St. Matthew’s Sermon 03-10-2019

St. Matthew’s Sermon 03-10-2019

In the Eye of the Beholder?

Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

We don’t know what Jesus looked like, there are no photographs, no portraits, and no writings that even give us a clue to his physical attributes. Was he short or tall; did he have straight, wavy, curly; red, black, or brown hair; was his skin dark or light? The fact is, we just don’t know.

Artists that create images of Jesus can only guess at his actual appearance and their decisions are certainly influenced by the cultural setting in which they live. Our Jesus (pictured behind the pulpit) certainly looks European and, no doubt, was created by an artist of European decent. One of the oldest known paintings of Jesus was found in Egypt and depicts Jesus and his disciples with dark skin. All this is well and good, allowing the culture they were made for to more closely identify with the Christ. Well and good, that is, until we believe them to depict Christ in our image in opposition to their image.

What is more important than the physical appearance of Jesus in such images is the character traits they evoke. Besides the passion and crucifixion, we often see depictions of Christ’s finer moments like healing the paralytic, lifting Peter out of the sea, feeding the thousands and so on. And there are those that use metaphor to express Christ’s character; again, like our Jesus the shepherd who carries the lamb with the sheep (that is us) pressed close to him. All of these are fine examples of how “a picture paints a thousand words” conveying the message of Christ’s love, compassion, and caring; visible images that inspire our hearts and draw our spirits ever nearer to our Lord with comfort and trust.

Likewise, but on the other side of the coin, are the created images of the devil. Again, we have no photos or portraits; and any written accounts are only artistic creations composed by a few writers that are not based on personal encounters.

In these we are given visions of a monster of one variety or another. There’s the human-like figure but with fire-red skin, horns sprouting from his head, and a long barbed tail. Or the part human part goat standing upright on cloven hooves and a goats head. Or the ones with the face of a wolf; clawed hands, and teeth exposed ready to rip into the believer’s soul and shred it like prey.

In opposition to Christ’s inviting charm, these images are repulsive; warning us to stay away, stay far, far away.

Again, all well and good; the message is clearly guiding us to the appealing one, the one we want to draw near to, the one we should draw near to, and warning us of the one we should stay away from. All well and good until we allow those messages to oversimplify temptation. If we think that if it looks good, it must be good. And if it looks evil, it must be evil.


When we read today’s Gospel lesson and hear the part where the devil comes to Jesus with his final three temptations, it is easy for us to envision some monstrous figure that Jesus would quickly withdraw from or stand in opposition to. But there is no description of the devil’s appearance. Further, the words spoken give no clue to his evil intent. In fact, it seems to come off as a friendly encounter.

Hear it again: “”If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” You’ve already completed your 40 days, what harm would there be! Why walk out of this dreadful place on an empty stomach”?

“”To you I will give [all the kingdoms of the world and] their glory and all this authority”. Isn’t that your goal, to rule over all the earth? Why go through all the trouble of conquering it if I can just hand it to you”?

“”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,’” What a show that would be! Just think of it; all those people witnessing all those angels grabbing you before you hit the ground! Surely everyone would know that you are, indeed, the Son of God and believe everything you say”!

It all looks good! How could it possibly be evil? All, that is, except for that one obvious part about “if you will worship me”.


Move this now into our lives today; think of the devils that we encounter and tempt us.

Yes, there may be some that are ugly; the ones we know just by looking at them are the ones we should stay far away from. Like the gruff looking character lurking in the shadows on the street, tempting us, saying “friend, come here, have I got a deal for you” or “hey buddy, want to make a quick buck”? Yet these obvious devils are few and far between.

On the other side, there are plenty of devils that don’t look so threatening; in fact they are often quite attractive. Like the well dressed and handsome televangelist that promises unimagined material riches, delivered straight from God, if you support his ministry; or the drop-dead gorgeous woman promising the same results for you if you buy her face cream; the successful lawyer that tells you that little slip-and-fall should get you hundreds of thousands of dollars; the friendly payday lender who’s willing to help you out when you’re in a pinch. Here, the devils are not so obvious and are not few and far between. But, just like the ugly, they call to us with the glitter of gold, the shine of silver, and the shimmer of silk; tempting us to bow down and worship them, to sell our souls to them for worldly goods.

It’s not always easy to recognize the devil as he tempts us; certainly not as easy as looking at a painting and recognizing the difference between Jesus and the devil. Thomas Merton, in his writing “No Man is an Island” put it this way “The greatest temptations are not those that solicit our consent to obvious sin, but those that offer us great evils masking as the greatest goods.”

So, with this in mind, how do we sort the presence of Christ from the presence of the devil? How do we really know the good from the evil?

Jesus addresses this as he continues his ministry with his examples and, more specifically, in chapter 6 where we hear him say “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit”. Yet, in this metaphor, we might still be confused. What is good fruit and what is bad? What about acquired taste, which itself could be a metaphor for how we can mistake good for evil or evil for good by what we have become accustom to through our societal norms.

When Jesus speaks of good fruit he is talking about the actions that bring the kingdom of God upon the earth. Bad fruit, then, are the actions that resist the coming of the kingdom. God’s kingdom is the rule of love, the rule of justice, the rule of unity that lifts all people out of poverty and oppression. The devils kingdom is the rule of hate, the rule of injustice, the rule of division that lifts the few at the expense of many.

Knowing the tree, then, is a matter of identifying the value of the fruit by asking: will it feed me alone, or will it feed all? Will it satisfy my hunger alone, or will it satisfy all? Will it make me feel loved, or will all feel love? Does it draw me closer to Christ, or will all be drawn near? Is it self-serving, or does it serve all. Does it raise me up on the backs of others, or does it lift all people to the glory of God?

Know the fruit you are being offered and you will know the tree from which it comes.



Deuteronomy 26:1-11
26:1 When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it,
26:2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.
26:3 You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.”
26:4 When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God,
26:5 you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.
26:6 When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us,
26:7 we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.
26:8 The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders;
26:9 and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
26:10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God.
26:11 Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
91:1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
91:2 will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”
91:9 Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place,
91:10 no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.
91:11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.
91:12 On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
91:13 You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
91:14 Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.
91:15 When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.
91:16 With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.

Romans 10:8b-13
10:8b “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);
10:9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
10:10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
10:11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”
10:12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.
10:13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Luke 4:1-13
4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,
4:2 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.
4:3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
4:4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”
4:5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.
4:6 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.
4:7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”
4:8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”
4:9 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,
4:10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’
4:11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”
4:12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
4:13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.