"You Twelve Guys are Fired!"
In the introduction to his book, There I Go Again: How to Keep From Falling For the Same Old Sin, author Steven Mosley describes a flag football game that takes place at the local Adventist academy. Now, this was strictly an intramural event. No one was going to go to the Super Bowl over this game; standings were unimportant. Players didn’t have million-dollar contracts; about all that was at stake was bragging rights to your pretty girlfriend over a pizza later. So we’re talking about a friendly, low-key time of fun and spiritual fellowship, of course . . . until some dispute erupts over the officiating.
As Steven tells the story, the confrontation rapidly grows to the point of a shouting match. Grownup men, mature Christians, faculty members are screaming at each other and at the referee. Before the fracas comes to an end, the warfare includes obscene language and all the rest. Ouch.
Have you ever played in a “friendly” game of basketball? Oh, it’s just good clean fun . . . but then right under the basket someone pushes you out of the way with a little bit of an edge to their maneuver. And they score on you. In fact, they kind of bump you out of their path and score three or four times in a row.
And for a while it’s all right, but you have your own tiny bit of pride. You don’t want to simply be the launching pad to the hoop for this guy. So maybe you've had that kind of slow boiling feeling begin to rise up inside you, and something finally says, "Hey, enough is enough! Next time they try to box me out they're going to find the Rock of Gibraltar in their way. So help me!” And with a little bit of edge to your own body English, boy, you shove them right back. Before you know it, nuclear weapons and four-letter words are involved.
So this is our continuing sermon question. What does it mean when born-again Christians sin? Last Sabbath we talked about a pastor who struggled helplessly with a sexual temptation. A man of the cloth, a man who truly did love God—still struggled with a known sin, a deliberate sin, a cherished sin.
We also considered the twelve disciples of Jesus who spent three years trying to grab the top chair in the kingdom, the top spot in Christ's flow chart. Now, they did love Jesus; they were devoted to Him. They “left all to follow Him.” They sacrificed for His cause; they nodded and said “amen” when He made good points during the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus empowered them to heal the sick and raise the dead and they certainly enjoyed doing that. Giving television interviews —or whatever the Jerusalem equivalent was in 28 A.D.—was a lot of fun. So they did love Jesus, but they also loved self; they were proud men. They indulged frequently in their sin of pride. Anytime Jesus was out of the room, they'd start it up again. "Hey, it's my turn to sit by the window."
Let’s think about this. Here were Christians committing the sin of pride . . . and they'd been committing that same sin for three years. You know, I find something very compelling in C. S. Lewis' classic book, Mere Christianity, and a chapter called "The Great Sin.” Listen to this: “The essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”
And we've all got it, Lewis observes. This temptation infects every single one of us; it’s hard-wired into the software of our souls. On the very same page, he adds this: "It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise."
How many of us have watched as someone else went forward to get the award for getting the highest grade in a science class? Watched someone else date the pretty girl we hungered for? Saw as some other pastor got that huge megachurch and began to broadcast his sermons on local television?
Later in the chapter C. S. Lewis adds this chilling thought: “Pride always means enmity—it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.”
And you see, this was what the disciples of Jesus were involved in. After three years of walking the Christian walk, they still were prideful, selfish men. A love for Christ and a love for self were trying to painfully co-exist in those twelve mix-up human hearts. Jesus had soberly told them that no man could serve two masters, but these frustrated disciples were determined to try!
Let me ask you a question. Is it God's plan that, as Christians, we should just keep on and keep on and keep on sinning? After accepting God's plan of salvation in our lives and surrendering ourselves to Him, does the question of continuing sin just get pushed off the table? "No man can serve two masters," Jesus said—but is it all right if we try to serve both masters?
The answer to that question is one of the pillars that make up the Christian faith. The Bible's emphatic answer is that it is NOT God's plan for us to continue living in sin!
In the book of John chapter eight we find a wonderful Bible story where religious leaders bring to Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery. "Shall we stone her?" they ask Him.
Maybe you remember Jesus' classic answer: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (v. 7).
And when He bends down and begins writing in the dust a very specific list of all their sins, the crowd of men very quickly decide that maybe there's something kind of crucial happening in another part of the town. As in: “I think I hear my mom calling me. ‘Bye.” Pretty soon it's just Jesus and this lonely woman. "Where are your accusers?" He asks. "Is there anyone left to condemn you?"
"No," she says.
Now listen to this: “Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus says kindly. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (v. 11). Here are the five ringing words of challenge in the King James Version: “Go, and sin no more.”
We all know that God didn't send His Son into the world to condemn the world. That's John 3:17. But now, along with the good news of “no condemnation” we do find this: "Go and sin no more."
When Jesus healed a man at the Pool of Bethesda, back just three chapters in John 5, He then said to him: "Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee."
Here’s a ringing challenge to all of God’s Christian saints, found in I John 2:1: "My dear children, I write this to you so that you WILL NOT SIN."
Or how about Romans 6:1: "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!”
So God's plan for us is that we gain victories over sin. Jesus' plan for those twelve disciples was that they should be transformed into humble servants who would yield the top spot to their brother, who would let someone else go first. His plan was to have twelve men who would clamor to wash each other's feet, fight to get to the front of the line of service, eagerly seek a position of loving, lifting, carrying, curing, forgiving.
But after three years, it hadn't happened. These men were still sinning. They were still a mess. Their egos were growing instead of shrinking. Every time Jesus did something amazing, they wanted to cash in on it.
Let me ask you this: what would you have done if you were Jesus? What if all twelve of your chosen students were flunking Humility 101?
In Morris Venden's clever book, To Know God: A Five-Day Plan, he tries to imagine how he would have responded.
“As this point,” Venden writes, “it might have been easy for Jesus to say, ‘Get out of My sight, you miserable twelve. Give Me another twelve; I'm starting over.’”
We could understand if Jesus had said that. “What's the matter with you men? You’re supposed to stop sinning when you become Christians! After three years, you’re as selfish as ever! You're not living according to My plan. Do you call this sanctification?”
I’m sobered to think about how often we do that? We ignore the beams in our own eyes, and take other people who are struggling with something and we cast them to the curb. We kick them out of our schools. We shun them here in church. God help us.
Instead, what does Jesus do? In Mark chapter nine, He quietly gathers the men around and also calls a small child into the center of the group, and then patiently explains to them: "You need to be like this little boy here. If you want to be first, you need to be willing to be the last. You need to be willing to be a servant. You need to be willing to wash someone else's feet. You need to share your toys and let someone else have the biggest piece of cake."
Then Venden adds this wonderful summary of how Jesus treated sinners. Deliberately sinning sinners. Pride-filled, sinning-on-purpose sinners. Sin-cherishing sinners. No-progress-for-three-years sinners. Listen: "Jesus was kind to His disciples. He was patient with them. He didn't condemn them. He gave them His lessons, and when they didn't learn, He continued teaching. And above all He continued walking with them. He continued fellowshiping with them. He continued eating with them, traveling with them, working with them, trusting them with His work and His mission."
Those twelve disciples loved Jesus and they loved pride at the same time. And for a time there were two masters in their lives. The men were trying to serve both . . . which, in the long run, is an impossibility, as the Bible clearly states. But while that struggle of co-existence was continuing, Jesus stayed with them. He didn't fire them and hire twelve replacement disciples. He didn't banish them to outer darkness and tell them to commence gnashing their teeth. No, He stayed right with them—because He knew that was their only chance. Their only hope of getting past this struggle for co-existing masters was going to be if He stayed with them. He kept loving them. He continued to accept them and stay in relationship with them. That was their only chance while this process continued.
Think about it. If we are trying to love two masters at the same time, our only hope of having our “love for Jesus” side of the equation triumph is for Jesus to stay with us . . . and also for us to continue to feed the friendship with Christ, continue to cooperate with that process doing the things that only we can do.
We mentioned something last Sabbath about the fact that it's hard to sin in the presence of Jesus. Have you ever thought about that? That's why the twelve disciples, on that walk to Capernaum, kind of shuffled along and walked real slow until Jesus was a ways ahead of them down the road. Then they started up the carousel of pride again: "Listen, you guys—bang, bang, pound on the desk—I’M going to be top dog around here, and that's all there is to it. All the rest of you are in an eleven-way tie for second place.” "Says who?” "Says me.” "Oh yeah?” "Yeah!” Et cetera et cetera. But they couldn't talk that way unless Jesus was around the next corner. It was difficult to sin when He was with them. His beautiful humility was a constant rebuke to their grasping natures.
You know, that's why it's such beautiful news recorded in the Bible that Jesus Christ stayed with those 12 men even during this long, slow, no-growth period of time. That was their only chance! Let me share just one more paragraph from Pastor Venden's book: To Know God: A Five-Day Plan: "It is the acceptance of Jesus and the love of Jesus and the relationship with Jesus that bring with them the power to sin no more.”
Do you remember those words of Jesus? “Go and sin no more”? Venden concludes: "It is the presence of Jesus that makes it hard to sin. That's why it is absolutely a necessity for any sinning sinner to be able to count on the presence, the continuing presence, of Jesus."
That's good, isn't it? But are we any farther along than we were last weekend? Is this the plan then? Walk with Jesus and sin . . . and walk with Jesus and sin . . . and walk with Jesus and sin some more? Does the command of Christ—"Go and sin no more"—have any real meaning? And what finally happened to the twelve disciples?
Our time of study for today is concluded—but I’m excited about next Sabbath. Please be here! Because the best part of the story is coming right up. Shall we pray?
Lord Jesus, thank You for loving us despite our frailties? We do love You, Jesus, and You already know our hearts and know that we feel drawn to our cherished sins at the same time. Thank You for staying with us during the slow, growing process. Thank You for never giving up on us. Thank You for Your humility and Your winsome patience. We want to love You more and love our selves less. We want to love Your kingdom more and our foolish little sins not at all. And we love You for faithfully taking us by the hand and leading us into Your ideal of holiness. Amen.
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