Sermon March 1, 2020

“Struggling With Temptations”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Matthew 4:1-11
March 1, 2020

Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him. Matthew 4:10i

Have we made Jesus so holy He cannot speak to us? Have we made Jesus so divine that He cannot touch us? If so, if Jesus is so high and lifted up that He remains beyond our reach, then we need not fret His message. It is beyond us, out of our reach. Jesus and His kingdom are not of this world.

If that is the case, if Jesus has been so exalted that He ceases to be human, then we of all humanity are the most to be pitied. Why? The Church has preached Christ’s message throughout time and called men and women to follow Christ’s Way. If Jesus is so other worldly that He cannot speak to this world, then the Church has been wasting its time.

Yet wait. For the picture I have painted may yet be false. I am with Jesus that Maundy Thursday long ago when He prayed so ardently for a different future, a different outcome. I may not have prayed until drops of blood fell from my forehead, But I have longed for a future that awaits those with chronic illness than is different than it is likely to be. Oh, I have known what it means to see into tomorrow and wish it away. I, too, have known my time in the Garden of Gethsemane.

And then this all too human picture of Jesus portrayed in Matthew 4:1-11. In the temptations of Christ, do we not find ourselves remembering the temptations we have and perhaps will give into? Is this not Jesus made human?

You see, I hold that in order for Jesus to have been tempted, they had to be tempting. To simply impose one’s will and make all things well. To turn stones into bread that would have abated His hunger and made short work of our redemption. With but a flick of His hand, His will done and our freedom lost. Who can stand against a divine being who can alter the rules of nature? How does such a being have anything to do with those who hunger and thirst, who are victims of forces beyond their control? His will may have been done, but we would have been undone — overpowered by the force of power.

Or from the panicle of the Temple — here where faith and political power resided, here where the glory of God was on display, should He not trust in that power, should He not know that God’s intention for us all is to be well? Show Satan and the world the power of God and His abiding welfare. Ah, but to cast Himself over the wall assured that God will protect you from the rocks below is not faith. It is, again, unbridled power that mere mortals cannot claim.

Or taken to a high mount and shown the kingdoms of the world. How human history would have been different had He but bowed. Christ in command of the nations. No Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Stalin, Mao, Assad, Ku Klux Klan, Hitler — all kept under the dominion of the Lord, unable to rise, the reigns of terror gone. Christ alone. But such peace is not willfully ours. It is forced upon us by the mighty hand of God. Oh, we would have tranquility, but we would not love God, only fear God’s power.

These are not little or light temptations. All of them could have been justified in the name of a greater good.

And you and I? Are we not tempted to take the shortest route to our desire? Are we not tempted to forgo the hard way of the cross and seek a simpler and quicker path? If so, then what can we learn from Jesus who overcame them all?

First, remember your greater purpose. You are a servant of God and you know the cost of discipleship. It is not success you are to seek, but faithfulness to the One who died that we might live.

Second, look to God and do not fall prey to the false gods of our culture. The sirens of this world call out to all of us and bid us to be wealthy, successful, to consume for the sake of consumption. Be grounded in your faith and follow in Christ’s Way.

Third, know that even in failure God grants forgiveness. Jesus never succumbed to Satan’s guile. I cannot say the same. If it were not for the gift of God in Christ, I could not stand. So, I leave you with this wisdom from Augustine, “Love God and do as you please.” Do not let perfection be the enemy of the good. Strive to follow in the Way of Jesus and live your life in joyous hope. Let us pray…

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying 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.’” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

i Matthew 4:1-11