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March 5, 2017 (Lent 1) 1. Texts: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Ps. 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11. 2. Subject: temptation. 3. Topic: genuineness of our temptation. 4. Aim: guide, support. 5. Proposition: “We are tempted to sin by choosing what we think is good.”

 

 

TEMPTATION? BAH! HUMBUG!

 

Right: we are now in Lent. That’s clear. Palm crosses have been burnt to ashes. Green has become purple. Glorias have disappeared from worship across the country. And then there were those readings for today! Adam and Eve bring sin into the world. God saves us from our sin. And Jesus is tempted to sin. There’s no mistaking it: we are in Lent. Of course, we don’t think that Jesus was actually tempted. He really wasn’t going to sin. That’s just a story and Jesus is a hero who can’t possibly do anything wrong. As soon as you think anything close to that, you have robbed Jesus of his identity and emptied the story of any value. As soon you say, “Oh, Jesus could never have sinned,” then the gospel is empty and our salvation is meaningless. To say that Jesus was not actually tempted is about the same as denying that he was resurrected, and St. Paul says that such a faith is in vain.1 That’s a pretty strong statement, but let’s think out loud together about the temptation of Jesus. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews reflects on this reality by asserting, For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.2 This is all part of Jesus’ incarnation as the Second Member of the Trinity. You know what I mean? Christ intended to open the door to our salvation through becoming one with us in our human existence. Jesus is both God AND man, he 1 1 Corinthians 15:13-19. 2 Hebrews 4:15. Page 2 of 5 -Our temptationis divine AND mortal. If what we saw and heard from him in this life is to open us up to the next life, then Jesus MUST BE both God and man. Only God is free from the sin that besets us and only man needs to be redeemed. Jesus must be God incarnate. Therefore, Jesus must also be free to choose his own future. His love for the Father cannot be coerced. His obedience must be freely chosen. The choice to follow God or to follow one’s own will must exist without outside coercion from God. So, here is the truth: Jesus could have chosen to not follow God. As the Devil confronted him with his three possibilities, Jesus could have given in to temptation. Jesus was tempted. Betcha’ you don’t quite believe that. You want him to be the perfect hero. But the truth is, if the temptations aren’t real, then his obedience means nothing to us. It is no sign to us. He is no model for us. If the possibility of choosing evil is not real, then his choice is meaningless and he is no hero. Jesus was tempted and he chose to not sin. Think about it. The temptations are actually just the same temptation, the temptation to take the easy way out to a good goal.  Stones to bread becomes the quick way out of suffering.  Angels catching him becomes the quick way to get the Jews to accept him without suffering.  The allegiance of the world becomes the quick way to get the world to convert to him without suffering. The goals are good things: the end of personal suffering, the allegiance of Jews without three years of apparently fruitless ministry and the conversion of the entire world without crucifixion. The goals are Jesus’ own goals and they are good things. The temptation lies in the means of achieving the goals. The Devil offers the quick way out, the cheap way. He offers the way without work and suffering. He offers the liar’s way. Jesus can avoid all the work and the pain if he will only Page 3 of 5 -Our temptationpresume upon his divine authority and upon his privileged relationship with God. If Jesus will only deny his human existence, he can have everything he wants at no cost whatsoever. He makes the choice to continue in solidarity with humanity and to rely on the grace of God. He takes the long route through suffering so that you and I might experience salvation. He is our true hero, not because he couldn’t be tempted, but because he rose above temptation through obedience to the Father. So, here’s what this is going to mean for us today. First of all, the areas of our greatest temptations will not be truly evil things. Our temptations will be strongest in those areas that we rationalize will be good. The workaholic husband thinks that the sexual relationship with his secretary will bring the relief he doesn’t find at home. The cashier who steals from the cash register thinks that the extra income will supply better food for her family. The addict who pawns a stolen stereo system will find temporary relief from the cravings that hurt so much. The gossiper will find power in her knowledge about someone else. The murderer actually sees death as the best and most life-saving solution to pain or discovery. You see? We aren’t usually tempted to truly bad things. We are tempted to what we call our own good. Second, we are most likely to be tempted in those areas in which we are actually the strongest. We are rarely tempted through our weaknesses. Our strengths are the focus of our temptations. The intellectual is tempted to put others down through the use of facts and ideas. The physically powerful person intimidates others, usually quite unbeknownst to himself, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t sin. The racist is genuinely convinced of her own superiority. The office manager simply imposes practices without consultation because of the privilege of position. Look for temptations in those areas where you are strong and competent. Page 4 of 5 -Our temptationJesus was tempted to his own good goals. He was tempted to presume upon his identity as God incarnate. The temptation was to take the easy way to achieve good goals without suffering. He withstood the temptation by appealing to God’s strength, by choosing to be the conduit for God’s divine plan. He proves to be our hero, not because he couldn’t be tempted, but because he is like us in all things and yet chose to rely on God. That, then, frames our hope when dealing with temptation. Accept it as a truth that you will be tempted to something that you actually think is for your own benefit and usually someone else will be spiritually, emotionally or materially hurt by your good. Accept it as a truth that your strengths are the most frequent tools for temptation. Only rarely will you be tempted to something through what you think are your weaknesses. Accept it as a truth that the easy way out is most frequently the way of temptation. Remember this saying from Jesus? This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.3 Love, God’s greatest good for all, will require sacrifice and there is no easy way to love that is not sin. So, the easy way out, the cheap way, the way that doesn’t cost me anything, is usually the way of sin. Those three lenses provide us with a healthy vantage point for our decisions. 1. Whose good will I actually achieve with this choice? 2. Am I using my strengths and abilities to foster my own position or to assist those in need? 3. Are my own personal ends justifying the means that I am employing? 3 John 15:12-14. Page 5 of 5 -Our temptationOnce we have exposed our decision by asking these questions, we can then ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” 1. What is God’s good in this choice? 2. How will I use my strengths and abilities to achieve what God wants in this situation? 3. How can I rely on God’s guidance, presence and grace to take me through to whatever his good is calling me, even if it is suffering? Now it’s easy to see why Jesus had to be actually tempted by the Devil. His is no pretend story. He is not acting on our behalf. The temptation must be real or the whole incident is without meaning. Jesus is indeed our hero and shows us how to deal with temptation, but only if his temptation and the possibility of sin were real. We started out be recognizing the season of Lent and the story of temptation is a good one with which to do that. We all know that temptation and sin are real. We maybe don’t like to talk about them, but we know they’re real. Recognizing what happened to Jesus as real now gives us a workable model for dealing with our own temptations and that’s an important part of what Lent is all about. Thanks be to God.