Pushing the “Easy” Button

3 03 2017

1st Sunday in Lent – Matthew 4:1-11

Let’s be honest, you and I live in a time and place that unleashes all of its resources for the sole purpose of persuading us to give in to our temptations.  But, it’s actually worse, we are told that the most healthy lifestyle choice we can make is to identify with our deepest temptations and to embrace them as the truest picture of who we really are.  We are told that the most unhealthy choice is to deny our temptations and wants.  In fact, if we publicly voice our opposition to these lifestyle choices, the social media powers will descend upon us like the very fury of hell (and here, I’m speaking literally).  Businesses have been destroyed, good paying positions taken away, friendships undone, reputations left in ashes from this demonic fury.

Ivan Kramskoy's 1872 Christ in the Wilderness

So, it ought to be a fearful thing that the one we call Lord and Savior is seen here so obviously standing against the temptations thrown at him.  And not only resisting, but coming out very much the winner.  But it is all too easy to go with the flow and think:  Wouldn’t we all be a lot better off simply giving in to some of our temptations, or at most, maybe very, VERY quietly resisting them in the privacy of our prayer closets?  Anything more public may make us look like intolerant holy religious people who are always mean and judgmental!

 

But I suspect that most of you want to beat back your temptations, at least most days, and wouldn’t mind having some help and assistance.  So, let’s look at how Jesus handled it.

 

Now first, Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus has been tempted in every way that you and I have ever been tempted (but did not give in!!).  So, what we see in the Gospel in Satan’s three temptations, only shows us some of what Jesus had to resist– although, perhaps these three were the most difficult ones he had to overcome. We also know from the Gospels (Matthew 16:23) that Jesus was also tempted by Satan to avoid the Way of the Cross– and he used Peter’s mouth to do the tempting.  So, I think we can safely assume that the ‘ole Serpent rarely let up on his attacks on Jesus, especially during his ministry years leading up to his crucifixion.  I’m sure you have all felt there are many times when you’ve yelled to heaven, “Can I just have a break for a while from all these constant, never-ending temptations!!”  I’ve done that, multiple times.

 

Second, look at what Satan is wanting Jesus to do– hit the EASY button!!  “Hey, Jesus, you are the Son of God, the 2nd person of the Trinity– so use your ‘God’ power and make yourself some bread from rocks, or make yourself look like a super-hero by jumping down from the high-point of the temple and landing safely on the street with thousands of onlookers–they’ll call you Messiah and make you king!  OR… skip the whole cross-thing by bowing before me (I mean, really, it doesn’t really mean anything does it?!  It’s surely just an empty gesture) and I’ll give you what you really want– to be the loving King of the world that everyone will adore.”

Ary Scheffer's The Temptation of Christ

Ary Scheffer’s The Temptation of Christ

Jesus knew he was taking the very, very hard road to save the world, and the Great Liar was trying to get him to cheat and take the easy road to accomplish his mission.  NOTE:  Jesus uses Holy Scripture, God’s Word to crush every temptation.  And guess what?  You have access to that same mighty weapon.  But do you take daily advantage of it?  Do you really know it well enough to use it effectively?  A weapon’s no good to you if you don’t know it well and practice with it constantly.

 

Third, Jesus accomplishes the Great Reversal.  Do you recall another time that the Deceiver, Satan, made a famous temptation and succeeded?  Yup, in the Garden, with our original parents, Adam & Eve.  He convinced them to distrust God, to take matters into their own hands, to become like God.  He got them to believe that God was holding out on them by forbidding them to eat from just one tree in the Garden.  Satan sowed seeds of doubt, and they fell for it and the rest of world history records the sad, tragic consequences of their decision.  One of the details we often miss is the in-action of the man, Adam.  Genesis 3:6 makes clear that Adam was “with her”, Eve, and yet he said and did nothing to defend his wife from the lies and deceits of the Serpent.  He could have told the Serpent to “shut up”, or even crushed the serpent to keep it from 071714_0240_TheTablethe2.jpgtalking any more. But he failed, utterly.  Note that Jesus undoes this most horrible of failures, by standing up to and defeating Satan’s lies and temptations.  Now, if Jesus has undone Adam’s failures, he has surely undone all of yours as well.  Paul calls Jesus the second Adam– giving us the ultimate and perfect “do-over.”

 

If you choose to buck the system, and break the pre-programmed code of our current cultural Matrix, and resist temptation, sin and selfishness and fight the Big Fat Liar of hell, you must needs know the dirty little secret that the Enemy of your soul does NOT want you to know:  The same Jesus who handed Satan his lunch in the desert two-thousand years ago is in you, with you, surrounding you.  You are never, ever alone when facing temptations of all kinds.  The mighty Warrior-King who has put-down and crushed every single temptation you have faced, are facing or will face is in you–your heart, mind, soul and body.  And he’s itching for a big win!

 

Will you say yes to Jesus so you can experience that victory?  That’s the only question you need to answer.

 

Items to remember– because there will be a test, every day of your life!!

 

  1. Jesus knows exactly what you are feeling and thinking when you are being tempted– he’s been there.  He is not shocked and surprised that certain things are a huge temptation to you.  He does not think less of you.  But he does offer hope!
  2. Satan plays dirty and will use your friends, (even Christian ones!051714_2225_ThingsAreNo1.jpg!) and family to tempt and discourage you.  Remember, he used Peter’s big mouth against Jesus.  You must always be on guard.
  3. Don’t hit the easy button and take the easy way out!  Man-up, Woman-up, and get your nose into Scripture often.  A true warrior sleeps with his sword, or bow & arrows, or fire-arm because he could be attacked at any time, day or night.  Do you see the Bible as that crucial in your life?
  4. Jesus has already undone your past failures.  Don’t live there for it is a life of defeat and misery.  Live only in the present, and recognize that the victorious Jesus is with you, right inside you.  Say yes to him, and no to evil and sin.   You can and you must– so many are depending on you!  Never stop fighting and never give up, because Jesus never gives up on you!




Undoing Adam’s Failure

13 03 2011

Prayer.  Fasting.  Almsgiving.  These are the classic disciplines of the Lenten season.  But when we pray, we should always pray with Scripture.  In Evangelical circles, it is often stressed that a healthy relationship with God requires daily Bible reading and study.  I don’t disagree, but beyond reading and study, a disciple of Jesus should also know how to pray the Scriptures.  The Psalms are the obvious example of Scripture that we can pray, but even with Biblical narratives (like Genesis or the Historical Books) and discourse (like the Prophets or the Epistles) one can also learn to pray.  The key is to remember that the Scriptures are God’s words to His people, AND that  prayer is not only talking to the Lord but also listening to Him.  By allowing Him to speak to us through the Scriptures, we can enter into dialogue with our Heavenly Father through the Holy Spirit.  These holy conversations will steadily transform us as we practice them frequently and steadily improve at listening.  So, this Lent, practice praying the Scriptures!

Now for my Lenten confession:  It’s frightening to count up the paltry amount of time I actually spend with Scripture.  As part of my Lenten discipline then, I hope to increase my time reading, studying and praying the Bible.  And during this Lent I will endeavor to record some of my engagement with God’s word by posting my thoughts here.

The lectionary readings for this first Sunday in Lent (from the Revised Common Lectionary) are these:

  • Old Testament Lesson:
    • Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 32
  • New Testament Lesson:
    • Romans 5:12-19
  • Gospel Lesson:
    • Matthew 4:1-11

These Scriptures remind us that the message and focus of Lent is really NOT how horrible we sinners all are (as true as that may be).  To focus on ourselves is a hopeless and despair-filled endeavor.  The focus of Lent is renewal, new life; and the One who has brought about this blessed new reality for us hopeless rebels. It seems I constantly fall back into sinful ruts– thought patterns, as well as patterns of behavior.  I know all too well that I cannot break myself out of these hellish cycles and deep, dark ruts with human resources alone.  Only the Second Adam can offer me real, lasting help.

“If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”  (Romans 5:17)

Look at Adam back in Genesis 3.  He stood by and allowed his wife to be manipulated by a scrawny little snake.  Don’t believe for a moment that Adam had skipped off to the nearest bush for a bathroom break  when the serpent slithered up to Eve and spoke his lies.  Genesis 3:6 indicates that he was with Eve.  And even if it can be argued that he was not there for the serpent’s spiel, he could have stopped his wife when she offered him the fruit.  But I have little doubt that Adam was fully aware of what the serpent had told his wife (because I believe he was right there to hear it).  But at precisely that moment when he should have stepped up as the man God created him to be he goes silent and passive.  He should have lovingly corrected his wife.  Even better, he should have told the serpent to shut up and leave– and if the serpent refused, Adam should have beat it’s little brains in with the nearest stick!

We all know he didn’t do any of those things and we get to enjoy the continuing consequences of his actions– especially as we mimic Adam again and again in our own lives.  But here’s the good news proclaimed especially at the beginning of Lent:  Jesus does what Adam should have done, and therefore so can we!

I love that scene from the Passion of the Christ where Jesus stomps on the head of snake as Satan whispers his temptations in the garden (imagine that, we’re back in a garden just like Genesis 3!).  Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 and undoes what Adam allowed to happen.

This can be viewed most clearly in the Gospel lesson from Matthew 4, Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.  By the power of God’s Spirit and Word, the Second Adam rebuffs the devil’s temptations and half-truths and leaves the desert victorious and ready to begin his earthly ministry.

But the old Liar is still at work.  Most of us read that and assume we could never resist like Jesus did– being the eternal Son of God and all comes with some advantages, right?!  We all feel too much like the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve– we fail and fail and fail again.  But this is a lie.  If we have been baptized into Christ then we possess the power of his death and resurrection, if we choose to make use of it.  If we claim that we trust Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins and our ticket to heaven, then it is also possible to trust that Christ is in us and we need not succumb to the devil’s tricks and fleshly temptations.  It truly is within our reach to follow Jesus rather than Adam and Eve.  To believe otherwise is to have already bought the serpent’s lies– which means the battle is over before it’s begun.  I’ll safely guess that our Enemy prefers this to engaging in one-on-one combat with each of us.  You’d think he was intimidated by those in whom Christ resides!

If you’ve recently allowed the Evil One to knock you down, Lent gives you the opportunity to get back up and enter the fight once again with renewed confidence and optimism.  For we are now sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of the Second Adam– the One who danced on the head of the serpent.  Glory to Christ forever.  Amen.