Starting Towards Jerusalem (2/18/2018)

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Please wrestle with these questions: If there are areas in my life that are out of God’s will, do I want to know what they are? Once I know what they are, am I willing to change in these areas?

Allowing God to show us our sins and then change us is hard. We struggle with giving God this much access and control in our lives. There are several reasons we don’t want God to do this.

The first one is we get comfortable with our sins. Pornography releases chemicals in the brain which excites as well as relaxes those who view it. Drinking, smoking and overeating brings pleasure to our bodies even though the aftereffects can kill us. Being mad allows us to keep control because others usually back down during an argument if we respond in anger. Having sexual relationships outside of marriage allows us to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh without having to make emotional or spiritual commitments to each other.

What does Jesus say about this?

In John 15:18-22, Jesus tells his disciples, 18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.

Jesus spoke these words as most of the world was rejecting him and his teachings. Jesus called this sin. He wasn’t going to accept any excuses from them about why they did it. This tells us we are accountable for our sins too.

The second reason we resist God is because change can be difficult. Refusing to be open minded about God and what the scriptures really says allows us to form a comfortable view of God. Even if this view isn’t biblical.

Several years ago, my wife, Stephanie, was part of a small group discussion that moved to the topic of whether or not someone who committed suicide could go to heaven since they couldn’t repent of that sin. One man in the class was adamant that people who committed suicide couldn’t have salvation. This is a common viewpoint among many Christians. Stephanie said she disagreed with him. At this point, the man angrily replied, “I’ll prove it from the Bible that it’s true.” Stephanie didn’t respond to him. If I would have been part of the discussion, I may have said, “Please do that.”

The simple truth is this viewpoint is bad theology. Yes, the Bible is clear that God doesn’t want us to commit suicide. However, Jesus died on the cross to for our past, present and future sins. The man who angrily defended his viewpoint only made himself look bad when he refused to let go of his flawed theology.

This man isn’t the only Christian to struggle with this. All of us have to watch ourselves to make sure we don’t become like him. At the moment we refuse to change a wrong understanding of God even though the truth has been presented to us, we’ve made God an idol instead of letting him be God. Idols can be understood and, at times, controlled. God is bigger than our understanding. We constantly face the temptation of trying to bring God down to our level instead of trying to get closer to him. This can make us very resistant to change.

In Acts 7, Stephen gives a speech to Israel’s leaders. He argues that Jesus is their long-awaited Messiah. They responded to Stephen the same way they did to Jesus. They rejected his message. So, Stephen tells them in Acts 7:51, “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” If we think we have God figured out and that we can’t learn anything new, we are just as stiff-necked as they were.

The third reason we don’t like for God to change us is that we don’t like the pressure of being a Christian. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is telling the nation of Israel to remember the Lord and what he has done for them.

He says in Deuteronomy 8:2-5, 2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4 Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.” One of the ways God tests our faith and commitment to him is by allowing stressful situations and pressures to come into our lives. Some Christians say God will never give you more than you can handle. That’s not true. He allows things to come into our lives which loads us down. He wants to see if our faith will hold together.

When I was part of a family logging business, we had to fabricate the log beds that went on the back of the trucks we purchased. They were specialty items that couldn’t be purchased at the local hardware store. We hired welders to build them for us.

Once the log beds were constructed, do you know how we tested them? We put logs on them. Of course, we knew from past experiences what needed to be done to make sure they were strong enough. But the point is this. The only way to see if a weld is strong enough is to put it under stress.

God does the same thing to us. Is our faith strong enough to hold up under stress? It’s easier to keep God at a distance than it is to allow God to work in the stressful areas of our lives.

This is first Sunday of Lent. It’s the beginning of our journey to the cross on Easter Sunday. As we take this journey, let’s do it with Jesus.

Luke 13:22-30 begins with, 22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem”. From this point on in the gospel of Luke, Jesus is going to Jerusalem. He’s going there for Passover and to face the cross. We’ll do the same thing through the Easter Season. Let’s take this time to evaluate our walk with God and see if we’ve really surrendered our lives to him.

The next verses tell us the first thing that happened to Jesus as he started to Jerusalem.

“23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”

He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’

“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’

26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’

27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’

28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

Jesus reference to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob isn’t coincidental. He’s talking to Jews. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, most of the Jewish people were arrogant about the fact they were God’s chosen people. They missed the point of why God chose them in the first place. God chose them to be his people because he wanted them to reveal to all of the other nations who God really is. Instead of doing this, they saw their calling as a sign they were right with God. And everyone else was wrong.

Jesus is telling the Jews they might not have individual salvation even though they were God’s chosen people. His statement in this passage would have been shocking and scandalous to those who heard it.

Jesus tells us the same thing. We must never assume we have salvation simply because we say we believe that Jesus saved us from our sins. Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. We cannot earn our salvation. Jesus Christ gives it to us. But our actions will reflect it if we are truly saved.

Salvation is free but it costs us everything.

If you aren’t sure if you’re walking with Jesus, let’s take a short quiz. Let’s look at three questions related to the points at the beginning of this sermon:

-Do I justify my sin even though Jesus is convicting me to repent?

-Am I allowing God to change me or do I stubbornly resist him?

-When God’s tests me, do I finish or do I quit?

If Jesus is truly in us, the Holy Spirit is there also. He is working to guide us and convict us of sin. He’s making us more like Jesus.

Are we responding? Are we becoming more like Jesus every day? Are we taking up our cross and following him?