Oconee River Church
2370 Hog Mountain Road, Watkinsville, Georgia 30677
Special Music: Mary Did You Know?
Listen to the Pastor Hoard's Sermon
March 9, 2014
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has been baptized by John and is led up by the Spirit into the wilderness, and here he will be tempted.
Some people have trouble with the idea of Jesus being tempted. You know, Jesus was the Son of God, and was by nature a good and holy man, and therefore wouldn’t be tempted to do anything bad.
But after his highest moment, after being proclaimed as “the beloved Son in whom God is well pleased,” Jesus is tempted – not to do anything bad. Evil did not shout at him and say, “go, do something bad.” Evil whispered for him to do something that was merely -- good.
But when God awakens anyone to his goodness, there are new temptations that you never even thought about before. When Jesus gives the keys to the kingdom to any one of his followers, you can have that feeling of being sixteen again, given the keys to the car for the first time. You now have some new opportunities to get yourself in some trouble.
Think about it. If you are truly awakened to a new life yielded over to God’s spirit, you start treating people differently. Hopefully you treat them with compassion. And sometimes, not always, but sometimes, people begin to treat you differently.
The boy who never had any certain temptations with girls because he always treated them so badly, now starts treating them with respect and compassion, and finds out some of these girls like me. He comes the temptation of navigating all these feelings stirred by a new level of kindness or goodness reflected back on you. And you can find yourself tempted in how you’re going to use this new – power, and you can use your power to do good or to do evil. To do what is extraordinary or to do what is simply expected. You can use this new power to please yourself, or you can use it to please God.
The greater the power, the greater the temptation.
And for anyone to give his life to God, to make this statement, Lord I belong to you, I place myself in your hands, discovers that the language of the argument is not a choice between good and evil, but a choice between good and godliness.
Jesus was tempted to do some lesser good that would lay an imperfect foundation for his ministry. He was tempted to do certain things that would lead people to believe in God, but which would leave them without love for God. You can, you know, believe in God and not love God. You can believe in God, James would later write in a letter, and tremble just like the demons who also believe in God. Belief means nothing without love. And love for God leads to a life of commitment to God, and that’s the sort of relationship Jesus would have for himself, and it’s the relationship he would also want for us. A love for God that expresses itself in a life of commitment to God.
So how do you bring about that love for God? In the wilderness, for forty days and forty nights, Jesus has to settle the nature of how he will bring about in the hearts of people a love for God.
Jesus must determine the nature of his ministry. What will it be His focus? To prove the existence of God? To get people to believe in God? Is that it?
“If you are the son of God,” says the tempter, “make it obvious. Turn these stones to bread.”
If you end world hunger, and everybody has all their needs met then think of the good you’ll do. Cut down on crime. You know people steal because they’re hungry. If they have plenty of bread, then they’ll all be grateful and content.”
Open up a food kitchen. That would be a very good thing to do, Jesus, wouldn’t you think? If you’re the son of God turn these stones to bread. Keep these people from having to toil with such difficulty and with such unpredictable results. You never know when the crop is going to fail, and you have no bread at all. Think of what you could do if you just turned these stones into bread. You can end their hunger, and end their worries, and end all of that effort. They’ll have more time to spend in prayer. They’ll be able to get closer to God if they don’t have to go through planting and reaping and threshing and baking. They’ll have more time for you, Jesus.”
Apparently Jesus thought about it. He was tempted. Apparently, it was something he could have done. We’re not tempted at all to listen to the suggestion of things we are incapable of doing. I’m not tempted to go out into the parking lot and pick up one of your cars in each of hands and do curling exercises. And certainly I’m not tempted to turn stones to bread. But I am tempted to turn the ministry into something in which you just hand out things to people. Hand out comforting words. Have everything all prepared in a church. Hire enough help that they don’t have to do anything. Let me bring refreshments next week.
No, we have that all taken care of.
Can I help move the furniture for the supper?
No, don’t you worry about it.
Do you need someone to sweep up after the service.
No, we have someone who comes in to clean. All we want you to do is just come in and everything is taken care of. Around here, what we believe in doing is turning all the stones into bread. I’m tempted to present to the community the church into a place where people just get their needs met.
Jesus is tempted. But apparently he would remember something from that Old Testament story. Children of Israel out in the wilderness for forty years! Every morning they woke up to discover that during the night God had provided them with a form of bread. It was sweet, tasted like honey. They had a name for it, “What is it?” Manna? And all they had to do was work their elbows – get that bread the top of the stones to their mouth. They couldn’t gather it or save it up. If they did it would breed worms. God was trying to get them to know that their daily needs were supplied. Every day they ate their fill. And the next day, there it was the manna for them to eat again. And the next day. And you might think that with their having no worries about bread it filled their hearts with gratitude for another miraculous provision of daily bread. But you know the story? They grumbled. Same old same old. Can’t God give us any meat? I’m sick to death of this bread.”
No, if there were a chicken in every pot, and we had eliminated all the hunger and any need to steal or kill for food, we would learn that when people have plenty of bread, they want plenty of meat, and when they have plenty of meat they want the better cuts, and when they get the better cuts, it gets a little tiring very quickly if there be no lobster.
Jesus knows that feeding the hungry isn’t going to feed a soul. We’ve seen the churches that open the soup kitchens and you keep eat the bowl of soup if you listen to us preach the word of God, and it’s a good thing, really, but the people are there for the bowl of soup – and maybe, maybe, they’ll listen, but mostly it’s the soup.
And even if they hand me a stone and I give it back to them as a loaf of bread, they won’t be grateful for.
And so Jesus says to the tempter, quoting from the book of Deuteronmy, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
So, no, I wont turn the stones to bread.
Well, the tempter tries another strategy. “Jesus, if you’re the son of God, and if you say that you won’t live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, try this word. This one proceeds from the mouth of God. It’s in the holy scripture. “He will give his angels charge over Thee, his anointed one, and on their hand they will bear you up, lest you so much as strike your foot against a stone.”
It’s the Bible. The devil quotes the scripture to Jesus. Anybody can quote the scripture, but you have to know how the scripture is to be used. You can take the Bible, and put people in bondage to the Bible. You can even make an effort to put God in bondage to the Bible. I’ve seen some preachers on television stand up and preach to God. “It says here in your holy word that you want me to prosper and be in good health even as my soul prospers, and you are a God who will not go back on his word, and so I’m claiming my prosperity. Sounds good! Sounds Bible. Sort of putting God into a trap. Prove yourself, God. We’re believing in your word. Live up to what it says.
And so, says the devil after quoting the scripture. “Climb up to the top of the temple and fling yourself off and when people see the angels floating you down, they will say, surely there must be a god and surely this must be his son.”
And Jesus – as son of God – was tempted. Yeah, they will find it hard to deny that God is doing the extraordinary. But then they will come simply looking for the show. Once you’ve leaped from the temple and had your life saved, what comes next? You’re spared harm. The old survive the car wreck trick. The rattlesnake bite. Okay, so God saves you from harm – this time. Splendid. But then you’ve got to have Him spare you again and again – until God finally decides, I’m tired of trying to prove myself for your applause. I don’t have to prove myself to anybody.
And surprises the children – because this time, God didn’t spare daddy the poison.
Jesus says, “No, no, no, you put yourself in dangerous situations so that God has to prove Himself. Because God does not have to prove Himself to anybody. And so, Jesus says, “No, it is written, you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Now, I’ve never been tempted to go anywhere near a rattlesnake unless I was handling a hoe with a long handle, but to tell the truth, I prefer someone with a gun and shooting from ten yards away, and I’m not tempted to leap from tall buildings with a single splat.
But I have been tempted to force God into outdoing himself on a weekly basis. God, please show up in such a fashion that we can’t miss it, but Lord, let it look like this. I would like to see at least one person every week give their heart to Jesus, but if I go trying to force that to happen, it won’t really happen. God makes Himself known in the proclamation of His word, but not because anyone has twisted it hoping for the miraculous outcome.”
There are other ways of putting God to the test. I know a few preachers who don’t really spend much time preparing their messages or their lessons and just sort of hope God will show up and make it all an anointed event. Then get angry at God because the congregation is asleep.
God, why didn’t you do anything in the service? Because I operate out of my mercy --not because you commanded me to do anything.
You’re not Aladdin and I am not your genie.
The devil tried yet another strategy. If you are the son of God, just bow down and worship me. I have all of these people in my hands, and if you bow down to me, I’ll turn them over to you.”
Make something of a partnership out of it. God and Devil. Or Father, son and Satan, if you like. We can work together on this thing – if you’ll just join forces with me. These people are turned over to me. They do things mostly to please themselves. I teach them to gratify themselves. Isn’t that what you offer, some sort of gratification. We’re after the same thing here, aren’t we.
No, if you send people out looking for gratification they will never find it, because before they can ever really experience gratification, they must first yield their hearts to God. And so you don’t worship gratification. You worship God.
And Jesus settles things with the tempter and with himself and says, My ministry is not to get people simply to believe in God. The devil himself believes in God but is not obedient to God. My ministry is to get people to love God and to show that love by a life of obedience.