What keeps us from resting in God
What keeps us from resting in God?
First Sunday in Lent ~ February 25, 2007
Resting and vacation – they are supposed to go together, right? When we think about vacation we think about resting from our daily grind, getting away from our busy life and recharging ourselves. We want our vacations to be restful. For our family I know that at least the week before a vacation can be very stressful. We are worried about what to pack, what to expect, and just making sure everything is in place and taken care of so that we will have a good vacation. And usually they “worrying” about the details of vacation don’t end once we are on vacation. How many of you on the last day of a vacation are looking forward to coming home? Often time our vacations, while good experiences, aren’t very restful.
Today I would like to explore another type of rest, one that is even more important than a restful vacation – it is our resting in God. And the temptations that Jesus faces in the wilderness, not unlike the ones we face, lead us to a life of unrest. When we fall into the traps of these temptations what we will find is not relief and rest, what we all seek, but unrest and burden.
The first temptation of Jesus after fasting for forty days was to turn a rock into bread and be fed in His hunger. The Devil was asking Jesus to satisfy His own hunger and physical need. When I visited Israel our tour guide took us to a spot where we could see something like the wilderness Jesus was in. The wilderness Jesus faced was a dry, desert like area with lot of round shaped stones – stones that could look like round loafs of bread. While that was neat to see I think it may be missing the point of this temptation. The subtle part of this temptation wasn’t just to make bread out of stone but was to seek after self gratification.
Often this temptation has been called a temptation of material goods and while that is part of it – sometimes we lust after that big SUV or fancy house – I think it is really a temptation to live the “good life.” What I mean by the “good life” is a life in which we avoid anything uncomfortable and focus only on what will make us feel good. This is not to say that God doesn’t bless us with good things but this temptation focuses only on our “creature comforts” and denies anything that would take that away. This temptation often leads us to thought like the psalmist records for us in Psalm 73 "For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 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." (Psalm 73:3-5, ESV) How often have we caught ourselves thinking this way? Why do others, and even those who don’t follow Jesus, seem to have it better than me?
The psalmist goes further "All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence." (Psalm 73:13-4, ESV) Wow, he is on dangerous ground. He is challenging God – I have done all this but why is my life bad? He is saying to God. Do we sometimes think that way?
Then the psalmist starts to see a greater reality than just the “comforts” of this life. "But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end." (Psalm 73:16-17, ESV) First we see that he realizes that even if the “wicked” have good things now they will all come to destruction if they don’t seek after God. But I think the thing that really hit me is what happens to the psalmist when he worries about the “good life” and how he doesn’t have it. He says, “it seems to me a wearisome task.” When we seek after the “good life” here and now it never satisfies and we grow tired of the pursuit of it. We think, “Just a little more money and I will be better.” “Just a little better job and I will feel good.” “Just a little larger hose and I will feel more comfortable.” But does it ever come. When we try to find rest in the “good life” of this world we only find unrest. We need to turn to God to find true rest. Things will never satisfy, only God does. We can find rest in Jesus’ words, “Man doesn’t live by bread alone” it is only in Christ that we find true rest.
The second temptation of Jesus is where He is taken to a high mountain and shown all the kingdoms of the world. The Devil then says that all the authority and glory would be give to Jesus if He would bow down and worship the Devil. Part of the temptation is to worship the Devil and not God but that is the more obvious of temptation and not the one that usually traps people. The more subtle temptation is that of seeking glory. And not glory as in being President of the United States or a Famous Actor, etc. It is the glory that people will look at you and say what a good person you are. And that in turn is also how we want to be seen by God – as a good person who does good things.
There is the trap! We think we have to do something to be “good” before man and before God. The problem – we can’t do anything to earn God’s grace. Maybe we can do things to look good before our fellow humans but we can’t before God. Sometimes it is hard for us to believe that we don’t have to do anything, that God does it all for our salvation in Jesus Christ. Eugene Peterson says it this way:
“The Christian life consists in what God does for us, not what we do for God; the Christian life consists in what God says to us, not what we say about God. We also, of course, do things and say things, but if we do not return to Square One each time we act, each time we speak, beginning from God and God’s word, we will soon be found to be practicing a spirituality that has little or nothing to do with God.” (Eugene Peterson in Subversive Spirituality)
The temptation is to think that we can receive the glory, which we have to keep “busy” to be in a good place with God. But giving in to that temptation we give up our ability to truly rest. If we think we have to do it then we will always be striving to get it right – and we will never find rest. The Gospel message is that Christ has done it all for us. To find true rest is to rest in the work of Jesus, not our work. We rest in the confidence of what Jesus has done for us – namely, He lived the perfect life for us, took our sin to the cross, died and rose from the dead, all for us. Rest in the work of Jesus!
The third temptation was based on the need to test God’s protection. The Devil takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem, probably a 100 feet up! There He says jump and God will protect you. Actually I believe it more to be a question – Will God protect you? Test Him. That is the subtlety of this temptation – it is true what the Devil said about God’s protection but instead of trusting he is testing this assumption. Instead of living in the security of God the Devil wants to force us into our fear and doubting of God’s word.
Fear can be a huge part of our lives; we maybe afraid of the future, afraid of evil, afraid of our circumstances in life. Fear can motivate us to do thing we would not normally do. Fear can drive us into ourselves and not to where we find help and support – in God. And when we live only in our fear we lose our identity as children of God. When we live in fear we see God as cold and distant, but that is not true. God is always near to us, to help us, guide us, and protect us. But the temptation of the Devil here is for us in our fear to doubt that God is truly present with us. Instead of trusting God we lock ourselves up behind things that truly can’t provide security. We focus on ourselves and what we are going to do instead of trusting God and being patient for His timing and protection.
Fear has been described as False Evidence Appearing Real. When we live in fear the evidence before us is that nobody, not even God can truly help us. But that is false. God is there for us and knows best how to care for us. When we live in fear there is no rest, no peace. When we live in God and trust Him, in spite of what we see and hear, we can live in peace and rest in Him.
It really comes down to the simple idea of do we want to live in the Law or the Gospel. In our Adult instruction class we saw a video that describe the Law and Gospel in terms of specific statement. The Law is “If…Then” statements and the Gospel is “Because…Therefore” statements. Let me explain. The Law works like this, “If I speed in my car Then I will get a ticket.” It is a conditional statement that is based on something I do. And there is the problem if we want to live in the Law – we can never do enough. It provides no rest for us. The Gospel works like this, “Because I am a sinner Therefore Christ died for me. Because of the love of God Therefore I need not fear.” The Gospel is not a conditional statement based on what we do, it is a matter of fact that we can trust as true. God loves us and has done it all for us. We don’t need to find true comfort in the things of the world. We don’t need to work harder to be in God’s Kingdom. We don’t need to fear because God’s love casts our all fear (1 John 4:18). Don’t let the Devil’s temptation rob you of true rest. Rest yourself in God’s loving arms. His word, His Gospel, His love is true. Amen