Sermon for Sunday February 14th, 2016, the First Sunday in Lent

The Lessons: Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16;Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Romans 10:6-13; Luke 4:1-13

The Text: Luke 4:1-13

Theme: Recognizing and overcoming temptation by obedience to the Word of God


Kids who can wait for something do better in school.

That’s what Walter Mischel proved in an experiment in 1970 with four-year-olds. He would leave one child in a room with a bell and a marshmallow. If the child rang the bell, Mischel would come back and the child was allowed to eat the marshmallow. If the child waited for Mischel to come back on his own, the child could have two marshmallows.

In videos of the experiment, you can see children squirming, kicking, hiding their eyes – deliberately trying to exercise self-control so they could wait and have two marshmallows. Their performance varied widely. Some broke down and rang the bell within a minute. Others lasted fifteen minutes.

The children who waited longer went on to get higher SAT scores. They got into colleges and, on average, achieved more as adults. The children who rang the bell quickest were likely to become bullies. They received worse teacher and parental evaluations ten years later and were more likely to have drug problems at age thirty-two.

Mischel concluded that children may be taught “that it pays to work toward the future instead of living for instant gratification.”

– David Brooks, “Marshmallows and Public Policy,” The New York Times (May 7, 2006)


The account of the Lord’s temptations in the wilderness not only underscores the importance of delayed gratification, but also brings home the urgency of obedience to God’s word in all of life. Fasting for forty days aligned Jesus with the forty year wilderness wanderings of Israel, in which God taught Israel obedience. Both Moses and Elijah, who later appeared in conversation with Jesus at the transfiguration, had fasted for periods of forty days, the purpose of which was to hear the word of God. In such a time of fasting, Moses received the Ten Commandments to give the people of Israel (Exodus 24:18 & 34:28), and it was a time when Moses stayed in the presence of the Lord. Elijah also, in a period of deep introspection, went in the strength of food and water provided by an angel on his journey to Mt. Horeb, without any food or water thereafter for forty days and forty nights. There, at Mt. Horeb, God gives Elijah the direction he needs to take for the remainder of his ministry, and assures him that there are many left who remain faithful to the Lord.

Now Jesus Christ begins this journey into the desert, or wilderness, at the leading of the Holy Spirit, and it is recorded that Jesus was “full of the Holy Ghost,” that is, the Holy Spirit ruled his life completely and directed him in all he did. Being full of the Holy Spirit, he came into direct conflict with the Devil, who tempted him to try and cause him to be deflected from the priority of doing God’s will.

The first temptation is the attractiveness of turning stones into loaves of bread. Well, of course, it would be easier to eat bread provided in the desert, than to find locusts and snakes, and kill and eat them. For many of us, eating locusts and snakes is not a temptation at all. One of man’s basic needs is for food. Satan was using this basic need, and the deep hunger Jesus must have suffered to tempt him to use his divine power to transform stones into loaves of bread. It would have been a use of miraculous power to satisfy his own hunger.

Our Lord overcomes this temptation with God’s word to Israel that man shall not live on bread alone but by every word of God (Deut. 8:3). Job also testified to the word of God as sustenance when he said, “Neither have I gone back from the commandments of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12). Israel had to learn from her diet of manna in the desert, that God sustains her with his word more than he does with food. But this great insight concerning the primacy of God’s word for living a life pleasing to God did not come easily, but there were times of rebellion because of the scarcity of the variety of food the people of ancient Israel had eaten in Egypt when they were slaves. It was precisely through long periods of abstinence from such foods, and the very simple diet of manna and water, that the people had learnt the lesson of depending on God and his word more than on food.

In the second temptation, Satan offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in return for worshipping him. This is a temptation to the perversion of power. Besides that, there is the question whether Satan would really have given Jesus all these kingdoms if he had worshipped him. Many people have been deceived by these promises of the Devil, and have found only a life of bondage as a result, and eternal hell at the end of it.

This temptation Jesus again overcomes with the word of God, namely the command that one is to worship the Lord God and serve him alone (Deut. 6:13, 10:20). The very power that rulers want to exercise must be yielded to God first (Ps. 2:10-12). In overcoming this temptation, Jesus not only rejects the worship of Satan, but also the use of power that is not surrendered to God in worship first.

The third temptation is for Jesus to throw himself down from a pinnacle of the temple in the belief that angels will prevent him from being hurt or killed by this action. The Devil even uses Psalm 91:11-12 to persuade Jesus to do this foolhardy thing. For the third time, Jesus uses the word of God to overcome this temptation, quoting the command of God, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God,” which means, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut. 6:16). This is like trying to force the Lord’s hand to work a miracle for you.


Overcoming all these temptations showed Jesus Christ in full obedience to God’s word and in this obedience he could go forth in the power of the Holy Spirit to fulfill the ministry to which God had called him.

Fasting, solitude and quietness in the desert provided Jesus with the space and time necessary to discern and overcome all temptations of the Devil with the power of God’s word.

The Church, especially through the season of Lent, gives each of us the opportune time to draw close to God and to discern the temptations each must overcome. But each of us must decide on the extent of fasting or abstinence, as well as the times and spaces of solitude and quiet, which we need for accurate discernment of temptation, for hearing God’s word, and for overcoming temptation by means of it.

Will you make the time and space daily to be filled with God’s word and with the Holy Spirit, so as to overcome all temptation?

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