First Mennonite Church
January 27, 2019
The Temptation of Securing Self and Accomplishment
Matthew 4:1-11; Deuteronomy 30:11-20
There is a high cost in choosing life, freedom, and prosperity according to God’s definition in Deuteronomy 28, 29, and 30. In Deuteronomy, Moses urged the Israelites to choose life, to choose blessings, yet the way they were to do these things was by obeying God. And that was the price the Israelite, by choice or by default or a combination of both, could not pay. So Israel lost its land and even part of itself when the majority of the tribes were forever removed from their land and their heritage. The Israelites tried to secure their own survival, by wanting a king, as the other nations, or by oppressing their fellow Israelites or by forging alliances with their pagan neighbors (Is. 30:1). In other words they wanted to create bread out of rocks and stones. The Israelites bowed down before other gods in their pursuit of gaining the world. They wanted to be like the other nations, thus refused to trust God for their protection. And as the prophet indicted them, they tested and provoked the Lord their God (Jer. 7:19, 29). In the end, ancient Israel lost its freedom, as they went into the Babylonian captivity and lost its land; their existence became one more of survival than real life.
After his baptism, Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted. But the temptation only came after Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights. If we remember, God declared Jesus the “beloved Son” and in whom God was “well pleased.” Picking up from that identity, the Devil set forth the first and second temptations. “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” and “If you are the son of God, let him prove it by rescuing you. Throw yourself and let his angels catch you.” In the third temptation the Devil offered Jesus a secure and easy way to be know and accepted as king and lord. The world, its people and the glory of power were all Jesus’, if he only bowed before Satan. In other words, Jesus was tempted in the area of his identity and his purpose of coming. Jesus was tempted by the Devil based on who Jesus was and what his goal/objective was in coming. And in total contrast to the Israelite experience in the wilderness those forty years, Jesus came out victorious and approved by God. Jesus remained faithful and in the end “angels came and attended him.”
Temptation. What is it? And, to do what are we tempted? To be tempted is not sin as we can see. Jesus was tempted. Often times we are inclined to believe that the goal of temptation is to have us engaged in immoral behaviors, e.g. to commit adultery, to steal our neighbor’s property, to commit murder, or to commit idolatry. And sure enough, we must avoid committing these sins. But Jesus was not tempted to commit the sins I listed above, either. He was tempted in a very subtle ways. He was tempted to prove his identity and to achieve his intended goal in easier ways. Sooner or later, Jesus would have needed to prove to the world that he was indeed the Son of God, which was exactly what the Tempter was asking him to do. As we can see, the disciples gradually came to the conclusion that Jesus was the Son of God. The demons acknowledged it right away, but the high priest was still unsure even during Jesus’ trial. “I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God,” the high priest demanded. It is rather interesting to see when the centurion in charge of those who crucified Jesus came to that very conclusion. Upon seeing the chaos in nature: earthquake, darkness during day hours, the graves opening, and so forth, as Jesus died on the cross, the centurion exclaimed: “Truly this man was the Son of God.”
So again, the temptation set before Jesus was to prove his identity without having to go to the cross. Had Jesus converted bread and fed the hungry throngs, Jesus would have been acknowledged as the Son of God immediately. Jesus would have repeated God’s action in giving manna to his people. But Jesus rejected the Tempter’s proposal to prove his relationship with God on the terms of the Devil offered. Jesus proved his relation with the Father by doing the work of God and at God’s time and ways.
The third temptation was for Jesus to achieve glory, power and dominion over the world. This temptation would have instantly made Jesus king of the whole world had he just bowed before the Devil and worshipped him. If we remember, in the Gospel of John, after Jesus fed five thousand hungry people they wanted to crown him king, even by force (6:15). But Jesus rejected it and left. But at his crucifixion, Pilate nailed a plaque on the cross above Jesus’ head with the mocking inscription: “Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Jesus did become king. Peter said, “Let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). In Revelations we read that Jesus is “Lord of lords and King of kings” (Rev. 17:14). And today, he is my King. He is the King of everyone who accepts his Lordship. We are the ones who bow down to worship him.
Today, I titled my sermon “The Temptation of Securing Self and Accomplishment.” Jesus was tempted to prove himself as being the Son of God. Jesus was tempted to secure his ultimate goal in coming. His temptation illustrates how subtle we are also tempted. The questions, who am I? And, what I am here for? Are more than just philosophical questions. If we were allowed, it is like that after we give our name, we would also like to give a list of other definers. I for example might say, “My name is Pastor Romero; I am a husband, father, brother, a pastor for this many years, a graduate from . . ., and so on and on. And . . . I am a follower of Jesus, too.” Who would you say you are? And what other definers would you add to your name? And what is your goal or purpose in life?
Often times, one of the “names” we have for ourselves is the one through which we earn our bread for life. Maybe, one of your names is “teacher,” “independent contractor,” “bookkeeper,” “manager,” “nurse,” and so on. We all have the duty to earn our bread for life. Bread is the representation of sustenance, shelter, and all the necessities that make life possible. We all need bread to stay alive. Jesus ate bread and gave it out to those who were hungry. Bread is not the problem. The temptation is to believe that if we make bread by all means we can secure for ourselves a future without needs. The temptation is to believe that having bread secures our lives. Sometimes we see people working themselves “to death,” as we say. We see people barely taking time to breathe. Often times, it would be these kind of people who do not have time for family, for themselves, and much less for God.
Why am I so afraid of being poor or in need? Why it seems everyone is afraid becoming poor or to suffer being in need? Could it be that being human means carrying within ourselves a feeling of incompleteness? Could it be that part of being human is to carry within us a sense of continuous longing and lacking? Could it be that in part, our being a human is having a hole, an emptiness that keeps us restless and always wanting to fill it in with things? And could it be that we are tempted to fill it ourselves at our time and through our own means? If we remember the Genesis story of Adam and Eve, God gave them everything they needed to live and to be happy. But the moment Eve saw the forbidden fruit, she felt that it was just the right size for the hole she had inside her. And she desired it with all her heart. But after she ate it, her longing was not only doubled but made worse. She wanted to hide from God, her Maker and Provider. So, why is it so difficult to believe Jesus who in the middle of a dirt-poor world said, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them… and the lilies … even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But strive first for the Kingdom of Heaven, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”? (Matthew 6:25-34)
Let us ask ourselves, how much stuff do we have that we thought it was just the right thing for the need we had when we bought it? Where it is now? And are we done with our needs? Must likely they are not. Our wants continue and we continue the pursuit of making bread to fill our needs.
The second question is, what are you here for? What do you believe is your purpose in life? Just as this question is closely related to the first, who you are, so are their answers. Identity determines purpose. If the first fear we have is of becoming poor and needy, the second major fear is the awareness of our finitude. We know we are all going to die, someday. And so achieving our purpose becomes even more pressing. That is why in the pursuit of achieving goals, the worker cut corners, the student cheats, appointments get crammed, the CEO rigs the numbers, and you get the idea. If the goal is to climb the corporate ladder, then the temptation can be stepping upon others or pushing self, irrespective of who gets pushed off the way. Now you can see how temptation works. It is subtle, but it is powerful because it seems to make sense in light of our identity and purpose in life.
Here is a word of encouragement. Can we resist temptation? The answer is yes. We can resist. From the very beginning this is what God said to Cain, “Sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7) So how can we resist temptation? James says, Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (4:7) We should not be afraid of the fact that we are tempted every day. Jesus is the one who showed us the way to overcome.
Let us turn for a second to see the responses Jesus gave when he was tempted. These are:
“It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
“It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
“Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
In short, these three answers tell us: Obey, trust, and worship God only. Jesus did and this is how the story concludes: Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
Why should we be afraid of becoming needy if it is God who promises to provide? Why should we be afraid about our mortality if it is Christ Jesus who defeated death through his resurrection?
God’s angels are ready to assist and to serve us if we only obey, trust, and worship God only. Amen!