– Matthew 3:13-4:11
Sometimes when you read the newspapers or watch television you begin to say about this world we live in: “What’s the world coming to?” Those boys killed 27 people in Houston. Did you read what the minister said about one of them? He was a Methodist minister. The family were members of his church. He had talked to the boy many times. He said that he was sensitive and kind. There were many good things that he would say about the boy, in fact, he said that he could not imagine that boy doing such things. But the police say that he did and he has confessed. He betrayed those young boys. He betrayed his minister, his parents, his community, but most of all, he betrayed himself.
Or if you turn to the national news. It is hard for me not to become cynical about people in government. I am a person who normally thinks the best of people, but I don’t know whether to believe any of them anymore. I don’t know what is going to happen in the Watergate mess, but the most shocking piece of news to me has been the story about the vice-president’s possible indictment. When it first became known I said, “Now that’s too much.” As it has gone on though, it does seem likely that he will be indicted and many witnesses are apparently ready to say that he is guilty of taking bribes. Of course, he is innocent until proved guilty, but if all of it turns out to be true the tragedy as far as I can tell is not so much that he betrayed the trust of the people, but that he betrayed himself. I have not always agreed with him but I am convinced that he didn’t start out in government service to do that.
What’s the world coming to? Nothing else probably, than where it has always been. Was it not the serpent in the Garden of Eden who tempted the man and woman to betray themselves? God had sent them to tend the Garden, but Satan told them: “Don’t tend it for God, take it over for yourself.” And this event that we read from the New Testament, Jesus went to the Jordan to be baptized by John, and when he came up out of the water there was a voice from heaven which said, “this is my beloved son, I am well pleased with him.” It was a way of announcing who this Jesus is, and immediately he was tempted in the desert to deny his calling, to deny what God had sent him to do.
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
What I want to say to you this morning is simply this. Every Christian…, no every man…, is sent. Christians never just show up anywhere. They are always sent. And the greatest sin of all is to deny God has sent you to be wherever you are. I want to talk about that this morning and the way that Satan tempted Jesus to deny God had sent him.
So after forty days of fasting in the wilderness, Jesus was hungry, and Satan came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God then turn these stones into bread.” And you see right away what he was trying to do, “If you are the Son of God, if you are you can prove it to me and satisfy your hunger at the same time.” And you can imagine that the thought crossed Jesus’ mind, “I will show the devil a thing or two.” And you can imagine that a hungry man could think easily about how satisfying it would have been to have something to eat. But it was not enough for Jesus to satisfy his own needs, for God had sent him to do more than turn stones into bread and eat them.
But Satan knows how much we think about satisfying our own needs, how important it is for us to be comfortable, how important to each of us it is that we look after our families. And if I don’t worry about bread on my table or the security of my family, who will? I don’t know how it is in Celina. I hope it is different, but the neighborhood we live in is a place where people don’t know each other and don’t seem much to want to know. We had a couple of houses burn near us last June. Did the community rally round those people? Well some, but not much. If it doesn’t directly affect me and my family I don’t worry. You may remember the old story about the man who dreamed that he died and went to heaven. But before he was admitted St. Peter offered him a tour of both places so that he could be sure that he wanted in. They started with Hell. When they got there the first thing they saw was a long banquet table set with all kinds of good things to eat, and the man decided that was a pretty good thing. But none of the people seated at the table seemed happy. When he looked closer he noticed that there were no eating utensils on the table. Instead, each person had strapped to his arm a long spoon. It was so long that no one could get food in his mouth. The people were quarrelsome, hungry and unhappy. That’s not for me, he said, and St. Peter took him to heaven. When they got there the scene was exactly the same, same long banquet table piled high with food, same long spoons tied to the arms of the people, but this time the people gathered around the table were all happy and well fed. The difference was that in heaven every man was looking after his neighbors needs and feeding his neighbor. Jesus told the story about a man a lot like some of us. He devoted his life to looking after his own needs, but Jesus said, “He is a food for this night his soul is required of him and what difference will all that he has accumulated make?” That’s not what God sent him to be. Man shall not live by bread alone, Jesus said to Satan. I didn’t come out to turn stones into bread.
But Satan had a better idea. He came to Jesus a second time and he said, “If you are the Son of God (you see the same challenge, show me, prove your power.) Then throw yourself off the top of the temple here. You know that scripture where it said, “He will give his angels charge of you to keep you from even a stone bruise.” (Did you notice that even Satan can quote scripture!) If you do the crowds will come running. Show me and the world that you can get results. And Jesus must have seen how that just might work. But he knew that was another betrayal of himself, and he said, “That’s not what I came out for.”
But that’s a real temptation, isn’t it, to settle for short quick results rather than long range faithfulness to God. It probably would have worked too, for awhile at least, this jumping off the temple. The crowd would have come round. They would have applauded, but crowds have a way of wanting bigger and better circuses. Show us another trick! Jump off another building! Will you come to my house and do that? And that’s not what he came for. He would have gained a short tem audience, but lost himself.
Did you see the movie on TV the other evening, “A Man for All Seasons”? It is the story of Sir Thomas More who was the Lord Chancellor of during the early days of Henry VIII. He was a good man, but most of all he was an honest man, Henry wanted a divorce from his wife Cathryn. He did not need More’s consent, but he wanted it. More could not in good conscience give it. He was first imprisoned and then executed. Anywhere in his long ordeal he could have saved his life with a simple compromise, a small lie to himself, but he did not. And once during that time of imprisonment he said to his wife, “If a man loses himself what does he have left?” If a man forgets why he was sent then what does he have left?
I see people all the time losing themselves because they make that little compromise or cut that little corner. A little dishonesty never hurt anybody, they seem to say. God won’t mind just this once. But Jesus said to Satan, “It is written you shall not tempt the Lord your God.” When you tempt the Lord your God, it is not God you lose, but yourself. The words of the baptism, “You are my beloved son.” That’s what Jesus came out for.
But Satan still had another idea. He took Jesus up to the high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of this world and he said, “All of these I will give to you if you will bow down and worship me.” Now isn’t it interesting in the first place that all the kingdoms of this world were old Satan’s to give? And isn’t it interesting how clever old Satan is? You say, of course Jesus would have turned that down. Didn’t come out so he could have all the kingdoms of this world? “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,” it says over there in Revelation. Here was a way. But Jesus said, No, that’s not what I came out for.”
The church as well as its individual members is often tempted to sell its soul and worship something other than God alone. Isn’t it often tempted to be something other than what it was sent to be, a social club rather than a redeeming community. Isn’t it often tempted to be closed society rather than an open loving reaching out congregation? When the church yields to that temptation and says to anyone by its words or by its deeds that they are outside the circle of our concern, then it has sold its soul to the devil, no matter how many people crowd inside its doors. And the church like its Lord must say, “Get behind me Satan, for you shall worship the Lord God alone and him only shall you serve.”
What does that mean? I am convinced that it means for every church, for this church. God has put you here, called you here, sent you here, for a reason, for a purpose, and you must find that purpose, listen to him for that reason. It may be the most important thing for you to do to ask yourself about that purpose? Why are we here?… and to listen to God for the answer. Maybe you would put it in the words of Jesus when he announced his purpose saying, “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly. This church is sent here for God’s purpose. And so are each of you. You never show up anywhere, you are always sent.
Wherever you find yourself, you are sent with a unique unrepeatable gift of God, and you, the who that you are, are that gift. The temptation is always to deny your baptism, to say no, I have nothing to give…. Who me? But the truth is yes, you. You know what Jesus said…. What will you say? For you are also sent.
Bill Crouch preached this sermon at First UMC Celina in the Fall of 1973. He was serving as the District Superintendent of the Dallas-Denton District at the time. Celina was one of the churches in the district.