Half-Truths and Lies

Half-Truths and Lies

February 26, 2023*

(1st Sunday of Lent)

By Pastor John Partridge

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7                      Matthew 4:1-11                     Romans 5:12-19

In Star Wars – Return of the Jedi, Luke encounters his mentor, Obi Wan Kenobi, and asks him why he lied and told him that Darth Vader had killed his father.  Obi Wan answers by saying “So, what I told you was true… from a certain point of view.” When Luke presses the issue, Obi Wan continues by saying, “Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”  We all find that history is often told by the victors, and that the same events, when recounted by participants and authors from opposite sides, are often described very differently.

But what makes matters worse, is that in an effort to make themselves look good, many writers and public speakers not only tell stories from differing points of view, they resort to telling those stories and filling them with half-truths, lies, and outright fabrications.  As sad as this situation may be, it isn’t new.  We see that very thing in the story of creation and the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 when the serpent twists the truth to his own purposes.  In that story we hear this:

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

The story is sadly familiar to us, and we have seen the process repeated every day in our news media.  God made a simple statement explaining the rules of living in the garden, “you are free to eat… but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”  But when the serpent quotes God’s instructions, he twists the words to say that God had forbidden them from eating the fruit of all the trees.  Eve argues, but having heard the serpent’s exaggeration, she also exaggerates, misunderstands, or misinterprets God’s instructions and claims that they cannot even touch the tree or God will strike them dead.  The serpent then escalates to outright lies and more half-truths, saying that surely, they would not die, but that by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would become like God.

Having believed the lie, sadly, after eating the fruit, Adam and Eve discovered that they were not like God.  Their eyes were opened, they gained understanding, but they had lost their innocence, their home, and their relationship with God.  And that was Satan’s intent all along.  His goal was, and is, to destroy the relationship between God and his people and true to form, we see him attempting to do exactly the same thing, using exactly the same methods, in the story of Jesus’ wilderness temptation in Matthew 4:1-11 where it says…

4:1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be temptedby the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Knowing that Jesus is too smart to believe his lies, but willing to try anyway, Satan begins by twisting the truth, and attempting to play on Jesus’ pride.  He challenges Jesus to prove who he is by saying “If you are the Son of God…” then prove it.  If you are who you say that you are, if you are who you believe yourself to be, then do this thing to prove it.  But Jesus doesn’t have anything to prove, and has the humility to realize that pride is a trap.  Instead of walking into that trap, Jesus replies that the scriptures that describe the Messiah and the Son of God, also say that he is obedient.  The Son of God doesn’t need to live on bread but genuinely needs to live on the word of God.  The Son of God may be protected by the angels of heaven, but he is wise enough to know that it would be sinful to test God by deliberately putting himself in danger.

Once again, Satan appeals to pride and to impatience, by offering Jesus the kingdoms of the world that are, by God’s grace, at his disposal.  But Jesus knows that all these will be his eventually, and in any case, regardless of Satan’s temporary control of the principalities of earth, God is the true king who creates, controls, and rules over the universe and everything in it, including Satan and his minions.  Jesus knew that the words of Satan were half-truths and lies, and so his enemy leaves him in hopes that he might try again at another time.

Time after time, the enemy of God has demonstrated a regular pattern of behavior that he uses to deceive the followers of God in an attempt to destroy their relationship with God and with one another.  The enemy of God is the original master of spin, who twists the truth, speaks half-truths, slander, and distributes lies and total fabrications wherever they might be believed.  The good news is that the enemy of God isn’t the only one with a pattern of behavior, and that’s exactly what Paul describes in his letter to the church in Rome that we find in Romans 5:12-19, where he says:

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Paul begins this conversation about sin with Adam and reminds us that it was with Adam and Eve that sin entered the world and into humanity.  But he also points out that before they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, their actions were not sinful because of their innocence.  Because they didn’t know the difference between good and evil, they were not guilty of sin.  But afterward, after they ate the fruit, they knew… and that knowledge was passed down from generation to generation into all of humanity.  Adam and Eve became the pattern for all of humanity.

And that is why Paul says that, ordinarily, human beings could not have been convicted of breaking the laws of God prior to God giving the law to Moses.  You simply cannot be convicted of breaking a law that hasn’t been passed, but we still can be found guilty of our conscience because, in our hearts, we know the difference between good and evil.  It is for this reason that all of humanity, from the time of Adam and Eve, is guilty of sin, and this is why, as Paul puts it, death reigned.

But… God sent a gift.  Through his grace, God sent his son to break the pattern that had been set by Adam and Eve.  Because of the gift and the sacrifice of one man, Jesus, a pathway to forgiveness and righteousness was opened to all of humanity.  The lies and half-truths of the enemy no longer need to entangle us, destroy our relationship with God, and drag us down into death.  God’s grace is now freely available at all times, to everyone, everywhere.

We must, of course, continue to be aware, and be wary.  The enemy of God still roams throughout the earth searching for those whom he may destroy.  He is still the grandmaster of spin.  He still speaks finely crafted half-truths, lies, and fabrications that are designed to appeal to our egos, our vanity, our impatience, our pride, and all our other shortcomings and vulnerabilities.  We will still drift off course.  We will still fall into his traps.  We will still make mistakes.  We will still fall short of God’s commands, teachings, and expectations.  But we are no longer doomed to repeat those mistakes and allow them to become the pattern of our lives. 

Grace awaits.

At any moment, in any place, we may go to God and ask for forgiveness and know that because of the obedience of Jesus, and his act of righteousness on the cross, our forgiveness is guaranteed.

The pattern of sin and death has been broken.

This is the Good News that we are called to share with the world.

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com .  All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™