March 6, 2022 ~ Lent 1
the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
| Centering Prayer |
Initially I planned to title this message “Temptation.”
However, my thoughts, reflections, and prayers this week
Have taken me in a different direction.
So I’m calling this “The Liar, and the Lies He Tells.”
Over the years I have preached on this text many times,
usually focusing on temptation.
As I sat reading, rereading, and studying this Gospel narrative,
The role of the devil captured my attention.
We know that Jesus Christ is the head of the church;
and the church is the gathering of all disciples
engaged in His ministry of
grace, love, forgiveness, redemption, and salvation.
In today’s Gospel lesson,
we are presented with a stark contrast to Jesus and the church;
the complete opposite pole,
an absolute contradiction to
everything we believe and know to be true.
We are served up the devil on a silver platter,
the embodiment of all that is evil,
the head liar,
who rules over all that is sin, vile, and immoral.
When I came out of seminary,
I was naive,
I was ready to explain away the devil and hell.
“After all, how can a loving God create a hell?”
Life and experiences the past 40 years have taught me otherwise.
We’ve become master craftsmen at building our own hell
And accommodating evil and sin.
The danger of denying the existence of evil and immorality
Is being swept away and overwhelmed
Before even being aware of its attack.
A ground war in Europe was unthinkable
Until ten days ago.
Online sports betting came out of nowhere.
Pornography is one click away,
The county is being swamped by ghost guns
Being used largely by violent, young adults.
Lord, have mercy.
We are being smothered with apathy,
ungodly civil libertarians,
self-centered, instantly gratifying materialism, and
by freedom that has no responsibility.
Lord, have mercy.
Social trends reveal
A society that is increasing a-religious,
The pandemic has been like throwing gasoline on the fire.
Lord, have mercy.
The Church’s silence on social issues
Is like handing over of the surrender flag to the devil himself.
One of my earliest memories of church,
was at the Camp Street United Methodist church
in Jamestown, New York.
This was before my father entered the ministry.
The pastor was H. K. Geiser.
I may have been 4 or 5 years old.
I still remember Rev. Geiser preaching in one sermon
that each of us face a fork in the road,
at one point or another in our life.
“The decision is up to you,” he preached,
“which direction will you choose?”
Which direction will you choose?
Will you choose Christ and His Church?
Or, will you choose the devil, the head liar, and the lies that he tells?
Making no choice
Makes one to risk it all,
To be caught and swept away
In the flood of sin and evil.
We hear Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit.
It doesn’t say that the Spirit led him into temptation;
it simply says he was led into the wilderness.
This follows the proclamation of John the Baptist,
the Baptism of Jesus,
and a listing of Jesus’ ancestors.
His identity is firmly established.
Jesus is the one promised by John
who will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit,
who will clear his threshing floor with his winnowing fork,
who will gather the wheat into his granary,
and burn the chaff in unquenchable fire (Luke 3:16-17).
Jesus is the Son of God, the Beloved,
with whom God is pleased (Luke 3:22).
Jesus is a direct descent of Adam,
the first son of God (Luke 3:23-38).
Jesus is the Messiah,
sent to save the world from going to hell.
Now he finds himself facing his first test.
Jesus is in the wilderness, alone,
when the devil comes knocking at his door.
Not just once.
Not just three times, as we like to remember.
But for 40 days the devil comes to Jesus and tempts him.
This is the first characteristic of the devil; the devil is persistent.
He will attack, and attack, and attack;
all the while trying to wear you down,
just like he tried to wear down Jesus.
If we are told time and again
that something evil is all right,
before you know it,
we’ll just start believing the lie that it is okay.
If it is legal it must be right.
But this is what the devil does;
his persistence lures us into the quicksand of sin,
and before we know it, we’re gone.
The devil comes to Jesus and
knows that he is hungry from his fast (Luke 4:2).
Call it paranoia, if you will, but
I believe our Gospel reveals that
the devil is able to identify with us and understand our needs,
just as he did with Jesus.
Jesus didn’t tell him that he was hungry.
The devil looked upon him and knew;
he knew that Jesus had hunger churning in him.
Consider the weakness you and I have today.
Couldn’t it be possible that
the devil knows our every weakness
and is poised ready to exploit them?
Just where do you think those thoughts come from?
thoughts tempting us to sin,
The Gospel reports that
“The devil said to him,
‘If you are the Son of God…’” (Luke 4:3).
It’s already been established who Jesus is
and why he has come.
What the devil is doing is taunting;
he is taunting Jesus with the whole ‘if you are’ routine.
This is the next characteristic of the devil.
The devil taunts us,
just as he taunted Jesus.
These taunts come in many devious forms.
“Go ahead, you don’t need permission.
You are a good Christian.”
Or, “if you think you are so good,
then you would never
– wink, wink –
do something as terrible as this.”
Such delusional, self-justifying thinking
happens all the time.
Beware of the devil’s evil taunts!
The next characteristic of the devil
might be dismissed by some
as simply having bad manners,
instead of being outright evil.
The devil tells Jesus what to do;
he is bossy;
he is full of himself.
“Command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” (Luke 4:3)
Hold it right there, buster!
Don’t speak to Jesus that way.
You don’t speak to elders, teachers, pastors, parents, or grandparents like that.
Commanding people might have a place in the business world,
but not in the world of nurturing human relationships.
I’m tempted daily to become full of myself.
It is humbling to learn
that this is how the devil works
to weave evil into our world.
Jesus responds with scripture,
word for word from Deuteronomy,
“It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
When attacked by the head liar,
do what Jesus did:
return to the Word of God.
Fall back on scripture.
Let God speak through scripture to give you strength.
The devil resorts to
his main characteristic:
he is a liar, a big fat liar!
He takes Jesus to the top of the world and says to him,
“To you I will give their glory and all this authority;
for it has been given over to me.” (Luke 4:6).
No it hasn’t!
It’s a lie;
the devil doesn’t have ownership of the world.
It isn’t in his authority.
The world’s glory isn’t his to give away.
Think of the lies in your experience.
The lies that have been told to you.
Consider the lies that you have told.
The big ones.
The small ones.
The ones distorted to fit our best narrative.
Dishonesty is the work of the devil in today’s world.
It is a way for sin and evil to stain society,
to ruin relationships,
to destroy trust.
When you feel tempted to not tell the truth,
know from whence that temptation comes.
“If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours,”
the devil tells Jesus. (Luke 4:6)
Ah, the devil reveals his hand, doesn’t he?
The devil desires our worship.
Join me in my determination to never worship
anything or anyone other than God.
The devil knows that worship is one of the Ten Commandments,
as listed in Exodus and Deuteronomy,
given to us from God Almighty.
Again, Jesus relies upon the Word:
‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” (Luke 4:8)
Know that what is flesh is flesh,
and what is God is God.
If we worship anyone or anything besides the Lord,
we are, in fact, worshipping the devil.
It doesn’t have to be pentagrams and satanic cults.
If you worship money, or your status, or the toys that fill your garage …
you are being lured
into worshipping the devil.
Can your bank account save you?
Can your title or position in the company save you?
Can your luxuries save you?
Let us turn our backs on flesh,
deny the world,
and worship only the Lord our God.
The devil taunts Jesus a second time.
“If you are the Son of God …” (Luke 4:9)
Don’t be taken in by this ploy,
and I’ll tell you why.
It would be easy to suggest that the devil slow on the uptake,
that Jesus couldn’t be taunted.
we know the devil is persistent.
Quoting scripture isn’t beneath him!
He knows that Jesus draws strength from the Word.
“… it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” (Luke 4:10)
The devil quotes scripture!
Not just one verse,
but two verses, taken right from Psalm 91,
as we spoke in our Call to Worship this morning.
The devil is learned in the Word,
and he isn’t afraid to use it towards his own evil means.
Scripture can be used either
As a knife,
Or as truth that leads to the heart of God.
Because of this,
Christians need to keep a critical eye for those who quote scripture.
Ask yourself who? What? Where? When? How? And why?
Employ the Wesleyan Quadrilateral,
Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.
Is it reasonable?
Is it traditional and does it fit with experience?
After all, God does work through history,
and has been at work in my experience, too.
The test I use is this;
Does it square itself with the Gospel?
Be wary of those who use the Word
To support their belief
– be they Sunday school teachers,
even bishops or popes!
Ask: Are there ulterior motives?
Is there a hidden agenda?
By quoting scripture,
the devil reveals that he is a trickster, too.
He tempts Jesus to call upon the angels to protect him,
as a demonstration of his power.
God’s power isn’t for testing purposes.
It is what it is!
God uses power only as God sees fit.
It isn’t some solution that we can conjure up,
to stop speeding bullets
or cause cancer to be cured.
Yes, God works miracles,
through His disciples,
and through you and me.
Yes, Jesus tells us that his power will work through His faithful.
Yet, it isn’t our power that we are deploying.
It is God prerogative to work through us
and for whatever purpose God sees fit.
God used divine power to still a storm.
That doesn’t mean tomorrows storm will be stilled.
God has used divine power to give sight to the blind,
cast out demons,
heal the paralyzed,
and to raise from the dead.
Yet, God’s power is God’s prerogative, not ours.
Jesus responds directly from Deuteronomy once again,
“It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Deut.6:16).
Jesus slams the door right in the devil’s face.
So, too, should we.
One last observation about the devil:
St. Luke reports
that even though the devil had finished every test,
he still wasn’t finished –
“he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13).
Did I tell you that the devil is persistent?!
Let me think… when were those opportune times?
- Remember Jesus’ struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane?
- How about when the devil bought out Judas for a few pieces of silver?
- And don’t forget Peter’s denial!
- The ultimate “opportune time,” hanging on the cross, stripped, tortured, humiliated, and left to die – when Mark reports Jesus’ cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
The devil waits for opportunity.
He is patient.
The devil is never done.
He is always waiting for that one way he can wiggle his way into your life.
It is up to you and me to deny the devil his opportunity.
Put on the armor of God!
Don’t give in!
If you succumb to temptation,
as on occasion we all do,
call on the name of Jesus,
and you will be saved.
Jesus defends himself by walking in the Spirit.
He is born of the Spirit,
baptized in the Spirit,
led by the Spirit.
If we likewise lead our lives in the Spirit of God,
then we also will have a sure defense
against any evil that may assail us.
Jesus was prepared to defend himself from the devil.
We know it was his practice to attend synagogue,
to learn as a youth,
and to preach.
Let us also find strength
Through the discipline
Of regular worship attendance.
Finally, Jesus found strength in the Word.
He relied upon scripture to repel
every temptation of the devil.
Let us work diligently to prepare ourselves in the same way.
It is essential that we learn the scriptures;
that we are constantly feeding our souls with the Word of God.
Beloved, do not be naive!
The devil is the very real embodiment
of all that is evil and sinful and immoral in this world.
These are his characteristics:
- He is persistent.
- He is able to identify with us and understand our needs.
- He taunts us.
- He tells us what to do, is bossy, and he is full of himself.
- He is he is a liar, a big fat liar!
- The devil desires our worship.
- The devil quotes scripture!
- The devil is a trickster.
- The devil waits for opportunity and is patient.
is being forewarned.
calls us to be vigilant.
Being vigilant is to be prepared.
Being prepared is to be strong.
Find strength, beloved, in Christ,
and in His Word.