Clevedon Presbyterian Church
Kawakawa Bay
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That's very Tempting

February 20, 2019
Martin Baker

20  January 2019                            That’s very Tempting                       Martin Baker

Matthew 4:1-17

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." 4 But he answered, "It is written, "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.' " 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 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.' " 7 Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' " 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; 9 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.

The story starts this morning with Jesus being led into the wilderness.

I wouldn’t exactly call Great Barrier the wilderness, but I’ve just come back from there after about 18 days. Not quite half of 40.

I guess many of us have found the benefits of getting away. Having a break. Right from the most ancient records, the wilderness has had those sorts of connotations. A time to re think, plan, imagine, pray. Think about our life choices. They are really important times.  Out on the kayak at Okupu, well and truly lost sight of Bruce. Gannets, cliff faces. Bush. Occasional fish. It is a great time to think about other things.

But the wilderness can be a terrifying place. Where everything we know has been taken away. Nothing familiar. Where we lose sight of the horizon.  The devil there. Not sure what to believe. Or who to believe.

Jesus being led into the wilderness. All these things.  

On Christmas Day I talked about the present I received from my wife Sandy.

It was a little portable EPIRB. An emergency beacon which you can set off if you are in trouble in the wilderness. It tells rescuers where to find you when things go wrong. Jesus had the angels at the end of the passage.We would hopefully be getting a helicopter.  

And I asked people to think of the good and bad reasons why someone would give you an emergency locator beacon for your Christmas present.

And the answers fell in to two basic categories.

Either someone loves you so much that they are prepared to spend $325 to make sure you are safe when you go out alone into the wilderness.  Or, they think you are somewhat incompetent and are likely to get yourself into trouble and they think you will likely need one of these things if you have any chance of survival.

When we hear this morning these opening words 1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.

Think about risk and survival and temptation.

And we need to imagine ourselves as those first Jewish Christians hearing these words. Led by the spirit into the wilderness. Tempted. Forty days. All those words triggered memories from another journey into the wilderness. Centuries before . One of the ways those first Christians saw Jesus was as a kind of new Moses.

Jesus today goes into the wilderness. The people centuries before were led by Moses into the wilderness as they escaped slavery under the Egyptians. Not 40 days but 40 years they travelled. In the wilderness

The temptation by the devil. People would draw on their knowledge of the Book of Job. Where the tempter, also known as Satan, says to God,  let’s see how this good righteous man Job keeps his faith in adversity. Maybe a parallel here is say when you have done your best in raising a child and then finally they leave to go to study or go flatting, how are they going to deal with life’s challenges without you being there?  

This testing and temptation it is not just about one thing but about how your faith and experience lead you to deal with all things.

So the scene is set. Jesus into the wilderness. Satan. The accuser. The one who tests. The one who tempts. The words testing and tempting are pretty much interchangeable in Greek. To tempt is a hope for failure. To test is a hope for success. Both these things going on here. Jesus, we will read, will be tested again and again through scripture. By Pharisees, by the lawyer. Finally the soldier would say to Jesus if you really are the son of God save yourself. Come down from the cross.

That’s why these verses are so difficult. We want stones being tuned into bread. We want to see a prayer answer with the overturning of the laws of biology and physics. Jesus turning up and everything put right. Come down from the cross. Then we will believe. That’s the proof we want.

But Jesus, friend of sinners? Washing disciple’s feet? On the cross? That God is revealed to us in weakness? That’s always been the hardest thing. Paul would write that it is the scandal of the cross -  the big stumbling block.  There is no glory, no salavation, no eternal life, without the cross.

The power of those who promise success and wealth and power and healing. That’s easy to listen to. But costly sacrifice, service, grit, determination – that’s almost never attractive.

3 The tempter came and said to Jesus, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." 4 But he answered, "It is written, "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Jesus words are a direct quote from scriptures from the book of Deuteronomy. Chapter 8 verses 3. In that context the Israelites had been moaning and complaining to God that they had been abandoned in the desert.

Jesus does not claim that we do not need bread, but that we do not live by bread alone. We must have bread, but our deeper need is satisfied only by the word of God. Jesus will provide bread, he will feed the hungry and share bread with others at dinner, but he will not do so by turning his back on God.

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 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.' "

The devil is quoting scripture here. The devil quotes Psalm 91.

Our biblical writings can be used and they can be abused. We know that scripture has been used to justify hate crimes. Slavery, racism. The oppression of women. Acceptance of poverty.  Hitler used scripture in support of anti semiticm.  There is a wonderful line in  Shakespeare’s merchant of Venice  when it is said: There is no error so gross but that some sober brow will bless it with a proper text.

No self-respecting tempter or slanderer, no self-respecting devil or Satan would approach a person with offers of personal domestic or social ruin. The devil doesn’t come to us and say do you want to wreck your life, do you want to wreck your marriage, and do you want to involve yourself in ways that will cause the suffering of others. The devil says, do you want to be like God?

The devil is all about the promise of power over things and over people. The promise to impress others. Easy answers. If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you”

7 Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'

And finally, the third temptation we hear this morning.

Again, the devil took him to an exceedingly high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory. He said to him, “I will give you all of these things, if you will fall down and worship me.”

Let’s remember how powerful this promise from the devil would sound in the ears of first century Jewish Christians. They had been oppressed for centuries.  They had been oppressed by the Greeks who had defiled their temple . A brief reprieve and then the Romans. Bringing their taxes and their terror. And their crucifixions. And finally the devastation and destruction to their temple.  

The devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. I will give you all these things if you will fall down and worship me. A little subtle point in the Greek grammar being used here. The words fall down and worship me. The language used implies that Jesus only needs to do this once. Fall down just once. Worship me just one time.

However, Jesus surely understands the devil’s gambit–one step will lead to another–and another–and another.  No bargain with the devil will ever turn out to be a one-time affair.

10 Then Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and you shall serve him only.'”

At the close of this Gospel, Jesus will have the power that the tempter promised—but the power will come, not from the tempter, but from God. The route to power will not be kneeling down before the devil, but being lifted up on a cross.

So we follow Jesus into the desert. Maybe that important time of prayer and reflection. At the start of 2019. Rethinking our time, our use of money and our effort. A time of testing and tempting. Or maybe it’s the desert where all things seem to be lost.

Here is Jesus. Not convincing in the way that power and wealth and shows of strength convince. But to live within the complicity, the trials the temptation. There are always times when we would like to use our emergency beacons.  It can be so difficult. But instead there’s a call placed over our lives.  To follow this Jesus, through the desert, to the cross and the overcoming of hatred and death itself. To name him as our saviour.

So lets join with those first Christians and remember this story through another Pslam. The Lord’s my shepherd I shall not want, Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Surely your goodness and love will follow me  all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord  forever. AMEN