March 9, 2014 - Matthew 4.1-11

“A Rational & Reasonable Proposal”

Matthew 4:1-11

March 9, 2014

 

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying 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, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

 

Sex.  Chocolate Pecan Fudge Pie a la mode with drizzled fudge sauce.  Drugs.  An open bar at a social event.  A new casino opening up on the reservation or a riverboat.  There is a mistake on your W2 form; the decimal is in the wrong place in your favor.  The checkout girl gives you back too much money.  You are on the city council and you could easily work a deal to get a company, in which you hold interest, to be the major benefactor of a new major city contract.  Inside stock market information.  Selling cars this week has been slow, and Mr. And Mrs. Gullible have just asked you how much extra the floor mats will run.

These are the kind of things we think about when we mention temptation.  Temptation is a part of life.  All of us understand what temptation is, or at least we are familiar with certain kinds of temptation.  It is easy to think of Jesus being the kind of person that must have been a rock when it came to temptation.  It must have bounced off of him like bullets off of Superman’s chest.  Certainly the mere moral obstacles that plague us were no problem for Jesus.  Sometimes we assume that we must have a harder time with this kind of thing than Jesus did.  We would be wrong.

Just after Jesus was baptized, he headed for the wilderness.  Testing and Temptation.  Before he can begin his ministry, he had to undergo a time of testing.

All of this is part of God’s plan for Jesus.  Jesus’ submission to temptation is no accident; nor is it a matter of being victimized by a demonic power.  Jesus submits himself to be tempted and tested.  It is part of his obedience to God. 

Take notice of exactly what the devil is tempting Jesus with.  Yes there is food, but there is so much more here.  We think that we have it worse because Jesus was stronger than us.  I say that Jesus had it worse than us, because there was much more to tempt Jesus with than us.

Years ago Flip Wilson had a skit in which his "Geraldine" went out and bought herself an expensive dress. When she later modeled the garment, she was told that when tempted to buy it she should have resisted the temptation by saying, "Get thee behind me, Satan!" To which Geraldine replied, "That is what I did say and the Devil told me it looked very nice from the back."[1]

We are not tempted with things we find unreasonable.  No one is tempted to ruin his or her life, career, and family with an affair.  They are tempted to do something “no one will ever find out about.”  No one is tempted to eat enough cholesterol to have a heart attack.  The person is tempted to have “just one more piece that won’t hurt you.”  I am not tempted to show off my physical prowess on the basketball court.  Nor am I tempted to dazzle you with my skill on the piano.  Why?  Because I can’t do those things!  Eating too much broccoli is not a temptation for me! Why?  I don’t eat broccoli!  You and I are not tempted with things that have no meaning for us.  We are tempted from the things that among our skills, gifts and desires.  I am tempted to abuse my power in this pulpit.  Good looking people are tempted to use their looks to get an upper hand.  Chocolate tempts you; not bran muffins.  Charming people are tempted to get away with as much as they can.  Shrewd managers of money are tempted to work the system in their favor.  If this is true in our lives, then it should give us insight into what Jesus is being tempted with and why it is such a great temptation

Satan does not tell us bold faced lies.  He helps us to rationalize by telling us rational lies.  His power is found not in clear untruths, but half truths.  Jesus knew that God had a plan and a way God wanted things done.  Though he could do all the things Satan was asking him, and it was perfectly reasonable, showing off was not part of God’s plan.

It is a perfectly reasonable and rational proposal here that Satan offers Jesus.  Stones to bread.  “If” you are the Son of God.  Not mere hunger here.  Satan is not challenging his divinity.  Satan is tempting him with the easy way to fix a really big problem.  He can turn the stones to bread.  What would that mean for a world that was looking for a messiah?  It would be proof!  No one would have to decide or even examine their relationship to God!  World hunger would be solved!  That would bring Jesus enormous political power – even enough to challenge the Roman emperor.  And you thought cheesecake was tempting.

There is a myth about Hercules fighting this guy named Antaeus.  Antaeus was this huge Titan like being, with strength to match Hercules.  Hercules would fight and almost get Antaeus whipped.  Then he would throw Antaeus onto the ground.  Then Antaeus would get up, and be stronger than before.  How?  Well, Antaeus mother was the earth goddess Gaia.  Every time Hercules threw Antaeus onto the ground, his mother would restore his strength.  Finally, Hercules figured it out and defeated him by holding him up in the air until he brought him into subjection.

Every time Satan assaulted Jesus, Jesus fell back onto the word of God.  It gave him strength and reminded him of his true cause and place.  We are children of God, and like Antaeus, we must fall back into God’s safety whenever we have been beaten.  If these things throw us back into God, then they do not serve as failures, but serve to make us stronger than we were before.  They can actually glorify God in us.  The trick is to recognize when we’re being beaten so we can fall back.

Jesus has something in common with the story we read from Genesis today.  Adam and Eve were not tempted to end their hunger.  They were both tempted to be like God.  A & E were tempted to gain knowledge that they did not have.  They were already the most like God of all the created creatures.  So why was there temptation to become more like God?  Jesus was already God – so why was it tempting for him to simply show it?  Jesus succeeded where A & E failed.  A & E chose to disobey God’s plan for them and choose their own way. They listened to the words of the deceiver and doubted the words of God.   Jesus however, trusted in God’s words even beyond is own ability to justify things.  He knew that in order for his Father’s plan of salvation to work, he had to submit himself to his full humanity – the temptation was very real to impose his divinity upon those around him – he had to do things in the manner that was most important for us to see, not easiest for him to do.

It is more important for us to see Jesus being tempted, truly tempted, just like you and I are, than it would be for us to see Jesus shrugging off Satan’s feeble attempts to harm him, or to see him dazzling people into belief by giving them virtually no choice in the matter.  God wants worshipers that choose to worship him and no other kind.  God chose to suffer because God knows we suffer, and it means more to us to know that God suffered for us, rather than having a God that can’t be affected by such human frailties.

Jesus knew that in our lives, we were going to have to rely upon God’s grace, God’s care and God’s nurturing of us – so Jesus relied on those things, too.  Jesus shows us that God’s word will suffice; he doesn’t just preach it.  He lived it.  Jesus had been given the task of becoming the ultimate servant to all.  That meant he had to endure like we do, even though he had an easier way.

Well, Jesus was tempted to be like God, to flex his cosmic muscle, so to speak, but that’s not a problem for us, is it?  Sometimes the church has become too fond of power, place and privilege.  We often try to lure people to Christ by selling them on what they can get out of church; of what’s in it for them – like we are trying to sell them a better waffle maker.  It is better for us to simply witness to the gospel, to live our lives in love for others and God, and to let the reality of our service speak for itself.  This idea that some people espouse about “how blessed they will be,” smells a lot like profit, selfishness and greed.  God has called us to a life of giving, not getting.  We would do well to walk in Jesus’ footsteps.

Sara Groves is a wonderful Christian song writer.  In her song generations, she writes:

I can taste the fruit of Eve

I'm aware of sickness, death and disease

The results of her choices are vast

Eve was the first but she wasn't the last

 

And if I were honest with myself

Had I been standing at that tree

My mouth and my hands would be covered with fruit

Things I shouldn't know and things I shouldn't see

 

Remind me of this with every decision

Generations will reap what I sow

I can pass on a curse or a blessing

To those I will never know

 

She taught me to fear the serpent

I'm learning the fear myself

And all of the things I am capable of

In my search for wisdom, acceptance and wealth

 

And to say that the devil made me do it

Is a cop out and a lie

The devil can't make me do anything

When I'm calling on Jesus Christ

 

Remind me of this with every decision

Generations will reap what I sow

I can pass on a curse or a blessing

To those I will never know[2]

 

Jesus clung faithfully to his vocation as a child of God.  In doing so, he gave us the secret to keeping Satan at bay: be faithful to who you are as a child of God.  Hold fast to the calling that God has given you to be his salt and light in this world.  Trust in God’s word and dismiss the words of the tempter.  Every response Jesus has is in scripture.  We still have temptation.  The fruit of Adam and Eve is still on our lips.  But through Christ, we now have the victory.  Jesus has shown us the way; now we must follow.

 

[1] (R. Maurice Boyd, Why Doesn't God Do Things Perfectly?, Abingdon Press, 1999, pp. 114-115.)

[2] Sara Groves, Generations, from the album Generations, Sponge Records, 2001.

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