2/17/02, Temptation, Year A

Passing the Big Test”
Matthew 4:1-11

ast Sunday our text dealt with the Divine side of Jesus as we saw him on the Mount of Transfiguration. Today we see his human side as we find him in the desert being tempted by Satan. As with Jesus, sometimes temptation, testing and trials come to us when we are the most vulnerable.

After forty days in the desert without food the first temptation that Jesus faced was to call upon his divine nature to turn stones into bread. He could have baked instant bread, but the timing was all wrong. Jesus did not want to dance to the devil's tune. On the human side of the situation, it was time to break the fast so it would have seemed appropriate for Jesus to eat, but the evil ingredient of the devil's attempted manipulation was the spice that made making bread a sin. It may be that anything as simple as even our daily bread can become sinful if it is by Satan's will and not God's.

As is his ways still, Satan did not give up. The second temptation was to take Jesus up on top of the highest building in Jerusalem, not as tall as many of our buildings in Atlanta, Chicago, or New York, but much taller than anything in Waycross, Macon or Savannah. Satan was tempting Jesus to jump ahead of God's plan and magically fly off the Pinnacle of the Temple as a way of showing the citizens of Jerusalem that the long expected Messiah had come. However, this would have short circuited Jesus ministry, sermons, miracles, and the Cross and Empty Tomb.

Most young Turks would have flown off that ten story building in an instant as a way to claim the glory before glory day. Can't we all recall how much in a hurry we were when we were younger. The Prodigal Son wanted his inheritance and soon lost it all. Yet, Jesus had spent thirty years preparing to launch his ministry. Yet still, waiting is hard. I recall that the prospects of four years in college seemed like an eternity but now days it seems so short. Many of us hurried thought the best times of our lives rushing to nowhere. Jesus had a higher calling; higher than any skyscraper.

Satan's third temptation was Jesus' Big Test, one that most folks would jump after. This temptation would satisfy any lottery player's fondest dream. To anyone who has ever attempted to climb the corporate ladder this third temptation would come as the ultimate fast track to the top. In short, Satan promised Jesus the entire world at his footsteps if he would only bow down and worship him. Some might think that this would have given Jesus all that God's plan to redeem humanity desired; yet, God does not desire the material splendor of human politics and monetary wealth, God wants to win back our souls and this could only be accomplished through the complete carrying out of his plan of redemption. Jesus came not to rule the governments, not to serve on our boards, but to die on a tree as a way of capturing our hearts, minds, and to express his great love for us. Jesus mission was to win us back from the evil powers of Satan.

It would have seemed like an easy test to Jesus' Divinity, but he passed the test as a self-limited human being and is able to identify with our frailty. "For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15, NRSV).

When the test was passed, "the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him." (v. 11). However, Luke's edition of the same story adds the information that the devil departed from him, "until an opportune time." (Lk. 4:13). Christ continued to be tempted during his earthly life. He was tempted by the leaders of the synagogue to become the type of Messiah that they had expected. Weaker disciples often enticed him to perform miracles simply for exhibition. The continuing lack of faith and understanding on the part of his disciples, and closest followers seemed to be a trial for Jesus. These kind of everyday human temptations were what Jesus was referring to when he said to his disciples, "You are those who have stood by me in my trials." (Lk. 22:28). We of course are reminded that it has been the help of our friends within the Christian family that has strengthened us and formed us into the kind of people who can withstand the wiles of Satan. Yet, we know that temptation, testing and trials will be our human fate until we fly away from this world and hear the angel wings fluttering as they come to minister to us.

In fact, we are real experts in this whole business of temptation aren't we? We have grown accustomed to the devil's ways and can sometimes see him coming. As we have passed the continual test along the way in life we have at times become somewhat self righteous, if we will admit it. We are like the quarterback who has won so many games that he expects to keep on winning forever, and the fans do too. However, deep down we know that we are only as good as our current performance in our current time of testing, and this reality check keeps us humble. In life's game of continual adversity we have learned that we are only able to make it whenever we remember to lean of God's presence in our lives, the Holy Spirit. We have the same power at work within our lives that Jesus had helping him during his human struggles. The Good News is that since he won we can have hopes of winning the big game, passing the big test too.

And remember, in case you might have forgotten temporarily, that the Spirit never fails to enable a victory; although, it has sometimes been won out of the fierce battle. As the old hymn says, "Some through the waters, some through the flood, some through the fire but all through the blood. Some through great sorrow, but God gives the song, in the night's season, but all the day long." ("God Leads His Dear Children Along").

The next time we face the fires of life let's remember to remember Jesus' victory, and ours too!

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

2/17/02, Temptation, Year A