Scripture: Matthew 4:1-7
Rob Douglas, Mar 5, 2017
Send your Spirit among us, O God, as we meditate on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Prepare our minds to hear your Word. Move our hearts to accept what we hear. Purify our will to obey in joy and faith. This we pray through Christ our Savior. Amen.
The historical church has crafted a rhythm of prayer and worship that continues to shape much of Christian life around the world. Today is the first Sunday of Lent and Lent is a 40 day period that focuses our attention on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lent is a season of preparation and repentance. Just as we prepare for major events in our personal lives, Lent invites us to make our hearts ready for the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus and celebrating His victory over death!
The practice of this 40 day period dates back to the 3rd and 4th centuries and is based on the 40 year period that Israel spent wandering in the wilderness and Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness which we will look at today. Lent is one of those ancient landmarks set up by those who went before us to help guide our way through the wilderness.
You may be familiar with the Lenten tradition of by giving something up for this 6 week period (raise your hand if you have committed to giving anything up for Lent). But the historical church also taught that we should practice not only giving things up, but taking things on as well. The ancient church urged people during Lent to take on prayer, fasting, and giving to the poor. So my Lenten challenge to the people of WPC is to consider not only giving something up but also to taking on one extra practice in giving to the poor.
Hear these words from Matthew's Gospel chapter 4:1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.' But he answered, 'It is written, "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.", Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, 'If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you", and "On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.", Jesus said to him, 'Again it is 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; and he said to him, 'All these I will give you,if you will fall down and worship me.' Jesus said to him, 'Away with you, Satan! for it is written, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him."', Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
In all of our lives we arrive at major crossroads moments where important decisions have to be made that will shape the course of our future. We all have these moments of truth where our mettle is tested and our character is forged. The choices that we make in these type of moments reveal on which road we will travel. The temptation in the wilderness was such a moment for Jesus and His choices that day demonstrated His unwavering commitment to the mission that God had for Him and his response to temptation will point us toward the road of faithfulness and dependence on God that we too are called to travel.
This pivotal event in Jesus' life has often times been compared to a cosmic championship heavyweight fight. This is just the first round of many where Jesus would battle the forces that oppose God's will for His own life and mission.
We all experience real temptation in life. I have tried for years to quit eating McDonald's fast food, but every time I see the Golden arches, I start to drool like my dog and I can taste the Double Quarter Pounder with cheese and the super size fries washed down with an ice cold coke!
Maybe the most helpful thing I have heard is this when God stands in the forefront, our faith may be "tested" but when Satan stands in the forefront we are "tempted" to sin, to act in a way that runs counter to God's design for humanity. The devil is known throughout the Bible as "the tempter". When we experience the darkness of temptation we know where it comes from.
The tempter's main objective is to SPLIT us apart from God.
The devil is never described physically - no red suits, no pitchforks. While the devil is given a name, he is not given a face. We learn from this text that...
The DEVIL operates primarily with WORDS,
By suggestion and argument, by introducing ideas, thoughts and possibilities into our minds. "That Double Quarter Pounder with cheese is going to be so delicious. I hear McDonald's is even making their burgers fat and gluten free!! Quarter pounders are the new kale!"
Never have I experienced the truth of this more than when I faced the temptation to REFUSE to plant Lightshine Church. I had gotten to the point where I knew without a doubt that I was being called to plant a new church. To not do it would have been a direct act of disobedience!
But the first words that I heard rolling around in my head were, "Why would you put your family at risk by starting something that statistically is most likely to fail. You love your church and you love Youth Ministry. Why would you risk it all for a crazy dream like starting a new church?"
I battled these words for many months and it was then that the next attack wave of words began which were far more devastating than the first. For a solid year all I heard was, "You don't have what it takes. You are not good enough. You don't have the skills. The new church will fail." I heard it so often that I actually began to believe it.
Every day I was tempted to quit, to give up, to refuse to do what God was asking of me. And every day I almost gave in. Almost. This was my wilderness experience, and when I was in it, I actually turned to this story of Jesus regularly, and I learned from Jesus how to be sustained by God through a difficult wilderness time.
In naming the forces of evil, the Bible never absolves us of human responsibility. We are responsible for how we deal with temptation. "The devil made me do it" doesn't fly in our tradition.
It's a matter of distinguishing between the voices.
We must learn to recognize the voice of God and dismiss the voice of the tempter.
Temptation on the surface always looks really good, but proves only to be a deadly trap.
In early 2001 some towns in India were stricken by a plague of monkeys. The monkeys were so numerous they would invade homes, bite people, and make off with food supplies. It was agreed the monkeys would have to be caught and relocated. The people in these towns resorted to a traditional method for catching them. They gathered their old milk bottles, tied them to the ground, and then placed a sweat treat inside the bottle. Then when a monkey comes along and sees the treat he places his hand inside the bottle, but with the treat enclosed in his palm, his fist is too big to get back out of the bottle. The monkey will pull and push in an effort to get that treat out, but he will never let it go, not even as his captors approach. And so the monkey is caught, literally with his hand in the cookie jar!
The tempter came to Jesus saying, "If you really are God's Son then turn these stones into bread." We learn that. ...
The first temptation is aimed at Jesus's point of WEAKNESS.
The first temptation comes while Jesus is literally starving! He hasn't eaten in 40 days; I don't eat for 40 minutes, and I'm looking for anything that even resembles food to stuff in my face! This temptation is as real as it gets. He is at his weakest possible moment - the moment when He is most susceptible to the tempters tricks. Jesus is here tempted to use his power in self-serving ways. The temptation was for Jesus to help Himself, to satisfy His hunger, to do something spectacular to prove that He really was the Son of God.
In all three of the temptations that Jesus faces he answers the tempter with "it is written". This is a huge clue for us. Written where? Jesus doesn't just recall the words of any old book. Jesus faces temptation with the life giving words of Scripture. When Jesus confronts the tempter he disarms him by means of a book.
Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3, 'It is written, "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Jesus is reminding us that there is a God more powerful than bread and that this God can truly sustain us in difficult times. Human beings are meant to feast not only on good food, but also on the Word of God. Both bread and Scripture are necessary for our survival. Not only did God lead Jesus into the wilderness, so also God would show Him the way out!
The second temptation is full of holy things. The holy city of Jerusalem, the holy temple, and the Holy Scriptures. The fascinating thing to me is that the tempter knows the Word of God, but as we will see he misuses it! The first temptation was aimed at Jesus's point of weakness, the.....
The Second temptation is aimed at Jesus's STRENGTH.
I find It interesting that our strength may actually be our second most vulnerable area. Now Jesus is tempted with Scripture, which we have good reason to believe that Jesus probably had memorized! Satan quotes Psalm 91 telling Jesus to jump of the temple mount, which loomed over a cliff, about 450 feet off the Kidron Valley floor.
We know from the Bible that in many places God does offer special protection. The tempter says, "If you really believe this stuff then test it out. Take a leap. Don't worry. God will save you." Jesus responds by quoting from Deuteronomy 6:16, 'Again it is written, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test."',
We all know that Scripture can be abused, wrongly interpreted and used as a weapon that actually works counter to God's intentions. Little is more frustrating than when the Word of God is used to justify hate, bigotry, and violence (and yet we see it all the time). It appears that this is one of the tempters tactics; to twist the Word of God. Jesus is warning that God is not to be toyed with and the Holy Word of God is not to be twisted to meet own own selfish needs.
In the third temptation, Jesus is taken even higher to the top of mountain.
The third temptation is aimed at Jesus's VOCATION.
The tempter now hits Jesus where it hurts. He attacks his vocation, his calling and mission. He offers Jesus the whole world if he will just bow one knee and worship him. Jesus is offered the world that he loved so much. It was the same world that the Messiah came to save. This must have been quite a temptation. Jesus could have the world he loved for one momentary bow of worship.
Jesus for the third time quotes Scripture, 'Away with you, Satan! for it is written, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him."'
What Jesus shows us is that even love for people doesn't justify an act of disobedience.
At this, the tempter left Him and God provided for Jesus's needs. Jesus hadn't asked for angels or food, but he now received what he had earlier refused.
There are a few things that I think we can take away from this story. First something we learn about Jesus...
Jesus is learning OBEDIENCE by the things he SUFFERS.
This will not be the last time in Lent that we see the tempter at work in Jesus's life. The landscape of Lent will get even more challenging for Jesus as we progress. Jesus would meet the tempter again in various guises: voices urging Him to change His mind about going to the cross. When Jesus refused to go the way of the tempter He was embracing the way of the cross! Once Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem. He would never waiver.
Throughout these temptations, Jesus honors both God and God's Word. In all three Jesus wards off temptation using something that is accessible to us all, the Bible. Jesus believed that. ...
SCRIPTURE can SUSTAIN us when we are tempted.
So we name what is happening when we hear these voices that whisper in our ear, that attempt to distort our true vocation and calling to be a light to the world.
We too will face crucial moments of decision in our lives that will define the path we will take. Voices may appear, seemingly out of nowhere, that will try to derail us from the things that God has for us.
The tempter would love nothing more that to make us self-serving instead of world serving, to distract us from the call of servanthood to which God has commissioned each of us. But as God's children we have the same defense available to us as Jesus Himself. We are to store up Scripture in our hearts and learn how to use it. We are to keep our eyes fixed on God and trust God for everything. We are to remember that we have been commissioned, sent by God to be a light in a dark world and to say NO to the voices that attempt to lure us back into the darkness.
I find it comforting to know that I am not alone but that all who have gone before me and who will come behind me will face temptation just as Jesus did, but that we worship a God who understands this, who sent His Son Jesus to face these real temptations and to conquer them, showing us a way through the wilderness with our eyes fixed on God, the true provider and sustainer.
Martin Luther once said something funny and wise. He said, "Don't sit near the fire if your head is made of butter." The closer we get to the fire, the hotter it is. Even though the fire remains at the same temperature, the heat affects us according to how close we are to it. The closer we are to the temptation, the more powerful its influence on us.
Friends, don't get too close to the fires of temptation. Keep your distance and trust in the words of the Apostle Paul, who wrote, "No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it."
Will you pray with me.
Gracious God. As Jesus was tested so will we. In this story You show us that our sustenance is in You and in Your Word alone. As we face wilderness times of testing; help us to recognize Your voice and distinguish it from the words of the attractive lies of the tempter. And when we fail, we are reminded that Jesus has succeeded on our behalf, and we thank You that You love us despite our failures. Nourish us with all that we will need to be Your people on mission. Amen.
Westminster Presbyterian Church