Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Matthew 4:1-11
1st Sunday of Lent
Elizabeth M. Deibert

To your name, Lord Jesus, help us bow the knee in worshiping, bow the heart in thinking, bow the will in choosing, and bow the heart in loving. That we might hear your truth and embrace it. Amen.

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he would be tempted, but he suggests that we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Of course, that verse can also be translated, “Save us from the time of trial.” Sometimes life is simpler when you only know one translation, when there are no choices. But you know, there are choices every day.

You choose every minute of every day whether in your thoughts and actions, you will seek to obey God, or whether you will do what feels good, the path of least resistance. Or as the Apostle Paul says, we intend to do good, but we cannot seem to get yourself to do the right thing.

That’s the reason for this day in the life of the church year. This first Sunday of Lent every year, we read the temptation story from one of the synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, or Luke. Every year we hear how Christ was tempted and remained faithful and true. It could get a little discouraging, really, if you think about it. Because none of us can be so faithful as Jesus, even though we pray every Sunday or maybe even every day, “Lead us not into temptation or save us from the time of trial.” But we face temptation and trials regularly. Why? What is the purpose of this testing?

Trees that blow in the wind become stronger, so long as the wind is not so strong as to break their boughs off. I believe the same is true of us. The more we resist temptation and choose to obey the will of God, the stronger we become. The historical practices of Lent give you opportunity to practice resisting temptation if in Lent you decide to give up something you enjoy – like chocolate or desserts or meat. Or perhaps you chose to give up criticism, judgmentalism or gossip.

Resisting the temptation to engage in those is every bit as challenging as resisting delicious foods. Or perhaps you have taken on a Lenten discipline of prayer or of scripture reading or building an attitude of gratitude. How are you simplifying your life during Lent? Eating less, driving less, entertaining yourself less, buying fewer clothes and other needless items.

The point is resisting the temptation to simply please yourself – whether with your loose tongue, your loose pocketbook, or your loose body. Every single one of us struggles with each of these. We talk too much about things that matter little or that are damaging to others. We spend too much money on things that matter little, wasting money which could be saved or better used. We are loose with our bodies, in that we please their every whim – by feeding them too much or by choosing to pleasure them in ways that are cheap and ultimately unfulfilling.

Let us read the story of Jesus’ time in the wilderness, looking to him for solutions to the problem of temptation. Jesus was tempted to abuse his freedoms, just as we are tempted to abuse ours. God has so richly blessed us and the temptation is to use that freedom to do what is easy, what feels good, and what puts us in positions of power over others.

Listen now for the Word of God to you to today.

Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." 4 But he answered, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 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.'" 7 Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." 10 Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. (Matt 4:1-11 NRS)

The first thing I want to point out is that the evil one here has three different names – devil, tempter, and Satan. The word devil means slanderer, and the name Satan, which Jesus gives in the narrative, means adversary. You do not have to imagine the devil, tempter, Satan as one with physical features, as in this image which depicts the devil as a fallen angel. Other images, as from Halloween costumes have evil personified with red horns and such. You know from this story that evil is no match for God. While Jesus in his humanity was tempted, in his divinity, he was never completely threatened. We do not have a dualistic faith, thinking that there’s a big contest between God and the Devil and we’re not sure who will win.

No, but we do understand that there is evil power, which tugs us away from God. When we join the church, we renounce evil and affirm our reliance on the grace of God. That “no to evil” and “yes to grace” is at the heart of our baptismal identity.

Notice that the tempter is trying to get Jesus to question his baptismal identity. “If you are the Son of God” “If you are the Son of God” is the way he begins every temptation. Likewise our temptations are things that make us question who we really are – the beloved children of God, the sisters and brothers of Jesus, whose Spirit gives us power to become like him.

Next let’s move to the three temptations. First, to please the flesh. Turn these stones into bread. Satisfy your bodily urges at all times in all ways. Supersize it. I have not fasted in a long time, but I did engage a juice fast on Ash Wednesday. Going without food all day made the day slow down. The hardest moment was when I came home from the service and wanted food as a sort of reward and comfort at the end of the day. By Thursday morning, hunger was largely absent. Some of our youth fasted with juice and experienced a sense of solidarity with the hungry people of the world. Overeating is a huge problem in our country. Everywhere we go, we are bombarded with opportunities to eat sugary, highly processed foods. Our bodies are not created to manage so much junk food.

First temptation to satisfy our bodies, at all cost. The second temptation is traditionally understood as vain glory. Leap off the temple and prove that the angels will save you. I doubt you’ve been tempted to leap off the rooftop of any buildings lately, but what about driving like a crazy person and assuming that God will protect you. What about working too hard, never resting, and expecting God to keep you healthy long-term with the schedule you keep. Live on the wild side of life and expect God to protect you? There are plenty of teens, young adults, and others who test God routinely by living dangerously. Heavy drinking, drug use, sex outside a covenantal relationship are all like taking a leap off the temple and hoping God will save you. Vain glory is an attempt to prove to people think we are wonderful, cool, amazing.

Teens – don’t try to prove anything to anybody. That’s throwing yourself off the top of a building. You don’t need to prove anything. You are the wonderful person God made you to be. You do not have to please anyone but God. Ignore those crazy friends of yours who try to pull you away from being just who you are. Resist the temptation to try to act and look like everyone else, or at least like the popular kids. Be yourself and feel good about how you are unique. People will respect you for that.

The third temptation is greed. The devil thinks he can promise Jesus all the kingdoms and all the power in the world. It is not his to give. Jesus does not need to give up worshipping God, in order to have all he needs. Satan wants him to give up his valuable mission in order to have all the world can give. Sometimes we give up the most valuable things in life, such as time with family and time for God, because we think we need more of what the world can give us. But all the possessions and power and prestige the world can give will never ultimately satisfy.

Next let’s reflect on the response of Jesus to each temptation. Every time he is prepared with the words of scripture. Even when the tempter comes back at him with scripture, he is still prepared.

First he says, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word from the mouth of God.” Next he says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” And finally he says, “Worship the Lord alone and serve only God.”

Translating that message to our lives, I would say the gist of our readiness is this: Listen to God in prayer, and know the scriptures. Trust God, and try to avoid putting God in the position of needing to rescue you miraculously from the predicaments you put yourself in. Finally, make God your number one priority.

What makes a temptation tempting is that it truly seems better than doing what God wants you to do. Wouldn’t it be fine to do a little miracle and have bread after forty days. I mean, doesn’t Jesus look like he needs some bread? Of course, he does. Why not use his freedom to use the powers of heaven’s angels to rescue him from danger? Why not have all the power and prestige the world can give him? Because he is choosing to exercise his freedom and power in ways that preserve our dignity and freedom, as well as his own.

Richard tells me that in the novel, Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky makes it clear that the real temptation of Christ was to use his power in ways which would have limited our freedom. (in chapter called “The Grand Inquisitor”) He could have so overwhelmed us with his divine power that we had no choice but to follow him, but he preserved our freedom. We are called to follow, encouraged to follow, but given freedom to keep opening this door and getting slammed by sin, if we really want.

You see, our job is to help one another here, as Jesus helps us. (new slide showing sin as aggressive rhino ready to injure the person) In the most gracious way we can, we need to say to one another, “Hey, don’t open that door – whether it is the door to the refrigerator or the door to internet porn or the door to your bedroom to someone who does not belong there. Don’t open the door of your mouth to negativity or judgment or gossip. Don’t open the door of your heart to the lust for worldly goods and powers. Don’t open the door to cynicism or to egocentrism.

Keep searching for doors of faithfulness. Keep making healthy sacrifices in the manner and name of Christ, especially during this season of Lent. This commitment to Christ will keep you stronger in the fierce winds of serious temptation.

Christ, our Savior, you faced temptation and withstood it faithfully. So may we, as we empowered by your strength. And when we fail, Lord, give us grace to start anew, recognizing that your mercies endure forever.