Posted on Mon, Mar 10, 2014
March 9, 2014
First Sunday in Lent
Gospel Text: Matthew 4:1-11 – “The Perfect Time to Learn”
The Temptation of Jesus
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted for 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 splendor; 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.
Lent is a very personal time. It is a time when we are called to go to a quiet place to meditate and pray. Lent is a time to go to a quiet place really contemplate about your relationship with your Savior and God. Some Christian traditions talk about the time we “found” Jesus and accepted Him into our heart. This is a very warm and sentimental concept, but it is hardly compatible with the Passion Jesus went through to, “find” us. The fact is, Jesus was never lost… even when he was led or forced to go into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. It was just before Jesus was to begin his ministry, and yet, in His human-ness, Jesus had something to learn. Therefore, depending on which synoptic gospel you read, we will find it clear that it was meant for Jesus to enter the wilderness for exactly the perfect time he will need to prepare himself for ministry.
The Text begins with the mysterious word, “Then.” “What then?” “Then what?” “Then… something,” means something has previously happened. Do you remember? We are early in the Gospel of Matthew, so it has to be early in His ministry. Today’s text takes place just after Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River.
What is the crucial words that were spoken at Jesus’ baptism? “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved,* with whom I am well pleased.’” (Mt. 3:17) The heavens were torn apart, like when the huge curtain in the Temple was rent/torn apart when he had breathed his last from the cross.
This means, before Jesus begins his ministry, his purpose in being born in the first place, he and everyone around him at the time, heard Jesus’ true identity. God claims Jesus as God’s only son. This was done for the sake of the world, and probably for the human side of Jesus. At the 10 am worship, little Mele will be renamed by God as God of child from today forevermore! But Jesus’ identity was also proclaimed to all, and especially for Jesus just for this day… a day of temptations.
Jesus is in the wilderness, the text says for 40 days. Scientists will grumble saying, a human body cannot survive without food or water for 40 days… very true, but the Bible IS NOT A SCIENCE BOOK! What does the number 40 represent? Forty means the perfect amount of time for God to teach a crucial lesson. Jesus has learned his lesson because as soon as he comes down the mountain Satan says, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ Notice how in verse three, Matthew doesn't write “Satan” or the “Devil.” Matthew calls him “The Tempter” and this is a more accurate name for Satan, it states his purpose. Satan’s purpose is to draw us away from God’s promise of unconditional love, mercy and grace. I know so many people upon hearing my occupation say, “Oh, I don’t believe in Satan, God or the Devil…” in my mind, I think of a few things,
1. You believe in something, you just can’t or won’t identify it yet.
2. Whether you believe in the devil or Satan doesn't seem to matter as the results of his work seems to be all around us… you just can’t see it yet.
3. As the “tempter” it looks like whatever you call the devil, his job worked on you…
As Jesus comes down, Satan attacks his identity and his humanness. That little word, “If” you are the Son of God,” blahblahblah… goes right for the heart of Jesus. It INFLICTS doubt on the truth of Jesus’ true identity… even for the reader. People find it much easier to think of Jesus as a great teacher, rabbi, prophet or some kind of mystic or sage, but to call Jesus the Son of God, demands faith that goes much deeper, or higher, than human reasoning or logic can go. “If” Jesus was really God that would be great, but he was probably just a great teacher, prophet or rabbi…
‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ The perfect temptation for a hungry young man is to go for his stomach! If Jesus were coming down from Mr. Fuji, it would have been turn this sand into fresh cooked rice! Why not? Why shouldn’t Jesus just turn the stones into bread? No one will know! There is no one around… accept The Tempter… He would know, and he would know that he had the power to break Jesus and his humanness. Jesus could have just stepped down from the cross as well, rather than suffer the pain He did for us… But Jesus rebukes Satan saying, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” … I remember praying with so many individuals just before, or on their journey to death. They didn't ask me for their favorite food, they asked me to:
Bread is good, noodles are even better, but when the times get difficult, more than my stomach, I am thinking about my heart and soul.
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.”’ If you were coming into Jerusalem for the first time after living in your village your entire life, the Temple in Jerusalem would look, sound and smell like a religious Disneyland. The Temple was by far the tallest building crowned with gold and stood even taller than the Roman fortress built right next door to spy on what was happening in the temple. It was the ultimate symbol of spiritual power. Jesus had no wings, and even Jesus had to wear good leather sandals to protect his feet from the rocks that are all over Palestine.
While I was a missionary I lost two friends, one was killed when he was hit by a car being driven by a woman who fell asleep at the wheel because she was working two jobs and raising kids as a single mother. The other was shot by bandits when he was taking the bishop of his church to the airport. Missionaries are the most “prayed for” people in the world. We pray for their protection, safety and diligence in their work… but we still live, work and play in a broken world, and sometimes, terrible things happen to any one of us. We can pray to God to protect our loved ones and such, but it may be better to pray always be in the discipline of living according to the truth that we never know the moment when we may suddenly be face to face with Jesus, or Jesus is face to face with us.
My friend who was killed by the car made the news when his parents went to Japan to attend the funeral, but more importantly to forgive the young mother and make sure she wasn’t punished. On the news, the parents boldly said, “Because Jesus has forgiven us, our son would want this young woman forgiven, rather than punished, as well.” This accident, and these words were broadcast throughout the nation of Japan because of the radical message the parent had for the young woman. Most people demand retribution, these parents pleaded for mercy.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ They were standing on the tall ridge of the wilderness on the ridge above Jericho. I’ve been there. As they looked into the oasis town of Jericho, they could see the palaces that King Herod had built in that valley. They were amazingly beautiful and each one had a glistening blue pool… this was very strange as each pool had to be filled and attended to by an army of slaves who had to hand carry water to each pool. Yet, they were the palaces of the most powerful king in the area, King Herod.
The Tempter was foolish to tempt Jesus with the power that was held by one of the most evil and disgusting kings in history. Jesus wasn't just being tempted by earthly power, but by the power of a man with gallons of blood on his hands. I can just imagine Jesus about to blow up with anger as He bursts out, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”’ Matthew tells us that Satan departed “suddenly,” possibly because with any other temptation, Jesus could loose his patience and be tempted to do away with Satan once and for all… Remember, it is only Satan who truly knows the depth of Jesus’ identity and power.
According to the Gospel of Luke, the Tempter was not finished, 4:13 “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” The Tempter is clever, conniving and will always go for our weakest point.
Through your baptism, you have been given a name and a promise. You are a Child of God. That doesn't mean we won’t be tempted, and it doesn't mean we will fail, but it does mean that God will never leave you and the promise of forgiveness, grace and mercy given to you through the Cross of Jesus is yours forever. Amen.
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