This week we are finishing up our series on temptation by looking at the third and final temptation Jesus faced when he was in the wilderness. These 3 temptations sum up all the temptations we face in life. First there was the temptation to meet a legitimate but in an illegitimate way. For Jesus this was the temptation to turn stones to bread when he was hungry. We all face legitimate and God given hungers and thirsts in life that we are tempted to satisfy in ways that are unhealthy or immoral and Jesus says that what is important in these situations is to remember that our lives are much bigger than these hungers and thirst and that it is always better to live for and trust God first.
The second temptation Jesus faced was to leverage God for our own benefit. This temptation is to ask God to bless our plans instead of pausing to consider if we are following God’s plans. It is the temptation we have to ask God to bless what we want instead of submitting ourselves to a life that God wants for us. Let me say that this doesn’t mean we don’t pray for ourselves or ask God to bless us. We need to do that, but we need to do it in humility after pausing to make sure we are seeking God’s will first and not our own. Today we look at the temptation we all face to take a short cut. This temptation is not about the destination or goal that we have, it is the temptation to get there in ways that compromise what is ultimately important in life.
We all face temptations to take short cuts. It might be to cheat on a paper or exam in school so we can get the good grade. It might be to cut corners at work so we can maximize our profits or gain the upper hand on our coworkers. It might be to compromise our values in order to maintain a relationship or to move into the right social circles. The subtle thing about this temptation is that we might not have to compromise our values forever, we just might need to do it this one time, or in this one situation so that we can get ahead. But as we will see, these short cuts change who we are and can undermine our faith and trust in God.
We might think that this temptation is strongest in those who are lazy, but the truth is that this might be more of a problem for those who are very driven and goal oriented. For those who are consumed with always wanting to improve and grow and be the best they can be or for those who always want to be on the cutting edge of all things, this temptation is strong because it seems like it can help us reach out goals faster. If you are a parent who is obsessed with having your children be the best they can be in absolutely everything, or a student who is trying to do it all so you can get into the best schools, or if you are always looking up the corporate ladder trying to figure out how to get ahead – Jesus has something to say to you. If you are trying to be the king of the hill in all things and are willing to do whatever it takes to get there, then Jesus has something to say to you.
It is important to understand that it is not always our goals that are wrong. Being the best we can be is a good thing. Moving forward in our jobs is a good thing. Wanting the best out of ourselves and our families is an good thing; this temptation is not about the destination, it is about the compromises we often have to make to get there. In fact, the drive to be the best and to move forward is actually a God given quality – look at the story of creation.
Day one, God created. Day two, God created. Day three, God created. Each day God did more and more. Each day God was building and improving and adding to what He did the day before. Each day the world moved forward, grew larger and better and even today we are told that the creation continues to move forward. God is still creating. God is still building and expanding and so the drive to build and expand and be all we can be is not a bad thing, it is a part of what it means for us to be children created in the image of God, but we can’t become so focused on the goal of being bigger and better that we forget the importance of the process
There will come a time in all of our lives when the opportunity to move forward and grab hold of something really good will come to us and we will be tempted to get there quicker if we will compromise our values and take a short cut. When I was a pastor in Altoona we started an after-school program and it slowly grew and expanded and it was a wonderful ministry. Early on we thought about advertising our program in the local elementary school because we would be able to reach more kids. It would have expanded the program, it would have looked good for us to have a large and growing ministry and so we thought about it, but they told us that if we advertized in the schools the program could not be faith based. They told us we couldn’t even say grace at the dinner we served. We could take the short cut to the program we wanted, but we would have to leave God out.
In Lewisburg we had an opportunity to buy a local school and we were hurting for space so it seemed like a great idea and we were going to move forward with it, but to do that would have meant cutting corners on all the meetings needed in the congregation and with the conference in order to expand. To grab hold of what seemed like a golden opportunity would have been a great short cut to what we wanted but it would have dishonored the process and the people of the church.
A few years ago in our Daycare we were given the opportunity to partner with Head Start. It was a great opportunity that would have helped our program by providing money and opening doors for us. It would have moved us forward at a faster pace, but to do it would have meant that we would have had to create some head start time where we could not mention God. The short cut to a bigger and better ministry meant leaving God out of it. In all of our lives these kinds of short cuts will appear and they may not require us to compromise everything, we might just need to cut a few corners here and there, like leaving God out of an hour of class time or not saying grace before a meal, but the temptation is there to set aside our values to be able to play the game or reach the goal.
When we face the temptation to take short cuts to get what we want, we need to pause and consider two important things.
Who we are and
Whose we are.
This was what Jesus faced in the third temptation we find in Matthew 4:8-10.
Satan took Jesus up to a high mountain to show him all the splendor of the world and Satan would have given all the splendor, glory and authority of the world to Jesus if he would have just bowed down in that moment and worshiped him.
There are two important things we need understand about this temptation. The first is that all the splendor, glory and authority of the world is what Jesus came to get, this was his goal. When we were created all authority was given to us. We were given authority over all the plants and animals and over all that God had created. God wanted us to have it all but when sin entered into the picture, we lost it all. Jesus came to restore the order God had created. Jesus came to reclaim all the authority of the world for humankind and Jesus did that but it came through his life, death and resurrection and not a moment of worship.
At the end of Matthew’s gospel Jesus gives a great commission to his people and at the very beginning of that statement he says, all authority in heaven and on earth as been given to me. All authority was given to Jesus but it didn’t come through the short cut Satan offered. All the authority given to Jesus came through a life of obedience and Jesus’ death on the cross. It came by defeating Satan in the resurrection not worshipping him on the mountaintop. So Satan was offering Jesus what Jesus came to achieve, it was part of his life’s mission, but Satan was offering a short cut.
It is important for us to see this because once again it is not that the goals that we strive for that are always the problem or the temptation but the means by which we get there. It is ok to have big goals and to strive for all that is best, in fact, God wants us to have big and lofty goals, but we can’t try to attain them by letting go of our values and integrity. The temptation for Jesus wasn’t what Satan was offering but they means by which Jesus would have to get it.
The second thing to notice about this temptation isn’t that Satan was asking for a lifetime of devotion but a moment of worship. This is why short cuts are so tempting because they don’t always ask us to compromise our values forever, just for a moment. If we cheat on just this one test it doesn’t mean we will have cheat on every test. If we cut corners on this one project it doesn’t mean we will always cut corners. Keeping quiet or sharing in gossip just once in order to maintain a friendship doesn’t mean it will become a habit, we will just give in this one time in order to keep the peace or look good in the eyes of others.
This temptation is subtle because if we take one short cut in order to gain so much, what harm is there? What would have been the harm for Jesus? The consequence for Jesus in taking this short cut would have been an unbroken moment in an eternal relationship Jesus had with his heavenly father. Worshipping Satan for just one moment would have meant Jesus was denying and turning away from God. Jesus would have been sacrificing something that was of ultimate and eternal value to gain something immediate and temporary. The temptation for us to take a short cut is often the same thing; we sacrifice what is important for that which is immediate.
What is most important in our lives needs to be who we are not what we can gain. In the midst of the temptation to take a short cut which compromises our character and faith we need to pause and think about who we are and whose we are. If we are God’s children then we need to make our relationship with God the most important thing in our lives and if that is our priority then we are not going to compromise that relationship to get ahead. This is what Jesus shows us in his response to Satan’s offer.
As Jesus did in every other temptation, Jesus responds to Satan by going back to a story when God’s people were going to be tempted in the same way. When the people of God settled in the Promised Land, they would be tempted to compromise their faith and follow the practices of the people around them. They would see other people prospering and experiencing the thrills and joys of life but in ways that didn’t honor or recognize God and it would be tempting for them to do the same thing, so before they entered into the land, God told them that they needed to keep their eyes and their hearts on him. From Deuteronomy 6, we hear the words that Jesus quoted. Deuteronomy 6:10-14.
The people of Israel were going to be tempted to follow other gods and the ways of the people around them because it was going to look easier or better, so God reminded them to stand strong in the face of that temptation and remember who they were and whose they were. They were God’s people. They needed to fear the Lord, and serve the Lord and worship the Lord only. The short cuts would be tempting but they would undermine who they were as God’s people and they would break their relationship as God.
Many times the short cuts we are tempted to take also undermine who we are and whose we are. When we compromise our values and faith we not only change who we are and who we want to be, but we cut ourselves off from God so that we are no longer seen as God’s children. So when we are faced with these temptations the issue isn’t the opportunity before us or the goal we are striving for, the issue is making sure we live lives that reflect who we are as followers of Jesus.
When we say no to the short cuts in life we are also giving God the opportunity to do great work in us. It is only in saying no that we can see what the hand of God can do. In Altoona we said no to the school and our program continued to grow and develop and remains strong 20 years later. Our Daycare said no to Head Start and in a few weeks they came back to us and said, we want you as part of our program so we will waive all the limitations on faith if you will join us.
When we say no to the short cuts – the power of God can be seen. It’s not always an easy road, remember the road for Jesus went through the cross, but in time it lead to the resurrection and all authority on earth as well as in heaven being given to him.
So when we face temptation, the temptation to meet a legitimate need in an illegitimate way, we need to pause. When we are tempted to leverage God for our benefit, we need to pause. When we are tempted to take a short cut that might compromise who we are and whose we are, we need to pause and in the face of all temptation we need to learn to put our confidence in God.
Pause ~ King of the Hill
1. When have you taken a short cut that didn’t turn out well?
What did you hope to gain? What did you ultimately lose?
2. Have you ever been tempted to get ahead (become the King of the Hill) but you had to compromise your values (even temporarily) to get there? What did you do?
3. Read Matthew 4:8-9. What was the short cut Jesus was being offered? Why was this tempting? What would Jesus have to compromise?
4. Where are you being tempted to take a short cut?
• At home
• At work or school
• In faith
• With friends
What has to be compromised (even temporarily) in order to get ahead?
5. This week choose what is important over what is immediate.
6. In the face of any and all temptations remember:
• Who you really are
• Whose you really are