Lent 1, Sunday March 10, 2019
Scriptures: Genesis 3: 1 -7; Luke 4: 1 – 13
Sermon: Temptation – How do we Resist?
There is a very good short reflection called “Temptation’s Strategy” in the NIV Women’s Bible (New International Version). This write-up refers to the Genesis story of Eve’s temptation in the garden of Eden. We are reminded that Satan, the devil, is very clever. His strategy is to make evil seem good. He knows Eve is living in all the splendour of Eden, with all of her needs met. How do you get at someone who is contented with good? The devil’s strategy in the article is outlined like this:
The serpent has a plan. He approaches the woman with a theological discussion about God. That is a safe subject; she likes to talk about God. The serpent queries, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” The serpent makes an overstatement that he allows Eve to correct, but in doing so, he makes her aware of a restriction. God is keeping something from her. The woman corrects the serpent…Yet, instead of declaring that the garden is lavish in its provision for her need, and that one tree doesn’t make all that much difference, the woman lets the serpent trick her…
Eve’s attention is riveted to the tree – not the garden full of goodness, not God’s gracious fellowship and provision. Just the tree. It looks good; it pleases the eye; it is desirable (Genesis 3: 6). The more she looks, the more appealing it becomes…
The serpent focuses her attention on the one forbidden tree, suggesting that God is keeping something good from Eve. He casts doubt on the character of God. Doubting God makes it easy to ”take and eat…” It’s always that way when Satan gets us to concentrate on the temptation instead of on God.
And isn’t this the strategy that Satan uses to tempt Jesus? The devil focuses on the temptation. Jesus has fasted for 40 days, we’re told, and he is famished. He must have been weak. He would desperately need food. The devil attacks the weakness. It’s a quick remedy to turn the stones into bread. But look at the devil’s challenging words: “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” If you are the Son of God – it’s a theological challenge. Focusing Jesus’attention on his capability to change the stones into bread? To prove himself? If Jesus followed Satan’s lead, he would be giving into the temptation to prove that yes, he is the Son of God, by doing exactly what Satan has commanded – turn the stones into bread! Jesus would be giving Satan authority. And how does Jesus counteract the devil – by focussing on God. On what God says in scripture. God’s provision.
Satan tries again to tempt Jesus about the kingdoms of the earth. Jesus has come to bring the Kingdom of God, a different kingdom than the kingdoms of the earth. But how splendid it must have appeared – how incredibly beautiful it must have been – to see that vision of all the kingdoms of the world spread before him in their beauty and glory, wealth and splendour. How appealing it must have seemed! A quick and easy access to all the kingdoms of the world. A quick and easy way to establish God’s kingdom in the midst of all the world’s peoples. But no, this isn’t God’s way. The material things of this world including its kingdoms are fleeting. They will pass away. But God’s kingdom will be everlasting and not pass away. It will come with Jesus, God’s Son, who will offer everlasting life, and God’s kingdom will come with the glory of God, not the glory of the world. Jesus quotes Godly scripture to the devil to counteract this temptation of quick access to quick power, quick authority and quick establishment. Jesus, again, focuses on God. God’s way.
The devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish nation and the centre of its religious governance and leadership. This is where the Pharisees, the Sanhedrin, and Israel’s mighty and powerful religious leaders lived and taught. This is where Jews from all across the land and countries beyond came to worship – in Jerusalem – at its temple. This is the place where the devil brings Jesus. A place rightfully his to be worshipped as God’s Anointed, the Messiah, proclaimed as coming throughout Israel’s long history. Jesus. Israel’s Messiah. Right there, right now. Why not have a public proclamation and recognition of who you are, suggests the devil. Show yourself to be who you are! Again – the taunting challenge: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here…” The theological challenge – Son of God, if you are, reveal yourself! By doing exactly what Satan commands, Jesus would be giving into the temptation to prove that yes, he is the Son of God, and diverting Jesus from his true mission as Messiah – one of servanthood, not powerful dictatorship. And Jesus counteracts the devil by focussing on what God says in scripture. Jesus focuses on God’s mission.
The devil uses strategy to tempt us. How do we resist? Identify what tempts you. What attracts you? What draws your attention? Is it healthy? Beneficial? Wholesome? How much time do you give to it? Does it over-take your life? Temptations appeal – they offer what you want. What you are lacking. It could be what you need, or what you don’t need. Temptations attack your weakness, like turning stones into bread. Temptations look good, and what appeals to you may not necessarily appeal to me. Think of the theological challenge: Did God really say that I can’t have this? Would God really disapprove? Would God even care? The devil likes to pose these theological questions. The answer is to pose them with God. What would God say? What would Jesus say? What does scripture say? Jesus focused on God’s provision, God’s way, and God’s mission. And pray for answers. When in doubt, leave it with God. In faith, when you seek God with all your heart, you will be guided.
Jesus recognized temptation. He prayed: “And lead us not into temptation…”
Ephesians 6: 10 – 18 tells us:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying…”
May God our Creator, Jesus God’s Son, and the Holy Spirit guide us, protect us, and enable us to recognize temptation, and be strong in God’s might to resist. Amen.
PS . . . Check out this excellent YouTube video (with incredible illustrations by a British illustrator named Simon Smith and put to the music of an Explosions In The Sky song) of Jesus in the Desert: