It was six weeks ago we looked at the ministry of John the Baptist using a portion of this passage, “Today we return to the scene for a different purpose.” Rather than centering in John’s activity we’ll see the fundamental, the essential practices of Jesus as he began His public ministry. Essential habits of any valued discipline are never more important than when we’re involved in a challenge. Whether it’s a sporting event, driving your car in hazardous conditions, or navigating a pandemic.
- At Asbury we have annual fire safety training.
The session never changes, the information is always the same. But if a fire ever breaks out in a senior community, with a full nursing center, It’s essential that all the staff members know what to do. It’s good for the church to be regularly reminded of the essentials for an effective Christian life. Especially during trying times. And no one can teach them to us like our Lord. Today’s passage includes four.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; 11 and a voice came out of the heavens: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” 12 Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. 13 And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him. 14 Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Essential #1: Have God’s Approval (9-11)
The first essential of an effective Christian life is to have God’s approval.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; 11 and a voice came out of the heavens: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”
Jesus moved, taught, and acted with the Father’s approval. He did it perfectly. Though not perfect, we’re tasked with striving for His approval.
2 Timothy 2:15, Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
James 1:12, Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
For our activities, attitudes, or ambitions to be approved by God. We need to know what He expects of us. What He approves. What God deems acceptable. The best way to know what God approves is by relating to someone who lives accordingly. It’s what Jesus modeled through His relationships with the disciples. They learned what He approved by watching and listening to Jesus.
New Christians connecting with mature believers is the most effective way to understand what God approves. Because those practices get explained and exemplified; they get lived out. If you consider yourself a mature believer, you ought to seek out someone young-in-the-Lord and pour your biblical knowledge and behaviors into them. This is what I’ve been doing for the past 11 months through the Saturday morning recovery gathering.
It’s not that hard to do. We’re a small church, we know who’s new-in-the-Lord. Commit to an hour a week. You don’t need a formal class, two believers and a Bible can make a sizable impact. Living an effective Christian life was not designed or expected to be done in a spiritual silo. Recognizing and embracing this community dynamic has never been harder when it’s so easy to live apart from one another.
We’ve all heard about the educational deficits caused by the pandemic guidelines. I’m concerned about the discipling deficits in our Christian community. We must be vigilant in finding ways to connect with one another. Mature believers and new converts and those who are seeking, helping the next generation to live approved by God. Because the lingering effects of diminishing discipleship (one-on-one) will be problematic in the church for decades.
Essential #2: Follow the Holy Spirit’s Leading (12)
Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness.
There’s been a controversy in the Catholic church for years about the line of the Lord’s Prayer that reads…and lead us not into temptation. It made enough people uncomfortable to come up with an alternate version. Do not let us fall into temptation. The problem with the change is the Bible teaches that the Spirit lead Jesus into the desert to be tempted. He aggressively led Jesus into the wilderness. The verb in verse 12, impelled is ekballō (to throw out…with strong compulsion).
The Holy Spirit is now in control of Jesus. He controls Jesus’ life in fulfillment of God’s plan; literally throwing Him out into the wilderness. And Jesus doesn’t resist, He doesn’t rebel. He’s in absolute compliance with the Spirit’s leading, even when the Lord is led to face His greatest challenge to this point. An effective Christian life isn’t always easy or comfortable. It is always Spirit-led and God honoring.
The great material blessings of our nation have convinced many church members the surest sign of the Spirit’s leading is an absence of problems. The easier we have it and the more comfortable we are, assurance of the Spirit’s leading increases. But, this just isn’t the biblical witness. The Spirit will put us in situations that test us, to prove our faith.
James 1:2-3, reads, Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Like Jesus being led into the wilderness to withstand thirst, hunger, and satanic attacks, we’re to be willing to follow the Spirit wherever He takes us. The season of Lent; 40 days before Resurrection Sunday is a time to reflect, pray, and repent. Acknowledge our unwillingness to follow the Holy Spirit in all His ways. Not just now, but whenever we grieve and quench Him.
[God’s Approval; Spirit’s Leading]
Essential #3: Overcome Temptation (13)
And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.
Why did the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan? Well, I think there’re a couple reasons. One was to prove Himself superior over Satan; to put the Devil on notice. I’ll say more about this in a moment. Hebrews chapter four gives us insight on a human level.
Hebrews 4:14-16, Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Jesus had never known temptation before His incarnation. He hadn’t experienced a nanosecond of weakness in heaven, or the slightest nudge of enticement toward self-gratification in eternity. He had never felt the predicament of the flesh; the undertow of disobedience to the Father that plagues us all. He had to fully participate in humanity for that. He had to feel the anguishing pangs of hunger.
Matthew specifically tells us Jesus endured a forty-day fast in the wilderness. He needed to know the maddening cravings of desperate thirst, and the aching sensations of total exhaustion. To be able to truly sympathize with our weaknesses. And because He did all of that…yet without sin, we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
When temptation has a stranglehold on our spirit. It is essential that Christians effectively resist temptations, in order to walk in the authority of biblical integrity. And honor our Lord. The One who empowers us for the walk through the wilderness of our temptations, has a name; Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:12-14, So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
You see, the same Spirit that impelled Jesus into the wilderness, led Him out. Once He’d proved Himself to be the Son of God to Satan. What was the instrument of our Lord’s effective resistance? The Word of God! Reading Matthew’s and Luke’s detailed descriptions of His wilderness encounters, Jesus’ Spirit-led offense against temptation was to quote Scripture.
He used it to buffet Satan’s invitations to eat, doubt His Father, and worship himself. By the way, Satan warped God’s word to tempt Jesus. The more we know and apply God’s word to our lives, the better equipped we are to fight temptations and live the effective Christian life. This is the chief weapon in the arsenal of effective Christianity. It is what mature believers are to teach new converts. His word is the instrument for gauging the Spirit’s leading.
Never trust your spiritual impulses without verifying them by God’s word. Because where He’s leading each of us is in conformity to the word. And conformity is what enables us to conquer, overcome temptations. Now is the time the church of God should be at its best. When so much of this world is at its worst. When believers are tempted to give up; to give in. The rewards of resisting temptations will always be far greater than the results of surrendering to them.
Lastly on this point, verse 13, ends with, “and the angels were ministering to Him.” The word translated ministering means to feed. After forty days without food the Lord was fed by the angels. They helped Him restore physically and spiritually. We can’t understand how spiritually drained Jesus must have been. The angel’s presence would have confirmed His Father’s approval.
[God’s Approval, The Spirit’s Leading, Overcoming Temptation]
Essential #4: Remain Kingdom-focused
Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
The older I get, the harder it can be to stay focused on something at a high level. Whether writing a sermon or reading for pleasure, the period of time to concentrate seems narrower than it did 20 years ago. Does this mean I don’t sermonize or read good books? Of course, not! It means I figure out how to do what’s necessary, what’s essential, as the circumstances of my life change.
As the circumstances of Jesus’ Kingdom-centered ministry changed; when they became more difficult. He didn’t stop, He didn’t lose focus. This is our challenge; individually and congregationally. The effective Christian life stays laser-focused on the Kingdom of God, embracing and expanding the Kingdom. Even if our situation deteriorates. There are countless interruptions to take our attention off our work as citizens of God’s Kingdom.
What we, the church, need to understand is that these disruptions aren’t divorced from the Kingdom of God. They’re part of His Kingdom. His Kingdom is everywhere; at all times.
Ephesians 4:6, reads, One God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
Jesus is sovereign King over the Kingdom of God now and always. But His Kingdom was, is, and will be under attack. Until our King returns to claim His earthly Empire with His final conquest. There are traitors among us. Powers, principalities, and people whose intentions are to interrupt and disrupt the Kingdom of God. Their strategy is stealth. They do their work against the Kingdom from within, by appearing as one of God’s own.
Sometimes they’re in the pew, others are behind pulpits. These conspirators are far too cleaver to reveal their true intentions. They are very good at what they do. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. It’s when authentic Christians realize the enemy’s tactics that they’re more able to stay their Kingdom course. But no one of us can be attentive to the cause all the time. As it was for Jesus in the wilderness, it’s exhausting. But when we work together, some vigilant, others resting, (like the wall-builders of Nehemiah) we can remain Kingdom-focused. We’re not defenseless in this.
James 5:16 reminds us that the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
Which is why the domestic terrorist in God’s Kingdom attack your prayer-life. Don’t think it’s a coincidence you’re often interrupted and disrupted when you pray. We must remain Kingdom-focused, together.
The title of this message is, “Essentials of an Effective Christian Life”. A scriptural word for effective is fruitful. Either one pictures productiveness and usefulness. The Bible is clear, the Lord expects His followers to be productive…useful Christians. It’s also clear about how to do that. Live with God’s approval by knowing His word and applying it. This is a relational endeavor.
Operate under the Holy Spirit’s leading…even if He leads you to a place of struggle. Overcome temptations. Stay focused on your Kingdom-mission knowing there is resistance within. Life is hard, that’s a promise of God. Christians can choose to live through the disappointments and difficulties for His glory, live effectively for Jesus, or be ineffective, because life is hard.
Happy fruitful Christians don’t become that because they have it easy. They are happy and fruitful because they decide to be so even when life gets hard. The idea of the painless Christian life is a lie. It is a target that can never be hit. The truth is we can live to honor our Lord, or honor the pain. Too many Christians are living in honor of their pain. They focus on it, or its source and not the Kingdom of God. They collapse to the temptation to make their hardship greater than their Savior. Their led by struggles rather than the Spirit. And they seek the approval of their weaknesses more than God’s approval.
Honor the Lord, not your suffering.