By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
“Then Jesus answered, ‘Go away, Satan! The Scripture says, Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!’ ” — Matthew 4:10
Mission and Evangelism Seminar/Workshop
We were quite busy in our seminary these past three days conducting mission and evangelism seminar/workshops attended by more than fifty participants. Our theme was on mass evangelism. When we talk of mass evangelism, we are not simply referring to the evangelistic rallies conducted by evangelical groups in public places calling people to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.
Rather, we are referring to the divine task of evangelizing the masses, proclaiming the good news in word and in deed, like what Jesus Christ our Lord and the Early Church had done, whether it be in public places or in private homes, whether it be individually or communally.
Jesus Model of Evangelization
How then should we evangelize the masses? Our model should be that of Jesus Christ our Lord. How did Jesus Christ our Lord evangelize the masses? Matthew 4:1-11 can be of help to us.
As Jesus started his ministry, he was tempted to follow various options of evangelizing the masses prevailing at the time. But he was able to overcome all these temptations. Like Jesus, we may also be tempted to follow various options of evangelizing the masses existing in our society today. And like Jesus, may we also overcome all these temptations. There are several lessons we could learn from Jesus’ discerning experience in the wilderness on how to evangelize the masses.
Turning Stones into Bread
First of all, we should not yield to the temptation to “turn stones into bread” to persuade people.
Jesus received God’s Spirit to fulfill His saving act in the world. And he knew for sure that he had this power with him. At that moment in the wilderness, Jesus was in a period of discerning God’s will. He was making a choice on what strategy to use to fulfill his mission of winning people to God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is not something ready-made; but it is something that must be struggled for. How would Jesus turn the vision of God’s Kingdom into a reality? What kind of approach would he follow?
One sure way to persuade people to follow him was to give them bread, to give them material things. Did not history justify that? For instance, had not God given manna in the wilderness? If Jesus had decided to give people bread, he could have produced enough justifications for it. As a matter of fact, some of the early Protestant missionaries in our country followed this approach by distributing relief goods to prospective converts. Unfortunately, some of our Korean missionaries in our country today are also using this evangelistic strategy.
But to give people bread would have been a serious mistake. It would have been to persuade people to follow Jesus for the sake of what they could get out of it. Jesus Christ our Lord called people to a life of giving, and not a life of getting. To bribe people with material things would have been ultimately to defeat Jesus’ own purpose. Besides, it would have been to remove the symptoms without dealing with the disease itself.
True, people are hungry, especially nowadays, despite reports of a growing economy. But the question is: why are people hungry? Is it because of their indolence, like what our former colonizers said about us? Or, is it because there are some who selfishly possess too much, and greedily desire to have even more, while others possess too little?
The real way to cure poverty and hunger in this world is to remove the causes, which are deeply rooted in people’s hearts and minds, and are concretely expressed in their systems and structures of social relationships. Besides, there is that hunger of the human heart, like the hunger for justice and righteousness, the hunger for love and peace, which material things can never satisfy.
And so, Jesus answered the Tempter, “Man can not live on bread alone, but needs every word that God speaks” (cf. Dt. 8:3). For the word of God is a word of justice; it is a word of love and compassion.
Moreover, we should not yield to the temptation of creating sensations to attract people and get their support.
In our text, Jesus was again tempted from another angle. In a vision, the Tempter took Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple. The Temple was built on top of Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. And there was one corner of the Temple building at which the Solomon’s Porch and the Royal Porch met. At that corner, there was a sheer drop of about four hundred and fifty feet into the Valley of Kedron down below.
Now, why should not Jesus stand on that pinnacle and leap down below, like Superman, and perhaps land unharmed in the valley beneath? Surely, such things would startle people into following him! As a matter of fact, this was the strategy promised by those who claimed to be messiahs or saviors in those days. For instance, the famous Egyptian Pretender recorded in the Book of Acts (21:38) had promised that with a word he would lay flat the walls of Jerusalem. Simon Magus had promised to fly through the air, and, of course, he died in his attempt to do so.
All these things seem to be no different from today’s Charismatic Phenomenon, the El Shaddai Phenomenon, the Agoo Phenomenon, the Quibuloy Phenomenon, and many others. Thousands upon thousands of people are attracted to religious groups and movements that promise instant healing, instant riches; yes, instant salvation from this world of pain and suffering!
Why should Jesus not follow this strategy? He would have been an instant celebrity. He could have attracted the rich, the famous, and the mighty in the City of Jerusalem, and not merely the blind, the lame, the poor and insignificant people of Galilee. Unlike the Pretenders of his day, Jesus had the power to fulfill his promise. But why, why should Jesus not follow the way of sensationalism?
Jesus knew for sure that a person who seeks to attract people to him by providing them with sensations has adopted a strategy in which there is no future. The reason is simple. To retain his power to attract people, he must produce ever greater and greater sensations. For this year’s sensation may be next year’s commonplace. A Gospel founded on sensationalism is foredoomed to failure. People would come to know the truth and realize that there is more to life than mere sensationalism.
Besides, that is not the way to use God’s gift of power. “You must not put the Lord your God to the test” (Dt. 6:16), said Jesus. For sure, our God expects us to take risks in life in order to be faithful and obedient to him, but God does not expect us to take risks in order to enhance our own prestige.
The faith that is dependent on sensationalism is not really faith; rather it is actually doubt looking for proof in the wrong place. God’s rescuing, healing, and redeeming power is not something to be played with or to be experimented with; but rather it is something to be quietly trusted in our everyday life.
Jesus Christ our Lord refused to follow the way of sensationalism in evangelizing the masses, because he knew for sure that it was the way to failure. And to long for sensations is not really to trust, but to distrust the Almighty God.
Compromising values and principles
Furthermore, we should not yield to the temptation to compromise our values and principles in life just to win people’s approval.
In his moment of discernment, Jesus was again tempted in another way. It was the world that Jesus came to serve and to save, and into his mind there came the picture of the world. The voice of the Tempter said, “Fall down and worship me, and I will give you all the kingdoms of this world” (v.9). The Tempter was in fact saying, “Follow the ways of the world! Do what the rulers of this world have been doing! They conquer nations and kingdoms by force or by manipulations, and lord it over them!”
This is the temptation of following the ways of the world, instead of presenting uncompromisingly God’s demands to the world. It is the temptation to change the world by becoming like the world. This has been a persistent temptation in the history of the Christian church. The church in the Middle Ages, for instance, had scandalously yielded to the temptation to adopt an authoritarian structure patterned after the Roman Empire.
But Jesus answered, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him alone you will serve” (cf. Dt. 6:13). This is the same faith affirmed by our mothers and fathers in the faith in their attempts to reform the church in the Reformation Era. Jesus our Lord knew for sure that we can never defeat evil by compromising with evil. Our world needs a new way of life, a new kind of relationship, based on God’s justice and love.
Serving the Masses
And so finally, we should worship the Lord our God and He alone we shall serve.
To serve God is to serve the people. Service to people happens when we identify ourselves with the genuine hopes and aspirations of the people and serve them truly and wholeheartedly. In serving the people, we take the genuine interests of the people as our own, and not to make our own vested interests as the people’s interests. By serving the people, especially those at the bottom of society, we are offering our concrete service to God Himself.
And so, Jesus made up his mind. He decided that in evangelizing the masses, he must never bribe the masses of people into following the way of God’s Kingdom; he decided that the strategy of sensationalism is not for him; he decided that there is no compromise in the message he proclaims and in the faith he demands. He decided “to worship God and Him alone (he) will serve.” Jesus Christ our Lord believed that this is the will of God. This is what God desires. And he offered his life in obedience to the will of God.
Inevitably, such decision would also mean his crucifixion. However, following the way of the cross would also mean the final victory of his task of evangelizing the masses. It is by genuinely serving the masses that they will find new life, new hope and a new future. # nordis.net