Sermon Illustrations

“Thank You Sir! May I Do Another?” Matthew 4:1-11 Key verse(s): 9-10:“Then the devil left him and angels came and attended him.”

“Thank you sir! May I do another?” Crouching on the ground, the recruit seemed barely touched by the sergeant’s rough treatment. He was doing push-ups; and a lot of them. Each time he pushed his struggling frame up, the sergeant would rest his boot on the small of the private’s back and down he would go again. Then his overseer would bark, “What do you like, soldier?” The recruit, prone and struggling to complete just one more cycle of lift, would shout out, “Thank you sir, may I do another?” Although it was obvious that the recruit really wasn’t interested in doing another push-up, it was also certain that he knew exactly what he was doing. It was the sargeant’s expectation that the recruit would ask, so the soldier made it his will to meet that expectation. He had been drilled to believe that the pain and the effort would be worth it in the end. The sergeant had guaranteed him that when he was through with his “style” of training, the recruit would be fit for duty and able to deal with anything the enemy might hand out.

We, as witnesses to that scene, would probably see the sargeant’s actions as mean-spirited and unmotivating. Watching that recruit go up and down, always asking for more punishment, would put our minds in a spin. There is no logic to this kind of behavior. Wouldn’t the carrot and the stick be more motivating than pain and punishment? “It certainly isn’t the way that we would be motivated anyway!” Nevertheless, this tried and true regime has been used for centuries in training recruits. Why? Because it works. When a soldier is in a war-time situation there often isn’t opportunity to think things through. Following orders at that critical juncture is all that matters; even when those orders mean harsh, even death-defying tasks. There needs to be an action/reaction instinct in a soldier. Since it can’t be “fright/flight”, that which is innate in every person, the trainer needs to reshape the reaction to fit the action. And there’s only one way to do that--drill!

Our lives seem like that sometimes. Often it seems that God is laying out a harsher regime than we think is necessary. We blink and wince and then ask. “Is this what grace is all about? How can a loving God expect us to go through all of this?” Author James Packer writes: “Grace is God drawing sinners closer and closer to him. How does God in grace prosecute this purpose? Not by shielding us from assault by the work, the flesh, and the devil, nor by protecting us from burdensome and frustrating circumstance, not yet by shielding us from troubles created by our own temperament and psychology, but rather by exposing us to all these things, so as to overwhelm us with a sense of our own inadequacy, and to drive us to cling to him more closely. This is the ultimate reason, from our standpoint, why God fills our lives with troubles and perplexities of one sort and another -- it is to ensure that we shall learn to hold him fast. The reason why the Bible spends so much of its time reiterating that God is a strong rock, a firm defense, and a sure refuge and help for the weak is that God spends so much of his time showing us that we are weak, both mentally and morally, and dare not trust ourselves to find or follow the right road. When we walk along a clear road feeling fine, and someone takes our arm to help us, likely we would impatiently shake him off; but when we are caught in rough country in the dark, with a storm brewing and our strength spent, and someone takes our arm to help us, we would thankfully lean on him. And God wants us to feel that our way through life is rough and perplexing, so that we may learn to lean on him thankfully. Therefore he takes steps to drive us out of...

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