The Biggest Lie of All
A Sermon By Rev Mark Porizky on 3/4/2001
If you ever take a tour of Harvard and you go to Harvard Yard, there you will find a most fascinating statue. Etched on the pedestal of this statue is the inscription: “John Harvard, Founder, 1638.” Students know this statue as “the statue of the three lies.”
First, the artist commissioned to sculpture the statue could not find a clear picture of John Harvard on which to model his work. Thus he just chose a picture of a respectable-looking gentleman from the appropriate era.
Second, John Harvard was not the founder of Harvard University. He was simply its most substantial benefactor to the college in its early years.
Third, the date on the statue’s base represents not the date of John Harvard’s death, as might be supposed, but the year he donated his library and half his fortune to the college.
The irony of all this is that on the side of the statue is the Harvard emblem emblazoned with the school’s motto: VERITAS. Truth.
What is true, and what is a lie is the focus of our passage today. Today is the first Sunday in Lent. We begin Lent as we always do, with Jesus’ encounter with the greatest liar of them all, Satan, or as our passage terms evil, the devil.
Please read along with me now.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you,’
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
A few years ago, advice columnist Ann Landers challenged her readers to name the world’s third-biggest lie--right after “The check is in the mail,” and “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”
Here is a sampling from the thousands she received:
“Five pounds is nothing on a person of your height!”
“You don’t look a day over 40!”
“It’s delicious, but I can’t eat another bite.”
“The new ownership won’t affect you. The company will remain the same.”
“The puppy won’t be any trouble, Mom. I promise I’ll take care of it myself.”
and my personal favorite,
“Put away the map. I know exactly how to get there.”
Numerous studies tell us that lying is one of our most common sins. In the revealing book The Day America Told the Truth, lying was recognized as a common phenomena. 91% of those surveyed lie routinely about matters they consider trivial, and 36% lie about important matters; 86% lie regularly to parents, 75% lie to friends, 73% lie to siblings, and 69% lie to spouses.
Why all this focus on lying? Well, I read a provocative article that suggests that
lying is the basis for every other sin.
Think about that. You may well see that it is true. The sin of adultery begins with a lie: “A little harmless flirtation, that’s all it is.” Stealing starts with a lie: “C’mon you deserve this. Who’s going to know, and who’s it going to hurt.” The sin of gossip begins with a lie: “I was only sharing it because I was concerned about her and thought others ought to know.”
Indeed, the great lawyer Oliver Wendell Holmes once observed that, “Sin has many tools but a lie is the handle that fits them all.”
And the personification of evil, the devil, or Satan, whichever moniker you might ascribe to him, the devil also is known as “Father of Lies.” (John 8:44)
In our Bible passage this morning, Jesus--following the lead of the Holy Spirit--heads into the dessert. He does not eat for forty days, and in his weakened condition, the devil appears to him and begins tempting him.
And the devil, “Father of Lies,” the devil begins these temptations with a lie.
“If you are the Son of God,” begins the devil. “IF?” Of course the devil knows full well who Jesus is. But it doesn’t hurt to throw your opponent off his guard at the beginning of the encounter. In sports, it’s called “trash-talking.” The goal is to convince the opponent that he isn’t all that big and tough and powerful. Identify the weakness. Find the crack in the armor.
Scripture records that the devil couldn’t crack Jesus’ armor. The devil couldn’t get Jesus to believe his lies. Over the course of three tempting offers, the devil fails with Jesus to sway Jesus into sin.
Of course, the devil has more luck with us. We don’t seem to be quite as capable of resisting the devil’s temptations.
Given our own weakness to temptation, I think this story of Jesus resisting temptation was included in Scripture as an instruction manual for us. In this encounter with evil we learn of the lies that the devil offers to Jesus, and to us. We are shown how to say, “no.” Like Jesus we should say “no.”
But in order to say, “no,” we have to understand what the devil is offering.
So what lies does the Father of Lies offer Jesus? And us?
Only one lie is really within the arsenal of evil, just one. This is the lie:
You can’t trust God for your future, take care of yourself, now!
Every temptation is a temptation for Jesus to take the reigns of his own future and forsake God. Everything the devil offers Jesus, Jesus later claims, when God says the time is right. Consider:
In the first temptation, the devil asks Jesus to turn stones into bread, not an unreasonable request for a hungry man. And later, Jesus will feed 5000 with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. All because the people were hungry.
Jesus was willing to feed the hungry later, so why not feed his hunger now?
In the second temptation, the devil offers Jesus the kingdom’s of this world. And later, that is exactly what God grants to Jesus, the kingdom’s of this world, and we will call Jesus “Lord of Lords.”
Jesus claims His Lordship later, so why not claim it right now?
The final temptation, the temptation to throw Himself off the temple and let the angels catch Him, well, how much different would that miracle be than rising from the dead? Saved from certain death, rising from the dead, both are miracles that will cause people to follow you. Christians look to the resurrection as evidence of Jesus’ Lordship. And all of us hunger for miracles. Couldn’t a “Jesus leap” and an angelic catch” have convinced many people that Jesus was from God?
Jesus was willing to perform miracles later, so why not perform a miracle now?
“For Heaven’s sake, Jesus,” says the devil, “all you have to do is to forgo patience, trust the voice inside your head that hungers for immediate gratification, and don’t trust the promises of God that are calling you to wait.”
Don’t trust God for your future, take care of yourself, now!
Friends, this is how evil works, this is the lie that evil speaks to all of us. Evil whispers in each of our ears some message like this: You do not have to suffer, you do not have to struggle,
You don’t have to trust God’s plans and God’s timing,
YOU CAN HAVE IT ALL NOW!
Don’t be hungry, don’t be deprived, Jesus. And so the devil offered Jesus the absence of hunger, the immediate gratification of a physical need.
Jesus, become Lord of the World, now, don’t wait!
And thus the devil offered Jesus the kingdom’s of this world, the immediate gratification that would eliminate the need for the cross.
Jesus, look down on the masses who will fall at your feet the moment the angels catchyou, JUMP! As so the devil offers Jesus fame, the adoration of the faithful. No hateful mobs yelling “Crucify Him!”
No pain. Power. Fame. Now, Jesus. No waiting,...and no dying.
Friends, God was working to provide Jesus with all the tantalizing things that the devil was offering. They would come to Jesus eventually...at the right time, in the right place, according to the right plan.
But not yet. Unless Jesus yields to the devil’s bargain.
Consider the devil’s offer. No pain. Power. Fame. Quite an offer.
The devil’s offer is the immediate gratification of our needs and desires. No waiting.
The devil knows that the best temptations are linked to our impatience. We may want something that is really quite innocent in itself--a piece of bread, a chance to be a leader, a sign from God--but we get into trouble because we want it NOW.
Unwilling to wait for it or work for it, we take shortcuts, and we end up in trouble.
Picture this: you’re hungry, you crave an elegant meal, you walk into a five-star restaurant. You order a feast--one you really can’t afford--enjoy it immensely, and then charge the whole meal on your credit card.
Then, because you can manage only to make the minimum payment on your monthly balance, you pay for this dinner for years and years and years, and your hundred-dollar meal ends up costing a thousand dollars.
Credit card companies have made bundles off people who could not wait. The temptation of immediate gratification is the problem of wanting “it,” whatever “it” is, and wanting it NOW.
The devil cannot offer you anything evil. Food, power, fame, none of these by themselves are evil. But evil works by taking good things and twisting them out of proportion. Evil works by feeding us the lie that we must have all the good things,... now.
Beware of anything that you must have NOW.
No pain, power, fame. Now! This is the devil’s temptation. The gratification temptation. Want it now. Grab it now. Get it now.
Don’t trust God for your future. You can have all the good things you want, now!
Once we abandon our trust in God’s promises, we are vulnerable to every other lie. And the worst lie is that we can have it all,...now.
Men who trap animals in Africa for zoos in America say that one of the most difficult animals to catch is the ring-tailed monkey. Hard to catch, until they learned from the Zulu people of that continent. Then catching ring-tailed monkeys became simple. The Zulus have been catching this agile little animal with ease for many years.
The method the Zulus use is based on their knowledge of the animal. Their trap is nothing more than a melon growing on a vine. The seeds of a particular melon are a favorite of the ring-tailed monkey. Knowing this, the Zulus simply cut a hole in the melon, just large enough for the monkey to insert its hand to reach the seeds inside.
The monkey will stick its hand in, grab as many seeds as it can, then start to withdraw its hand. The monkey cannot do this. Its fist is now larger than the hole. The monkey will pull and tug, screech and fight the melon for hours. But he can’t get free of the trap unless it gives up the seeds which it refuses to do.
Meanwhile the Zulus sneak up and nab the monkey. The monkey is doomed by it’s hunger for immediate gratification.
No pain, power, fame. “Hey Jesus,” whispers the devil, “Grab the seeds of painlessness, power and fame now. You don’t have to wait on God. Trust me. Put your hand in here.”
“No,” says Jesus. “I will not trust you, the Father of Lies. Nor will I trust in the biggest lie of them all.”
When the devil whispers into your ear: “Don’t trust in God’s promises, you can have it all now”...what do you say? Will you pray with me?
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