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Developing a Godly character
Scripture: Matthew 3:13-17; 4:1-11
Track 3 of 12 in the Being with Him means Looking Like Him series
Running time: 28 minutes

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, March 21, 2004
"Developing a Godly Character"
"Being With Him Means Looking Like Him"
(Matthew 3:13 through 4:11)
Copyright 2004 G. Charles Sackett

I don't want you to miss that part. Cause he's always there, lurking in the shadows. I suppose I was struck more by that image in The Passion movie the other night than I expected to be. Just that visible presence of Satan always lurking somewhere in the shadows. It's pretty obvious when the movie first starts who that character is and where he is, but every once in awhile you look up and he reappears. Or, actually in this case, she, reappears, subtle, always there. I sense that's true all through the life of Jesus. I have sensed that it's true in my life too. That at those moments of least expectation, that's when I sense his presence tempting me to not be what it is that I think I'm supposed to be, what I believe God has called me to be. I'm struck by this in Matthew's Gospel. As a matter of fact, I want to come back to the last part of Chapter 3 and re-read a portion of a text that was read for you last week. I am struck by this ever present sense that Satan is there tempting. Just ignore the chapter division, if you will.

Matthew 3:13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"

Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

I don't know why that would be such a surprise, and yet somehow it strikes me as so odd, that here Jesus has just done the thing that God has called him to do. He has just fulfilled righteousness and suddenly, rather than there being celebration and exultation, there is instead, temptation. Maybe we should expect that, you suppose?

Let me set the stage for you in Matthew's Gospel. We're gonna be spending a little time in it over the next couple of months so maybe it would be well for us to understand how this whole thing works.

You know the story. It starts with the birth of Jesus and yet it's interesting, isn't it, how Chapter 1 begins because it's so different than the rest of the other gospels begin. This one begins with Abraham and the Son of David. It's an interesting combination the way Jesus' genealogy is portrayed. He is obviously from the one of whom Israel was born, Abraham, but coupled with that is Son of David, as if there is going to be something about issues of kingship and kingdom that might be important. And the story simply unfolds. You have the birth of Jesus (there is a noise in the tape at this point and I believe a short "blurb" was missed because of it) you have him coming. You have his lineage. You have him born. You have him going into Egypt. You have him staying in Egypt, coming out of Egypt. We miss a bit of his childhood. We don't know a lot about what happens back in those early days. We see him now immediately in Chapter 3. He comes to fulfill righteousness. He's baptized and immediately sent into the desert whereby He goes into Chapter 5 and we have the Sermon on the Mount.

Now for those of you who think like Old Testament people, you're thinking, boy that sounds familiar. Coming out of the lineage of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who are called Israel, comes a people of God who find themselves in Egypt and are called up out of Egypt and pass through what Paul identifies as a baptismal experience in 1 Corinthians 10. They come through the Red Sea and out to the other side where they also go into a desert for tempting except that they fail in their temptation and for forty years they wander in the desert. Not unlike Jesus forty days in the wilderness and then they receive a law on Mount Sinai like the Sermon on the Mount. And so what you have in Jesus is this ideal Israel, the realized Moses who shows us what it means to be successful rather than failing the test. Israel failed. They didn't accomplish that which God called them to be. They weren't the people he had designed. The wilderness beat them, but it didn't beat Jesus. He won the temptation.

In fact, that's the point of this whole segment of Matthew. Chapter 4:1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forth nights, he was hungry. Undoubtedly! Talk about understatement in Scripture, but not unimportant. He was hungry. He was human. The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God,(well, what had just been said in Chapter 3). . . . .This is my Son. . . . . ."If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."

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

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: Psalm 91

"'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'"

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

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'"

Then the devil left him and angels came and ministered to him, served him, attended him.

I am struck by how often faith decisions are followed by temptation. People come and visit a congregation on a Sunday morning and they are, for maybe the first time in their life, or the first time in years stepping back into a faith stream or investigating a faith issue and it seems as if going to church just makes things worse. They hang around for awhile and the next thing they know is they come to really begin to understand who Jesus is and they begin to make the kind of decisions that will shape their lives and turn them into the people that God wants them to be and it seems like as soon as those decisions begin to happen it gets harder, not easier to be faithful. They commit themselves to being Christian. They pass through the repentant and baptismal strain and it seems like the very next day, it gets harder. Why is that? Cause he's always there. He is always lurking in the shadow wanting to draw you away from the decision that God has called you because he does not want you to succeed. He wants you to fail like he caused Israel to fail. Like he failed to cause Jesus to fail. So if you're going to succeed in the wilderness, if you're going to live through the temptation, if you're going to have what Jesus wants you to have which is a successful Christian experience, you're going to have to have the character of Jesus. And if you want the character of Jesus, then you're going to have to emulate what Jesus does. You're going to have to practice His actions. See the character of Jesus develops in us as we begin to emulate His response, as we begin to adopt the actions that he does. I am convinced that Matthew 4 lays in front of us the characteristics of a god-like character that can help us succeed instead of fail when it comes to living out this Christian experience on an every day basis.

The first four verses identify this first temptation and then, basically, I think what's happening here is the development of a character that comes through tempering our strength. Learning to curb our appetite, even when our appetite is for something that which is good instead of necessarily something that is bad. It is the practice, if you will, of restraint. It's the learning to temper what we are capable of doing. Jesus has been forty days without food. He certainly has the ability to turn these stones into bread. That's a piece of cake for Jesus. It's not hard at all. And you wouldn't find it to be such a bad thing, would you? I mean, after all, for forty days he has tempered his strength. He has practiced resistance. He has been a person denying His own self. He's capable of doing this, yet, He chooses to wait unlike Israel who wandered through a wilderness with this instruction. I will send you food every day. You just go out and pick up enough for today. There'll be enough tomorrow. Wait till tomorrow to pick up some more. And what do they do? They go out there and grab enough for a week. Why? Because I don't think they have the ability to trust past sundown. Jesus says, NO, I'll wait. The constant temptation is the gratification of our self. Sometimes in ways, obviously, that are wrong. We have the ability to do something and just because we can, doesn't mean we should.

People in positions of power often use that power abusively to other people simply because they can. Husbands over wives, parents over children, employers over employees. But sometimes the temptation isn't to that which is bad. Sometimes the temptation is to that which is very good. You really want this to be a positive, productive thing for your family and so you say, yes, let's invest ourselves in that without stopping to think about whether or not that enhances your ability to carry out kingdom things.

And so it comes time for Jesus to be the King of your life and to call you to do something productive in Him and you say, I'm sorry, I don't have time. We have this going and this going and this going and we don't have any place in here to fit kingdom things. It's not always the temptation to do that which is evil. Sometimes it's just the temptation to get so caught up in the things of this world that you aren't able to do what God calls you to do. And so Jesus says, you don't live by bread alone. You don't live by the temporary, the immediate. The call in this text is so clear to trust and to depend upon Him for the unknown.

I know not all of you have seen the movie, The Passion. I found my very human nature surfacing in this movie. Now, you may not have responded to it at all like I did because I have this bent in my life that just wants justice NOW. You know, if you saw Karate Kid movie, way back when, when it came out and Mr. Meogie is the coach and the bad guy is the old x-bad guy thing and he's out there berating his Karate Kids and Mr. Meogie has him down on the ground and he's ready, and I'm sitting in the theater going, Punch Him! Man, just let him have it! I want justice now! When Superman sets the guy on the counter and shoves him to the other end, I don't want him to shove him to the other end of the counter. I want him to shove him to the other end of the universe.

When Jesus is in the throws, I find myself sitting there tensely thinking, Jesus - do something about this and He says, Later! The challenge to every believer is to understand that God has control of the future and you can wait. Trust Him!

And you notice what happens at Verse 11. Angels come and minister. Why? Because He waited for God.

It's been enough of a temptation for me, thank you very much, but He has another one that he faces. Verses 5 through 7 where He, I think, helps us develop the character that we need to harness out expectations. We learn not to be presumptuous. We practice humility, is another way of saying it.

In His baptism, we have the voice from heaven that comes down and says, "This is my Son. In Him I am well pleased."

And Psalm 91 is not misquoted essentially by Satan. It does say he will give his angels charge to protect you. You can count on God to watch over you and to take care of you. The problem was the sense of obligation, that somehow because Jesus was a privileged Son he should be able to just assume that God will always do what God is supposed to do. We've never been there, right? Having said, I went to church on Sunday. How come God doesn't. . . . .well I don't know. . . . .I give pretty regularly and systematically and I tithe my income. . . . . . .How come God doesn't. . . . . . .well, I have been a faithful parent. . . . . .I've tried to do my job and take my children to church. . . . . . .how come? You've never had those times have you when you said. . . . .God, in light of how faithful I've been, why me? It is tempting isn't it? To assume that because you have the privilege, status of being a Christian because you have been invited in to the family of God, to assume that God owes you something. That somehow He is supposed to be at your beckoned call. That prayer is God. Here's my list, now answer it. That we really do tack your will be done on the end of our prayers much more as a formality than as a reality, where we really do mean, I'm willing to do your will. There is a presumption in us, a temptation to assume that God somehow owes us.

I suppose for the rest of my living days I will remember standing in front of the mirror grieving the death of my father and wondering what God would do with someone who didn't respond to him until his deathbed. And thinking, you know, if my father ever had a chance to go to heaven it would purely be by the absolute total act of grace because he did absolutely NOTHING in his life that would have given God any reason to look with favor on him and having staring back at me this very clear understanding if I get to heaven. . . . . PREACHER. . . . . .then I will get there the same way. By an absolute act of God's grace. He doesn't owe me anything for being a preacher. He doesn't owe you anything for being here this morning.

The temptation to presume on God that somehow we can just live our life and He somehow owes it to us to bless us. Character says I am constantly reminded that I am in this by grace and I owe Him everything. He owes me nothing!

And Jesus would say one more time. It is written. . . . DON'T TEST GOD!

Matthew has a third temptation. That third temptation is to show Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and to say, Bow down to me and I'll just give 'em to ya. In other words, skip the cross. Don't go there. You don't need to go through the trouble. See, it seems to me that there is a development of character that happens when we accept our responsibility and we refuse to bypass the pain. But I don't think this is the only time that temptation occurred to Jesus. Remember a few chapters later He asked this question, "Who do people think that I am?" Oh, you're one of these people. Who do you say I am? You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I'm going to go to Jerusalem and die and Peter says, No you're not. Skip it Jesus, you don't want to go there. They go up on the Mount of Transfiguration. Luke tells us that the Mount of Transfiguration passage, that what they are talking about is Jerusalem, going to the Cross and Peter says, let's build three tabernacles. Jesus, let's just stay on the mountain. Skip the Cross.

You come to the Garden of Gethsemane in the throws of His greatest agony. If this cup can pass from me, let it pass. Let me skip the Cross. I don't blame Him. I would want to skip it too. Boy! If there's an easier way to get there, I'm looking for the easy way, thank you very much.

Got a five minute exercise machine that will give me the abs of my life? Send it. Got a diet that doesn't require you to NOT EAT? That's the one I want. You got a short cut from here to there so that I can have what I want to have without having to pay for what I want to have? That's what I want. I'm just pretty typical when it comes to not wanting to go through the hard work of the discipline of becoming. I would rather just skip all the trouble and get right to it, wouldn't you? We're tempted aren't we to bypass the pain, to skip the difficulty, to not live the disciplined life and just hope that somehow five years from now that we're better as disciples than we were today? You know, without the trouble of trying to invest in Bible study or personal devotion or trying to spend time with people and allow them to hold me accountable. If I just hang around church on Sunday morning long enough, maybe I'll become the disciple that Jesus wants me to become without too much trouble.

One of the things we learn about watching Jesus is that there is only one way to be a disciple and that is to do things His way.

It's an interesting little phenomena that occurs. . . .I hope you'll notice. . . . . There are three temptations. And in the Gospels, when things come in threes, it's usually the third one that is supposed to really be the point of emphasis. In the Book of Luke these temptations are reversed. The Kingdom temptation is second and the Jerusalem temptation is third and I think it's because Luke has so much attention on the city of Jerusalem. But in Matthew's Gospel, Matthew highlights the temptation about kingdom issues third as if he really wants to call your attention into the fact that this is about who's going to be King. What's going to happen when it comes to really genuinely allowing Christ to set up the kingdom?

In fact, if you notice, at the beginning of Chapter 3 when John the Baptist comes on the scene, what he comes on the scene preaching is the kingdom of heaven is near.

And if you'll look down in your Bible to Chapter 4:17 you'll discover that the very next thing that happens to Jesus is that he begins to preach the kingdom of heaven. And in the midst of this temptation, Jesus responds, you shall worship Him only. Do you hear the kingly language here? He alone is worthy of your worship. Nobody else. He is the King.

If we're going to be successful as believers, if we're going to live the discipled life, it's going to come when we learn to have the character of Jesus, the integrity of Jesus, the consistency of Jesus, the intentionality of Jesus to succeed

It's an interesting reversal of stories that occurs in this particular text. You come to the end of Verse 11. Verses 12 through 17 immediately pick up on the kingdom theme and ends with Verse 17 saying, From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."

You walk into the next paragraph, Verses 18 through 22 and you have the call of the disciples where they now attain privileged status, not unlike the second temptation. You come to the end of Chapter 4 and you have Jesus healing the sick and responding to the human needs of people, not unlike the turning stones into bread. And the middle of that, coming to it and coming out of it are kingdom issues. Who is going to be King?

It so clearly seems to me that what we're facing is a character that enables us to begin to engage our world over who's going to be in control. And it's so abundantly clear that for us as believers, the issue is not who wins on Sunday morning, oh that's part of it, of course. But what happens when you walk out of this building and the very first thing that happens is that the tempter lurking around the corner calls for you. . . . .you gonna answer? Or are you going to stand and live with intention like a kingdom person and demonstrate to a world around us that it is possible to be faithful. You don't have to fail like Israel failed. You can, like Jesus, deny self-ratification and presumption. You don't have to succumb to every temptation that comes along. That with the disciplined life will come growth and change. You will become the disciple that you intend to become if you'll invest yourself in it and let Him work.

This isn't about church. This is about kingdom. It's about what not happens on

Sunday morning alone, but what happens out there as we engage the world and try to demonstrate what it means to live like disciples and demonstrate our faith. It literally means that I have learned to submit everything to Him. Every temptation that was faced was the same thing, wasn't it? It's written. It's written. It's written. I submit. I surrender. I'll do it your way and that isn't all. Do it His way!

Let's stand.