Jesus

Straight Up Temptation

The Lessons Appointed for Use on the First Sunday of Lent:

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11
Psalm 32

The Collect

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Sermon

I saw God mighty to save when I was working as a messenger in a law office. I worked there for a year while I took the LSATs and applied to law schools – just to make sure law was what I wanted to do.

One of my many duties was to occasionally sit in for the receptionist while she was at lunch. The phones were quiet one day and I had a verse to learn.- 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted He will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it.”

I memorize best by writing things out so I wrote the verse on a sheet of paper. I wrote it again and again until it filled both sides of the page. Halfway through the hour the phone lines started ringing and by the time Kathy returned from lunch my paper was buried under a pile of messages.

Kathy took her seat behind the desk and I rushed out to file a motion.

When I returned to the office a few hours later Kathy called me over to the reception desk.

“I assume this is yours,” she said, holding up the page.

Before I could apologize for leaving it behind she continued, “Thank you. It saved my life.”

One of our clients had been flirting shamelessly with Kathy. She was a lovely, Christian, married woman who politely declined his indecent proposals time after time.  But it’s hard to resist a wealthy, powerful, charming, persistent man who makes you feel desirable, so that day at lunch she decided that when he came in that afternoon she was going to say yes.

And then 1 Corinthians 10:13 emerged from under all those messages.

Help is always on the way.

This morning help is right here in the lessons in our bulletins.

Genesis 3 helps us recognize the tempter when we see him.

The Old Testament

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made.

The Hebrew word translated serpent here is nachash.  It is from the root word meaning “divination, enchantment, sorcery”.

The Hebrew word translated “wild animal” means “to live, have life, remain alive, live forever.”

That’s why, contrary to all the artist’s depictions, I don’t picture Eve talking to an actual snake. What intelligent woman is going to listen to a snake?

A more accurate translation would have her talking to an enchanter.

Scripture says the devil masquerades as an angel of light. Ezekiel said he was, “the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.”

The Hebrew word translated beauty is from the root word yaphah (yaw-faw), which means “to be bright, beautiful, handsome, fair”.  So instead of a snake, picture someone shiny. (I picture a young Robert Redford.  He was shiny.)

“Now shiny boy was the slyest, most hypnotically charming being which the LORD God had made.”  (Genesis 3:1 JHV – Julie Hintz Version)

Is your mind set on the picture here?  Eve has just encountered a bright, shiny, hypnotically charming replica of the One she conversed with each evening in the garden.  Sin has not yet entered the picture.  She knows nothing of evil.  Distrust has not even entered her perfect mind because distrust has not yet entered her perfect world.  Shiny boy knows he’s golden, so he makes his move.

Tempters always look good in the coming; they don’t look like a snake until the going.

You know what I mean.  You’ve met someone who looked shiny in the coming. It wasn’t until after he/she betrayed you, deceived you, broke your heart, that you said to your friends, “He/she is such a snake!”

Remember, he wasn’t condemned to crawl on his belly until the end of the chapter.

He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’”
Look back at the first paragraph (Genesis 2).  Did God say they couldn’t even touch it? He commanded the man – because the woman had not yet been fashioned – and in relaying the command to the woman, the man embellished.  “Don’t even touch it, Eve, don’t even think about touching it.”  Actually, he hadn’t named Eve yet. “Don’t even touch it, woman, don’t even think about touching it.”

It’s important in this temptation avoiding life to see for yourself what God actually said; go directly to the source.

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

See how crafty he is? He even uses noble desires. Wisdom is a good thing, so how can desiring it be sinful? It isn’t. The sin wasn’t in the desire for knowledge, the sin was in the grabbiness.

Shiny boy portrayed himself as being more generous than God.  I see this temptation everywhere these days. The subtle temptation to believe that we humans are kinder, more compassionate than God. We’re not.

(Note to self: When someone wants me to do something that contradicts what God said, no matter how much that someone may look or sound like God, say to that shiny person, “Hold up, let me run that past God and get back to you.”)

Further down in the chapter we’re told Adam and Eve were afraid when they heard God coming, so they hid.  Do you think they had known fear before? This knowledge of good and evil that was supposed to be so great didn’t turn out to be so great.

And so it always goes with that snake.

I wonder if God would have invited them to eat from the tree the second they passed the test.  Once they showed they would trust Him, obey Him. (You can read Boot Camp for more on that.)

The OT helped us see that the tempter is shiny and sly. Eve said “the deceiver tricked me and I ate.”  If he can trick Eve, he can trick us. Smart as we are, Eve was smarter. She was an original, we’re copies of a copy of a copy…

So let’s learn from the Master.

Right out of the gate, the devil tried to wreck  Jesus’ ministry.

The Gospel

Matthew 4:1-11
(Right after He was baptized) Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

Just a casual, harmless, sly little suggestion.  You’re hungry, make yourself something to eat. No harm, no foul, right?

Wrong. If he had turned those stones into bread His whole mission would have been aborted.

He had to be one of us in order to take our place on the cross.  Can you turn stones into bread? I can’t either.

So if He did something we can’t do He would no longer be fully man.

“But wait,” I hear you thinking, “Jesus did miracles all the time.”

Yes, He did. But He only did what he saw His Father doing and He only said what He heard His Father saying.

And His Father wasn’t making bread that day.

As a human, He was completely dependent on His father to do anything of spiritual, miraculous value. Just as we are.

We can’t take matters into our own hands – if we could, Dixie would be happily pooping by now – so neither could He.

That’s why He said, “One does not live by bread alone, 
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

There are more important things in life than our physical appetites.

We’re going to be hungry for all kinds of things and the tempter will exploit every one of our physical weaknesses.

Let’s not get grabby, let’s not take matters into our own hands, let’s take only from the Father’s hand.

If you scroll down to the last sentence of the Matthew passage it says this: “Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.”

I imagine they brought something a whole lot more satisfying than some crusty bread.

Then the devil took Jesus to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 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.’”

Jesus said to him, “Are you kidding me?  ‘If you are the Son of God’? Please. What did He  just say at my baptism, right before I was led out to this place?  This is my Son.

Okay that’s my paraphrase. He actually said, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”   But they’re kinda’ the same. Either way when God clearly says something, it’s an insult to doubt it.

Temptation comes on strong when we think we have something to prove.  This one probably hits teenagers the hardest. Do I have what it takes? Am I desirable?

Tell them they do.  Tell them they are.  Tell them they have nothing to prove. Every day during Lent tell them in big and small and subtle and true ways that they have what it takes. Leave no doubt.

Again, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

All the kingdoms of the world were not his to give but he’s a liar so who cares.  He has no problem promising what he knows he can’t deliver.

The temptation here was to bypass the cross; to take the easy way.

“You don’t have to suffer,” the devil hissed, “you don’t have to die for these people.  Just worship me and I’ll give you an earthly kingdom.”

This last attempt must have been tempting.  Jesus didn’t want to go to the cross. He said so Himself. If there had been any other way He would have taken it.

But Jesus didn’t come to gain an earthly kingdom.

He knew that eventually every knee would bow to Him and every tongue in heaven and on earth would confess that He is Lord.  He knew that in order to draw all men to Himself He would have to be “lifted up” on a cross before being lifted back unto His heavenly throne.

He wasn’t going to settle for a cheap imitation of the heavenly kingdom He already possessed.

Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God, 
and serve only him.’”

In other words, “I’ll take what’s behind door number God.”

Let’s not settle for the cheap imitations that the tempter offers and then doesn’t deliver.

Let’s give up cheap imitations for Lent.

The devil, who had the audacity to tempt Jesus, uses these same tactics on us.

He exploits our physical appetites and weaknesses.

He exploits our pride.

He exploits our fears and dreads.

How was Jesus able to cut through these tough temptations like a hot knife through butter?

He trusted in His Father’s provision,
He was confident in His Father’s love and
He kept His eye on the better prize. Us.

May we be like Him.

P.S. I didn’t say this in the sermon, but here’s why I think was translated as snake:

The Hebrew word translated serpent here is nachash (pronounced naw-khawsh’). It is from the root word nachash (pronounced naw-khawsh’), which means “divination, enchantment, omen, sorcery”. The root word and the derivative are identical in spelling and almost identical in pronunciation. Here’s what the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) says:

“Because of the similarity of [the two words], some make a connection to snakecharming. More contend that there is a similarity of hissing sounds between enchanters and serpents and hence the similarity of words.”

Just a little bonus for my fellow word nerds.

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Jesus, life

Takin’ it to the Streets

As you know, church has been kinda’ bugging me lately, and one of the things that has been bugging me is the preaching.  It doesn’t really belong in church.

Preaching belongs in the streets.

One of the most powerful sermons ever preached is recorded in Acts 2. Peter brilliantly, powerfully, clearly and anointedly laid it all out in the public square and thousands accepted his message that day and were baptized.

Thousands of people got what he said.

They heard the good news and they got it.  They did not need to keep getting it.

Can you imagine how boring it would have been for them if, after they were baptized, Peter just kept reiterating the same message to them again and again?

Jesus’s parting words were, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

The word preaching does not appear in His commission to us.  He didn’t tell us to preach to the church, because preaching to the church is like preaching to the choir.  It’s unnecessary.

Preaching is implied, however, in the “go make disciples” part.  It’s what Peter did out there in the public square.  But once those three thousand new believers were baptized into the faith, they no longer needed preaching, they needed teaching.

Preach then baptize then teach.

Teach obedience to the things Jesus taught.

Preaching is like professing.  A professor stands behind a lectern and professes what he knows, take it or leave it.  But a teacher is hands on.  A teacher makes sure his/her students know how to apply the concepts.

In the comment section of a recent post, Reuben Kerr wrote, “The church desperately needs Shepherds but with the ‘over-emphasis’ on teaching today a minister is more likely to be chosen for his leadership qualities or his speaking ministry over his pastoral heart. In the UK the ‘pastoral care’ has been given to the ladies of the church. Men may be getting ‘fed’ but they’re not being cared for. And men really do need men to pastor them! And what happens – men struggling with all kinds of sin, get discouraged, defeated and eventually give up. In the meantime, the LORD is saying – where are my Shepherds? It’s a dire problem that needs urgent attention.”

That over-emphasis on teaching sounds like it might be an over-emphasis on preaching.  Because teaching goes hand in hand with good shepherding.  It comes alongside. It shows a struggling person how to overcome his/her struggles.

I was attending an inner city church earlier this year.  The pastor there is doing an amazing job of caring for the community.  His actions are preaching the good news of Christ.  And that form of “preaching” in the community is bringing people through the doors of the church on Sunday mornings.  And that is great.

Preaching is meant to bring lost sinners into the church, but the job is not done.

Yelling repent Sunday after Sunday while the “choir” shouts their amen does not complete the mission. It does little good to stand at the pulpit and admonish the addicts and the prostitutes to repent unless you show them how.  Unless you take them by the hand and walk them to victory.

“Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

And how did Jesus teach? Well, He didn’t stand behind a lectern and yell.  He taught by example, by action. He modeled love. He went out to where the hurting people were and He touched them. He healed them.  He redirected their thinking. He counseled. He removed scales from eyes. He stooped to wash the feet of those closest to Him.  He showed us what His Father is like.

Jesus taught His disciples by taking them along on His mission.

Perhaps Pastors should teach us to obey Jesus by getting us up out of the pews on Sunday mornings and taking us with them to preach in the streets.  So we can welcome any resultant new believers into a fellowship of actively caring for one another.  While we all go out and rescue some more.

Perhaps church should be nothing more than us out on mission with Jesus – learning together how to care for those He loves.  Because actions have always spoken louder than words.

So weigh in. Is your pastor using nitty-gritty, hands-on actions, mere eloquent words or a perfect combination of both to show you what the Father is like?

Is anyone in your church meeting your deepest needs?  Does anyone in your church even know what your deepest needs are?  Does anyone know your struggles?  If so, are you takin’ it to the streets?

I’d love to hear how a truly effective Shepherd shepherds.  Reuben probably would, too.

“Take this message to my brother, you will find him everywhere…”

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