Sermon, First Sunday in Lent, Sunday March 10, 2019, St Petri.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted[a] by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
3 The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’
4 Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone.”[b]’
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendour; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.’
8 Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”[c]’
9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:
‘“He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”[d]’
12 Jesus answered, ‘It is said: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”[e]’
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
I don’t like temptation. I want to give it up for Lent! But I don’t think that is possible.
Temptation is to be enticed by circumstances or your own ideas or passions or someone else’s to do something that you find attractive but know to be wrong or unwise; doing or saying what seems good but is actually destructive of yourself, your relationship with the Lord and others.
EG. Speeding: I know it is dangerous but I am running late and……. The Silent Treatment: I feel angry and I know that withholding kindness and love hurt but I was right! The damage continues ….. I know I should not mention the Grand Final result from last year’s AFL season again, but……
Here is Jesus right in the thick of this temptation.
As his mission gets underway he is led into a 40-day journey into the place of danger, demons and struggle: the desert.
Satan is right there trying to derail the mission with three things: Food when hungry, more power when weak, and crazy recklessness for no good reason.
First the food. Satan tries the tactic of using human physical need to derail and destroy Jesus and his mission. The physical need is hunger. Jesus is very hungry – 40 days hungry! Luther calls this first temptation one of misfortune.
When we are at our neediest Satan simply offers the ‘bread’ we think we need that will fix the need quickly.
When we are hungry for food, for better health, for youthfulness, for mental wellness and the like, the Evil One uses our physical need by offering what looks very good when we are needy and vulnerable but ends up being destructive of our relationship with the Lord and each other. Satan’s ‘bread’ always seeks to turn us against God’s ‘bread’ = Gods’s ways for living life in God’s provision and promises.
If we go for other ‘bread’, we forsake God’s promises for our hunger which are more solid, trustworthy, last longer and are way better for us in the long run. Like a moth to that cosy bright comforting flame on a summer’s night, we get fried.
Satan wants you to believe that your relationship with Christ is dependent on met needs of the body and economic circumstances rather than God’s promises; God’s ‘bread’; this “Bread of Life” – Jesus Christ.
When we belief that if I am well fed I am loved and blessed by God and if I am not, I am not, our objective then becomes getting our needs of body and money met anyway we can.
So, we place a bet, have an affair, find ourselves addicted to any physical kind of fulfillment. We cut corners in business, cheat the tax office, don’t paying people properly, by many means, keep ahead of the pack at school or work etc.
Jesus response to the temptaion of giving up on him in misfortune? “People shall not live on bread alone.”
Our very existence comes from the Word of God; the promises of God; the Living Bread facing this temptation for us out there in the desert. Our blessing, acceptance and full life before God is not based on how much bread we have or don’t have. We are totally dependent on his bread, his Bread of Life – Jesus.
Hmmm, that did not work. Time for another tack. Satan goes to what Luther calls temptation in prosperity. Satan offers supreme wealth and possession of everything, control over everyone, power and money to burn. He attacks us with wealth, ease, comfort and honour.
And why is this so effective? Because, within us is this constant drive to always want more. With abundance we get bored. We are tired of the same food, same partner, same job, same clothes, same technology and just want something else, something more. We find it really hard to trust that God’s enough for us is enough for us.
Strange people we are! When we are without, we run away from it and seek abundance: when we have abundance, we run from the abundance we have in the search for more. Whatever God does for us, is never right or enough!
See where Satan loves to get us – a bottomless pit of hunger, self-reliance and unbelief that will destroy our relationships and our bodies and everything else!?
Jesus response to the temptation to leave him in times of prosperity “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only”.
We have the Bread of Life on offer all the time. That is the Bread that sustains us when we have bread or we don’t. Worship is receiving God’s bread of forgiveness and healing, teaching and life that helps us live with faith in joy in the abundant times and the empty times. Here together, he saves us from all this self-destruction and the pain and hunger it causes in our relationships and whole community.
So, another ‘fail’ for Satan. One more tack to try. One of more intensity and possible damage.
Luther calls this the temptation of tempting God. Satan calls Jesus to throw himself down from the high temple. The problem? This is not necessary! As Luther says, “there were plenty of steps upon which Jesus could descend”!
This is the temptation to “believe where God has not commanded us to believe or even wants us to believe anything in that place” (Luther).
Satan’s trick is to make something that is quite in hand and clear to be a thing of great crisis, want, need and risk so that we believe that we are being faithful in something when we are just being unwise or dangerous.
“Everybody seeks another way, other provisions to help our souls”. We believe we would “be saved through our own work”. This is what the Devil sits right at the top of the Temple.
EG. You have a cupboard full of bread. But out of some misguided belief, you refuse to eat that bread you already have been given and put yourself through all kinds of hunger and hardship waiting for God to rain down manna on you. How can you believe you will receive what you have already been given!? That is despising what the Lord has already provided.
“We have this ability to follow Satan and go where there is no stairway; we believe and trust our own work where there is no faith or trust, no road or bridge, and we break our necks”.
Then Satan makes use of the Scriptures that angels will protect us in this misguides, foolish and unnecessary belief. He leaves out the rest of the verse. The verse actually says, “He will give his angels charge over…..to keep his ways”. His ways, not our ways or ideas! God protects us to keep us in his living ways, not to give us our own fancies.
Jesus’ response in the temptation to leave him in misguided, unwise and dangerous rick taking: “It is said: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Game over. Temptation dealt with for us. Very good news for you in your temptation at the moment. Jesus wasn’t tempted, and we don’t have to be because he wasn’t.
Yes, Satan looks so cunning and crafty and powerful, and to us, he is. And yet did you hear that Jesus ‘was led into this by the Spirit”. This was an orchestrated temptation for our benefit– real and hard but the Spirit leading though it.
Same for us. Your temptation to give up on Jesus’ promises is real, tough but Spirit led through.
“God, who was able to nourish Christ forty days without any food, can nourish also his Christians”. says Luther.
We are free and able to cheerfully suffer want and temptation for the service of God and the good of others.
We are also free to follow the Spirit’s leading into even the desert of temptation and testing with confidence.
And why go? Because the desert is the real ‘school of hard knocks’ for Christians, as it was for Israel.
“It is, painful…..that I should support myself and have not a nickel, not a thread, not a twig, and I experience no help from others, and no advice is offered. That is what it is to be led into the desert and to be left alone. There I am in the true school, and I learn what I am, how weak my faith is, how great and rare true faith is, and how deeply unbelief is entrenched in the hearts of all people and mine. But whoever has his wallet, cellar and fields full, is not yet led into the desert, neither is he left alone; therefore she is not conscious of temptation”.
You know temptation. That means you are aware of your need and reliance on Jesus. That puts you in a better place in everything.
No need to be scared of being tempted or being in the desert or of facing off against Satan because your Great High Priest is in the desert with you.
He prays with you and for you and calls you to simple pray
Our Father in heaven, deliver me from evil today.
And his ministering love is yours, as it was for Jesus.
At last angels approached and served him. This is written for our comfort, that we may know that many angels minister also to us, where only one devil attacks us; if we fight with a knightly spirit and firmly stand, God will not let us suffer want, the angels of heaven would sooner appear and be our bakers, waiters and cooks and minister to all our wants. This is not written for Christ’s sake for he does not need it. Because the angels serve him, then they also serve us.
*Quotes from ‘Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent; Matthew 4:1-11, THE FAST AND TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. A Sermon by Martin Luther; taken from his Church Postil. The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI, volume II:133-147.