Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, March 1, 2020
Temptation - March 1, 2020 - First Sunday in Lent - Text: Matthew 4:1-11
In our Old Testament reading for this morning we have the account of the first temptation by the devil. He tempts Eve to question God and His Word, much like what we see and hear happening in our world today. How often do we hear the question, not necessarily “Did God say . . . ?” but “Did God really mean what He said?” In Genesis, Satan planted seeds of doubt. This morning in our Gospel lesson we see Satan at it again, tempting Jesus, and again attempting to plant seeds of doubt and allusions of grandeur and glory.
In confirmation we learn that there are two types of temptation, one is a temptation to do something evil, that is a temptation to sin. And we know that this type of temptation does not come from God. The second type of temptation is what is better called a testing of faith and is intended for our strengthening of faith. This type of temptation or testing does come from God. In our text for today we have the account of the temptation of Jesus and we can rest assured that because this temptation is from the devil that it is not a testing for strengthening, but is a temptation to do evil.
Our text follows the account of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan river. At His baptism, Jesus is attested by God as being true God and true man. And now, as a part of His humanness, Jesus was lead by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He was tempted for forty days and forty nights. What we have in our text are the three top temptations, if you will, from the devil. In the next few minutes we will look at each one of these temptations separately and see what is the heart of the temptation and what is Jesus’ response. As we review these temptations it might do us well to make a note of the temptation and how Jesus handled the devil so that we might arm ourselves against the old evil foe and his deadly temptations in our own lives.
The first temptation. “3And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread’” (v. 3). Remember that Jesus has been in the desert for forty days and forty nights and he was at this time very hungry. The devil begins by using Jesus’ hunger, this physical, human desire to tempt Him. We might liken this temptation to the type of torture used on a captured soldier of war. I have been told by someone who was a prisoner of war that food and sleep deprivation can make a person very vulnerable.
The devil attempts to use Jesus’ human hunger, His humanity against Him in order to get Him to question His divinity. This is a temptation of self doubt, that is the devil wants to question Jesus’ divinity and also He wants Jesus to question His own divinity. “If you are hungry and if you are sure that you are God, and if you are God then why don’t you do something about it, why don’t you prove that you are God by making yourself something to eat.” This would be only one of the many times that this type of temptation, to prove Himself, would be offered to Jesus. Time and again the Pharisees would ask Jesus for a sign, a miracle as a “proof” that He was the Messiah, that He was God. Interestingly enough, Jesus gave many signs and miracles as “proof” that He was God. Even the Gospel writer John makes much of the signs and wonders, the miracles Jesus performed as proof that He was God, it is just that the Pharisees missed it or really did not want to believe it. On the cross was the ultimate temptation by the Pharisees, “if you will come down we will believe you are the Messiah.” The irony of that temptation was that if Jesus came down from the cross He might have proven His case to the Pharisees, but He would have missed His opportunity to be the Savior, thus He would not have been our Savior. Thanks be to God that He did not give in to any of these temptations and especially that He did not come down from the cross, but that He did give His life as a ransom, to pay the death penalty for us all.
Jesus’ response to the devil was to quote from the Word of the Lord, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (v. 4). The most powerful weapon we have against the devil is the sword of the Word of God. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul lays out the armor of a Christian and the only offensive weapon he describes is that of the sword of faith, the sword of the Word of God. We would do well to follow Jesus’ example when faced with the temptations of the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh, that is, go to the Word of the Lord.
The second temptation is the temptation to self-glory. “5Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6and said 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, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”’” (v.5, 6 ). This is a temptation of the spectacular. The devil is saying, “there is an easier way, my way.” The devil knows that Jesus knows that the cross is ever before Him. Why not give Jesus a second way, an easier way, other than the cross. The devil says, “do not go to the cross, instead, do something spectacular that will bring people to faith in you.”
Behind this second temptation are questions of the Father’s love and question of Jesus’ trust in the Father. “Are you sure the Father loves you enough that He will protect you and if you are sure, prove it, show me.” Thanks be to God that Jesus knew the Father’s love, that He knew the glory that was His in heaven that He gave up to take on human flesh and blood and to give His life as a ransom for you and me.
Jesus’ response to this second temptation is again to quote the Word of the Lord, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (v. 7). Again, we have the reminder to use the Word of the Lord to fight off the temptations of the devil.
The third temptation, “8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’” (v. 8, 9). The third temptation seems like no temptation at all, if we really think about it. After all, everything is Jesus’, He created and made all things out of nothing. Who is the devil to think he can tempt Jesus into believing that anything is his to give away. This is another temptation of glory, “another easy way out.” “Do not go to the cross, the devil says, I have an easier way.” “Just worship me and I will give up all my authority and let you be king.”
The third question put to Jesus is again meant to question His humanity. As a man Jesus can worship the Father in heaven, who has given Him the task of going to the cross. Or He can worship the devil, who is giving Him the option of forgoing the cross. Thanks be to God that Jesus knew that He came to do the will of His Father in heaven, His good and gracious will and that will included His giving His life for you and me.
Again, for the third time, Jesus’ response is the Word of the Lord, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (v. 10). And yet again we have the example for our own lives when facing temptation to meet it and beat it with the Word of the Lord.
Jesus began His earthly ministry at His baptism by John in the Jordan river. He immediately went into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Jesus begins His earthly ministry by subjecting Himself to the temptations of the devil and by defeating the devil. He defeated the devil not only for Himself, but for us, in our place, as well. He defeated the devil for us and He is with us to help us to defeat him in our own lives.
Did you notice that the devil did not come in a red suit with horns and a pitch fork. Really, he is not that easily recognizable, especially not in our world today. Today the devil’s temptations are a bit more subtle, such as, the devil does not tempt you to not go to church, because he knows that temptation would not work. Instead he tempts you with too many things to do, more important things to do, to fill up your schedule so that you do not have time to go to church. The devil does not tempt you to take things from others, instead he tempts you to forget to return things until you forget what you have has been borrowed and you think it is your own. The devil tempts you through your own natural logic and reasoning, making you think that you are doing what you should be doing which is often what he wants you to do. The devil does not tempt you to not believe the Bible instead he tempts you to think other wiser humans are smarter than the Bible and to believe them and instead to question the Bible. The devil does not tempt you to go against your own conscience rather he tempts you to believe that truth and morality are relative, that is they are a cultural construct, so that you live and let live, that is you are tempted to let others live outside God’s good and perfect will rather than call them to account for their sin. The devil does not tempt you in anyway that he knows you will not fall, rather he tempts you with your own guilty conscience so that you believe you have no justification for speaking out against the atrocities and the chaos he is wreaking throughout the world. In a word, the devil seeks to silence the Christians Church through his attacks on you and me as individual Christians. You might say that the bottom line is the devil continues to use his original temptation which continues to work as well as it did in Eden. The devil continues today to work to get us to question God and His word rather than the abnormalities and abhorations of our society. As we have seen the temptations of Jesus, through His temptation, Jesus shows us how to defeat the devil, not that we challenge the devil on our own, but we know how to defend ourselves against the devil. We defend ourselves by use of the sword of the Word of the Lord. This reminds us of our constant need to make regular and diligent use of the Word of the Lord so that we might be able to defend ourselves against the devil.
Jesus’ temptation also reminds us that we can go to Him for help in times of temptation. Jesus understands our temptation, He underwent the same temptations and even greater temptations. And we are reminded that we can go to Him for forgiveness following our fall into temptation and sin. Yes, temptations will come. With the Lord’s help we will be able to resist some temptations. Other temptations will come and we will fall, we will sin. Praise be to God that when we do fall, that when we do fail, that when we do succumb to temptation, that when we do sin, He is there ready to forgive and give us another chance.
I do want to emphasize this point, lest we think Jesus’ temptation was merely given as an example of how we can defeat the devil, that we cannot do it on our own, nor should we challenge the devil by putting ourselves in the place to be tempted. However, we do have Jesus’ defeat of the devil as a reminder that the devil has no power over us, that we do have Jesus to help us in times of temptation and with Him we also have forgiveness when we do sin. Thanks be to God for Jesus’ temptation, for His defeat of the devil, for His giving of His life for us so that we might have forgiveness, life and salvation and that He moves in us to say, to Him be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.