An attractive teenaged girl was feeling down
about herself after her boyfriend broke up with her.
And one lonely night, in a moment of weakness, she put on some extra makeup, some semi-revealing clothes and took some pictures of herself, trying to look maybe like some of the wilder-looking female celebrities we might see on TV or in magazines.
She then posted a few of these suggestive pictures of herself on Facebook, and awaited the responses.
And the responses came — in droves. Mostly from men who may or may not have wanted to offer her any sort of relationship; but that wasn’t the point.
She just wanted to feel better about herself.
And another time, there was a middle-aged man who also felt this same kind of emptiness.
His life was in a rut, going nowhere.
And so he changed his life: He gave up the job that he loved for one that he really hated — but it paid him a lot of money.
And so he was able buy silk suits, a new gold watch, a membership at the country club and a spot at the boardroom table… and loved the feeling of power that money brought him.
And there was an elderly woman, who spent most of her days and nights sitting alone, watching TV in her apartment.
She had a small income, but she would find herself ordering goods — jewelry, clothing, gifts — from QVC almost every day.
And even though she could barely make rent, it always made her feel good — at least temporarily — when the UPS truck pulled up with a new package for her to open.
The next day, the young girl wasn’t any happier. And so she took more photos of herself and put them online.
And the middle-aged man worked harder, because the luxury car he had wasn’t doing it for him anymore. And he needed a bigger house, too. Surely, that would make him feel better.
And the elderly woman folded up the empty boxes for recycling, sat in front her of shiny new things and felt empty. So she again reached for the remote control and her credit card…
Pride, Power and Possession
Does any of this sound like the Gospel to you?
We can look at these situations — which haven’t been made up; they are indeed true — and maybe see ourselves in them or close to them.
Maybe we’ve experienced this kind of thing in our lives, and surely, we’ve seen it in others.
But is this what Matthew is talking about when he tells us about the Temptation of Christ that we just read in Matthew 4.1-11 today?
I would like us to open our minds and our hearts to this possibility today: That temptation is not just a big life-or-death decision — sometimes; but it’s a decision to die a slow death.
The three stories that I gave you are about pride, power and possession.
The young girl was tempted by pride.
The middle-aged man was tempted by power.
And the elderly woman was tempted by possession.
So let’s look at our reading today, and see how Jesus was put to these three tests, and then we’ll unpack what it means for us.
God or Satan?
The first thing we need to do is to answer the question: Who will determine our actions: God or Satan?
We have to keep this in mind, because this is the whole point of this passage: Do we follow God’s will or the enemy’s will?
Remember, the enemy resists God’s purposes. So when we resist God’s purposes, it’s pretty clear who is determining our actions.
There’s just no real middle ground here…
In the first temptation, we know Jesus has been brought to the wilderness by the Spirit, and he has fasted for 40 days and 40 nights.
After the 40th day, then he’s met by Satan who tells him in Verse 3: “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones be turned into bread.”
And Jesus says we don’t live by bread alone, but we live by the word of God.
Somehow, they are transported to the top of the Temple in Jerusalem — the “Holy City,” the Bible tells us in Verse 5, and Satan dares Jesus to throw himself off of this pinnacle and quoting Psalm 91, says let the angels save you from harm.
And Jesus says to not put God to the test.
And finally, Satan shows Jesus the entire kingdoms of the world, and in Verse 9 tells Jesus that if he simply falls down and worships Satan, these kingdoms will be all his.
And Jesus tells Satan to go away and that we are to worship and serve only God.
An interesting note here: All of Jesus’s responses are from the Old Testament book Deuteronomy. More on that in a moment…
So do you see the Pattern of Pride, Power and Possession in these three temptations?
In the first temptation, if Jesus turned the stones into bread, he would have been taking his instructions from the enemy and not from God. It certainly wouldn’t be trusting God, but in ourselves. And that is what pride is.
And in the second: Throw yourself off this high point to prove you are God’s son? God is not our servant. We don’t command God. We serve God. We’re not the powerful ones; God is.
And finally, what are “all the empires of the world?” They are possessions! Remember where we are: Right in the Roman Empire around 30 AD. Southern Europe to Northern Africa, over to Asia and all of the Mediterranean.
This is the entire world, as far as anyone is concerned at this period of time. And Satan can give Jesus power over all of it.
That’s a big statement! Satan can give the empire to Jesus or anyone he chooses.
This means that the Roman Empire is evil, if it is Satan’s to give. Consider that — especially in our country or in our world today. Our world leaders — are they interested in serving God, or are they interested in serving Pride, Power and Possessions? Think about that.
And so if we’re being tempted, we have to know that what is Satan’s to give is evil — ALWAYS. It’s never good. It can’t be good.
No matter what it is. If it is against God’s will for us, then it is evil.
We need to think about that when we are tempted. And we need to think about those power structures in the world today.
Jesus knows the difference, and Jesus will inherit “all authority in heaven and earth” from God. (Matthew 28.18).
Again, if Jesus did what Satan asked or dared, Jesus would be serving Satan, not God. See that?
Child of God
Another piece that we need to unpack is this: Twice, Satan begins his temptations with the words “IF you are the Son of God…”
It’s obviously a dare — to prove that Jesus is the Son of God. But that also can be turned around, can’t it?
In fact, it’s almost a reminder — not that I’m suggesting Jesus needs to be reminded that he’s the son of God; but we sure do sometimes!
I think when we are faced with temptation, and we’re leaning toward doing the wrong thing, we need to hear these words:
“If you are a child of God…”
And then maybe we could see more clearly that we are resisting God’s purposes for our lives. We’re resisting God’s will.
Unfortunately, my brothers and sisters, we are not reminded when temptation comes along that we are children of God.
For so many people, that wouldn’t register; it wouldn’t even matter whether they are children of God.
You see, the lines today are so blurry.
And that’s Satan’s work.
I was just telling someone recently that a good friend of mine was battling these horrible dreams where Satan was trying to scare her into submission.
I said no, that’s not how it works.
Because who follows anyone who scares them? We don’t want that.
We want to follow those who promise us what we don’t have or can’t afford.
It’s why that teenage girl was looking for that validation and acceptance to feed her pride.
It’s why the middle-age man with the mid-life crisis was seeking a way to relevant in the world, to make or leave a mark. To be powerful.
And why the elderly woman just wanted things — possessions — to hold on to. As if they could offer comfort.
Satan doesn’t scare us into temptation; he seduces us into it.
Help is here
And so here’s the part I love, and I think it’s so critical to us:
What happens when Jesus dismisses the devil? He’s gone.
But is Jesus left hanging there, starving, deprived, exhausted, lonely and depressed? Remember, Jesus is fully human here, too!
No. He’s not left alone. Instead, verse 11 tells us “and suddenly angels came and waited on him.”
I can’t promise that when we resist Satan, we will see a host of angels surround us and tend to our needs, but I do know that we won’t be alone.
We have the Holy Spirit with us, always.
We will never be alone. God promises this to us. “I am with you always.” Matthew 28.20 and Isaiah 41.10 — verses in both the New and Old Testaments.
And speaking of Old Testament. Every single one of Jesus’s responses to Satan here is from Deuteronomy, as I mentioned earlier.
Deuteronomy 8.3, 6.16 and 6.13. Check it out.
Jesus isn’t relying on his own strength in responding; he’s relying on the word for help.
And that teaches us something, doesn’t it?
When we are weak, when we are being tempted, we can look to God through God’s word. Turn to the Bible.
We can pray, we can worship and we can read the word.
Even in the midst of his own suffering and temptation, Jesus teaches us this lesson — as if he knew we would need to hear it someday. Isn’t that cool?
Our walk through Lent
It’s by no coincidence that we have this reading during what is the first Sunday in Lent — a season of repentance and fasting.
I’m certain for those of us who have given up something or taken on something that we are facing great temptation.
By no means am I implying that the Girl Scouts and their amazing cookies are tools of the devil… but isn’t it a little bit ironic that they always seem to be available for delivery during the season of Lent?
I’m only kidding…
But seriously, what are you being tempted by during Lent?
How does that translate into your life and the temptations you face daily and in this season?
We need to be conscious of this, friends.
We need to be aware of it with our own brothers and sisters, too, don’t we?
And we need to be vulnerable and ask them that if they see something that’s not quite right in our very own lives, then love us enough to tell us.
Look, some validation is OK. We all need at least some allowance that what we are doing and who we are is a good thing for others and a good thing for the world.
And a good thing for God.
But it’s when we go out soliciting this validation through pride, power and possession that we get into trouble.
Before we make these mistakes — we need to go to God.
Jesus’s example is so good — going right to the word; understanding the word, and being able to repeat it in the face of great adversity.
This passage has a striking resemblance to God calling out the Israelites from Egypt into where?
How many years? Forty, we read in Deuteronomy 8.2.
How many days was Jesus’s fast in the wilderness? 40.
How many days is the season of Lent? 40.
Sometimes, we have seasons in which we are led into or just plain find ourselves in the wilderness suffering.
And maybe sometimes there are some easy outs.
But they’re easy because they’re temporary.
They don’t last.
So, remember what Christ did for us.
Remember that we are children of God.
Remember that we have the Holy Spirit dwelling right inside of us, there to help us before, during and after temptation.
And remember that we have been baptized into Christ’s body — this very church, and these very people, these brothers and sisters who surround us.
We vowed this at our baptisms. We are asked to do this.
And in that same language, we are asked that if we fall, will we surround one another in love and forgiveness?
And our response is, With God’s help, we will.
You see, it has always been with God’s help — right since the very beginning. Temptation? Go to God!
It is available to each of us. Just for the asking.
Accept that gift.
And take heart, and be strong in the Lord.