Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In the Face of Temptation Matthew 4:1-11 NIV

This is the sermon from February 21st. Would love to hear your thoughts on the nature of temptation and our response.

This past Wednesday we began a 40 day Lenten and listening experience of hearing the breadth of the New Testament as a part of our preparation for Easter. In an effort to reinforce what we are hearing, the sermons from today through Easter will emerge from the passages we are hearing over the course of the week. My hope is that by paralleling the listening and the proclaiming of the good news from across the New Testament we will find our Easter celebrations so shaped by the story of Jesus and the early followers of the Christ that a fresh movement of the wind of the Spirit will stir amongst us The first stories we have listened to have drawn us into the Book of Matthew. This is familiar terrain for those taking part in the Wednesday night Bible studies on the humanity of Christ. Our listen sessions and Wednesday study now converge as we look at Matthew 4:1-11. It invites us into the Galilean desert with Jesus in the moments after his baptism, when he has heard the grand pronouncement, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.” In the baptismal waters Jesus’ intimate relationship with the Father has been affirmed. In the hard desert it will be tested. The ground is as much rock as sand and there is little of beauty to be seen. It is dry and desolate and an appropriate backdrop for the moment that will define Jesus.

Fred Craddock, the great preacher/teacher tells; “Matthew presents temptation not as a private morality game but as a contest about the shape and nature of ministry. Jesus will soon preach good news to the poor and release to captives, relieve the bruised, cleanse lepers, and heal the blind and crippled. Of course, he will be opposed immediately. Forces that traffic in human misery and reap huge profits from the poverty of others will try any means to turn him from such a ministry.” I believe that Craddock is right. We see it not only in the story of Jesus, but in every story when the followers of Jesus respond to the movement of God and dare to stand out and strike out to do the will of God. Almost immediately we can see spiritual opposition and human temptation the calls us in another direction – any other direction – other than following the path that God has laid before us. In the temptation story we see a very human side of Jesus when he has to decide what kind of Messiah he is called to be – and is going to be. So I invite you to join me as we witness the Jesus’ encounter with the tempter. In the process we will learn much about Jesus, and much about ourselves.

The Temptation of Self Reliance Vs. 1-4
As we heard earlier from Abby Miner, the story begins; 4:1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." 4 Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" The first temptation seems simple enough on the surface. It is the temptation for Jesus to use the power of his divinity to fill his hungry stomach. Jesus had been fasting for 40 days and 40 nights and the reality of his very human hunger would have been ever present. You can imagine the stomach pangs. The scripture makes it clear Jesus is hungry! The desert would offer little or no relief. You can hear the sarcasm in the tempters voice. I can almost hear him; “Come on, you know how hungry you are, if you really are the Son of God, why don’t you just turn these ugly old stones to hot, fresh steaming bread that can fill your stomach.”

Some of you may remember the old Flip Wilson line, “the Devil made me do it.” That old comedic line was intended to make you laugh at some crazy thing he had just done. But you hear the same idea in the voices of those who have made a bad choice and say, I just could not help myself.” The reality is that the devil could not make Jesus - or us – do anything. The tempter has his bounds. He can persuade, but the choice is Jesus’. Biblical scholar Brian Soffregen (Faith Lutheran, Marysville, CA) observes that; “Wherever it comes, the tempter/tester does not have the power to make someone do something. Temptation is not coercion. The serpent in the garden didn't make Eve and Adam eat the apple. The devil in our text can't make Jesus turn stones into bread. "To tempt" means to try and convince someone to do something. It means enticing someone to want to do something. Tempters can't make someone do something bad, but try to make the temptee want to do something bad. They don't take away the will. Rather, they try to change one's will.”

The tempter’s task is to entice Jesus to settle for less that his intended purpose. The first temptation is for more than simple bread, it was to deal with the human hunger to be in control-to be self reliant. It was not about a single loaf of bread, it was about the bread that fills our tables, the want that drives our souls. The tempter was pitching Jesus that temptation of self-reliance. "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." Jesus understood that he and we are called to more; as he will teach in the model prayer, that our call to God is to “give us this day our daily bread.” How often do we have to come to terms with the temptation to put more trust in ourselves and what we know we can do, and the things we can buy, rather than to truly trust God? He answers the tempter, 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”…in other words, We must have more than the bread that we can provide, we have to trust in God and God’s way – it will fill us not for an hour but forever. We hear Jesus explain this further in John 6:31-33 (NIV) where he teaches; 31Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" 32Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."

I believe that our church had to deal with this temptation head on regarding our ownership of the cabin at Falls Creek and the lodge at Glorieta. We were proud of what we owned and what we could do for ourselves and others. Only when we were humbled and came to a place where we were going to have to let go of our pride and our possessions were we able to see God move in such a powerful way. When we stood on the edge of economic crisis, God moved. The potential sale of these properties broke my heart because I knew they were special to so many. And then we had a lunch with a potential buyer for Glorieta. I listened and what the buyer offered this is seemed impossible. Could God give us both the resources from the sale and still give us the capacity to continue to use it with for retreats and family getaways in the same way we had always done before? Yes! When we chose to truly rely on God, God moved. Because of your faithfulness and sacrifice and multiple acts of God, the financial picture of this church has dramatically changed in a matter of just a few months. I wonder what God might do it we were to trust God’s provision in every aspect of our lives? The temptation self-reliance puts the focus on us and on what we can do, where reliance on God is a pleasant idea, but where we are confidence that everything will work out because we have the power to make sure it happens. Jesus understood that this was about a lot more than turn stones to bread to fill his stomach. Even in his hunger he knew that he had to rely on the Father’s provision. We too are called to trust God and rely on God’s provision. When we truly rely on God, God gives life – that can change us and change the world.

The Temptation of the Easier Path Vs. 5-7
Our passage continues as we heard Dennis share; 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 "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.'" 7 Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" The second temptation carries Jesus to the top of the temple. From here they could survey the whole of the city, the symbol of community and authority. The temper came and offered Jesus the opportunity for Jesus to claim an easier path, to use a dramatic act that would endear him to the crowds instantly. If he would choose to fall to the temptation he would instantly have throngs of followers coming to his feet. He could claim a place of popularity that other would give everything for. He offered Jesus the possibility of a moment so dramatic that he would have Hollywood status, with no work or sacrifice, without the pain and difficulty, without the of suffering and death that is his Father’s will? “ What a great short cut. He could have crowds and none of the pain. This is a very human temptation. If we will just go along with what our supervisor says – our friends say – then our path is easier. If we sit quiet when we see an injustice because we do not want to get involved, then our path will be easier. If I - if we- embrace the popular political view because it validates my place in culture and protects my best interests, but fail to follow the harder path of embracing the poor, the alien, and the immigrant, then my path is easier. If I stand by and watch someone in my friend group tear down someone else and remain silent, then my path is easier. You see people looking for the easier path when they line up on a Saturday night to get into the casinos, hoping they will be the ones to win. I know this is a strange thought in a state with an ever growing number of casinos, but they do not build multi-million dollar casinos to lose. They odd are always better for the house. We see the quest for the easier path on basketball courts and football fields when young men chose not to study in their belief that sports is their ticket. The hard reality is that less than 3% of high school basketball players will make it college, and only 1.3% of them will make it to the pros. Those who can make the jump from the high school courts to the pros – less than .03 will make it. When these young men watch NBA players and dream to be one of them, but try to take the short cut around education, the temptation to try to take the easier path leads them only into destruction.

But Jesus understood the opportunity and the price. His task was not to claim the adulation of the crowds – not to be their popular leader but their servant and their savior. His task was not to take the easier path. His task offered no short cuts – no way but the cross and the open tomb. Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" Jesus answered, his task – and ours – is to do the will of God regardless of the response of the crowds.

The Temptation of Power Vs. 8-11
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 "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.'"
Our scene moves from the sand and stone of the Galilean desert to the world’s mountain tops. The temptation was the promise of power. Jesus could have all the he could see. Can you imagine this temptation – to have everything you see – to have ultimate power – ultimate authority over all the earth. Satan offered Jesus the kind of power that drove the Romans for global conquest that Napoleon long for, that Hitler ravaged Europe for. Satan offered Jesus the power to have a kingdom of the whole of the world. But, Jesus understood his task and his point of authority. His task was not an earthly kingdom, but an eternal one. Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" With these words the temptation story comes to a close. 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. But there is more we need to consider before we put our passage aside. This story is about much more the temptations. It is about what kind of savior Jesus was going to be and by extension, what kind of Christians we will be.

What Kind of Christian?
So what does this mean for us? What kind of Christians will we choose to be? Will we choose to follow the path Christ calls us to, or will we settle for less? Will we fall to the temptations that our culture – and the tempter –lays before us? We will have our moments of temptation. It is a certainty! The question is how will we respond? There is good news. Hear 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 from the interpretative translation, The Message. No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it. So, my very dear friends, when you see people reducing God to something they can use or control, get out of their company as fast as you can.

We must choose whether we will settle or stand firm. Again from Fred Craddock, “Jesus’ temptations did not end in the desert. Again and again he was tested. "Avoid the cross," said his close and well-meaning friend Simon. And, of course, there was Gethsemane. With the church, the story is the same; testing never ceases. This is why we gather frequently and pray: Our Father in heaven, let your name be hallowed. Your will be done. Give us bread for today. Lead us not into temptation. Deliver us from the evil one.” May it be our prayer!

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