The temptation of Jesus

The Text: Matthew 4:1-11

The temptation of Jesus    

Today’s gospel reading deals with the realities of sin and temptation, grace and faith. Our gospel reading identifies Jesus’ faith in the word of God. His faith was demonstrated in the face of temptation.

As Christians we believe that sin has power – a deadly power that comes from the evil one. We also believe that faith has power – a life-giving power that comes from God.

In our lives we experience a struggle between these two powers. Martin Luther often spoke about Christians being saints and sinners at the same time.

When we put our faith in God we can be sure that Satan will want to throw a temptation or two our way. For example, we all have a dominant life value that we unconsciously base our decisions on. For some this might be the desire for fun or comfort or safety. It might be the desire for power or pleasure or to please others.

Satan loves to play with these desires and to lead us to think that we are the most important people in the world and that everything should revolve around us.

Satan loves to challenge our faith and seeks to twist the truth to lead us away from serving God.

When natural disaster or personal tragedy comes our way, Satan will try to tempt us into believing ‘God doesn’t love me. God is punishing me.’ If you ever experience this, stop! And remember what the scriptures say.

In the scriptures we will find a completely different explanation to disaster and tragedy. Romans 8:22 says. We know that all that God created has been groaning. It is in pain as if it were giving birth to a child. The created world continues to groan even now.

Scripture makes it clear that there will come a time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth and the old order of things will pass away and death will be no more. Regardless of what happens in this world, will you keep your faith in God’s promise that he is making all things new?

Even when disasters and tragedies leave us feeling as if we are small and powerless, will we keep the faith?

There is an old Scandinavian legend that explains this so well. It is about the mighty Thor and how one day he visited the land of the giants.

When Thor arrived there he found that the giants were engaged in various contests of strength. They asked him if he would like to take part in their games. He said yes. So they proposed three tests of strength for him.

First Thor was asked to drink all the liquid in a large two handed drinking bowl. He tried to drink it. And he drank as much as he could. But only a tiny portion of the liquid in the bowl had disappeared. Finally he had to put down the bowl and admit defeat. To him the giants seemed sympathetic – and they proposed something a bit easier for his second test.

A black cat was walking by and Thor was instructed to lift it up. He grabbed hold of the animal, thinking it should be easy to hoist it up. He strained and tugged as hard as he could but he couldn’t even begin to budge the cat.

By this time the giants were beginning to be openly amused at Thor’s predicament.  “You are supposed to be strong”, they said, “but it seems you are not. Well…we will give you something even easier for your third test.”

So for the third test the giants challenged Thor to a wrestle with an old woman. With every bit of strength that Thor could muster he grabbed hold of the old woman, but all his pushing and pulling and twisting was in vain. He simply could not meet the challenge.

As Thor, humbled and dejected, left the giants to head back home, one of them went with him for a part of the way and told him that there was magic in the contests. He said:

“The cup contained the sea and who can drink that? The cat was the evil in the world, and who is able to lift that up and take it away? And the old woman was time, and who is able to contend with her?”

When it comes to sin and its effect on the world, we are truly living in the land of giants. The sin of all people causes the world to groan in pain. We are tempted to give up in despair – feeling that nothing we can do will make a difference; believing that there is no help or hope for us or our world.

Maybe this is the greatest temptation of our time. Maybe our greatest temptation is to give up hope. This might just be the greatest work of Satan in our world – tempting people away from putting their hope in God and his Holy word.

But friends, we have within us: one who is stronger than the world; one who is greater than the tempter; one who has triumphed over evil both in life (as we see in Jesus’ temptation today), and in death (as we see in Jesus’ death and resurrection).

Most people dwell too much on the negative side of things. They see the problems but they don’t take hold of the solution. That solution is that the good news of salvation that is unconditionally offered to all.

In our life we so quickly fall into despair on account of the giants we face: we forget the stories of hope that God gives us, like the story of David and of how one small stone in his hands brought an end to Goliath who threatened his nation and caused even Saul and his mighty army to give up hope.

So too, we have a saviour: one who remembers who we are; one who loves us as a father loves his children; one who seeks to nurture us as a mother nurtures her baby.

This saviour has ventured into the same troubled waters that we live in each day. He has battled the currents – fought the enemies – and shown that he is able. He also shows us that when we ‘swim’ with him – we are able too!

Our saviour remembers who we are and he loves us, and seeks the best for us. He knows that we are weak swimmers in the deep waters of sin. He knows that we will flounder and thrash, grow tired and sink. He knows the waters we are in. And he does not ignore us.

Our saviour reaches out to us

– he calls out to us.

– he seeks to guide us and help us – and like all good parents

– he forgives us and does all that he can to make sure that we start each day anew, refreshed and surrounded in love.

Even though we have fallen, we have a saviour who has been proven to stand firm even in the face of temptation. He alone can rescue us.  May we look to Jesus for he is our hope and our salvation.


Transfiguration of our Lord

The Text: Matthew 17:1-9

This week we will enter the Lenten season but before we head for Jerusalem for the events of Good Friday and Easter we travel with Jesus to the top of a mountain. Jesus withdraws from the noise and busyness of everyday life before heading off into the events that would lead to his death.

Jesus knows that the days which lay ahead will be filled with every trial known to human beings. Put yourself in the same situation as Jesus, knowing full well what horrors are soon to happen. Knowing what terrible pain and suffering is to come would weaken the bravest heart. It is true Jesus is a special person; nevertheless he experienced all the emotions and misgivings that we experience.

And so Jesus goes to the top of a mountain to be with his heavenly Father. He spends the time in prayer. It is interesting to note that every time Jesus is confronted with a difficulty or personal struggle he first goes to God in prayer. And here again he goes to God for strength for his mission.

And while Jesus is there on the mountaintop, away from the noise and

hubbub of the rest of the world, he meets with Moses and Elijah. This meeting has on its agenda what will happen to Jesus when he goes to Jerusalem. They talked of his dying and rising (Luke 9:31). They encourage Jesus, reminding him of God’s plan of salvation and how the events about to take place are a fulfilment of all that is spoken about in the Law and the Prophets. Maybe this was God’s way of keeping in perspective the suffering Jesus was about to endure – yes, it will be horrible but it will bring untold blessing to sinners all over the planet.

Then comes the cloud, a sign of God’s presence. And from the cloud a voice speaks, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen”. “This is my Son whom I love and whom I have sent to be the saviour of the world”. With this reassurance of love and the encouragement of Moses and Elijah, Jesus continues his journey to Jerusalem.

For Jesus, Jerusalem meant suffering.

Maybe you have your own personal “Jerusalem”—those times when the events and upsets, the pressures and spiritual struggles that leave you wondering how you will ever cope?

Your Jerusalem might include a doctor’s comment, “There’s something I need to tell you about the results of your tests”. Your Jerusalem might be that phone call that announces the sudden death of someone close. Your Jerusalem might be a troubled relationship. You want things to be different between you and that other person but it just isn’t happening.

Your Jerusalem might be the disappointment you feel when your dreams and plans fall into a heap. Your Jerusalem might be difficult people whom you have to deal with. You do your best but in the end there is someone who finds fault and cuts away any confidence which you had.

Your own personal Jerusalem may be your discipleship. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him. This is a call by Jesus to be disciples who are willing to make sacrifices when it comes to following Jesus or reaching out to help and get alongside of someone in need, or giving of our best in our workplace.

Sacrifice is not a popular concept these days. We are so used to asserting our rights and getting what we want that sacrifice is a really difficult thing?

We struggle to sacrifice just a little of our time to worship God with our fellow Christians or talk with him daily.

We know that God calls us to show love, patience, forgiveness and understanding but we find it hard to sacrifice our own needs and wants for the sake of the benefit of someone else.

We know that discipleship calls us to put Christ first in our lives and be committed to him just as he is committed to us but somehow we manage to get side tracked by all kinds of trivia. We want to be true disciples but we feel so inadequate. This is our Jerusalem.

When it came to facing Jerusalem, what did Jesus do? He withdrew for a while into the presence of God and was reassured and strengthened for his mission. That’s where we will find forgiveness, strength and assurance – in the presence of God.

Maybe you have resisted getting close to God and kept him at an arm’s length?

Maybe you know about the death and resurrection of Jesus as interesting facts but never taken in that he did it for you and really trusted his love for you?

Maybe you have never really thought of God as right here, right now, available, ready to help, willing to strengthen and support you?
Maybe you have floundered under the weight of trouble but have never taken seriously the promises of God? Promises like:“Do not be afraid—I am with you! I am your God—let nothing terrify you! I will make you strong and help you; I will protect you and save you” (Isaiah 41:10, TEV). The almighty and all powerful God of the universe is making that promise to you personally. That’s fantastic!!

Our God is a God who stands by his people and gives them the strength to cope with whatever crops up along life’s journey. Our God is a God who has demonstrated his love for us on the cross and he is not about to abandon us now or any time in the future. Jesus died a horrible death because of his love for each of us. That’s how much God cares for us. It is confidence in God’s love for us that led the psalmist to say:“Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me. Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me” (Psalm 23:4, TEV).

And again, Psalm 40:11–12a (TEV)

11 Lord, I know you will never stop being merciful to me. Your love and loyalty will always keep me safe. 12 I am surrounded by many troubles— too many to count!

It’s amazing how positive the apostle Paul could be in the face of trouble. He explains it like this, “I have learned this secret, so that anywhere, at any time, I am content, whether I am full or hungry, whether I have too much or too little. I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me” (Philippians 4:12b,13).

We too know that, come what may, God’s presence and power enables us to rise above whatever it is that is getting us down.

When everything dictates that you “call it quits”, “give up” “throw in the towel” you are able to say with the psalmist, “I trust your love” (Psalm 13:4 CEV). The cross is a symbol of the love that God has for you. Even if the worst should happen, you can be certain of God’s loving hands which surround you.In the shade of the cross you can take time out and take to God that which is bugging you and be reassured and strengthened. You are strong and at peace because you can say, “Christ gives me the strength to face anything” (Phil 4:13 CEV

You get the picture

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may not continue to carry around anger or lust, but seek to live holy lives for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Let’s see if you can understand the picture…

Two people come together – a husband and his wife. They kiss and cuddle and caress and…well, without going into too much detail, the woman becomes pregnant!

At first there are no outward signs. The conceived child grows in secret from a few cells to quickly form a human body with emotion and purpose. Soon afterward the physical changes can be detected by a medical professional or by the woman as her body adjusts. A little later the changes are soon noticed by others. Finally, at the right time, a child is born and the lives of all those around are changed irreversibly.

But let’s try another picture…

Two people come together – in this case it could be a husband and wife, but it could also be a parent and child, a brother and sister, a boss and a worker, or any other possible combination of two people.

In this case they misunderstand each other; have different goals, expectations or interests than each other; or they compete with each other over limited resources, and…well, without going into too much detail, they have a conflict…and one or both of them become pregnant. Of course, there’s no physical child, but they’re ‘pregnant’ with anger.

At first there are no outward signs of this ‘pregnant’ anger. Some of us are very good at hiding our anger by denying our feelings or by running away from the situation. While the physical and emotional changes are small at first, it can be detected by feelings of anxiousness, sleepless nights, outbursts of frustration and tears, withdrawal from relationships, or by depression. By this time others may notice some of these symptoms as we lash out with our tongues and fists, by our refusal to talk to someone, or by our moodiness. Like it or not, anger conceived and left to grow in the heart will sooner or later give birth in words and actions to affect the life of its ‘parent’ and all those around, perhaps even irreversibly.

Or another picture…

Two people come together who aren’t married to each other – either in reality or virtually. This means it can be two people face to face, but it can also be one person looking to be with a pornographic magazine, internet site, movie, or TV show with nudity and sex scenes. As they come together, they…well, without going into too much detail, they become pregnant…when lust and longing is conceived in the heart.

At first there may not be any outward signs, and if there are, there are attempts to hide them. While many are taught ‘its ok to look but not touch’, we too often forget (or want to ignore) what the effect of ‘just looking’ does to our hearts and minds, and how this in turn affects our relationships. Soon we’re no longer content with those God gave us and instead lust after those God intends for someone else. Then, if the pregnant lust is born into action and adultery is committed, well, relationships are shattered, trust is broken, and the lives of all those affected may be changed irreversibly.

Now, why do we talk about anger and lust in this way? Because Jesus knows our sinful words and actions are only the birthing of what was first conceived in our hearts.

We often associate the heart with emotions, but in the bible the heart is the control centre of our will. This means when our heart (or our will) is set on something, we’ll find a way of achieving this. So, when anger or lust is in charge of our will, this will always lead to sinful thoughts, words, and actions.

When Jesus-interprets the 5th and 6th Commandments (which teaches us not to kill and not to commit adultery), he helps us realise the intention to kill or the intention to commit adultery is conceived in the heart, and even more importantly, what’s conceived in the heart and mind is just as real as an unborn child in the womb of a woman.

Dealing firstly with the pregnancy of anger, Jesus isn’t telling us we should never get angry. The sin is, many of us won’t forgive, so we carry anger around inside us. By carrying it, it often becomes our master which controls our actions and reactions, and so restricts our joy, harms our relationships, and limits our service and love toward others.

Knowing God sees our hearts, we don’t just carry a ‘pregnant deed’, but in God’s eyes the thoughts and emotions within us are already public acts and real deeds which we’re answerable for.

Of course, the anger we carry inside is often born bit by bit as we lash out in many ways, including verbally. The old saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ is rubbish!

Resentment or harsh words ‘kill’ or harm more people than the combined effects of all the drugs, alcohol, and smoking in the world. You could say the worst pollution in the world is our anger, and these days there’s a lot of anger dwelling in people’s hearts!

God sees the anger we carry in our hearts. So instead of carrying our anger against each other to the altar, he asks us to first be reconciled with each other.

In this case a good start is to recognise the anger or bitterness within yourself, or to recognise the subtle signs of anger toward you within someone else. You may know (or at least suspect), someone may hold something against you.

In this case, don’t wait for them to come to you, but Jesus says (as one loved and forgiven by God) you’re to approach them. When you approach them, rather than pointing out their faults, misunderstandings, anger, or failures, firstly admit your own. Confess your sin to them in order that they may forgive you and be reconciled with you. Then, as reconciled people, come to the altar and celebrate the undeserving forgiveness and peace won for you through Jesus Christ at the Lord’s Supper.

Now, in regards to the pregnancy of lust (which is much like the pregnancy of anger in the way it can enslave you), it also seeks to put people down. Where anger puts people down by hatred or fear, lust puts people down by desire. Both times you become a ‘god’ who decides who is—and who is not—worthy your time and effort.

Where the 5th Commandment protects life, the 6th Commandment protects marriage. Even though these days marriage is rubbished, criticised, re-defined, or even dismissed, God reveals he loves marriage so much he institutes and blesses marriage, and so he seeks to protect marriage. In order to protect marriage, God doesn’t just prohibit touching outside the bonds of marriage, but even the looking. What Jesus condemns is the looking in order to lust. Lust, like anger, will happen, but when we want to continue the happening, or sustain the feeling of lust (through our looks or stares), that’s what Jesus challenges.

While there’s nothing new under the sun, the discipline to control one’s own sexual desires is very difficult today because access to sexual content in movies, on TV, or over the internet (including our phones) is so easy!

Yet Jesus knows how our misdirected desire for pleasure and sex becomes a god which controls and binds us. Too often people get the message that our usefulness and acceptance within the community is tied up with our attractiveness, and so in order to feel loved and valued, we seek sexual fulfilment.

Yet the more we seek to make ourselves more attractive on the outside to others, the more we can feel de-valued and unloved because they no longer see the person within. We become objects of sexual desire to lust after, and not persons with value who should be loved and cherished.

Again, confession and forgiveness can heal guilty or ashamed consciences. Confession and forgiveness can restore broken marriages when there’s been addictions to pornography or infidelity, although admittedly, once trust has been broken, even forgiveness may not easily restore what was torn apart. It takes a lot of courage for a married person to open oneself up to the possibility of further hurt by someone who has previously been unfaithful.

While many of us might boldly boast ‘we’ve never killed anyone or committed adultery’, Jesus warns us the pregnant thoughts and desires which we carry about in our hearts and minds are just as real as having enacted them with our bodies. In God’s sight, the thought is already the action, which makes all of us murderers and adulterers.

Despite this there’s good news! For the sake of the innocent suffering and death of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, we’re forgiven for all our sinful words and actions, but also for our sinful thoughts and desires which were conceived in our hearts!

Yes, Jesus calls us to repent and live faithfully as God’s holy children in a world where anger and sexual promiscuity is rampant, but Jesus is also the incarnation of our God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

He loves us and forgives us for our carried angers and lusts and sends us his Holy Spirit to replace them with love. As forgiven and loved people in God’s sight, we may in turn seek the forgiveness of those around us and then together come to the Lord’s Altar with joy and thankfulness.

In the same way, we may also receive the grace to forgive those who sin against us. This forgiveness isn’t by our own power or goodness, but with the help of the Holy Spirit.

With the Spirit’s help, let us live holy lives, even as Christ has made us holy, aborting all anger and lust and living in peace and love with those around us.

And in this way, the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The Lord desires kindness and justice

The Text: Isaiah 58:1-12 The Lord desires kindness and justice

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn,

and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;  you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,       Restorer of Streets with Dwellings

In today’s Text, it’s important to note who God’s talking to. He’s about to make a very big announcement and is calling people to listen. In this case he’s not making this announcement to non-believers. He’s talking to his own people, the people of God, the people he loves, forgives, and saves.

So what’s this important announcement God makes? He says you’re all guilty of rebelling and sinning!

Now you might argue you know you’re a sinner, but you also know God to be gracious and merciful, a god who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; this is why you keep coming back to worship, to seek his love and mercy, to be forgiven again and again. You come to hear his gracious words of love and peace, and how you may do his will.

God acknowledges this, saying he knows you seek him daily, intent on knowing his ways and activities. He sees how you perform all the right religious motions and say all the right things at church, but he can also see those times when you expect him to be good to you or bless you because you’ve done all the right things!

Then, when he doesn’t answer you the way you want, you argue with God saying something like, ‘Hey God, I’ve done all the right things, I go to worship regularly, I say my prayers before bed, but I’m not receiving the blessings I reckon are due to me! I’ve been good to you, why aren’t you good to me?’ Why won’t you help me?

But God doesn’t dish out blessings based on what is deserved. If he did, we wouldn’t get any! ‘Deserving’ talks more about judgment, not about mercy. We want mercy from God, not judgment. But now, if God wants to be merciful and bless you, then that’s up to him. It’s his gift and he can give blessings when and where he chooses.

 Many people attempt to ‘show off’ their faith in some way or another. Some do it by  Cutting out (fasting) but not replacing, others do it by trying to hide their sinful self and act righteous. Well, God says he doesn’t want you to fast or act this way. He tells you:

Fasting isn’t just abstaining from foods, but abstaining from wickedness.

Fasting is forgiving enemies even though they hurt you.

Fasting is loosening the yoke of the oppressed, unburdening people instead of burdening them with your demands and expectations.

Fasting is definitely not making people work harder, but taking the burden off them.

Fasting is sharing your food with the hungry.

Fasting is bringing the homeless into your home.

Fasting is covering the naked.

Fasting is removing your accusing fingers and not causing fights and arguments.

Fasting is when you stop speaking foul language, stop lying, and stop verbal abuse.

Fasting is listening to people’s desires and satisfying them.

Interestingly, most of these things God lists have very little to do with worship on Sundays, but how we live during the week. Remember, people can tell what our relationship with God is like by watching how we treat those around us.

If you put people down by insults or jokes, you may not be right with God. If you’re pushy and bossy with people, thinking you deserve certain privileges, you may not be right with God. If you argue or fight with others, you may not be right with God. If you treat people badly out of spite or revenge, you may not be right with God. If you take advantage of, or exploit others, or think you’re better than everyone else, you may not be right with God. If you put on an act in order to gain attention for yourself, you may not be right with God. Even if you do the right things with the expectation God will be good to you and give you what you want because you do the right thing, then you may not be right with God.

Well, this hasn’t been a lot of good news so far, has it? Yet, there is good news. You see, God still loves you. Some say God loves you just the way you are, and he does. But he loves you even more than that. He loves you so much he doesn’t want you to stay the way you are.

To be contuined next week.