Monday, March 23, 2009

Sennacherib, Satan, and the Nature of Temptation

“31 Do not listen to Hezekiah; for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make peace with me by a present and come out to me; and every one of you eat from his own vine and every one from his own fig tree, and every one of you drink the waters of his own cistern; 32 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive groves and honey, that you may live and not die. But do not listen to Hezekiah, lest he persuade you, saying, “The LORD will deliver us.”
2 Kings 18:31-32

In the text before us today, Sennacherib’s messenger tries to get the citizens of Jerusalem to open the gates of the city by making grandiose promises to the people. For several years now Sennacherib had been laying waste the countryside around Jerusalem and was now laying siege to the holy city itself. The people were understandably frightened. They had no illusions as to their doom - they would be torn from their homes, sent into a foreign land, likely seeing Jerusalem never again. But Sennacherib knew that with such a clear understanding of their future, the citizens would never open the gates. And so he makes them grand promises. You’ve got my intentions all mixed up, Sennacherib declares. I’m really bringing joy and harmony your way. The future under my rule is bright. I’m going to let you stay in your homes for a while and then, when the time is right, I’m going to escort you to another home – just like the one you’ve got, with plenty of land, plenty of food, plenty of drink.

To us the offer of the king of Assyria should seem patently absurd – that is, if we know anything about the Assyrians. Their brutality was legendary. Masters of the most current military technology and ignorant of all ethical restraint, they not infrequently slaughtered entire cities and repopulated them with inhabitants from other lands. Listen as one of their kings boasts of his exploits:

“Many [of the defeated] I took as living captives. From some I cut off their hands and their fingers, from others I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers, of many I put out the eyes. I made one pillar [pile] of the living, and another of heads, and I bound their heads to posts [stakes] round about the city. Their young men and maidens I burned in the fire, the city I destroyed, I devastated, I burned it with fire and consumed it.” [As quoted in Don Nardo, The Assyrian Empire, pp. 12,13.]

This is what the inhabitants of Jerusalem could in reality anticipate. But this blunt description is what you provide after the victory is won – in the mean time, Sennacherib knew, promise them the world.

The offer which Sennacherib makes contrasts vividly with the reality which was lying in wait and teaches us valuable lessons about the nature of temptation. All temptation gets its force from twisting the facts and making it appear that satisfaction and joy lie where they in fact do not. Satan is no fool. And like Sennacherib he knows that no one will submit ahead of time to one who promises them raw sewage for supper and dead cat for dessert. And so he couches his temptations in the most plausible of disguises. Whether it is Eve beholding the fruit which is good to make one wise or the children of Israel longing for the leeks and onions they enjoyed in Egypt, the nature of temptation is always the same. Satan endeavors to make it look attractive. He wants to be the one who defines the good life – the life that makes one truly happy.

But note that he has no interest in our happiness – just like Sennacherib had no intention of making the life of the Judahites as pleasant as he promised. Like the pagan gods of antiquity, the demons who owed their origin to his machinations, Satan is selfish and consuming – promising the good life but bringing destruction to all those who succumb to his wiles.

And so, this morning as we enter into the presence of our thrice holy God, let us come confessing the many ways in which our community believes the lies of the evil one. But let us not stop there. What lies do you come believing? What lies have you believed this week? Whom have you allowed to define the good life? Have you listened to the one who promises happiness but ultimately gives grief or have you listened to our Heavenly Father who knows what will truly bring us joy and gladness and who has created us that we might find our joy in Him? Let us kneel and confess these things to Him.

Complete in Christ

8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.
Colossians 2:6-10

For some weeks now we have considered the significance of this passage from Colossians for our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We have discovered that the Christian faith proclaims not the virtue of faith in general but the virtue of faith in a specific person, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ. Not only this, we have also found that it is not sufficient to profess faith in someone with the simple name “Jesus”; the Jesus whom we trust must be the Jesus revealed in the Word of God – for false Christs and false prophets have abounded and have sought to mislead the people of God with cleverly devised tales. Because Jesus is God Himself clothed in human flesh it is imperative that we listen as He speaks – for He speaks to us the very words of God and, therefore, His words have authority unlike the words of the Beatles, Hank Williams Jr., or Rush Limbaugh.

Today Paul declares to us that in Christ we are complete. What does Paul mean and what implication does his statement have for us? The word complete means to be filled to the full, saturated, needful of nothing else. When Paul was in physical want and the Philippians sent money to relieve his need, he wrote back to them saying that their gift had caused him to be filled to the full – needing nothing more than the gift that they themselves had provided. And now Paul uses this same word to describe us as the people of God – we are complete, filled up in Christ. We need nothing more.

What implications does this have for us? Note first of all that Paul is not urging his audience to be filled up in Christ. He is describing what they are in Christ not what they should be. The is an indicative not an imperative; a statement of fact not a command. You are complete in Christ. You are filled to overflowing. And so, Paul calls upon the Colossians in the next chapter, act out what you in fact are. You are complete in Christ – demonstrate it in your life.

If this is the case, if we really are complete in Christ, then why is it we so often seek out other activities or people to “make us complete.” Pop psychology, possessions, drugs, alcohol, sex, physical fitness, work. We wander around seeking someone or something else to fill us up. Why?

Might I suggest that one of the reasons we fail to appreciate our completeness in Christ is because we are so busy seeking what we do not have that we do not meditate sufficiently on what we do have. How often do we read the Word of God and ponder, “What wondrous things God has done for us! He has created us with life and breath. He has redeemed us from our sin and rebellion. He has granted us fellowship with Him by His Spirit.” Have we stopped to consider that “we are complete in Christ”? I fear not.

And so this morning as we enter into the presence of our Creator let us kneel together and confess that we have failed to perceive all that He has done for us in Christ.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Faith in Christ

8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.
Colossians 2:6-10

Last week we remarked that one of the constant temptations which faces us as human beings and even as the people of God is to substitute our own religious ideas for the revelation of God. But all such substitutes Paul characterizes in no uncertain terms as vanity, emptiness, folly – teachings that are in accordance with the traditions of men but not according to Christ.

Paul informs us today that the reason these various unbelieving worldviews are vanity is because they are not connected to Christ in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. The reason it is folly to reject Christ is because when He spoke, God spoke; when He acted, God acted; when He wept, God wept; when He thundered, God thundered. Our Lord Jesus Christ was the full embodiment of the deity and so we can know that the things he spoke, thought, and did were infallible revelations of God’s person and will. No clearer revelation was possible.

Note what folly it is, then, to mess with the Scripture’s presentation of Jesus as God Himself clothed in human flesh. If Jesus is not God then the things he revealed are no more solid and sure than the teachings of Plato. If Jesus is not God, then we are left with the mere opinions and traditions of men. No wonder then that Paul’s most stern denunciations fall on those who preach “false Christs” – for if our faith is in any Christ other than the one Paul preached then our faith is in vain.

But glory be to God, the Scriptures clearly declare, both here in Colossians and in other places, that Jesus is fully God and fully man. He is fully capable of revealing the Father to us and fully capable of identifying with us – because He bears in His one person the two natures – divine and human.

It is no coincidence that of all the differences between the non-Christian religions of the world and pseudo-Christian cults, the one thing they hold tenaciously in common is a rejection of the fully deity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Pseudo-Christian cults not infrequently accuse Christians of twisting the Scriptures to develop the so-called “monstrosity” of the Trinity. But Paul tells us quite plainly today – in Him all the fullness of the deity dwells in bodily form.

And so, knowing that our Lord Jesus Christ was indeed God Himself clothed in human flesh, let us confess before Him that rather than pay attention to His Word as we ought, we frequently resort to the opinions and traditions of men who can bring only vanity and emptiness. Let us kneel and confess our failure to listen to our Lord.

Monday, March 2, 2009

8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. Colossians 2:6-10

The number of different religious beliefs in the world is truly staggering. Varieties of spiritual expression have existed from the earliest days of human history (witness the Tower of Babel) and have continued down to the present day.

As we consider these various religious movements, Paul warns us in our text today that we need to beware falling prey to these systems – these systems that have the appearance of wisdom in the traditions of men but which truly rob us of wisdom and knowledge when carefully considered. Paul characterizes all non-Christian worldviews as empty deceit or vanity – emptiness. False religions promise various things to lure unsuspecting men and women into their pale – peace with god, peace with your neighbor, enlightenment, reabsorption into the One, freedom from the body, indulgence of bodily lusts. And while these promises frequently look solid they are really empty and hollow. Why? Because all these philosophies are based on the traditions and speculations of men – men like you and me. Men who wet their beds when they’re little and start going senile when they’re old. Men who bow down and worship sticks and stones. Men who get sick and die. Men who have headaches and have a hard time thinking. Men who are prejudiced and make unwarranted assumptions. Men who are anything but omniscient and accurate describers of the world around them. Men who fall under the injunction of Solomon, Vanity of Vanities, all is vanity.

And so what makes Christianity different from all these systems? Aren’t Christians subject to the same limitations? Yes and were we dependent upon our ability to search out and discover the truth we too would be lost. But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! The Father considered our lost estate and sent His only Son to become flesh and dwell among us that He might seek out and save us – revealing to us His person and paying the penalty for our folly that we might not be left in futility.

And so Paul warns us – beware lest anyone take you captive through such empty deceit – deceit which is based not on God’s revelation of Himself in His Word and in our Lord Jesus Christ but which is based rather on the opinions and traditions of men.

Reminded of our propensity as sinners to turn away from God’s revelation and substitute in its place our own fancies and imaginations, let us kneel before the Triune God and confess our sin to Him.