"Success Over Temptation"
13 March 2011
AGREE? / DISAGREE?
1. Milk comes from cows.
2. Everyone experiences temptation.
3. 95% of all temptation involves chocolate... Okay” food” of some sort
4. The potential for temptation in 2011 is greater than it was in 1911.
5. The more godly or Christ-like we become the less likely that we will be tempted.
Now that your creative juices are flowing I want us to look at the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4.
Matthew 1 sets Jesus into the overall flow of the story of God-at-work through Israel with a list of his ancestral connections -- geneologies. Then we have a summary of Joseph and Mary -- and how she became pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
Chapter 2 has the birth of Jesus, the arrival and gifts of the magi, the escape to Egypt, and then the immigration and resettlement in the northern territory of Galilee.
Chapter 3 focuses on the preaching of John the Baptizer -- and includes the baptism of Jesus. After he is baptized the heavens open, the dove descends, and the voice from above declares: “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”
Then immediately, chapter 4:1, says that the same Spirit, who in the previous verse (and remember the verse and chapter divisions were not added to the Bible until the 13th century -- a process which wasn’t completed until well into the 16th century -- they are somewhat artificial to the flow of the story) the same Spirit, who in the previous verse descended as a dove, led Jesus into the wilderness:
“...to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.”
Two motifs to quickly note in passing -- the wilderness and the number 40. What in the past history of Israel involved wilderness and 40?
Exactly, Moses led the people out of Egypt and out into the wilderness, where a 40 day journey became 40 years of wandering about because they gave into temptation after temptation.
Now, hold on to that idea. Let it run in the background of your mind as we look at the temptation of Jesus.
Vs. 3 -- “During that time the devil [“the tempter”] came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.’”
Remember it’s just four verses earlier, in chapter 3, that the voice from heaven came and declared Jesus to be the Son of God. But now the devil is challenging that voice -- challenging his identity -- “IF you are the Son of God... turn these stones into loaves of bread.”
Now, it wouldn’t have been wrong for Jesus to turn stones into bread. That’s not sin. But the bread becomes the lure to suck hungry Jesus into doing the things the devil wants him to do... to play his game. The bait.
Vs. 4 -- “But Jesus told him, ‘No! The Scriptures say, “People do 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, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say,
“He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands
so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.”’”
Notice that the devil is quoting scripture -- Psalm 91. Just because someone tells you something from the Bible doesn’t mean that you should necessarily listen to them. The ability to quote scripture isn’t necessarily a sign of authenticity.
The devil is good at twisting the Bible to make it mean what he wants it to mean.
Vs 7 -- “Jesus responded, ‘The Scriptures also say, “You must not test the Lord your God.”’”
Just because God protects -- that doesn’t give us -- you -- the right to presume on God -- to test him. Presumptuousness.
Just because God can do something -- that doesn’t mean that we should assume that he’d want to do something -- just to prove to you or anyone else that he can do it. God isn’t interested in putting on a show.
And he has his own agenda -- which isn’t always the same as OUR agenda -- in spite of our enthusiasm for it or our confidence that we’ve got it figured out.
Often we think that we fail because we don’t have enough faith -- but it’s more likely that we are having faith that God will do something he is not interested in doing. It is presumptuous that we command God or tell him what to do -- or try to force him into a position of acting on our behalf. It is even more presumptuous when we do it through stupidity.
“Okay, God, I know that you gave us gravity and that you use it to keep everything on the planet from floating away into space -- but since I’m a child of God I’m going to jump off this building anyway and you need to catch me because I really really believe you can do it.”
So the first temptation was for food, the second involved presumptuousness.
Vs. 8 -- “Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. ‘I will give it all to you,’ he said, “‘if you will kneel down and worship me.’”
Yeah, right. All the kingdoms and their glory already belonged to Jesus -- It just wasn’t time yet to reveal the glory.
What the devil was offering was a short-cut to success. If you worship me (instead of the Father) I will give it all to you now. You won’t have to walk the road to Golgotha, go through the agony of the cross. I can fix it all for you -- because that’s what I am -- the fix it man.
Vs. 10 -- “‘Get out of here, Satan,’ Jesus told him. ‘For the Scriptures say, “You must worship the Lord your Godand serve only him.”’ Then the devil went away, (like a yelping dog with his tail between his legs -- defeated -- a foreshadow of things to come) and angels came and took care of Jesus.’”
That’s the story in a nutshell. So, the question, then is, so what? We’ve seen what the devil got out of the story -- nothing -- zippo -- a big KO. But what is this saying to us today?
Five rather quick observations -- especially considering how much is actually packed into this story. So, here we go:
#1 -- WE’RE ENGAGED IN A WINNABLE POWER STRUGGLE
We all understand the concept of struggle -- conflict -- war. At times the struggles in which we engage seem unwinnable. The whole drug war in Mexico and Latin America goes on and on. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to be missing a viable exit strategy.
Now, occasionally we have some victories in various places. A week ago Saturday, one of the US Navy sailors that we knew from Guam -- an NCO named Matt Thompson was a part of a small strike team from the USS Bulkeley that rescued a Japanese owned oil tanker that had been captured by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean.
His team boarded the tanker, rescued 24 sailors, and captured 4 pirates -- no shots fired -- no one was hurt. A small victory in the global struggle for sanity.
Matt, who is already well tattooed, says he is getting a new Pirate Hunter tattoo.
Now, the battle in which we’re all engaged is not quite as romantic as fighting pirates -- and it’s hardly the kind of thing you’d want to get a tattoo over.
Sometimes we call it spiritual warfare. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed with defeat. Always we know that it is a struggle. There is nothing more fundamental to our spiritual development than the idea of struggle.
If you are attempting to follow Christ it will not take long before you realize how much of a struggle it is.
Ephesians 6:10-12 says -- “A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
Now there is a lot of confusion about this today. Somehow we’ve gotten to the place where we have reframed the idea of struggle so that we see it as a war against the culture or a battle against those who have different ideas.
But that’s not what we’re talking about. We are not at war with the culture. We are not even at war with people see themselves as our enemies. Quite to the contrary, Jesus said, “love your enemies.”
Rather, we are engaged in a great spiritual battle over the same issues that the devil was offering to Jesus -- resources, power or presumptuousness, control, identity, allegiance. The temptation is to let the devil set the agenda and the time-frame.
“Just acknowledge me and I’m make it all happen,” he says. “You can take my short-cut. Yeah, we all know what Jesus said, but if you skip the cross you can experience the joy of the resurrection right now. You don’t need any more negative stuff in your life.”
That’s the voice of temptation -- and it manifests itself in numerous ways. But it is it is a winnable battle.
2. IT IS A COSTLY STRUGGLE.
It is agonizing -- painful, messy, chaotic. Jesus is bounced through the desert to the top of the temple, then to the top of a mountain.
In many ways, the temptation in the desert is the first step on the road to the cross. And Jesus says, take up the cross and follow me.
You know, your life might actually be simpler and less stressful if you were not following Jesus. Then you could do whatever YOU want -- take all the short-cuts you want -- indulge yourself without guilt -- buy any toy your heart desires. Use your entrepreneurial skills to turn stones into bread -- more bread than you ever dreamed of. I mean, look at how many stones there are out there!
But if you’re following Jesus -- those are no longer legitimate options -- rather they become points of struggle and temptation. The wilderness takes its toll.
Third, KINGDOM SUCCESS FLOWS OUT OF OVERCOME TEMPTATION.
Vs. 11 again -- “Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus.”
Then, and only then, does Jesus start rounding up his motley crew of disciples. And, 4:17, “From then on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent of your sins and turn to God for the kingdom of Heaven is near.’”
The good news flows out of the success in the wilderness. Again, there are no short-cuts -- whether it’s in starting churches or handling wealth or developing a relationship with a potential mate.
Hang in there and overcome the temptations -- don’t give in -- because it is out of your success in that, that you can build the future successes.
Fourth, THERE IS POWER IN GOD’S WORD.
Now, it’s true that the devil threw scripture at Jesus. But the gospels writer wants us to see that Jesus’ response to the devil came out of a reliance on what God had said in the past.
It’s not new. It’s rooted in the old. Three times Jesus responds to the temptation with the words, “The scriptures say...”
Now, this isn’t a magic formula. It’s an orientation or outlook. The words are powerful because they reveal God’s true plan -- and his heart.
Yes, scripture memorization is good -- and you can draw on what you’ve planted in your mind to deal with the temptations that come your way. But memorizing scripture itself is not the solution.
Rather -- letting the message of what you’ve memorized take such deep root in who you are and how you think -- that when you’re tempted -- what comes out of your mouth isn’t your own gut response but God’s rooted response.
You know, there is really no other way to prepare for temptation because the nature of temptation is to catch us off-guard. When we’re fully aware of what’s happening its not so tempting.
When I’m the most disappointed in myself it’s usually because I’ve been caught off guard and responded to a situation saying something less than sensitive -- less than caring. And afterward I look back on it all think, “Wow, where did that come from? I didn’t know I had that in me.”
I still have pockets of immaturity in my life -- realms where the word or message of God hasn’t sunk in as deeply as other areas. It’s not like I could have anticipated the situation -- something that would play out exactly as it did.
There are times, though, when I succeed, too. And I’m equally surprised. It’s not because I’ve been clever enough to think through all the scenarios that the devil might throw at me but because God’s word has taken root and formed me -- and my response is flowing out of that maturity in my life.
It is maturity that has been formed through God’s word -- his message. Memorization is a good starting point -- but it is only an first step. Let it root deeply.
Fifth -- finally, JESUS SUCCESS IS OUR SUCCESS.
The fact is that we all experience temptation. It is a fact of life. We never outgrow it. If Jesus experienced temptation -- how is it that we can even imagine that we could become immune to it.
But here is the real crux of the matter. Matthew wants us to see that Jesus succeeded where Adam and Eve failed. Jesus succeeded where the children of Israel in the wilderness failed.
Hebrews 4:15-16 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Jesus is the new Adam, to borrow St Paul’s words from Romans. He is the new Israel. He is the successful Adam 2.0 and the Israel 2.0. He’s seen it all. Gone through it all -- and come out on the other side. Therefore, we can put our trust in him.
Do you remember the theology vocabulary word that I gave you a few months ago -- recapitulation. That means, a do-over. And this do-over was a success.
In the past we were doomed to failure because our associations were with failed leaders -- Adam and Eve -- and Israel. But now we have a new leader -- in whom we have a new identity. As he over-came temptation so do we.
You see, the point of the story of the temptation, as seen in the over-all flow of the biblical account, isn’t that we should do whatever we can to imitate Jesus and overcome the temptations that come our way.
Ultimately, temptation is not defeated by methodology -- even though methods are good and at times can be helpful tools. But that is not the point of the story.
Temptations aren’t defeated by focusing on our temptations themselves. Rather, the gospel wants us to see that Jesus has overcome temptation and reversed the impact. Recapitulation. We are no longer destined to failure -- but destined to success -- because our future is tied to Jesus’ future.
I know that this sounds a little heady -- but listen carefully. If you get this, it will change the way that you deal with temptation and relate to God. It’s really a matter of focus. When we pour our energy into following him -- his cross is our cross. His resurrection is our resurrection. His successful do-over victory over the tempter is our successful victory.
What we can never do ourselves is ours through him. It’s really all about Jesus. Therefore, you can -- you should -- trust him to carry you through the trials and temptations. For he’s got the devil on the run -- and with Jesus you’re gaining ground.
And that’s the good news.
Let’s join together in declaring our faith using the powerful words from Hebrews 4:14-16
We need to hold on to our declaration of faith: We have a superior chief priest who has gone through the heavens. That person is Jesus, the Son of God. We have a chief priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. He was tempted in every way that we are, but he didn’t sin. So we can go confidently to the throne of God’s kindness to receive mercy and find kindness, which will help us at the right time.