This is the series archive

How Jesus Spent “Labor Day”

Topical Scripture: Mark 1:21-39

As you know, Monday is Labor Day. Where did the holiday come from? I did some checking and was surprised by what I discovered.

The first Labor Day in America was celebrated on this day in 1882 in New York City, but this did not become a national holiday until 12 years later, in response to a national crisis.

A railroad workers strike in 1894 shut down the railroads. President Grover Cleveland sent 12,000 Army troops to break the strike; 13 railroad workers were killed, 57 were wounded, and 6,000 rail workers did nearly $9 million in damages (in today’s dollars). Fearing further conflict, legislation was rushed through Congress six days later to make Labor Day a national holiday.

This week I’ve been wondering what Jesus did when he had a day off. He feed 5,000 families with a boy’s lunch, walked on water, turned water into wine, healed the sick and raised the dead. He was constantly with his disciples meeting needs around him. Now, let’s look at what he did on the day after such a time of miraculous work. How did Jesus spend his “Labor Day” holiday? What does his example say to our souls today?

The text

Our text describes Jesus’ first day of public ministry in his home region of Galilee. On the Sabbath, their day of worship, he preached the sermon in the synagogue in Capernaum. A demon-possessed man stood up in the middle of his message to disrupt him, but Jesus threw the demon out of him. The people were “amazed,” and spread the news about him around the area.

He went to Peter’s home, his adopted base for ministry, for lunch. There he found Peter’s mother-in-law sick with a fever. He touched her and healed her. After the Sabbath ended and work could begin again, “the whole town” gathered at his door; remember that Capernaum was the largest city in that part of the world. Jesus healed the sick and drove out demons. Not a bad way to begin a ministry, but an exhausting day, to be sure.

What would Jesus do the next day, on our Monday? Take the day off? Go to the golf course? Read a novel?

“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (v. 35). Why?

He needed to know what to do next. Should he stay here in Capernaum and build a mega church? Should he go on the road as a missionary? Should he be a preacher or a healer? What is he to do in this ministry to which he has been called by his Father?

Peter can’t believe it—the crowds have gathered but the preacher didn’t show. Jesus replied, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that [emphatic] is why I came out” (v. 38).

And they did. “He went throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons” (v. 39).

This would be the pattern for the rest of his ministry. He would go to the people, not waiting for them to come to him. He would not build a church and hope the people would find him—he would go to the people, where they were, with their needs. Taking grace to those who need it most.

This is the essential difference between Christianity and the world’s religions.

Religion is our attempt to climb up to God. Buddhists keep the four noble truths and the eight-fold noble path, seeking Nirvana and enlightenment. Hindus believe they will pass through multiple reincarnations as they learn the disciplines which will lead to Moksha, salvation. Muslims follow their five pillars, hoping to be accepted by Allah into his heaven. Orthodox Jews live by the Torah, hoping to please Yahweh.

Religion climbs up to God—in Christianity, God climbs down to us. He came to us because we could not come to him. Because none of us could be good enough to earn entrance into his perfect paradise. The Bible says that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” and that the “wages” or results of sin is death (Romans 3:23; 6:23). So Jesus came to us, died on our cross, bore our sin, went to our grave, so we could receive the eternal life his grace came to give.

And the pattern for all of that was set on this day, as Jesus went to his Father to learn how he should serve him as his Messiah.

Make God your King

What does Jesus’ Labor Day example say to us? It reminds us that God has a will for every part of our lives—for Monday, not just for Sunday. For what Jesus would do during the week, not just in the Sabbath synagogue service. For what you and I do tomorrow, not just today.

You see, the God we worship this morning is a King. Not a hobby, a part of our lives, but the King of our world.

  • From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
  • As you go, proclaim this message: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:7)
  • “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
  • “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

If he is your King, you’re sitting in his chair, breathing his air, wearing his clothes. He is King of Monday, not just Sunday. Of what we keep, not just what we give.

In our culture, of course, God is a hobby. Christianity is for church, religion for Sunday. We separate the soul from the body, the spiritual from the secular, and leave God in our chapels and churches.

But he can lead only those who will follow and bless only those who will receive his gifts. He has a good, pleasing and perfect will for us. He has a plan to prosper us and not harm us, to give us hope and a future. But only when he is our King can he do for us and with us and through us all he wants to do.

Conclusion

When last did you make him your King?

The question is simple: will you belong fully and completely to Jesus?

John D. Rockefeller, Sr. became a millionaire by the age of 23. He formed Standard Oil Company in 1870; by 1879, it controlled 90% of oil refining in the United States and about 70% of refined oil exports. By the age of 50 he was the world’s only billionaire, the richest man on earth. His net worth would be $323.4 billion today; some consider him the wealthiest person who has ever lived.

In 1891, at 53 years of age, Rockefeller fell gravely ill. The hair on his head, eyebrows, and eyelashes dropped off. He could digest only milk and crackers, and could not sleep. Doctors predicted that he would die within a year.

Rockefeller was a committed Christian, the son of a devout Baptist mother, but his business ambitions had dominated his life. One night, as he struggled to sleep, he came to realize that he could take nothing with him into the next world. The next day he changed the course of his life.

He established the Rockefeller Foundation, which channeled his fortune into mission work, medical research and hospitals. His contributions led to the discovery of penicillin, and to cures for diphtheria, hookworm, malaria, tuberculosis, and yellow fever.

John D. Rockefeller, Sr.’s life was transformed as a result of his benevolence, and he lived to the age of 98.

God gives the best to those who leave the choice with him. Always.


Making Jesus King of the New Year

Topical Scripture: Matthew 6:9–15

Millions of people recite the Lord’s Prayer each day, but few stop to consider what we’re asking God to do. While serving as pastor of a Dallas church, I spent nine months teaching its truths and felt that I never began to exhaust them.

If we employ what Jesus modeled and then pray as he taught us, we align our lives with his will and make him King.

In this new year, how do I make him king of every aspect of my life? Let’s look at the prayer he taught his disciples for guidelines.

Jesus opens his model prayer by telling us more about the One to whom we pray than any other verse of Scripture can teach. As we begin learning how to pray and live in Jesus’ will for us, let’s start with his first petition: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9).

These words were truly revolutionary. You see, Jesus was without question the first Jew to address God as Abba, “Daddy.” The first words a Jewish child learned were “abba” (daddy) and “imma” (mommy). No Jew would have thought to address the Creator of the universe in this way. But Jesus spoke to him in this extremely intimate way. He called him “Father/Abba” in the Garden of Gethsemane and from the cross. Jesus continually saw God as Father. Now he invites us to see him the same way.

We can call God our Father only if Jesus is our Savior. Paul taught us, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Galatians 3:26). The Bible says that “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

This word makes clear all our relationships. God is our Father, not a genie in a bottle. We pray to our Father, not a Father, not the Father or even my Father. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, people of worth, for the God of the universe is our Father. We are valued, not because of our performance, possessions, or popularity, but because we are the children of God.

Make God’s name holy

Now we come to the petition we are to make to our Father God: “hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). What does this mean? How does praying these words align our lives with God’s will for us?

The Jewish people knew their God to be “holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:3). Hallowed means “to be made holy.” God’s name refers to his character and reputation. We seek God’s help to glorify and honor him with all that we pray and do each day.

God will not share his glory. Whenever we seek to glorify him with our lives, we will have his power and guidance as we fulfill his will. There is room on the throne of your heart for only one king. Put him there every morning. Say with the Psalmist, “The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting” (Psalm 93:1–2).

Say with Hezekiah: “O LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth” (2 Kings 19:15). And with Zechariah: “The LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one” (v. 14:9).

In his catechism Martin Luther asks, “How is God’s name hallowed amongst us?” and his answer is, “When both our life and doctrine are truly Christian.”

Charles Spurgeon exhorted us: “May his name be treated reverently, and may all that is about him—his Word and his Gospel—be regarded with the deepest awe! It is for us so to walk before the Lord in all lowliness, that all shall see that we reverence the character of the thrice-holy One. Then we can truly pray, ‘Hallowed be thy name,’ when we hallow it ourselves.”

Make God’s Kingdom ours

Now we turn to Jesus’ second petition for us: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). This is an example of Hebrew parallelism, where the second line relates to the first. In this case, the lines amplify one another: God’s Kingdom comes wherever his will is done. He is our King wherever and whenever we are his subjects.

How do we know his will for us?

First we must believe that God does in fact have a plan for our lives. Some evolutionists say that life began as a chance coincidence, with no particular plan or purpose at all. Many postmodernists say that truth is relative, that there is no overriding purpose to life. So, does God have a plan for us, or is life a random coincidence?

Here is God’s answer: “I know the plans I have for you … plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). God has a plan for every part of our lives.

Our Father has a perfect will for us (Romans 12:2). It is bigger and more exciting than any we can imagine for ourselves: “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Living in his will is the key to living the abundant life Jesus came to give (John 10:10). How can we know it?

Before every decision, opportunity, and problem, pray for God to reveal his will to you and help you to follow it. Surrender to him as your King and choose to serve as his subject, and you will know his perfect will for your life.

Give our needs to the Father

Now we turn from these foundational commitments to the specific issues of our day. We start with our present needs: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).

Bread was the staple of life in first-century Israel. But the people had no way to preserve it. So every morning people baked the hard, round loaves of bread they would carry with them through the day.

In the same way, Jesus teaches us to bring every need to our Father when it arises. You can cast “all your anxieties on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Jesus promises that “everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:8). Paul assured us that “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

But we must pray first. God will not do for us what we try to do for ourselves. The omniscient God cannot lead us if we will not follow; the Great Physician cannot heal us if we will not trust our pain to him.

So develop the reflex of praying first about everything you encounter each day of the new year. When you face a decision, turn it over to your Father. Give him your opportunities and problems as soon as they arise. Turn your temptations over to him immediately. You don’t have to fold your hands and close your eyes to breathe a prayer of submission to your King. You can “practice the presence of God,” as Brother Lawrence taught us, by simply talking with your Lord about your day all through the day.

Forgive and receive forgiveness

Many of us find news distressing. There’s not much we can do about what we hear and read. But we are responsible for what God finds in our hearts. That’s why Jesus included in the Model Prayer the petition, “forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

Debts can be translated sins or transgressions. Jesus assumes that we have incurred such debts with the holy God, that we have each sinned and fallen short of his glory (Romans 3:23). Forgive in the Bible does not mean to excuse behavior or pretend it did not occur. It is to pardon, choosing not to punish, as when a governor pardons a criminal.

God balances holiness and forgiveness. He wants us to hate sin as he does (Psalm 97:10). We are to be holy in every dimension of life and honor God with our lives (1 Corinthians 6:18, 19–20). We are called to holiness in all our attitudes and actions. At the same time, our Father is ready to forgive our failures when we confess them to him.

But with this caveat: “as we also have forgiven our debtors.” I must forgive those who have sinned against me to be forgiven by God. This is the only phrase in this model prayer which receives further commentary by Jesus: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (vs. 14–15).

Is this works-righteousness? Absolutely not. If I will not pardon your sins, I am obviously not in position to receive the pardon which God offers by his grace. A hateful, vengeful spirit will neither offer grace to others nor receive it from the Lord. A closed fist cannot give or receive.

Has someone sinned against you? Have you sinned against God? Then you have business with your gracious Father.

Turn future fears over to God

Now we turn to our future fears: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). This phrase bothers many people, as it seems to suggest that God might lead us into temptation unless we ask him not to. What does Jesus mean?

This verse is another example of Jewish parallelism, a figure of speech where two lines amplify each other. It could be translated, “Don’t lead us into evil, but rather rescue us from it.” The evil one is seeking your ruin right now: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). How are we to defeat him? “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

Note the order: first submit to God, then you will have his power in resisting Satan’s temptations. So, begin each day of the new year by surrendering it to your King. Ask him to lead you through the day. Pray through your plans, giving them specifically to him. Seek his direction and protection. As you come to a decision, give it to him. As you face a temptation, turn it over to him.

Walk through each day with your King and his strength will be yours.

No matter what the new year bring, we can know that at the close of the year, Jesus will still be the only King. He came to announce his kingdom: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). He taught us to seek his kingdom and righteousness before all else (Matthew 6:33), and when he returns, the name by which he will be revealed to the world is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16).

As fallen people in a fallen world, our “default” position is to be our own king. Jesus will be king of this year only if you deliberately, intentionally submit it to him. He will be king of your decisions and problems this year only if you give them to him.

If you want his power and purpose in your life today, make him your King.

Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuits, and made this prayer theirs:

Teach us, Lord, to serve you as you deserve,
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To toil and not to seek for rest,
To labor and not to ask any reward,
Save that of knowing that we do your will.

Amen.


Recognizing the Enemy’s Attacks

Topical Scripture: Genesis 3:1-7

Your focus usually becomes your reality. What you want to become, you usually become. In learning how to live your blest life, we’ve discovered the positives: daily commitment to Christ, and covenant with us. Now we’ll consider the negatives, the attack of the enemy, that which will keep us from lives blessed by God.

The first temptation is still our temptation today, because it still works. Human nature does not change. Adam and Eve were no less susceptible to Satan’s strategy than we are. Let’s learn more about our enemy, and find ways to defeat his plans to destroy our lives.

Who is our enemy?

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made” (v. 1). The Genesis text does not attribute the serpent’s activity to Satan. The devil is nowhere mentioned in the story. But Revelation gives us the rest of the story, describing “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (12:9; 20:2).

What do we know about him? What does he do to us? His names reveal his nature.

He is called “Satan” 34 times in Scripture—the word means “accuser.” He accuses us to God, to each other, and to ourselves. Whenever you hear accusation, blame, finger-pointing, know that it comes ultimately from him.

He is called the “devil” 36 times in the New Testament. The word means “slanderer.” Whenever someone is gossiped about, slandered, criticized behind their back, you can know the ultimate source.

How effective is he? Satan can claim ownership over every unsaved soul. In John 8 our Lord refers to his enemies as children of their satanic “father” (v. 44). He is the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31) who controls this fallen age (1 John 5:19). Christians live in a world dominated by the devil. We are soldiers stationed on enemy soil, living in an occupied country.

Our enemy is a “murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). He is a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Those who serve his cause engage in physical, emotional, and sexual attacks against each other and the rest of us. Their master wants nothing less than the wholesale destruction of the human race, especially God’s people.

How does his strategy work?

He begins with your needs. His conversation with Eve began with the fruit of the trees in the garden. This was God’s means for meeting her physical needs, her hunger and life support. He didn’t begin his conversation by talking about a sunrise or sunset, the moon or the stars, or even Adam or the other animals on the earth. He began with the fruit of the trees, because that was what she needed most to survive.

Satan knows what you need today. Expect to be tempted where your needs are the greatest. If your self-esteem is low, expect to be tempted at the point of pride and fame. If you struggle with substance abuse, know that your enemy will engage you on that front regularly. If popularity comes first with you, expect to be tempted to compromise your character for your friends. If you measure success by money, know that materialism will want to be your god, and that you will be given chances to compromise your faith to gain it.

For a pastor who wants his church to grow, there are unethical ways to count attendance and attract people. For a teacher who wants to impress you with his knowledge, it’s always easier to plagiarize or fabricate. Satan will tempt you at the point of your need, the trees in your garden this morning.

He questions God’s provision for those needs. “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?'” (v. 1b). If that were true, she and her husband would starve to death. God cannot be trusted to meet your needs. His will won’t make you as popular, or rich, or famous as you want to be.

Your church may not grow as you want it to. Your congregation may not be as impressed with you as they should be. God’s will is not in your best interest.

He minimizes the risk of disobedience. The woman replies that if they eat the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, they will die. Satan retorts, “You will not surely die” (v. 4a). The risk is exaggerated. God loves you. He would surely not punish you as you fear. The downside is overstated.

In our context, he whispers that we can always repent later. No one will know. No one will be hurt. Or, they deserve what they get. Or, they started this. He finds ways to convince us that disobeying God is to our good, and that it’s worth whatever it costs.

He offers a shortcut to your desires. “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 4b).

You won’t have to depend upon his provision any more, for you will be in charge of your own life, and future, and needs. You’ll know good and evil, just as he knows it. No more rules for you. You’ll call the shots. You’ll get what you want, and more. The popularity, or money, or physical satisfaction, or fame you want.

Why do it God’s way, when there’s a shortcut? Especially when no one will get hurt, least of all yourself.

Oswald Chambers defines “lust” as the desire to have it right now. Whatever “it” is. Satan is always happy to help you do that.

Think about the last time you experienced significant temptation. Did the enemy not start with something you thought you wanted or needed? You knew God’s word and will on the subject, but somehow you were unsure that they were the best way to go this time, and thought that you could ignore the risk of disobedience.

If you went this other way, you could have what you wanted now. Is this not the perennial strategy behind all temptation?

How do we defeat him?

Take these steps the moment your next temptation attacks you.

First: remember that Satan hates you. Why? Because he hates your Father.

If a terrorist cannot get at the president, he’ll attack his people. The closer to home, the better. There is a war going on between God and the devil, and you are on the front lines.

Everything Satan puts into your head is designed to destroy you. No matter how much it appears to meet your need and minimize the downside right now. Every time you are tempted, know that the tempter wants to destroy you. You’re signing a contract with your enemy.

Billy Sunday was right: “One reason sin flourishes is that it is treated like a cream puff instead of a rattlesnake.” The other day a snake got into our house, so I killed it. I didn’t think twice about it. If only I were so decisive with the serpent who lives in my mind and my world. How do we kill him?

Second: see the end from the beginning. To use Dr. Phil’s question, how did this work for them? They got the fruit, to be sure. And they lost the Garden where the fruit was found. They lost paradise, and innocence, and joy. They gained punishment, and toil, and death. Satan was more than willing to give up a momentary pleasure to get an eternity of pain.

See the end from the beginning. Your enemy is willing for you to gain the sensual pleasure of sexual sin now, so long as he can lead you into adultery, the destruction of your marriage, the devastation of your family, and the ruin of your witness. He’s patient. He’s happy for you to have the possessions purchased by your theft, the popularity which comes from your gossip, the power which results from your manipulation.

For now. He’s perfectly willing for you to climb as high on the ladder of success and recognition as possible, so your fall will be all the more visible and destructive.

C. S. Lewis’s masterpiece, The Screwtape Letters, contains the correspondence of a senior tempter to a junior apprentice. It is a remarkable glimpse into satanic strategy.

For instance, Screwtape advises, “Doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy [God]. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

Third: turn immediately to God and his word. The serpent was “more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made” (v. 1). He is smarter than you are. This is a battle of wits and wills which you cannot win in your strength, intelligence, and ability.

If Eve had stayed with God’s word, she would have stayed in the Garden. If Adam had put God’s word ahead of his wife’s, he would have stayed there with her. They tried to fight the battle themselves, and they lost miserably. So will we.

There are temptations which you can defeat in your strength. For instance, I am not tempted by alcohol, for reasons which have nothing to do with me. It’s just my circumstances and makeup. So I am never tempted by alcohol. No one ever asks me out for a drink, or tries to give me a fifth of whiskey for Christmas. But there are other areas where I am tempted, and these I face regularly. Satan is a great economist. He won’t waste his time with issues he knows I can defeat. Rather, he brings those he knows I cannot.

So every time I am tempted, I must recognize the fact that this is a test I cannot pass, or it wouldn’t be on my desk. I must give it instantly to my Father, going to his word and will, asking for his strength and support. On this Labor Day I must remember not to trust my labor but his. Turn instantly to God.

On Thursday, June 26, 1947, Peter Marshall prayed on the floor of the U.S. Senate, “We are too Christian really to enjoy sinning and too fond of sinning really to enjoy Christianity. Most of us know perfectly well what we ought to do; our trouble is that we do not want to do it. Thy help is our only hope. Make us want to do what is right, and give us the ability to do it. In the name of Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Last: if you fall, trust God to redeem your pain. He will do this for his glory and your good. God came to them, because they could no longer go to him. God covered their shame and sin with the first sacrifice in human history, and then with the Sacrifice which redeemed all of human history.

He cast them from the Garden, but his Son’s agony in another Garden paved the way for their entrance back into the Paradise of God. Sin destroys, and scars. The nail can be pulled out, but the hole remains. However, our God can redeem and bless. He had a use for David after Bathsheba, and Jonah after the fish, and Peter after his denials of Jesus. He still has a use for you.

Conclusion

The problem of our world is I trouble. The middle letter of “sin” is I. The middle letter of “pride” is I. I trouble is my trouble, and yours. What do we do about it?

To live your blest life, learn how to defeat your enemy. Know that he is very real, and very crafty. Remember that he hates you; see the end of his temptation from the beginning; take it to God immediately. If it’s too late, turn to your Father for his redeeming grace, and the next step toward peace.

Let’s start today with where you are in the garden. What fruit interests you this morning?