Monday, February 11, 2008

Temptation and Choice


My sermon text for February 10, 2008.


Reference Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Verse 1: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

“Former president Ronald Reagan once had an aunt who took him to a cobbler for a pair of new shoes. The cobbler asked young Reagan, “Do you want square toes or round toes?” Unable to decide, Reagan didn’t answer, so the cobbler gave him a few days.

“Several days later the cobbler saw Reagan on the street and asked him again what kind of toes he wanted on his shoes. Reagan still couldn’t decide, so the shoemaker replied, “Well, come by in a couple of days. Your shoes will be ready.” When the future president did so, he found one square-toed and one round-toed shoe! “This will teach you to never let people make decisions for you,” the cobbler said to his indecisive customer.

“I learned right then and there,” Reagan said later, “if you don’t make your own decisions, someone else will.”

I’d want to add: If you let others make your choices for you, you’ll probably just look like a fool.

During the season of Lent we have the opportunity to choose a discipline to focus on. If you haven’t chosen one yet, have no fear, there is still time....but don’t be a fool and neglect to choose.

In choosing your Lenten discipline, what you will give up or what you will take up, I want you to ask yourself...

Who is your Lent for? (I know, grammatically incorrect)

It is for yourself?
- Will the goal of your Lent be to lose a few pounds or give up a bad habit, even if just for a few months? Seems trivial.

Is your Lent meant to prove your piety and devotion towards God?
- Will God give out a reward to the most pious person or the person who gives up the most? Seems silly

I am of the opinion that Lenten devotions are meant to be for others.

God can use this season of self-denial as a means to teach us to focus more on the needs of others than our own needs.

Matthew’s account of the temptation clearly states that Jesus was lead, by the Spirit, into the wilderness in order to be tempted. God leads Jesus to be tempted.

God, as Spirit, leads Jesus through 40 days of disciplined self-denial in order to face the spirit of temptation - Satan.

This is a very Jewish portrayal of Satan. As in the book of Job, Satan is a servant of God, with only the power to tempt and only able to tempt those God chooses. In many ways, this image of Satan is more like a teacher who tests our faithfulness than then leader of the powers of darkness.

But God doesn’t lead Jesus to encounter Satan immediately after his baptism, but only after 40 days in the wilderness.

The time Jesus spends in the wilderness, in fasting and in prayer, is time to learn the vital lesson that the only way to live is to become reliant on God’s grace.

But this is only an internal discipline. A Jesus who knows how to live totally on the grace of God could just remain in the wilderness or retire to the mountaintop. But that’s not the Jesus we know.

This is where Satan enters, not so much to challenge what Jesus will do next, but to question what his motives will be....if he is REALLY the Messiah.

The first temptation is to turn stones into bread. This is the most obvious of temptations. After 40 days in the wilderness, even Matthew feels the need to record that Jesus was famished. So why not? Jesus may profess that one should live by the word of the Lord, but that doesn’t stop him from eating later. There is no sin in making bread. But the heart of this temptation is for Jesus to use power to serve his own needs.

He says ‘no’ to the temptation...but...

Later Jesus does use his power to create bread, to meet the needs of the multitudes who have gathered around him.

Later Jesus gives bread to his followers as a symbol to remember his sacrifice for the sins of the world.

The second temptation is to clearly reveal that he is the Messiah by having angels catch him as he plummets from the highest tower of the temple in Jerusalem. And why not? That way there will be no confusion as to Jesus’ true identity. The heart of this temptation is for Jesus to use supernatural powers to accomplish his mission, and in doing so prove that he is the Messiah.

He says ‘no’ to the temptation...but...

Later angels do come to Jesus’ aid, after he faithfully denies the temptations which lay before him.

Later angels to come to release him from the tomb after his sacrifice on the cross.

The third temptation is to take the title Lord of the Nations by using the powers of this world: lies, greed and force. The heart of this temptation is for Jesus to use power to force the kingdom of heaven onto the world. Why die on a cross? Why not crucify people until the rest fall in line?

He says ‘no’ to the temptation...but...

Later Jesus is given the title, “King of the Jews” by Pontius Pilate the highest authority in the land as he hangs on the cross, the only throne on which he will ever sit.

He says ‘no’ three times to the temptation to use power to meet his own needs in order that he might later say ‘yes’ to our needs.

Jesus’ temptations are ultimately to choose between what is easier for him and what is better for us.

As we make our Lenten journey this year I encourage each one of you to ask:

Is my Lenten discipline serving God by making life better for others?

How is my Lenten discipline going to make a difference in the lives of others?

Who is my Lent for?


As I prepared the above text for preaching, I did so without having chosen my own discipline; but now I have: this blog will be my discipline. I will carefully and prayerfully take time each day to work at it through reading, research, reflection and writing (my four R’s!). I pray it will be a blessing to you.

Every Blessing.

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