Sermon 1st March 2020 – 1st Sunday in Lent
Text: Matthew 4:1-11 – Resisting temptation
On our recent cruise we had a magician to entertain us.
Before the show he came up to me and asked if I would mind if he called me up on stage.
Having got to the show over an hour before it started and sitting 3 rows from the front I think he knew that I was hoping he would ask me.
He gave me a large envelope and in it he had placed dozens of situations which might relate to a person’s life and asked me to see if there was one in there I could relate to.
I found one – as a young child I broke a window playing cricket in the backyard with friends.
I chose it and put it back in the envelope and mixed it up and then gave it back to him.
He asked 5 others to do the same and he then chose my name from the group of 6.
Standing on the stage with bright lights shining in my eyes, he slowly and methodically recounted my experience.
Yes he had that piece of paper already written out but there were dozens of different scenarios and he didn’t know which one I picked.
It was clever and no doubt he was skilled in being able to read people and create that magical illusion.
Someone else who is good at reading people is Satan.
In today’s Gospel reading Satan has read Jesus and tempts him away from his mission to do God’s work.
Satan is skilled in this area.
Some biblical scholars believe this was his role before rebelling against God in testing the angels’ loyalty to God.
We sort of see a glimpse of this in the book of Job when Satan incorrectly reads Job’s faithfulness to God believing that Job is only faithful because God blesses him.
I say incorrectly because Satan is allowed to put Job through the most horrific trials and suffering and yet he remains faithful to God and refuses to reject him.
Satan targets Jesus in a time of vulnerability.
He has been fasting for 40 days and 40 nights and now Satan targets his hunger tempting him to turn rocks into bread.
The temptation is to end his fasting by providing for his own needs rather than trusting God’s care for him to complete his time of fasting.
Israel experienced the same trials when wandering the desert for 40 years constantly wanting to return to Egypt during their times of hunger to fill their stomachs instead of trusting that God was leading them to a land flowing with milk and honey.
This is what Satan does – he targets our vulnerabilities.
For some it might be an addiction.
It might be someone’s anger – their loneliness – their grief.
Anything that allows him a foothold to lead you away from God believing that God is not there for you in your time of need.
That’s why Jesus urges us – if your right hand offends you cut it off – if your right eye offends you pluck it out.
Obviously Jesus is not speaking literally but he is urging us to understand our vulnerabilities and prepare ourselves – remove ourselves away from things that may cause us to stumble.
Remove the temptation.
People often use Lent in this way – giving up something that has had a tempting effect on their lives.
Traditionally it’s been things like chocolate – alcohol – smoking.
These days it might include social media – take-away food – carbon footprint.
These might seem like trivial things but that’s how Satan works.
He looks for a foothold.
He looks for a vulnerability in us.
And his precision is impeccable.
St Paul says when telling us to put on the armour of God - take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Those arrows are shot with preciseness at the bullseye.
He knew where to fire them at Jesus – he had done it before with Adam and Eve – tempting them to care for themselves instead of trusting God’s continuing care for them.
The temptations were similar;
Using our carnal desires – Jesus was hungry – he tempted him to feed himself.
He placed before Eve the forbidden fruit - the tree was good for food, and it was a delight to the eyes, and was to be desired to make one wise.
That carnal desire that we feed our desires first and think of the consequences when it’s too late.
He tempted Jesus with God’s love.
Throw yourself from the temple and let God catch you.
Surely God loves you too much to let you hurt yourself.
Satan uses that against us too.
How can God love you if he is letting you suffer like this?
How can God love you when you live your life the way you do?
He fooled Eve too – surely you will not die if you take a small bite.
How could God let you die if he loves you?
Isn’t that what we continue to hear?
How can there be a loving God with all the suffering in the world?
The final temptation was the temptation to replace God with our own power.
Bow down and worship me and I will give you all the kingdoms of the world.
Firstly, who said Satan had the right to give away what belongs to God?
Jesus emptied himself of his heavenly glory to come to us – why would he fill it with earthly belongings?
But it worked with Eve and she received less than what she began with.
Satan said – your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.
She was created in the image of God and now Satan tempts her with less than what she begins with.
But he dresses it up to look like something she should have.
And she would be in control.
Satan has tempted the world with control.
God has been described as “the God of the gaps”.
Whatever we can’t explain – God can have that.
And today there is not much that is left that people attribute to God.
Humans have taken God right out of the equation even with birth and death.
Even what God created – Adam and Eve – male and female – is replaced with Gender X.
When I complete a marriage form now you can put down Gender X – neither male nor female.
In Victoria you can apply to the Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages and change your gender of birth.
Everything attributed to God is slowly being broken down.
So what does that mean for us?
Does it mean it’s all doom and gloom for the future?
Are we going to go further and further away from God?
And that’s because Jesus was able to resist the temptations of Satan which Adam and Eve could not do.
And so Paul encourages us: For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.
And that’s why Jesus kept going back to God’s word when he was tempted.
It is written …
The devil had no comeback.
And that’s was Eve’s mistake.
When the devil made her doubt – did God really say – she should have said – yes – God really did say.
And that means we don’t panic.
We don’t listen to the lies that believing in God is futile.
Matthew’s temptation account begins the reversal of our fallen condition.
The setting for Jesus’ temptation is not the lush Garden of Eden, but a desert place in the wilderness.
A wilderness that is so much like our lives at times.
And the other difference between the temptations is that Jesus chooses God’s ways, not his own needs or desires.
He refuses to serve his own ambition.
Jesus does what humans often are afraid to do-- He puts God first.
Why are we afraid to put God first?
Because it means letting go of control.
Adam and Eve were tempted to take control and fell to temptation.
Jesus was tempted to take control of his relationship with God.
Satan shows just how cunning he is – how evil he is – even tempting Jesus in his most vulnerable time:
While he hung on the cross the temptation was put before him again,
“If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross”
Is Satan this the one we want to put our faith in?
Jesus says that he comes only to kill, steal and destroy.
And only in Jesus are we safe.
And even if we fall to temptation, which we have all done, through Jesus we now have hope.
As the writer to the Hebrews says:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.