To say it’s a strange time is an understatement. As this pandemic looms, and the lockdown enters its second month, it’s very interesting to see how people are reacting. While some sit at home bored, others, like front-line and emergency workers, are being run off their feet. The educated professionals that are used to having “important jobs” have been told they are “non-essential” while the service and retail workers who they used to look down on are now treated as vital “essential workers” who put their life on the line every day serving the public.
I’m 100% sympathetic to how difficult it must be these days to be a doctor, nurse, or other medical workers – but as a former Wal-Mart stock-boy and cashier, I have a special spot in my heart for the people at the grocery and department stores whose lives are all now far more complicated, much scarier, and way more difficult. Imagine for a moment being a 16-year-old grocery store cashier. It’s your first job and you just started a couple months ago. It seemed pretty straightforward. The main parts of the job were to know where stuff is, get the money right, and be polite to people.
How must they feel now? All of a sudden they are given surgical masks and gloves, are stuck in a Plexiglas cage, and have a dozen new rules to follow. The public is panicking and the management doesn’t know exactly what to do. And, they’re told that if they don’t get it right they could be held responsible for spreading a deadly virus. What must it be like as a parent to send your teen off to work these days while you are forced to stay at home?
Coping with Stress
No matter who you are – everyone in every arena of life has been affected by this. And, as the internet churns out more information, the government makes more announcements, the 24-hour-news-cycle generates more stories to grab your attention, and the weeks continue to wear on and on — everyone having to deal with more stress, anxiety, fear, confusion, loneliness, and worry.
How are people coping? I saw an interesting graphic this week put out by Stats Canada[i] talking about what Canadians are doing to deal with the challenges the COVID-19 situation has brought. As it turns out they’re watching a lot of TV, playing a lot of video games, surfing a lot of internet, and drinking a lot of alcohol. I would imagine that if Stats Canada dug a little deeper they would find that Canadians are dealing in a whole lot of other self-destructive ways too.
Consider your own life over the past few weeks. How have you reacted to increased stress, decreased accountability, more time on your hands, or more responsibility dumped in your lap? What have you been doing to “cope” with your stress? More arguing and controlling? More alcohol or food? More pornography and non-stop media? Or are you sleeping more, avoiding life, zoning out? What have your interactions online looked like during this time? God honouring, faith-producing, helpful posts that point to truth and hope – or are you spreading fear, argument, and gossip?
Trial by Fire
Stressful times, and not just during global pandemics, bring out the best and the worst in people. The Bible talks about times like this being like going through a “fire” that either causes you to be refined like gold in a furnace, showing and helping you remove the negative dross in your life – or causing your whole life to burn down as you realize that everything from your foundation up was just made of matchsticks.
And I’m not talking about just the difference between believers and non-believers – though that is certainly the case too. I’m talking about Christians.
Turn with me and consider 1 Peter 1:3–7:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Peter is talking to Christians here who were going through a very difficult time of persecution and trial. He reminds them that their salvation is because of God’s “mercy” – meaning that He didn’t have to save them, but chose to anyway. He reminds them of what their present faith is in – the God who gives them a “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”. Then, like the verse we read last week in Romans 8 that says nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Jesus Christ, Peter then reminds them that because of God’s mercy, and the finished work of Jesus Christ, nothing can ever take away that hope because it is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading”.
He tells them that it is in remembering those things – the love of God, the salvation of Jesus Christ, their security in Heaven – all the things we talked about last week – that, as the meditate on their salvation in Jesus, they will find the strength and desire to pray, worship, trust, serve, and “rejoice”, even in the midst of their “various trials”.
But look at verse 6 again where Peter says that their rejoicing will be mingled and mixed with grief. “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials…” Christianity doesn’t say that as soon as we get saved all our earthly problems are solved. That’s a false gospel. If anyone has ever told you that the reason that you are going through a bad time – grieving, suffering, hurting, sadness – is because you don’t believe in God hard enough – they are not telling you the gospel. That’s not Biblical truth.
Think about John chapters 13-17, the discourse in the Upper Room. On the night of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, He told the disciples a lot of important things about what was coming and how they should respond. He washed their feet and then told them to serve one another in love. He told them that their faith in Him would let them see and experience the presence of God. He told them how to pray and that if they need something they only need to ask in His name. He told them of the importance of obedience and how the presence of the Holy Spirit would help them to know Him, follow Him, and would connect them to Him in the most intimate way imaginable.
And He gave warnings, telling them to stay connected to Him or their life would be weak and meaningless. He said,
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Then He warned them that living like that would make the world hate them, just as it hated Him. But, no matter what, He would never, ever leave them alone – and would always comfort and help them.
Then He warned again them about his imminent death, and the great sorrow they would feel – but that, after He rose again, their sorrow would turn to joy, and that joy would be greater than they had ever experienced before.
And then, after talking for hours, right before He prayed for them – and us – in His “High Priestly Prayer”… as He was rising to leave to go to the Garden of Gethsemane to face that death, He said this:
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
That’s the gospel. In this world you will have trouble and trials and struggle and difficulty. This world is still affected by sin. As Peter said, “For a little while” meaning, in this life, we will be “grieved by various trials” – but “but take heart; [Jesus has] overcome the world”.
Testing the Genuineness of Your Faith
That’s what the next verses in 1 Peter 1:6–7 basically say: “…now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
These trials and difficulties, all the frustrations we are facing, the worry that has come over us – whether it’s the death of a loved one, our own sickness, a financial or job loss, dealing with loneliness, or having our work become harder, more complicated, and have more risk – are part of what Peter means when he says “various trials”.
What do these do? He says they “test” the “genuineness of your faith”. In other words, these times force you to see whether or not you really believe what you say you believe. At the same time, while it tests the strength of your faith – the strength of your convictions – it also shows you what your faith is actually in.
God uses trials like this to refine and reveal. He refines your faith, strengthens your faith, purifies your faith, by forcing you to see and remove what is weakening it – and it reveals things in your life, showing you things about yourself and others, that you didn’t even know were there.
Bear the Fruit of Repentance
Turn with me to Luke 3:1–20. I want to share something that I think God was telling me this week about myself, and that might help you:
This is the introduction to the ministry of John the Baptist, a man sent by God – the final Old Testament style prophet – who was meant to prepare the way and announce the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.”
So there’s the general tone of John the Baptist’s message: “The Messiah is coming to begin the final work of salvation, so get yourselves ready for it.” Remember a couple weeks ago I preached the “Epic” sermon about the various phases of God’s plan of salvation? Here’s the announcement of God’s final and greatest phase: The Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour, the Judge of All Mankind, is coming into the world – with an axe in one hand, a winnowing fork in the other, and the refining fires of the Holy Spirit to purify the world before God’s wrath, God’s refining fire, sweeps through the whole world burning away the fruitless trees and worthless chaff.
He preached this with power and conviction and as he said, “Get ready” he would invite people to repent. To repent means to change your life, turn around and go the other way, acknowledge you are wrong and start doing right. And to show that repentance he invited them to be baptized – an external washing to show their desire to be clean on the inside.
But, some were coming for baptism that only wanted the outer sign, not to change their ways. But John wasn’t interested in numbers – he wanted people to really change and get ready for the coming of Jesus. He wanted the hard soil of their hearts to be tilled up, made soft, and made ready for the seeds of the gospel that Jesus would be coming to preach.
But some people just wanted to go through the motions. They wanted to say they had been baptised, but they didn’t actually want to repent. For whatever reason – out of fear, peer-pressure, religious devotion, or misunderstanding – when they came to John they didn’t want to change their hearts and prepare themselves for Jesus – they didn’t care about their sin – they just wanted to get wet.
John hated that hypocrisy because it was the same hypocrisy that completely dominated the whole Jewish religion at that point. So He looked at the crowds who were all excited to be baptized and said, “You brood of vipers! You snakes! What are you doing here? I see your motives and I know that you’re not here to give your hearts to God and submit to the Messiah – you’re here for your own selfish, stupid reasons. You make excuses for your sin and think you’re going to escape God’s wrath because of your religious traditions or because you’re going through some religious motions. That won’t work! Religious devotion, devoid of repentance, devoid of hatred of sin and submission to God, will still lead you to hell.”
And when Jesus came, and the religious people saw Him and heard his message of repentance and submission to Him, they didn’t repent – they hated what He said and murdered Him so they could keep being religious hypocrites. The presence of Jesus was the fire, the trial that revealed their sin –and showed everyone how evil they really were.
The crowds, seeing how serious John was about making sure their hearts were right with God before they participated in any sort of external sign, said in verse 10, “Ok, then what shall we do?” If we’re not supposed to be just doing religious stuff – getting wet, singing the songs, saying the prayers, doing the sacrifices, bringing the tithe – if none of that actually matters to God, then what are we supposed to be doing? We’re here to get baptized because you told us to get baptized or God will be mad at us… so what are we supposed to do?
John’s answer was the one that we saw in verse 8. “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance”. In other words, make your life show that your repentance is real – that you sin and want to be godly. Real repentance will require changed life, changed behaviour, different priorities, and different ethics. It reminds me of the famous passage in Micah 6:6-8,
“’With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
That’s basically what John was saying, right? “If you’ve got extra, share. If you’re in a position of power, be kind and fair and honest. Show God you love Him, that your repentance is real, that your faith is real, that you want Jesus in your life and trust His way is the best way – by “doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly as a servant of God.”
Herod the tetrarch didn’t like this message. He was caught in a bunch of public sins that went against God’s commandments, and John called him out on it. What was Herod’s response? Arrest John and lock him in a room where he couldn’t hear him anymore.
That’s my conclusion today: During this time you are going to be faced with all kinds of temptations. Some in your home, others at work. Some online, others face to face. There will be temptations to overuse things that bring you comfort, to overindulge in addictions, waste your time, and use self-destructive behaviour. Some of you will face the temptation to live in fear and to be a fear monger, spreading bitterness and paranoia. Others will be tempted to be selfish and greedy or to make personal gain on the back of the suffering. Some will take their fear out on convenient people that don’t deserve it. Some will face emotional struggles worries rise up. Others will face spiritual struggles as they neglect prayer times, study times, and fellowship opportunities. Some will be tempted toward hopelessness while others will try to live in denial.
The list of temptations is endless – but what I want you to see is that this strange time that we are going through is also an opportunity for God to refine your faith and reveal your weaknesses and strengths.
When it happens, and God shows you your sin, feel the guilt and shame – but don’t be overwhelmed by it – just turn that sin over to Jesus, accept that He died for that sin too, accept His forgiveness – and then repent. Change the behaviour, put up a wall between you and the sin, tell someone else about your struggle, do the opposite of it, and then bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
Then, if you choose to humbly reflect on your life, admit that you need a lot of help, listen to the voice of God, and allow Him to make some changes, God will refine you and you will be a stronger, more faithful, more joyful, person on the other side of this.
Or, you can respond like Herod. When God’s Spirit convicts you, when He shows you your sin – tell Him to shut up, lock that voice away, pretend you didn’t hear it, and persist in your sin – and then come out the other side of this time more addicted, more afraid, more bitter, more controlling, and more hurtful than when you went in.
I don’t want that for any of you. Please, submit to God. Listen to His voice. Cut out the things that are hurting your soul. And bear fruits in keeping with repentance.
“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-21)
The very first line of “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” from CS Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” is one of my favourites. It says,
“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”
If you’ve read the Narnia books or watched the movies, then you’ll remember Eustace Clarence Scrubb. He begins the book as a thoroughly unlikeable character. He’s honestly worse than the White Witch. Sure, she was pure evil, but Eustice was a self-centred, know-it-all, cowardly, jerk.
If you don’t know who I’m talking about, then maybe you’ll remember the feeling you had when watching or reading about Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter. I hate that pink lady so much… but back to Eustice.
Lewis spends a good chunk of the book introducing us to this obnoxious and disagreeable person, giving him opportunity after opportunity to redeem himself or show a little bit of good, but it never happens. Then comes the scene where the ship has been hit by a huge storm, is in absolute tatters, runs aground on an island, everybody spills out haggard and exhausted. But they know that even though they are all utterly drained, they must rally for a few more hours so they can gather food and firewood to set up camp. Eustice, seeing that there will be no rest, slowly sneaks away so he can have a nap somewhere out of site.
After a short time, he comes across a dragon’s cave. He watches the dragon die and then sees its store of treasure. His rottenness really comes to the fore as he imagines all the selfish things he could do with this fortune until he falls asleep on a pile of gold. “When he awakes, Eustace is no longer a boy but a dragon, the outward manifestation of his inner greed and selfishness.” He discovers that the gold bracelet he put on his arm is now bringing great pain as it constricts his dragon leg, and when he tries to go to the others he finds himself cut off from his friends, isolated and alone. He curls up in a ball and starts to cry hot, dragon tears.
His friends never give up the search though and eventually, after much suffering and loneliness Eustice starts to regret his ways, miss his friends, and after much trial and error because he can no longer speak, manages to explain his predicament to his shipmates, even use his new form to help gather supplies.
After some time as a dragon, Aslan, the Christ character of the book arrives. He leads Eustace to a garden on top of a mountain where a well stands in the very centre. Eustace wants to enter the water so the pain in his leg could be soothed, but Aslan says he must undress first. Eustice realizes that Aslan must mean that he must shed his skin, like a snake. He sees how dirty and scaly he looks and starts to peel off that layer, “only to discover another nasty, scaly, and rough layer underneath. And then another. After three layers, he realizes it’s vain — he will never make himself clean or get rid of his pain or shed the nasty skin.”
Aslan the Lion then says Eustace, “You will have to let me undress you.” Eustace is obviously nervous about having a huge lion with great claws come and tear at his skin, but he’s so desperate for relief that he relents and lies down on the ground, flat on his back. Lewis describes what happens next from Eustace’s perspective:
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off…. Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off — just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt — and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me — I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again…. After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me… in new clothes.”
This passage has come to my mind many times since I read it recently. There is some great truth in it.
Often in our lives, we desire to be cleansed, renewed, made right, fixed, changed into a new person. We look at the life we’ve led, the decisions we’ve made, the foolish nonsense we’ve gotten ourselves into, and we wish it could be different. We feel guilt, shame, anxiety, sadness, and anger and we want it to change. We are addicted and want freedom. We are afraid and want security.
And so we do what Eustace did first. We try to peel off an outer layer, something on the surface, in hopes that that’s all we need. We read a book, try a change of habit, make a new schedule, commit to exercising, make a prayer time, get a Bible-in-a-year checklist and say we’re going to read it. We tell people around us that we’re going to try to be nicer, better, cleaner, more friendly, less stressed, more committed, more determined – and that we’ll do it by changing one or two things in our life. Give something up, join a group, take a walk, clean our house, and organize our lives.
But it doesn’t work. We strip off that one layer and it’s not too long until we realize that we really haven’t changed anything. We’ve exchanged one bad habit for another, one idol for another, one way of control for another, one enemy for another, and no matter how clean our room is, how clear our schedule is, how many days in a row we read our bible, attend group, or go for a walk, nothing ultimately changes inside of us. The fear, sadness, anger, and hunger are still there.
So we do what Eustace did again. We strip off another layer. We change something else on the surface of our lives in hopes it will change us. We do something radical like die our hair, get a piercing, shave or grow our beard, get a tattoo, buy a new wardrobe, in hopes that if we look different then we will feel different. Then we look around for other things that we can change. We dump our friends and try to find new ones. We see our church and blame them for not doing enough, so we go somewhere else or stop going altogether. We see our doctor and blame them for not giving the right treatment, so we get a second opinion. We blame our medication and figure it isn’t working right, so we stop taking it or go find different ones. We blame our family and spouse, so we ignore them, commit adultery or get a divorce. We blame God so we go looking for another religion.
We hope that if we change what is happening on the outside, change enough surface things, that it will fix our deepest problems. But it doesn’t work. With every surface change, with every layer of stripped-off skin, we eventually realize we haven’t really changed. We’re still the same dragon we were when we started.
“Tim Keller once said in a sermon, ‘The way to deal with guilt is not to avoid it, but to resolve it. Eustace not only realized he couldn’t get his own skin off, but that only God can come and take your skin off, and to do this you have to let him pierce deep. You must take all the guilt on yourself and stop blame shifting and take responsibility for what you’ve done wrong. No excuses. Full in the face.’”
This is what everyone must do before they can know the freedom and healing that comes with being made new by the power of Jesus Christ. They must look their sin in the face, stop making excuses, stop blaming others, stop thinking it’s just a surface problem and say,
“The reason that nothing changes no matter what I do is because I am the problem.
The reason I feel so afraid is that I want to be in control of everything and everyone. I want to be God because I don’t trust Him.
The reason I’m so angry is that I believe that my life should be one of unbroken comfort and ease. Deep down I resent everyone who makes me feel even a little bit uncomfortable, and I hate that God allows suffering in my life, so I hurt others so I control them, punish them for taking my comfort, and feel better about myself.
The reason I’m addicted is that I chose to be. I felt lonely, afraid, sad, or bad in some way and wanted an escape. I knew what I was doing was wrong, knew it had consequences, but chose to do it anyway because I didn’t care about anyone or anything other than myself at the time. I wasn’t fooled into a trap. I jumped into it. And I keep going back into the trap because I don’t want to go through the pain of leaving it, regardless of what it’s doing to me or the people I love.”
The only way to be free of sin is to admit you are a sinner. Admit you like feeling the rush that comes when you are the centre of attention, and so you seek it out, push others down, even steal the glory from God so you can feel good about yourself – because deep down you believe you should be worshipped.
Admit that even though you pretend to be nice on the surface, that deep down you are full of hate and you allow that hate to come out in socially acceptable ways. You would never murder anyone, but you will gossip about them, slander them, mock them, make rude comments about them, and stab them in the back – not to their face but to others or anonymously online – and then when you feel guilty or get caught, you make excuses saying they deserved it. There are people you hate, would never show love or affection or friendship to, even though you don’t know them, simply because of their race, gender, or social status.
Admit that you lie and believe lies on purpose because the truth is less convenient.
Admit that you lust after men and women who you are not married to, and that you want to, that you enjoy it, and you don’t care if pornography and human trafficking and prostitution is utterly destroying people’s lives and making it so you can’t even have a conversation with a young man or young woman without objectifying them, because you like it – and you don’t care about the suffering that comes from pornography because allows you to feel pleasure.
Admit that you have used all kinds of excuses to weasel out of work you should have done because you are lazy.
Admit that you are jealous of those who have more than you, who are better looking than you, who have a better life than you, and you would gladly take all of their comforts and dump all your problems on them if you could because you care more about yourself than anyone else.
Admit that you’ve stolen many, many times. You steal from the government by falsifying your taxes, from stores by keeping change that wasn’t yours or using coupons wrongly, from media companies by stealing signal and sharing passwords, from musicians and artists by downloading their songs and books and art for free instead of paying for them, from your parents when they weren’t looking, from your neighbours, your friends, your church, even from God by not giving Him what you promised Him.
Stop making excuses for your sin, stop blaming others, stop making light of it, stop assuming it’s just a little problem, a white lie, a personality quirk, and admit that you are a sinner who has loved sinning, and will keep doing it for as long as you can, until you are caught, or it kills you. And there’s nothing you can do to stop.
Only then, only when you admit your biggest problem is you, your sin, your failure, your decisions, your debt, will you ever be willing to ask for help. Only then will you roll over, expose your belly, and, regardless of how much you fear it, allow Jesus to change you utterly.
In Alcoholics Anonymous they call this “Rock Bottom” and it refers to the very lowest level a person can hit before they are willing to look up. Some people’s rock bottom requires very little loss before they ask for help – other people need to go through a lot more suffering, but the common theme is suffering, loss, and then admission of need. As long as a person is living in denial, defending what they do, comfortable with their addiction, they will never want to change. Until an alcoholic sees that drinking is a problem, they will never stop, they will never be able to root out what is really driving them to drink. In the same way, until a sinner sees that the real problem with their life is that their sin holds them captive, they will never ask to be freed from it, and thereby never know freedom.
What Happens When You Finally Admit Your Sin
What happens when you ask to be free? What happens when you finally admit you are living under a curse, that there is nothing you can do, and that you want to be free from the living-death that your sins keep you in? What happens when you realize the consequences of your sin are yours, feel the heat of the wrath of God coming against you, and are pressed down with guilt and shame? What happens when you turn yourself belly up and allow Jesus to strip you down and then dress you in His clothes? What happens when you finally admit you are a sinner in need of a saviour?
The picture of Eustace is one of a sinner whose outsides finally caught up with his insides. He was always a dragon, now he just looked it. So what did Aslan have to do? He had to kill the dragon part of Eustace so He could become who He was intended to be on the outside and the inside.
To save us from our sins, Jesus has to kill the sinful part of us, the part that has killed our souls and damned us to eternal death in Hell. Then Jesus must resurrect us to a new, eternal life that is no longer trapped in that curse. The only way to conquer your dragon is to kill it. You can’t make friends with it and hope it will behave. You all know the experience of trying to make friends you’re your dragon-self – it never stays friendly. The only cure for sin is death.
So how does God kill the sin part of us?
He Became Sin Who Knew No Sin
2 Corinthians 5:21 gives the answer,
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
This is one of the most important verses in scripture because it helps us understand how salvation through Jesus works. How is it possible that we can be sinners to the core, rebellious lovers of iniquity, our backs turned against God and toward all manner of depravity – and then be made right with Him without being punished, without facing God’s wrath? How can we go from being dead in our sins (Eph 2:1), destined for Hell, to alive in Christ and live with Him forever? If God hates sin, and the wrath of God must be poured out against it, then how can sinners be saved? How can the curse of sin be broken?
We know it’s not by trying to change our behaviour, right? Not only is that insufficient – because our sins are so numerous and powerful – but it’s ineffective. It’s like trying to cure cancer using lotion. It’s like trying to fix a brain tumour by getting a haircut. The consequences must be terrible and the effect of the cure must be complete.
It says that “for our sake”, because of His great love for us, Jesus chose to exchange Himself for us. This is where Lewis’ illustration of Eustace falls apart a bit – but was actually written about in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”. Jesus doesn’t just tear away the dragon from us. Instead, Jesus becomes the dragon. Or rather, God treats Jesus like He is the dragon. God puts upon Jesus the full weight of His wrath against sin. Jesus, the one “who knew no sin” became sin. Jesus had the entire measure God’s wrath against sin, the full curse, placed on Himself, and then takes the punishment you deserved.
The rejection of Jesus should have been ours. The scourging should have been us.
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)
“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross…” (1 Peter 2:24)
A surface change in our behaviour isn’t enough to deal with the problem of sin. We need to have the curse of sin broken in us. We need someone to kill that dragon. Jesus did that for you, for me, for anyone who is willing to admit their sin and their need for a Saviour. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The scripture is clear, and our conscience attests to the fact that there is nothing we can change in our behaviour to fix the problem (Rom 8:3). We couldn’t obey God, so Jesus obeyed for us. We didn’t want to die for our sin and face hell, so Jesus took our condemnation, died for us, and took the full weight of hell on Himself. We want to be made righteous and free from the curse of sin in our life, to be made clean and right with God and those around us, but we can’t do that ourselves – so Jesus lived a perfectly righteous life, and then died like a cursed sinner, so we, who deserved that death, could be made righteous.
When we put our faith in Jesus, God kills that dragon of sin inside us strips us to the core, and then resurrects us to new life. That’s why Christians are baptized. It’s an external picture of what’s happening on the inside. We admit our sins and then go under the water in death, we are buried with Christ as the water envelopes us, and then we are raised to new life as we come out of the water, cleansed and set free from the curse of sin.
This is why one of the pictures of becoming a Christian is known as being “Born Again”. Jesus said to the Pharisee Nicodemus, a man dedicated to living an upright, perfect life according to the Law of Moses, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) What did that mean? It meant that the way of the Pharisees, the way of laws and rules and surface changes will not make you fit for heaven. You must let God kill your sinful self, your sinful flesh, and let Him resurrect you as a new person, born again.
This happens only when you believe in Jesus. Every other religion, every self-help book, every other messenger will tell you to try harder, do more, pull up your socks, and give you a list of superficial things you need to change so you can become a better person. Or they’ll just teach you how to become friends with your dragon. That’s not the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus doesn’t offer a surface change, a spiritual band-aid, a list of rules and steps to a better life – He offers to take your sins upon Himself, die in your place, destroy the dragon within you, kill your old self, and then resurrect you as a new person, free from your slavery to sin. All He asks is that you admit you need Him and Him alone, believe in Him and Him alone, and allow Him to invite you to enter into His death and His resurrection.
Let me close by reading Romans 6:1-14.
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
[1, 2, 3] I got a lot of help in this section from https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/my-dragon-skin-torn-off
I don’t follow the NFL, but I do enjoy watching the spectacle of the Superbowl each year. Unfortunately, in my mind, the fun and excitement that comes with the word Superbowl, will always be attached to a much more ominous word: suicide. I can’t remember where I heard it, but at some point in my past I read or saw something that connected the success of winning the Superbowl to depression and suicide.
Why Successful Young Men Commit Suicide
One would think that reaching the pinnacle of their sport – or the pinnacle of anything – would have exactly the opposite effect. Watching them on the field after the game, you’d assume that sadness would be the last thing they would be feeling. Well, perhaps for that moment they are elated – but it doesn’t last. In fact, for some, getting to the top is exactly what sets off some of the darkest parts of their life.
I read an article this week called “Why Successful Young Men Commit Suicide” and it had some startling things to say. It started with the story of a successful, 37 year old man, who had reached his goal of becoming a hugely successful salesman, wore the best clothes, drove a Mercedes, collected antiques and art, threw lavish parties in his mansion, and appeared on the cover of some magazines.
One day, on September 15, 2000, he was confronted by his debt when his sister confronted him about his extravagant lifestyle. Then when he got to work he saw a terrible performance review and thought it was about him – but it wasn’t – and he went home thinking he was going to lose his job. He came home to learn that his long-time relationship was in absolute shambles. That night, he drove to a nearby park and committed suicide.
This may surprise you, but the greatest share of people who attempt suicide (in the US) are white males between the ages of 21-39. It is the second leading cause of death after accidental injuries. Most of these guys are fit and healthy, but are racked by dark depression which they mask with extravagant lifestyles, workaholism and substance abuse. The place where this comes out most, unsurprisingly, is Wall Street, Washington and Hollywood.
It’s not much different in Canada. I found a December 2011 article in the BC Medical Journal entitled “The Silent Epidemic of Male Suicide”. Not many people know this, and it doesn’t get much press. One startling statistic I read was that in 2005, 45 Canadian men died of AIDS, while 2857 men died of suicide. But we hear far more about AIDS, don’t we? The suicide rate for men is three times higher than that of women. We’re talking about men who, by worldly standards, are successful men. Most are middle-aged, and they’ve achieved what the world has told them is what life is all about. One article I read called this phenomenon “success-depression”, “success-induced burnout” or “executive suicides.”
The Spiral Of Hopelessness
The most ironic thing about this is that their achievements don’t make them happy. In fact, reaching the top only makes them more insecure, anxious and depressed. It makes them more critical and more afraid. Climbing the ladder often means selling a bit of their soul and leaving peace and quiet behind. The huge amount of commitment it takes to achieve a high level of success often means sacrificing meaningful relationships along the way, which means they often feel very alone.
Throw in the fact that many of them come from abusive and broken homes and you get a recipe for depression. Their worldview has no concept of a loving Creator, divine purpose, forgiveness or grace. It’s dog-eat-dog. And so, though they have achieved their dream, and are living a life that many would envy, they live detached from real life, have no joy in what they have, and lose their drive and direction. A sense of emptiness overwhelms them and paranoia seeps in. Sleepless nights mean taking stimulants in the morning and sleeping pills at night so they can function. Which compounds the depression and increases the anxiety.
Sadly, most of these men don’t have the emotional intelligence to know what’s happening inside of them. They’ve spent too much time building their brand and their lifestyle, and not nearly enough building their character or faith. They put on an amazing show for everyone – looks, money, success, smiles, and an enviable lifestyle – but they are hollow, hollow people, and they don’t even know it. Their hunger grows, even though they have fulfilled their deepest desires. So they buy more, work more, make more, climb higher, try riskier things, and the emptiness remains.
Which makes them angrier and angrier, more frustrated– but don’t know why – and they push away any heathy influence that is trying to tell them to come back. They drown their feelings in distractions like competition, sex, alcohol and drugs, which spirals into addiction, rage, exhaustion and self-pity.
Then something unexpected happens – like a bad job review, a broken relationship, or something even smaller – and it goes off like an atomic bomb in their heart and it breaks them apart. They realize that everything they have poured into the vacuum of their soul has amounted to nothing. All of the promises that the world made to them about how achieving their dreams would make them happy turns out to be a lie, which causes them to despair that there is nothing in this world worth living for except pain. They have more than anyone – and it’s nothing. It doesn’t take much to make the next, logical step to simply end the pain by ending their lives.
A Phenomenon and Epidemic
The article says:
“…a growing phenomenon called ‘success depression’ is now fueling the problem. ‘People have this notion that ‘If I only make CEO, if I only become the top talent agent, if I make my first million, that will do it, all my insecurities will go poof…. You hit the pinnacle, then you wake up the next day and you’re still the same insecure [person] you always were.”
And of course, this isn’t just about men – though I did want to shine a special light on them today. Women are under more stress than ever too. Modernity has thrust incredible pressures onto women – perhaps more than any other century. They also have a predilection for climbing the ladder of success, leaving their heart and soul behind them.
I read another article this week on Mental Floss that gave a “Surprisingly Long List of [Famous] People Who’ve Attempted Suicide”. It floored me. Most of us know about Kurt Cobain, Marilyn Monroe, Chris Benoit, Hunter S Thompson , and the like, because they actually died. But Owen Wilson, Halle Berry, Mike Wallace, Elizabeth Taylor, Drew Berrymore, Danny Bonaduce, Sammy Davis Jr, Princess Diana, Walt Disney, Eminem, Ken Griffey Jr, Michael Jackson, Mindy McCready, Ozzy Ozborne, Britney Spears, Mike Tyson, Brian Wilson… all attempted suicide at some point in their career… the list goes on and on.
By Any Other Name…
Why am I telling you all of this? Because there is a terrible, terrible, demonic lie that has seeped into a lot of people’s minds that is at the very root of this problem. It goes by a lot of names. The classic, theological word is idolatry, but we can also call it consumerism, discontent, envy, or jealousy. Which is all tied to pride (what we think we deserve).
It has plagued mankind since the very beginning of time. Adam and Eve were standing in the perfect environment – and there was only one rule: Don’t eat the fruit. It was God’s line. He said, “Here is every good thing. This one thing is the only bad thing. Don’t do it or you’ll die.”
And the scriptures say in Genesis 3:4-7,
“But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened…”
The serpent says, “God’s holding out on you. You deserve more. Take it. There is pleasure beyond God’s promises. Take your life into your own hands. Get out from under God. Do things your way. Take it.” And they do. And their eyes are opened. And God’s promise comes true. Now they know good and evil. Before they only knew good. Now they know evil. And Satan laughs as death and suffering come into the world.
I just read the story of Abram and Lot in Genesis 13. They come to a place where their families and flocks are too big and they need to split up. Abram says, “You pick the countryside you want and I’ll take the other.” Lot looks around and sees some amazingly fertile ground in the Jordan Valley and goes straight toward it – right next to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He wanted the better land, and didn’t care that to get it would mean surrounding placing himself next to two of the most wicked cities to ever exist.
Abraham gets tired of waiting for God’s timing to give him the child of promise – and makes a baby with his wife’s servant – setting off years and years of trial and turmoil between their families.
Jacob steals Esau’s birthright because Esau couldn’t care less about it. He trades God’s promise for a bowl of soup.
Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery because they are jealous that he is the favoured son. He gets something they don’t, and they are jealous, so they get rid of him.
And that’s just the book of Genesis! Person after person, generation after generation, who refuses to be content with what God has given them, goes outside of His will, takes something for themselves that they think they deserve, and brings suffering and pain upon themselves and many, many others.
Jesus Disappoints Us
Fast forward to the New Testament and it’s not any better. The people following Jesus, including all of the disciples, were, without a doubt, just as prone to this. They had the exact same problem as the people who we’ve been talking about, and the same problem that man y of us have. Jesus disappoints them.
They look at Jesus, and their mindset was: What can I get from this guy? What can I get out of Him? He keeps telling them that He’s going to Jerusalem to suffer many things. That doesn’t compute with them because their picture of God, their picture of the Messiah, their worldview understanding of how everything is supposed to work, was completely different than Jesus’. Jesus was supposed to come in, overthrow the Roman government, elevate the Jewish Nation, and make all of His closest followers into positions of power and influence – and probably rich too.
They hated the Pharisees because they already had what they wanted: political power. They hated the Romans because they had what they wanted: wealth and military power. Jesus is our conduit to get all these things that we want: therefore we’re going to follow Him. They never, never grasp that Jesus isn’t going to give them that.
Right after Jesus has told them, once again, says that He will take up his cross, suffer many things and be delivered into the hands of men, the disciples start arguing about who is going to get the best seat when Jesus takes the throne. (Luke 9)
Judas is perhaps the best example. He thinks, “I’ll follow Jesus as long as He gets me what I want.” Judas was in His absolute glory when Jesus rode into town on a donkey on Palm Sunday, proclaiming Himself to the entire city of Jerusalem as the Messiah and rightful heir to the throne of David. He was ready to take His place alongside him.
But then, Jesus gets into town, drives everyone out of the temple, causes a huge scene, makes everyone mad, and then takes off to where no one can find Him. He doesn’t maximize His exposure, He doesn’t bask in the adulation. No, Jesus is weeping and angry. (Matthew 21)
ThenJesis spends the next few days giving the most difficult, offensive, hard-to-understand teachings of His entire ministry. He takes on the Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and every other power group in the city – and offends them all. He tells parables that say that the promise of Abraham will pass away from the Jews and be given to the Gentiles. He implies that there is no one, not one person, not even his closest followers, that understand why he’s there and that even though He is the “cornerstone”, that everyone will eventually reject Him. (Luke 20)
And, of course, he’s right. The crowd that worshipped Him on Sunday, turns on Him and crucifies Him on Friday. He’s not giving them what they want. He’s not saying what they want. He’s not doing what they want. The crowds turn on Him. Judas is incensed by what he sees as betrayal, and sells Jesus out for money. At least he’ll get some coin after all this wasted time. Early Friday morning the crowds are chanting: “Crucify Him!”
The disciples flee, Peter denies Him, and his followers experience a depression like they’d never experienced before. Why? Because Jesus was not the conduit to worldly blessing that they thought He was. He didn’t elevate them to the status they expected.
What did Judas do? He killed himself. He throws the money He traded for Jesus back into the temple – not even his ill-gotten gain brings him any comfort. He goes to the priests and confesses to them, but they don’t care. They’re happy. Jesus didn’t give him what he wanted. A lifetime of theft didn’t. The 30 pieces of silver – equated to half-a-year’s wages for a single night’s work – they didn’t give him what he wanted. The priests didn’t give him what he wanted. So his only solution was either to change what he wanted and turn to God, or kill himself. He chose to hang himself. (Matthew 27)
“I Was Envious”
With all this in mind, let’s look at Psalm 73:
“Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (Vs 1-3)
This psalm expresses the exact same theme, which is one that we are all guilty of in some measure. It’s the root of the problem for the ones who get depressed after the Superbowl, the wealthy, young men who achieve success only to find it hollow, the superstars and celebrities who look to all the world as the picture of happiness, only to be hiding a deep and secret pain. Desire out of control. Consumerism. Idolatry. Envy.
The psalmist starts with a direct statement that God is good: He knows that in his head. He’s studied it all his life. Asaph, the author, was an important temple musician during King David’s reign. He wrote worship songs. He knew God is good and told people all the time.
“But”, he says, he “almost stumbled”. He hit a time of depression and frustration with God. His head was saying one thing, but his heart was saying another. He was conflicted. He was frustrated with God. Even though he was a great worship leader, and had the ear of King David – a superstar and celebrity in his own right – he hit a dark time.
From where did that dark time come from? He says, “I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Envy at other’s prosperity. A desire to have something God hasn’t given him. Let’s keep reading.
The “Good” Life
“For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.” (Vs 4-12)
Of what is he envious of? Everything! They are healthier, better looking, getting away with everything, full of every pleasure they could want, surrounded by entertainment. They have wealth, power, influence – everyone turns to them for advice. They think they’re smarter than God! They don’t have to lift a finger and they get richer! They’re living the good life! Everything they want they get.
The Prosperity Gospel
Implied here is that the Psalmist isn’t getting those things.
“All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.” (vs 13)
Something bad happened to him. God wasn’t keeping up His end of the deal. He tries so hard to do right – and he’s being stricken. He’s totally innocent – and he’s rebuked. Every day brings a new problem, another fight, another issue to deal with – and he doesn’t deserve it! He’s a good guy!
What this is called, at it’s core, is the “Prosperity Gospel” which essentially says that God exists to give us what we want. God wants us to be happy, and happiness is found on earth. Therefore, any bad things that happen to you are a result of your lack of faith. It is woefully unbiblical and anti-gospel, but it is taking root in many churches around the world. Joel Osteen, TD Jakes, Creflo Dollar, and many other big names promote this.
This is where we get the “word of power” and “name it and claim it” prayer nonsense. The idea being that since God wants us to be happy He gives us His divine power to speak things into existence. He spoke the world into existence, therefore I can speak a new car into existence.
The lighter version of this which people are calling “Prosperity Gospel Lite” which essentially says, if you work hard, do good, live a moral life, then God will make sure things will work out for you – happiness, wealth, and all the rest. In other words, you are your own saviour, happiness on earth is the norm for believers, and God blesses your efforts to save yourself. That’s the opposite of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed the generation of your children.” (vs 15)
He almost went and preached the Prosperity Gospel to people… almost… but he caught himself. He essentially says, “If I would have used my influence to go to a group of people, who are hurting as much as me, and used my influence to tell them that God wants us to be happy so we should go make our own happiness — or God wants us to be happy, so we should go take it from the wealthy — or God wants us to be happy, and there is no purpose to suffering — or God is unfair, God’s not pulling His weight, God is disappointing us, let’s go get a different God — then I would have betrayed everyone.”
We live in a world full of people who are spreading that message. Betrayers of the Gospel and of Jesus. And they are destroying an entire generation because they have no concept of the true Gospel, the suffering Jesus, the disciplines of the faith, the fear of God, or the idea that God sometimes chooses to put His people through suffering so they can become more like Jesus and move closer to Him.
The End Matters
But He didn’t tell people that. Look what he does instead:
“But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task…” (vs 16)
He tried to figure this out, as we all have, and he came to the same conclusion: He can’t. He didn’t understand how God distributes wealth and influence, or why some people suffer while others don’t, why this world seems unjust.
“…until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” (vs 17)
He figured out that eternity matters. Being with God matters. It’s not just what we can pile up that makes a life, but what happens after this life. He realized that there is a judgement at the end of time, and that’s going to be the day that it all makes sense and works out. He went and stood in the sanctuary of God – he went to church – and he worshipped and prayed, and God gave him a very special thought: It’s not about right now… it’s about eternity.
Waking From a Dream
“Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.” (vs 18-20)
No one is on flatland. We are all on a slope that leads to eternity. Things are heading towards an end. We will all die and face God, and we will stand before the judgement seat of Christ and need to make account for our actions. We will be asked what we put our faith in, where our foundation is. Anyone who has not put their faith in God, who does not have a reconciled relationship to Him through the work of Jesus Christ, will be swept away by the terrors of hell.
This world, and all the things that we hold so dear, will be like a dream. Have you ever woken up after an intense dream? You were chasing something, or someone was chasing you. You needed to find something and it was incredibly important. While you were in that dream it was absolutely real, completely absorbing, the focus of everything you had.
And then you woke up and you can hardly remember what you were doing. You think: “Wow. That was weird. Why am I sweating? Why am I so worked up? Whew!” Then you go shower and completely forget about it.
That’s what it’s going to be like when we die. All the worldly things that we are so terribly concerned about now, that we are jealous of, that we fight for, and trade our health and relationships for — will all pass away like a dream. And when we wake up – really wake up – we will wonder why we spent so long chasing those things when they turned out to be nothing but phantoms and dreams.
“When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.” (vs 21-22)
As he stands in the sanctuary, having his God-given epiphany, he realizes something. The drives that he had – all the whole list of things he was so envious of – were primal drives. He wasn’t acting like a human being, created in God’s image for greater things, but like an animal, a beast. He is ashamed of himself. He was his own tormentor because it was his own flesh that he was fighting against.
He wanted a full tummy, physical pleasure, a comfortable place to sleep, to be the big-dog, and to howl as he pleased. He realized all at once that those things are base, animal, small in comparison to standing in the sanctuary of God, being in His presence, knowing His love, and acting upon the impulses of His divine will.
[I wish I could say more about this, but we’re running out of time. But meditate on how many good, spiritual, gifts we are willing to give up (love, peace, kindness, family, friends, worship, service, discipline, character, joy) in the pursuit of animalistic desires like food, sex, and comfort. I don’t want to live like an animal.]
God is My Portion
“Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Vs 23-28)
May this be the case for you and for me. Let’s pray and live to this end. That we have our mind cast heavenward and desire the presence of God more than anything. That we are guided by God’s word and not our animal instincts. That the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace. That though our heart fails us and we hit depression and fear… that though our flesh fails us and we succumb to sickness and age… that our strength would not be in ourselves, but in God.
Let us remember that the closer we are to God, the closer we are to life. Real life. Let’s keep spreading the message of the true Gospel to those who have bought into the lie of the Prosperity Gospel, and shine our light into the dark places. And let us have the discernment to know that even though some people’s lives seem very wonderful, and we envy their wealth and status, that it is far better to be with God than to be anywhere else without Him.
We’re back into the Gospel of Mark. So far in Chapter 6 we’ve talked a lot about what happens to people who are faithful about sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others. First we saw Jesus rejected and almost stoned to death in his hometown. Then as Jesus sends out the twelve to heal people, preach repentance, and announce the Kingdom of God. In His commissioning speech He reminds them to stay dependent on God because though there would be some that would accept their message, there would be others who wouldn’t. And then we read the story of when John the Baptist telling the king to repent before God. The king respected John but his wife was offended and conspired with her daughter to have John killed out of spite.
So it goes even today for believers who are willing to stand up in Jesus’ name.
A Hard Road Lately
Dealing with suffering and stress has come up more and more over the past few weeks.
When we talked about our Mission Statement, we were reminded of how important it is that we work together and stay obedient to the Word of God, because this world is conspiring to tear us apart and is giving us every excuse to abandon the faith. After that was Kid’s Sunday where we were reminded how seriously Jesus takes ministry to kids and how important it is to raise our children to love Him and His church so they will have a firm foundation in this shaky world.
Then came the murder of Canadian soldiers and the attack on parliament, which made the entire nation pause for a moment and ask the question, “What’s going to happen now?” Because of the rise of ISIS and militant Islam throughout the world, Christians were especially concerned because they recognized the religious overtones of the situation. Then came Remembrance Day which reminded us of the current reality of war and the world’s history of martyring Christians.
The past while been hard on everyone, and our church is no exception. As I thought about it, it’s almost as though we’re getting a taste of the four horsemen of the apocalypse! We’ve felt the sting of antichrists who seek to steal people away from the church, we’ve felt the touch of war, we’ve seen sickness and sadness, and we have witnessed murder.
Christmas is right around the corner, but many of us are being pressed upon by many stresses. Some see the coming of Advent and the holidays as a wonderful thing, a much needed break (or at least distraction) from the troubles of the world, while others are readying themselves for a time of loneliness, frustration, worry, pressure and even more stress.
Some have felt the darkness of depression and anxiety press into their souls in a deeper way over the past little while. I’ve noticed that more and more health issues have come to the forefront as our families and friends have been inundated with serious physical crises.
Some have felt the sting that Jesus felt as He was rejected by those from his hometown, people that He knew and loved for a long time – as your own loved ones turn their backs on you, said unkind things, got more and more angry, and pushed you away.
Some have felt the anxiety of the disciples as they were sent out on their mission. Before you is a huge task, a difficult season; something bigger than you can handle standing in your way, testing you like never before. You know that you’re need to move forward in faith, but you have no idea what’s going to come.
Some know how John the Baptist felt as he said the right thing, did the right thing, shared the message God gave him to share, but was arrested, tied up and thrown into prison. For you, life feels pretty unfair right now. You feel like Job – sitting around one day happy and content only to have Satan come in and run roughshod over your life. You’ve done the right thing, and there doesn’t seem to be a reason why things should be getting worse. You don’t feel like you deserve all this mess, it’s not your fault – and yet there it is. Angry, wicked, selfish, manipulative people have set themselves against you – and their winning. You’ve been treated unjustly, and there seem to be no forthcoming miracles to make it all better. All that’s left, it seems, is for them to finally offer up your head on a silver platter.
So much frustration on the shoulders of so many people these days.
Remembering all of that, let’s read Mark 6:30-32,
“The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.”
Contrary to my usual method, I only have one point to my sermon today. The message I have is a simple one, but one that a lot of people don’t understand. Or, even if they do understand it, they don’t practice it. I want to talk about the importance of getting away.
Remember what’s happening here in the story. There’s been a lot of action up to this point, and there will be just as much to come as Jesus grows more popular and the people opposing him get angrier and more desperate. But here we read about a very important moment in the life of the disciples, something we read about Jesus doing more than once – and that’s getting away.
Busyness as Virtue
We don’t put much stock in stopping these days. Getting away sounds too much like quitting, and so we don’t want to admit that we’re doing it.
Busyness is a virtue! If you ask someone how they’re doing, you will likely hear the words, “Oh, I’m busy!” and we think, “Uh oh, I better tell them I’m busy too.” And then we can have a “busyness competition” comparing schedules to see who’s busier. Or some people will say, “I’m keeping busy!” in almost a pleading or apologetic tone trying to justify their own existence.
What’s the first question you ask someone after a holiday or a vacation? “So, what did you do on over the holiday – what did you do on your vacation?” If the person says “Nothing. I did nothing at all.”, isn’t there something in the back of your mind that either doesn’t believe them or considers that some kind of failure? “You holidayed wrong!”
The “family meal” where the whole family sits down together to eat is almost a thing of the past. Having everyone at home, at the same time every day, for more than an hour, to eat a home-cooked meal that took an hour or more to prepare, is seen as basically impossible. We’re too busy to do that. Our schedules are far too full. What we are doing is far too important to interrupt it with a long dinner that requires everyone to be at home at the same time.
Forget about praying with your kids, there’s not enough time and we’re all exhausted.
Forget about having a conversation that doesn’t start and end with “Did you get all your stuff done today? How much more stuff do you have to do?”
Forget about the idea of spending personal time in prayer and reading the bible every day – that’s something we can do in the car on the way to places. And absolutely forget about quiet meditation – that’s just not going to happen.
Forget about sleeping too since most are jacked up on caffeine and sugar, spend the evening staring at a glowing box, and are so stressed out that we can’t close our eyes except out of sheer exhaustion.
We’re even doing it to our children. Kids don’t play at the park anymore – they don’t have time. We sign them up to more and more and more things.
For two reasons: One, both parents’ calendar is so full that they just don’t have the time to care for their children, so they need nurseries, schools, and activities to baby-sit them from morning to evening. And two, the culture of busyness has so seeped into our minds that we actually feel guilty when our children have time off. (Tweet this)
The Jones’ kids are in soccer and hockey, taking extra credit classes, and are part of three different after-school clubs – therefore we feel shamed and inferior when we have to admit that our kids actually have evenings with nothing on their schedule. So we go sign them up.
Statistics Canada says that millions of people now suffer from “extreme stress”. One article I read this week talked about how messed up we really are. Instead of not wanting to be stressed out, we are actually
“more inclined to boast about how much [we] can shoulder. We feel proud of our ability to keep all the balls in the air, believing stress is synonymous with success. But relentless busyness is nothing to brag about: The consequences of chronic stress range from annoying — that cold you just can’t kick — to downright dangerous (research has linked it to an increased risk of cancer, depression, heart disease and diabetes, and a tendency to overeat, smoke, drink and take drugs).”
We are so afraid to be called a sloth that we now perceive slowness as weakness, resting as quitting, stopping as evil, wanting time off as a personality fault. But it’s not. It’s a sign of strength.
It Comes from Sin
It all comes down to sin. 1 John 2:15-17 says:
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
That’s where our business comes from. We love the world. We think like the world. We want to look more impressive and compare ourselves to others – that’s pride. We want to get more stuff – (that’s desires of the eyes). We want what the world wants us to want, and we sacrifice peace, quiet, meditation, contemplation, silence, solitude, worship, our prayer closet – all the most important things that divines throughout the centuries have said are so very important to the health of our soul. It’s foolishness and sin.
Satan knows that we are stronger when we are connected to God through His word and through prayer. We are wiser when we spend time reading the Bible, listening to good teaching, and meditating on what we have learned. We are stronger when we have taken time to put on the Armour of God and draw from the One who gives life. We will start to realize that the world is passing away and that the will of God abides forever, and our priorities will straighten out. Satan knows that we have a better attitude when we are thankful and worshipful. He knows that we will see more clearly when we see through God’s eyes.
He knows that we will be less angry, less prideful, less envious, less frustrated, when we have our hearts, minds and souls fill up with the words, actions and promises of Jesus. He knows that just as a person needs to care for their bodies, so they need to care for their soul. And so he works double-time to make sure that we are tempted to do anything and everything else.
The Neglect of Our Souls
In my own devotional life I’ve started calling it, the “neglect of my soul”, and it’s something I repent to God for regularly.
AW Tozer once said, “The neglected heart will soon be a heart overrun with worldly thoughts; the neglected life will soon become a moral chaos.” (Tweet This)
Jesus said it this way, “What does it profit a person if they gain the whole world but lose their soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
A puritan author named John Flavel gives this helpful illustration. Imagine,
“a master who commits to his servants care, the child and the child’s clothes. It will be a poor excuse for the servant to say, at his master’s return, ‘Sir, here are all the child’s clothes, neat and clean, but the child is lost.’ Much so of the account that many will give to God of their souls and bodies at the great day, ‘Lord here is my body; I am very grateful for it; I neglected nothing that belonged to its contents and welfare; but as for my soul, that is lost and cast away forever. I took little care and thought about it.”
That seems like an extreme example, but I believe it is absolutely biblical. Let’s push it one step further. “Thank you so much for my children Lord, for my wife, my husband, my church… I am very grateful for it. I taught them how to care for their bodies. I helped them take care of what they ate and made sure they got a good education. I held them accountable to be good workers. But as for their souls, I didn’t take the time. I didn’t much care about the condition of their souls. I didn’t even think about it.”
When Paul is speaking to young Timothy about how to make sure he can face the trials and tribulations of the Christian life he said,
“…train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7-8)
Think back to that list of troubles I gave at the beginning and consider how you’ve been facing them. Here’s some truth: it’s not about being strong enough or smart enough to face all of the difficulties that are coming at you. It’s not enough to train your body and mind to be able to deal with all the stresses life is going to throw at you – too keep all the balls in the air.
It’s not enough to make bigger and bigger piles of money so you can feel secure. It’s not enough to surround yourself with good people. It’s not enough to build a strong bunker to escape into. No matter how physically or mentally strong you are, no matter how rich, no matter how prepared you think you are, your ability to deal with the trials of life is going to come down to the health of your soul.
You can sit in your bunker, with your friends, surrounded by money – and still be absolutely undone if you have neglected to cultivate and care for your soul. No matter what you have set up around you, no matter your own strength, it will fail and you will crumble. The only thing that won’t is Jesus – therefore, you must ensure you are connected to Him and His strength.
Let’s come at this a different way. Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5). To be “meek” means to be not easily provoked. In times of hardship, there is calmness. All over scripture we read about the importance of Meekness.
It’s a synonym of gentleness or humility. It doesn’t mean “weak”, no, meekness means “strength that has been turned over to a greater power.” Or more simply, “power under control.” It’s not only about a person’s outward behavior, but has everything to do with what is going on inside their hearts. People get this confused. They think that meekness and humility means that a person is weak and useless. But that’s not the case.
Jesus is called “meek” and he certainly isn’t a weakling – He had the infinite resources of God at His command. It’s considered to be a description of the Holy Spirit, and is a fruit of the Spirit for Christians. It describes someone who has listened to the word of God and submits themselves to it as their highest authority.
The Greek word is PRAUS and was used by the Greeks to describe a warhorse that was trained to obey the rider instantly and absolutely. The battle may rage around them, confusion, blood, bodies, distraction, fear and noise everywhere – but the horse wouldn’t bolt. It certainly had the power to throw it’s rider off and run away from the battle, but it didn’t. It had been broken by the rider and was now at his command. A small bit of pressure from the rider’s leg or knee and the animal responded immediately. Despite having immense power, the horse was meek. (Source)
Jesus says “the meek” are blessed.
It is a “meek” thing for one to stop their activities and turn to God.
It is a meek thing to step aside and rest because God has told you to.
Praying for help is a humble activity.
Taking a Sabbath rest requires believing that God will take care of things while we’re not working.
Walking away from responsibilities that have been heaped upon you so you can read the scriptures and meditate in silence requires incredible strength of character and humility.
Sometimes, it is not an act of weakness to walk away – it is strength and faith. The act of weakness is being too afraid, too stubborn, to prideful, too idolatrous to stop.
It means saying to yourself, “I’m not in control, God is. I don’t need to be there every moment of the day, because God is. I cannot do this without the guidance of God, therefore I will step away and be with Him. Or better – I will not do this without the guidance of God because otherwise I won’t be doing it right.”
“Come to me, all you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle [Meek] at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
and I think He meant it!
The World Won’t Change So We Must
I can tell you from personal experience what burnout is like. I know all about destroying my adrenal glands with anxiety, facing depression, getting the shakes, living with a constant stomach aches and physical pain in my joints, getting fatter and fatter, cycling between angry at everyone and too tired to care, and getting to the point where I just wanted to die. I know about. I’ve been there.
And I got there because I neglected to care for my soul. I learned for myself that life isn’t going to get any easier, Satan isn’t going to stop attacking and tempting, and the world isn’t going to be getting any better. And if I was going to wait for everything outside of me to change, I was going to wait for a long time. So the only thing that I could change was me – and that meant humbling myself before God. Doing things His way.
When I was most bruised and burnout, I met the Christ who is the one who says
“a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench…” (Matthew 12:20)
In our passage today we see Jesus kidnapping His disciples because He saw that they needed rest. It says
“He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.”
You know that feeling. Many people, things, responsibilities, troubles, coming and going – and you feel like you don’t have any time to take care of yourself. You haven’t prayed, or exercised, or rested – and the pressure is relentless. See what Jesus does. He takes them away.
Was everyone saved? Nope. Lots more people needed to be talked to. Were all the sick healed? Nope, there were lots more sick people. Was Jesus on an important mission? Of course. The most important! But what did Jesus do? He got them into a boat and sailed away.
He knew they needed time with Him. Jesus knew they needed to ask questions, take a rest, eat some food, and Sabbath – and I’m using that term technically now to mean “cease and desist from work – to rest” – with Him. That means you have permission to do the same. The world isn’t going to change, so you must.
Make the Time
There will never be a time when Satan relents and says, “Ok, go ahead and take care of your soul now. I’m done tempting you.” There will never be a time when the world says, “Ok, we’ll leave you alone now so you can rest in God and meditate on His word.”
- You will never “find the time”… you must “make the time.” You must make the time to rest. For some of you that is going to require a massive shift in thinking.
- This means you’ll have to look over your schedule (and your family’s schedule) and make some huge cuts to things that are good, so you can concentrate on things that are better.
- This means you’ll have to say “no” a lot more, and you’re going to feel an unholy sense of guilt – but you must realize that it’s not guilt from God, but from unrealistic and ungodly expectations you’ve imposed on yourself (or have been imposed on you by others).
- It may mean you have to quit some things and let some people down. I don’t mean breaking agreements – but maybe not signing up anymore, or not doing the job you normally do, because you need to concentrate on your spirit.
- This means you’ll have to let things go, and walk away in the middle of other things, because you need to spend time with Jesus. Just get in the boat with Jesus, even if it’s half done.
- And it might mean walking away, even from a sick and hurting person who needs you, so you can rest in God.
- This means you’ll have to start things later than you want to because you want to make sure you connect with God first.
And since we’re entering into the Christmas season, you might feel that this is a difficult time to do this, but this is actually the perfect time to start planning how you can make this Advent a time of waiting and remembering rather than stress and busyness.
“Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” And he strictly ordered them not to make him known. And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.” (Mark 3:7-15)
No One Likes a Quitter
No one wants to be called a quitter and I don’t remember anyone writings songs and telling rousing stories about how their military forces turned-tail and ran away. The heroes of our books and movies tend to be men and women of action – who didn’t quit – who wouldn’t let up. I like watching movies with heroes like the Avengers, John McClane from Die Hard, or Ellen Ripley from the Alien movies who can take hit after hit, deal with bad-guy after bad-guy… aliens everywhere, the whole building’s blowing up, and they get threatened, shot, and are bleeding… but they just keep on going. Nothing stops them, and they never backs down.
The basis of the Terminator movies is wrapped up in a quote from the first movie that they milked for at least 4 movies and a tv program. The hero leans over and says in a very serious tone…
“Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.”
A lot of people these days lives as though they are Terminator machines. We’ve even got little phrases we like to use like “Sleep is for the weak” and “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” We prize people that never stop. It’s a compliment when people say that you’re like the Energizer Bunny… that you keep going, and going, and going, and going. However, if our study in Mark is any indication, I don’t think that God considers it to be much of a compliment.
What Do You DO?
Think about how we talk to each other. When we first meet, what do we say? What’s your name and what do you do? Not, “what are your interests?”, “what’s your favourite book?”, “how have your times with God been?”, “tell me about your family.”… or any other aspect of the person’s life… We want to know what you do. Imagine if we changed that to be “who are your best friends?” or “what book or movie has most impacted your life and why?” I bet we’d get to know each other a lot more.
I looked at a list of questions that Speed Daters are encouraged to use to get to know people in a hurry when they are going around to the various prospects. Question number 1 was “What do you do for work?” but it came with a caveat: “It is an introductory question. It may reveal the professional status of a person but little about his personality. So move on to another question.” In other words, what we do seems to be our first question, but it is a superficial and shallow one.
Sometimes we’ll start conversations with our family with “So what’s your plan today?” What are you going to do? What will you accomplish? I do that with my wife all the time. “So, what are we doing today?” The assumption is that you and I will be busy, and most of the time that assumption is absolutely correct.
It seems that we’ve covered this ground before. We’ve already talked about the importance of the Sabbath, which is a weekly rest, given to us as a gift from God. We’ve talked about Fasting, which is a time that we stop doing something… like eating… and spend time with God instead. We’ve also talked about Jesus leaving Peter’s home early in the morning to spend time alone with God after a busy day. The theme continues today as we look at Jesus escaping the crowds and taking special time away to pray.
Many of us have heard it over and over and over… from our counsellors, our friends, our doctors, various preachers and teachers… it’s not new information. Humans were not designed to go like the Energizer Bunny or the Terminator. We are not machines! We need rest. Daily Rest, Weekly Rest, and Rest during special times. That’s what I want to focus on today.
When we talked about when Jesus’ left Peter’s home early in the morning, the emphasis was on the importance of having a consistent, daily time to rest in and rejoice in God. When we talked about the Sabbath, it was about having a consistent, weekly time to worship God and fellowship with other believers. These are our regular times… they are like our regular meals. If we discipline ourselves to spend time with God every day… set aside one day every week… without fail… we will be able to maintain our spiritual health.
But what we read in our passage today is different. Here, Jesus isn’t stealing away in the middle of the night, nor is He resting on the Sabbath. No here, He’s making what you could call a “Strategic Withdrawal”. I want to look further at what Jesus is doing here, and see if we can learn something from it.
Everyone Wants a Piece of Jesus
Take a look at what’s going on in the passage. In verses 6, 7 and 8 Mark wants the readers to get a real understanding of the kinds of pressure Jesus was under.
“The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”
So He’s got that pressure, from the religious leaders and the people who supported Rome. Things in the Synagogue that day were getting dicey and emotional, so Jesus decided that it probably wasn’t best to have the crowd confined to the streets, but instead went down to the open shoreline so people would have more space. Keep reading:
“Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him.”
Twice, Mark uses the term “great crowd”. And he gives that list of cities to mean that they came from everywhere. They came from Galilee, where He was currently ministering, Judea in the south, Jerusalem – the big city, Idumea — which was outside of Judea and across the Jordan, which refers to Prea and Decapolis which were east of the Jordan river, and around Tyre and Sidon which were pagan cities to the far north on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. That’s a lot of people all crowding on one beach. And every one of them wanted a piece of Jesus.
Everyone Wants a Piece of You
Have you ever felt like that? That everyone wants a piece of you? I love my job – I love my life! On any given day I’m usually busy in the office, out visiting someone, or having a meeting, or two, or sometimes three, and I could do it all day long – love it! And when I’m done that, I have 4 kids at home who area all constantly vying for the attention of their parents. I can’t imagine what it was like to have thousands calling Jesus name. I get stressed out when I have 4 people yelling for me.
We love our kids and want to help them, but we’re only two people, which mathematically means that someone has to wait! And there are many days when it’s not until they are unconscious that the requests stop. Someone is always hungry, or bored, or needs help with schoolwork, or a project, or wants to play, or be read to, or go somewhere, or something.
There’s are only three rooms in my house where mom and dad can be alone – the bathrooms and the master bedroom – and that’s because I took the lock off of the bathroom and put it onto our bedroom door.
I plan my life so that I will not be too busy or overwhelmed. I’ve told you before that the first fruits of my energy goes to my wife and family, and then to the church… but life is life, and getting busy sometimes just happens. Sometimes because of exterior pressures, but often because of my own poor planning or procrastination. And I know that some of you have it worse. Pressure at work, pressure at home, with your parents, your friends, your clubs and associations, hobbies, and of course, all of the things that you do in and for the church. Many of you are beyond maxed out! And I’ve talked to enough retired people to know that it doesn’t stop after you retire… in fact, for some, it gets busier.
Pressed and Crushed
So what do you do? Let’s look to see what Jesus did. Verse 9:
“And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him…”
That’s an important verse! Notice that Jesus planned ahead because He knew how this would go. The word there for “crush” or “crowding” is the Greek word THLIBO which means to press… and is used to describe what they do to when they stomp grapes to make wine.
Jesus knew what was coming… and not just because He was Omniscient… anyone could see the thousands of people that were around Him. So He gave orders that there would be a rowboat waiting for Him on the shore. He had a plan that if the crowd got to forceful, He would paddle out a little ways from the shoreline as He taught. Which they did!
“…for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’ And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.”
This was getting out of hand. Sick, hurting people everywhere, and they were losing their cool. The word “pressed around” here is a different word than before. It is the word EPIPIPTO which means to fall on someone, or rush into them. The crowd was so desperate to get close to Jesus that they were turning into a mob. They were stepping on each other, pressing the weaker aside, and pushing towards Jesus… jumping out of the crowd in the hope that they would just touch Him. They didn’t even care what he was saying … they just needed to touch Him. Picture them leaping out of the crowd, stepping over the lame, diving at Jesus. Picture Jesus slowly backing into the water toward the boat… his feet get wet, then his legs… and the people kept pressing forward, pushing him backward.
If He hadn’t planned ahead, He might have had to deliver his message while swimming to avoid being crushed by the crowd. If Jesus hadn’t taken the precaution of setting up a boat then He wouldn’t have had to worry about the Pharisees killing Him, the crowd would have.
The Rhythm of Life
As simple as it sounds, I think this is the first thing we need to learn from Jesus here: we need to plan ahead. Of course, we need to set aside our daily time to read the bible and pray, and we need to block-off one time during the week when we will be with other believers and worship… we’ve already talked about that. But this is something different. This is for the times when we are besset by external pressures beyond our control. This is about planning ahead, recognizing when life is going to be hairy-scary and then build into them times to be able to walk away.
As one of my commentaries puts it, Jesus understood the ebb and flow, the rhythm of life. A time to work, and a time to rest. A time to worship and a time to play. A time to be alone, a time to be with a few people, a time to be with many people.
When Jesus got into the boat, it wasn’t because He was afraid, but because He knew that it was time to go, and that the rhythm of His life needed changing. There is a time to work… to do a high intensity, high concentration, high production time where things get done. But there is also a time for rest, where our energy isn’t spent, but restored so we can work again. A time for work, and a time for rest. We work to produce, and we rest so we can work more.
It is really hard for some of you out there to stop. Many are busy, busy, busy, busy… and in our arrogance and pride we think that we absolutely must keep going or the whole world is going to fall apart. If I don’t keep going, I’ll lose my job. If I don’t rush, I’ll never get there on time, and if I don’t get there on time… something bad will happen. I have to stay for one more hour to get this done… just one more hour and then I know it’ll be perfect. I can’t just walk away because it’ll fall apart. I can’t trust the people around me to keep going without me. I have to do it myself because I’m the only one that knows how. I know it best, I do it best, I’m important, I’m critical, I’m useful, I’m the grease that keeps the machine moving…
I used to believe that, and I literally worked myself sick. I used to think that the church needed me to function, that ministries couldn’t go on without me, that the teams needed my input, that I had all the good ideas, that only I knew how to do it right… that I was necessary. It took a movement of God and a massive health crisis to make me realize that I’m really not – and that’s ok.
Work is Evil, Play is Work, Rest is Death
We must understand the Rhythm of Life – that there is a time for rest, play and worship. These are important times when we don’t produce things, they are not a means to an end, nothing is recorded, nothing is designed, nothing is fixed, nothing is moved, nothing is maintained – except our spirits, and the work is done by the Holy Spirit.
Rest is not a time to produce. I’ve heard people say “I’m going to rest, but I’ll bring a book, or my computer, or my phone, or my list…”. That’s not rest.
Worship is not a time to produce anything either. When you are worshipping, you’re not meant to accomplish anything other than a renewed connection with God. It’s not about learning a new song, practicing a new instrument, being in the right place, being seen by the right people, going through the right motions. It’s about giving attention to God. It’s about saying to God, “You’ve done it all, you’ve created it all, you maintain it all, you saved me, you restore me, you know me, you live me… it’s not about me, not at all.”
The value of rest, or play or worship in the experience itself.
Let me quote part of a commentary here.
“Modern society has upset the rhythm of life. Work has been devalued and play has been invaded by the purpose of work. With so much leisure and so many options, play has been subjected to a time-clock schedule with its demand for successful production. In many instances, worship has been eliminated from the rhythm of life and rest has become a dreaded experience on a ‘crash pad.’ The result is that work is a necessary evil, play is work, worship is idolatry, and rest is a short course in death.” (The Preacher’s Commentary – Volume 25: Mark)
Does any of that resonate with you?
Do you see work as a blessing, a gift from God, or is it a necessary evil? Even Adam and Eve had work to do. But it’s been so devalued in our life that we no longer see it as good, godly and purposeful. Instead of seeing our work as an act of worship (1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossians 3:22), and working as though we are working for the Lord, do you see it as just putting in time until you can get to the weekend, or to the holiday? It seems every other song on Country Radio demonizes work and glorifies time off. That’s not a biblical view of work.
Or how about this: Has your play been invaded by work? Do you play just to play? Have fun just to have fun? Or, have you organized games and activities that you are calling play… but it’s not really meant to be fun. You have to compete to get into a better league or win the prize. Go to practice, do the drills, travel to the competition, work hard to win.
It used to be that you did your craft for fun and relaxation, now it’s something you do because you need to produce more for your small business, or gifts for people, or some other reason. Work has invaded your play.
Do you worship regularly? I know you do… it’s just a matter of what you worship. Where do you go to connect back to your source, to gain more wisdom, strength, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentles, faithfulness and self-control. I don’t mean here this morning. I mean regularly throughout the week? Do you take time to talk to God, or do you take time to get in front of a glowing box, on social media, talk to a human, grab a drink or a substance? Those are all acts of worship. You are going to someone or something – to get a gift that is meant to come from God. That’s called idolatry.
Do you value rest? Do you value sleep? Or is it a necessary evil that you ward off with chemicals for as long as you can until your body can’t take it, and you are forced to close your eyes. Do you consider that sleep as a gift from God, or is a curse?
If any of this rings true with you, then your life is probably out of whack, and so is your relationship with God. And I’ believe that it’s time to put a Jesus Style “Strategic Withdrawal” on your calendar, and make it a regular thing.
What Strategic Withdrawal ISN’T
Maybe you already think you do this, but let me start by saying what “Strategic Withdrawal”… the way Jesus did it… isn’t:
- …a day off where we take care of all the loose ends that have been piling up at home, like the banking, shopping, cooking, cleaning, fixing, etc.
- …a vacation where you go far away to a strange land and do new things.
- …party time where you distract yourself with food and fun.
- … lazy time where you pass out or vegetate in front of the tv or computer.
- …a Sabbatical that you take for weeks or months at a time.
- …a way to run away from responsibility, leaving everyone to pick up your mess after you.
- …an evacuation where you leave and never come back.
What Strategic Withdrawal IS
Here’s what Strategic Withdrawal Jesus Style looks like:
“And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.” (vs 13-15)
So how did He do it?
1. He planned ahead. Jesus got the boat ready ahead of time, knew who would be in the boat, and talked to them before he needed to use it. This isn’t something you can do on a whim. It’s not meant to be an escape route. To do this properly, and to be able to do it un such a way that you are truly connecting to God in it, it’s important to make a plan. Where will you be going? What you’ll bring? What you’ll eat? Where you’ll sleep? How long you’ll be gone? This is a planned event. Having a plan like this gets rid of some of the guilt of leaving, and minimizes the stressful part of going away.
2. He left work behind. Jesus was staring at a crowd of people who wanted Him to work, but He left anyway. He could have kept working and working and working, but He didn’t. He got in the boat and left work behind. So many of us have a hard time doing this. We think, “I’ll just get this done, then I’ll go.” And in the middle of it, we get something else to do, remember something, or find out that whatever we are doing is going to take longer than we thought.
It is a remarkable act of faith to say to God, “Lord, I’m walking away with this undone. It’s hard for me, but I believe that my time with you is more important. I know that you hold the world in your hands, and are the writer of history… therefore I’m not worried that my world will fall apart if I leave right now… I trust you.”
This all goes back to the Gospel. What is your understanding of your worth, your need, your ability to save yourself? If Jesus loves you no matter what you’ve done or what you will ever do – then you don’t have to put your pride and self-image at risk every time you leave work. If what you really need, and what will last for eternity, is an intimate connection to God and the people around you, then you will put your work at its proper priority level. If you know that your work doesn’t save you, and that you life, your destiny, your purpose and your future isn’t in your hands, and that your entire existence is based on the grace and power of God, then you can walk away from work trusting God to take care of things.
3. He went away, but not too far away. Jesus got in a boat, went for a ride, and sat on a hillside. He didn’t get on a plane and go to Tahiti. He went somewhere he could meet God and did it close enough to work and home that it wasn’t hard to get there. It was planned, but it didn’t need hundreds of dollars and a week off to do it. A Strategic Withdrawal can be free, or cost a few bucks. It’s not meant to take a long time… just one or two or three days. I’ve read in more than a few places that experts say that a proper time away takes no less than two days because it takes the whole first day to wind down before a person can say they’ve even started to withdraw.
However, if you’re already in the habit of doing this, and you start putting your heart in order early, before you get there, getting your mind set on your time away, I can see a person only needing a day.
4. He took some chosen people with Him. When He was at Peter’s house, He went alone and talked to God alone. That’s important of course, but in this case, He chose a few people that he wanted to be with – He “called to him those whom he desired”. That’s a good thing to do. I’m guessing that during this Strategic Withdrawal there were times when Jesus was alone to pray, and times where he hung out with his friends. Not to teach, just to be with them.
This isn’t meant to be a time where we bring along the new guy, call someone we want to get to know, or be around people we don’t know. The idea is to take time to be around friends who we can be open, honest, raw, and real with. Alone with God is good and necessary… but sometimes we need some trusted, Godly people to help us, encourage us, talk through things with, and pray for us when we are trying to get our heads and hearts straightened out.
5. He came away with a plan. During or after His time away it says in verse 14:
“…he appointed twelve… so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.”
After some rest, after being with His Father, after being with some good friends, He had a plan. He got quiet, removed distraction, and listened to God, and did something different.
He would choose 12 guys and spread out His work. Instead of only Him knowing the plan, He’d let them in on it, and let them see the inner workings of the Kingdom. Instead of Him doing all the preaching, He’d send them out and get them to do some. Instead of Him being the only one with the power to cast out demons, He’d give them the power to do so as well. He came away with a different vision of how He would do His work.
Getting away and being with God has that effect on us. New clarity, new plan, a better understanding of what needs to be done. Pounding your head against a problem will only work for so long until you get tunnel vision, lose your focus, and run out of ideas. God built us to benefit from Strategic Withdrawal. We are designed for Sabbath. We are amazing creatures who can do a lot of things… but we are designed to do it in cooperation with God and others.
Let me encourage you to make a plan to do this. If you’ve never done it before, let me help you out in the planning stages. I have a few resources I can give you, or point you to so you can have an enjoyable experience, and grow closer to God.
I wrote this article a while back for ChristianWeek and it feels like it’s time to resurrect it.
Pastor: “How you doin’ Bob?”
Bob: “I’m so busy I can’t catch my breath!”
Pastor: “How are the kids, Bob?”
Bob: “They’re busy! I can’t find them most days.”
Pastor: “How’s your wife, Bob?”
Bob: “Really busy…I think…I haven’t talked with her in a while.”
Pastor: “How’s your ministry doing, Bob?”
Bob: “Uh, I’m too busy to get around to it.”
Pastor: “How’s your time with Jesus been, Bob?”
Pastor: “Bob, I think we need talk.”
Bob: “Sorry Pastor, I can’t…I’m busy.”
I’m worried about you Bob, and all the believers that follow in your footsteps. I’m worried about your marriage, kids, ministries and your relationship with Jesus. I’m worried that your body will crumble beneath you, that your church misses you and that you are seeing your faith as time-consuming rather than life-producing.
The unholy trinity of stress, overwork and despair, which travel under the more polite pseudonym of “busyness,” is killing the Christian Church one believer at a time.
The Lord Jesus has made me an under-shepherd to His sheep, but for some reason many have started to run in circles at breakneck speeds, and I can’t stop them! But, what about you, Bob?
I want to talk to you. Perhaps God has granted you a moment of solace, most likely forcing you to stop as a result of “nature calling,” and you have brought this article with you. Can you just pause there for a moment? I want to say a few things.
First, I want you to embrace this minute. Yes, this one. I want you to thank God that you have been given a minute to stop and listen. I think you’ve been fooled into believing that you need to be busy to be significant. You don’t. Right now you have stopped and are not being “productive,” but you are still significant. God loves you right now. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Implicit in that statement is that God is not as interested in your production value as you think He is.
Second, I want to tell you that your body has a message for you. You’ve been putting it on hold for some time now, but it keeps calling back and asking to speak to the manager. Here’s the message: “I’m tired!”
When Jesus said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” He was talking to you.
Bob, your adrenal gland was designed to be used in case of emergency, but you’ve been living off of it! In fact, you’re addicted to it. According to Dr. Archibald Hart, adrenaline is not only energizing, but it provides a sense of elation and exhilaration. And you’re addicted.
Have you noticed that you’re grumpy, tired (which is why you drink so much coffee), and afraid to stop or you may not get started again? Your body is asking you to take a Sabbath. And Bob, one of these days it’s going to force you to take one whether you want to or not.
Finally Bob, before you go, ask yourself something: Are you passionately pursuing things that really matter—things that God has created you to do? Or are you building sandcastles on the beach that will wash away with the tide of time?
I’m afraid that when you look back you will have so many regrets, and I don’t want that for you. I love you and God loves you. So Bob, make time to talk to me this week and let me help you get things straight, okay?