Grace and Peace - Part 9
Series: My Preaching Bucket List
July 23, 2017
Have you ever experienced the expectations versus reality let down? It happens all the time. See if any of these things look familiar…
I’m afraid we Christians get this expectations versus reality thing wrong as well.
We expect that, once we follow Christ, once we actually become God’s child, it’s easy sailing. Our marital problems will end. Our financial problems will end. Our health problems will end. And if we still experience these things after getting saved, we aren’t doing something right. There’s even a whole brand of Christianity based on this expectation.
The reality is Christians face the same hardships as everyone else. We are not exempt. In some ways it may even be worse for us (I’ll explain in a minute).
I think this is why many get disillusioned with the faith. They come into it expecting all conflicts to end, and, when reality doesn’t match up, they either question their faith or question the God they put their faith in.
But if you think about it, if you put together all the pieces of the puzzle the Bible gives us, there is no let down. The Bible is pretty clear on expectations. Jesus is pretty clear in a familiar verse…
John 16:33 (ESV) — 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
Why do we face tribulation? Why don’t things turn to roses and candy canes for the Christian once they believe?
To understand we must review what we’ve learned in this series: we come into this world enemies of God because of sin. We are at war with him even if we aren’t aware of it, because God in his holiness and perfection cannot tolerate sin and rebellion.
Have you ever heard the saying, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”? Who ultimately is the enemy of God? The devil of course. He’s the one who tempted Adam and Eve in the garden. He’s the one who is called the “adversary.”
If we at war with God and the devil is at war with God, then we are both his enemies, and that makes us and the devil friends.. The devil has no beef with those who don’t follow God, folks. He’s going to leave you alone.
If all this is true (and I believe it is), then before we follow Christ our main enemy is… Jesus, the holy, sinless Son of God. But unbelievably, our enemy bankrupted heaven to make us friends.
Romans 5:7–8 (ESV) — 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
John 15:15 (ESV) — 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
When we come to Christ, when we receive by faith what he did for us in living the life we should have lived and dying the death we should have died, we are no longer enemies with God, but now we are at war with - you guessed it - the very one we were good with before. The devil.
We now enjoy peace with God but suffer a war with the devil (that is a way better situation, though!).
That’s why Jesus said he gives us peace but also said in this world we’ll have tribulation. For now, the devil is the god of this world. He has his run of it. And if there’s anybody he wants to take down, it’s the sons and daughters of God almighty (nothing has changed since the garden).
Contrary to the brand of Christianity, or better to say heresy, which teaches becoming Christian is like winning the lottery, all of Scripture prepares us for the reality of living at odds in a world set on our destruction.
Paul especially didn't beat around the bush. He framed the Christian life in terms of warfare…
2 Timothy 2:3 (ESV) — 3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 6:11 (ESV) — 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
Paul saw Christians as soldiers engaged in war because he lived it.
Acts 14:19–22 (ESV) — 19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.
And we are reminded again of what Jesus said in John 16:33 about us having tribulation in this world.
Can we all agree this morning that the Bible is real and raw and relevant and not some pie in the sky by and by fluff?
Another truth we’ve learned is Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and he gives his peace to us when we come to him by faith. He reconciled us to God; he put an end to the war!
The problem is - the cold hard reality is - we then become enemy number one of the world, the flesh, and the devil. We used to be friends but not anymore.
What area do you think the world, the flesh, and the devil will attack us in more than any other? Our peace.
Tim Keller, in a message on “Peace” said…
“The minute you make peace with God (which … is the heart of all other peace), instantly, all of God’s enemies declare war on you, and they’re not nice enemies. Before you became a Christian, your main enemy in life was a good guy, someone who loved you, someone who cared about you, someone who was doing everything he could to wake you up. Now when you become a Christian, all your enemies are bad guys, and the three enemies are the world, the flesh, and the Devil. If you don’t have proper expectations, you are going to get mauled… [He] can’t destroy your salvation, so the only thing [he] can do is make you totally ineffective and miserable by destroying your peace and joy. That’s what [he’s] out to do.”
The peace that Jesus gives does not depend upon circumstances (that's the peace the world gives).
The devil works to destroy a Christian’s peace by getting him or her to look away from Christ and focus on circumstances.
In other words, one big weapon in that old serpent’s arsenal is worry or anxiety. The opposite of peace is anxiety. We live in an age of anxiety, but even in the apostle Paul’s day there was plenty to worry about: persecution, famine, disease.
He wrote to the Christians at Philippi about peace, at the close of his letter…
Philippians 4:4–9 (ESV) — 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
The world, the flesh, and the devil work together to steal our peace, and the way we fight back has to do with our hearts our heads. Paul calls us to…
Focus our hearts on God through prayer.
Now this sounds simplistic and something a super-spiritual person would would say. And we all know super-spiritual people are annoying.
But it is actually very practical. Think back to Jesus and the unique walk he had with his Father. And how his life exemplified peace. What was the ultimate way he cultivated that walk, that unreal peace? Prayer.
Read the gospels and you’ll find Jesus praying all the time. Sometimes he’d sneak away and pray all night long. If Jesus found it necessary to pray, how much more should we? Not as a discipline but a delight.
Look at what happens when we take our worries and anxieties to God in prayer…
Philippians 4:7 (ESV) — 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
That word “guard” in the Greek is a military term. It implies that God’s peace comes in and stands on duty.
The second way we fight back is with our heads. Paul calls us to…
Fix our minds on the things of God
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
What is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise? The GOSPEL. In a way, Paul is saying the way to cultivate peace is to preach the gospel to ourselves every day. Think about it. Meditate on it.
And what is the gospel? I think JD Greear summed it up well in a prayer he included in his book called Gospel.
“In Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less.”
“Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy.”
“As You have been to me, so I will be to others.”
“As I pray, I’ll measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection.”
Conclusion: As I close, some of you may be disheartened because you think I’m saying, Paul is saying, if you’re a Christian and you pray diligently enough and focus your mind hard enough, you’ll never get depressed or worried. You think I’m basically preaching what you’ve seen on church signs: “We’re too blessed to be depressed.”
I assure you I am not. I hate that saying.
I’m going to be honest with you. Living this out isn’t easy. When circumstances get out of control I don’t naturally drop to my knees. I tend to worry. Pray? Whose got time to pray? We have a situation here!
Finally, out of desperation I’ll break down and pray. And almost invariably, when I do, my heart settles down. The circumstances don’t always change, but I do.
I’m going to be even more honest and admit there are times when things get so bad, I pray but can’t find peace. I’m just too wounded or weak or afraid. You know what? That’s OK.
Romans 8:26–27 (ESV) — 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Aren’t you glad we have a God like that?
What I love about the gospel, the Bible, is that it connects with reality. It knows that we are weak, that we fall short.
Tim Keller closes us…
“The world, the flesh, and the Devil are after you, but everything is fine if you have the right expectations. Don’t be upset that you’re upset. Don’t be down that you’re down. Jesus was constantly a Man of Sorrows and weeping, and all the great Christians were constantly wrestling with these sorts of things.
Frankly, you’re going to get back into your joy, and you’re going to get back into your peace faster if you’re not so bummed out about the fact you don’t have it right now. For every one look at your sin, take five looks at your Savior. The noble, the pure. Think of these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
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