eternal punishment for breaking God’s divine law over and over. And I do – I deserve the punishment. And yet, there stands Jesus, who’s other name is the Advocate, telling God that every punishment I deserve, every sin I’ve committed, every wrong that I have done, has been atoned for… has been paid for, by Him on the cross.
You see, God couldn’t just let all my sin go. He can’t just forget about it. He is perfectly good and righteous, and upholds perfect justice. Every wrong must be given exactly the right punishment. No one will get away with anything. But for those who believe, that punishment was poured out on Jesus. I was a slave to sin, he bought me back. I was chained to the devil, on my way to the blackness of hell, and Jesus Christ proclaimed light, broke the chain, and brought me back. He exchanged His body for mine, His blood for mine. He went through Hell so I wouldn’t have to.
Christians don’t follow Jesus because we have to. We don’t do good because we are afraid of God. We do it because we want to show our love and thanks to Jesus and because I trust that God knows what He’s doing with my life WAY better than I do. When God tells me I’m doing wrong I try not to see it as Him taking something away but as a Father who is protecting me.
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus reminds us of all of this! The story of humanity, from Adam to today, is only good news because Jesus is in the story! No matter where we are, what we have done, or who we think we are… God still loves us, Jesus died for us, forgiveness is available to us, and we can live forever in the knowledge that we are God’s people.
If you believe that this morning, I would ask you, and encourage you to remember that today is a day of celebration! And that no matter how bad the news is in your life… and no matter what your dark days, your bad thoughts, or the TV says… there is still good news.
No matter how tough you have it this morning… and I know that some of you are in a very dark place, and it is very hard to see any light… there is good news that if you are willing to turn your life over to Jesus, ask forgiveness for your sin, and open your heart to what He would like to do in you, He will give you hope. He’s never let me down and has taken such good care of me, that even when everything looked really messed up and beyond hope, He has done great things far beyond what I could have asked or even imagined.
This morning, in the light of Palms Sunday, I want to talk about the history of the world — from the beginning to the end — the story of God and humanity.
Chapter 1: The Beginning
Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This is the start of our story. Notice how I said that it’s the start of our story. Not the beginning of The Whole story. Just our part. God is eternal, existing before there was ever a heaven or an earth.
So God created the universe, the stars, the planets, our world, and everything on it. And He did it in steps. As we read the creation story we see that God is imaginative, powerful, orderly, and is really enjoying His work. We don’t know everything about the beginning of time, but we do know that it did not come together by random chance. Over and over again God creates and then looks at what He is doing and says that “it is good”. He likes what He sees. He made the skies, the oceans, the birds, trees, the sun, the moon… all of it. God, in an amazing process, formed all of creation out of nothingness… and then called it “good”.
And then, after everything else was created… He began His greatest work. God literally saved the best for last. He decided to create humanity. All of the rest of creation was a good thing… but this was going to be the best thing. God formed a man out of the dirt of the ground, like a potter lovingly molding a clay sculpture in His own image, and then breathed life into them. And then He formed the woman from a part of Him, making them complimentary equals. He bestowed upon these two beings something unique in the world… a living spirit that reflected His own. Humanity was designed to bear God’s own image and carry inside us His divine breath. We are the best thing He ever made, and He loves us very much.
And He took His two favourite creations, named Adam and Eve, and put them into a wonderful garden. There was endless food, total comfort, no shame, no danger, no anger, meaningful work, and perfect love. Greed wasn’t a problem, relationships weren’t a problem, sex wasn’t a problem, disease wasn’t heard of, and best of all, these humans had the glorious privilege of walking and talking with God face to face. It was the best place ever. But it didn’t stay that way.
Chapter 2: The Fall
Adam and Eve, with some help from the devil himself, decided that Eden wasn’t good enough. God had placed them where they would have everything they could ever need but had only one rule: Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
In a world of delicious options, there was only one tree from which they weren’t aloud to eat. Can you imagine a world where there is only one bad choice? Everything else on the entire planet was a good choice. There was only one bad one.
Many have asked why God would put that tree there at all. The answer is simply this: without it, there would have been no choice. In order for His creation to have free will and the ability to love, there must be the option of choice. There must be a way to choose not to love, not to obey, not to believe God’s Word. If there is to be free will, rejection must be an option. There must be another choice.
And Adam and Eve made the other choice. They chose not to trust their Creator. They chose to believe God was holding out on them. They chose to take that which they were not allowed to have, and which they had been warned would do them harm. That choice is called sin and it changed the whole of creation.
Chapter 3: Cast Out From Eden
The moment Adam and Eve decided to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, everything changed. It was at that moment when sin entered the world. God had warned them that everything would change, but they did it anyway. He warned them of the consequence of death coming through sin, but they didn’t want only the knowledge of life, they wanted the knowledge of death too. They knew that once they ate it, they would have a special knowledge which they didn’t have before – something God didn’t want for them, which would hurt them… and they ate anyway. Before that moment they only knew “good”… but after they fell to temptation, they would know “good and evil”.
And since God is good, perfect and holy, and He can’t be around evil – He has no part with evil or evil-doers. Their action made it so that He could no longer communicate face to face with His beloved people anymore. Things had changed.
The sin not only affected them but the rest of the world as well. They were the pinnacle and the stewards of creation, and now that they had sinned, all of creation was marred – it’s like their sin bled inky blackness from them onto everything else in the universe.
Soon after the Fall we read of shame, anger, distrust, fear, blame… weeds, toil, pain, frustration… everything changes because of sin. God’s wrath and justice are at work, but in an act of divine grace, they were cast out of Eden so they would not eat of the Tree of Life as well and be trapped forever in their sinful state.
And, as God had promised, Adam and Eve knew death. You see, death was something that wasn’t a part of God’s perfect design. But every choice has a consequence, and the consequence of disobedience is the need for just judgement. All humanity believes in some form of justice – it’s a carryover from being made in His image. A good parent, a good society, a good God, punishes wrong. The punishment for sin is death.
All bad news, right? Well, even though it was all bad news, there was one glimmer of hope in the whole midst – the promise of salvation to come. Even in the midst of judgement, God shares the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, promises Eve that there will one day, Someone born of women will finally do something to reverse all of their mess. That, one day, someone would come as an enemy of the serpent, who though He would be struck, would crush Satan’s head (Genesis 3:15). Though it would be bleak for a while, and the consequences were dire, there was still hope for humanity.
Chapter 4: Noah
Now even though humanity had fallen and was now outside the Garden of Eden, it didn’t stop them from “going forth and multiplying”. Adam and Eve were having children, and their children were having children, and the world was being populated. The Bible says that Adam lived 930 years and someone can have a lot of kids in that amount of time!
Not only were people multiplying, but their sin was multiplying too. People were actually getting worse. The bible says that by the time of Noah things were really grim. It says in Genesis 6:5 that “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
Eight generations had gone by, and there were lots of people on the earth, and they were inventing new ways to be evil, corrupt to the core, disregarding their Creator completely.
The Bible says that God was grieved. He had such a great love for His people, but they had so completely turned their backs on Him and were doing such harm to each other that He was sorry that He had made them in the first place. So He decided to send a flood to wipe them out. Not to destroy humanity, but to destroy the wickedness of that generation which had gotten completely out of control.
But again, there was grace in the midst of judgement. There was a man named Noah who was Adam’s Great grandson x 8. God decided to save Noah and his family, the one family left who was listening to Him. Was Noah perfect? No, but He did love God and seek to live like God mattered. It was not that Noah was worthy to be saved, but that He was the only one listening to the message of salvation.
After the flood, God used Noah and his family to repopulate the world again. He started over. That’s what God does. He takes in an impossible situation and adds creativity, and grace, and love, and hope. Yes, humanity would fall again. Noah didn’t make it very far out of the ark before he and his family were sinning again. But even that pointed to Jesus in that we are reminded that even the most righteous man on earth was not good enough to stay righteous for long because there was a deeper problem, an internal problem with humanity, a darkness and depravity that went to every human’s core that needed to be dealt with. Sin wasn’t just about doing bad things – it is something broken inside of us that will always pull us away from God. God set the rainbow in the sky, promising never to flood humanity again because He was about to put His full plan into motion.
Chapter 5: Abraham
Right around the death of Noah, possibly even the same year, a man named Abram was born. God’s narrative of grace continues as He decides to show love to an obscure, pagan man, who neither knew Him nor followed Him. Abram wasn’t anyone special, just a guy who God decided to work through, and who was willing to listen and obey. God says to him, “leave your country and your people and go into a different land.” and Abram obeys.
God then makes a promise to Abram – who was then a senior citizen, married to a barren wife, and had no children – that he would have many descendants and they would become a great nation. In fact, God promises that the whole world would be blessed because of his family line. He would give them a special place to live and would take care of them. God changes Abram’s name to Abraham and gets to work.
This was a pretty good deal for Abraham, but he never gets to see the plan fully worked out during his lifetime. That doesn’t mean God didn’t keep his promise, though. Abraham did have two children, and his grandson would be a man named Jacob. Abraham’s second son, Jacob, was the one who would really see God’s blessings taken to another level, as his children became the 12 patriarchs for the nation of Israel. It was these twelve families that would form the political and geographic system through which the rest of God’s plan of salvation for the world would be carried out.
Chapter 6: Joseph
Now, God needs to make sure that this family is taken care of, which is where we get the story of Joseph, one of the sons of Jacob. God, amazingly, uses the anger and jealousy of Joseph’s brothers to save the whole family from starvation, years before a terrible drought would hit the land. Most of us here know or have heard the story of Joseph.
His story was personally tragic as his brothers sell him into slavery, he’s falsely accused of rape, and is sentenced to jail for many years. Though he was God’s chosen man, he went through some really tough stuff, but after a time, God gave Joseph the opportunity to interpret a bad dream the Pharaoh was having – a dream about a terrible drought to come – and Joseph was put in charge of preparing for it.
In an amazing way, God rose Joseph up to take care of His people by bringing them down to Egypt to be saved from a famine that would have wiped them all out, and then prepared them for the next phase of His plan.
Chapter 7: Moses
Jacob and these 12 brothers were down in Egypt and were doing fine for a long time until a different Pharaoh came into power who didn’t know about Joseph or the promises that the previous administration had made to his family. And instead of being thankful for them, he started to fear Jacob’s family (who were now being called “Israelites”), and instead of talking to them or keeping his promises, he decided to make the whole nation his slaves. They were in slavery for hundreds of years, suffering, but still having children.
One of these children was named Moses. At exactly the right time in history, God worked some powerful miracles and used Moses as the person to lead His people out of Egypt as one, unified nation, ready to get back home to the land that God promised their father Abraham so many years ago — the “Promised land”.
But first, God brought them to a place where He would make a covenant with them. He wanted to make an agreement that as long as they would commit themselves to being His special people, trusting and worshipping Him alone, just like Adam and Eve were supposed to, He would take care of them. They would be victorious and well supplied.
God, in His grace, knowing that they would say “yes” to the contract, but because of their inherent sin problem would, within days, turn back to sin, gave them laws to live by so they would know how to worship Him, care for one another, and be different from the rest of the world. “Know that I am the only God and worship me only. Don’t murder each other. Don’t steal from each other. Honour your parents.” All these rules were for their own good, and to make sure that the relationships between Him and themselves could continue. And though God can’t be around sin, He gave them a religious system, centering around the shed blood of an innocent lamb, by which they could finally approach their Creator, know Him better, and get temporary forgiveness for their sins. All of this pointed to Jesus, the one who would come and be the perfect, sacrificial lamb, who would give people permanent forgiveness and restore humanity back to being like they were before Adam and Eve Fell.
Israel was now free from slavery, ready to take back the Promised Land, had a good leader in Moses, laws to protect them, and God’s promise to care for them… but of course, still being marred by sin, broken in their souls, they rejected God and started praying to, worshipping, and putting their trust in created things instead of the creator – even wooden and stone statues of their own making.
Even a good leader and a Law written by God Himself, accompanied by earthquakes and miracles wasn’t able to keep people from committing evil. Plus death still existed in the world. There was more that needed to be done.
Chapter 8: Sin, Suffer, Repent, Repeat
The next chapter in human history is sort of the in-between time which you can call Sin, Suffer, Repent, Repeat. It was the time of the Judges, the Kings, and the Prophets. In the time between the giving of the Law and when Jesus the Saviour would come a lot of things happened, but it seemed to keep to this endless cycle of Sin, Suffer, Repent, Repeat.
As far as good things that happened: With God’s help they reclaimed the Promised Land, and divided it up amongst the 12 tribes. They built some great cities and became one of the richest civilizations in history. They even took down the tabernacle – the temporary tent of worship – and built a beautiful temple in a holy city.
A lot of bad things happened too. They broke every law in God’s book over and over. They made idols, cheated and abused each other, committed adultery, dishonoured their parents, broke the Sabbath, and even sacrificed their own children to demons. Throughout this time God kept raising up prophets to warn them about the consequences of their bad decisions, but they kept killing the prophets!
For a long time, God was the King of Israel, but eventually, they decided that they didn’t want God to be King anymore, but instead wanted to be like all the other nations and have a human king. This was like a slap in God’s face! He had always been their ruler, their Law giver, great judge, provider, the one to keep them safe and lead their armies — and now He somehow wasn’t good enough. God’s chosen people, the one that he picked out from among all the others, the one that He had promised Abraham would be a great nation, once they had become one, turned their backs on Him, just like all those who had come before.
They put kings in place who kept messing up, but God in His mercy kept sending prophets to the way back to Him. We have a lot of these prophet’s writings in the Bible. Each of the prophets would share God’s mercy, remind them of His hatred for sin, about how much He wanted the people to come back to Him, warn them that if they continued on the path they were on that He would have to discipline them for their own good.
Then, since no one would listen, the prophets would talk about Promised One that would finally come and end this repetitive cycle of Sin, Suffer, Repent, Repeat, once and for all. They reminded the people of the One who was promised to Adam and Eve, the One who would come through Abraham’s tribe, the One that would conquer evil, sin and even death. The coming of Jesus is spoken of in every book of the Old Testament.
This cycle went on for years… hundreds and hundreds of years… Sin, Suffer, Repent, Repeat, and all the while God was continuing to prepare the world for Jesus. He was showing everyone, through Israel, that there was not one person who could obey Him, not one who would worship Him rightly. The prophets would fail, the priests would fail, the kings would fail, the heroes would fail, the people would rebel… the Law condemned everyone.
They needed one who would be called the Messiah, which means the “Chosen One”. He would be the one who would finally break the pattern. He would finally obey the law perfectly, love God and others perfectly, be the perfect prophet, perfect priest, and perfect king. He would conquer their enemies, bring justice to the oppressed, and lead people into a right relationship with God. He would be called the Christ, the Anointed one. And for years, Israel waited.
Chapter 9: The Messiah
God was waiting until the world was just right (Gal 4:4). Israel was at the pinnacle of their rebellion. The Romans had built a civilization that would allow the story of Jesus to travel throughout the world. God waited until just the right moment to send His greatest Gift to the world. But He surprised everyone by how He did it.
Consider the irony of how Jesus entered the world. Since the beginning of time, people were waiting for this One Person to come. This would be the most important person in history, the Saviour of the world from their greatest problems. And when He finally came… almost no one knew. When the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus, finally arrived, He didn’t come as a mighty King on a white horse leading a huge army. He didn’t come in a bolt of lightning on a mountain, with a booming voice proclaiming the Judgement of God.
No, as the old Hymn says, “He had no stately form, He had no majesty…”. He came as a baby, a helpless infant. The Son of a virgin, adopted by a poor, Galilean Carpenter. Born in a humble stable, in a tiny village – a nobody from nowhere.
No palace like King Solomon. No fanfare like King David. No blasts of fire like Elijah. The Chosen One came in so quietly that His presence went nearly unnoticed by almost all of those who were looking for Him. The Jewish scholars of the day (and today) are looking for a political leader, a military conqueror… but that’s not what they got… at least not yet.
And what did humanity do with Him? Well, His identity didn’t stay hidden forever. What did people do when they finally found out this Messiah that had come?
Well, one of the first people to hear, when Jesus was only a couple years old, was King Herod, who immediately tried to murder Him. It would be mostly rejection, not loving acceptance, would be the pattern of Jesus’ life.
Today is Palm Sunday. Today is the day that the followers of Jesus worshipped Him as Messiah, laid palm branches and their cloaks at the feet of Jesus who was riding into Jerusalem, showing Himself to be the King of the Jews and the one foretold by the prophets. They were celebrating the forthcoming conquest of the Roman army, the overthrowing of their political oppressors, their new position as the most powerful kingdom in the world. They were right to celebrate, but they were wrong about how Jesus would do it. And when He didn’t do things their way… their disappointment immediately turned to anger.
I can’t say it any better than the Deacon Stephen does to the Jewish Ruling Counsel right before they killed him. He was standing before the very people who were supposed to teach Israel about the coming of Jesus! These were the ones who should have been the first to know, acknowledge and spread the news that God had sent the Messiah!
Stephen says to them: “You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet that your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous one –The Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.” (Acts 7:51-53)
Humanity did it again! God Himself enters the world in human form. He sends His own beloved Son, 100% God and 100% man, the only One who could save us from sin and death. The perfect one to teach us how to live, love and worship properly. And what is our response? We condemn the Anointed One, the Messiah, the perfect Son of God, to the worst, most painful, agonizing, excruciating death imaginable… a Roman cross. We murdered God.
One would think that that would be the end of the story. Where do you go when there is no more hope left? How can an author finish a story when the hero is killed before the villain is defeated? You can’t. The story must stop when the hero is dead. Right?
For a moment, God’s pen lifts from the paper. The world looks bleak. There is no hope. The disciples are scattered. The Messiah is dead. The villain has won. Sin will reign forever.…
Chapter 10: The Resurrection
But our God is the greatest author of all. His pen stops for only a moment. He turns the page and begins the next chapter. The death of Jesus Christ would not be the end of the story. Three days after Jesus dies God writes something that turns the greatest defeat in history into the climax of His Epic tale. He turns dead silence into a loud crescendo! He turns ultimate tragedy into ultimate victory!
God flips all History on its head. In the story God is writing there are no mistakes. The One who was to be our Saviour… was supposed to die. His victory came because of His death. There is no greater hero than One who would give His life for others. The name of this Hero is Jesus Christ. He gave His life for us.
At the beginning of the story, God said that the consequence of sin would be death. The Messiah was going to come and defeat the greatest enemy of this world. Almost everyone thought that this meant that it would be a political, military, human victory. But God, the great author, reveals that humanity’s greatest enemy isn’t any person or nation or empire… the greatest enemy in this world is death – death that came because of sin. So what needed to be conquered? Sin.
The judgement and effects of sin – physical and spiritual death, and the total removal of the grace, love and presence of God is called Hell. Sin entered the world with Adam and Eve and has poisoned every human soul, putting us on a one way path to Hell. And that needed to be dealt with. God’s righteous judgement, His wrath against sin, needed to be poured out to bring about perfect justice. He can’t just let humanity get away with it. He can’t just ignore sin. He must punish it.
We will never understand the full measure of the punishment that Jesus took for those who would put their faith in Him. Jesus came to exchange Himself for us – the perfect human, the only One who did not deserve judgement, chose to take the punishment for anyone who would believe and trust in Him, so we could be restored back to God.
Jesus is the ultimate hero as He walks out of the grave, conquering the greatest enemy ever. He defeats the effects of sin. He beats death. That weight of judgement that all of humanity had borne for thousands of years was placed on His shoulders, and He carried it, paid for it, and then offered the freedom that He bought with His own blood freely to anyone who would believe in Him.
Chapter 11: The Denouement
Today, we are living in the denouement. We are living at the end of the great Epic. The story has unfolded, the villain has been conquered, the Hero has been lifted high. We are living in the days of epilogue before God brings His story to a close at the Final Judgement. Every day gets us closer to the end of this story and closer to next book, the story of eternity.
This Epic gives us the greatest message that can be known: That you were created for more than just what you see and touch. You were designed by a loving creator who gives you a hope and a purpose. Your life is more than just food, money, sex, friends, and a career.
You are a created being whose decisions have eternal consequences. You need not fear death, and you can trust that even your most difficult times can be turned into great victories because of our awesome God. You can experience divine love, be cleansed, and made new. God will never leave you, never forsake you, and because of the work of our Hero, Jesus Christ, you can live in His presence today and forever.
This is a great story because it is a true story. People have loved it so much, and believed in the Hero so deeply, that they have died to tell it to others. I urge you, if you have not already, to accept the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, and to tell His story, this Epic, to as many people as you can.
Ok, just for fun we’re going to start today with a True or False test of some random questions I found around the internet:
- Approximately one-quarter of human bones are in the feet. (True – 52 bones in the feet and 206 in the whole body.)
- In ancient Rome, a special room called a vomitorium was available for diners to purge food in during meals. (False – It was the name for the entranceway to a stadium, nothing more.)
- A slug’s blood is blue-green. (True)
- Sir Paul McCartney’s middle name is James (False – James is his first name, his middle name is actually Paul)
- The Guinness World Record for most fingers and toes at birth is held by an Indian man born with 14 fingers and 20 toes in total. (True)
- The ‘black box’ in an airplane is black. (False – it is orange.)
- Centipedes always have 100 feet. (False)
Truth and Philosophy
I know this sounds like I might be stating the patently obvious, but truth is important. Going a step further I will state something else that seems obvious: believing that truth exists is important. When you look up the definition of “truth”, but first, definition is the one we usually understand: a truth is something that corresponds with facts and reality. It’s accurate and exact.
Most people, if you sat them down over coffee and talked face to face with them, would agree with those statements. Truth is important, believing in truth is important, and truth is something that represents accurate reality. A lot of people still find these things so obvious that they are unnecessary to even state, but there is an ever-growing contingent of people that no longer believe that there is such a thing as truth. From mainstream media to politics to religion, the mere existence of truth is being debated in all circles of our lives.
The problem here is that the concept of truth is a philosophical one. A good scientist wants to conduct his research without bias. A good news reporter wants to tell a story that corresponds to the facts. A good politician wants to make decisions based in reality. A good theologian wants to learn about God without importing their own preconceptions.
But the philosopher’s job is to go deeper, which is why Philosophy is called the mother of all sciences. (Theology is the queen of all sciences by the way.) Where a scientist seeks truth, a philosopher has to ask, “What is truth? Why is truth important? How can we even know truth exists?” Big, huge, complicated concepts that have captured a lot of attention recently and have been used by a lot of people as a way to dismantle seemingly rational arguments from the inside out.
Someone will stand up and say, “I have evidence that this is true and I have a hundred people to back me up.” And for whatever reason, someone else disagrees with them. Maybe they don’t like the implications of the truth, maybe it forces them to change something or give something up that they don’t want to, and so they disagree. Now this person has a choice. They can either try to find more evidence that counters the other person’s claim, and therefore produce a better, more consistent, more realistic truth – or they can dismantle their argument with philosophy.
They’ll say things like, “You may have a hundred people that agree with you, but I have 10,000 that agree with me.” Does the number of people that agree have anything to do with the actual facts? No. Even if get 10,000 people to believe a lie, that doesn’t make it the truth.
Or they’ll say, “Your truth is only true for now. People in the past didn’t believe that, and people in the future won’t believe it either.” People use this one all the time. Historians say… futurists say… but does the opinions of historians or futurists make the truth any less true? No, but it seems persuasive.
Or how about, “That’s true for you, but it’s not true for me, because I have something that negates your truth. My feelings and my perceptions cancel out your truth.” This is a big one too.
When is an Apple an Apple?
Let’s do a scenario for fun:
A science-type-man goes to a science-type-conference and wants a guaranteed win, so he decides to present something simple that everyone can agree on. He lifts up an apple and says: “I present this apple. This apple is red, crunchy, smooth and delicious.”
That seems like something everyone can agree on, but it doesn’t work. Why? Well, let’s ask the question: is what he has said, true?
Well, unfortunately, they’ve already made a mistake. “Delicious” is an opinion – which will be immediately grabbed onto by their detractors. “You can’t tell me what is delicious and what isn’t! Your opinion is biased! How can we believe anything you say if you believe apples are delicious! I don’t like apples! With your obvious bias, how can we believe it’s red or crunchy either!?”
So the man apologizes and tries again. They say, “I’m sorry. You’re right. Ok, this apple is red, crunchy and smooth.” Someone else stands up and says, “I’m colour blind, and so is my whole group of friends. We cannot see red, and therefore it is not only wrong but offensive to say that apple to be red because there are people who are biologically unable to see it that way! Plus, how can you be sure that everyone sees it as red, maybe some people would call it green! Colour is a construct of the human mind!” The colour-blind side starts to grumble loudly so the man tries to explain, “Yes, I know you don’t see it as red, but let me explain how colour works. This isn’t my opinion it’s based on how light waves reflect off of the surface…” And before he even finishes the leader yells, “Oh, this coming from the guy who thought that all apples are delicious! Your conclusions are bunk and your bias against colour-blindness is hateful. ”
Fearing potential for violence he backs off. “Well, at least we can agree that this apple is crunchy and smooth.” Someone else yells, “I have an electron microscope and I have seen what an apple looks like at an atomic level! It’s not smooth! It’s all rough and bumpy! His science is wrong!”
Someone else cries, “And compared to eating rocks or hard candy, that apple is nowhere close to crunchy!”
“Yeah”, someone else says, “I’ve been eating apple fritters at Tim Hortons for years and there’s never been a single crunch!”
The scientist sputters for a moment and says, “Yes, but I’m not talking about apple fritters!” Another person yells, “He hates apple fritters! He hates Tim Hortons! He’s against Canada!” Three-quarters of the room stands up in disgust and walks out on the presentation. Only a small group is left now, and most of them aren’t very happy.
The man lets out a deep sigh saying, “Ok, so, we can’t agree that it’s smooth, or crunchy, or red, or delicious….. then can we simply agree that this is an apple.” A Sunday School teacher in the front says, “It was an apple that tempted Eve in the garden. We shouldn’t be eating apples.” And walks out.
Another says, “Well, that’s your opinion. I was watching a documentary last night and they said that there are over 7500 varieties of apples throughout the world, and some varieties of pears and other fruits that look like apples… did you know that?” The man says, “No, I didn’t.” To which the reply comes, “Well, then how can you possibly even know that’s an apple?” At this point now, he’s not even sure.
That’s a fictional story, but it represents a very real thing happening in our world today. There is a philosophical war against truth, and it all sounds very, very convincing. And there are a lot of emotions wrapped up in it, and so people take it very personally, and that makes it very hard to keep talking about truth because it can offend people. But we cannot simply give up the fight for truth because when we do that, we give up the very foundation of our lives. If we stop believing in truth, then we will have nothing to stand on.
And turning now to a spiritual reality, that’s exactly where Satan wants us – foundationless. We are much easier targets for temptation if we don’t believe in truth, if we cannot state truth, if we do not know the truth. We are much easier to manipulate, to trick, to confuse, and to use for nefarious schemes, if we don’t have the truth within us and have not built our lives on the solid foundation of the truth.
Answering With Truth
Open up to Luke 4:1-13 and let’s read the passage we started studying last week again.
“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.”
This is our last sermon in this depression series. Last week we looked at this text from the perspective of learning that, when you are sad, grieving, or truly depressed, Jesus really does know what you are going through. He’s felt what you are feeling and experienced the same weakness. We coupled this with the passage in Hebrews 4:15 which says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” We talked about how Jesus can “sympathize with our weaknesses” and “in every respect has been tempted as we are”, but how did He do it “without sin”?
The answer is complicated, but today I want to talk about one way, which is that He knew and used the truth.
There is Something Greater Going On
I don’t want to go through all the temptations in detail again today, but consider how Jesus answered Satan when he said, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” He was attacking Jesus’ identity, using His hunger against Him, trying to get Him to show some weakness. His statement was a manipulation of the truth. Of course Jesus is the Son of God, and of course, He has power, but Satan stated it as doubtful… “how can you really be sure that apple is an apple?” Satan suggested a course of action to Jesus that was actually doable and would have satiated Jesus’ physical hunger. It almost seemed like a caring plan.
Sure, Jesus was hungry, but there was something greater going on. Jesus knew what Satan was trying to do and answered with truth: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” Jesus was quoting part of Deuteronomy 3:8 which says, “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
The real truth, the full truth, is that sometimes God leads us into the wilderness, into difficult places, and makes us hungry on purpose because He knows that is the only way we will be humbled enough to turn to Him. So long as we are fed, fat, and happy, we rarely turn our attention towards God or the condition of our souls. And so there are times when God makes us uncomfortable, hungry, longing, desperate, pleading – so that we turn to Him, and so we can know that He is the provider. We need to know that life isn’t about feeding our stomachs, but about feeding our souls, and that requires us coming to God. If we get distracted by pleasures, then we could lose our immortal soul.
Jesus said it this way to his disciples in Mark 8:34-37:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?”
Satan will come to you in your depression and whisper all kinds of temptations to you meant to make you hate your time in the desert, to do anything to distract yourself from your hunger, thirst, and discomfort. He wants you to concentrate on your hunger, on your longing for bread, on just removing that bad feeling.
Whereas, Christians, because of God’s Word, have a totally different perspective of suffering. The truth is that the road of hunger, suffering, and the cross is often exactly what we need to walk in order to learn how to humble ourselves and depend on God, how to pray, how to find Jesus.
So when you are grieving, sad, or going through depression, don’t be so short-sighted to only seek out worldly comforts to make the bad feelings go away. Drinking, drugs, entertainment, and more are always at your fingertips and will feed your hunger for a moment – but what if something greater is going on and there is something better for you. What if you are not meant to simply live from distraction to distraction? What if this time is Jesus asking you to take up your cross, follow Him, and find true life?
And for those who are walking with those who are facing depression and sadness, don’t try to fast-forward it or deny it. Don’t stand there and offer them bread when God wants them to wait for what He has prepared for them. Don’t be like Job’s wife and say something like, “Why are you waiting on God? All suffering is bad. Curse God and die and get it over with.” (Job 2:9ish) Maybe this is a long road they must walk so they can be humbled in spirit and learn how to depend on Him and His Word more.
Resolve in your mind to believe the truth that in your suffering, or theirs, that something greater is going on.
There is Something Worse That Can Happen
In the second temptation Satan said, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”
Satan here tempts Jesus to give up His mission and not go through all the suffering His life would bring. He offers a “better plan” that fast forwards what God wants to do, but gets rid of the hard parts. The idea here is that the worst thing in the world is suffering and everyone should try to avoid it.
Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6, which I will read more of here,
“It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you—for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.” (vs 13-15)
The idea here is that there is something worse than going through some human suffering. There is something worse than depression. There is something worse than physical and emotional pain. That that is to have God angry at us. Jesus said it this way to his disciples in Matthew 10:28:
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Jesus had just given a warning about how bad it was going to get for those who faithfully followed Him. There would be rejection and pain. They would be delivered to courts, flogged in public, even in the synagogues. They would do nothing wrong, but they would still be dragged before governors and kings to face trials and punishments. And all this would be part of God’s plan so they could witness to more and more people about salvation. Jesus tells them to consider how much evil He has and will endure – and know that they will face even more. You think I came to bring peace, but you will know more pain than peace in this world. Even your family will turn against you. (Matthew 10:16-38)
No doubt, fear filled their faces, because they knew what Jesus said always came true. And Jesus’ response to their fear was twofold. Of course, we know He said things like, “God knows what you are going through. He is with you. You will be rewarded…” But along with that He also said, “…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” In other words, there are worse things than floggings and rejection. It is far worse to face God’s wrath. Obey Him first.
This is something we don’t talk a lot about, but it’s really important. When you are facing depression, and even when you are not, you will face all kinds of temptations to make it easier despite what God wants to do with your life. Satan will offer all kinds ungodly, unbiblical, unhelpful of ways out of your pain. He will lie to you and tell you that you deserve temporary relief, that God won’t mind, that it doesn’t matter because He’ll just forgive you anyway.
A Christian’s response must be, “That’s a lie. Sin always has a cost. It always echoes farther than I imagine. There is no such thing as a safe sin. Yes, this hurts, but there is something worse than this – I don’t want to face my Father’s wrath against my sin. I don’t want to face the discipline He will have to do to break this temptation. I have committed my life and soul to Him. It was my sins that made Jesus die for me. It was my sins that nailed Jesus to a cross. I don’t want to add more. I will not give up my faith for a moment of relief, especially since the pain will only come back again. No. You’re a liar. The truth is that there is something worse than pain – and that is turning my back on God, His Son, His Spirit, and His Word.”
In the third temptation Satan “took [Jesus] to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’’ And Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Satan quotes the Bible. The Bible is the source of truth. Remember my apple illustration? Satan is an incredible liar and manipulator of truth, which is why we need to listen to the voice of God and know our Bibles. He will tell us the truth so we can combat Satan when He shows up as an angel of light.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15,
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.”
This world is full of liars, so we must know the truth well, and listen to the one who will always speak the truth to us – and that is the Holy Spirit in prayer.
Jesus here quotes Deuteronomy 6:16, which says in full, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”
The command to not test God is all over scripture. It was at Massah that Israel accused Moses, and therefore God, of bringing them out of Egypt just to kill them with thirst. They were ready to kill Moses and then go back to Egypt because they had lost their faith that God would take care of them. This was after all the miracles they had seen in Egypt, after seeing the pillars of fire and cloud lead them around, and after they had literally just been fed by miraculous bread that fell down from heaven. God had already demonstrated His ability to care for them, but now, because they had gotten thirsty, they doubted if God was even real or not. They had lost their faith, so they demanded that Moses prove, once again, that God was real. They demanded of God to prove once again, that He was real. They were testing Him.
This is another temptation for people who are facing difficult times, especially people of faith. While they are feeling God, God’s presence is unquestioned. They say grace at mealtimes, tell people how blessed they are, thank God for parking spaces and all sorts of small kindnesses. They talk about Jesus and pray to Him with ease.
And then suffering comes, depression sets in, grief and sadness take up residence in their heart and home. Now it’s harder to find things to thank God for. They feel hungry, angry, lonely, tired, despondent, attacked, afraid, even suicidal. They turn to their Bible, but it only reads as a list of demands they can’t fulfill and promises that God doesn’t seem to be good for. They can’t find hope, and all their old, favourite verses seem trite and powerless.
And it’s in those times when Satan comes in and gently says, “Maybe God isn’t real. Maybe you made it all up. Maybe it was a phase, a good idea, but really, it was just an emotional high. How can you be sure He’s real, that He’s listening, that He cares what you do.”
This is the Devil’s way of trying to destroy your foundation. “If there is no God, then all of your strength, your hope, and your truth goes out the window. God’s Word is fiction and can’t help or bring light. God’s people are idiots who are believing a lie. God’s Spirit doesn’t exist and you really are alone. There’s no such thing as good or bad, sin or righteousness, heaven or hell – all you have is now and how you feel in this moment. You are foundationless, hopeless, truthless.”
And so you want to get God to do something spectacular to prove Himself. Now, He’s asking you to come to Him humbly, to wait on Him, to trust Him, to listen to Him, to continue to take up your cross and walk faithfully, to endure suffering so you can build character and spiritual strength, to pray to Him in your heart, to be with Him and allow His presence be enough for you, to get quiet enough to listen to His still, small voice…
But that’s not what you want. You want a spectacle. You want a display. You want Him to perform for you, to dance for you, to show off for you. You want to command Him to do as you will. You want to be God and for Him to be your subject. You want Him to be your magic genie, your Santa Clause, your rich uncle… not your God.
And so, I caution you during your time of depression, not to put God to the test. Don’t listen to the voice that tells you God isn’t real and that the only way He could be is if He would do whatever you say. That’s arrogant, idolatrous and demonic. Instead, allow this time of suffering to humble you, to drive you to your knees. Don’t fast forward it. Don’t deny it. Don’t resent it. God is doing something in and through it. He won’t waste it.
He promises that if you will trust Him, He will use your suffering for your good, your churches good, and His glory. But you must trust and believe. I cannot do that for you. No one can. I cannot make you believe, nor can I make you stop fighting God in your Spirit and submit to Him. You must do that. It is you who must put down the sin that has entangled you. It is you who must choose to read, believe, and speak God’s Word when Satan tempts you. It is you who must resist the devil so He will flee from you (James 4:7). It is you who must get quiet and listen to God’s voice, pray to Him, and come to the church for help. It is you who must choose to be honest about your struggles, your weakness, and your temptations. It is you who must choose to drag it into the light. No one can do that for you. God can show you the truth, I can tell you the truth, your friends can tell you the truth, but it is you who must choose to stop believing the lies and embrace the truth. As you do that, you will experience the presence of God. He is there.
We’ve been talking for the past few weeks about Mental Illness and Depression, something that is all too common in our community. We’ve talked about what Depression is, what causes it, and a bit of what it’s like to live with it. Last week we talked about the stigma of depression and how hard it is to be honest with people – even in the church – about what you are going through.
But if there’s one thing I want to make clear today it’s that Jesus knows what you are going through. A couple weeks ago I said that it’s possible that Jesus Himself faced true depression and I want to take a little time today to explain how important that truth is.
In Hebrews 4:14-16 we read this:
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Many people who are going through a time of suffering and pain have a hard time praying. They feel like their prayers bounce off the ceiling, that there’s no way that God can understand what they are going through, and if He does, that He doesn’t care. Those are natural feelings that the Bible spends a lot of time arguing against.
The argument in this passage is that when we are in a “time of need”, what we really need is to “receive mercy and find grace to help”. No one would argue that. When we go through hard times, that’s what we want – mercy, grace and help. But where are we encouraged to turn to? “The throne of grace.” What is that? God’s throne. Before that throne stands a High Priest, a mediator, a go-between, between us broken, human sinners and the Perfectly Holy Creator of the Universe.
This is a big deal. We can’t come to God on our own because our sin prevents us. If we saw God, we’d die. We need someone who can talk to God, and who God will listen to. Who is that? Jesus. Jesus lived a perfect life, never sinned, and therefore can stand in the presence of God. And so He has promised to be our mediator, our facilitator, between us and God.
But there’s still a problem. How can Jesus know what we’re going through? He’s Jesus, after all! He’s God’s Son, a perfect person from two thousand years ago. How can He relate to what we’re going through? It was the same with the Old Testament priests. They lived a totally different life than the average person, so how could they pray for anyone? They don’t know what we’re going through!
Scripture says, “…we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” The teaching here is that Jesus actually knows exactly what we’re going through, has faced that same problem, that same temptation, that same situation, and yet navigated it perfectly. He literally knows how we feel, what thoughts are racing through our heads, and what it’s like to live surrounded by sin while living in this failing, human flesh. He gets it. He knows what it’s like to face what we are facing.
And to illustrate that today, I would like you to turn with me to Luke 4:1-13.
“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”
And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.”
Before we get into taking this passage apart, I want to talk briefly about the nature of temptation.
If you’ve ever worked with addictions then you’ve probably heard of the acronym H.A.L.T., standing for Hungry, Angry, Lonely & Tired, and is a tool meant to help people recognize when they are at their most vulnerable so they won’t relapse. The Christmas Season is a major problem time for a lot of people with addictions, and is similarly a peak-time for spiritual troubles and temptations.
The first letter stands for Hungry. If you’re pinching pennies but are used to spending, or trying to stop the habits of sugar or alcohol by dieting, then you are going to feel hungry. It’s not just food though. It’s about something within you being drawn towards something. You have a craving, a hunger.
The next letter stands for Angry. If you’ve had some bad experiences over the holidays, or you’re back at work and people around you are grumpy, or you’ve been putting things off and need to catch up and it’s not going well, then you could be feeling angry. When we get angry we are more likely to go to our vices to gain control.
The L stands for Lonely. Maybe you had some wonderful times with your family over the holidays but now they’re gone and you feel lonely. Feeling alone can drive us to do foolish, dangerous things just to distract us from our loneliness.
The next letter stands for Tired. The dark and cold, the freezing rain, shoveling, and all Christmas shopping, planning and preparation, the long hours of partying, and then having to get back to work, can leave a person pretty tired.
And that’s just post-holiday stuff. Many of us have other stresses and issues in our lives that have been going on for a longer time and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of relief in sight. Plus some have pre-existing mental and physical conditions that leave you open to feeling miserable even on good days. There are lots of times that we feel extra hungry, angry, lonely and tired.
When those triggers occur, and it all starts to pile on, we tend to be much more open to falling for temptation. These times are when Satan really likes to turn up the heat. It is during Jesus’ weakest time, during His 40 day fast in the desert, that Satan piled on the temptations (Matthew 4:1-11). 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Do lions take on the biggest and strongest prey? No. They pick off the weak ones because they are easier. As Jesus said to His friends, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38)
Turn there with me to James 1:14-15 and let’s talk a little about what temptation is and how it leads to sin. It says this: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
Breaking this down simply, we read three important things. First, temptation has to do with “enticement” and “desire”. I enjoy fishing and it is absolutely true that you cannot catch all fish with the same bait. Some like worms, some like spoons and spinners, others want it to float at the top of the water or sink to the bottom. You change the bait depending on the fish you want to catch.
Similarly, though temptation is universal (1 Cor 10:13) different people have different desires. Not everyone is tempted towards the same things. When stress or fear or longing or hunger or anger or loneliness – or whatever trigger – comes, we all turn to different things for comfort. Christians are taught to turn to Jesus, and most believers do, but we also often find ourselves turning to other things as well – either instead of or along with, Jesus.
Some turn to material things, using shopping as their comforter, while others turn to alcohol or drugs, coffee, food or sugar. Some turn to wrath, yelling and controlling behaviour as they shout out their injustices and try to take control from God, while others push people away, putting on the headphones, wallowing in their mood, growing more fearful or bitter. Some turn to books, movies or video games, distracting themselves with entertainment, while others turn to pornography and sex for instant distraction and gratification. Some turn to gossip and slander, knocking others down so they can feel better, while others prefer lying about their emotions by pushing the bad feelings down and pretending everything is ok.
We all have these desires within us, and these desires make up our temptations. They are, in a very real sense, our ‘functional saviours’ that replace Jesus as our “go to” for protection, comfort, help, and hope. They don’t work, and often make things worse, but we still go to them.
So that’s the first part, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire”. Here’s the thing: These desires aren’t always sinful. Technically, deep down, those desires are universal and given by God to be best fulfilled in Jesus. We don’t want alcohol, food, bitterness, video games or porn –we want to feel safer, happier, comforted, but those sins are a quick fix.
Which brings us to the second part. Next it says, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin…”. Having desires isn’t sin. Sin is part of a process. When the desire stops being for the good God has for us and moves to formulating the plan of how to get what God wants us to have without Him, we sin. When plan to and then turn to someone or something other than God – where it is a fantasy in our heads or a chemical in our veins – we are sinning and causing ourselves spiritual damage.
Here’s how it works: Something happens and we are hit with the desire for love, comfort, protection, safety, fulfilment – and then God offers us Himself as the answer. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) And we say “No, that takes too long, that’s not how we want to do it, you’re not doing it my way.” And we turn away from Him and come up with a plan for how to get our desire fulfilled without Him. That is sin.
And as it says at the end of the verse, “…and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” When we turn away from the Author of Life and try to find what we want outside of Him and His plan, we are walking the path of death, which is why we feel worse after we have done it. Sure, sinning works for a moment, but when our head clears, and we can hear our God-given conscience again, we feel guilt, shame, fear, dread…. which awakens a desire for peace, comfort, safety, which leads to a new temptation – a new opportunity to turn back to God, or try again with our sin. And the cycle continues.
With that all in mind, let’s turn back to our passage in Luke about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and take it apart a bit so we can see how He really does know what it’s like to walk in our shoes – so to speak.
Sent By His Father
The first thing I want to notice is that Jesus was sent into a time of suffering and temptation by God the Father. If we back up the timeline a bit to what was happening just before the temptation in the wilderness we find ourselves at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. It says in Luke 3:21-22:
“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”
Fast forward to Luke 4:1-2 and we read:
“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.”
After the wonderful, peaceful, riverside moment where the whole Trinity is present, full of loving, affirming words – Jesus was sent into one of the most difficult times of His life. The same story in Mark 1:12 says, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” It’s the same word as when Jesus “drove out” the merchants in the temple (Mt 21:12), or when Jesus was forcibly driven out of his home town so they could throw Him off a cliff (Lk 4:29). This was God’s idea, and there was no choice in the matter. WHAM! Sudden suffering.
People with depression know this feeling, as do many of us who have been through difficult times. It comes out of nowhere, unprompted, and unasked for. One day you’re having a good day by the river, and the next you are starving alone in a wilderness, surrounded by darkness, dread, the snarling of wild animals (1:13), and non-stop evil voices. Jesus knows how that feels.
Jesus Was Weak
Next I want you to notice that Jesus was weak. He was in the desert wilderness alone for over a month. He ate nothing and was hungry. He had no special clothing to protect him on cold nights, and nothing to sleep on. The ground was hard, rocky and hilly, the sand blowing in his eyes. Hungry, lonely, tired… for sure. And not for one night, not for a week, but for over a month. And not just natural problems to battle, but also spiritual ones. The word “tempted” indicates that the temptation from Satan was continual, unceasing, night and day. The three temptations were just a final culmination, the last stabs, of Jesus’ terrible time.
Jesus knows what it is like to be weak.
Let’s turn our attention to the attacks. First, we see Satan attack Jesus’ identity and mission. The words of His Father, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”, may have seemed pretty far away after a few weeks in that demonic wilderness.
And so Satan attacks Jesus’ identity – who Jesus is. “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” (Lk 4:3). Jesus, you are crazy to think you are the Son of God. You’re just a man. You’re not who you say you are. You’re not even who you think you are. You’re a fraud, a fake, a fool. Do something to prove to who you really are. Prove it. Do something to remind you of the good old days when you had everything. Do something so you can feel good, feel important, feel better, feel powerful…
Then the devil used his hunger against Him. God had sent Him there on a mission to combat Satan and Jesus would need all of His spiritual strength. One way humans concentrate on spiritual things is by fasting – removing the distraction of worldly things so we can concentrate on spiritual things. This is what Jesus was doing. Satan knows this and wants it to stop. He says: “Don’t you want something to eat? The road is long and hard and you are hungry. There’s no law against bread. Just this once, just for now, no one will see. Tell your spirit to be quiet and give in to your body’s cravings. It’ll help you. I promise. Since your body wants it, you have a craving, a desire, why not? It’s just a bit of bread. You have the ability to do it, you’re alone, I won’t tell anyone. Actually it’s really Your Father’s fault for putting you in this situation. You deserve bread. You wouldn’t be hungry if it wasn’t for Him and this messed up world. Use your power for yourself. Be selfish.”
Jesus knows what it is like to have your body work against you, to be hungry, to hear a thousand excuses as to why you should tell God to get lost and just give in to the thing that you know will fill the void for a moment.
Attacked His Mission
Next Satan attacks Jesus’ because He’s tired. He attacks His mission.:
“And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’” Aren’t you tired of this fight? Don’t you wish there was an easier way? Don’t you wish you could just give up? God’s way is too hard, it doesn’t make sense, it is just plain cruel. I’m giving you the easy way, the right way. Why suffer needlessly? I can give you what you want. You don’t have to do all the hard work, Jesus. You don’t have to spend years being attacked, misunderstood, mistreated, and suffering. You don’t have to wander lonely places, gather slow-witted followers just to have them turn on you and leave you to be arrested, falsely accused, and then murdered in the most brutal way humans have ever come up with. Why go through all that? I’ll give you the easy way out. I’ll give you everything you want, all the whole world, for free… just bend your knee a little. Just say that I win and I’ll make you a king under my command. Give up. Say it’s too much. Tell God His way is unfair, too hard, and bow to me.”
Jesus knows what it’s like to just want to quit, to be so exhausted you just want to take the easy way out. He knows what it’s like to wonder about the plan of God and to look at a hard life of discipline, and to have Satan offer an easier alternative.
Attacked His Theology
Next Satan attacks Jesus relationship with God. Verse 9:
“And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
Satan can quote scripture better than anyone, and knows how to twist it. He can misinterpret God’s Word, spin it to his own ends, and seek to convince people that God has said something He has not and permits something he has forbidden. He is a liar, the father of lies, and lies are his native language (Jn 8:44). This is why we need to work so hard to interpret it correctly, because when we are weak, Satan will throw all kinds of half-truths, mixed up verses, and out of context scripture, to help convince us to do his will instead of God’s. He’ll even use well-meaning, but biblically illiterate Christians, to give you good-sounding advice.
Jesus knows what it’s like to be surrounded by liars who can quote religious language and Bible verses, but who are only trying to lead you away from God.
Attacked His Trust in God
Along with this came the temptation to stop trusting God. He says: “How can you trust a God who would put you through this, Jesus? Maybe He’s left you? Maybe you’re on your own. Look around. You are alone. And look at those people down there. Here you are, the Creator of the Universe, the Son of God, and they don’t even know who you are, and you know it’s only going to get worse. They don’t love you – and I don’t think God loves you either. How could He? He sent you to this miserable wilderness alone, with no food, no water, no help, no clothes, no nothing – so that you could take me on! No warning, no help, no nothing. That’s unfair.
I know how hard this is for you. I know how badly you want to quit, even now, and you haven’t even hardly gotten started yet! I’ve got years to hurt you, your family, your friends, your followers, and then I get to turn the whole world against you. I have years left to make your life hell.
It’s not my fault though. I’m just doing my job. It was God who put you here in your weakest state, and then invited me to come and attack you non-stop. He delivered you into my hands! What kind of Father does that? He doesn’t love you.
You know what you should do? You should do something to force Him to prove that He cares. You should do something drastic and dramatic that makes everyone take notice. You should make God prove He loves you, force Him to do something. Make Him fulfill His promises to you. You should try to kill yourself. You should jump off this building and make God catch you. Then everyone will know how much pain you are in. Then, if God really wants to save you, He’ll be forced to intervene or let you die and bring you to heaven – either way you win.”
Jesus knows what it’s like to think like this – and so do many people who go through depression. I’ve been down this road and thought these same things. It’s exhausting.
As much as it pains me to do it, we need to leave it there for this week. Next week I want to look at how Jesus dealt with these temptations, and how He faced the symptoms of depression.
But for this week, I want you to know one thing: Jesus knows how you feel and what it’s like to go through what you are going through. I may not know exactly what you are facing, but Jesus knows every detail, and has been there. He’s lost friends, been betrayed, been hurt, angry, broken, and in physical pain. He’s lived without money or a home, been attacked by enemies, prevented from sleep, and attacked by demonic forces.
My hope for you today is that knowing this will spur you to have new and deeper conversations with Jesus in prayer, knowing He can sympathize with you – that He loves you and has experienced your pain, and is experiencing it even now. He is not a far away God, but one who knows your very heart, and has been touched by it.
Pray to Him as a friend, as a brother, as a kindred spirit, a fellow sufferer, who offers you real help and real hope, because He’s been where you are, has achieved victory over it, and offers to teach you how.
*Sorry, no audio.
Tattoos & Human Branding
I don’t have any tattoos, but I know lots of people who do – and a few that don’t have one yet but want one. As far as the Bible goes, there’s no problem with getting or having a tattoo, so long as it’s not done in as part of a pagan religious ceremony (Lev 19:28) or done in a prideful way, to show off and attract attention to your body (1 Peter 3:3-4). If you can do it in a tasteful, humble way, is profitable and helpful, that honours your body as God’s temple, and is an act of worship that brings glory Him glory, then go for it! (Eph 5:4 Col 3:8; 1 Cor 6:19-20; 10:23, 31)
As funny as some of these are, I want to take a minute to use it as an illustration. All of the people we saw in those pictures made the choice – however misguided that choice may have been – to go and get their bodies marked, but human branding has been around for a long time.
People would brand their slaves as their own property, brand thieves, brawlers or other undesirables with letters on their skin marking their crime. The practice even occurs a few times in the Bible. God marked Cain so people wouldn’t kill him (Gen 4). Ezekiel had a vision of men dressed in linen walking through a town destined for destruction marking the people who lamented their sins so they would not be destroyed (Exe 9:4). In Revelation it speaks of two different marks, those marked by God for salvation and those who take the Mark of the Beast (Rev 7:3; 13:16-17). Paul speaks of the scars on his body, from beatings, stonings and lashings as marks that point to his faith in Jesus (Gal 6:17). And it was seeing the marks in His hands side that brought doubting Thomas to faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ (John 20:27).
The marks of Jesus are often called the “Stigmata”, from which we get the term “stigma”. Last week we spent some time looking at a biblical view of depression. It was by no means comprehensive, but I think we covered some of the basics, and I hope it was helpful to you. I was surprised how much feedback from last week’s message, both locally and after I posted it on the internet. I got hits and messages from all over North America. I even received an email from someone in Mexico.
The comment I heard repeated most often, including from my new friend in Monterey, revolved around stigma. Multiple people thanked me for simply not making them feel badly about struggling with depression or mental illness. Being a person suffering from mental illness like depression is bad enough, more than a few Christians I know have recently admitted some bad stories about letting people at church know about their struggles, and then having that knowledge used against them.
They come to their friend, their church, their family, to share a small part of one of their deepest struggles – that for a long time they have been in a daily battle against their own brain, that has made them feel anxious, sad, fearful, hopeless, and like an utter failure – and instead of getting love, acceptance, support, and prayer – they get stigmatized, branded, tattooed with a label. Most often in the church, that label is “Lazy” or “Faithless”.
Instead of coming alongside this person and patiently bearing their burdens with them, they accuse them of not having enough faith, not praying enough, not reading the bible enough, not understanding enough theology, not worshipping enough. They throw out quick answers like, “Have you done your devos? Reading the Bible and praying always cheers me right up!” or “You should listen to more worship music.” or “You need to stop drinking coffee, you’re your vitamins and do some exercise, and then you’d be happy.”
The implication to those quick answers is that the person’s problem is their fault – as though this was something they chose, or there’s something they are not doing that if they would just do, then their sickness would go away. That’s a ridiculous notion that we would never apply to any other sickness, would we?
I don’t intend to repeat last week’s message about the importance of realizing that they are suffering from a mental illness, meaning that they are literally sick, and that part of their body is broken (their brain chemistry) and outside of their control. And I don’t intend to try to convince you how bad it is by telling you a bunch of horror stories from my life or anyone else’s – please just believe me that however bad you think it is to be clinically depressed or suffer from mental illness, the reality is that it’s probably worse. But after hearing from more than a few people relate stories of how much pain they have been caused by people in the church, and saying that they are literally afraid of telling other Christians about their struggles, I feel there’s a couple topics we need to cover.
People Usually Fear / Hate Sickness
Today I want to talk about how God uses sickness and suffering for our good and His glory. Essentially, what we’re talking about is a building a theology of sickness.
People who are sick are often treated very badly by their fellow man. Maybe it comes from our inherent fear of death, so we distance ourselves physically and emotionally from anyone who is suffering. Maybe it comes from our belief that all suffering and sickness is bad, and therefore we need to avoid it at all costs. Maybe it comes from thinking that anyone who is sick or suffering is being punished by God, or has lost faith, and therefore we need to stay away while God deals with them. Whatever the case, being sick, whether with a mental or physical illness, has often come with stigma – they are marked as outsiders and shunned.
Even though the Old Testament is full of commands to care for the poor and be merciful to the suffering (Deut 15:11; Micah 6:8), and they did have medicine and physicians (Job 13:4; 1 Chron 16:12; Jer 6:22) it was often believed that anyone with any kind of handicap, from birth defects to blindness to leprosy to the flu to losing life or limb in an accident, was being punished by God for their sins, and was therefore shunned from the community.
From ancient times until today one way that societies have dealt with their weak and sick is to lock them away, forget them, or simply kill them – and this is on both ends of the spectrum. In some ancient cultures, if a baby had any kind of defect at all, it was policy to leave it out in the open until it died so that it’s weakness wouldn’t impact the family or the nation. In some cultures today girls are seen as weaker than boys, so they murder baby girls in favour of having more boys.
Since we have the technology to look inside the uterus before the baby is born doctors can diagnose all kinds issues a baby might have. Most of these issues are non-life threatening and are very treatable, but often end in abortion. For example, the rate of Downs Syndrome children has rapidly declined these days, not because there are less of them, but because they are murdered before they are ever born.
In the proudly liberal United Kingdom, famous for their open-mindedness and tolerance, they have a law that says you can abort a “disabled child” up to the day it’s born. Because the term “disabled” isn’t defined well, dozens, perhaps hundreds, of women have aborted their baby because it had a cleft lip. Why? Because people hate, shun, stigmatize, and reject sickness.
And we do it on the other end of the spectrum too as we take the sick and the elderly, push them out of our society, remove them from our media, lock them away in homes to forget about them, charge them enormous fees to care for them, and then, when they are rejected and alone, and feel like a burden to everyone around them, the lawmakers, doctors and insurance companies offer them euthanasia (Greek for or “The Good Death”). Like Coke, Pepsi or Nike, they find a young, pretty spokesmodels like Brittany Maynard to be their advocate and make suicide seem like a wonderful thing that everyone should consider, and then do what they can to eliminate other options.
One recent example of this comes from the story of Stephanie Packer, a mother of four who lives in California which recently legalized doctor assisted suicide. She has an auto immune disease that forms scar tissue on her lungs which makes it hard to breathe. She was told she wouldn’t live until age 32, but she’s already a year past that. She’s been in treatment for a long time, but when her doctors switched her expensive chemotherapy drugs, her insurance company informed her that they refused to pay for them. She then asked if they would cover the cost of the drugs that would put her to death. They said yes, and that it would only cost her $1.20. The same thing happened to a 64-year-old woman in Oregon who was given the choice between paying for a $4000/month drug to help her get better, or a $50 drug that would kill her.
Humanity hates and fears weakness, sickness, and death, and we will do everything we can to remove it from our minds, hearts, homes, and country. Christians need to be better, but too often we’re not. Instead, we, in our own ways, mark those who are sick, hurting, or weak, as undesirable outcasts that need to be treated by specialists, and only hang out with people who are strong, helpful, and that contribute to our wellbeing.
Think about it. I’ve heard so many times that people want friends that will help them grow, a church where they will be fed, spouses and partners and friends that will strengthen them – but they never, ever, ever mean someone that is sick or hurting. They always mean that they want to find someone who is strong, smart, and healthy, that will build them up. They never meant that they want to be surrounded by people that are sick, weak, afraid, confused, struggling, and in constant need.
But let me tell you the God’s honest truth. The place your faith will grow most, where you will be challenged most, where you will be tried, tested and refined most – is among the lust, hurting, and sick.
I hear Christians ask all the time about how they grow more spiritual, get closer to God, deepen their prayer life, learn more about the faith, be more dependent on scripture, hear the Holy Spirit, and become more like Jesus – and that’s a good thing. But the answer isn’t just “read your bible, pray every day”, avoid bad things, and you’ll grow, grow, grow. No, what will really, truly cause you to become desperate for the presence of God is to come face to face with weakness.
Sickness as a Gift
The Bible says that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6) and one way we become more humble, and thereby gain more grace, is to be faced with sickness – in ourselves or someone else.
- Physical, emotional and mental weakness will stop you in your tracks and force you to evaluate your life and faith.
- Whether you are the one who is ill or the one facing the illness, it will test the strength of your marriage, your friendships, and the bonds of your church and family.
- It will require you to admit you have problems and that you need help, opening up your heart to the ability not only to admit physical and mental problems but ultimately spiritual ones.
- It will force you to stop depending on yourself and humbly accept the help of God and others.
- It will force you to see your own weakness, and even your own mortality, and realize your time on earth is short.
- And it gives others an opportunity to care for you, thereby helping them grow.
- It will cause you to talk to God in ways you never have before– whether in anger, sadness, fear, or faith.
When you or someone you love is in pain your prayers get a lot less general. Gone are your prayers for a nice meal, a happy life, and to bless everyone around you –because now you realize what it means to come to God and say:
“Father in heaven. Hallowed be your name.
Bring your kingdom soon, because I hate this world full of sin and death.
May your will be done, because I am utterly at a loss for what to do.
Give me this day my daily bread, because I am weak, tired, and all of my energy is spent – I need a miracle of provision from you if I’m going to make it through this day.
Forgive me my sins, because I realize now how worldly I have been and how much I have sinned against others who just needed my love and comfort. How I wish I had been more merciful to them, because I could use their mercy now!
Help me to forgive those who have sinned against me, because people are saying and doing so many stupid, selfish things to me and the one I love, and I don’t need any more bitterness in my heart, God. I don’t have the time or energy to argue. I just need to find a place to know your life.
God, lead me not into temptation – because I’m tempted to give up, tempted to quit, tempted to go to evil places for a moment’s comfort, tempted to lash out at the one I’m supposed to be caring for and the ones that are caring for me, tempted to push people away, tempted to stop worshipping, stop praying, stop asking for help. God I’m so very tempted.
I need you to deliver me from evil, because all the time I can feel the presence of the evil one around me, and as I battle this illness on so many fronts – I need your spiritual protection so there’s at least one battle I don’t need to fight because you are doing it for me. Protect me, God.
I recognize yours is the kingdom, and I am but a humble citizen.
I recognize that yours is the power, because I feel so powerless.
And yours is the glory, so help me to somehow bring you glory in this as you make me more fit for your kingdom.
Forever and ever, even now, even in this time, even as terrible as this feels today – amen, so be it, I relent, I give it all to you.”
In Sickness You Meet Jesus
To my fellow Christians, I remind you that it is when you are face to face with the weak, the sick, and the poor – which includes those who suffer with depression – that you are closest to Jesus, and have the greatest opportunity to bless him. Turn with me to Matthew 25:31-46 and consider the words of Jesus:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
We will not be saved because of our compassion and mercy towards those brothers and sisters who are hungry, naked, sick and imprisoned, but we will do it because we are saved. Listen carefully: Your understanding of your salvation and all that Jesus has done for you is demonstrated in how you treat those around you, especially those who are difficult – like the sick, the poor, the estranged, or your enemies.
A Christian understands from what they have been delivered. They know that in the eyes of a perfect God they were deplorable, wretched, sinners, enemies of God. Before we are saved by Jesus, the Bible says we have all the attraction and benefit of a rotten, stinking, enemy corpse (Isaiah 64:6; Eph 2:1-3). Humanity became sick with sin and succumbed to it completely. Jesus didn’t come to meet us in hospital room, or our deathbed, he came to our grave. We have the smell of death and rotten deeds all about us – as unattractive as possible – and yet, though there was not anything good about us, God sent His only Son to take the punishment for our sin so we could be reborn as one of His people (John 3:16; Eph 2:4-5).
He stepped into a land of madness, sickness, death, betrayal, and hatred – a world completely bent away from Him – and stayed out of love. We insulted Him, He healed our wounds. We hated Him, and He exercised our demons. We broke every law He gave us, used the body He gave us for sin, rejected the prophets He sent us, corrupted the Word He spoke to us. He wept over us, prayed for us, fed us, calmed our storms, took the cross for us, sent us His Holy Spirit, and invited us to be part of His family. And even though we continue to get it wrong, sin like crazy, spit in his face, refuse to listen, obey, pray or do what He asks, even though we keep erecting idols in our hearts – He keeps walking with us, forgiving us, helping us, sitting with us, weeping with us, mourning with us, and reminding us of why we can still have hope.
We are never more like Jesus, and we never see Jesus more, than when we are serving, helping, and loving people who are suffering – and that includes people who are facing depression and mental illness.
Next week I hope to give some practical tools, but I that’s where I want to leave it this week. But let me challenge you to some reflection:
First, is there anyone in your life that you have stigmatized, marked as an untouchable because they are too weak, sick, sad, or frustrating? Has God called you to serve someone, visit them, feed them, help them, welcome them, clothe them, but you have said no, because like the pagan world around you, you don’t want to, are too lazy, too afraid to be touched by weakness, sickness and death? I beg you to repent. Ask forgiveness of those you have marked as outcasts because of your own selfishness, fear and sin, and then go and be Jesus to them – and meet Jesus in them.
And second, to those who have been marked by sin, who bear the scars of depression, anxiety, sickness and pain. I challenge you to change your perspective on your suffering to see that you are not being punished, and God has not left you. You have been given to your church and your family as a gift by which we are able to see Jesus. You have been given something that forces you to grow closer to Jesus, to depend more on Him, and to have a greater faith than many people will ever experience – if you allow it to drive you to Jesus and not from Him.
Consider how you can say the words of 1 Corinthians 12:9-10, which have been echoed by so many faithful believers throughout the centuries: “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Well, we took down the Christmas decorations at home this week. No more tree, lights, or socks on the wall (nothing says Christmas like decorating the wall with fancy socks you’ll never wear, right?). The socks have been replaced with our standard portrait, the tree has been boxed up and the furniture rearranged so that you’d never know it was there. Some of the stores are hanging in there though. I went out a few days ago and still saw some snowflakes and poinsettias around, but they’re likely to come down soon too. All the special holiday food has been eaten and we’re back on the normal meal plan – and maybe even less than that as we try to shed some of the celebratory pounds. I know a few of us had birthdays in the last few weeks – I had my 39th this week – so that means no more presents for almost a whole year.
I think we had a really good Christmas season together this year, but sadly, as Chaucer said, “all good things must come to an end.” I’m not sure if you feel it, but January is actually a difficult month for a lot of people. In fact, the third Monday of January, this year the 16th, is sometimes called “Blue Monday” and is considered by some to be the most depressing day of the year. One newspaper I read this week called January “nothing but a 31-day chasm of despair.”[i]
I did some digging around for actual experts and statistics to support the idea of blue Monday and found it been largely debunked, but there are a few correlations that make January seem a little worse, making Blue Monday at least relatable.
The weather is often cold and dark, which contributes to some people’s Seasonal Affective Disorder[ii]. Family has all gone home and the Christmas buzz is over, so we start to feel lonely. And if there was unresolved drama during the visits, those thoughts come crashing back at us when they leave. The credit card bills come due. By the third week of January we’ve likely already given up our New Year’s Resolutions and feel like failures.
This can be an especially dangerous time for people who are already suffering with depression, anxiety, or other metal illnesses because it compounds their struggles. When Christians talk about this sort of thing, we try to see it from a biblical perspective, and part of that is to realize that as the world around us seems to turn against us, and the bad feelings start to rise, so do temptations.
Now, with that as the introduction, let me pause for a second: I was really torn about this message this morning. Part of me wanted to get back into 1st Corinthians, but I felt strongly that I needed to share this sermon as a warning and an encouragement about the present or coming season of depression that you may be facing. Times like this bring a lot of spiritual dangers.
Not everyone here will go through this, but everyone, because we are a family, will be affected. I’ll go even further to state that no everyone here will even understand what it’s like to go through a season of depression – even though they or someone they know has.
It’s not an easy thing to deal with, believe me I know. I’ve struggled with different forms of depression for a long time, and they are hard on everyone. While you may not fully understand it, and a few of you may be in denial about it, I think most people here know what I’m talking about.
What I want to do this morning is to help you understand depression from a biblical perspective, and hopefully give you a few tools to combat it, because these depressive episodes are going to bring about all manner of dangerous temptations that have the potential to lead you into spiritual dangers, and I don’t want that for you, your family, or the church.
Two qualifications before we start, though: First, books upon books have been written about this topic, so this is going to be exceptionally abbreviated. And second, I’m not a psychiatrist or psychologist, so I don’t claim to be an expert, but I have studied and experienced some of this, so I do think I have a bit of a handle on it.
So, as your pastor, here are a few things I want you to know about depression and how you can face it as a Christian:
Two Kinds of Depression
The first thing I want you to know about depression is that it comes in a variety of forms, but you can lump their causes into two broad categories: things that happen inside you and things that happen to you.
On one hand you have the depression that happens because of things happening inside of you. Major, chronic, and persistent depression, bipolar, postpartum, premenstrual syndrome, hormonal changes in men, etc. are all examples of depressions that happen regardless of your circumstances. You could have the best week ever, with sunshine, a perfect diet, great exercise, get a million dollars, and a promotion at work, and still feel terrible. And it’s because the chemicals in your brain and body are working against you.
Regardless of how great everything is going, you feel like you’re looking at life through dark sunglasses, wearing your itchiest pants, with a 50 pound weight around your neck, and headphones on with a negative voice that is stuck on repeat that keeps telling you how bad things are. It’s a terrible feeling, and it’s horribly guilt producing, because you want to feel good, you kind of know things aren’t so bad, but you still feel horrible.
These types of depression are often life-long struggles which require not only spiritual and relational help, but also professional therapy and medical interventions.
The second type of depression comes from outside you. Examples of this are Seasonal Affective Disorder where the lack of sunlight causes you to feel miserable, or ‘Situational Depression’ where you face extra stresses or troubles in your life like stress, sickness, big transitions, failure, or death, and it taxes your system and puts you into a depression.
Sadness vs Depression
Now, just to clarify, I’m not talking about “sadness”. There’s a huge difference between sadness and depression, and unfortunately we’ve lost some of the nuance as we’ve used these words interchangeably. Some people who are sad think they are depressed, while others who are chronically, medically, depressed sometimes mistake it for sadness – and are sometimes treated by those around them as though their medical illness is a temporary sadness – and that’s not good. Everyone gets sad at times, but not everyone will face depression.
The easiest way to understand the difference between sadness and depression is that sadness is triggered by difficult event and you feel sad about it. Sadness requires something to have happened. You are sad about something – that you lost the game, failed the test, broke your arm, that your friend died, that you lost your job, or someone stole your favourite thing. Sadness gets easier over time as we go through grieving, when something changes for the better, the hurt fades and we feel better.[iii] Depression doesn’t require a “cause”. It can start from something bad happening, but then it doesn’t fade.
It’s a mental illness, and it’s easiest to understand as such. It’s like a broken bone, a virus, or crones, or an allergy. You can’t just make it go away. If someone broke their arm in an accident, you wouldn’t tell them to think positive and it’ll get better, right? Or, if someone had the flu, you wouldn’t counsel them to pretend that they didn’t have the flu, would you? Depression is an illness. Sometimes it just happens and then sticks around for a long, long time.
Being Depressed Isn’t a Sin
Which leads me to my second point, which is that being depressed isn’t a sin. Regardless of which type you face, whether it comes from inside you or outside, it is not a sin to be depressed. It may feel like it sometimes, and may lead you to all sorts of sinful temptation, but depression in itself is not a sin.
David, the author of some of the most beautiful psalms of worship, also faced some times of deep despair where he spends whole seasons of his life crying out to God. In Psalm 6:6 he says, “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye Wastes away because of grief.”. He terribly depressed, but his pain is never represented as a sin.
Elijah was one of the greatest prophets in scripture, powerful in word and deed, a worker of miracles and a mighty man of God – and yet in the end we see him in a dark depression and totally afraid. He cries out that he feels totally alone, yet there were thousands of believers around him. He runs away terrified of a pagan queen, even though God has already protected him dozens of times. After seeing God come in power through one of the most amazing miracles in scripture, he takes off, falls to the ground, won’t get up, and wants to die. Yet, this wasn’t ever presented as sin. What we see is God lovingly taking care of him instead. (1 Kings 18-19)
ob is another example of a person who faced depression. Horrible things happened to him – his family died, his possessions were lost, his health destroyed – and he cries out for death, wishing he was never born, hating his life, bitter in soul, terrified of every moment that it’s never going to end and that it will only get worse (3:11, 3:26, 10:1, 30:15-17).
And, though I must tread carefully here, I believe that Jesus Himself faced not only sadness and grief, but true depression. It says in Hebrews 4:15 that Jesus is able to understand our weaknesses because he was tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin. Isaiah 53:3 calls Jesus a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief”. I think there are a few places that show us times when Jesus faced deep sadness, and possible depressive episodes, but I believe that it is in the Garden of Gethsemane, moments before His arrest, trial and crucifixion, that we see true depression. He says to His friends, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death…”. Jesus, who that He came as the only one who could save mankind from sin by dying on the cross, actually asks God to stop the mission saying, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me…”. It hurts too much. Everything inside of Him screams to just give up. He’s in such mental, spiritual, emotional agony, that His sweat comes as drops of blood.
Depression Effects Everyone
Which brings me to my third point, which is that depression is extremely common, that many people are facing it right now, and whether you have it or not, it’s probably affecting someone you know.
Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). That’s a two-fold promise. First, that we will have trouble, and one of those troubles is mental illness and circumstances that lead to deep sadness and depression.
In fact, these troubles, including depression, are often given by God. Job, in 16:12, says, “I was at ease, and he broke me apart; he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces…”. Job’s trials were God’s idea.
When Jesus walked the earth He and the disciples came upon a man who was born blind. “And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’” (John 9:2-3)The man suffered through many trials, since birth – and this in a society that didn’t have much help for people with physical handicaps – because God decided to make him blind. Why? Not because of sin, but because God had a unique, special plan for his life that required him to have a certain kind of weakness.
A synagogue leader’s little girl, and Jesus’ good friend Lazarus needed to get sick and die so people could see that Jesus had the power to raise the dead.
The Apostle Paul was used by God to heal many people’s diseases so they would know he was a true messenger of God’s Word, but when he begged God to remove his own source of constant pain and frustration, God said no. “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” And Paul replied, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (1 Cor 12:9)
Sometimes our struggles are because of the effects of sin in the world, that we are surrounded by evil, under Satan’s dominion, in a world touched by the curse. Sometimes our pain is a result of people sinning against us, their own sin causing us permanent damage. But the Bible is also clear that sometimes God chooses to bless people by giving them or someone they love, or someone in their church, the gift of suffering – including what we’re talking about today, mental illness and depression.
I know that sounds strange, but it’s what scripture teaches. We wouldn’t have Psalm 23 if David hadn’t gone through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. We wouldn’t know of the Passover if Israel hadn’t spent 400 years in captivity. Job wouldn’t have stood out as a man of God and example of faith if he hadn’t faced such deep trials. Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, Samuel, all faced deep hurts, trials and pain – but are also written down in the Hebrews 11 hall of faith. And there are many more in scripture.
Their faith in God, the faith of those around them, and those who would read their stories after, grew because of the trials they faced. They were deeper people because of their suffering. (Romans 5:3-5)
And it’s not just biblical figures either. CS Lewis, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, John Bunyan, and many, many faithful Christians through the ages have all suffered with depression. Not sadness, not melancholy, but deep, dark, often overwhelming depression. And yet, their faith, dependence and love for God grew. They were and are mightily used by God. Depression affects everyone, but it is not always a bad thing.
That’s where I want to leave it this week. Next week I want to look at some biblical ways that we can think about and face depression when it comes, but for now I want you to think and pray about what we’ve already learned today.
I want you to admit that depression is real and that you or someone you love may be facing it, and I want you to realize that you are not alone – but more than that, that God has a plan for it for your good and His glory.
I want you to pay attention over the next week when the blues creep in, and I want you to know that your sadness, depression, and desire for comfort isn’t a sin, but it can lead you to temptations – and to be on guard for those times.
And finally, I want you to pray for those who are facing depression. Pray they will find healing, hope and peace in Jesus – and that we as a church will show them love, patience, kindness, grace and understanding.
Tonight we’ve read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. Luke, the man whom the gospel was named after, was Greek Gentile (or non-jewish), who was trained as a doctor. He was a friend to the ailing Apostle Paul and accompanied him on some of his missionary journeys to help him with his consistent health issues. Luke was a very intelligent, detail-oriented man, a diligent physician, and a passionate follower of Jesus who was led by God to write an account of the life of Jesus Christ about 40 years after His death and resurrection.
Let me take a minute to read the very first part of the Gospel of Luke because it gives us a good idea of why he wrote what he did. He says,
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:1-4)
So the backstory goes like this: Theophilus was most likely a wealthy, Roman patron who learned some things about Jesus through some preachers and oral traditions but wanted someone to do some research into how accurate the stories were. The name of this small-town, Jewish, carpenter who had walked on water, raised the dead, fed thousands, and who had died on a Roman Cross only to be seen by hundreds of witnesses to have come back to life three days later, must have been quite a fascinating story. And to hear that He claimed to be the Creator of the Universe come in flesh, the Messiah of the Jewish people and the Saviour of the world was worth checking out.
But, like many of us, he probably had his doubts, so he found a trustworthy, non-Jewish, non-apostolic, non-eyewitness, unbiased man, to go and do some research – and Luke fit the description. Maybe Luke was his own doctor, we don’t know. What we do know is that Theophilus trusted Luke to set about going throughout the Jewish and Roman world to gather witnesses and write down what people had seen and heard.
Luke states his mission right up front. He says that even though others had undertaken to write about Jesus (by this time the Gospel of Mark had already been written), His plan was to gather the data he had learned over the years, and record it in an orderly way so that Theopholis, and all those who would read his gospel after, would be able to “have certainty concerning the things [they had] been taught”.
We sometimes assume that people from a long time ago were silly, superstitious and far more gullible than we are today, but that’s simply not true. CS Lewis calls that “chronological snobbery”. They were as intelligent as we are. The first century people knew how extreme Jesus’ claims were and they weren’t about to believe it until they could get some “certainty”.
What would give them that? Well, Luke would talk to the “eyewitnesses”. He says that he had “followed all things closely”, which is also translated, “invested everything from the beginning”.
Now, Luke was no dummy. He didn’t grow up in a Christian or a Jewish home, but a Greek one. The Greeks looked down on Jews as backward and strange. Plus Luke was a doctor, used to making decisions about what to do with a patient based on the evidence of their symptoms. He wasn’t about to give up his heritage and convert to Christianity because of a few fantastical stories.
Also, around this time, the barbaric and insane Emperor Nero had already been in power and had set about destroying Christianity through torture and murder. It was likely that by the time of his writing, Luke had already known of the many who had been killed, and may have even witnessed the brutal death of his good friend Paul.
It was one thing for those who had seen Jesus face to face, had talked to Him, to face martyrdom. But Luke, Theopholis, and the Romans he was writing to, hadn’t seen any of what Jesus had done first hand, and to claim to be a Christian in those days was no light thing. If someone claimed belief that Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died on a cross and then rose again to prove He was Saviour of the World, they had better be sure. A lot of people’s lives – including Luke’s – rode on the accuracy of his research.
So, He visited the witnesses and wrote what they saw and heard – and we’re not just talking about the Apostles. It’s very likely he talked to Mary, Jesus’ mother and some of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, and heard first-hand how His birth came about. He could have talked to Lazarus, the man Jesus rose from the dead, and of course to many of the hundreds of witnesses around Jerusalem and scattered throughout countries beyond, who had actually seen Jesus’ miracles, witnessed His death, and had then spoken to Him after His resurrection.
Distrust of Certainty
Luke’s mission was to give Theophilus and the rest of his readers, including us, “certainty”. That’s not a popular word these days. People don’t really like “certainty” because it sounds too dogmatic. We live in an age where we distrust almost everything – the news, the weatherman, our facebook feeds, and even the supposed truth-checkers. We’ve seen too much corruption, and our hearts hardened towards anyone who claims to be certain of anything.
We much prefer saying, “no one can know the truth” or “you believe what you believe and I’ll believe what I believe and we’ll both say we’re right.” I actually hear that quite a bit. I heard it at a coffee shop just a couple days ago. One barista was a Christian, the other was an Atheist. As I sat waiting for my friend, who was late to arrive, I listened as they debated Trump vs Hillary, then Trudeau vs Harper, and then moved from politics to religion. As they disagreed, one kept reminding the other that this might not be the best conversation at work, but the other was relentless. At one point I came out for a refill on my coffee and the Christian barista looked at me and said, “If you want to talk about religion, this guy is a pastor!”. I almost got swept into the fray, but ended up being quickly dismissed with “Ugh, church people. He probably doesn’t even believe in evolution.”
Before I could answer, the other barista chimed in with, “Yes, yes, but we can all believe whatever we want to believe, right?” And the atheist responded like a good Canadian, “Well, of course.” And, since it wasn’t really the right time or place, I slunk away back to my table.
I’m not sure what it is about this coffee shop, but many times I’m there I face little interruptions like this. A few weeks ago as I sat across from someone else who looked me right in the eye and said, “You don’t actually believe that the Spirit of God impregnated a virgin, do you?” I replied, “Yes, I actually do.” and received back something like, “Well, there’s your problem…” And about a week ago someone interrupted a conversation I was having and thanked me for talking about the Bible.
No one is really neutral on the subject of Jesus, and there are a lot of people who think Christians are crazy for believing this stuff. I get it. Jesus made some huge claims. That’s why people try to say these events are mythological or symbolic, or stolen from other, ancient cultures. There’s no way that someone could be born of a virgin, live a perfect life, fulfill hundreds of prophecies written over centuries, be stabbed through the heart and pronounced dead, sit in a cold tomb for three days, and then join his friends for lunch and a Bible study soon after! That’s got to be made up!
But that’s kind of the point isn’t it? There is no one like Jesus. Not before or since. That’s why it was so critical for Luke to get it right, because believing this wasn’t just a choice – it was the difference between life and death. Following a myth that causes people to stop hiring you, refuse to sell goods to you, gets you kicked out of your family, and makes you a target of the government, isn’t worth it. The only reason anyone would believe it would be if it’s true.
For Christians, this is the most important truth in the universe, and we stake our lives, our reputations, and our eternities on it. We believe that there is a God, the Father almighty, who created heaven and earth. We believe gave humanity the free will to choose to obey Him or not, and that we chose to go our own way, incurring the penalty of the curse, physical and spiritual death. We believe that the Bible is the Word of God, written by trustworthy men that were carried along by the Holy Spirit to ensure it would be exactly what God wanted to say, and that it tells us of how God has worked through all of human history to bring about His plan to deliver us from the consequences of sin.
We believe that the Bible was written not only to tell us about God and ourselves, but to tell us what the Saviour would be like. For centuries before Jesus’ birth God told us what to look out for. Jesus fulfilled over 300 historical prophecies. The odds of anyone doing that are astronomical.
Christians believe that the stories the Bible tells about Jesus are historically true because they were confirmed by eyewitnesses, and through diligent scholarship we are sure that the words in today’s Bible are nearly identical to the words written by the original authors.
We believe that Jesus was truly conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under a real man named Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, was buried, and three days later, really did rise from the dead, making a way for all who would believe in Him to be free from the curse of death and hell.
We believe that the baby we celebrate at Christmas is the judge of all mankind and everyone will stand before Him to make an account of their lives. And that everyone, everywhere will one day bow their knee – so we choose to do it now.
We believe that God alone can forgive our sins, and only does it because of our faith in in Jesus. And that one day, because Jesus proved He could do it first, He will raise us all from the dead to live with Him forever.
Many of us come here tonight not just out of tradition, to sing songs and hear old stories that bring us nostalgic comfort, but because we believe the story of Christmas and are thankful for God sending His Son to be born in such a humble way so we might be saved through Him.
As we sit in these shadows and see the light of the Christ candle, we see an image of the light of the world who has pierced the darkness, and offers to exchange the darkness of our hearts for the light of His life.
I pray with all my heart that you would, like Luke, investigate the claims of Jesus Christ and come to believe in Him too – and that if you do believe it, that you would take time in the next few days to reaffirm your faith and recommit your lives to Him.