Russell Moore, author of “Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ”, the book that I have often quoted in my sermons on the Temptations of Christ, tells this story on his commentary on the third temptation. “I guess it’s hard enough to raise your children right without having to send them off to a Satanist every weekend. That was the dilemma a group of women had when they filed suit against the one thing they all had in common with each other- an ex-husband named Jamie. Jamie was a thirty-year-old factory worker and he’d led a rough life. Then he wound up in court trying to convince a judge he was fit to have parental custody of his children. It all came down to a tattoo.
“Jamie had a cross on his arm, embedded in ink in his skin. That might not seem all that controversial except that the cross was upside down. And it formed the “t” in the word, “Satan”. Jamie’s attorney said this was a simple religious liberty issue. He was a member of the Church of Satan and shouldn’t be discriminated against because of his beliefs. The Devil’s advocate called a satanic priest as an expert witness to provide the crux of their argument: Satanism doesn’t have anything to do with the Devil. The Satanist said that their religion doesn’t believe in a real, personal devil or in any god or supernatural power. Satanism instead worships the ego, the power of the self. That’s what the upside down cross is about, the turning on its head of the Christian values of humility, meekness, and servitude. Satanism isn’t really devil worship, he said since Satan is just a symbol for “pride, liberty, and individualism.”( Moore, 129).
Now you may be thinking that this temptation doesn’t apply to you. Because unlike Jamie, you don’t worship the Devil, metaphorical or otherwise. And while I do think that the occult is a real issue, and that such practices are spiritually dangerous, I do not believe that explicit Devil worship is the main threat that Christians should be worried about or that this verse is talking about. Our text today isn’t only about the worship of the Devil explicitly but is instead about the worship of anything besides the One True Triune God. In our text today the Devil takes Jesus to a high mountain, showing him all the Kingdom’s of the world and tells him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” This is a strange statement because it assumes that Satan is in control of all the Kingdom’s of the world, and stranger still Jesus does not refute him on this point. How can this be if God is all powerful?
The scriptures always affirm the Sovereignty and power of God, but they also suggests that the Devil is a usurper, who stole the power to reign that God gave to Adam and Eve. 2 Corinthians 4:4 calls Satan, “the god of this world.” And 1 John 5 :19 declares that the whole world is under the power of the evil one. Jesus is often described in the Gospels as an exorcist, casting demons out, taking back enemy territory. Paul describes this spiritual battle in Ephesians 6 when he talks about the armor of God. In a strange sense God is at War. But the prize of this war is not territory per se, it is instead worship. The Devil knows that. That is why he is willing to give Jesus all the Kingdoms of the world if only Jesus would worship him.
There are many philosophies in the world about what is the center of human concern, what drives society. Some think money, some think power, some think the pursuit of pleasure, but the Bible is clear that worship is the central drive of human existence, we were made to worship. Indeed, the word “culture” comes from the Latin “cult” which means to worship. So our culture is that which we put value in, that which we lift up, that which we invest in, that which we worship. Psalm 115:8 declares that those who make idols become like them. The Truth is we take on the character of what we worship. John Calvin once said the heart is an idol making factory, if we do not worship the One True Triune God, we will find something else to worship.
I say the One True Triune God, because in our culture today we do not deal as much with polytheism, that is the worship of many gods, as we do with poly-Deism, that being the worship of one civic god with many definitions or ideas of what that one God might be like. Thus we can say, that we are “One nation under God,” and not necessarily be talking about the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Indeed, the modern Enlightenment or secular theology if there is one, would argue that all religions are incomplete and thus there is no point to arguing over which religion has the correct vision. This view point has actually gone all the way back to the founding of America, with my good friend T.J, by that I mean Thomas Jefferson. I forgot to mention that if you are from Virginia you get to refer to Thomas Jefferson as T.J. Thomas Jefferson is best known for penning that famous opening line of the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these Truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.”
Yet, even the Monticello website, that being the website of Jefferson’s estate states, “ Jefferson believed in the existence of a Supreme Being who was the creator and sustainer of the universe and the ultimate ground of being, but this was not the triune deity of orthodox Christianity.” Jefferson even created his own version of the Bible, called the Jefferson Bible, where he edited out all the miracles. To say one believes in God, even at our nations founding, and especially today, doesn’t necessarily mean that a person or institutions believes in Jesus Christ. Does this mean that Christianity did not influence the founding of America? Of course not. But it is to say that at our founding that we were not fully a Christian nation, nor is any other nation on this earth, because at or core we have divided hearts, we worship things other than the One True Triune God. And because God allows for us to exercise our will and conscience it is hard to see how it could be any other way.
We can love our country, our state, our family, our career, our hobbies, but our worship of these things are not the same as our worship of God, and if they surpass our worship of the God revealed in Jesus Christ then we need to reorganize our priorities. For the Greek for “Christian” means to be partisan for Christ. And in today’s society we are partisan for so many things except Jesus. Because what I see of the Jesus of the Gospels is a Savior who defies expectations, who basically irritates every different political and religious persuasion of his day. As Russell Moore points out the power of the cross defies political ideologies. To quote Moore, “ In every generation the church faces cross-evading liberation theologies of both the Left and the Right. The liberation theology of the Left wants a Barabbas to fight off the oppressors, as though the ultimate problem is the reign of Rome and not the reign of death. The liberation theology of the Right wants a golden calf to represent the religion and “traditional values” in the public square and to remind us of all the economic security we could have in Egypt. Both want a Caesar or a Pharaoh, not a messiah.” (Moore, pg 153).
The central question of our lives is not our nationality, political party, ethnicity, social or economic status, gender, or sexual orientation. The central and defining question of our lives is whom or what we shall worship? Indeed, the Westminster Catechism states that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. But yet even in the church we are at war over worship. The thing that should unite us is the very thing that divides us. Some of you may have liked some of the changes I have made to worship over the past few months and some of you may not. Some of you may be thinking that I am out to start my own worship war. Well I agree with Moore, who suggests that we actually need more worship wars not less. To quote Moore, “what if the war looked like this in your congregation-the young singles petitioning the church to play more of the old classics for the sake of the elderly people. And the elderly people calling on the leadership to contemporize for the sake of the young new believers? This would signal a counting of others as more important than ourselves, which comes from the Spirit of the humiliated, exalted King, Christ. When I insist that the rest of the congregation serve as backup singers in my own little nostalgic hit parade of back home Mississippi hymns, I am worshiping in the spirit all right, but not the Holy Spirit. I am worshiping myself, in the spirit of self exaltation. The church negates the power of the third temptation when we remind ourselves that we all have this devilish tendency and cast it aside whether in worship planning or missions or budget decisions. “ (Moore, 150)
So often we are like the woman at the well in John Chapter 4. We encounter Jesus. We want to talk about everything, politics, religion, our love lives, everything but where our hearts are at. We want to know the right way to worship, the right place to worship, the people who have the right to worship. But Jesus says to us, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. “ The hour is coming, the war for our hearts and minds is upon us, the temptation is real, the darkness of the Evil One rips at our hopes and dreams. When all is stripped away, and you are left in your desert trial, the only question that matters is whom shall you serve? Who will you worship?
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.