Shouwang Church’s text of sermon for July 3:
Scripture reading: (Matthew 4:1-10) Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do 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 splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! (Satan means ‘plot against’ and is also the nickname for devil’) For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
After the Lord Jesus was baptized in the River of Jordan, He was immediately led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tested three times. The first one was about food; the second was about faith and the third was about mission and service to God.
The first test by Satan was on the physical hunger after the Lord Jesus fasted for 40 days. The triumph of the Lord Jesus was based on His submission to the command of God and His willingness to suffer hunger and hardship. The second test went one step further and it was an attack on the inner spirituality. What Satan meant was that since Jesus was so dependent on God, He’d better test how God treated Him and whether God would protect Him. However, Satan’s trick was seen through by the Lord and was rejected. Seeing that he had no chance either in the external body or the inner spirituality, Satan then said that since Jesus was so loyal to God, he could help Jesus accomplish the task and mission God gave Him. This is the third test which is mission and service to God.
We can say that in these three tests, they become more and more secretive and more dangerous. It also shows that with each triumph, a bigger and harder fight lies ahead.The life of Christians is also full of these three types of tests. We certainly need a comfortable, smooth living environment in our external world and the food for our bodies. However, it is more important as how to meet these needs. It is just as the Lord Jesus said: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The Lord Jesus never satisfied His personal material needs with His godly abilities. He lived entirely according to the wills of God even in sleepiness, tiredness, hunger and sadness. After triumphing over the test on the impoverishment and fetters of the external body, what followed immediately might be the test on the faith. We may ask ourselves: We have suffered so much for the Lord, what does the Lord really want from us? Test and trust are just a stone’s throw apart. The former proves God’s credibility with God’s supernatural abilities. The latter is submission according to God’s ways and wait patiently for the God’s actions. We may easily identify the tests from these two aspects and we may also be on high alert for them. However, the challenges for Christians and churches of today have become obvious in the third test.
If you will bow down and worship me, I will give you all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.” The Evil One who plotted against God even wanted to help God’s son accomplish the Messiah’s mission given by God. Could that be possible? Satan basically was telling the Lord Jesus: Don’t you want to be king and possess power? Don’t you want all the scepters both in heaven and on earth? I can give give you all the kingdoms and all that you want on one condition: that is, as long as you worship me. What Satan said seems to be very attractive: You don’t have to get on the cross, suffer hardships, be insulted, suffer bleeding, fight or die. Just bow down to me. This looks like there is no actual loss—just bow down and you get what you want. Why not?
This is a lie, a deception and a trick. This lie is just like those words said in the Garden of Eden by the serpent: “You will not certainly die, for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5) While God already said: “for when you eat from it you will certainly die,” (Genesis 2:17) Satan flagrantly plotted against God and told people: “You will not certainly die.” Here, Satan played the role of God because the father once said to his son in Psalms 2:8: “Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.” From this, we can see the audacity and arrogance of Satan. Therefore, this is not only a test on misssion and accomplishment, it is also a test and an attack on how the Lord Jesus regards the essence of ministry. Moses once told the new generation of Israelites who were going to enter Canaan: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” This is the essence of service to God and is the love for Jehovah our God and the only Lord. Service is not ministry and service does not mean achieving some goal without looking at the means in achieving them. It is not making great achievements for God, but doing as God commands out of love for God. Satan’s trick was to place the accomplishment of the mission given by God above God Himself and replace the worship to God with various idols. Most of the time, Satan’s deception does not appear as something vicious. Instead, Satan puts “splendor” before his feet and he hides behind so that we can bow down and take it. In this way, he sacrifices worship to God to get his accomplishment in service. This is totally senseless and valueless. A spiritual truth is: “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.” (John 3:27)
Therefore, God gives everyone of us an opportunity to have a mission and to serve Him. However, how to achieve it, the ways to achieve it, the time and the result of it are in the hands of God Himself. What He wants from us is only listening to His words and following His guidance with confidence. In fact, without our participation, God Himself can also accomplish everything just as the Lord said: “out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” This is not exaggeration. Since God can create Adam from clay, why can’t He raise up children out of these stones? “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” (Zechariah 4:6). The Lord Jesus knew clearly that his mission as Messiah would be accomplished on the cross, not through an easy way like others because this is the will of His heavenly father.
In this end time, such tests by Satan continue. There are many barriers and restrictions in the current China on Christianity in law and in the actual environment. Therefore, if we interpret “splendor of all kingdoms” as the accomplishment and results of our ministries, then we can obtain such a splendor through many ways in such an environment. In fact, not only churches, but individuals also face such a test. Just by telling a small lie, one can get huge convenience and benefits. Just by registering ourselves under the TSPM label, we can have a legal site for religious activities and can conduct many ministries with interference. Moreover, one is subordinate to only one name and no other people or entities are actually involved. Why making such a fuss about it? Some people may even tell you that one does not even need a name. As long as one turns in the church’s sovereignty and expresses its submission, it’ll be accepted and there will be a guarantee that various activities can then be conducted smoothly. The so-called security of our ministry and mission may compromise our true following and worship of God, so much so that the accomplishment of our ministry replaces the true worship of God. In this way, mission transcends the respect for God. Oftentimes, we bow down and get the ministries to save souls, to conduct ministries in social charities and ministries in various types of theological education. We can do many things for God by bowing down.
We thought all these will bring joy to God. This reminds me of the words Samuel said to Saul: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD?
To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) Yes, Will He be pleased with a megachurch with many people? Will He be pleased with a theological institution full of knowledge? If these places are filled with loud and clear Red Songs, we think one can bribe God with the accomplishment from ministries so that one can cover up one’s inner personal desires and fears. The greed in a person’s heart sometimes can persuade him or her to make an exchange and the fears in one’s heart sometimes can make him or her reach a compromise. If we lack the worship for God, everything we do will become our nets and idols. He is happy when we worship Him only and obey Him only.
We have become accustomed to hiding ourselves behind some safety shields and avoid facing squarely the deeper relationship between us and God. Loyalty has degenerated to exchange of interests. In fact, oftentimes, a compromise is a type of exchange when one gives up some “tiny” principles in exchange for some “benefits in ministries.” In essence, it is bowing down to Satan in exchange for the splendor of all kingdoms. Then, one offers these before God to win praises. Yet, he doesn’t know that “Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:7-8) We refuse to look at the some of the worldly blind spots, concepts, fears or hobbies hidden behind us, but let these distort at will our acceptance of truth and our worship of God.
If we sacrifice our loyalty to God in order to achieve this so-called spiritual goal, this goal then is an idol, no matter how important it looks. In order to guarantee the safety of ministries, they fired some “unsafe people” in exchange for safety; in order to win some praises, they even don the robes made for praising God and sing Red Songs instead. This is an age of sadness as the Gospel can be so compromised as to flatter the superiors and to bend the principles in an attempt to be recognized by this era.
In this age of chaos, we need to remind ourselves constantly: Whom should we worship? For whom am I doing all these? We should from time to time reflect on how we can serve and follow this holy and pure Lord who does not like His honor be given to another? What kind of disciples should God’s church create? I think the most basic and the most important thing to do is establish the loyalty for God. In worshipping my Lord and my God, the essence of the ministry is exclusive and faithful love for God. Therefore, when we meet challenges, we will have the strength to persist and courage to face dangers.
Finally, let me listen again to the call Moses made to the Israelites in the wilderness: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)