“The serpent deceived me”

Matthew 4:1-11   5th MARCH 2017 DUBBO

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Today God has adopted two new children, Annabelle and Harry. As parents James and Katrina, Rhys and Elisha you have the responsibility to teach your children, so that they grow up knowing that through Jesus they have eternal life. As parents there will be many, many times that they will bring you great joy, children are very good at saying the most wonderful things. Due to their innocence they can come up with real gems which will bring laughter into your home and memories that you will remember all your life.

 There is a story of a little girl who was sent to her room for misbehaving. Sometime later her mother happened to pass by her door and heard her praying. “God, I am stuck up here because of YOU. Last night I prayed for you to help me be a good girl. Well, you didn’t, so it’s your fault!”

 Sounds a bit like the conversation between God and Adam and Eve in the Garden. God asks what’s going on, Adam responds by admitting that he ate the forbidden fruit, but then he blames God (“It was the woman who gave it to me,  YOU PUT HER HERE …”)

 Is SHE responsible?  apparently not! For she says; “The SERPENT DECEIVED ME, and I ate.” Poor Eve – she was only a victim. She could not be held responsible for eating the fruit. Neither could Adam. “The Devil made me do it!”

 But scripture is very plain – “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God;” there is none righteous, no not one.” In fact, there has been only one totally innocent victim in human history…         that is Jesus. Yes, he had opportunity to sin. And if he had succumbed, he would have had wonderful excuses – no one could blame him.
The Gospel message from Matthew which I read today has three strong temptations presented. Satin speaks to Jesus. Jesus,  you are incredibly powerful; use that power to meet your own needs. If you don’t take care of yourself, you will not be able to take care of anyone else.

 On top of that, if word gets around that you turn stones into bread, think how many folks would follow you. Everyone can use a little extra bread. Who could have blamed Jesus for doing something like that?

 The second temptation was equally enticing. Let folks know beyond the shadow of a doubt that YOU ARE THE MESSIAH, the Chosen One of God. What a spectacular stunt to leap from the Pinnacle of the Temple, drop the 450 feet straight down into the Kidron Valley, and land unharmed. God’s angels will protect you. People will SURELY listen to your message when they hear what you have done. Would anyone legitimately reproach Jesus for deciding to take that course?

 The third temptation was enormous – unchallenged political power to right all the wrongs…all the kingdoms of the world. How incredibly simple,

Jesus: you can ORDER folks to listen. You can ORDER justice and an end to all oppression. What a wonderful opportunity!
All it will take is a tiny compromise, an ever-so-slight division in your loyalties. You do not have to stop worshipping the God of heaven, just spread that worship around a bit. Jesus, this is the offer you cannot refuse.  Who could have blamed him for accepting?
Its interesting how Jesus avoided giving in. After each of the temptations was offered, he quoted scripture. Perhaps that should not be surprising. After all, spiritual maturity only comes when we have a deep relationship with the God of the universe whom we meet and learn from in the pages of the Bible.

Since the beginning of time our first instinct has been to blame others for our own failures. Instead of accepting responsibility, we claim we are victims of cruel and callous forces. It would serve us right if God simply turned away and allowed us to stew in our own sins. But that is not the God of love we meet in scripture.

 Do you remember what Adam and Eve did after their trip to the tree? In coming to the sudden realisation that they were naked, they made themselves fig-leaf loin cloths.

 Well, as the old movie says, “Stupid is as stupid does,” and this was a stupid move. Have you ever felt a fig leaf? It is NOT “the comfort of cotton.” In fact, IF IT comes in regular contact with sensitive skin, it is REAL  ITCHY.

  Back there in the Garden, God saw what was happening and, in a gesture of divine grace, said, “Here. Let me give you something that will work better… animal skins.” AARh-h-h. What a relief. We face temptation all the time. Temptation hangs in our environment like flu virus, always threatening to break down our resistance. We are tempted to break our diets, flirt with somebody at work, cheat on our taxes, gossip about a friend, lie our way out of trouble … you name it.

We are always being tempted to do what we know we shouldn’t do. We don’t need any instruction about temptation. Temptation we know about.
But, do we really? Do we really know what temptation is? Today’s lesson from the Gospel of Matthew is a story about the nature of human temptation — Jesus’ temptation and ours — and it throws a surprising light on what temptation really is. What does it mean, really, to be tempted?

 In ordinary terms, we think of temptation as the urge to do something we really would like to do but know we shouldn’t do — one more cigarette, one more fling, one more drink, one more juicy rumor. But the deepest temptation is not the urge to misbehave, to do what we know we shouldn’t do, but rather the enticement to compromise our baptismal identity, to be who we are not called to be.

 That’s the message in this story of Jesus’ temptation. The devil is not tempting Jesus to misbehave. He is not tempting Jesus to steal a wallet, or cheat on his taxes, or pick a fight with his neighbor. It’s deeper than that. The devil is tempting Jesus to ignore his baptism, to deny who he is, to forget that he is the child of his Father in heaven.

 It is significant that Jesus comes to the temptation immediately from his baptism, when the skies opened and a voice from heaven said, “You are my beloved Son, the one with whom I am well pleased.”

 That’s who he is. “You are my beloved Son. You are the heir to the identity and mission of my people. You are my prophet, my priest, my anointed, my suffering servant. You are the one I am sending down the long and painful road to Jerusalem.

 You are the one I am calling to drink the bitter cup of sacrifice. You are the one I am delivering into the hands of those who will kill you. You are the one I am sending to bear the cross for the salvation of all people.

You are the one to whom I am entrusting the promise of redemption. You are the one. You are my beloved Son, and I am well-pleased with you.”

 It is, then, when Jesus’ vocation and identity are most clear that he comes to the season of his tempting. It is precisely Jesus’ identity that the devil seeks to destroy. That, after all, is what temptation is all about.

 Notice how the tempter begins, “If you are the Son of God …” He could have attacked directly: “You are not the Son of God,” but he was too crafty for that. Much better to generate self-doubt — “If you are the Son of God” — since self-doubt is the cancer that eats away at identity.

 The devil picks away,  at Jesus’ son-ship, at his baptismal identity. The three temptations — to turn stones into bread, to throw himself down from the top of the temple and to worship the tempter — are not enticements to do bad things; they are, at root, invitations to be somebody else, to live some life other than that of the beloved son of God.

 Everything about the early chapters of Matthew — from the genealogy that opens the Gospel to the account of Jesus’ baptism — makes it plain that Jesus had been given a narrative to follow, a storied identity, the narrative of God’s salvation.

 The devil wants him to change the script, to trade God’s story for some other story. Notice that Jesus combats the devil’s attack not with theological innovation, skillful counter-arguments, but by citing the story, quoting each time scriptures from Deuteronomy that he was taught as a child.

 In other words, Jesus resists the devil’s tempting by quoting the Holy Scripture. He will not change the script; he will not live a narrative other than the one he has been given; he remembers his baptism, and he knows who he is. Because we belong to Jesus Christ, we, too, have been given a part in the story, a role to play in this holy drama of redemption.

 We have been called, called in our baptism to be God’s beloved children.

 In a world where THE STRONGER RULE, we have been named ambassadors of reconciliation. It is our baptismal identity to be those who sow love; where there is hatred,    hope where there is despair,                 faith where there is doubt.

 Because we are called, we are also tempted, tempted to change the script, tempted to live out a DIFFERENT LIFE, tempted to be someone other than who we are called to be. To yield to temptation is far more serious than to commit some transgression;

To yield to temptation is to say, “I am not a child of God, and I will not take my part in God’s drama of redemption.”

 Jesus was cast into the lead role in the drama of God’s redemption, and the devil tempted him to change the script, improvise on the character, deny who he was called to be. But Jesus knew who he was and he trusted his Father and he never wavered.

 Like Jesus, WE WHO are part of the church have been baptized, and the words have been said about us, “You are a son of God … you are a daughter of God.” We, too, have been given our parts to play in the drama of God’s redemption.

 “Seek first the kingdom of God, pray without ceasing,  repay no one evil for evil, feed my lambs,  bear one another’s burdens, be kind to one another, forgive one another  love your enemies,  be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

 Even now the tempter whispers in your ear, change the script, make up your own lines.

 Everything is at stake, and the one who has poured his life into preparing us is watching. Jesus loves us and will help us in serving HIM by serving others. Jesus is always near to help and guide us, LET US ALWAYS REMAIN IN HIS LOVE.                Amen.

 And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.     Amen.


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