2/25/07, Lent 1
“The devil seeks an opportune time…”
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ 5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 9Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. NRSV
have not enjoyed writing this sermon. I can understand how C. S. Lewis said that he felt when he had to pretend to think like a devil as he wrote Screwtape Letters. This week I have been thinking like the devil, and it does not come naturally.
It is good to say that many theologians feel that there is really no evil, and that what we call evil is “good gone bad.” So I changed the title of my sermon from “Evil Seeks its Time,” to the above title. The temptation of Christ prior to beginning his earthly ministry as he traveled across Palestine calling followers, preaching and performing miracles. One needs to be “full of the Holy Spirit” in order to undertake such a holy purpose. Furthermore, Jesus needed to be pure of intent of heart in order to stay fixed on his plan of revealing his divine plan as the long expected Christ.
The Father allowed Jesus’ temptation by the devil as a way of demonstrating Jesus’ power over evil. Jesus resisted every attempt to snare him.
Perhaps the most important thing to this story is that Jesus withstood his temptation not from his divine omnipotent divine power, but from only his limited human power. And yes, this means that we too have willpower to overcome.
After forty days in the desert without food he probably resembled a corpse, but it is common for actors and models to starve themselves in order to become super thin for a part, or photo shoot. Some models have died from anorexic self starvation. This first
temptation was not as extraordinary as the devil made it appear. In response to the devil Jesus made his famous words, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.”
The second temptation also makes the devil look a little lame as Jesus easily turns down an offer to own all of the kingdoms of the world which the devil did not actually own anyway. As a child in Sunday School we figured out that the devil was a dummy. My Sunday School teacher said that he could have made the temptation more enticing.
The third temptation was a wash too. Why would Jesus want to pretend to bash his head on rocks in front of witnesses in order to get them under his spell? This was the weakest temptation. The devil comes off looking not that powerful.
As the great evangelist Julian McPheeters used to say, “If you want to see the devil run shoot him with the gospel gun.” Quoting Scripture was what Jesus shot at the devil every time that he was tempted. And we too can quote scripture. The problem with us is that we are pushovers. We sometimes give in to temptation too easily.
Now we are catching on to the trick to winning against the devil: “We stand our ground!” “We say emphatically NO! And we refuse to dance to his silly tune.
So, we have victory over the devil and we have said that evil is only “Good gone Bad.” So, what’s the problem? The bad news is that the problem remains and that it is a biggie.
The problem of the human race is bad choices. We have free will to choose and we choose poorly. And that’s the problem that we are all still working on. We can not blame our bad choices on anybody but ourselves.
The cornerstone of recovery from a life of making bad choices is to admit our problem and ask God to forgive us and to give us renewed power and information so that we can break the pattern. Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice covers our past sin and it also gives us power to begin to make new right choices.
We will have to quit blaming bad stuff on the devil, or our parents, or teachers. We will have to accept our own bad decisions that have gotten us in this mess, and we have to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus did, in winning the war with our selves. If you have a lot of stories about your “Good Gone Bad,” God can wash that stuff away
Free Will must not be regarded as a human imperfection but as a jewel in the crown of God’s plan. God ultimately overcomes evil by forgiving it fully. About right here is where I started enjoying writing this sermon for I realized that the devil can wait for ever and never find an opportune time to catch Jesus. He has won the war within for us!
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor