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The Ultimate Discipline

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The Ultimate Discipline

August 11, 1996

Scripture:  Mt. 4:1-11



          If the passage for today’s message is about the temptation of Jesus, then why have I entitled it, “The Ultimate Discipline”?   It is because in this opening event of Jesus’ ministry we see the results of his training for the spiritual Olympics.  Jesus won the gold medal.  Satan didn’t even place.

I.       The Elements of the Marathon

1 ¶ Then Jesus (full of the Holy Spirit - Lk.) was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  (He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him -Mk.)

2  After fasting (and being tempted - Lk.) forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

          A.      The Prize

                   1.       Just Jesus himself?  Or was it all of mankind?

          B.      The Initiative

                   1.       H.S.

          C.      The Resource

                   1.       H.S.

          D.      The Setting

                   1.       The desert:  a sterile, hostile environment where he could find nothing to satisfy himself with or take refuge in except God.

                   2.       Contrast Adam who fell while in the Garden, having everything and yet coming to possess nothing.  Jesus had nothing and yet thru discipline came to possess everything.

                   3.       Many of God’s people went thru a time in the desert:  Abraham, Joseph, Moses, the children of Israel, the prophets, David, John Baptist, and now Jesus.  And spiritually, many of us.

          E.      The Adversary

                   1.       Satan, the tempter himself.  This was no low rank demon but the prince of the power of the air.  One on one.

                   2.       This was spiritual warfare in its fullest form, but the finest hour was yet to come upon the cross.  In fact, there would be two more confrontations in time.

          F.      The Duration

                   1.       Jesus was tempted constantly for 40 days as he went the limit of human endurance physically, mentally and spiritually.

                   2.       God told Noah he would bring rain for 40 days to wipe every living creature from the face of the earth.  Moses was 40 days on the mountain with God.  Elijah was on a 40 day trip with God.  Both without food and Moses without water.  The Israelites were 40 years in the desert just as Moses had been before them.   God declared a woman ceremonially unclean for 40 days after the birth of a son (80 days in case of a daughter).  Forty lashes was considered the limit of punishment.  Forty is a complete biblical number.

                   3.       To be tempted is to be tested.  The context of Jesus first response to Satan is in Dt. 8:1-5 where Israel’s testing is “to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”  It ends with an affirmation in God’s purpose of discipline.

          G.      Discourse on Temptation

Temptation is common but not fatal:

 1Co 10:13  No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

We are to be on guard against temptation:

Ga 6:1 ¶ Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.

We are to have a healthy respect for temptation:

1Th 3:5  For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless.

We have a source of help in temptation:

Heb 2:18  Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

We have a hope of victory over temptation:

Heb 4:15  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-- yet was without sin.

We cannot blame God for temptation:

Jas 1:13 ¶ When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;

We must see that temptation is possible only because of our sin nature:

Jas 1:14  but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.

Jesus showed us the way to victory over temptation:

Joh 5:19  Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.

          G.      Questions and Illustrations

                   1.       What would have happened if Jesus did give in?

                   2.       Just as 4 min. is the limit of human endurance without oxygen, as in holding your breath under water, which we can reach by practice or discipline, so too is spiritual discipline necessary for the one who would be godly in enduring temptation without sin.

                   3.       Jesus was tempted to act independent of God and use his God side to override his human side.  If so, he could not have been our human Savior.  But he instead chose to have his human side respond to the nature of God within him who cannot be tempted.  He chose not to act independent of God and so should we - and we are able just as he was thru the power of the H.S.:

Jn. 14:15 ¶ "If you love me, you will obey what I command.

16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever--

17  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.      

                   4.       Jesus was full of the H.S. and we must cultivate our own relationship to the H.S. which we do thru spiritual discipline.

                   5.       Saul, in contrast to Jesus, and even David, had no spiritual discipline and acted independent of God, saying, “I’ll do whatever I want.”  He destroyed his family and his career as king (1Sam. 13, 28, 31).  He didn’t wait for Samuel.  He failed the test.  He stopped inquiring of God and inquired of a witch.  He ended up commiting suicide on the battle field.  David inquired of God most of his life, but he had a time during his established reign when he stopped inquiring of God.  At that time he inquired about Bathsheba instead.  But even with David’s sins, he was a man after God’s own heart because he sought God’s forgiveness.  When we become self sufficient, we stop seeking God and trust ourselves, becoming open to temptation.  Are we trying to control God or follow his leading?  How did Jesus do it?  It takes spiritual discipline.  (We intend to start a Navigators 2:7 discipleship group this fall.)

1Tim. 4:7  Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.

8  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

II.      The First Contest in the Marathon

          These first two temptations make Jesus Sonship the issue.  Satan tempts Jesus to act in a way that supports his Sonship.  But his goal is to lure Jesus to act independently of the Father and thus create a rebellious Sonship.  But anything we do independent of the Lord expresses a lack of connection to him.  God wants our loyalty (David and Uriah the Hittite - 1Kings 15:5).  In each case he uses a selfish tactic to justify the action he wants Jesus to take.  “Surely you should feed yourself, Jesus.  Surely God will protect his Son, so why not try him out.  Surely God wants you to have authority, so just give me your allegiance.”  In all cases, Jesus uses Scripture from Deuteronomy to reply to each temptation.  We, like Jesus, must be careful that the shortcuts that become possible in life do not reflect our own rationalization to avoid God’s will (Phil. 2:5-11).  The most genuine authority is not that which is seized, but that which is received from the God who honors faithfulness.  We are not to control God but we are to follow his leading even when the outcome is not clear.

          A.      The Temptation

3  The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."

                   1.       Relates to Jesus’ physical needs (to feed the flesh).      

                   2.       Jesus is being tempted to meet his basic needs on his own power.  But to do so would not be a response to the challenge to be strong but to be independent of God.  Such independence is really weakness and leads to failure.

          B.      The Discipline

4  Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

                   1.       Feed the spirit instead of the flesh.

III.    The Second Contest in the Marathon

          A.      The Temptation

5  Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.

6  "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: "'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'"

                   1.       Relates to Jesus’ psychological needs (pride - to be important - to exhalt ones own image).

                   2.       Satan adds to this enticement by quoting Scripture himself.  He suggests that applying God’s promise of protection will enhance Jesus’ unique dependence upon God as he flings himself into his caring arms.  Surely God will not let his own suffer pain.  It sounds real spiritual but it is a presumptuous test of God’s care that actually creates a need for God to act.l  It puts God in a “show me” position which is really a private test of God and a sign of a lack of faith.


          B.      The Discipline

7  Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

          1.       Exhalt God’s image by not demoting him to my standards.

Lk. 2:46  After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.

Lk. 2:52  And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

IV.    The Third Contest in the Marathon

          A.      The Temptation

8  Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.

9  "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."

                   1.       Relates to Jesus’ spiritual needs (to worship and to be worshipped - to worship created things rather than God).

                   2.       The temptation is an alliance between Jesus and Satan so that Jesus may excuse himself from all that lies ahead in his ministry - to leave behind the rejection and suffering for a quick access to power.  But Satan can’t even grant this wish.  It is a lie as are all his temptations.       

          B.      The Discipline

10  Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'"

                   1.       Worship the Creator alone.  True spirituality comes from him alone.  Shortcuts are dead ends.

V.      The Victory

11  Then the devil left him (until an opportune time - Lk.), and angels came and attended him.

          A.      The departure was not a long one since confrontation with demons begins early in Jesus ministry.    


VI.    Conclusion

          The only road to Christian maturity and godliness is thru the practice of the spiritual disciplines.  They are Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, fasting, meditation, journaling, and learning.  Whatever the discipline, its most important feature is its purpose.  The spiritual disciplines are the God-given means we are to use in the pursuit of godliness.

          God uses three primary means for changing us and conforming us to Christ, but only one is under our control.  The two that are not are people and circumstances:

Prov. 27:17 ¶ As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

Rom. 8:28  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

          The one under our control is the spiritual disciplines.  In these, God works from the inside out.  The other two are from the outside in.  But these grant us a measure of choice regarding our involvment with them.  We must remember that even self-discipline will not make us more holy, however, because holiness is purely a gift of God.  But we can cultivate it.  We can place ourselves before God for him to work in us.  We see this principle in the story of blind Bartemaeus (Lk. 18:35-43) and in Zacchaeus (Lk. 19:1-10).  Both these men placed themselves in the path of God’s grace and sought him.  He will have mercy on us too if we seek him to come under his discipline as the channel of God’s transforming grace.  We are called upon to make ourselves do what we would naturally not do - pursue spiritual discipline - in order to become what we’ve always wanted to be - more like Christ.

          To “discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness” is a command of God, not just a suggestion.  Holiness is not an option (1Pet. 1:15-16), so neither are the means of holiness, the spiritual disciplines, an option.

Prov. 23:12 ¶ Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.

The Lord disciplines us in order to get us to discipline ourselves.  Discipline is at the heart of discipleship.  He modeled these disciplines for us.

Mt. 11:29  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Lk. 9:23  Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

          Becoming like Jesus takes effort.  So many professing Christians are so spiritually undisciplined that they have very little fruit and power in their lives.  People go to great lengths to discipline themselves in some sport or for some career or profession, but put forth little effort for the purpose of godliness.  They are like those who spiritually are a mile wide and and inch deep.  There are no deep, time worn channels of communing discipline between them and God.  Spiritual disciplines don’t come easy, but they carry the greatest good, having promise both for the present life and the life to come.  Look at the effort Jesus expended for us.  Should becoming like Jesus not also require considerable effort?  Just like natural gifts, spiritual gifts must be developed by discipline in order to bear spiritual fruit.

          These disciplines are not restrictive and binding but are actually the means to spiritual freedom.  The paradox is that we are most free when we are bound.  Christ came to set us free.  If we are bound to Christ, then we are free.  Discipline is the price of freedom, but freedom is the reward of discipline.  Those who are free to quote Scripture are those who have disciplined themselves to memorize it.  Fasting may give us a measure of freedom from spiritual insensitivity.  We find freedom from self-centeredness in the disciplines of worship, service and evangelism.  Discipline takes the effort of self-control in placing ourselves under God’s control.  Self-control in 2Peter 1:6 is in the pathway to godliness, and godliness is a lifelong pursuit.  The goal is godliness.  Discipline without direction is drudgery.  If we desire the joy of godliness, we will not find it drudgery but the beautiful freedom to be what we’ve always wanted to be - more like Jesus.  Let us set our hearts toward the task of the spiritual disciplines as we learn more about them in the coming weeks.  God will be increasingly glorified in you if you do.  Then, when the times of testing come, you will be able to meet them as Jesus did, even in the desert.

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