Summary: The temptations of Jesus show the pattern of our spiritual growth
THE MOUNTAIN OF TEMPTATION
TEXT: Matthew 4:1-11
We have a lot of jokes about temptation... “I can resist anything but temptation,” is a common phrase in all circles...religious and non. I think we do that because we’re nervous. We know it’s not just funny, but true, and maybe by making light of giving in to temptation, it won’t matter quite so much.
Let me say first that there is a lot of misplaced guilt in the world. People talk with me feeling guilty for all sorts of things that are not their fault, and as a society we have recognized that. What we are not so good at doing is recognizing that guilt over something we have actually done wrong...guilt over giving in to temptation and falling into sin...is entirely appropriate, and even helpful. There is no forgiveness until we recognize guilt...how can we repent of something we don’t realize was wrong?
So, I want to encourage you to hear the balance in this sermon...to look at your own life and see what applies and what doesn’t. That’s what spiritual growth is all about. Applying what fits and putting aside what doesn’t. The story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is a rich one, and it is no accident that it is the first thing he encounters in ministry. Jesus is baptized, and no sooner is he out of the water than the Spirit of God leads him out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
It is an initiation rite of sorts and, in keeping with the theme for the summer, it takes him up a mountain. I would like to invite you to see the whole temptation process as the climbing of a mountain. With each of the three temptations, Jesus moves physically higher and higher as the tests get harder and harder. Finally, he beats them all and the angels of God meet him on top of the mountain to replenish his strength.
The specific temptations he beats are not ones we often encounter. Even if we were hungry enough to want rocks to become bread, there are few of us who could make them edible. It’s not a temptation because we couldn’t really do it. As for the second temptation, aside from a few of us with Super Hero fantasies, we are not likely to be jumping off of tall buildings either.
The final temptation might sound a bit more familiar, because there is actually Satan worship in this area. We might be mad enough at God to decide we want to flirt with Satanism, or we might give in to peer pressure. Honestly, I would rather have you become an atheist...Satanism is dangerous, cruel, and will suck the life out of you.
And please, don’t go telling your kids that liking Harry Potter is satanic. If you do that, they will grow up not being able to tell the difference and are all the more likely to get suckered in. The only thing akin to Satanism in Harry Potter are the practices of Voldemort, who Harry is trying to battle at every turn...as he should. If your child is identifying with Voldemort, get help. If the child wants to be Harry or his friends, be grateful and learn to like owls. Get off Harry’s case and spend your energies battling the real thing. So we have some connections with this third temptation, but I don’t think that is referring only to Satanism.
I think all three temptations are examples of larger issues that face us all. Those larger issues were just made very specific for the person of Jesus, just like they are made very specific for each one of us...according to our abilities and personalities. Conquering them is like climbing a mountain...it gets rougher as you get toward the top, and it takes a lot of effort.
At the bottom of the mountain is the first type of temptation. For Jesus it became the opportunity to turn stones into bread. I think the larger type of temptation is our general tendency to try to get nourishment from the wrong places. The prophet Isaiah asks Israel in chapter 55, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread? And why do you work for things that don’t bring you any satisfaction?” The tendency to do that is the first level of temptation. In that category are most of the things that society generally terms “temptation,” the addictions of our lives that we turn to, but which never satisfy our real hunger...drugs, sex, shopping, alcohol, tobacco, the habits of lying or cheating or stealing, the need to take extreme risks to get an adrenaline rush. They are all stones that we are trying to turn into bread that will feed us.