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The Word became flesh and dwelt among us….

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Barriers to Belief

Dealing With Our Wrong ‘Woes’. Isaiah 6:1-8

1 – The Death of the King v1a

One of the first sermons I can recall hearing was an aboriginal pastor from WA was speaking on Isaiah 6. He spoke of remembering the death of King George VI. I don’t recall the message from that point on, only that I thought he must be incredibly old. Old enough that maybe he could remember King Arthur or King David as well.

The death of King Uzziah is more than a chronological point for us. There is much to be said of the death of this particular king in the context of what Isaiah shares with us.

Uzziah came to the throne at 16 and reigned for 52 years. The majority of those years were prosperous, peaceful, and he was godly man. The best king Judah had, besides David. His reign ended in disgrace though, when he ‘grew proud, to his destruction’ ( 2 Chronicles 26:16). He went into the temple and attempted to burn incense, trying to do the duties of a priest. For this, God struck him with leprosy, and spent the remaining time of his life in shame and isolation.

2 – The Vision of the Eternal Sovereign v 1-4

The future was uncertain and Isaiah’s people seemed destined for judgement, and he could do little about it, you could imagine he felt a little overwhelmed. But here, in this context, God commissions him, giving Him a vision of Himself.

He sees The Lord sitting upon a throne. He sees the Eternal Sovereign King of Kings and Lord of Lords in His rightful place, and he is not only reminded that earthly kings will come and go but The Lord will remain forever, but he is also put in a position of awe and trembling in this glorious scene of beauty and majesty.

Here is a King Who not only is allowed in the Temple, He reigns from it.

Isaiah gives us a vivid description of his vision, but on closer examination, we notice we don’t get a full description of The Lord. We get more information about His robe, about the seraphs, about the temple. We are told about His position, His environment, His presence, but little about His appearance.

He sees The Lord and all he can talk about is His robe…

We know God is great, not because of descriptions about His physical features. He is great because He is great. He is great regardless of our comprehension. All we can grasp is the mere hem of His garment, and even this is enough to overwhelm. 

When you are so low in the presence of God that all you can see is glory, majesty, and beauty, you have reached the position you were made for.

“Lowliness is the perfect posture before God. That is the beginning of wisdom.” – Ed Welch

The cry of heaven from the seraphim is that God is “Holy, Holy, Holy and the whole earth is full of His glory”.

The “thrice holiness” of God indicates not only three in One union, but the eternal truth that this God of ours is beyond our description.

The supernatural superlative of a ‘holy, holy, holy’ God is not out of place. It should be the default response of every created being. It’s what we were made to declare, here on earth, as it is in Heaven.

If the whole earth is full of His glory, and being present in His glory compels us to proclaim His holiness, why do we so often only give such minimal attention to both?

We have God Who is high and lifted up. 

It’s about time we got in the right position ourselves. 

3 – The Position of Radical Self-Awareness v 5

In this world we cannot see God and live. This seems ironic then, that the great blessing is that, “God will lift His countenance upon you and give you peace”. ( Numbers 6:24-26).

We so often wish God would turn up so we could see Him. So we could tell Him, face to face what we need.

We say we want to see God, but if we knew the truth of what would happen when we did, I doubt we’d really want it.

Too often we rush into the throne room with our prayers of woe and what we perceive our greatest needs are, without stopping to consider Whom we are approaching. The moment we do so we may well realise our woes are not the woes they should be.

I am very acquainted with my ‘woes’. They are sometimes the first thing that greets me in the morning and a constant companion throughout the day.

‘Another day at work…woe is me’. ‘I wish the traffic was better…woe is me’. ‘If only my boss would honour my work efforts with a  bonus…woe is me.’ ‘If only my spouse would…If my kids could just…If my parents could only…woe is me.’

Far too often our sorrows are not over our sin, but over the loss of our comfort or over the lack of fulfilment of our felt needs.

Our woes and sorrows are very often out of order and out of place.

Isaiah’s woe is as perfectly in place as the seraphs cry.

In the presence of this overwhelming holiness and majesty, he is brought to a place of radical self-awareness. He has seen God, and know truly sees himself for the first time.

He is aware of his own sin before the sins of anyone else.

He is aware he is in need of cleansing. He is lost and broken. In the presence of the infallible, he knows his fallibility. Of the eternal, he knows his mortality.

Isaiah’s position is despairing. He sees no way out. He is unclean. Everyone around him is unclean, and he is not worthy of the presence of The Lord of hosts. It’s in his despairing, that The Lord reaches out to Him.

4 – The Touch of Cleansing v 6-7

Isaiah’s confession of guilt and failure before God does not bring him judgement. Neither does it bring condemnation.

God doesn’t disagree with him, but neither does He leave him in that position.

A new heart is necessary for Isaiah to do what God has planned for him, and God cleanses his heart from uncleanness by cleansing his lips.

Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks’, and God had a message for Isaiah to share that would only be effective if it came from a heart that had been transformed by His presence and intervention.

One of the seraphs brings a burning coal and touches Isaiah’s lips to atone for his sin.

The biggest barrier to our effectiveness or fruitfulness in what God has called us to is not our perceived inadequacies or our limited strengths, or our felt needs that we aren’t seeing being met. Our biggest barrier is our own sin. We need an atonement for our sin. We need a cleansing from it, we need our guilt taken away, and only God’s touch can do that.

It will cost us. It may well be painful. Putting things to death usually is for one of the parties involved.

God dealt with Isaiah’s filthy mouth, not to torture him. Not to extract payment, but to cauterise his wounds. To seal, to sanctify, to heal his flesh by marking him as His own.

“Apart from the fire of surrender and the surgery of the Divine, a clean heart will not be possible.” – Alistair Begg

When God touches our lives to remove our sin, it’s painful. It’s searching, it’s searing, but it cleanses so we can hear the voice of God.

5 – The Offering of a Living Sacrifice v 8

When we finally hear the voice of God in Isaiah’s encounter, it comes with a question, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”.

Isaiah saw and heard the Holy One of Israel and he could not keep silent.

Send me’, he says.

When we offer ourselves up as living sacrifices, saying, “Here am I! Send me”, we won’t know where God will send us or what we might be called to do, but we will know that HE has called us, HE has cleansed us, and HE is on the throne.

Where initially in God’s presence he is simply overwhelmed with his unworthiness, now, after God’s intervention, cleansing, sealing, he is overcome with his duty. He hadn’t been forced. He hadn’t been coerced. He had been cleansed and called, and now knows he’s fully equipped.

Have you seen God?

Have you had that moment of radical self-awareness in His presence where you have realised your predicament and called out to Him?

Have you felt the cleansing touch of being sealed by the Holy power of God?

Does the cry of heaven fill your heart to not only know God in His fulness, but know yourself truly and what He has called you to do? Does His glory and holiness echo in your mind and heart to the point where you would willing give your all to Him?

There is much we can learn from Isaiah.

We know we should never place our faith in earthly kings. Even the best ones will fail us. All will die. We have an eternal Sovereign Who will never compromise.

We also have a King, although He had all the glories of Heaven, didn’t consider it something to hold on to, and for our sake, He humbled Himself. He became an outsider, a leper by choice. Becoming sin and curse for us so we could be free.King Uzziah died in disgrace, and he stayed dead. His final testimony was one of failure. Our King died, but rose again, defeating death, to take His rightful place on the throne again.

We know that as we are, we are unworthy of His presence.

We know that because of Who He is, He welcomes us and shows us Himself, even if only a glimpse, in order for us to be saved and set apart.

We know we should always be more aware of our own sins before the sins of others. Our woe should only ever be over our own sin, and the sins of those around us that grieve a Holy God. Our woes should never be petty feelings of missing out or anxiety of not knowing what the future holds.

We know that guilt is removed only by God’s intervention.

We know we need to hear God’s voice and respond in obedience to what He asks of us.

Where is God seeking to touch your life with a cleansing touch? Where do you need a coal off the altar in your life?

Where will you being willing to go, when you have seen God?

‘Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go.’

“I Can’t Do This!” Dealing with our fear of failure…2 Peter 1:3-12

It could be an exam we feel underprepared for. A deadline in our work that we feel is impossible to meet. A quota we can’t reach. A case beyond our capabilities. An unruly child. A difficult spouse.

There are many times in life we simply feel overwhelmed by it all, and have no idea what the next will be.

“I can’t do it. I believe that God is real, I know Jesus lived, died and rose again, but I simply can’t live the life of a Christian. It’s too much. I don’t have the strength or power. I’m ineffective. I’m unfruitful. I’ll never progress, I’ll only regress, so there’s no point even starting.” 

If those words ring true, than Peter had people like us in mind when he wrote 2 Peter.

1- The Problem – the forgotten Gospel

When Peter says we’ve escaped the corruption that is in the world ( 1:4b)we say how? How can escape the corruption of the world when the corruption lies in me?

GK Chesterton famously answered the question, ‘What is wrong with the world?’, with the response, ‘I am’.

How can I claim the promises of God or partake in His divine power when I have some so much trouble saying no to sin and I can’t escape suffering? I can’t do it!

We are also prone to giving up when things get hard and follow our own way.

Our default way of doing things is either by way of legalism or by license.Both ways, we make our way along in life and in our attempts of godliness by trusting in our own works.

We tell ourselves this is how it has to be. We listen to false teaching that tells us we are who are meant to be and we can fix any of the problems we have by internal effort and some minor behavioural modification.

False teaching takes away what we need for life and godliness and Peter knew this. He sets out in this epistle to warn against the false teaching (2:1ff)  and to remind the believers of the truth they had first heard, what they had been delivered from and what they had been called to ( 1:10-12).

Therein lies our biggest problem of all.

Our biggest problem as believers seeking godliness and full life in Christ is not a lack of awareness of our sin, though we all have our blindspots, we know we need and have a Saviour, our problem is that we forget.

We are ‘eternity amnesiacs’. We know what was done for us in the past, we know what is coming in the future, but we simply forget to apply the Gospel to the here and now of our life and we trust in our own power and strength to get through.

If you’re God’s child, the Gospel isn’t an aspect of your life, it is your life; that is, it is the window through which you look at everything…when Jesus takes up residence in us, everything in life changes, nothing remains the same…if you don’t this, you celebrate your salvation, but for help with your marriage, parenting, relationships, sex, money, fear, addictions, decisions, and such, you don’t look at the Gospel. You google blogs and articles, read dozens of self-help books that address your topic of concern. You do this because you are functional gospel amnesiac. You’ve forgotten who you are as a child of God. You’ve forgotten the glorious warehouse of spiritual wisdom that you have been given. You think you are poor when really you are rich…You think that there is something you need that you haven’t found, when in fact you have already been given every single thing you need to be what you’re supposed to be to do what you’re supposed to do in the place where the Saviour has positioned you. 

2 – The Resource  – our Gracious and Merciful God

Peter’s reminder to believers everywhere is know that you have been granted, by God’s great grace and faith in Jesus, everything you need for life and godliness.

How? Through Jesus. Jesus is enough. That is the take home message for us from Peter’s opening lines. You have everything you need because you have Jesus.

Not only is Christ enough, but God’s Word is enough. God’s Word is sufficient. We haven’t followed clever myths (1:16). We have a sure Word (1:19).

We know too well the power of sin, the pull of it. The problem of suffering and it’s pain. These are powerful things, and we know we need greater power to combat them and answer them. We know we need power. Not tips. Not strategies for some cognitive behavioural change. That might bring about some new habits, but we aren’t after new habits, we are after new hearts, and that’s going to take fare more power than natural resources can offer.

The power we need belongs to Him. The glory and excellence belongs to Him. The promises are His to give.

We get the power we need through the knowledge of Him (1:3b).

It is all His to give to whomever He wishes, and chooses to give it to His children.

These are the resources we have to call upon when we think everything is too much.

It’s because we have escaped, by His grace, for this reason (1:5) that we make every effort to add to our faith all the qualities that He has called us to. These are qualities that are ours, if we are His (1:8).

His nature compels us to be like Him ( 1 Peter 1:16). Obedience to His Will for our lives in the matter of godliness and holiness is a matter of the heart. If we find ourselves struggling to obey His commands, we need to revisit and remember the resources we have been given.

3 – The Response the great escape 

We cannot leave it at knowledge of the existence of God’s divine power and promises. We must act on what we know. And knowing what we know, we can act very boldly!

We can make every effort to add to our faith the qualities God has said are our’s. (1:5-8).

If you are in Christ, God is not withholding anything from you that you need for this life and to live godly.

The fault is never on His side in matters of life and godliness. He’s done His share. His salvation is perfect.

If you think you’ve exhausted all the avenues to full life and way to godliness, and you still haven’t pondered the power of God, claimed the promises of God or surrendered to His Will in being holy because He is holy, all you will have left is excuses.

Addiction says, “I can’t say no”. God says “I’ve given you everything you need to live a life free of enslavement to the flesh”.

Bitterness says, “I can’t forgive.” God says, “I’ve forgiven you everything so you can everything you need to forgive others”.

Pride says, “I can’t say sorry”. God says, “I’ve humbled Myself so you can have all you need to be humble”.

Fear says, “I can’t face this”. God says, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. I’ve given you everything you need for today ”.

If you only have excuses for your sin rather than an attitude of a heart that breaks for things you no longer want to do but keep on doing, you might be in danger of having never escaped the corruption at all.Are these qualities your’s? (1:9,12) Do you even want them?

If you think you have the power to worry or will yourself out of a difficult life situation, remind yourself that God’s divine power is far greater than your limited knowledge. That His promise of never leaving or forsaking you is a great and precious gift that belongs to you as His child.

God commands of us a full life lived to His glory in godliness. But He also provides what He commands.

When you see a huge task (life and godliness) and a little person ( yourself, with a heart prone towards sin and body that breaks down) our only hope is to look to a great help ( God’s divine power and greatly precious promises).

If God has given you everything you need, why would you look elsewhere?

He’ll give you enough for today. Tomorrow, there will be new mercies, enough daily bread to sustain any child who asks their Heavenly Father for it.

Will you responses this week be shaped more by fear in your own inability, or by celebration of the sufficiency of Christ?

“You have two ways of looking at life. You can look at all your internal and external challenges from the perspective of your track record and present catalog of abilities, or you can look at them from the vantage point of the sufficiency of the work of Jesus on your behalf. The bible was not given to radically alter your identity and potential, but to radically alter the way you think about and interpret life. You are not left to your own resources. Because you are in Christ, your potential is greater than the sum of your parts. You are never in any situation or location all by yourself.”  – Paul  Tripp 

As a church, we must remind each other of the sufficiency of God’s power and promises.

Have you prayed for the person sitting next to you or in front of you to see God as being sufficient for everything they need?

Will you trust in your own power to change yourself, or will you trust God?

We have knowledge of God because God He has revealed Himself to us.

We participate in His divine nature because He took on our nature.

We receive His promises because God is gracious.

The Problem of Pleasure – Mark 10:17-27

What make you feel comfortable? What brings you pleasure?

A long drive along a coastline? A walk on the beach? A good book in front of the fire? A game of footy? Baking a cake? Or is it more deeper things – working hard and seeing results? Or more sentimental moments – a romantic dinner? A birthday party? Catching up with friends?

There are many various things that we would say we find pleasurable.Pleasure for pleasure’s sake seems the pursuit of many in our culture, and it’s a barrier for some to believing in God. Some see having faith in God as missing out on what life has to offer. They like their comfort, and they think God is just a prohibitionist.Others though, as much as they enjoy pleasure, all that life offers, and seek to have all the experiences they possibly can, still know there is something missing. Pleasure can be a problem.

Jesus encountered a young man once who thought he had everything he needed, and he wanted to be sure he had it all forever, so he asked Jesus a question. It was an excellent question, but he didn’t get the response he was looking for.

1 – The Question of Goodness v. 17-20

We call him the ‘rich young ruler’ ( Matthew 19:16ff, Luke 18:18ff) and he was rich in two ways. He had moral wealth and financial wealth.

He had it together, so together, he knew there was something missing, one final missing piece.

So he comes to Jesus and asks a very legitimate question, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’.

We would think of all the people qualified to give the appropriate answer to that question, Jesus would be the best by far and He responded with the even deeper question – ‘Why do you call me Good? No one is good but God.’

If Christ is truly GOOD, than He is truly God. No man born is good enough. Goodness personified knows the answer to the eternal question.

Goodness was relative for the young man – with Christ it’s absolute.

Goodness isn’t a matter of knowing what is good either, as Jesus goes on to point out. You can keep the law, know the law, but still not be good enough to enter into eternal life.

All our goodness is usually based on comparison with others, and that is not the standard we are meant to measure up to. The law wasn’t given to us to reveal our goodness. It was given to reveal God’s and reveal how much we need Him!

Your problem is not that you need a little more goodness. Your problem is that you’re not good.You might be good compared to others, but when you come to Christ, He knows your heart. – Tim Keller

2 – The Challenge of Greed v.21-23

The young man had a couple of assumptions that Jesus obliterates. He thought there was information he was missing, something he lacked, and Jesus agrees with him.( v21), but not in the way he expects.

He assumes that Christ is someone he can just add to his life, the missing rung, the last step to complete his perfect life.

He also thinks that being a Christian is just something you do.

But Jesus smashes these assumptions. You can’t add Him – He’s revolutionary, He wants you to be born again. He’s not a missing step, you’ve been on the wrong ladder this whole time! And it’s not something you do, it’s something receive that has been done for you.

Besides that, Jesus has a challenge for him, ‘You think you keep the law? Let’s try the first one…!’ .

Jesus, when we ask Him to, will reveal our heart’s allegiances. This young man loved his wealth more than he loved the poor, more than he hungered for eternal treasure, and more than Christ.

A counterfeit god (idol) is anything so central and essential to your life that should you lose it, your life would be hardly worth living. – Tim Keller

Greed will do more than blind you, it will devastate you. It will destroy you. Your pursuit of more will leave you with nothing in the end. The challenge is, will you look at Jesus when He exposes your heart, and see what He has lost on your behalf, or will you look at your own life and consider it not worth losing?

3 – The Astonishing Impossibility v.23-26

Jesus didn’t take this approach as a template for how all people should be given a chance to respond to Him and His message. This also isn’t a call for all believers to sell all they have, but it is a call to make sure that Christ is first.

The disciples though, like us, were a little slow to get it.

If this guy can’t get in, who can?!

The Gospel of Mark speaks a lot of people being amazed at Jesus – 15 times in 16 chapters it’s mentioned. People didn’t understand who He was, and when He revealed truth or His power, they were left amazed and in awe. This is just one of the draw-dropping moments in Mark for the disciples!

Camels getting through needle eyes is a ridiculous image to imagine, and Jesus says there is the same possibility of a person who trusts in riches getting into heaven.

The disciple’s question to Jesus, ‘Who then can be saved?’ was one of incredulity. Jesus was making it impossible for anyone. But they had missed what the young man had missed. If you don’t have Jesus first in your life, you don’t have anything. Also, the point remains true for all – you cannot save yourself. This is a work that only God can do.

It is impossible to be part of God’s eternal kingdom while you’re too busy setting up your earthly one where you can reign as sovereign. Selfishness has no place in the kingdom of God.

Superficial interest in eternal life must be confronted. Proud, selfish ( greedy) people, no matter how much they say they want eternal life, won’t receive it when they see what it means for them in this life, unless they understand who Jesus really is, not just their perception of Him.

You can have everything you want and still be left with nothing in the end. The riches of this world, and all the pleasure you crave may well be seasonal happiness now, but it’ll be hell later.
If your personal comfort & pleasure is your ultimate goal in this life, you are a very dangerous person…if you are not willing to bear a cross of self-sacrifice & denial, thought of a life following Christ will be grievous to you…

4 – The Way to True Joy v.27

The only possible way for us to enter the kingdom of God is by humbly accepting the fact we can’t get in by our own will or strength. It’s impossible when you’re trusting your own goodness, or your riches, or your heritage, or your reputation. It’s only possible through God.

That should be incredibly liberating for us. Should be. Unless we too, trust in our own efforts to save our selves, or would rather have what this world offers than eternal life.

Everyone is looking for a more fulfilling life. More love, more health, more happiness, more wealth. A good reputation, a great legacy. And if you can have all these with heaven thrown in as well, all the better! But Jesus as an appendix never works. He has to be author and finisher of your faith. It’s the only way to real life, and to true joy.

The young man went away sad, how long he remained sad, we can’t know. Maybe he spent the rest of his life miserably wealthy, wishing he could have what he wanted while having everything he wanted. Knowing the way to eternal life, knowing the truth, knowing the life, but choosing his own agenda instead.

If you come to Him, despite fact that He grieves you, you will see that He really loves you( v21a). That He wants to give you a treasure and joy that will last. He wants to give you Himself. (v 21b).

The way to joy is to rejoice that your name is written in heaven, not in being proud of what you have accomplished in this life. ( Luke 10:20).

Be rich towards God, not men. Lay up your treasure where it can’t corrupted. ( Matthew 6:19-24).

You can’t have Jesus on your own terms. If you want Him on your terms, you won’t have Him, all you’ll have is an idol of your own making.

The young man left the same way he came. Lost. Jesus exposed his heart, and he couldn’t handle what it revealed.

Underneath all of our objections and complaints about God and faith in Christ is a power struggle you are having with God, and it’s over your dreams. Your ambitions. You ideal of how your life should work out.

Anything you have decided will give you a life of pleasure, comfort and power that isn’t God, will eventually become a monster – it will devour you.

We think what we are missing in life is superficial, academic, behavioural ( usually someone else’s!), or circumstances. If we could could just change that one thing. If we could just get that person to do this or that. If we could just kick that habit. If we could just have our way on this. If my spouse could just let me…If my kids would just…If my church would only…Then everything will fall into place. If only I could have that one last thing.

Obviously it is the love of money that is the issue. It’s love of sex, power, control. When you make an idol of these things you will respond very negatively and destructively if you feel them being taken away or at risk.

What makes you anxious? Fearful? Envious? Angry? Spiteful?

Jesus says there is a monster in our hearts. He tells us we need to surrender our dreams, our idols. Repent of them…

There is one thing you lack.You lack treasure in heaven.

Give up your pursuit of more wealth that leads you to messed up priorities.

Give up your control of people around you that leads you to manipulate by harsh criticism or personal attack and gossip.

Give up your idolatry of marriage, or perfection in relationships that comes on your terms.

Give up your dream of success.

Give up your most deepest and fondest of dreams.

Give up on your pursuit of temporary happiness and comfort. Christ wants so much more for you. He wants to give you joy. He wants to give you life.

Wouldn’t you rather have Him? He has done the impossible for you…don’t meet Him & leave sad….

The Pharisee & The Tax Collector

One of the great barriers to belief for many is the hypocrisy of professing Christians. Those who say they are one thing and are seen clearly to be something else entirely.

We can’t stand hypocrisy, especially in other people. Especially judgemental people. We don’t like them at all…

Hypocrisy is a genuine problem, but it also has a genuine answer in Scripture which confronts us with our need for personal accountability before God.

Two men went in the temple to pray…it’s a familiar story, and we think we know the punchline. Jesus is telling this story very pointedly to a certain section of people, ‘ those who trusted in their own righteousness and despised others’ , and the parable shows us how we can be justified before God and have peace…

1- Two Men

The Pharisee in this parable seems a reasonably upstanding kind of guy.

He’s socially visible, with authority and position. He is faithful in his offerings, and tithes. He actually goes above and beyond his duty. He tithes everything, most likely including his spices and herbs ( Matthew 23:23). He fasts twice a week, even though he was only required to fast once a year, on the day of Atonement ( Leviticus 16:29). He didn’t rip people off. He was just. He didn’t cheat on his wife. Above all, he certain wasn’t like the other person he was in the temple with at the time.

The tax collector we know little about, mostly because he doesn’t tell us everything about himself in his prayer like we’re listening.

Considered a traitor to his fellow countrymen for collecting taxes for the pagan Roman empire. Tax collectors were notorious. They ripped off whoever they could whenever they could.This position and the reputation that went with it made tax collectors outsiders in the society. They associated with other outcasts like criminals, prostitutes, and “sinners”.

If these two men stood before us in a political campaign or if we had to chose between which one’s blog we would read and share with our friends, we’d probably pick the Pharisee.

If the Pharisee was our friend we may well admire her strong convictions and strong ethical standing, while we wouldn’t bother inviting the tax collector to our candle or thermomix party…

The only thing these two seem to have in common is that they are both in the temple, and both seem to be engaging in public prayer…

2- Two Prayers

As we listen in on the Pharisee’s prayer, we grow more and more uneasy. He has major ego issues, and it offends us. There’s nothing like the sound of your own trumpet, and this guy had a rather large playlist.

In sport, we don’t mind losing, so long as the winner is gracious and makes us feel like we were in with a chance and were just unlucky.

In study, we don’t mind if the person next to us gets a higher score, so long as they don’t rub it in our face. ‘ I got a C-, what did you get?’ ‘Oh, I got a HD, you didn’t find that hard, did you? I didn’t even have to study!’…

The conceit of the Pharisee offends us, but it is a sin of pride against God before anything else.

When your achievements and comparisons with others becomes the main topic of your prayers, that is ‘grace gone putrid’, blatant self-advertisement.

Our biggest mistake is thinking that the differences that matter to men matter to an Almighty God.

“ What keeps most of us from God is not the sin we know we have, but the righteousness we think we have.” – Nate Larkin

“ In the presence of self we have one ‘good’ eye on ourselves, one bad eye on others and no eyes upon God. The man who stands in the presence of God is always more aware of his need for grace than his successes in grace. The man who knows how it is to live before God is always more aware of his sin than his virtue and always cries out for mercy.” – Haddon Robinson

There are many people who talk about God, even talk to God, but they would be absolutely terrified if they actually realised they were in His presence.

Two men were in the temple, but only one was praying like God was listening, and like God could hear them, or could interact with them.

The Pharisee prayed so people could hear. The tax collector prayed so God could hear. The Pharisee prayed like he an image to uphold and plenty to lose. The tax collector prayed liked he had everything to gain by surrendering himself to God’s mercy.

When we see God in all His power,holiness and glory, we see ourselves clearly. Isaiah’s vision of God ( Isaiah 6) lead him to a radical self-awareness, he was undone, he saw who he was and what surrounded him.

Jesus’ isn’t pointing out the tax collector’s method as a way to pray,He is pointing out the heart of a man who has seen God, and knew he was in God’s presence and any who enter God’s presence can only ask for mercy.

He had no righteous works to offer. He had no interest in comparisons with his praying neighbour. He was there to speak to God and ask for mercy, and this is all any of us can do.

Around now is where you think we might wrap up and give the application –
‘Thank God you’re not like that nasty Pharisee’, and our closing prayer would be, ‘Thank you Lord, that I am not like other men, legalists, proud, conceited, judgemental, condemning. Thank you, Lord, that you have made me humble. I’m such a poor sinner, and I know that better than the person next to me. Thank you, Lord, for letting me be such a great example of simple faith. Amen.’

Humility is shy…

If we have come this far in the story and we think we are the lowly tax collector, and we don’t have a hint of Pharisee in us, we would do very well to think again.

We are all Pharisees. You may disagree, and that’s fine, but if your reason for disagreeing is that you hate Pharisees therefore you’ll never be one, or that you hate legalists, therefore you’ll never be one, you are in danger.

The fastest way to be a Pharisee is to loathe Pharisees.

3 – Two Results

There are two options on offer…
To go your own way and lead a self-justified life that leads to eternal strife…Or to seek justification by the mercy of God that leads to eternal life.

To justify ourselves we have to point out the sin of others. We are so reliant on comparison when we seek self-salvation.You will never come to know God personally until you stop comparing yourself to others.

An indication that our critique of others is based on pride is when we say our criticism without a tear in our eye or a catch in our throat.

You never, ever get past your need for mercy. You never, ever ‘arrive’ at a point where you can say you no longer need God’s grace in your life.

We can be like the Pharisee even with our testimonies. We tell the sordid details of how wretched we once were. ‘I was a terrible, depraved sinner, but now! I have turned my life right around, now I’m sorted out. Once I was sinner…’ .

We can compare churches, thanking God we have reached a fuller understanding of all things pertaining to the Scriptures. We can be guilty of theological snobbery.

These were two people in God’s house – this was a fellow believer…

How many times a day do you favourably compare yourself to others?

Try this week challenging yourself to saying out loud what you are thinking about another person…chose the right context of course, but when you are comparing yourself with someone else, say it aloud and see how prideful and foolish you sound. It could be the humbling experience you need!

What about the other comparison we make, where we wish we were like someone else…that is still a form of pride. We’re still comparing yourself to others instead of God.

There is no escaping the cold, stark reality. Yes I am a sinner, but my greatest sin is pride. I am judgemental of others. I condemn others for condemning me. I claim ‘lowly’ tax collector status,I fool myself when I say God had better material to work with compared to a Pharisee.
We’re all Pharisees.
We all forget mercy.
We all ignore our need of God

Humility is the only way to enter the Kingdom.

Humility begins when we compare ourselves to God, not others. We are always the chief of sinners, not by a feigned humility, but a genuine awareness of God’s presence and holiness and our need for mercy.

The encounter that follows this parable is most certainly connected. (Luke 19:15-17).

The only way to enter the Kingdom is through becoming like a child.

Not childish but childlike.

There is no room for boasting, no room for self-advertising of any kind. The simple faith of a child accepts truth without a need for self-justification.

We are left with the option of humility ( choosing His mercy ) or humiliation ( choosing our own way) before God.

“ The Gospel transforms us so out self-understanding is no longer based on our performance in life. We are so evil,sinful and flawed that Jesus had to die for us. We were so lost that nothing less the death of the divine Son of God could save us. But we are so loved and valued that He was willing to die for us. The Lord of the universe loved us enough to do that! So the gospel humbles us into dust and the same time exalts us to the heavens. We are sinners but completely loved and accepted in Christ at the same time…He saw your heart to the bottom and loved you to the skies.” – Tim Keller

The tax collector didn’t go home justified because he was a better man than the Pharisee. He went home justified because he saw his need, saw the answer to His need and had a meaningful encounter with God that transformed his heart.

The application certainly isn’t that we would all go and live like tax collectors. Jesus doesn’t want us leading that lifestyle anymore than He wants us to be legalistic.

The way to be justified before God is to admit you’re a Pharisee. That you’ve tried to on your own in some way, and that you have failed, that you need His mercy.

“Those who can’t accept their imperfections can’t accept grace either.” – Donald Miller

God accepts and heals the heart that asks for mercy, and every heart is broken without Jesus, whether you are a Pharisee, a Pharisee in denial, or a tax collector.

Exodus 19 – “The Untouchable Mountain”

What is our aversion to being told what to do?

Rebellion, starts from a very early age. We don’t have to be taught to ask the question,
“But why?”. A parent’s usual response is usually something along the lines of, “Because I said so”. But parents can say an awful lot of things that not only don’t make sense at times, and they are human and can make mistakes. So our aversion isn’t usually with the instruction, but with the authority that gives it.If the authority is distant and removed from us relationally, we can’t accept it. We don’t engage with what we don’t relate to, and that turns out for our detriment in most cases where the context requires us to listen, to trust, to obey.

The Law of God is something hotly contested in secular and Christian circles alike, and there is much we could say about it, and the Sermon on the Mount provides an excellent summary…But what of the Lawgiver? Our biggest problem and barrier to belief for many, or point of confusion for believers even, is why should I even obey God or fear Him?
“No one ever learned they were a sinner by being told. They have to be shown.” – John Newton
We will never come to grips with Who God truly is and what He requires of us unless we see His holiness and how He has delivered us.

A History and Order of Grace v 1-8

We find the Israelites at MtSinai. A very significant place in Israel’s history.
Here is where Moses met God in a burning bush, where God made His covenant with His people and gives The Law. This is where Elijah will hear the still, small voice…

Before outlining His law, God gives Moses a reminder about where they have been and what He has done for them so far, and this order is vitally important.

He did not come to them with the law while they were in slavery in Egypt and say, “If you obey, I will save you.” No, instead He saves, them and then says, “Because I’ve saved you, now obey me”.

He didn’t wait until they had proven themselves by starting to obey, and then delivered them, He lead them out because He had heard their cry and He is faithful to His promises.

They were delivered from the bondage of slavery, delivered through the Red Sea, delivered from Pharaoh’s army, and God did all of this ‘to bring them to Himself’.

He has a special plan for these people, and there was no way He was going to leave them in bondage. He intervened, and carried out the salvation of His chosen people.

He reminds them of His acts of salvation ( v.4)
He then gives them a calling of accountability and responsibility. (v.5)
He then promises them the blessings that will come their way if they follow His instruction. (v.6).

Nothing should change this outline. Grace is followed by obedience, which is followed by blessing. None of them can be switched around, otherwise God is not faithful, or we would be relying on our own strength and power, or we would only be doing right things to get good things instead of only to get God.

The story of the Exodus is familiar to us, because it the Gospel story.

God’s grace in salvation, our response in faith to that grace, and the blessing of a life lived surrendered to Christ and living holy and sanctified.

We were in bondage, with no hope of deliverance, God saved us by the blood of the Lamb, and now we follow Him, as His people.

The more you meditate on what He’s done in delivering you out of slavery, the more you will want to be like Him, the more you will want to be holy.

Leviticus 11:45 says it plainly, “I brought you up out of Egypt, therefore, be you holy for I am holy.”

The Unapproachable and Approaching God v. 9-20 / 20:18-21

The people affirm that they will do what God says ( v8), and then we are given one of the most spectacular events in all of Scripture.

We get a look at the glory, majesty, power and holiness of God, and it is awesome, terrifying and loud.

There was preparation needed by the people of Israel. They needed to consecrate themselves, they needed to wash their garments, they needed to stay with the limits God had set, and they were not to touch the mountain, otherwise the punishment was death.They were even told to refrain from sex, and keep themselves clean for the appearance of God in all His glory and power before them.

Why all these consecrating signs?

God was showing Himself to be the One True God. He was not like all the other false gods. He doesn’t require revelry, sexual perversion, or for men to do anything to get His attention, like so many other false gods seemed to require ( ie, false prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18).

He doesn’t require men to climb a mountain to get closer to Him, He is not confined to a place. He comes down to men, and He comes in great power.

Here is a God Who is unapproachable, yet approaching, Who comes down, but has limits in place for His people in order to come into His presence.

There was trembling from the people as the trumpet called them near to the mountain to meet God. There was smoke, and the whole mountain trembled, and when Moses speaks to God, God speaks back in thunder, lightening, and thick darkness descends…

Have you met this God? He has come to prove/test you…(20:20)…Do you know Him? Do you want to know Him? Or He is getting a little too personal for your taste?

“There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He found us?” – CS Lewis

“ An ‘impersonal God’ – well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads – better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap – best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, King, husband – that is quite another matter.” – CS Lewis

This God is an awesome, fearsome God. He is not to be taken lightly. He is not to be ignored, belitted, mocked. He is not a warm and fuzzy, He is not a tame lion…

This all seems intense, and well it should.

If this sight of Who God is doesn’t wake you up to the reality of His presence, you not only have never truly seen Him, you don’t see your need of Him.

Why would you not trust and all-powerful, wise and holy God like this? He alone has the power to save you and make you holy…

The Greater Moses v. 21-25

Any doubts you have about the existence or distance of God are dismissed when He reveals Himself so clearly…but how do we interact with Him properly?

There are limitations on us, set by God, that we cannot enter His presence. If we were to enter into His presence as we are, His holiness would consume us.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to strive for the holiness that we must have if we are to see The Lord.

Jesus said the pure in heart would see God.

But we are unholy, and impure in our hearts. We need someone to go for us, the people of Israel knew this ( 20:19) and God knows this. He knew it with the Israelites, that why he tells Moses to go down. (19:21-25).

He sends Moses as His messenger, His mediator, to warn the people, to save them from perishing from a lack of attention to God’s holiness.

We can’t handle God in all His glory, power and holiness. We need a mediator, and we’d better ask for one. For the right One.

We need a better, and greater Moses. We have such a one.

Jesus was sent down to a mountain as well. He trembled in awe and fear of God’s holiness and consuming wrath, but He didn’t stand off, He didn’t fail or offend God, He bore the full holiness of God so the veil, the partition between us and God could be torn down.

The complete justice, terribleness of God came down on Jesus, and He was shaken for us. Because He was shaken, we can be unshaken. Because He went into that darkness, we can have light.Because He bore the ‘untouchable-ness’ of God on our behalf, we can now not only draw near, but enter the mountain…enter the full presence of God.

Hebrews 12:18-24…

We have come to MtZion, through MtCalvary.

The God of our mount dwells in unapproachable light ( 1 Timothy 6:16), but we trust in that Light, without which, we cannot be saved.

The God Who speaks in thunder and lightening also speaks in a still, small whisper( 1 Kings 19) on the same mountain…This is God of holy assurance to those who seek Him.

Have you seen God?

Does seeing a picture of His holiness and glory drive you to Him, through Jesus, or are even now hardening your heart to a God Who has revealed Himself to you?

One thing is for sure, just as the Israelites discovered, when we forget the glory, holiness, and power of God, we revert back to hungering after the things of Egypt…

We can’t just see God with fear alone. Fear as a motivation to worship and obey leaves us exhausted and fear-based religion is short-lived, again the Israelites are proof of this. ( Exodus 32).

Fear-based obedience has trouble with repentance, because if you repent out of fear alone, you will soon become bitter, not better.

It causes issues with our suffering in this life also, because if we think we fear God in order to get His favour, we will assume He is punishing us when things go bad…

What is the answer?

Mercy must be in view if we are to put our fear and response in the right perspective. Where it is not debilitating, where we are not apathetic, but engage in active reverence as a result of a vision of Who God is and what He has done.

See God. See His glory, holiness, justice. If MtSinai is too much to bear, think of what was borne for you on MtCalvary, and then go to MtZion, rejoicing.

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