Sunday, March 5, 2017

Close Encounters with Temptation

Matthew 4:1-11

            One thing you can say for sure about the devil:  he shows up. 
            He showed up in the wilderness to tempt Jesus. 
            And you can be sure he has showed up today to tempt the likes of you and me.  Maybe we aren’t tempted in the same way, or by the same thing as Jesus was.     
            Maybe you are not tempted to turn a stone into bread --  you’re not that hungry!
             And besides, you know you can’t. 
            But even so – there are temptations that the devil has, especially for you and me – and not just because it is Lent.  Some of them are big.  Some of them seem small. 
            How is God tempting you right now? 
            Because there is one thing you say for sure about the devil:  he always shows up.  He’s always whispering in our ears, like he whispered in Jesus’ ear….. appealing to your doubts, your uncertainties, your pride or your insecurity…

            But Jesus’ temptations are not ours. 
            The three temptations here are specific and unique to Jesus, because of who he is, because he is the Messiah.  
             They tell us something about Jesus, but they end up telling us something about us, too.  

            It’s worth noting that Jesus’ temptation takes place right after his baptism, where the voice from heaven declares him the Beloved Son. 
            God tells him that he is the chosen one, the Messiah, and then he goes into the wilderness where he fasts and prays and prepares for the ministry that God has given to him. 
            And after forty days and nights, the devil comes to him … and he starts with the obvious.  Jesus is hungry. 
            Forty days and forty nights he has fasted.  He is the son of God and he can do anything, right?  Why not make stones into bread?  Who will know? 
            What could it hurt?  But Jesus resists. 
            He will not do a miracle to relieve his own hunger.     
            And he points to the spiritual food that is most important for life – every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.   

            Next the devil tempts Jesus to do a spectacular thing – jump off the pinnacle of the temple, and call the angels. 
            The devil even quotes scripture!  If he is the Messiah, he can all the angels!  They will not let anything happen to Jesus.  And EVERYONE will be convinced that Jesus is the messiah. 
            Isn’t that the point, after all?  Put on a performance that will erase all doubt!  That is what the devil says.    But that’s not God’s plan for Jesus, and he knows it.  So he resists.

            Finally, the devil pulls out all the stops.  He may have been subtle before, appealing to Jesus’ hunger or quoting scripture.  But now he just says it.  Worship me, he says to Jesus, and I will give you everything. 
            The kingdoms of the world belong to me, the devil says. 
            If you want power, I am the one to give it to you.  Think of all of the good you can do.  Just worship me.

            Just as the serpent tempted our first parents, causing them to doubt and mistrust God, in the same way the devil comes to Jesus. 
            The temptations are just as real and just as hard as the ones that Adam and Eve heard.  But Jesus resisted.   
            He resisted  the impulse to take matters into his own hands, to think he knew better than God who the Messiah should be and what the Messiah should do. 

            Later on, of course, Jesus will do the miracles:  he will feed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, not because he is hungry, but because they are.  Later on, of course, there will be a spectacle, but it will be a much different one. 
            While he is hanging on the cross, he will still recite from God’s word, but this time it will be, My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” 
            Later on, the people would pass by, and some of them would taunt him saying, “He saved others, he cannot save himself.  Let him come down from the cross, if he is the Messiah of God.” 
            But because he is the Messiah of God, he didn’t.    

            From the beginning to the end, Jesus trusted God. 
            He put his life in God’s hands.  He trusted the mission for which God had sent him:  to love, to heal, to bless the world, to turn us back to God. 

            He put his life in God’s hands, and that is where our lives belong too.  
            In God’s hands.  And to trust this – to trust God’s love for us – God’s life in us – is the most important, most essential thing.  Every.  Single. Day.
             That’s why Martin Luther said that we return to our baptism every day – to die and to trust that Jesus raises us again and again to new life.  It is the most important thing.  But it’s not so easy. 

             And it is so tempting – so tempting to trust ourselves more than we trust God, to doubt God’s goodness,  to think we are on our own in the world.
             It’s so tempting to believe that our salvation is in our hands, not God’s, that we can control the outcome.   
            All of our other temptations – all of our doubts and insecurities – go back to this one. 
            Some of us fall because we think too highly of ourselves.  Some of us fall because we don’t think enough of ourselves – we doubt that we too are created in the image of God.  
            Some of us fall because we think we don’t need God’s forgiveness.  Some of us fall because we don’t believe we are worthy of God’s forgiveness. 
            We doubt God’s word that he will pick us up and give us new life every single day. 

            I used to visit my dad in the nursing home.  When I was little, he used to sit on the edge of our beds and read us Bible stories, out of this book, ‘The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes.” 
            We taught us simple prayers, and how to pray the Lord’s prayer too. 
            He used to sing songs like, “Living for Jesus a life that is true…” and “O Jesus I have promise to love thee to the end…”  He showed me how to find my place in the hymnal, and sang the Baritone part on the three-fold Amen. 

            And there I was, visiting him in the nursing home, singing with him and helping him remember the prayers he first taught me. 

            One day when I came I could tell he was worried. 
            We sang some songs – he liked old standards, not just hymns, and talked awhile and looked at photographs. 
            But after awhile he confessed to me that he was worried about whether he was good enough for God.  He was worried about eternal life.   I think maybe the devil was whispering in his ear….

            “Dad,” I said, “Do you trust Jesus?”  Yes.  He said.
            “Well, then you’re okay.”
            “You mean, that’s all there is to it?”
            “That’s all there is to it.”

            One thing you can say for sure about Jesus, he always shows up.   He shows up in the waters of baptism, and he shows up in the wilderness.  He shows up on the cross, and he shows up every single day of our lives.

            Do you trust Jesus? 
            That’s all there is to it.
            Your life is in his hands.  AMEN

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