Today’s passage (Matthew 4:1-11) reveals for us both the nature of temptation and the wiles of how we are led into temptation. Temptation draws from what we know – in Christ’s case it was his own authority as well as his deep knowledge of scripture – but then twists those things in our minds towards some toxic, nefarious end for which they were certainly not intended. There’s the Tempter’s straw man argument of ‘…if you are…then…’ To which Christ’s response was, Yes! I am the Son of God, but that doesn’t depend on me having to do whatever you are saying.
It seems that that’s the nature of any really effective deceit: not that it’s built on things that are easily and obviously wrong – that it would be easy to resist – but that it’s usually mostly about what is correct, but with just enough ‘lie’ built into it to make it deadly. Like a glass of sparkling water that may look delicious, but with just enough toxin to make it deadly.
The Tempter’s plan is to sow just that bit of deadly doubt: Remember the interaction[i] in the garden where after God had given Adam & Eve carte blanche to do virtually anything they liked but just not eat of the forbidden fruit… The Serpentine: ‘Did God really say that? Are you absolutely sure that’s what God meant? Maybe there’s something else here for you…?’ Maybe there’s some loophole you’re missing? It’s the apparently innocuous but actually dark suggestion that takes us away from what actually is our God-given reality!
Most of us aren’t exposed to anything as obvious as a talking snake but we don’t need to be. Because there’s enough deceptive temptation coming at us – all the time! Beguiling words or images that mess with our thoughts, undermining what we believe about ourselves and others, creation, and even God! Perhaps it’s the constant eroding of truth that we face from an abusive partner… Perhaps the insecure bully-boss who loses no opportunity to undermine our confidence… Perhaps it’s what we tell ourselves after being exposed to some particularly hard aspect of our reality: the shock of hearing about Jean Vanier’s abuse of women over 35 years… And we find ourselves falling into that temptation-trap of doubting ourselves, our value, and our faith.
It’s then that we may begin to bring our temptation-compromised reasoning to rationalize/ justify what we would otherwise know we should reject…: That adultery? Well, it wasn’t so bad because we really loved one another, and no-one was being hurt…? That substance abuse? It’s really just a few drinks, pills, whatever – take the edge off – how can it be hurting me, and anyway I deserve it?
Temptation leads us into being able to justify just about any destructive thing with which we choose to be flirting:
We should make no mistake. NONE of us are immune to the insidious and pervasive effects of temptation and it’s ability to catch us when we are at our most vulnerable!
Jesus had been fasting in that wilderness for over a month and – we’re told – he was famished – ravenously starving!
Having endured the suffocating heat by day, frigid cold by night, with nothing but rocks & sand. And so that’s when the Tempter went to work – touching on his understanding of authority/ of scripture. ‘…use your authority to command these rocks to become bread, your angels to protect you – but know this – it will be in response to what I am suggesting – not God’s. But do it for yourself – why not? We are most vulnerable to temptation as our defenses are at their weakest, and so we have to notice those times as they occur: within ourselves, or within those around us, and then to make the necessary allowances – do whatever is necessary – to be strengthened enough to be able to resist temptation.
It’s why members of Step Recovery Groups have sponsors, recognizing the need for outside support from others. And I suspect it’s one of the main reasons why Christ created the church as a community, also recognizing: WE NEED THE SUPPORT OF ONE ANOTHER!!!
It’s only with one another’s support that we can be enabled to break through the distorting fog of temptation in order to bring things back to reality! Christ was able to resist some pretty serious temptation each time using scripture to do that: bringing things back to what was actually most real for him! It’s absolutely essential that we remain anchored in the God-given reality of truth as opposed to that shady twilight zone that dark innuendo temptation would lure us toward…
How in touch are you with what is most real? Notice, what you have been most tempted to believe over the years? What do you know – MOSTLY – about: Yourself? Creation? Others? God? The very best way for us to resist the distortions of temptation is by being anchored in the truth! And as Christians, we believe that Christ is that truth!
It’s Christ in his teachings, his dying & rising that we live. And we know that not only as we give intellectual consent to it, but as we embrace it and make it real within us, and in our lived lives! That’s what Holy Communion celebrates and demonstrates…
[i] Genesis 2:16,17
Rev. Robin Jacobson reserves all rights © 2020.
You are welcome to use, copy, edit or reproduce this sermon summary with copyright attached. Publication is prohibited.