Sermon for Sunday March 5th, 2017, the First Sunday in Lent
Lessons: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Topic: The Temptations of Christ
Many people live as if temptation were not part of their everyday reality, since we live in an age where self-indulgence of every kind has become a way of life, and few people know the benefits of a spiritually self-disciplined life. One can live a self-disciplined life in terms of ordinary rules, like getting up early and arriving at work on time, but a Christian is called to a life of true spiritual discipline, in which loving God wholeheartedly is the most important goal. As we begin our Lenten journey, and we consider the Gospel lesson of the Temptations of the Lord Jesus Christ, we must realize the clarity of perception that the Lord Jesus Christ had both about Satan and his temptations. He could see Satan for who he is and his temptations for the distorted view of reality that they are.
In this story, perception is certainly not as clear:
In a Twilight Zone episode from 1960, an American on a walking trip through Central Europe gets caught in a raging storm. Staggering through the blinding rain, he sees an imposing medieval castle, which is a hermitage for a brotherhood of monks. The reclusive monks reluctantly take him in.
Later that night, the American discovers a cell with a man locked inside. An ancient wooden staff bolts the door. The prisoner claims he is being held captive by the “insane” head monk, Brother Jerome. He pleads for the American to release him.
The prisoner’s kind face and gentle voice win over the American. The American confronts Brother Jerome, who declares that the prisoner is Satan, “the father of lies,” held captive by the Staff of Truth, the one barrier he cannot pass.
That convinces the American that Jerome is indeed mad. As soon as he gets the chance, he releases the prisoner – who immediately transforms into a hideous horned demon and vanishes in a puff of smoke.
The stunned American is horrified by what he has done. Jerome responds sympathetically. “I’m sorry for you, my son. All your life you will remember this night and whom you have turned loose upon the world.”
“I didn’t believe you,” the American replies. I saw him and didn’t recognize him,” to which Jerome responds: “That is man’s weakness and Satan’s strength.”
Now one of the goals we should have in imitating Christ by facing and overcoming temptation, is the clear perception of the Lord Jesus Christ in knowing the truth of God’s word, and knowing Satan’s lies in contrast to the truth of God’s word.
THE TEMPTATIONS OF CHRIST, MATTHEW 4:1-11
When the Holy Spirit led the Lord Jesus Christ into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, he was not unnecessarily expose him to danger and evil. The Holy Spirit knew that Jesus would perceive clearly who Satan was, and resist him in the Spirit’s power, using the word of God.
We should note that Satan does not tempt Jesus until Jesus has fasted forty days. All the minor temptations Jesus could easily overcome, but the more one fasts and prays, the greater the temptations lie ahead, but the greater also, the spiritual victory when one overcomes them. Often I have heard people say, “I am starving,” when all they had missed was one meal, or it had only been four hours since breakfast. When Scripture records that Jesus was “an hungered” after forty days of fasting, he was really hungry. Satan, knowing this, presents his first temptation as the possibility of turning stones into bread. The stones that littered the wilderness looked like small round loaves of bread in shape, size, and color. Breaking the fast prematurely would have been an act of disobedience, and a breach of trust in God to fulfill even the human need for sustenance. Jesus answered this temptation using words from the Book of Deuteronomy, where Moses tells the people of Israel God’s purpose in allowing them to suffer hunger in the desert and in feeding them with manna. This purpose was that they might learn that man does not live on food only, but by every word that God speaks.
In the second temptation, the devil takes Jesus into Jerusalem and sets him on a pinnacle of the temple, and urges him to throw himself down. The devil even quotes from Ps. 91 to prove that God’s angels will prevent him from being harmed if he falls. The temptation was to risk his life and expect God to save him miraculously. Again, Jesus replies from the Book of Deuteronomy, with the words, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” These words were issued as a command to Israel not to test God, as they did at Massah, when they demanded that Moses provide them water to drink. This was an act of unbelief, because they did not trust God to provide for their need.
In the third temptation, Satan offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and promises to give them all to him if he falls down and worships him. Jesus’ reply again reminds the reader of God’s call to Israel to worship and serve him alone, as the Book of Deuteronomy records. This is the height of all temptations – the temptation to worship Satan. Victorious over this, Jesus now commands Satan to leave him. As soon as Satan goes, angels come and minister to him. This could mean that the angels brought Jesus food, or else that they refreshed him in some other way.
LESSONS TO BE LEARNT FROM JESUS’ VICTORY OVER TEMPTATION
One of the principal lessons that Christians can learn from this passage is that prayer and fasting help one to recognize Satan and his temptations, and to resist them victoriously. For the man who had been feasting instead of fasting, the first temptation would hardly have been a temptation, nor would the changing of stones into bread even have been necessary.
Secondly, we need to resist Satan with determination to do the will of God at all times.
Thirdly, we must resist Satan with the word of God, the Bible. Ephesians 6:17 calls it the “sword of the Spirit.” If we do not fight our spiritual battles with the sword of the Spirit, we cannot fight effectively, wrote Bishop J.C. Ryle. He notes that the Bible will do us no good unless we actually read it and pray over it, becoming familiar with its contents, and learning important texts.
By the end of this Lent, will you have become more prayerful and watchful, more spiritually observant, more determined to do God’s will, and more knowledgeable of God’s word, the Bible?