Peace Presbyterian Church
Matthew 4:1-11 1st Sunday of Lent
Elizabeth M. Deibert 5 March 2017
In the Gospel of Matthew, there is nothing between Jesus’ baptism and his temptation in the wilderness. We go from “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” to the next startling verse, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit, by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Like Jesus, we are tested and have opportunity to strengthen our faith. The tree that is blown by the wind develops a stronger trunk. Lent is a time for strengthening faith, for going bravely into the wilderness of sacrifice, prayer and fasting.
When you find yourself in situations where you have hard choices to make, when you are tempted to go your way, instead of God’s way, will you be like Jesus? You are not alone when you struggle in that wilderness. As we heard in the Psalm 32, God will show us the way to go, but choosing God’s way will be difficult. 6 Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. 7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. (Psa 32:1 NRS)
Then 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. (NRS)
Three temptations which have to do with satisfying the body, building up the ego or popularity, and the desire for wealth and power. In each case Jesus resisted the temptation to give in to the need to prove himself. The devil or tempter is trying to make him doubt himself, to doubt that he truly is beloved Son. Secure people, people who know they are beloved do not need to prove anything to anyone – just to live faithfully in accordance with God’s will day by day. But that’s hard when you are tired, when you are worn down by stress, and when you are hangry – you know, that terrible hunger that starts to make you angry. Jesus was fasting when these temptations came to him. He was weak from hunger.
Fasting is the practice sacrificing food in order to focus on prayer. Many of us in this foody culture think fasting is impossible. Think about these possibilities during Lent: Daily give your body a little bit less than it wants at each meal. Cut your portions down. Cut out sweets entirely or bread entirely or starches entirely. Cut out all processed foods. Cut out all four-legged animal meat. Fast from breakfast and/ or lunch one day a week. Do a juice fast or a smoothy fast all day long. Allow yourself only fruit and nuts for a day. Don’t attempt something so drastic that you are doomed to fail in the first week. Whatever it is – tame your body’s cravings. As you struggle with it, pray. For some it might simply be cutting out all snacks between the three meals, because your body has come to expect those in-between treats. It might be giving up alcohol, or giving up the second drink.
The important thing is with fasting is never to let it stand in the way of your relationships. If someone brings us a delicious pot roast, we will eat it gladly, but during Lent, we will not make a personal choice for meat. One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
The next temptation is to satisfy the ego’s need for attention, for popularity. How can we build more humility into our lives? Can we stop being the center of attention in conversations? Stop insulting people? Cutting them down with words and actions. Can we stop seeking to please people for all the wrong reasons? Can we stop worrying so much about what people think of us? And turn our focus instead on serving others, listening to others, building up others, daring to trust others. Jesus responded by saying, “Do not put God to the test.”
Don’t test God by doing things that are dangerous – driving like a maniac full of road rage. Don’t test God by not studying for a test, and then praying God will rescue you from an F or D. Don’t test God by crossing boundaries in relationships. Somebody will be hurt if you play with fire, if you allow yourself to be that room with that someone alone when you know you cannot manage temptation.
Take yourself away from that temptation and close the darn computer and take walk when you need to control yourself from impulses that distract you from your best self. Don’t go to those porn sites again and again, setting yourself up to be dissatisfied in relationship with real people, distracting you from the joy and the challenge of really loving another real human being, instead of an objectified image of a body. Loving is not about self-satisfaction, but self-fulfillment comes in the giving of love to another. So the danger of getting hooked on your individual self-absorbed encounter with images on a screen is that you will become less able to have a meaningful loving relationship with a real person because that requires that you take a risk to engage another human being, to communicate with her or him about needs and wants. Patti Jung has written an excellent book that addresses these issues and more. Ask her about it.
The last of three temptations is the temptation to “sell your soul to the devil” for worldly success, material goods, and power. If you are not putting God first in your life, then you can be sure, the evil one is creeping in to take over. Here’s how that happens: You decide that you deserve to have this or that, without thinking about whether it is God’s will. It is a material want and you never prayed, nor did you give to God the tithe, the first portion of your income. No, you choose for yourself what you want, and God gets the leftovers. Yet Christian discipleship calls for putting God first, seeking God’s will first, and letting everything else fall in place after that. Does God want you to have a new sofa, a new car, a new job, even a new shirt? Does God want you to make the pursuit of academics and sports and music or dance the number one in your child’s life, such that the development of Christian faith is always getting the leftovers of the whole family’s time? If you are not asking these questions, then your soul is not truly devoted to God.
God has given you freedom to choose. You may love God sincerely and deeply as God loves you or you may love God partially, not at all, or incompletely. The challenge is to stay on the journey to love God like Jesus, to be like Jesus, who showed us our full potential, what we are capable of doing.
Here are some practical steps for resisting temptation:
1. Recognize potential temptation. ...
2. Remove yourself from temptation. ...
3. Visualize yourself resisting temptation. ...
4. Think of the long-term consequences of giving in. ...
5. Distract yourself. ...
6. Do not give yourself a choice.
Making small sacrifices trains you to make larger ones – to resist temptation. Just like lifting small weights before you are faced with heavy ones. I know people who are giving up social media, because the temptation to get on and see what others are posting has become addictive. Perhaps you need to give up cable news or limit yourself to one hour a day of television. Maybe you need to give up shopping – buy nothing except essential food for the forty days of Lent. Whatever your sacrifice is, the point, as I said on Ash Wednesday, is for the willing sacrifice to draw you nearer to God, and to make you a blessing to others. Give away something every week, give away what you would have spent on frivolous things, spend the time you saved by serving others. If your sacrifice or new commitment is easy, then perhaps it is not building your dependency on God.
Look at Jesus. He fasted for forty days. Then resisted the temptation to have bread. Then resisted the temptation to use his power to garner attention for himself, testing God, testing the boundaries of life. Then he resisted the temptation to seek world success, wealth, and power. He resisted with the power of God’s word giving him strength.
Our reading from the Old Testament for today (which we did not read, but I hope you follow the readings during the week, in preparation for worship – they are printed in the bulletin) is the story of the fall – of Adam and Eve’s disobedience because they could not be satisfied with the beautiful garden of Eden and all that God had given them. They had to have what God said they should not have.
Be like Christ. Stay within the boundaries God is giving you. Resist the temptation to sell your soul to things that will not satisfy in the end, but will always have you seeking more and more. Discipline yourself this Lent. Little by little, make more sacrifices for the sake of loving God and the people around you. When you fail, forgive yourself and move on, but don’t give up trying. As Paul says, “Should we go on sinning, just because we know God’s grace abounds? Absolutely not.” For you are like Jesus. Christ in you is the hope of glory. You are able by the power of the Spirit to do far more than you think.