First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Third Sunday in Lent ~ March 15, 2020)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
Deuteronomy 6:10-19; Matthew 4:8-11
Needless to say that our world seems upside down right now. There is so much unrest and chaos. A month ago when I decided to look at the temptations of Jesus in the Judean wilderness during our season of Lent, I had no clue that the Coronavirus pandemic will be at the center of our attention, causing millions of people around the world to panic, public gatherings and meetings to get cancelled, school closings, travel bans, and limiting the movement of everyone. As I said, when I planned for our Lent sermon series, it never crossed my mind that fear and uncertainty will be dominating the scene during this beautiful spring. Yet, I believe that the Scripture passages I prepared for today are divinely ordained. Matthew 4:8-11, the Third Temptation of Christ, is a great passage that addresses our fears and concerns.
The Third Temptation
The third temptation represents the ultimate goal of all temptations – that is to say to worship Satan, idolatry. In the third temptation, we are told the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain. Luke tells us that the devil showed Jesus, in an instant, all the kingdoms of the world in all of their glory and splendor. Someone said that Satan carefully hid the corruption of these kingdoms and showed only the external splendor – the art, the architecture, the armies, the wealth, the power, the thrones, the banquets, and the pleasures of this world. “All these,” Satan said, “I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Jesus turned Satan’s offer down and defeated the devil for the third time. “Away from me, Satan!” Jesus said. “For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.” Please allow me to make two short observations as we try to make sense of what is happening in our world today in the light of Christ’s Third Temptation. In times of crisis, let’s remember two important things:
First: Christ is Lord and He is Still on His Throne
During this time of global crisis, let’s remember that Jesus Christ is Lord and He is still exalted on the throne. He defeated the devil and He is in control of our world. Sometimes it might be hard to grasp this truth and hold onto it.
Doubt is from Satan. Three times, Satan wanted to drag Jesus in the wilderness to doubt His Father’s care and provision for Him. “If you’re the son of God, tell these stones to become bread … throw yourself down.” Satan is a liar. In John 8:44 Jesus speaks about Satan saying, “There is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
Doubt is from Satan, but faith and trust in the midst of adversity is from the Lord. Confusion is from the devil, but assurance is from the Lord. It is important not to panic at the Coronavirus outbreaks, but it is equally important to take it seriously and take reasonable precautions.
One of the things I have learned over the years is that anxiety, worrying about the “what if’s” in life, will drain your strength and energy. It’s not a fun way to live. Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch watchmaker and writer (1892-1983), who courageously resisted the Nazi’s Holocaust, once said, “Worry doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
In fact, the uncertainty and anxiety of our world today provides us with an amazing opportunity to renew our trust in the Lord who alone is our Rock and Redeemer. We are told in Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” Easier said than done, right?
Second: An Opportunity to Model Christlikeness
In times of crises, Christians are called to model the difference that Christ makes in a person’s outlook and attitude. Isaiah 26:3 contains an incredible promise. It says, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”
This is an attitude that only a Christ-follower can adopt in times such as these. Make a daily choice to trust in the Lord and in His goodness. He is more than able to take on our worries, our burdens, and our fears. Let’s model that trust to others.
Friends, the more I think about the temptations of Jesus, the more I come to the conclusion that what enabled Jesus to overcome the temptations in the Judean wilderness was His solid conviction of God’s sovereignty. God is enthroned as King and Lord over all things. At the heart of the Reformed tradition is the conviction that God is God. In these uncertain days, we remain rooted and grounded in this truth. God is sovereign: this is our hope, our confidence, and our peace in the midst of the storm.
I do not know what is going to happen in the next few weeks, but I urge you, my friends, to model Christlikeness. Finally, I would call on you today to stay connected to other church members during this time. Let’s reach out to each other and care for one other. Pick up the phone and call someone to check on them. Please especially be mindful of members and friends who might feel very isolated. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.