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.