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TITLE:   The Little Lie:  You Shall Not Die    SCRIPTURE:    Matthew 4:1-11

I remember a sermon that I heard when I was at Duke.  The preacher was talking about the temptation of Adam and Eve. He said something that has stuck with me. He said:


God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the tree in the center of the garden. 

He warned them that, if they ate of it, they would surely die. 

Then Satan came along and told them that, if they ate of that tree,

they would not surely die.

Now comes the part that I especially remembered.  The preacher continued:

Note that Satan changed just one word. 

God said, "You will surely die." 

Satan said, "You will not surely die." 

The difference was only one word, and not a very big word. 

God said, "You will surely die." 

Satan said, "You will not surely die." 

Satan's lie was so simple -- so believable

-- that Adam and Eve accepted it

-- and that started all our troubles.

The preacher went on to say:

Most lies are like that.  They are almost true

They would be true except for one or two words. 

Watch out for those one or two words! 

They are the world's most dangerous words!

I have never forgotten that!  The most dangerous lie doesn't sound like a lie.  The most dangerous lie sounds like the truth.

Can you think of a lie that sounds like the truth? How about "What she doesn't know won't hurt her!"  Those are the words that a husband uses to excuse cheating on his wife, aren't they. Or that a wife uses to excuse cheating on her husband.

But, of course, what she doesn't know does hurt her.  It changes the husband's heart.  It begins to erode the marriage.  What started out almost innocently begins its work.  The tiny hole in the dam widens until the floodwaters engulf us.

"What she doesn't know won't hurt her!"  A simple lie!  It sounds like the truth!  That is what makes it dangerous!

Or how about "Everyone's doing it!"  The implication is that "everyone" can't be wrong.  It must be all right if "everyone" is doing it.  You parents hear that one, don't you!  "Ah, Mom, everyone is going!  I've got to go!  I can't be the only one to stay home!  It will ruin my life!  Ah, Mom!"

But, of course, "everyone" isn't going!  "Everyone" might be one or two kids.  And even if "everyone" is going, that doesn't make it right!  "Everyone's doing  it!"  That sounds like the truth!  That is what makes it dangerous.

Or how about "He deserves it!  Look what he did to me!"  That is the lie Hitler used to persuade the German people to break windows in Jewish stores, to make Jewish people wear Stars of David, to steal Jewish property, and finally to implement the Holocaust.  "They deserve it!  Look what they did to us!"  It sounded like the truth to a whole nation.  But it was a lie.  That little lie -- and a few more like it -- caused the deaths of six million Jews -- and many more millions as well.  We can always excuse horrible behavior on our part when we say, "He deserves it!"

Or how about "I deserve it!"  In a television interview, an accountant said that most embezzlers are long-time, trusted employees who have told themselves, "I deserve it!  Look how hard I have worked!  Look how much money they are making!  They couldn't have done it without me! They will never miss a few hundred dollars!  I deserve it!"  That sounds like the truth!  That is what makes it dangerous!

Walter Farrell put it this way.  He said:

The Devil does not shock a saint into alertness

by suggesting whopping crimes. 

He starts off with little, almost inoffensive things

to which even the heart of a saint

would make only mild protests.

The devil doesn't trip us up by tempting us to commit a great sin for a great reward.  He trips us up by tempting us to take a first small step -- a small step that we deserve to take.

Some years ago, C.S. Lewis wrote the Screwtape Letters, a short, humorous book about temptation.  The book is a series of letters from an experienced devil, Screwtape, to his less experienced nephew, Wormwood.  Wormwood is trying to get a young man to commit murder, but is having no success.  Screwtape writes him a letter, advising him to try another tack.   He advises:

Murder is no better than cards

if cards can do the trick. 

Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one --

the gentle slope, soft underfoot,

without sudden turnings,

without milestones,

without signposts.

Our Gospel reading today tells about the temptation of Jesus.  Satan tempted Jesus with three innocent temptations.  He didn't try to tempt Jesus to do something terrible.  He tempted Jesus to make small compromises for good reasons.  He tried to get Jesus to take a small step into the edge of the quicksand -- and he pictured rewards on the other side.  He didn't promise Jesus money or fame.  He promised Jesus a more effective ministry if he would just take that first step. 

Jesus had been fasting -- doing without food -- for forty days.  He was famished.  He really wanted something to eat.  And so the devil said:

If you are the Son of God,

command these stones to become loaves of bread.

"If you are the Son of God…."  Here, Jesus, is a chance to prove yourself.  Here, Jesus, is a chance to make yourself known.  Here, Jesus, is a way to kick off your ministry with a spectacular miracle.  Just turn these stones into loaves of bread.  Nobody will miss a few rocks, will they?  No harm done!  People will be amazed.  You will get something to eat.  Better yet, you can feed the poor people of the world with the leftovers.

But Jesus responded:

It is written,

"One does not live by bread alone,

but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

And so Satan took Jesus to Jerusalem, to the highest pinnacle of the temple.  He said:

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 dash your foot against a stone."

"If you are the Son of God…."  Prove yourself, Jesus!  Begin your ministry with a spectacular stunt!  Make people believe you! 

Jesus could have turned the stones into bread.  He could have jumped from the pinnacle of the temple.  Both would have accomplished good things.  But both would have substituted Satan's design for God's design.  Both would have made Satan the architect for Jesus' ministry.  Both would have put Satan in charge of Jesus' life.  And so Jesus said:


Again it is written,

"Do not put the Lord your God to the test."

And so the devil took Jesus to a high mountain where they could see all the kingdoms of the world.  He said to Jesus:

All these I will give you,

if you will fall down and worship me.

And Jesus replied:

Away with you, Satan!

for it is written, "Worship the Lord your God,

and serve only him."

Many years ago, I heard another sermon that I have always remembered.  The preacher said:

Satan tempted Jesus three times,

and Jesus stood firm against the temptations three times. 

How did Jesus do it? 

What was his secret? 

What can we learn from Jesus?

And then the preacher went on to give the answer.  He said:


Note that Jesus responded to all three temptations

in the same way.

He said, "It is written…. It is written….  It is written…."

Jesus used his knowledge of the scriptures

to thwart the devil's most tempting wiles.

We can do the same.

But we must learn the scriptures now

before the temptations come.

Once the temptations come,

it is too late to start getting ready!

And so it is.  No soldier waits to learn how to use his rifle until he is in combat.  No paramedic waits to learn CPR until he or she needs it.  We, Christ's disciples, need to prepare ourselves and our children now.  We must prepare ourselves by constant worship, prayer and Bible study.  Otherwise, the temptation will entrap us before we ever recognize that it is there.

I will close by telling you what happened after Jesus had successfully resisted the third temptation.  Matthew tells us:

Then the devil left (Jesus),

and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

That is the good news!  Each time we resist temptation, God makes it easier for us to resist the next temptation.  Finally, the devil gives up -- at least for awhile.  And then God sends his angels to bless us. 

Many of us feel that it is time for God to send his angels to bless us.  We have endured more than our share of trials.  We have endured more than our share of temptations. 

Let us pray for God's help.  Let us be faithful to do God's will. When the devil sees that he can't have his way with us, he will leave us -- at least for a while.  And then God will send his angels to bless us.

All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name (BH #200-202; CH #91-92; CO #521; GC #484; JS #463; LW #272; LBW #328, 329; PH #142-143; TH #450-451; TNCH #304; UMH #154-155; VU #334)

It is Well with My Soul (BH #410; CH #561; TNCH #438; UMH #377)

Take the Name of Jesus With You (BH #576; CH #625; UMH #536)

also known as Precious Name

Take Time to be Holy (BH #446; CH #572; UMH #395; VU #672)


CHILDREN'S SERMON:  Passing the Test

Objects needed:  A blackboard and chalk or poster board and markers.  Print the word TEST on the board.

What comes to your mind when you hear the word TEST?  We are tested in many ways.  Some schools require that children know how to tie their shoes before they begin kindergarten.  Later, students take spelling tests and math tests. Adults must take a driving test, showing they have the skills necessary to drive a car.  Pilots take tests to be able to fly a plane.  Can you think of other types of tests?  Why are tests necessary?  Yes, to find out if you have the skills or knowledge necessary to go to the next step.

There is one type of test that is to be avoided.  Have you ever had anyone say to you, "I dare you?"  When a person says that, they are usually asking you to do something that is dangerous or improper.

Even Jesus was put to the test and was dared to do dangerous things while he lived among us.  He refused to accept the dare.  He said, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

It is important to remember that advice and not do things that dare or test God.  As we learn more about God, through prayer and by studying the Bible, we will begin to build an attitude of trust.  The feeling we may have inside, that need to test God, will develop into trust.

If we change the letters inside of TEST we find we have TRUST.  (Remove the ES from the word TEST, which has been written on the board prior to the lesson, and insert RUS to form TRUST.) 

Trust God and trust yourself to make good choices.

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