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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Facing Temptation (Matthew 4, Ephesians 6)

Sermon by: Quay Youngblood
March 4, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "How Firm a Foundation" (Rick Bean)
Hymn of Praise: "A Mighty Fortress" (EIN FESTE BURG)
The Word in Music: "Forty Days and Forty Nights" (Women's Ens.) (Mayo, Adams)
Offering of Music: Jazz Improvisation (Rick Bean)

Hymn of Sending: "Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days" (ST. FLAVIAN)
Postlude: "Fairest Lord Jesus" (Rick Bean)

Facing Tempation
Text: Matthew 4; Ephesians 6

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

This is the second Sunday in Lent, the forty days leading up to Easter. Last week Robert led us through the story of Hagar, mother of one of Abraham’s children, Ishmael. Because of the jealously of Sarah, Abraham’s wife and the mother of Isaac, Hagar was tossed in to the wilderness. But she was not cast out of the sight or hearing of God. God is the one who hears and sees.
Today’s scripture concerns another one who was in the wilderness, none other than Jesus himself. I invite you to turn to Matthew 4 and follow along.

Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. This first statement is just full of curiosities. Why would the spirit lead Jesus to be tempted by the devil? We can only guess because the scripture doesn’t even give us a clue. Maybe by the time we get to the end of this, we may have an idea. We do know that Jesus was alone. And we are told he fasted 40 days and 40 nights. This is a time frame that can be taken literally, exactly 40 calendar days and nights but it is highly significant for the ways its used in other places in the Bible: In the story of Noah, it rained 40 days and 40 nights and then Noah had to wait 40 days and 40 nights before he could leave the ark. Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days. The spies sent in to scout out the promised land stayed 40 days. Noah preached in Ninevah for 40 days. Elijah was in the wilderness for forty days. Jesus appeared for 40 days after his resurrection. The significance of 40 days is that it represents that God was doing something significant.

Jesus was led to be tempted by the devil. This is no ordinary foe. He is not a concept. He is real. And scripture tells us he is prowling the earth like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. He is still out there and he is still looking. Sometimes we don’t know how crafty he can be but Jesus foud out quickly because he started with food. After forty days, the devil knew he would be hungry.

Here is something that is very important to note right away: Jesus was human. He was God but in human form. He was hungry just like you and I get hungry. The temptations he faced were attractive to him, just as they might be to us. Don’t overlook the fact that Jesus was being severely tested.
The temptations of Jesus covered the entire realm of temptation. The first one is bread, representing the temptation to satisfy our physical needs. When we are hungry, its not wrong to want something to eat. The temptation is to fill our stomachs and not our souls. The bread that the devil offered gave temporary satisfaction and fulfillment. Jesus later said ”I am the bread of life. He who eats of this bread will never be hungry.” The bread Jesus offers is bread that lead to eternal fulfillment with him.

The second temptation, for Jesus to hurl himself from the top of the temple so that God would send angels to catch him is the temptation for us to make God some sort of puppet who jumps at our every command. Or to put it another way, make God prove himself to be God. Lets call this temptation the temptation of spiritual superiority.

The third temptation is that if Jesus would bow down and worship the devil, he would give him all of the kingdoms of the world. The first thing that crossed my mind is that “the earth if the Lords and the fullness thereof”. So this is a counterfeit promise. It wasn’t the devil’s to give. But we also know that the devil has been allowed to run this world. Jesus taught his disciples that they were not of this world and that we should not live as ones who belong to this world. So while it is our Father’s world, it has been stolen and like the counterfeiter he is, the devil is now trying to pass off stolen goods.

Lets look back at how Jesus met and overcame the temptations. To put it in a word, it was the Word. Jesus quoted scripture because it is the best defense he has. The scriptures he quotes come form various places in the Bible.
The first quote, “Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Its found in Deuteronomy 8:3. In that time the Israelites had just been fed in the wilderness and were about to enter the promised land, one flowing with mild and honey. God was telling them because their bellies would be full, their physical needs satisfied they would be tempted to forget God.

How true has that been through all of history! The churches in the world were never so full as they were in the Great Depression and World War II. After 9/11, church attendance spiked, but as the threat subsided or seemed to subside, to did attendance at worship. Call it fox hole religion. As long as we have what we need, who needs God?

Our gods become our things, our comforts and we fail to understand that all good gifts come from God. Worse yet, when we feel our needs aren’t being met, we put something or someone in God’s place. The most glaring example was Germany in the 30’s. When bread cost 2 months wages, the people turned to a false god: the government and a false god Adolph Hitler.

Jesus is the bread that came down from heaven and gives us bread that does not mold, does not go stale and satisfies the deepest hunger in our souls: the hunger for acceptance and to be loved.

The second scripture quote comes from Psalm 91 and surprise! Its not Jesus quoting scripture. It’s the devil himself. Listen to what the devil says “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”

Now listen to the scripture again, not as the devil quoted it but as it is written. “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Did you hear the difference? As long as our way lines up with God’s way, we will be protected. If its not clear what the way is just back up to the first verse of Psalm 91. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High and rest in the shadow of the Almighty…..” . And in verse 9, “If you make the Most High your dwelling, even the Lord, who I my refuge…..” Our way is God’s way when we dwell in Him. But when we go our own way the promise does not hold true. Satan knew this but Jesus knew better!

Let me caution us. Scripture in the right hands, used in the proper context and quoted accurately is the powerful weapon against evil we have. But it can also be used against us if we do not handle it properly. The devil knows scripture and to this very day can use it against us. For example, when some people are offended when a sin is pointed out in there lives, instead of asking for forgiveness and seeking to repent, what do they do? They misuse the following verses: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank that’s in your own eye? How can you say to your brother ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” I believe what Jesus was addressing here was don’t admonish someone for a sin when you are guilty of the same sin! He didn’t mean that we weren’t supposed to correct one another.

Peter summed it up in 2 Peter 3:16 when writing about Paul’s letter says “His letters contain some things which are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort as they do the other Scriptures to their own destruction.”

Returning to Matthew 4, the third quote of scripture comes from Jesus and is found in Deuteronomy 6:16 “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” In the Deuteronomy scripture, God is reminding them that at Messah, they were thirsty demanded that God prove himself by providing water to drink. He did, but He warned them not to put Him to the test again.

Have you ever prayed a prayer that started something like this: “Oh God, if you will just (fill in the blank), I promise I will (fill in the blank).” I know I have and it was wrong! Or have you ever had the thought that because I may have done something good whatever it may be or done something in the church over and above coming to Sunday School and worship that God should reward you? “Do not put the Lord your God to the test!”

The forth quote of scripture is again from Jesus and it comes from Deuteronomy 6:13: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”

Satan gives up. He is no match for Jesus. We read that the angels came and attended to Jesus. We should be ecstatic over the outcome! Had Jesus given in to one of these temptations, he would not have had to go to the cross. He would have established his kingdom but we would not have been reconciled to him. We would have been lost…forever… to Satan.

What hope does this offer us? Where does this matter to us? Hebrews 4:15 says it best. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin”. We have an excuse taken off the table. We cannot say “God just doesn’t understand!” He does! He has been in your shoes. And he cares!

If you think because you try to follow Jesus, that you have confessed your faith in him as Lord, that your troubles are over, that the devil won’t mess with you, you are wrong! Before you became a Christian, you were like Switzerland, you were neutral. But by professing belief in Christ, you have now become enemies, mortal enemies of Satan. You will find yourself under even greater attack!

What’s our defense? We have already talked about it. Its clearly defined in our second scripture lesson this morning and I invite you to turn to Ephesians 6. We are encouraged to put on God’s armor. We may be tough people but the problem is we can’t see out enemy. First of all, Satan is not some idea or something that existed only in Bible times. He’s alive and will be until the end of time. And because he’s in the heavenly realm we can’t see him coming. So we are told to take on the armor of God.

Of all the armor listed in this passage, the belt buckle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoed with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, there is only one that is an offensive weapon. All of the others are protection. The word of God is a sword. It can be used to attack or counter attack the devil in all his craftiness. When its use properly, the devil has no answer because it is truth.

That’s why we have Sunday school even for adults. That is why we have Wednesday night Bible studies. Its why we the ladies have a women’s Bible study. We can’t fight the battle unarmed. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

Let me go back for a moment. What does forty days mean to us? Lent is forty days. it’s the period the church sets as a time for personal reflection and repentance leading up to Easter Sunday. In the Bible, forty days signified that God was doing something transformational in the lives of his people. What about us? Are you in a wilderness? In the forty days of lent, is God doing something transformational in your life, in my life? Maybe you’ve been fighting a temptation for a long time and you aren’t sure how much longer you can resist. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we read “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so you can stand up to it.

Let me offer a word for us all. We have all given in to temptation at one time or another. But where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. Do not give into one of the devil’s lies that we are beyond forgiveness. During Lent, we make ourselves aware of just how desperately we need a Savior. May this Lenten season be special one for you!

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