Service Video (link)
TEXT: Matthew 4:1-11
Have you ever heard or read something and then come to find out it’s just not true?
How can you know if something is true? How can you know if something is right?
Today we heard a scene from the life of Jesus often called the “Temptation of Jesus.” Basically he is being told or offered something as true and right and it’s all twisted truth or lies. I want to look with you at Jesus’ responses, both as a practical matter and as a spiritual matter.
#1 Truth > Desire (vv.1-4)
Have you ever been hungry? Like, really hungry? If someone offered you a way to get food when you were that hungry, you might be tempted to say or do the wrong thing. Sometimes our needs or desires are such a strong force in our life. Or what’s something else you might really want, really need? What about to pass a certain test. And maybe you didn’t study enough and you are pretty sure you aren’t going to do well, and someone offers you some answers, offers to let you look, tempts you to cheat. What will you do?
Jesus was out by himself to spend a long time praying to God. Part of that was a choice to fast or to not eat for a period of time to focus more entirely on God. And he was tempted to shortcut that, or cut it short, and eat to satisfy his hunger. It would have been like cheating on a test instead of studying for it. But very tempting if you are hungry, if you need the grade.
You probably know what the right thing to do is, though, right? We usually know; it’s just that our desires or our needs overrule what is true and right. But Jesus demonstrated the right choice. He said no to that temptation to shortcut his fast. But he went beyond that. He identified the reason it was wrong to cut it short. There is something more important than satisfying hunger in his stomach. It was satisfying the hunger of the soul or the spirit. He says, quoting scripture, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” In other words, he had set this time aside to be with God and cutting it short to feed his stomach would also cut it short with God. Continuing to feed his soul with the prayer and fasting was more important and he wouldn’t cut it short to eat.
I think about the temptation to cheat on a test. It’s such a shortcut to a good grade. But it also means you haven’t learned the material, and that will definitely come back to bite you at the end of the semester, or in the next grade, or as you progress through school. Even though shortcuts are attractive and tempting, they aren’t helpful in the long run. And Jesus demonstrated that same thing by not cutting short his time with God.
#2 Context (vv.5-7)
A second way that truth is sometimes twisted is by just giving part of the story. People on TV and on the Internet do this all the time because they aren’t just sharing information, they are trying to convince you of something. And there’s something about hearing or seeing something on the TV or online that makes something seem more true. Those sources have a certain kind of authority to them that we want to believe. So you hear something like TikTok is going to be banned and that can go any number of ways. Some people will frame it in a way that sounds like the people making the decision don’t care about young people. Or it might get framed in a way to make China – or even Chinese people – look bad. Some reporters will add the detail of it being a security risk. But how do you really get down to the truth of the matter. I’d say look for people who take time to explain the CONTEXT, the full story. Yes, it’s a security risk for our country because it shares a lot of personal details with another country. Why is that bad? Are there other options than shutting it down? What are those? Do they address the problem? Is anyone explaining the ins and outs, ups and downs, to the people it will affect the most?
Let’s look at Jesus for a moment. Something similar happened to him. Sometimes the person with the twisted truth can even use religion or religious authority in a way that isn’t right. Jesus was tempted to test God and the reason given was as verse of scripture, something often appealed to as trustworthy! But it was taken out of context. It wasn’t the whole story. And it was so twisted that it was actually used to try to say almost the opposite of what it really meant. But Jesus knew a lot of the scripture. He also knew that it taught that we are not supposed to put God to the test by intentionally doing something foolish and demanding God fix it. The scripture about God protecting us encourages us to TRUST God, but it was being used to try to get Jesus to TEST God, and Jesus rightly pointed to another scripture that warned against that.
To be even more exaggerated, let me give this example. It’s kind of like if I got up here and told you that the Bible says you should follow me and do what I say. It says it right there in this same chapter we are looking at, in Matthew 4:19… it says “Follow me!” So you all should follow me and do what I say. But what is the CONTEXT of that? Does it mean follow whoever quotes that to you? Not at all. Jesus is the one speaking those words. Simply quoting the Bible isn’t enough; we should understand what it is saying and why. Then I believe it does have great wisdom and truth for us. The full verse in Matthew 4:19 says this, and it is Jesus speaking these words, “He said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Jesus was talking to several fishermen and inviting them to come be his students. So he invited them to follow him and to “fish for people” instead of for fish. They would eventually go out and tell other people about Jesus and who he was. So if I’m going to teach that verse well, tell the truth about it, I would be telling you about Jesus and inviting you to follow HIM and learn more about who he was. And even then, there’s more context to look at. Who were these fisherman? How did they respond? What does it mean today for you or me to “follow Jesus.” If you are trying to get at the truth of something, ask lots of questions, look for more context, try to understand the full story of what is going on!
#3 Truth > Power (vv.8-11)
And lest it seem like this sermon is for younger folks with the examples of cheating and TikTok, here is one for the grownups (but one kids can pay attention to as well)! In a third encounter, Jesus was tempted with great power and influence. If he’ll just sell out on his primary mission, he could “have it all.”
Kids are sometimes tempted to cheat on a test. Adults are too, but perhaps a greater temptation is to twist the truth or accept a twist on truth to get ahead, to get more money or power or influence. If you just “look the other way” it might work to your advantage. Maybe that’s on taxes, or accepting something that’s good for you but not good for everyone. It’s easy to become selective about doing what is right when “getting ahead” is pitted against it.
But Jesus’ simple claim at the end of our story is that truth is greater than power. In the face of being offered the world, he responds (again from scripture), “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.” (v.10) Again, he goes deep, beyond immediate reward, to say that there is something bigger and greater and truer than getting ahead in this world. Even for someone who questions the existence of God, I think there are good arguments to say that there are greater ideals than getting ahead in this world: ideals like truth, love, beauty, community, and doing the right thing. But as a Christian, I believe all those ideals are grounded in a God who is the source of all truth, love, beauty, community, and rightness. Jesus rightly draws our attention away from self-focus (“How can I get ahead?”) to other-focus (God and neighbor). That’s one of his common themes throughout his life and teaching.
How do you know what is true? Here are three statements and questions to take with you.
- Truth is greater than desire. Is this always true or just what I want to do or hear right now?
- Truth is found in the details, in context. Have I asked the right questions? Do I understand the wider context?
- Truth is greater than power. Is this good and right and true or am I being distracted by something shiny that is what I want to hear?
Jesus not only provided good methods for discerning truth, he pointed us to God as the source of all truth and goodness. He trusted these scriptures and was teaching things that would become scripture. I would offer the same cautions even with that, even with someone like me speaking to you. Use the same tests, the same guidelines, but in doing so, perhaps you will also hear Truth (capital ‘T’) from the source of Truth. Amen.
Some Music Used
- Prelude: How Firm a Foundation – Rick Bean, arr. and piano
- Let God Arise
- King of Kings (vv.1-2)
- CHOIR: Behold the Lamb of God
- The Blessing