The Dark and The Light

(From my sermon on March 15, 2015… there were technical difficulties with the video so it didn’t record… this is the transcript.)

Welcome to the series in The Life Of The Christ that will take us to Easter… The Dark & The Light…You’ve maybe already guessed what this is going to be about. I mean anytime you hear terms about the  light and the dark or darkness in church settings – it’s about the battle between God and the evil one right? The contrast between light and dark is a perfect description of the contrast that stands between our Savior and our enemy… We’ve all seen the illustrations similar to what’s on your program cover… what’s on the screen… the visual of complete and utter darkness being dispelled by something as small as a single candle flame… Quotes about it always ring with a certain sense of familiarity…

MLK Jr said… “Darkness cannot drive out darkness… only light can do that… just as hate cannot drive out hate… only love can do that.” or a Rabbi that said “a very little light, dispels a lot of darkness.”

I think that concept is something we all have a pretty good grasp on. That light conquers darkness… goodness conquers evil… God Wins in the end. And I, just like you, believe all of that to my very core. Like you, I look forward to the day when the struggle is over and the brokenness of this world is healed for good. But the problem is… that until that day arrives… there is still a lot of brokenness to deal with… the evil in this world is very real. The problem for us as believers is that we have become very dismissive of darkness. We fail to recognize our enemy and his nature.

Our picture of our enemy sometimes is a very simplistic one… We have the little cartoon image of the dumpy little guy in a red suit holding a pitchfork and sitting on our shoulder whispering things to us that are tempting in nature… Well today, my hope is we will have a much clearer picture of who he is and what we face because he is anything but a cartoon.

The text we will be in today is one of the best looks we have at our enemy… it’s actually in 3 of the 4 Gospel Books – but we are going to use Luke 4 because of 1 specific verse that is only in Luke’s version… I’ll explain that more in a bit… right now let’s read Luke 4:1-13:

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” 5 And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6 and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 And Jesus answered him, “It is written,

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

9 And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ 11 and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” 12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.

So here’s the situation… Jesus is beginning his ministry… he’s just been baptized in the Jordan river by his cousin John and we are told that the Holy Spirit leads him out into this desolate place  to spend 40 days where it says “he was tempted by the devil.”

Man if there was ever a statement in scripture that is easy to miss or just brush by – that first part of verse 2 is it… For 40 days Jesus was being tempted by the devil… It’s easy to miss because we focus a whole lot on the next 10 verses describing 3 specific temptations. But the 3 specific temptations we read about happen after the 40 days are up. Yep listen to it again… starting in vs 2 – for forty days, (He was) being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, … so for 40 days he was being tempted… then when the the 40 days were ended then what? He kept going! The devil kept tempting. Isn’t that interesting? Have you ever thought about that? Not just in this story about Jesus but in our own life as well… Think about someone who battles addiction… addiction to anything really but addiction to something like heroin can be the toughest of all… break free of the hold only to have it call you again and again and again… say no today but what about tomorrow… or the day after that or the day after that… it’s how he works. You can say no 1,000 times to the temptations he throw at you but he won’t give up… alcohol, pornography? It’s all the same and he will not mind waiting because

He Is Patient.

See for us – we take that little cartoon of our enemy and we see him trying to tempt us and we resist his temptation – then we picture him throwing his little pitchfork down in rage… “AWW Shucks!” he says as he stomps off… And we feel victorious. I want you to hear something right now… he doesn’t care how many times you “beat him.” Say no 10 times, or 100 times, or 10,000 times but maybe on 10,001 you’ll say yes. And that’s all that matters. Think about it… he pursued the Son of God across a dessert for 40 days with no success and on day 41 he tried again.  The Son of God! You get that right? He pursues Jesus relentlessly. The One True Perfect Man… You think he will give up on you? You will not deter him. You cannot outlast him. His patience knows no end.

Let’s go back to the text… verses 3 through 11 we read the three temptations satan focused on with Jesus after the 40 days in the desert. I’ll just paraphrase these…

#1 – Satan knew that Jesus was hungry so he said “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”… Doesn’t sound so bad – but we’ll get to that in a minute… I just want to list these first

#2 Satan also knew that Jesus was aware of what was coming – a painful, grueling death on a cross – so he shows Jesus the world and says, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Yeah – that one sounds much bigger, much worse right… One more…

#3 Satan knows how tired Jesus is – weary is a better word probably… so he gives Jesus a way to accelerate God’s slow plan… he says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ 11 and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Three very different tactics – all for the same goal based on a second trait you need to be aware of in our enemy…

He is Persistent. 

Have you ever played chess with someone that was really good? For me, anyone I play against is good because I end up losing in under 4 minutes no matter who I play against… but if you talk to a good chess player about their game, you realize quickly that they aren’t thinking about their next move… their thinking about their next 20 moves or 100 moves. If they get tunnel vision and decide too early on their path to victory it could end badly. They are constantly watching for opportunities even if it means changing their whole strategy. They are constantly probing the defenses of their opponent. Their goal never changes… it’s always to win by getting you into checkmate right? But along the way they are sacrificing pawns – even more powerful pieces if it gains them ground.

Our enemy is 2nd best chess player you’ve ever met. When he threw those three temptations at Jesus they each attacked a different area of Jesus’ life …

The first was the temptation of stones to bread is to test Jesus’ resolve, His commitment. “Your hungry… go ahead and eat now… why wait til you get back to town. I mean it’s just us here… we both already know you are God – not really a man like you want all these other simpletons to believe… go ahead! No one’s gonna know. No one’s looking!” Honestly… this one I think can be the hardest of the three to understand why it was a big deal… He had finished the 40 days. He was allowed to eat at this point. But the reality is that it had far more to do with his mind and his spirit than his stomach. He understood that what satan was trying to open a door to was to start using His power and authority for Himself… this was no different than the taunt he would hear as he hung on a cross… Matthew 27:40 we hear this from the crowd who gathered for his execution… save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Use your power for you… not for them. You deserve it – they don’t. “Focus on you for once…” how many times have we bought into that temptation?

The second – the temptation of promise of power and authority is really a test for fear. “Hey remember when your Dad gave me control of down here? He didn’t say I couldn’t give it to you. I will! You can have it. Then that way you can just jump over all this other garbage He’s asking you to go through. When you think about it… I’m much nicer than Him… I’ll just give it all to you now.” As easy as the first one is to dismiss as no big deal… this one may be easier to dismiss but for a completely different reason. I think we read this one and we think, “man… this is like offering a loaf of bread to a baker… or a $5 bill to a billionaire.” How did satan possibly hope to lure Jesus with this when He knew good and well that His Father always would be able to offer infinitely more than the enemy could ever even imagine. And that is certainly true… but… this offer wasn’t about quantity or even quality… it was about timing. Have you ever heard of the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment? No? Where have you people been? This child psychologist back in the 60s took a group of kids and one at a time he would sit them in a room with a table and chair… on the table he would place one marshmallow. He would then tell the kid if they would leave the marshmallow sitting there for 15 minutes… he would give them a bigger prize, like a bunch of marshmallows when he returned. No punishment for eating the marshmallow just if you eat it – you don’t get more later. Now of course, as you can imagine, a bunch of kids just popped that marshmallow in their mouth as soon as he was out the door. I remember one kid who when he was asked about why he ate the marshmallow instead of waiting to get more he said something like, ehh – we have lots of marshmallows at home. Another kid who didn’t eat the marshmallow when asked said… I don’t particularly like marshmallows. The point was of course that it had nothing to with marshmallows and everything to do with propensity to delay their own gratification. Fear drives self gratification. If I don’t do this now, I might not be able to later… who knows what could happen between now and later… Why risk waiting? I’ll have it now. Satan is reminding Jesus of something … He is God. He doesn’t have to wait for anything. But of course if He takes it now… just like the kids who took that single marshmallow… the future is without promise…

The third and final temptation to command the angels is to test for doubt. “So I know you say you are God’s Son – and hey man… I believe you really I do… I mean I like you my man! But it’s all these others that I’m worried about… I’m not sure they believe it. If you threw yourself off the top of this building and people see angels catch you and lower you the ground safe and sound – your golden kid!” Doubt is the greatest percentage game our enemy plays. If he can get us to doubt… he has an upper hand in our life. I totally get this one. Self doubt is a major area of hurt where he can grab me and play me like a fiddle. Make a decision – then somewhere in the back of my mind… Are you sure that was the best way to go? Step out on this stage“What are you doing?!? You can’t come out here… You aren’t good enough… Anyone is better at this than you are… How can YOU teach about THAT? Hypocrite! Maybe rather master chess player… virtuoso would be a better description of our enemy… because if I were a violin, he can play me at times like a maestro…

One more thing I want us to look at that points out his persistence… Remember I said we would look at this in Luke because of one verse that’s not in the other accounts of the temptations of Jesus… it’s the last verse in this section of scripture… And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. Oh man, that phrase, “He departed from him until an opportune time,” I can barely read that verse without feeling my heart break. Because that “opportune time” of course would be what? The winding road Jesus would eventually walk to a cross of torture… Think about it… he departs from Jesus but he certainly didn’t depart from the scene. He just moved his probing somewhere else… to the religious elite, the crowds in towns and villages all throughout Israel, Roman officials as well as Kings, to his very friends and family, to his closest followers – his very disciples. The enemy would not be deterred. He would not be discouraged. He would never give up.

A patient and persistent enemy is a dangerous one indeed… But thankfully for us… this deadly combination of traits in our enemy, that brought him to the heights of God’s creations, also lead him to the depths of his downfall… one trait that has plagued him from the beginning.

He. Is. Prideful.

And when the devil had ended every temptation… he didn’t give up… he just kept going and going and going. He couldn’t stop. He had to win. He had to stop God’s plan. He was blind to the reality of what his actions were going to do. He could not see around his pride.

Remember we talked about something God Himself had told satan this in the beginning several weeks ago when we looked at Genesis 3:15… remember what God said to the evil one? He said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” 

Essentially, He told him then – you can’t win. At best you will cause my Son pain … but He? He is going to be bringing down all of His might on your head.

Have you ever talked to somebody about something and you can just tell they aren’t gonna hear you?… they’re too preoccupied with what they want to say back… with what they are planning in their head… That’s that same picture. God may has well have been talking to a brick wall. Listen to this description of satan in Ezekiel 28… “You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.13 You were in Eden, the garden of God;Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you. 16 In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, … Pride has always been his blind spot. But before you take comfort in this as a weakness in our enemy… don’t. We gain no tactical advantage because he is prideful.

It is however important for us to recognize all of these traits in him as we go through this series together because they point to something much bigger, much more important to understand… His nature… his very fiber… and that is this… He is hellbent on our destruction. He is trying every moment of every day to get us hooked, addicted, broken, hurt, deflated, compromised, turned sideways, angry, poisoned, discouraged, embittered, hate filled, depressed… any, all. He gets you moving in one or 100 negative directions – he does not care! He will not stop! He cannot be talked out of his mission… He has one singular focus. Destroying what God has created.

Let me give you a 2 minute synopsis of my life and see if you can relate to it any way… not necessarily the details or the specific circumstances but the direction…

When I was a kid and my dad was killed my life felt like it was over… and that circumstance presented a prime opportunity for him to work me over for years and years and years… he didn’t care how he got me… he probed my fears, my anger, my hurt, my bone breaking heartache, my sorrow… relentlessly for years… he would twist my sorrow to bitterness and I’d give in and embrace it. When I did, he didn’t bother to do a touchdown dance in the end zone he just immediately moved to turn it further… to anger and hatred… to turn it back to fear of growing up…  which is miserable but of course you do grow up and so then it was a focus to turn that into fear of living life… then to turn that into fear of taking next steps as an adult – like fear of being a husband… to turn that to fear of being a daddy myself… to turn that to depression… to turn that back to anger… to turn that to rejection of God and everyone around me… and even then the victory isn’t enough – he just keeps going… he was so patient – days, weeks, months, decades… always opportunistic… something positive happened? Oh really – well did you think about this… he could turn it all. His persistence was staggering. Oh… you broke that barrier and learned to love? Let’s focus on the fear again then. Oh you aren’t fearful of that anymore… let’s focus on the old pain… it never stopped. I couldn’t run far enough, fast enough… because he would always be more persistent. His craving for destruction – whatever it looked like was always insatiable. Whatever ground I gave him was never enough because there was always more ground to take!

But then… in a moment when all was darkness…  when I had all but given up…

a light.

And the darkness was gone. In my darkest moment, I stopped running. I laid down. Not to give up but to recognize that running in darkness was futile. I was getting more and more lost. I was getting more and more hurt. I laid down not in defeat but in surrender!  Not to my enemy but to God… because I was finally able to admit that I couldn’t do it… I couldn’t win. But You God… you can… And I give it all to you…And He cried FINALLY! I’m HERE… and the darkness CEASED to enclose me! It couldn’t stay because light had arrived. Dark and light cannot be at the same time. It is one or the other. It’s the same as life and death. You can’t be both alive and dead right?

Romans 6:23 says, For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. We have to choose. Dark or light. Death or Life.

He’s been saying the same thing all along! Choose me! Choose the light… Choose life! I offer it to you freely! But you must choose … you can’t have both because where I am – your enemy is not… where the enemy is you will not find me…

So the question as we close today… how do we leave the darkness and step into the light? There can be only one answer… there is no other… We have to choose Jesus. Say His name real quick… Jesus. How do we resist this patient, persistent, prideful enemy?  Again… Jesus. Who has brought life to replace death? Again! JESUS… Who breaks the power of sin in the darkness? AGAIN! JESUS! Whose love is mighty and so much stronger than our enemy? JESUS! Who brings our chaos back into order? Jesus! Who shines like the sun in all of its brilliance and replaces the darkness – forever? Jesus. Who  is the King of Kings, the KING of GLORY? Who conquered the grave and brings unfailing love and amazing grace that we could never earn, never deserve, never pay for, never have hoped for, never found on our own beyond our wildest dreams and imagination? Jesus. Jesus. Jesus…

 

Amen? AMEN.

 

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