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01.17.16 How to Tell when a Preacher is Lying Luke 4:1-30 Sermon Summary

by on January 19, 2016

I am a preacher who constantly questions whether I proclaim the truth. Here’s how you and I can know.

Summary Points

  • The truths that grounded Jesus’ preaching and that make it so attractive
  • The temptations of Jesus, the lies of the world, and our divinely ordained needs
  • Two characteristics of Jesus’ truthful preaching
  • Two ways we can tell if a preacher is lying

One of the reasons Jesus’ preaching was renowned is because it was grounded in truth. Part of that truth was that Jesus knew who he was. He was firmly convinced of his baptismal identity—the declaration made as he emerged from the waters—that he was a beloved child of God, in whom was God’s delight.

Another part of the truth that grounded Jesus’ preaching is that he knew our situation so well. The three temptations made sure of that.

  1. The temptation to turn stones to bread: To take the short cut and satisfy our own needs; to put the physical above the spiritual. 2. The temptation to praise the Devil in order to win the world: Seeking the favor of other lords; seeking to be served, rather than to serve. 3. The temptation to prove God’s favor by working a miracle: Not being content with God’s declaration of love and delight; being preoccupied with the opinions of others.

Jesus encountered precisely these temptations because they are our temptations. He resisted them successfully so he could help us resist them also. Jesus’ preaching resonated deeply with his audience; it was attractive because it was true in this fundamentally human sense.

Jesus developed a reputation very early on in his ministry. Maybe news of his baptism had reached Galilee. Maybe people heard of his 40 days in the wilderness. Luke says he was “full of the power of the Spirit”—whatever exactly that means. Add to these his preaching in the surrounding area, when he finally reaches his hometown they were excited.

His hometown crowd would have been proud. After all, Galilee wasn’t known for much. It was basically Hicksville compared to Jerusalem. Just remember Nathanael’s response to Philip who claimed to have found the Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46) And Nathanael wasn’t even from Jerusalem—he was from Bethsaida! Furthermore, Jesus’ hometown folk would have reflected nationalistic self-esteem under Roman occupation. Their attitude upon Jesus’ arrival would have been, “Jesus is one of us . . . a Jew, a Galilean, a Nazarene!”

This is why Jesus’ closing comments are so offensive. How could he assert that foreign widows were preferred over widows of Israel? How could he say lepers from foreign armies were preferred over lepers of Israel?

And suddenly the truth of Jesus’ preaching—its universal quality—wasn’t so attractive. It was offensive, even repulsive. It was heretical and dangerous. It needed to be exterminated!

Assuming that Jesus preached the truth, we might conclude that true preaching has at least these two characteristics:

  1. It speaks about and addresses our deepest needs;
  2. It challenges our presumptions about God’s grace, especially as it relates to others.

The synagogue of Nazareth loved Jesus’ preaching when it met their needs. But they wanted to kill him when he challenged their presumptions about God.

How can you and I know when a preacher is telling the truth?

It starts by getting in touch with our needs. We think we know what our needs are, but our understanding is distorted. The world is always telling us what we need. But these “needs” are lies. Jesus’ temptation exposed the lies of the world.

  • You can take short cuts
  • The physical is more important than the spiritual
  • You should be served rather than serving others
  • Cultural opinions matter more than God’s
  • And the biggest lie of all: God doesn’t love you or delight in you

Jesus could preach the truth because he faced these temptations. Likewise, you and I can discern the truthful preacher after we also face these temptations.

  • When we take our spiritual lives as seriously as we take our physical lives
  • When we stop taking short cuts
  • When we stop our preoccupation with providing for ourselves
  • When we serve others instead of trying to be served
  • When God’s opinion outweighs our peers’ or our boss’ or our in-laws’ opinions
  • When we ground ourselves in God’s love for and delight in us

Only after we face these temptations ourselves are we better able to assess the truth of a preacher and accurately identify falsehood. If you want to know if a preacher is lying, face temptation like Jesus did. Armed with the baptismal assurance of God’s love and delight, follow the Spirit to the wilderness—into solitude and silence. Remain there for “40 days”—which simply refers to however long it takes for God to complete a special work. While there, fast, pray, and contemplate. Wrestle with the dark aspects of your thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. After this hard work, you’ll recognize truth when you hear it.

To say it from the other direction, if you want to tell if a preacher is lying, get in touch with your true, divinely ordained needs:

  • To attend to the spiritual, not just the physical
  • To worship God, not lesser lords
  • To serve, not to be served
  • To rest in God’s love and delight

A second way to know if a preacher is lying is to recall if he or she ever challenged your presumptions about God. If you never left worship disturbed or even angry; if you never question your thoughts, feelings, and attitudes; if you’ve never said, “I don’t know if I agree with that,” then the preacher may not be maliciously lying to you, but he or she isn’t telling the whole truth either.

Jesus told his proud, nationalistic, clannish hometown that the scripture promising God’s exhaustive grace was “fulfilled in their hearing.” God was with them. The kingdom had come. But not just for them—it had come for everyone! Even Nathanael in Bethsaida. And the elites in Jerusalem. And the widows in Sidon. And the lepers in Syria.

Because the good news of God’s healing, illumination, and liberation is for everyone. For those who need it. For those who pray for it. For those who welcome it. Even if they do so before “God’s people” who have become overly-familiar with God.

Jesus proclaims the truth and it challenges our presumptions about God. If that never happens to you, your preacher isn’t telling the whole truth.

So let us resolve in this new year, especially as we approach Lent, to fulfill our baptismal identity like Jesus, to be led by the Spirit of God, to receive the “year of the Lord’s favor,” and to extend that favor to all people. Let us resolve to hear the truth of Jesus’ preaching, and to live according to it as well.


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