Friday, February 8, 2008

Matthew 4:1-11 - Sermon - Lent 1 (The Oldest Sin)

Matthew 4:1-11
The Oldest Sin

Being a youth minister was hard work. It was hard work because it is very difficult to teach High School Students anything new. Once a youth gets to be about 17 or 18 they realize that they know everything and that their leaders don’t. This can be lead to frustrating conversations at time. This one conversation we had during our youth meeting really still gets me going and frustrated. The idea of the talk was to talk about drugs and sex, some of the major temptations for teenagers. The conversation started out by defining temptation. It went down hill quickly after that.

The youth leader leading the discussion that night attempted to define temptation as the desire to have or do something that you know you should avoid. This got some of the youth thinking and then one of them proposed that temptation is not always bad. He suggested you could be tempted to do something good. Then many of the other seniors started to agree with him. They started to list examples such as you can be tempted to pray in school. I could see where they were going but us adults, tired to let them know that they were using the word in the wrong context. They won’t have it, remember they know everything.

We gave them a couple of other sources on the definition but that didn’t help. Temptation means solicitation to that which is evil. They tried to convince us that we were listening to only what ‘the man’ was telling us the word meant and that we as adults need to broaden our minds to accept grander views of the world around us. Try as we might we could not convince these seniors in high school that temptation is a bad thing and we really never got to the topic of sex and drugs. That is what we get for trying to conform to ‘the man.’ I was tempted to do a lot of things that night, like smacking them upside the head, but I didn’t. But the temptation was there.

In Divinity School we had a first year group that met with a spiritual leader in the community. The lady that met with our group was wonderful and very enlightening. She told us of her spiritual journey through 40 days of fasting. She took Jesus’ life in the desert to heart and tried to experience what Christ went through out there in the desert. Fasting is one of the spiritual disciplines that can renew your mind, your spirit, and give you a deeper walk with God. Moses fasted for 40 days when he was writing down the 10 Commandments. Daniel and David fasted and so did many of the prophets. Paul and members of the early church committed to this idea of fasting. And I just read in the beginning of this scripture that Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights.

My spiritual leaders in Divinity school walked us through her journey. She said it was an astonishing and surreal experience. Her body went through changes and her mind did as well. She told us the first couple weeks were hard. It took a while to get use to the feeling of hunger, a feeling us Americans are really not that use to. It would wake her up at night and food would be the only thing she would think about. To combat this she would spend time in prayer, reading the Bible and journaling the experience. Then during weeks three and four she hit her stride and although weaker was able to do much of her daily tasks. Week five though it hit her like a ton of bricks. After a month without solid food and only water and juice every so often, her body was starting to shut down. She would lie on the couch for days and not be able to move. She couldn’t concentrate on the television or conversations with people. She said she would go into modes of dreams and wouldn’t know whether she was asleep or awake. The last couple of days she didn’t know where she was or couldn’t stay awake for long periods of time.

It was during those last days, that Satan showed up and tempted Jesus. In one of the most understated verses in the Bible, verse 2 says, After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. Well duh he was hungry; the man hadn’t eaten in forty days. I get hungry about every 40 minutes, and I cannot imagine what is like to fast for that period of time. It was in the weakest moments that temptation reared its ugly head. It was when time seemed to stand still because of the bodies limitations that so called opportunity came knocking.

I am not sure what you gave up for Lent or what you decided to add but I hope you are doing well in the first 4 days. We live in a world in which temptation is all around us and Lent is the perfect time to remind ourselves that we are not of this world but we are apart of the world to come. To live out 40 days of self denial is not a bad thing in a land of few denials. We are surrounded by commercialization that tells us what we should want. We should all want new cars, TVs, the newest cereal, or to go see the newest movie. Not only that but we should be eating this food or that food or drinking this soda or this one. We should be enjoying life and swallowing it all and as much as we can. Temptation is all around us.

A man and his wife were at the mall and checking out one of those kiosks in the middle of the mall. While his wife was looking at something the husband noticed a woman walking towards them. This was a very attractive woman, a very curvy woman, a woman wearing a skin tight dress that left almost nothing to the imagination. Needless to say the man’s eyes followed her as she walked by. Without looking up his wife called out, “I hope it was worth the trouble you are in.” Temptation is all around us.

We are human beings and we give into temptation all the time. I would be hypocritical to tell you that to be a Christian means that you can say no to every temptation that comes your way. Should you give into every temptation? NO, we should always try to do what Christ has done. Yet, we have moments in life when we do give in. We give into temptation because of original sin. Original sin is the first sin, which brought sin into the world. It was when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit that God told them not to eat. After this all of humanity and the entire world has been tainted with sin. Nothing we or creation do is apart from our sinful nature. We still have good qualities but like Charles Wesley’s hymn says, we have “sin soaked souls.”

Erwin Lutzer writes in his book Putting Your Past Behind You, Here’s Life, that John Piper says that sin “gets its power by persuading me to believe that I will be more happy if I follow it. The power of all temptation is the prospect that it will make me happier. That is what faced Adam and Eve in the garden that day. The serpent told them for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. You will be like God. You will be like God. That is at the core of the oldest sin. Adam and Eve wanted to be like God. That is what temptation offers us. Temptation offers us that “fill in the blank” will make us happier, will make us stronger, will make us wiser, will make us more like God.

We all want to be like God because God is all knowing, all powerful, everywhere all at once. God is God and we think that would be wonderful. I love the movie Bruce Almighty where Bruce Nolan is endowed with all the powers of God. He thinks it is great and uses all his new powers selfishly. But soon he realizes he cannot handle the responsibility and all of Buffalo, NY goes crazy because of it. We might think we would like to be God and we may do things that give us the ability to think we can, but we truly cannot do the job. The main reason is because we cannot say no to temptation. It will always get the best of us at some point, because we are human, and we are sinful.

Lucky for us God loved us too much than to keep us in this state. He sent his Son to take our place and to make up for all of our faults. When Jesus has not eaten for forty days and forty nights the devil shows up and offers him three ways out. When Jesus is so weak and so broken due to this spiritual journey in the desert, the serpent shows up and offers some delicious looking fruit.

Knowing that Jesus is hungry the devil tells him if you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread. Jesus is offered or maybe reminded that he could solve his hunger issue. He could have control of the resources of the world because he is the Son of God. If Jesus did this he would have been like God. Where we would say yes, Jesus says NO.

Then the tempter says, If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: '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.' Once again the devil reminds Jesus that it is all within his power to test God. Yet if he does and God does save him, that means he has power over God. Where we would say yes, Jesus says NO.

Finally the devil offers him everything. He could control the world. He could be a political power unlike the world has ever seen. All this I will give you, he said if you will bow down and worship me. Ultimate power, ultimate control, ultimate riches could all be his. He could be God in the eyes of all humanity because of his wealth and power. Where we would say yes, Jesus says NO.

The power of the story of Jesus’ temptation is that he says no. He says no three times. If we think honestly about ourselves, we probably would not have said no each time. If we didn’t eat for forty days and forty nights, we may want to turn rocks to bread. There are times in our lives when things don’t go the way we would like and we constantly ask God to show himself in order that we can believe. We constantly test God. Many of us, if offered everything, would take it. That is the American dream. That is what we are told we desire. We want it all and we want it now. We all think that we could play the role of God better of God. We think that because we are soaked in sin and stuck in our humanity. We convince ourselves all the time temptation is not a bad thing. So we give in over and over and over again. We are human and we can’t say no, but thank God, Jesus did.

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