Temptation.

Matthew 4:1-11

The Temptation of Jesus

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,

‘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.’”

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 he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

What do you think of when you hear the word “temptation?”

What do you think are some temptations that our culture struggles with?

What are some of the temptations of the church?

What about us personally?

I know that we all struggle with some temptations.  There are certainly temptations such as eating too much chocolate or going into excess on something.  But, what’s the root of temptation?

Our gospel passage this morning presents us with three temptations that Jesus faced.  

  1. Turning stones to bread
  2. Protection from being thrown off the temple roof
  3. Being given the world

Now, on the surface, there are some appealing things to these temptations I’d imagine for Jesus.  Honestly, they all sound good to me!  There are lots of stones in the world, and lots of starving people.  Wouldn’t it be great to solve the world’s hunger issues by turning stone into bread?  And, with Jesus, you know it would be good bread!

Being able to be protected physically from falling off the temple roof!  Well, we all want to be safe don’t we?  Wouldn’t we like to know that if we jumped off the roof of this building that we’d land safely?  That a bunch of angels would come to our rescue if we are being physically threatened?

How about being given dominion over the world?  Wouldn’t that be great!   We could make everything great and good!  People seem to like to remind us that this world is a mess, that no one is in control.  Well, we are good people, if we had control, then we could make the world safe, we could put our vision into play and make the world a better place…because we know better. 

I shared this a while ago, but I thought it would be appropriate to share again…noted author, speaker, theologian and philosopher, Henri Nouwen talks about the temptations of Jesus in his book on Christian Leadership, In the Name of Jesus.  He says that Jesus, like all leaders are tempted in three ways and that we can practice certain disciplines that will help us move towards a better sense of wholeness and health:

  1. The first temptation of turning stones to bread is the temptation to be relevant.  We want to do something that is related to our experiences or others.  Yet, that’s a trap, it’s like me winning the lottery so I can fund the world’s great projects…you can spend so much time on that, that you lose sight of yourself.  Yet, Jesus wants us to know that we are loved and that we can return that love…as we grow in our understanding of God’s love for us, we don’t have to be relevant, yet, we can become confident.  Nouwen goes on to say that the key work or practice for us to move towards a deeper sense of awareness and confidence, is contemplative prayer.  Spending time listening to God’s love for us.  
  1. The second temptation of jumping of the roof only to be caught is the temptation to be spectacular.  Can we impress others with something.  Yet, God calls us to practice the simple work of serving others, of being with people, listening to their stories, encouraging one another, and living authentically.  Our discipline that leads us away from the temptation of wanting to do something spectacular is to be able to confess to others and ask forgiveness.  That’s hard to do, to yield to others, yet that gives us the humility to grow and to mature.
  1. The third temptation of being given the world is the desire to be powerful, to get others to do what we tell them!  To get at others before they get you…really, to have others bow before your wishes, to get your way.  Yet, Jesus tells us that, in order to lead, one has to follow.  And you have to trust others to take you where you may not want to go.  We aren’t given the world, but we are given each other.  Our discipline or practice is to think about God’s actions, God’s word to us, to look at Jesus, to have theological reflection.  That allows us to look at our motives and to be shaped inwardly which moves towards outward actions. 

Temptations lure us in to something innocently enough and with seemingly good intentions.  This season of Lent is meant to be a time of recognizing and resisting temptations, and to take on practices or disciplines to help us to have perspective and grow.  The idea is to befriend temptations, know they are there and recognize them when they come around…and when temptations come around, find ways to go deeper, and to use those times as a reminder that God is with you and calling you towards deeper places in life.  I believe we all recognize that when we give into temptations, they become habits of thinking or acting, then they reform us in destructive ways or can reinforce bad habits.  

Author and speaker, Dr. Brene Brown, in her book Rising Strong, says that our brains get stuck in particular patterns that are hard to break.  The only way to move out of those patterns is by creating a new practice, a healthier practice.   Oftentimes those new practices require courage.  It’s easy to give into the temptations around us, but moving towards a new practice can lead to our thinking patterns being changed and a new way of being as we move towards a deeper understanding of those temptations.

The early church understood this.  They didn’t have a lot of the dogma that we have today.  For a few hundred years before Christianity became sanctioned by the Roman government, practice was more important than doctrine.  Folks knew that they needed community and that they wanted meaning in life and a new way of being.  Christians practiced welcome, grace, hospitality, a sense of equality was practiced between ethnicities and gender, all were one, and there was deep commitment.  When someone joined the church, it was a huge commitment; it could cost you your life.  Yet, the rule of love was so compelling that folks were drawn in…the early church folks didn’t ask new members of the faith a lot of questions about belief, but they took time to be in the practice of loving one another.  It created new patterns of being and doing.  

They also understood that God was committed to them and that Jesus’ actions on their behalf gave them the grace to start over, daily.  They had an understanding of God’s relational nature, which gave birth to the concept of God as trinity, and that Jesus entered into this world, and absorbed sin for us, for all of humanity.  Know that Jesus’ response to temptation is our response, we may fail and lose often, often, but ultimately, we win because of Jesus’ work for us and in us….actually, it’s deeper than just winning, it’s growing and maturing…and as we practice loving in the way of Jesus, we begin to fall deeper in love with God, even as our overwhelmed with God’s love for and of us.

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