Posted on Thu, Mar 17, 2011
Lenten Series 1
A Season of Overcoming Temptation
Rev. Jim Merritt
March 13, 2010
This morning we begin a new preaching series called A Season of Overcoming. There are many reasons for this title, not the least of which is that the Worship Planning Team told me they would never again make a banner with a phrase as long as, “Experiencing the Goodness of Our God.” During these Sunday’s in Lent we will focus on these topics; A Season of Overcoming Doubtfulness, A Season of Overcoming Barriers, A Season of Overcoming Expectations that Hold us Back, A Season of Overcoming Sorrows Old and New ,and A Season of Overcoming Old Ways of Living. For today, let’s think together about A Season of Overcoming Temptation.
The customary title for this passage of scripture and for its parallels in Mark 1:12 – 13 and Luke 4: 1 – 13 is the “Temptation of Jesus.” Perhaps a more appropriate title would be the “Testing of God’s Son.” Let’s not get confused; the concern in this story is not whether or not the devil can lure Jesus into this or that behavior as it is the portrayal of Jesus as God’s son, who in every respect has been tempted as we are tempted, or to use the new title, God’s son who in every respect has been tested and in spite of all of that has remained sinless. We know that the Israelites in the Hebrew Bible failed in the wilderness, and we see in this story that Jesus passes every test.
Matthew’s Gospel shows us three dialogues between Jesus and the evil one. In each dialogue, the devil offers a test with Jesus responding by with a quote. All of these quotes are from the Hebrew Bible book of Deuteronomy, chapters 6 – 8. In those chapters, Moses addresses the people of Israel near the end of their wandering in the wilderness and before their entrance into the promised land. Note that Deuteronomy 6 – 8 provides the foundational principles for God’s relationship with the people of Israel, as evidenced by the words of Moses who proclaims, “The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for God’s own possession because God loves you. The relationship is therefore based on a covenant that shows a faithful God who has covenant and steadfast love with those who love God and keep God’s commandments. We see a motif of Israel as God’s son here and in other parts of scripture like Deuteronomy 1:31, 14:1, 32:5-6, and 18 – 30. Furthermore, Deuteronomy provides us for the first time with concepts like “Son of God,” and the whole idea of “testing.”
So, Jesus is taken to the wilderness; often a place for prayer and contemplation and he is tested. He prayed and fasted for forty days and nights and then the devil came to him. Incidentally, that is where we get the forty days of Lent, not including Sunday’s. The devil says IF you are the son of God turn these stones into bread. I can just image the imagery that entered Jesus’ imagination. This is not that plain old white bread they sell in the grocery store. This is wonderful bread, the kind some of us make and the kind that I like to get when I go to Micanopy. Wonderful crusty bread that goes CRUNCH when we bite into it. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy for the first time, saying humankind shall not live by bread alone. This comes from Deuteronomy 8:3.
Next the devil leads Jesus up to the pinnacle of the temple and tests him by suggesting that he jump down from there. “After all,” he says, “If you really are the son of God the angels will catch you and bear you up and not even allow you to hit your foot against a stone. Pretty language and Jesus rebukes the devil again saying “Do not test the Lord your God,” which comes from Deuteronomy 6:16.
Finally, the devil leads Jesus up to the top of a high mountain. He suggests that if Jesus would just fall down and pay homage to him, he would give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, free and clear. Jesus responds strongly saying, “Go away! For it is written, ‘You shall pay homage to the Lord your God and worship God alone, “ which comes from Deuteronomy 6:13. Then the devil left him. After that an angel was sent to minister to him.
Professor Daniel Harrington, on whose work I rely heavily writes, “In the church’s calendar, Matthew 4: 1 – 11 becomes prominent at the beginning of Lent. Understanding this text against the background of Deuteronomy 6 – 8 allows one to go beyond the narrow themes of fasting and temptation to the level of Christology. As is the case with all the material in the opening chapters of Matthew, the focus of attention is the identity of Jesus. Understanding tit as the testing of God’s Son allows one to see the nature of Jesus’ divine sonship and its relation to Israel as God’s child.
These are important lessons for us this morning. First, it is not possible for us to be tempted in ways that Jesus has not been tempted. Jesus has been tempted by the desires of the flesh; every one of them. It is important for us to understand that natural instincts are not bad or evil. They are part of the way God made us. However, when we face situations where we have to sell our souls to the devil to get them, those are times to shout with Jesus, “Get the behind me Satan.” These are times for us to hold fast to our faith, times for us to know the scripture and the tenants of our faith. These are time for us to use all of these to resist temptation. Why? Because Jesus knows every temptation that we know and Jesus passed every test. Finally, if Jesus can do it, we can to it, too. We can win out over temptation and we can pass these moments of testing when they come our way.
Second, Jesus is tempted with status. I can hear the devil saying in language familiar to us. Hey, look at you. You claim to be God’s boy, you think you’re all high and mighty, through yourself down and prove to us what your daddy can do. You’ve been tempted like that too. And just like Jesus you can tell the devil to get lost. You can say to the world, “I do not need your praise and adulation. I do not need your human made status. I know who I am and I do not need to prove it to you because I know that I know that I know I am a beloved child of God. Know who you are, my sisters and brothers. Embrace your identity as sons and daughters of God and then NEVER let anyone take that away from you. That’s real status and that is the only status that matters in the long run.
Finally, the devil tempted Jesus with power. “Just bow down and worship me for a minute or two and I will give you power.” Jesus lets him have it one more time by quoting Deuteronomy, “Worship the Lord your God and God only.” My friends to you realize how much damage has been done through the pursuit of power? Women have been walked all over, their bodies and their souls, in the pursuit of mostly white male power brokers. Minorities have been placed in slavery so that a system based on patriarchal power could build for those who own it more power and privilege on the backs of those who are excluded from it. Power is dangerous when it is restricted to just a select few. It is time for us to stop building up rewards for ourselves here on earth. It’s time for us to stop building it on the backs of those who are most excluded from it. It’s time for us to give up the pursuit of unbridled power and start sharing the love of God with each other and with those who have known little more than oppression and abuse their whole lives long. That’s what happens when we are tested and we pass the test. That’s what happens when we commit to following Jesus. That’s what happens when we commit ourselves to overcoming temptation in the ways Jesus overcame it. And that is the way we become an outpost of God’s beloved community where everyone is welcome to participate. A season of overcoming temptation; let’s do it and let’s pass the test in Jesus’ name, in Jesus name, in Jesus’ name. AMEN!
Old Testament Reading Psalm 32
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom Yahweh imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to Yahweh,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you. Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in Yahweh. Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
Gospel Reading Matthew 4: 1—11 Whit Gibson
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted 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, ‘God will command the 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 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 God.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.