Seriously, God? Week 2: When God says No
Week Two: When God says No.
First Sunday of Lent
6 March 2022
We are in the second week of our Lenten message series called Seriously, God?: Making Sense When Life Doesn’t Make Sense. It is a series that makes complete sense for the time we are in.
Last week we introduced three principles to keep in mind through the series.
One, it makes sense that God doesn’t make sense. Two, when God does not make sense, we can grow in our understanding because God has revealed himself to us through the Scriptures and the person of Jesus Christ. Three, be careful not to confuse God not making sense with life not making sense.
Today, we will look at when God says “No” to things that seem like good things. For those of you who are back to church for the first time in a long time, you may have stayed away from church because it seemed like “No” was all God ever said. All you heard was you are not allowed to do this and don’t do that, and no, you can’t have that because God said so. If it was fun or a good time, then that meant God was against it. And maybe you wouldn’t say it this way, but you came to think of God as this big cosmic cop in the sky who wanted to make sure you didn’t enjoy life. And so the first chance you had,
you got as far away from church and God as you could.
Or maybe for you never came to church at all because you saw God and church as an obstacle to your freedom. The Christians you knew seemed to be defined by avoiding certain sins and living by a particular code of conduct, but their life didn’t look all that appealing. In fact, you could tell they kind of resented the fact that they had to abide by all these rules, and you got to do whatever you wanted.
And so you thought: “Why would I want to subject myself to that?”
No doubt about it; there are some No’s in scripture. There are things that we are told are off- limits that the world says are okay or even necessary. However, the No’s generally fall into one of three categories.
We see this played out in the Gospel of Luke when Jesus is tested in the desert. Jesus reveals why God will tell us “No” by saying no to the temptations of the devil. He shows us the values of God’s heart behind the No’s and what God wants for us.
Before Jesus’ temptation, he had been baptized in the Jordan River. The Holy Spirit came upon him, and then filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus goes out into the desert to be tempted.
You may not believe in the devil, a being, a personality bent on causing evil in the world. Personally, I think there is too much evil in the world to not believe in a being who intentionally wants to bring pain and suffering. And to quote the great theological movie The Usual Suspects, “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince us he didn’t exist.”
So the devil tempts Jesus.
Temptation does not always mean you are outside of God’s will. Often temptation comes to us when we are doing what God wants us to do because there is an Enemy, someone who opposes God and us.
The first temptation Jesus faces is to meet a legitimate need in a legitimate way. Jesus chose to make himself needy by becoming a human being. He chose to face the same temptations of the flesh we face.
We have needs because we are creatures. We need food, shelter, clothing, companionship, and on and on.
So the temptation for us will be to meet those needs in a way that makes our needs the highest priority in life. And when we do, we ultimately enslave ourselves to those needs. They begin to take over our lives. You have seen people whose needs drive everything about their lives. They could not say “No” to something, and it enslaved them. They became addicted to alcohol, or unhealthy food, or prescription drugs. You may know someone who became addicted to pornography.
Jesus teaches us to say “No” to some of our physical needs because we can start to meet them in unhealthy ways.
Jesus gives us a further reason God will sometimes say “No” to our physical needs. We do not live by bread alone. Jesus quotes the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament, which says we do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Beyond our physical needs,
we need to be nourished on God’s word and by a relationship with God. God tells us to say “No” to our physical needs because we can meet our more profound spiritual desire for a relationship with him. When we put our need for God first, our bodily wants can be met in a healthy way. Putting our physical needs first is putting our real needs in the wrong order.
The second temptation is devil worship. I’ve always found it interesting that this is one of the three major temptations Jesus faces since I have never found devil worship attractive at all. My guess is that if you had to list your top twenty temptations, devil worship would not make your list either.
What if we, instead, thought about this temptation as a compromise with evil? Notice what the devil says, “All power and glory has been handed over to me. And I may give it to whomever I wish.”
Power and authority were given to humanity, who then handed it over when they ate the forbidden fruit.
As a result, evil still has some authority over this world. The temptation of sin is to bow down just for a second, just for a moment to its power. Compromise with evil just this once, and then you can go back to normal. Compromise with evil, and then you can have the promotion. Look away from what you value just this once. Compromise your integrity just this once. Just tell this one lie, and then you can go back to telling the truth. Fudge this number, and then no one will know. Cover this up, and everything will be okay.
This is a lie we buy. The truth is that once we surrender to evil, it sinks its teeth into us. It calls us to bow down again and again. We live enslaved to it. The one-time compromise becomes a habitual way of acting. And the deeper they get, the more enslaved they become and are not free to act with integrity, honesty, and truth.
Jesus shows us a different—and what feels like a harder— way at first but is much simpler and easier in the long run. He does not allow evil in at all; he makes no compromise with it.
At this point in the Gospel, the devil takes Jesus on top of the temple telling Jesus that if he jumps, angels will catch him. Just as I have never had the temptation to worship the devil, I have never had the temptation to throw myself off a building. So is this a temptation to suicide? No. The temptation is to win popularity at the expense of your values.
Jesus had come to win humanity back to a relationship with God the Father. His goal was to get people to follow him so that they would come to know the Father. Would he lead people and win hearts
or use methods that would make him popular but really wouldn’t change lives?
In our nature, we all like to be liked. We want to be popular; we want people to think well of us. But if we are not careful, we can become enslaved to it. Rather than being true to who God has created us to be, we perform our way into being liked. Eventually, this enslaves us. It is exhausting having to do tricks and perform our way into people’s approval. People who are truly free and admired are comfortable in their own skin. They are comfortable with not everyone liking them and do not need to go to great lengths to please people. This is Jesus. He teaches us to say “No” to the need for popularity.
God tells us no because he wants us to live in freedom. He wants us to live in freedom as his sons and daughters and not bound to our desires, the devil, or demanding people who don’t care about us.
This week I would like for you to identify which of those three temptations is most prominent for you.
Pray for the grace to say no to them and yes to the freedom of God. Continue to read through Seriously, God? This week, read Chapter One: Seriously No. And then make sure you discuss it in your small group this week.
God teaches us to say “No” to those things because they will enslave us. Saying “No” to sin allows us to live in freedom. Denying temptation enables us to live from a position of strength. God gives us No’s so that we can be free to love him and love others.