Sermon on Matthew 4:1-11
Canon Claude Schroeder
Lent has arrived! I know it doesn’t look like it much outside today, but Lent is the Church’s springtime. It’s a time when new life begin to appear, and as we begin our journey with Jesus to Jerusalem.
Our Gospel for today: after His Baptism by John in the River Jordan, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, and he fasted 40 days and 40 nights. It’s this temptation that I want to talk to you about this morning.
The first thing to note is that Jesus Christ, as a man, actually experienced temptations, in the same way that you and I experience temptation, which is a terrible thing to have to go through. Baptism does not eliminate or remove from us the experience of demonic temptation. In fact we might say that baptism increases the likelihood of temptation, because now that you have publicly declared your allegiance to Jesus Christ and your opposition to the devil, he, that is the devil, is going to come after you, just as he came after Jesus. In Jesus, we find someone who knows exactly what that’s like from the inside. There is no experience of temptation that you and I go through that Jesus also did not go through, and He is able to shield us in it, because. he withstood and overcame it.
So, what happens in temptation?
It’s simple really. In temptation a thought enters your mind.
OK. I have all kinds of thoughts that enter my mind all the time. What kind of thoughts are we talking about here? It’s a thought that leads you away from trusting God and obeying Him, and so it’s a thought that, when acted upon, involves breaking God’s commandments.
This morning we started the service by praying through the Ten Commandments. It’s a practice that has all but abandoned our church today. Why is that? A lot of people have this idea that our problems are psychological which we can sort out with a counselling and therapy. Nothing wrong with a little counselling or therapy. But the Ten Commandments invites us to consider the spiritual and moral dimension to life: your relationship with God and your relationship with your neighbour. Maybe there is something there that needs sorting out. Love, as it turns out, is not just a feeling. It’s an action.
How do you know you are being tempted?
You know you are being tempted because the thought that enters your mind creates a disturbance in your soul, it robs you of your peace of mind.
In our first reading this morning the serpent introduced a thought into the woman’s mind, which if true, was very disturbing and upsetting. He whispered in her ear, “Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?”
That of course is not what God said! God said, “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 that day you shall surely die.” Here we see how the Word of God both provides and protects human life.
But what does the devil do?
The devil takes the good thing which God has said and twists to appear as something bad. And as we discover in our Gospel reading today, the devil will also take a bad thing, make it appear as something good. This is why we speak of the devil as the deceiver and father of lies.
This is what happens in temptation. A thought is presented leads us away from God, from trusting, loving and obeying Him. And since God is the source of life, when in temptation we are led away from God, the result is death and destruction. The devil is a thief, who comes steal, kill, and destroy. Wherever is thievery, murder and destruction, you know the devil is at work.
There was an ancient philosophy still popular today, even among some Christians, called Manichaeism, which divided the world into two equal and opposing forces of good and evil that are duking it out on the world stage. But that is a heresy, which is to say a false teaching. The Church’s teaching is that the good God, created everything that is, and saw that it was good. But in this good creation, evil is at work. So what is evil? As strange as it may sound, evil is nothing at all. Or to put it more precisely, evil is a movement into nothingness, from being into non-being, that results in the destruction of what is, that is God’s good creation.
This is why in the service of Holy Baptism, the Church calls upon us to renounce evil in all its various forms. There is personal evil, what we fall the “flesh.” There is social and systemic evil, what we call the world, and then there is cosmic evil what we call the devil. If you are going to renounce evil you need to first be able to recognize it for what it is. Guess what? This is what we are going to be doing in the small groups and Sundays in Lent.
There isn’t a day that goes by that we are not tempted by the evil thoughts that come into our minds. Does having bad and evil thoughts mean that I am a bad and evil person?
No. You are not your thoughts. Really important that you remember this. You are child of God who is experiencing temptation.
Question: How do we deal with temptation?
Temptation is to be resisted. I’m not listening! Or as Jesus said, “Away with you, Satan!”
But what do we do? Instead of resisting temptation, we do what the woman did, and that is start a conversation, we enter into a dialogue with the tempter. And so back and forth it went until finally the woman attached herself to the thought, where a coupling took place, in which sin was conceived, and brought to birth: She took of the fruit of the tree that God had commanded not to eat and then gave some to her husband who also ate.
The result? Shame and guilt, a rupture of communion, and death spreading throughout the world like some kind of… virus maybe? That would be just about right. Sin is infectious and contagious. It only takes one to start a pandemic. It is’ death dealing. There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t read or hear about the devastating effects of sin in the world.
So we see what a huge mistake the woman made. But hey, what did you expect? The woman was just a child, spiritually speaking, who still needed to grow up. God has made temptation and even sin to serve the greater purpose of our attaining “to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4.13)
And as Paul writes, the free gift of God in Jesus Christ is not like the effect of the one man’s sin.
“If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more. surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” ( Romans 5. 17)
For the sake of your own health and well being and of those around you, you need to pray daily for the forgiveness of your sins, and out of that sense of having been forgiven, to forgive others, including your enemies, those who have hurt you. Jesus has commanded that it be so. On the Cross Jesus asked God to forgive those who were crucifying Him, for they did not know what they were doing. ( Luke 23.24)
While it is true to our experience that forgiveness comes after the trespass, it’s not as if sin was the cause of forgiveness. In other words, the coming of Christ into the world was not plan B. It was God’s plan all along to both create and save the world through Christ. The reason or cause behind creation, and everything that has happened in human history is the same. It is Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
This is what we come to church every Sunday to proclaim and to celebrate. This is the victory feast of our God over temptation, sin, death, the devil through our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.
I love the fact that if the bad news story began with the serpent whispering into the ear of the woman, the good news story began an angel whispering into the ear of the woman.
And what did the angel say to the woman, “You are going to have a baby and give him the name of Jesus, and He is going to set the people from free sin, death, and the devil.”
And what did the woman say to the angel? “Let it be unto me according to your Word.” I am going to trust what you have said is true, and I am going to put my body on the line for it.
The angel’s name was Gabriel, and the woman’s name was Mary.
Jesus, all for Jesus.
All I am and have and ever hope to be.
All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into your hands.
This is Mary’s song, and it is the song which the Church puts onto the lips of those who have been baptized. We are going to sing it later in the service.
Jesus was born, was baptized, and was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where the gloves came off and Jesus was subjected to this massive assault by the devil.
Jesus, I see you are hungry, and since you are the Son of God’s Love, take these stones and turn them into bread?
We wonder, what would have been so bad about turning stones into bread? Jesus could satisfy His hunger, while He is at it, feed all the hungry people of the world. No more poverty.
The truth is the Scripture teaches, ”Man does not live by bread alone.” The deep hunger of our lives is for God, and that is the hunger that Jesus came to satisfy.
Jesus, since you are the Son of God’s Love, jump off the temple, and wait for the angels to catch you, that will convince all that people that don’t believe and doubt you.
What would be so bad about that? After such a spectacular miracle, there would have been no longer room for any doubts, and the churches all around the world would be full of people. That says Jesus would be putting God to the test, demanding that God prove Himself, which is the opposite of trust.
Finally, in one last ditch effort to divert Jesus from His path to the Cross, the devil said, “I will give power. I will give you money. And I will give you influence. Nothing will stand in your way of making the world a better place.
We wonder, “What would have been so bad about that?” As we all know, if you want to get anything done around here, it’s power, money, influence, what you need. But as Jesus points. Money, power, and influence are idols. This is devil worship, and we are to worship God alone.
And what we find in the Bible, as we see today, is a kind of package plan: You have God, truth, life and glory, or you have demons, darkness, Satan, sin, corruption, ugliness and rot. This is the basic reality, and there is no middle path. (Thomas Hopko)
But thanks be to God that through the preaching of His Holy Gospel, and through the forgiveness of our sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, God has taken us off the path of destruction that we were on, and has put us back on the right path, which is the path of repentance, turning away from evil, and turning to Jesus Christ in faith and obedience, and in this consists both our creation and our salvation. Amen.