Summary: The temptation of Christ and how it helps us avoid or resist
Preached at St Johns, Billericay 9 March 2014
In Oscar Wilde's play “Lady Windemere's Fan” Lord Darlington says “I can resist anything but temptation”. It is said rather flippantly in the play, but for us it is a good starting point. Should we try to resist temptations, or should we just give in to them? That is the proposal in another of Oscar Wilde's plays - “The Picture of Dorian Grey”, where Lord Henry says “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.”. It is quite a contrast to the response that Jesus had when He was tempted.
Are you tempted? Do you recognise what Oscar Wilde is saying?
I have several temptations, one that I have suffered from for many years is the temptation to eat when it is not necessary, when I'm not hungry and it's not meal time. Just writing these words has made my stomach rumble! I have only recently tried to resist this, so I can say that yielding to temptation does not make the temptation go away.
Lets see what we mean by temptation.
According to the Oxford Dictionary a temptation is “The desire to do something, especially something wrong or unwise”. Other dictionaries add the concept of evil, so temptation is the desire to do some wrong, unwise or evil.
In the bible the word for tempting can also mean testing. I saw a good tweet the other day that illustrates this. “I didn't break it, I was administering a robustness test and it failed”.
I have started to resist the temptation because I have come to understand that it is unwise. My weight is beginning to affect my health, so in order to live a healthier life I must resist the temptation.
So let's take a look at the gospel passage we read in the light of those ideas and see where it takes us.
Jesus led to the Wilderness
After his baptism Jesus is led into the wilderness by the spirit to be tempted by the devil. He has just heard the words ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ Now He has to face a test, it is not a test that is intended to break Jesus, it is one that is intended to prove Him. To prove that He is up to the task of bringing salvation to mankind.
We must not miss the parallels with the Old Testament. God's chosen people faced the wilderness immediately after the triumph of escape from the Egyptians, and Jesus will face the wilderness after the triumph of hearing the heavenly voice.
For forty days in the Wilderness Jesus fasts, and Matthew says he was hungry. Forty days is about as much as anyone can fast without being in danger of serious health problems, or even death, so to say that Jesus was hungry was an understatement. He is weak when the devil attacks. So it is not surprising that the first temptation is about food.
Turn these stones into bread
Satan, or the tempter as he is called starts off with something like “Well so you're Jesus, the son of God. You sure look hungry. God doesn't want you to starve, he provides for your every need, and you have all the powers of God, so just turn these stones into bread and you will be satisfied”. Satan is not suggesting that there is any doubt that Jesus is the son of God, he is just suggesting that the son of God should not be in need of a good meal. We know that Jesus has the power to produce miraculous food from the stories of the feeding of the 5000 and the feeding of the 4000.
Jesus quotes part of Deuteronomy 8:3. It is part of the story of the Israelites in the wilderness. Here's the whole verse:
“He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
God fed the Israelites, even though they had not trusted him and had complained to Moses that they had left behind all the good food that was available in Egypt.
Jesus knows that his ability to perform miracles is not to be used to look after himself, for that He must trust in God just as those he has come to save must trust in God for their everyday needs.
Throw yourself off
Satan is clever. If Jesus wants to use scripture to defend himself, then Satan will use it to attack too. So Jesus is taken to the highest point of the temple, and invited to throw himself off. Satan is saying something like “OK, Jesus, you trust God, but how much do you trust God. Do you trust God with your life, even when its in immediate danger? Psalm 91 says that you should, so go on ...”