The topic of our scripture lesson on this the first Sunday of Lent is familiar to everyone one of us, both young and old, PhD and GED, people of faith and people of no faith. You either have, are, or will experience temptation. When we hear the word “temptation” some of us remember fondly Flip Wilson/Geraldine fame who declared routinely that whenever a mistake was made it simply was “the devil made me do it.” Others of us of us conjure up comics/cartoons that also make make light of evil and/or the evil one. Yet today we are reminded by our Lord Jesus that the devil is no joke, evil is no joke, and therefore temptation is no joke…
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Matthew 4:1
And I believe we all can agree that daily we are being tempted to choose death (distancing ourselves from God, God’s ways and God’s people) over life… and such decisions grieve God. And in our text today we find Jesus at the dawn of his earthly ministry being tempted by what the reformer Martin Luther sums up as the root of ALL temptations:
“The sin underneath all our sins is to trust the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and must take matters into our own hands”.”
For Luther and we will see also in Matthew 4 that the source of all our temptations from the evil one here on earth is our desire to take matters into our hands, our desire to be God thereby rejecting that we need God, rejecting that we are totally dependent on God in Christ to feed us, to guide us, to save us and empower us. And Luther notes it begins In the creation narrative where we see how humankind from the very beginning has been tempted by the Evil One to take matters into our own hands. The Tempter told Eve:
“4You will not certainly die,”…… 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Friends this is the same temptation facing Jesus in the wilderness – to take matters into his own hands rejecting God’s purposes and plans. The tempter on three occasions tempts Jesus in our Matthew 4 text this morning to take his situation into his own hands telling him:
3“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” (go ahead feed yourself!)
6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. (go ahead show us!)
“8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” (Jesus you can have the world in the palm of your hands!)
And in Luke’s Gospel (4:13) of this same interaction we read:
“When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.”
So when was it a more “opportune time” for the devil to tempt Jesus? Well we read of a more opportune time is recorded in Matthew 16:23 after Jesus told his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. And the disciple Peter’s response was to take Jesus aside and rebuke him by tempting him to take the situation into his own hands :
“Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
How do I know it was tempter speaking through Peter to tempt Jesus? Jesus boldly in both love and truth clearly names it for us when he says to Peter:
“Get behind me, Satan! (Why?) You/Peter are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Jesus was being tempted to take the situation into his own hands – he refuses.
A little later near the end of Jesus earthly ministry we find him in the garden of Gethsemane in anguish as literally the weight of the world is on his shoulders – and the temptation to take an easier way than the cross, to take matters into his own hands surfaces and so Jesus passionately prays to God (Matthew 26):
“39 … “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Jesus once again rejects the temptation to take his situation into his own hands rather he left it in God’s.
Lastly we find the same temptation of control when our Lord Jesus is hanging on the cross for you and I (Matthew 27):
“46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus is being tempted to literally leave the cross, to take his situation into his own hands and out of God’s
And ultimately the source of all Jesus temptations – at the very beginning of his ministry, in the middle of his ministry and at the close of his life – all are the same. It is the temptation to take things into his own hands and when we do this – seek to become God – we therefore reject our need/total dependence on God. Make sense? Because my friends at the heart of all the temptations you and I face yesterday, today and tomorrow is no different than those in the creation narrative and of Jesus in the wilderness – the temptation to be God, the temptation to take matters in our own hands. The temptation to:
- trust ourselves (tradition, reason or our experiences) more than God
- temptation to trust only what we can see more than what is unseen (spiritual)
- temptation to trust whatever is easier, relevant and quicker over and against trusting that God has our best interest in mind which most often will lead us to the narrow gate as our Lord Jesus call it… Jesus following him will require of us to:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14
And when we are unable or unwilling to trust that God will lead us, It is God who has saved us and it is God who need to strengthen us along the way – inevitably we have or we will fall into the temptation to take matters into our own hands. Think with me for a moment about some of our temptations that we are facing right now – the:
- Temptation to give up, to hide and run (flight)
- Temptation to believe the ends will justify the means
- Temptation to abuse our power
- Temptation to retaliate against someone (fight)
- temptation to live a life in fear
- Temptation to love without truth
- Temptation to be truthful without love
- Temptation not to forgive
- temptation to deny or betray Jesus
- Temptation to give into our lusts – be they sexually, materially or chemically
…. this not meant to be exhaustive list and you know what your temptation you’re facing. However what all temptation have in common and at the core of each of of our temptations and those I failed to mention is what we found in both the creation narrative and with Jesus in the wilderness… at the hurt of all temptations that we face is:
The Temptation to take matters into our own hands – the temptation to be God
At the heart of all your temptations according to our text this morning is our desire to be God, to take matters into your own hands. To do it our way, to do it in our preferred timetable, and in our own strength – and when do this friends ultimately we are denying our need for God in Christ. The psalmist is on point in Psalm 32 where David writes of his need/dependency on God:
“7 You/O God are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. ”
(Hiding place communicates safety from harm but it also should communicate that God can hide us in plain sight (Petra Opett).
You may recall that when our Lord Jesus taught his disciples to pray the Lord’s prayer it contains words of vulnerability (Matthew 6:9-13)… – turn to it or from memory join me in saying it together:
“9‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,but deliver us from the evil one.’
You will notice no where in the Lord’s Prayer does Jesus invite any of his disciples to pray or beseech to God to that:
- Leonard’s kingdom come, Leonard’s will be done or
- Your personal kingdom, your personal kingdom come your will be done OR
- CMC’s kingdom come, OCMC will be done OR
- LMC/MC USA’s kingdom come, LMC/MCUSA will be done OR even
- USA’s Kingdom come, USA will be done on earth as it is in heaven. NO!
Rather Jesus tells us that when we pray to God pray like him to God that:
“Thy kingdom come thy will be done”
Why? Perhaps Jesus knew the human condition from the very beginning, that within his disciples then and still within his disciples today resides the temptation and desire for us to be God, to take matters into your own hands. The same temptation in the garden and in the wilderness is ours in 2017 – to deny that we are in constant NEED of God in our lives, our homes, our communities and in bringing justice our country right now – amen?. I got this understanding of a constant need of God as a child growing up in the African American church. I know realize how foundational the old mothers of the church was to my understanding on total dependance on God and God alone. I remember fondly how even in the midst of losing my mind sitting in the hard pews as a child I also was listening and learning as our many children are doing today – to the beautiful African American women of God who would boldly stand up during the testimony portion of the service and publicly declare that they were in need of God in Christ! One classic testimony, and still popular in the contemporary Black Church, goes something like this:
“I want to Thank God, for waking me up this morning and starting me on my way. I want to thank God that I awoke this morning clothed in my right mind”
At the time I would say to myself really that’s all you have to thank God for? But what they were doing was right on point – they recognized if God had not taken the time to breathe on them they would NOT be able to survive….And sometimes the Spirit would move upon them in such a way in the midst of the prayer or testimony they would break right into a song of total dependence on God sing:
I… need thee oh I need thee
Every hour I need thee
Oh bless – me now – my savior…..
I come to thee (sing it with me)
In other words the Mothers of my childhood were declaring to God, to one another, and to me and the generation sitting under the pew – that first and foremost we need God in Christ, in this life we will need God the creator for ALL things in order to.
- get up in the morning – I need thee O I need thee
- I need thee O God, in order to move our limbs
- I need thee O God in order to stay in our right mind – I need thee O I need thee!
And unbeknownst to me what was happening to me as a child squirming on the hard pews or on the floor at my mother’s feet was learning a theological framework that we as a people and I as an individual to sing I need thee O I need thee. In order to combat the temptation/the lies of the enemy that come my way whispering in my spirit – Leonard:
you can be like God
Go ahead and take control, do your thing, do it my way, on my timetable, and in my own strength – denying I NEED THEE, that I am in need for God in Christ. What those beautiful mothers at Thankful Baptist Church on Allegheny were echoing what is also found in the ancient tradition of the Psalms of Ascent which would have been song during the high holy days of the Jewish people whereby they publicly declared their – total dependency on a loving and active God – We NEED Thee: – they would sing like the mothers of the church:
“1 If the Lord had not been on our side—let us say—2 if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us, 3 they would have swallowed us alive when their anger flared against us, 4 the flood would have engulfed us,the torrent would have swept over us, 5 the raging waters would have swept us away.”
As I close let us remember what we have heard this morning from our Matthew 4 scripture and what it means for us: 1. Jesus was tempted – so we will be as well.
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
2. Jesus temptations in Matthew 4
3“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” (go ahead…)
6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. (you can do it..)
“8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
In addition to temptations – by Peter, in the Garden, on the Cross- at its core are the same and no different then the temptations we face in 2017 – For Jesus then and for us today is the temptation to take things into our own hands to take the role of God who had sent him – to reject his need/total dependence on God. Jesus was clear in his relationship with God – I need the, o I need thee saying:
“38I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but to do the will of Him who sent Me.” John 6:38
3. Lastly I want to end with reading vs. 11 of Matthew 4
“11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.”
We know from the text that when temptation came Jesus way he was prepared to deal with his temptation because for the previous 40 days he had been prayer, fasting, sabbathing, emptying out and being filled by God. It is also a fair assumption to believe that during his 40 days in the wilderness he was reading/studying the very scriptures (which I didn’t focus on this morning) he would quote to combat the lies/half truths of the evil one, And after evil one confronts Jesus with all that he could, vs. 11 reminds that God’s grace was upon him as he was comforted and attended to by angels. Jesus was comforted for holding onto his faith, resisting the devil and having the devil flee from him! Well done Jesus.
But as we leave this place, it is important for each of us to know that God doesn’t only come and comfort those of us who are able to resist the temptations of the evil one… but this same God seeks to comfort and attend to the needs of those of us (which is everyone!) who have yielded to temptation this week/today already!. God is gracious, slow to anger and abounding in what? That’s right love/grace! How do I know this? How I know this Lenten season that God’s response to our failures, our attempts to do things our way, our attempts to be God to keep God at arm’s length, choosing death over life, isn’t simply rejecting us? Well God’s word in the creation narrative tells us that even after yielded to temptation of the evil one humankind and sought to be God – God’s response isn’t rejection/banishment rather:
“8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
- Friends God is calling out to you this morning – where are you?
- God is calling out to us/OCMC this morning – where are you?
- His calling asking the church- Where are you? – what will be your response…what will be our response?
- Let us declare this day, this season of lent for the first time or once again:
“ 7 You/O God are my (only) hiding place (safe place); (only)?you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”
What is this song of deliverance…? (sing it together)
I need thee oh I need thee
Every hour I need thee
Oh bless – me now – my savior…..
I come to thee”