With baseball season starting this week, I was reading an article on the worst trades in baseball history. There were a number of contenders, but I have to agree with the one they identified as the worst: On December 26, 1919, the owner of the Boston Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the owner of the New York Yankees for $100,000, and a $300,000 loan to finance his musical, “No, No, Nanette.” Now I like a lot of musicals, but I have never heard of that one, and I have to agree that was one of the worst trades ever.
But there have been worse — among them the trade that Satan offered Jesus in Matthew 4 when he offered Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory in exchange for worshiping him. Thankfully for all of us, Jesus didn’t take him up on that trade — but sadly, many individuals among us have — in fact, we all have to some extent. We need to learn from the response of Jesus here:
“Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and serve Him only.”
I. THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT
As we have seen before, every answer of Jesus to the devil here was a quote from scripture, which is an example for us. In this case the scripture was Deuteronomy 6:13. Deuteronomy 6 is the chapter which includes the famous “Shema”, the Hebrew word for “Hear!” Verse 6 famously says: “Hear (Shema!) O Israel, YHWH is our God, YHWH is one. You shall love YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” And it goes on to expand on that later by saying that they should worship the Lord and serve Him only.
Jesus would later be confronted by some of the scribes and Pharisees in the Temple, and one of them would ask Him in Matthew 22:36, “Teacher, what is the great commandment in the Law?” And :37 tells us that He answered him: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment.” So Jesus tells us that loving God alone, and worshiping Him, is THE most important commandment.
In fact, loving and worshiping God is what Christianity is really all about. A lot of people don’t understand this. They think that Christianity is about making this “decision” called “getting saved” so that one day when you die you can be sure to go to heaven. And those are indeed some of the elements of Christianity. But Christianity is really all about LOVING GOD.
See, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have lived from eternity as the Triune God, in a perfect love relationship among the Triune Persons. Jesus said to the Heavenly Father in His prayer in John 17:24 “You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” God did not create us human beings in order to “have someone to love.” He already had perfect love in His Triune Persons. But amazingly, God created us to invite us INTO the love that the Trinity already shared. He made us to love Him. Psalm 149:2 says “Let Israel be glad in His Maker; let the sons of Zion rejoice in their King” — and then :4 goes on to say “For the Lord takes pleasure in His people.” So Psalm 149 shows us the perfect picture of the love relationship between God and His people: We are to rejoice in our King, and He takes pleasure in us. THIS is what God made us for: to love Him and worship and be fulfilled by our relationship with Him.
Our part of our love relationship with God is what we call “worship.” We spend time with God, we pray, we sing, we serve, we give — all these things are to be expressions of our love relationship with Him. They are not — as many people MIS-take them — just “religious duties” that we to do alleviate our guilt and make us right with God. If that’s why you are doing them, then you are doing them for the wrong reason, there is no benefit to them, and you are most likely very miserable. And this, I would say, describes the religious life of the average American today — and probably quite a few people in this room. You are just doing “religious things” you think you are supposed to be doing, so you won’t feel guilty — and there is no joy for you in it. A number of us, if you were honest, would admit that this describes you.
But that is not what God made us for. He made us to have this relationship with Him, in which He loves us, and we love Him, and the “religious” things we do are just the way we worship Him, out of LOVE for Him.
When a man and a woman love each other, they express their love in a number of practical ways:
— #1, they will want to spend time together. People who are in love, want to be together.
— they will say kind things to each other, and compliment each other.
— they will spend money on each other, to show their love, often with extravagant gifts
— they will tell other people about the one they love
— and if that other person needs them to do anything for them, they are there for them! The loved one’s ‘wish is your demand’ when you love.
We need to understand that that is just what Christian worship is supposed to be: worship just consists of the different ways that we show our love to God:
— #1, just like in human love, when we love God, we spend time with Him. The way we do that is that we get alone with Him, and He speaks to us in His word, and we speak to Him in prayer. That morning “devotional time” is not just a “religious ritual”; it is how you spend time with the God you love!
As a Christian, THE single most important commandment you have to fulfill every day is to love the Lord your God and worship Him.
Martin Luther said the first duty of every Christian every day is to make yourself happy in your God. Spend time with Him, loving Him. THAT is what that devotional time is supposed to be, not just a “religious routine.”
— then just like you give compliments to the one you love on earth, so you “compliment” God in prayers and praise songs.
— you will spend money on Him: giving Him that first 10% of your income as a tithe, showing that you are really committed to Him — but then there will be times that you give extravagantly above & beyond that, because you love Him and want to see His name spread through buildings and missions and ministry.
— And because you can’t help talking about what you love, you are going to tell other people about Him.
— and whatever He tells you to do, you DO IT — because you love Him.
See, all these things are never supposed to be mere “religious duties”; if that is how you see them, then no wonder you are miserable. All these things are intended to be ways that you express your love to the God who made you to love and worship Him. It’s the Greatest Commandment — “You shall love the Lord your God” — and it’s also the greatest privilege we have, to know and worship the God who made you to love Him.
II. THE GREATEST TEMPTATION
Because worshiping God is the greatest commandment, then failing to do that is the greatest sin.
Satan attacked this very area in Jesus’ life in his climactic temptation in the wilderness. He had already tempted Him to turn stones into bread if He was really the Son of God — tempting Him to use His God-given powers to meet His own needs, instead of looking to His Father’s provision. Then He tempted Him to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple (and quoted scripture to Him: for doesn’t God’s word say “He will give His angels charge concerning You, and on their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike your foot against a stone” — MISquoting Psalm 91:11-12 to try to get Jesus to do something foolish, but Jesus corrected him by quoting again from Deuteronomy 6, this time :16, “You shall not put YHWH your God to the test.” Then the devil had one more temptation: The Bible says in :8 “the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if you fall down and worship me.” Here Satan tried the final temptation, which was basically to offer Jesus everything the world had to offer, if He would worship him instead of the Father. But Jesus responded with Deuteronomy 6:13, “You shall worship YHWH your God, and Him only shall you serve.”
Here the temptation was for Jesus to worship something other than God — which is the great commandment. And the enticement was “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” We shouldn’t skip over that lightly. Here Jesus was offered everything a person might ever want in this world, if only He would break the first commandment, and trade the worship of God for something else.
This was the temptation of Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3: they were made to worship God and walk in that love relationship with Him, but Satan tempted them with everything that the forbidden fruit had to offer: is good for food; it is a delight to look at; it will make you wise, make you like God. It will be so fulfilling; it will be so worth disobeying God to get that — and they went for it. They broke God’s command — but the greatest commandment they broke that day was not just taking the fruit from the tree; the biggest command they broke that day was the first one: they put something else ahead of God. They wanted that fruit more than they wanted Him; they thought that fruit would bring them fulfillment instead of Him. Of course, it was all a lie: when they took the fruit they sinned, and they ran and hid from God because they were guilty, and they were cast out of the Garden where they had had perfect fellowship with God, and sin and death and all the problems we have were introduced into the world. But it all came from breaking this first and great commandment of loving God more than anything else.
And what we need to understand today is that the devil tempts us all in the same way; this is what sin always is: putting something else ahead of worshiping God.
The thing is, whether you realize it or not, we have all been made the same offer. Satan may not have brought you up from the wilderness to a high mountain where he showed you all the kingdoms of the world and their glory at one time, like he did Jesus, but Satan IS offering you something in this world, if only you will break that first commandment. “Love something more than God” — and look what he will give you. That is the temptation we all face.
And the devil doesn’t care WHAT it is that you worship more than God, just as long as you don’t focus your attention on loving God. John Calvin wrote “the human heart is a factory of idols” — and we are constantly turning to other things to worship instead of the one true God:
— it can be loving another person instead of God. This is VERY prevalent today. SO many people are looking for their “soul mate.” The person they are married to right now, of course, is NEVER that person, so they need to leave them and try to go find whoever it is — and it usually leads to broken relationship after broken relationship. The problem is that Satan has sold people this lie about the “soul mate”; that this PERSON will fulfill you and make you whole. YOUR SOUL WAS NEVER DESIGNED TO BE SATISFIED BY ANOTHER HUMAN PERSON. YOUR SOUL WAS DESIGNED TO BE SATISFIED BY GOD. No human person can take the place of God in your heart. You are putting putting your husband or wife up to a standard they can never satisfy. They can be your helpmeet; they can be your earthly love; they can be the father or mother of your children; they can be your co-laborers in God’s kingdom work, and fellow travelers on the journey of life with you — Listen: I am not saying you can’t have a good and happy marriage; you can — Cheryl & I have a great marriage relationship — but do not expect more of your marriage partner than they can give you. They cannot be your ultimate “soul mate” — in a very real sense, ONLY GOD IS YOUR SOUL MATE. Only God will ultimately satisfy you. Don’t let Satan tempt you to try find your soul’s satisfaction in another person, instead of in God.
Satan tempts people to trade satisfaction in God for all kinds of things. Last week I zipped through one of the most interesting books I have ever read, by Dikkon Eberhart with one of the longest but best titles ever: “The Time Mom Met Hitler, Frost Came To Dinner, & I Heard The Greatest Story Ever Told.” Eberhart’s father was the poet laureate of the United States during Eisenhower and Kennedy’s terms, and he grew up with all kinds of authors and poets in his house (hence “the time Robert Frost came to dinner” — he really did!). But in the book he talks about how so many of these authors and poets were what he called “Bohemians”, who just threw God and morality and traditional values out the window, and gave themselves to whatever pleasure appealed to them: whether it was sexual immorality, homosexuality, drinking, drugs, whatever. And so many people looked to these Bohemians with envy and longed to be like them. But Eberhart said he began to see what was happening to these people. He said those lives of “free love” and carefree existence did NOT fulfill them as they were promised. He said he began to look around among all these poet friends and saw that there were more dead bodies and suicides than in the 5th act of a Shakespearean drama! These people were promised so much if they would just reject God and pursue pleasure instead but it was a lie and it did not deliver! And it won’t give you what it is promising you either. Don’t give in to the temptation of putting pleasure ahead of God.
And we need to recognize that it is not only lost people who are tempted to put other things ahead of our worship of God. Even Christian people are tempted to compromise what should be their worship of the Lord, and put other things ahead of Him:
— Instead of seeking Him first, and worshiping Him first in the morning, we are tempted to exercise instead, and put that first; or read the newspaper; or watch that morning show; or check Facebook or the internet, whatever — your first temptation happens first thing in the morning. What are you going to seek first?
— We are tempted to put other things financially ahead of the Lord, and spend what should be His tithe, on other things instead
— We are tempted to get involved in all kinds of other causes and activities which will take our time for the Lord in worship and in service.
Our greatest commandment is to keep God our the great love of our life, but just like Jesus here, we will all be tempted to trade something else for Him instead; something that promises to fulfill us — but in truth, it never will. If you give in to it, it will be your worst trade ever.
III. THE GREATEST FULFILLMENT
It is significant that after Jesus had quoted this last scripture, and repulsed Satan’s last temptation (for now) and made the commitment to worship YHWH His God only, that :11 says, “Then the devil left Him, and angels came and began to minister to Him.” Jesus GOT what He needed — He GOT the bread; He got the help; He got the fulfillment that He needed — but He didn’t get it by compromising and worshiping something instead of God; He got it by remaining faithful, and committing Himself to worship God alone.
The same thing will be true for us. When we turn down the enticements that Satan offers us in exchange for putting something else ahead of God, then we will find real fulfillment by worshiping God alone.
A. First, we find a taste of it here on earth.
There is great fulfillment and joy to be found even here on earth when we fulfill this command to “worship the Lord your God.”
One of the things I discovered when I first really started having my own daily worship time in college was that it “felt good” to worship God! I would get on my knees, and pray and sing, and stretch out my hands to God and sing, “Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee, how great Thou art!” And there was just a good “feeling” when I did that.
And this is Biblical:
— Psalm 147:1 begins: “Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and praise is becoming.”
— David wrote in Psalm 63:5 “My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.”
— He said in Psalm 4:7 “You have put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and new wine abound.”
— Psalm 17:15 “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.”
Repeatedly David wrote of the “satisfaction” and “gladness” that he got from worshiping God.
Many of us today know that satisfaction and joy as well, that comes to us when we worship God. For the real worshiper of God, worship is not just a “duty”; it is a joy that gives you satisfaction and pleasure.
(In fact, the pleasure that often comes from worship leads to two more temptations we need to beware of:
1) The fact that there are often such good feelings in worship can lead us, if we aren’t careful, to love the “feelings” of worship, more than we worship God Himself. Don’t just love “worship”; love GOD — there is a difference!
2) Because there are so often such good feelings that attend worship, we often think there is something “wrong” if we don’t have the “feelings” — and the truth is, the feelings will not always be there. There are times when you just have to worship by faith, whether the feelings are there or not. God is worthy of being worshiped by you whether you “feel like it” or not; don’t base your worship on feelings.
So we need to guard against those two temptations in worship. But the fact remains that there IS fulfillment and pleasure to be found in worshiping God right here on earth.
B. Second, we will experience fulfillment forever in heaven as we worship God there.
Just like everything here on earth, even our worship here is not perfect. It is corrupted by our sin; our attitudes are not right; our motives are often mixed; it is hard to keep our “self” out of it and really keep God at the center of it, etc. So as good as worship can sometimes be here on earth, it will never be perfect.
But one day, we WILL experience perfect love in our worship of God in His presence forever.
Revelation 21& 22 describe what that will be like. It says: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning; or crying or pain; the first things have passed away (21:3-4) … There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him …” (22:3). That word “serve” is a Greek Bible word that means “worship.” Forever God’s people will worship in the presence of God, with no suffering or pain or anything bad, and experience joy and pleasure in His presence forever.
Psalm 16:11 says “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” God’s people, who have learned to worship Him here on earth, will find Him to be their great reward in heaven, as they worship Him forever.
Many of you probably remember Shawn Johnson, who was a U.S. Olympic gymnast in 2008. The media had hyped everyone to expect that she would bring home four gold medals from the games, and win the overall championship. She trained as hard as she could, and actually performed very well, but she got “only” a silver in the all-around. She said the presenter who put the silver medal around her neck leaned over and said, “I’m sorry.” She said it just reinforced to her the idea that she had failed; she had “let down the world.” So she decided to make a comeback for the next Olympics; she felt like she just HAD to win that gold, but the pressure was killing her. She went home crying from practice every day; her hair began falling out. She said she came to a crisis moment one day, standing on the balance beam, when she realized that she would never be fulfilled by gymnastics, no matter how many gold medals she won; there would always be more — more — more demanding something else. And she gave up trying to find her fulfillment from gymnastics, and “winning”, and pleasing everyone else — and she found Jesus as her Lord & Savior. And now Shawn Johnson says she wouldn’t trade this for anything. Her testimony now is: “Even if I won 12 more gold medals, that’s not my purpose in life. HE will always be my greatest reward.”
That young lady has been through a lot, but thankfully she has learned life’s most important lesson. God created us to worship Him. HE is our great reward. Don’t let Satan tempt you to trade God as the center of your life for anything else. It will be the worst trade you have ever made. Hear the words of Jesus and follow in His steps: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.”