Disciples' Practices (4)
Matthew 4 and Various Passages
By Paul Robison

“At a middle school in Oregon, some girls were putting on lipstick and then pressing their lips to the mirrors, leaving dozens of lip prints. 

The principal called the girls to the bathroom and told them how the lip prints were causing a major problem for the custodian, who had to clean the mirrors every day.  To demonstrate how difficult it was, she asked the custodian to clean one of the mirrors.  He took out a long-handled brush, dipped it into the toilet, and scrubbed the mirror until one set of prints was off.  Then he followed the same procedure until all the lip prints were cleaned off.  Since then, there have been no lip prints on the mirrors!  And the moral of the story is: When tempted to sin, if we could only see the real filth we’d be kissing, we wouldn’t be attracted to it” (Kays in Larson/Elshof).

We are into a series on discipleship, and we've noticed that the central issue of being a disciple of Jesus involves this question: Will I willingly surrender – submit for a lifetime - every aspect of my life to the authority of Jesus and His teachings?   Have we thought that the church revolves around us and do we come Sunday to get some kind of a spiritual high, almost like a drug experience, so that this high will make us feel good, and excited, and enthusiastic?  You see, we want an ecstasy, but the problem is that it's based on a falsehood because it's all about the church conforming to my desires.  It's not about real worship and being disciples who conform our lives around the Master and His teachings. 

Isn't this what the apostle Peter taught?  1 Peter 2:21 says: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.”  1 Peter 4:1-2 affirms: “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.”  2 Peter 3:18 admonishes: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  We've been reflecting on a simple principle concerning discipleship: “To be a genuine disciple, we need to rearrange our lives around the practices of Jesus' life.”  Well, what all does that entail? 

We've already seen how Jesus can transform our minds when we listen as He listened, think as He thought, and believe as He believed.  We've discovered how He can transform our character when we live as He lived, pray as He prayed, and obey as He obeyed.  Last week, we saw how Jesus can transform our relationships when we care as Jesus cared, love as Jesus loved, and forgive as Jesus forgave.  Today we want to look at three more practices that we as disciples can imitate.

The first practice is this: pursue holiness as Jesus pursued holiness.  We see this idea brought out very clearly when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness in Matthew 4.  We see how Jesus pursued holiness and overcame the comforts, the crowds, and the compromises.  

If you would believe as Jesus believed, then you'll have to believe that people's arch-enemy is a real being known as Satan or the devil.  Ever notice how when God wants to mature someone, He often drives them to the wilderness?  Moses, Elijah, and Jesus' cousin, John, all had wilderness experiences.  The Holy Spirit now has Jesus face a wilderness experience. 

What all did Jesus do during His days there?  Did He move around much?  Did He confront any wild animals?  The text does not say, but it does tell us that He fasted for 40 days, and that would have made Jesus very weak.  Remember how God had told Jesus 40 days ago at His baptism how He was His beloved Son?  Satan challenges that idea and strikes at Jesus' physical weakness: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.”  “Jesus, prove Yourself as God's Son and use Your supernatural powers to have a bite to eat!”  Would Jesus use His own powers to serve Himself or would He continue to trust God to provide His needs?  “It is written: 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'”  Jesus was not deceived into using His supernatural powers to satisfy His own comforts.  Jesus was not thinking of Himself—His comforts, His needs, His agenda.  What about us?  Do we overcome the temptations to feed our own comforts and pleasures?  Can we live so unselfishly that we suppress our own cravings and lusts and keep God's spiritual truths our focus as well?  Let's pursue holiness as Jesus pursued holiness! 

“So, Jesus, do You really trust in God?”  “'If You are the Son of God, throw yourself down [from the highest point at the temple which rose about 450 feet].'  For it is written, 'He shall give His angels charge over you,' and 'In their hands, they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'”  “Oh, Jesus, let's just show the crowds at the temple how much you really do trust God!  Why He'll take care of You, and a lot of people will discover that You really are the Messiah!”  Jesus saw through this trick: God was under no obligation to provide spectacular rescues nor would the crowds' initial enthusiasm last long.  “It is written again, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'”  How often do we sin just to please our peers?  Jesus responds each time with God's Word; He is informed about what it says.  That's the Sword of the Spirit that we can use in our battles with Satan as well!  Informed, well-versed, grounded, call it what you will; it's knowing God's will well enough that you can recall it and foil Satan when he tempts you!  Let's pursue holiness as Jesus pursued holiness!

Satan makes one last attempt after showing Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory: “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship Me.”  “Jesus, let's be partners.  Just think, You can have great power, and You won't even have to suffer the cross to get it.  Just acknowledge my leadership, and we can be on our way!”  That compromise sure sounds inviting, doesn't it?  Don't you like, however, the decisive and aggressive way that Jesus responds: “Away with you, Satan!  For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.'”  “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

Jesus knew at His baptism that He was to be the Lamb of God and Suffering Servant that Isaiah had predicted; the Scriptures and God has determine His course, and He would not be moved.  Can you be as decisive and loyal when Satan offers compromises to you?  What filth are you kissing that you need to quit in your life?  Let's pursue holiness as Jesus pursued holiness!

Another practice is this: We must battle as Jesus battled!  We probably don't like to think about it, but we are engaged daily in spiritual warfare.

Our adversary is the same one that Jesus had—Satan, the devil, the evil one.  We need to recognize three battles that will come our way from our adversary.

We must recognize the battle against our family.  Did you notice when Jesus was born, there is a very nasty story in Matthew's Gospel?  Some wise men from the East show up in Jerusalem one day saying that they have seen a star of the King of the Jews and would like to know where they can find him in order to worship him.  This troubled King Herod the Great, and when he felt threatened, you'd better watch out.  The emperor Augustus once said that it was better to be Herod's pig than his son because you'd have more chances of staying alive.  Well, King Herod gets the chief priests and scribes to discover that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, and then he tells the wise men to let him know when they find this new king, so that he could worship Him too.  What was King Herod really going to do?  Right, he wanted to kill this new rival king. 

Now who put that notion of murder into Herod's heart?  It was Satan. 

Jesus tells us that it is Satan's nature to want to murder in John 8:44: “You are of your father the devil, and the desire of your father you want to do.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.”  You probably recall the rest of the story.  An angel warns Joseph to flee to Egypt, and Jesus' family does so in haste.  Just in time too because King Herod had ordered his soldiers to go to Bethlehem and kill all those male babies who were two years old and under!  Hear the cries of those innocent children, and feel the pain of those innocent parents!  This destruction is the handiwork of our enemy!  And if Satan will attack the family of Jesus Himself, what makes us think that our families are immune from his attacks?  Think about this a moment.  How many institutions on this earth are from God?  There are only two—the church and the family.  These are the two places that people feel the safest and most unguarded.  “Since the family [involves more people] than the church, Satan knows that attacking and destroying it gives him an edge in his battle against God. ... And when satanic forces [can] destroy a family, they [can also] destroy a hundred good other things that come from that family!  Attacking families opens the door for unfaithfulness, addictions, and loss of identity.  It can breed gangs, abuses, and cruelties.  It also diminishes respect for authority, self, and mankind in general” (Beam).  Beware, my beloved brethren, of the attack that Satan wants to bring upon your family and be ready to take action!  There was a Christian family whose daughter began to get involved with the wrong crowd at a public school in another state, so they took her out of that school, began to home-school her themselves, and did not allow her to be with that crowd anymore.  They saw Satan attacking their family, and they took action!  Let's recognize the battle that Satan will wage against our family, and let's battle as Jesus battled!

Next, let's recognize the battle that will come with our oppressors.  Did Jesus have any enemies and oppressors?  Yes, He did, and they pursued Him relentlessly, and tried on numerous occasions to ensnare and to trap Him through loaded questions.  After they saw that didn't work, then they resorted to force and to harassment until they finally got Him crucified! 

ow did Jesus battle His oppressors?  When it came to their verbal challenges, He didn't let Himself be swayed by their flattery, usually saw through their trickery, and always gave the perfect response.  The apostle Peter admonishes us in 1 Peter 3:15: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”  

Peter is helping us to see that if we want to have the correct response when our oppressors encounter us, then we'd better be doing some preparation of our hearts and minds long before that encounter takes place.  When Jesus' oppressors were ready to kill Him, Jesus did not oppose them because He knew that God had called for Him to face them as a silent lamb.  He offered no resistance at His arrest, He offered very few, if any, words during His trials, and the words He said on the cross itself were not blasphemous or vengeful.  Letting others mistreat us is not an easy thing to do, but loving our enemies in spite of their actions, is how Jesus Himself did battle at times.  The apostle Peter once again encourages us with these words: “For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. ... Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (1 Pt. 3:17 & 4:19).  Let's recognize the battle that we will have with our oppressors, and let's battle as Jesus battled, with preparation and determination to overcome evil with good! 

Let's recognize the battle against our God.  Notice something interesting when Jesus was praying in Gethsemane in Matthew 26.  In verse 39, He prays: “O My Father, if it is possible, let his cup pass from Me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”  Now drop down to verse 42 and notice how He changes His prayer just a bit: “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” 

Does it seem to you that by His change of words Jesus is realizing more and more while He prays that God's will really does include this tremendous cup of suffering that He must endure, and He cannot change God's will on this matter?  Jesus battles here through total submission. 

You know, there will be some Gethsemanes in our lives.  Those are the times when you hit that crossroads about a matter, and you pray earnestly for clarification.  Then you clearly see the fork that you must follow since it is God's will.  At this point, Satan steps in and often says, “Surely God wouldn't want to take that fork!  It would be so ridiculous for you to do that!”  Well, you don't know exactly where the road may lead and all the hardships it may entail, but you know it's the right thing to do, so you ignore Satan's attack on God, and you too totally submit to God and trust in Him to see you through.  Let's recognize the battles against our God, and let's battle as Jesus battled through total submission to God's will.

A third practice of Jesus was that He was watchful, and He warned us to be watchful as well.  Let's watch as Jesus watched!  That term “watch” comes from the military, and it reminds us of the soldier who is ever alert and on his guard.  Let's look quickly at four areas where we need to be on our guard. 

First of all, watch for Satan's attacks, and especially do this in regards to our culture.  Very often what our culture teaches us may go against what God desires for us.  Notice how this same idea was confronted by Jesus in Mark 8:27-33.  Jesus once asked the disciples who men thought He was. 

They gave some answers, and then Jesus pressed them for their response. 
Peter then gave the correct answer that He was the Messiah.  Then Jesus strictly warns them not to let this be known, and then he begins to tell His disciples that He must be rejected, killed, and rise from the dead. 

Peter takes the Lord aside and begins to rebuke Him for what He just said.  Why did Peter do this?  Because his culture had conditioned him to think that a slain Messiah was a contradiction in terms.  The Jewish Messiah was to be powerful and victorious; He was not to be rejected and killed!  Now notice what Jesus says when He rebukes Peter before the others in verse 33: “Get behind Me, Satan.  [You see, Jesus hears Satan attacking once again through Peter's words: “God's will is not for you to die!  How foolish to think that way!”]  For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”  Peter was letting his culture dictate his outlook instead of letting God influence his outlook!  Peter is certainly not the first or the last person that follows what their culture pushes, rather than following what God desires.  Are there some situations that our American culture is approving that God would not desire?  Isn't it very easy for us to be mindful of the things the media preaches, and not of the things of God?  “Be sober, be vigilant [or watchful]; because your adversary the devil walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  Watch for Satan's attacks, and especially do this in regards to our culture.  Watch as Jesus watched! 

Next, watch for false prophets' heresies.  Jesus Himself warns in Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”  The apostle Paul also told the elders of the church at Ephesus in Acts 20:30-31: “Also from among yourselves, men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.  Therefore watch, and remember for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.”  

False teachers and their heresies are still being promoted today.  One brother recently wrote this strong appeal: “
As the church struggles to preserve her Christ-ordained faith, worship and practices in the face of relentless pressure imposed by the promoters of change, she needs the help of every disciple. ... In time of war, every loyal citizen of the nation will pitch in and do his or her part to help save the nation from her enemies.  In the church, it should be no different” (Waddey).  Watch for false teachers and their heresies, and continue to hold me accountable for my preaching as well!  Our goal is not to tickle people's ears and make everybody feel good; our goal is get to heaven and persuade others to go with us by obeying the truth and by living in submission to Christ's teachings!  Watch as Jesus watched!

Watch also for our own moral weaknesses.  Jesus told His own disciples in Matthew 26:41: “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  Be on guard and be prayerful about falling into temptation for our flesh is so very, very weak. 

“The ways of evil cut so deep,” as our young people sang recently.

We need to be watching collectively too.  Note what is stressed in Hebrews 12:14-17: “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully [that's being watchful, being on guard, for what?] lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest anyone root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.”  All of us in the congregation are to be helping each other as we watch for those members who begin to lose interest, and as we watch for things which might create bitterness, and as we watch for those members who begin to take on worldly behaviors once again.  We need to be watching out for one another and for our own moral weaknesses.  Watch as Jesus' watched!  

Next, watch for God's victory.  Jesus tells us that only God knows when the final victory will come (Matthew 24:36).  So we need to be on our guard always.  The apostle Paul gives us this admonition in 1 Thessalonians 5:4-9: “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day [the final day] should overtake you as a thief.  You are all sons of light and sons of the day.  We are not of the night nor of darkness.  Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.  For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.  But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, as a helmet the hope of salvation.  For God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Let's watch, be sober, and clothe ourselves with faith, hope, and love, so we'll be ready for God's victory day!  Watch as Jesus watched!

“Raynald III, a fourteenth-century duke in what is now Belgium, was grossly overweight.  Raynald’s younger brother Edward revolted against Raynald’s rule.  Edward captured Raynald but did not kill him.  Instead, he built a room in the Nieuwkerk castle and promised Raynard he could regain his title and property when he left the room.  This would not have been difficult for most people, since the room had several windows and a door of near-normal size, none of which were locked or barred. The problem was Raynald’s size; to regain his freedom, he needed to lose weight.   Edward knew his older brother well, and each day he sent a variety of delicious foods into the room.  Instead of dieting his way out of prison, Raynald grew fatter.  Raynald stayed in his room for ten years and wasn’t released until after Edward died in battle.  By then, however, his health was so ruined that he died within a year — a prisoner to his own appetite” (Crostain in Larson/Elshof).  Becoming a disciples of Jesus should transform your mind, your character, and your relationships.  Why not let Jesus transform your morality too?  Why not pursue holiness as Jesus pursued holiness, battle as Jesus battled, and watch as Jesus watched!  Don't let Satan keep you kissing his filth!  Don't let Satan keep you imprisoned in his castle!  Jesus knows your struggles, your battles, and your weaknesses; He's lived in this world too!  Let Him give you the strength and help that you need to overcome Satan and the cares of this world!  Aren't your ready to start being His disciple by dying to yourself in a watery grave?  Aren't your ready to start being a genuine disciple by rearranging your life around His life?