Our text for today again comes from the wilderness temptation of Jesus found in the fourth chapter of Matthew’s gospel. The first temptation was for the Lord to prove His deity and turn stones into bread. The second was to throw Himself off the temple roof. Now we turn attention to the last of the three seductions of the devil to try to cause Jesus to sin.
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. (Matthew 4:1-11)
In this temptation, Satan offered to Jesus global power and riches. All Jesus had to do was turn from His Father in heaven and worship the creature created by God. It was, in essence, what would later be the basis of theater and literature stories – called a Faustian bargain. A Faustian Bargain is an agreement by which a person trades something of moral or spiritual importance, such as his or her soul, for some worldly benefit, such as knowledge, power, or riches. The bargain Satan offered the HUMAN Jesus was to worship him and Satan would give Jesus the world as a prize.
Before we move too much further into this message, what is worship, anyway? The dictionary defines it as to render religious reverence, devotion, and homage to someone or thing.
Some have told me that worship can only happen in church, and only during holy Communion. Oh, really? Those who say such things ought to reflect on the Lord Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. You’ll find it in John 4. But here is the gist of it:
The Samaritan woman said to Jesus “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus *said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father . . . But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Spirit and truth. We know what truth is – as the Lord tells us, God's word, in its entirety, is truth. (Psalm 119:160; John 17:17). We know from what Jesus said of Himself that He alone is truth (John 14:6). We cannot truly worship God without truth – truth rooted in God's word and directed toward Jesus Christ, the Word of Truth made flesh.
But what of ‘spirit’? To worship God in spirit is to worship Him with and from the heart. The mouth and the posture without the involvement of the heart may be religious activity, but it is NOT worship in spirit and truth. There is a reason the Lord Jesus told His disciples, “It is from the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.” (See Luke 6:45)
Spirit and truth are not, nor have they ever been, consigned only to a building, a mountain, or a specific time. Spirit and truth can occur wherever we are and whenever we wish to take the time to adore, reverence, love, honor, praise, exalt, and exult in the Lord our God through Jesus our Savior.
As I just said, Satan attempted to seduce the HUMAN Jesus with that trade – unimaginable power if He would turn from the Father and fall at the devil’s feet. And how did the HUMAN Jesus respond? “Begone, Satan! It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.
Now, throughout my message today I will emphasize the HUMAN Jesus because the Divine Jesus could never be tempted to sin. Remember, Jesus was and is fully human as you and I, but at the same time, fully God. Don't ask me to explain that. I cannot. No one can. It is a divine mystery. So, the human Jesus could be tempted – and this third temptation was, in fact, a temptation to idolatry.
Webster defines idolatry as “the worship of idols or excessive devotion to, or reverence for some person or thing.” An idol is anything that takes the place of Almighty God. Of course, the most common form of idolatry in the Old and New Testament days was worship of statues that were thought to embody various pagan gods.
But Scripture also warns us that idolatry is not just about paying homage to stone or wood sculptures. For example, here is Ezekiel 14 – “Then certain of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me. And the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them? Therefore speak to them and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any one of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and sets the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols, that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, who are all estranged from me through their idols.” Ezekiel 14:1-5 (ESV)
Idolatry is not simply bowing before stone and wood. Idolatry – and this is important! – idolatry is a matter of the heart. Attitudes of pride, greed, a love of ‘things’, self-centeredness, and the like are all idolatry and a rebellion against God. In the New Testament, coveting – being consumed by wanting what you don’t have – is also called idolatry (Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:5).
Let’s look a moment at the idol of self-centeredness. I don’t think it inaccurate to associate self-centeredness with self-deification – as if the world revolves around you. Solomon is a tragic example of self-centeredness, of self-deification, of thinking life is all about him. Listen to what he wrote in Ecclesiastes 2:
“I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine . . . . I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself; I made gardens and parks for myself and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees; 6 I made ponds of water for myself . . . I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men—many concubines . . . 10 All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure . . . and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:3-10)
Not until the last chapter of that book does Solomon tie it all together – and we who have ears to hear – we’d better hear: “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no delight in them . . . then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “all is [emptiness]!” . . . The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12)
Satan offered Jesus in His human nature unimaginable power and wealth – if only He would turn from the Father. Do you know people like that who made a Faustian Bargain and corrupted their moral underpinning, who compromised what they knew to be right and true in order to gain something they coveted – wealth, popularity, power, a spouse, a career, or fill-in-the-blank. How many have you known who, so tragically, believed the lessons of Solomon and all of scripture do not apply to them?
Many of you remember Frank Sinatra’s signature song, “My Way.” I’ve mentioned it before, and I need to do so again to illustrate my point. It is surely one of the most spiritually harmful songs he ever sang. It is also the one with which the devil has seduced untold millions of people in the church and outside the church to rebellion against God and to self-deification.
Please pay attention to these lyrics: “And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain. My friend, I'll say it clear, I'll state my case, of which I'm certain. I've lived a life that's full. I traveled each and every highway. And more, much more than this, I did it my way.
“Regrets, I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention. [THIS, my brothers and sisters, is unmistakable evidence of spiritual arrogance and self-idolatry. Show me the person who has only a few regrets in life, and I will show you the person who is walking in darkness].
Sinatra continues: I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway, and more, much more than this: I did it my way
“Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew, when I bit off more than I could chew, but through it all, when there was doubt, I ate it up and spit it out. I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way.
For the sake of time, I will jump ahead to the last stanza of the song:
“For what is a man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has not. To say the things he truly feels, and not the words of one who kneels. The record shows I took the blows and did it my way.
Christian, listen! Satan offers EVERYONE the same basic choice he offered Eve, and Judas, and Jesus: “Live life ‘my’ way, or God’s way.”
As I bring this message to a close, I need to tell you of yet another way Satan is deceiving untold millions of people – even those in church pews – to turn from God and toward Satan, even if it is unknowingly.
According to recent reports, of “self-identifying Christians, 16% have consulted a medium or psychic; 24% have used a Ouija board; 10% have performed a séance; 29% believe everyone has the potential to contact the dead; 31% claimed to have spoken with the spirit of someone who has died. And a whopping 54% claim to have received a ‘sign’ from someone who has died.”
This kind of interest and involvement in the occult is nothing less than a replay of the original temptation of Eve in the Garden. You may remember the Devil’s promise to her: Eat from this tree and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3). The satanic bargain of then is no different in principle than the Serpent’s bargain of today when he seduces men and women to visit Mediums and palm readers, or to use Tarot cards and follow their horoscopes so they can gain supernatural knowledge of the future or achieve supernatural communication with loved ones beyond the grave.
I can’t help but think of Ahaziah, one of the kings of Israel. You’ll find his story in 2 Kings chapter one. Ahaziah became seriously ill, so he sent messengers to ask a pagan god if he would recover. Listen to what God told him through the prophet Elijah:
“Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?’ 4 Now therefore thus says the Lord, ‘You shall not come down from the bed where you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’” (2 Kings 1:2-4)
Listen, I beg you! To seek knowledge from occult forces is to do nothing less than to invite disaster into your life and into your homes. And I say that again for emphasis – to be involved in any way with the occult is to invite tragedy and untold disaster into your life and into your home.
The ONLY way hope for anyone who is or has been involved in ANY occult practice is repentance and a complete turning from such practices. Ouija boards, horoscopes, Mediums, spiritists, Tarot cards, and so forth – any of them will open the participant to supernatural evil and disaster.
Scripture tells us from cover to cover, “Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:31) St. Paul warns us in Galatians five that those who involved themselves in idolatry or sorcery, “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21) Peter warns his readers – and us – “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) And make no mistake – the devil WILL devour you if you involve yourself in any occult practice.
And please do not be so naïve as to think demons cannot pose as deceased family members and friends. They can and they do. And because demons have lived since Creation, they know all about us, our lives, and the lives of our families and friends.
The writer to the Hebrews tells us, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27) In other words, when a person dies, he or she goes immediately to either hades (hell) – awaiting the final punishment of the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14) or they go to Paradise (heaven) – remember what Jesus said to the dying thief on the cross – “This day you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
There are no second chances and there is no communication with the dead. The ‘beings’ called up by mediums and spiritists are simply demons posing as the dead loved one.
That is why Jesus warned us to be on the lookout for “false Christs and false prophets [who] will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:24) Satan and his demons ARE able to work wonders and signs even to the point of misleading God's true children.
If you want to know the future of the world, study the bible. If you want to worship God in spirit and truth, study the bible. If you want to know who to marry, what to do with your time, talent, and treasure – virtually ANYTHING related to morals and faith – study your bible.
Satan invited Jesus into a devil’s pact. “Worship me and I will make you ruler of the earth.” But the human Jesus rebuked the Serpent’s offer with the Sword of the Spirit – which is God's word.
And so must we do each time the devil offers us a deal we think we can’t refuse. With the help of the Holy Spirit alone, by prayer to Christ and through His blood, rebuke the serpent. Tell him to slither back to his pit, because you will serve God and only Him – now and forever.