Laura Bartels Felleman
Matthew 4: 1-11
Proof of ID
So, ever own a fake ID? An ID card that says you’re a little older than you really are? Or maybe an ID for an organization that doesn’t exist, like those certificates the State gives out that says someone is an admiral in the Nebraska Navy.
In the Gospel lesson, the tempter asks to see some proof of Jesus’ identity, (If you are the Son of God, then. . .) but the three things he asks Jesus for? those things are really fake IDS.
Satan asks for three forms of identification that will prove that Jesus is the Messiah. And Jesus refuses. Jesus is wise enough to know that the kind of proof the devil is asking for is a trap, a temptation.
It’s like one high school student saying to another, if you really love me, then you’ll perform this sex act. Or someone insisting that if we are really their friend, then we will hate the same person they hate. Or politicians claiming that if we are really Christians, then we will vote for them. How do we know when someone is asking for legitimate evidence of our identity, and when they are asking us for something that is fake?
Jesus used God’s Word to say No to the devil’s false identity tests. No, Jesus will not prove that he is the Son of God by turning stones into bread. His ministry will not solely focus on people’s need for bread, but on their need for every word that comes from God. That answer is taken from Deut 8:3.
No, Jesus will not prove that he is the Messiah by throwing himself from the temple tower. His ministry will not be about fake leaps of faith but about true acts of obedience. That answer is taken from Deut 6:16
No, Jesus will not prove that he is the King of the World by worshipping the tempter. His ministry will not establish earthly power, but it will establish the rule of God in every soul. That answer is taken from Deut 6:13. Those are the ways that Jesus will prove he really is who he claims to be.
If we were asked to prove our identity as Christians, it would be easy to fall for one of the three false tests Jesus was tempted with. We could try to focus on physical needs. We could let our compassion motivate us to be involved in social welfare programs-- job training, health clinics, youth mentoring, disaster relief-- addressing social ills could take up all of our free time and energy to such an extent that we would never get around to ministering to people’s spiritual needs.
We could try to prove our identity as Christians by staging some spectacle-- organize a Christian concert, bring in a well-known Christian speaker, take a tour group to a Christian site. But then we would be caught in the trap of having to come up with something more spectacular, more dramatic the next time. People tire of things quickly, it takes more and more excitement to capture their attention. And then all our time and energy would be sucked up trying to guess what would impress the crowds, and we would never get around to helping them find God in the midst of the everyday and ordinary activities of life.
We could try to prove our identity as Christians by gaining political power and being wealthy. Convince ourselves that political influence and worldly splendor are signs of God’s blessing. The more votes and money we have the more proof of our special relationship with God. But then all of our time and energy would be spent working the system and accumulating income, and those activities would crowd out worshipping and serving God.
The problem with these false IDs is that they only prove outward appearance. They don’t demonstrate inward resemblance. We can be good people, responsible, upstanding citizens, ministering to physical needs, staging spectacles, and amassing worldly power and still be rotten people on the inside. Surface appearances do not prove that someone is a Christian.
According to United Methodist Doctrine there are three proofs of Christian identity that are reliable, that do prove that we are the sons and daughters of God. They are Honesty, Faith, and Love. Anyone who has these three signs of discipleship is a true follower of Jesus.
Honesty means that we can be honest with God about ourselves, our lives. No matter how painful or embarrassing, we don’t hold anything back.
Because we have faith that if we are honest about our shortcomings and faults and ask for forgiveness, we will be forgiven. Because of Jesus’ action on our behalf, we trust that God still loves us and wants to be in relationship with us.
And because God loves us, we love in return. We are filled up to overflowing with love for God and that love spills over to our neighbors, it impacts how we feel about other people and how we act towards them.
Honesty, Faith, Love. These are the proofs of Christian identity. And we can’t acquire these proofs on our own. We can’t buy them. The conference office can’t issue them to us. There’s no way to earn them.
Honesty, Faith, and Love are gifts. God graciously gives them to us. And because they are gifts, we have nothing to boast about. All the glory belongs to God.
If we do an internal inventory and find that we’ve got some of these forms of ID, but not all three, or we find that we’ve been tempted to pass off fake Christian IDs, then what? I say we should follow the example in the Gospel lesson and use the Word of God, Jesus Christ. Turn to Jesus.
After all, he faced all these temptations and resisted them. He will help us resist them as well. When we have been as honest as we can be, ask Jesus for the grace to be even more honest. We should trust Christ as much as we can, and ask him for the grace to have more faith. We must feel love and act out of that feeling of love as frequently as we can, and ask Christ for the grace to love with all our heart, all our strength, all our mind, and to treat everyone the way that we want to be treated.
No time like the present. Let’s make our request before God right now.