This Week’s Sermon

Here is the video from this week’s On-Line Worship time.  Below it is the text of my sermon.  To see this and all previous weeks’ videos, go to “On-Line Worship” or click HERE.

~ January 9, 2022, (Contemporary) ~
~ January 16. 2022, (Traditional) ~

A Man of Sorrows

Isaiah 53:1-12, Matthew 4:1-17
January 16, 2022

We often think about the suffering Jesus endured at the end of his ministry.  But I’ve been thinking a lot this week about this story, and the suffering he went through at the beginning of his ministry.

This is the story of Jesus being led out into the wilderness to be tempted.  And as I thought about this, the words of Isaiah came to mind – the words I read a few minutes ago!  “He was… a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”  We often associate those words with Jesus’ suffering and death.  But I’ve been thinking about them in this story, too.

I believe God took on human form for many reasons.  He did so to live among us and teach us, and to be our example..  And certainly, the atonement was a big reason.  But I think he also became human so that he could experience, first-hand, our suffering.  That’s certainly true when we think of the cross, and all that led up to it.  We know that, because of the cross, God knows our pain and our anguish and our suffering.  But here in this story, we also know that, through Jesus, God knows our temptations!

As we think about that today, I want to remind you of something I said last week.  I don’t want us to get hung up on the business of fighting the battle against evil.  That’s God’s job.  And I’m glad it is!  I heard someone say once that we need to study Satan and learn all the ways he fights against us.  And I think that’s the wrong approach.  I believe instead that we need to concentrate on knowing God!  We need to learn to rely on his strength and his protection.

Now, having said that, I don’t mean that it’s not good to recognize certain temptations, certain tactics, which are used against us as God’s people.  And this is a good story to look at in that regard.  We only have a few minutes of dialogue here.  I’m sure this was a much longer encounter!  But here, in this short passage, we find some of the greatest temptations that we can face.  I’ve even heard it said that all human temptations can be found in this story.  I don’t know if that’s true.  But these are pretty big ones!

So, let’s take a look.  And I want you to notice here, that like many of the temptations in our lives, these temptations sound reasonable.  They even sound scriptural!  Someone once said that nobody knows the Bible better than Satan.  I don’t know if that’s true.  But he certainly seems to know it pretty well!

So here we go!  This story starts with hunger.  Matthew tells us that, before Satan tempted him, Jesus had been in the wilderness fasting for 40 days!  Can we even take that in?  Forty days without food?  I can’t even begin to imagine what that would do to a person physiologically, let alone the hunger pangs he must have had!  God gave us those “hunger pangs” for a reason!  They’re a warning sign that we need to eat!

So, Satan says to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.”  That sounds reasonable to us, doesn’t it?  And at first glance, it might even sound more reasonable than Jesus’ answer.  He quotes scripture back at him.  And this is a passage from Deuteronomy.  “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”  (Deut. 8:3)

I don’t think Jesus was saying that we shouldn’t be concerned with having enough to eat.  But the temptation here is the desire to focus on our physical needs alone.  As Jesus said later, in the sermon on the mount, “Do not worry about your body, what you will eat and what you will drink and what you will wear.  Your heavenly father knows you need all these things.  But seek ye first his kingdom…”

So that’s not a bad response, is it?  So many of the temptations of our lives come from the desire to focus only on the things of this earth, only on the things that have to do with our sustenance.  But, as Jesus says, God knows we need these things.  And he wants us to balance those needs with the need to know God better.

So, Satan moves on to the next temptation.  And he counters with some scripture of his own.  But notice, he also repeats the underlying challenge.  He takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.”  Then he quotes Psalm 91.  “For he will give his angels charge over you.  On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”  (Psalm 91:11-12)

I’ve heard this temptation associated with what is referred to as “The sin of presumption.”  That means having a presumption that God will be there to save us, no matter what we do, even if we give no thought to him.  That sin is about the desire to concentrate only on our own will, giving no thought to God’s will for us.  At the heart of this is the question, “Who’s in charge here?”  And “Do we ‘presume’ to control God?”

Think about it.  How many of the temptations in our lives are centered around the desire to seek only our own will, to decide for ourselves – like Adam and Eve – what is good and evil, right or wrong?  And then we hope God will help us if we get ourselves in trouble in any way.

Well, Jesus’ answer is an interesting one – and it’s a quote again from Deuteronomy.  “You shall not tempt the Lord, your God.” (Deut. 6:16).  As one version says it, “Do not put your God to the test.”  How do the temptations of our lives relate to that?  How often do we try to put God to the test, to force his hand?  “This is my will, God.  Please bless it!”  How often do we say, “I hope I’m doing what God wants”?  Or worse, “This is what I want, I hope God is ok with it.”  Do we remember in our prayers the last words of Jesus’ prayer in the garden?  “Father let this cup pass from me.  Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.”

The last temptation here is about the desire for power and influence.  And Satan pulls no punches this time.  He takes Jesus to the mountaintop and shows him in one glance all the nations and wealth of the world, and he says, “All this I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me!”

This temptation has been associated with the sin of Narcissism.  Do you know that word?  Narcissism is defined as, “Being extremely self-centered, and having an exaggerated sense of self-importance.”  Do you see that in this temptation?  “Jesus, you can be king of the world.  If only you will pay the price.”

I think this is one of the biggest temptations in our modern world.  For years now we have been living in what was first called the “me generation.”  It’s a time of totally focusing on the self.  And like I’ve been saying for years, we used to think Humility was a virtue.  Now people think of it as something to be avoided!  Instead, we have normalized self-centeredness!  I’ve even heard “counselors” say to people, “You have to do what’s right for you first.  Then you can deal with the rest of the people in your life better.”  What ever happened to “love your neighbor as yourself?” and “Greater love has no one that this, to lay down one’s life for another.”

But more than that, here.  This last temptation also speaks of the sin of wanting something so much, that you are willing to do or to say anything to get it.  What temptations in our lives are like that?  In its’ extreme, this is the sin of “selling one’s soul to the devil.”  Which, by the way, is the theme of a many of the classical operas!  We studied a lot of them in college, and it seemed like somebody in them was always selling their soul to the devil for something or other.

One of the most famous examples of this was Faust.  Do you know that story?  It was supposedly based on a man who lived in around the 15th century.  And Faust was a man who was highly successful, but who was dissatisfied with his life.  And he was said to have sold his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasure.  His example was so famous that his name has given rise to the adjective “Faustian,” which has to do with the “sacrificing of spiritual values for power, knowledge, or material gain.”  Do you know any “Faustian” people?

I came close to that once.  A couple of Summers ago, there was an aviation group that came into Northeast Airport with a bunch of vintage airplanes, and they were selling rides.  Maybe you remember that.  Well, along with selling rides in a B17 and a B24, they were also selling rides in the greatest propeller airplane ever built – the P51 mustang.  I couldn’t begin to afford the price of that flight.  But!  I did go over to the table and I asked the woman sitting there, “Where do I sell my soul?!”  (I didn’t by the way!)

And don’t worry, I was only joking.  But think about this temptation.  It’s all around us.  It comes at us all the time from the gods of advertising!  What kinds of things in our lives call to us, and tempt us, to do or to have them, and what are we willing to give up of ourselves in order to get them?  What price are we willing to we pay?

We live in an age of credit.  Many people in our world are willing to sell their future for the now.  Credit cards are so tempting.  And I’m not saying don’t use them.  Because they can be convenient.  But you have to learn the discipline of paying them off every month.  I’m glad to say I’ve learned that!  And it’s not easy!  It’s too tempting to say, “Ah, I’ll just leave a little of the payment go till next month.”  And then things build up…

Let me conclude by saying that sometimes I think we question whether God really understands our lot in life.  We’re “tempted” to think that God doesn’t know what we go through in our modern world.  He doesn’t really know our modern problems, our modern financial issues, and our modern pressures.  Well, I think this experience in the wilderness shows that he does!  Many of the temptations we face in our lives were experienced by Jesus himself.  And the more I think about this story, the more I believe that God wanted it that way!  What happened to Jesus here was very much intentional!

So, in our lives, what do we find ourselves concentrating on?  Is it the things of this world and our personal needs (and wants!) only?  Or do we seek first God’s kingdom?  Are we giving thought to God’s will in our lives, or do we fight for our own will, hoping God will “be ok with that,” and presuming he’ll pick us up if we fall?  And what things in our world are calling to us to “have,” and what are we willing to give up for them?  And in the end, is it worth the price we have to pay.  And above all, do we know that we have God’s strength and his protection in all these things, if only we will seek him?

Prayer

Eternal God, help us indeed to seek first your kingdom and your righteousness, and help us to know that “all these things shall be added unto us.”  Help us to know, beyond a doubt, that you are with us, and that you understand whatever difficulties we may be going through, even in our modern, complicated world.  Thank you for so loving us, that you sent your Son to be one like us.  For these things we pray in his name, Amen.