Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
When Satan came to Jesus, He was undoubtedly at what we might consider the weakest. The body needs to be nourished, it needs to be fed to sustain it. They say that Ghandi, at 74, was able to last 21 days with only small drinks of water. Most substantiated studies show that by day 40 of not eating the body is pushed to the brink of what it can take, if one even survives that long. Yet, 40 days and 40 nights was how long the Christ stayed in the desert alone as He fasted, whatever energy His body received from His last meal long since spent.
Well acquainted with the human condition, Satan knew what the effects of Christ’s starvation would be. Bound by the same weaknesses of the flesh as any other man or woman who had walked this earth, as he appeared to the Son of God, he had to expect Him to be easily distracted. He had to imagine that, right then, right there, He would be the most open to manipulation. If there would ever be a moment that would cause this perfect propitiation for our sins to sin Himself, to recklessly abandon His cause and His course, it would be at this moment here and now.
If he could just, as he had in the Garden so many generations before, when the world was new and young, test the Christ, tempting Him with the promises of this world, and cause Him to stumble, to fall even for one moment, he would win. The age old contest between him and God, the seemingly eternal struggle he and God were locked in would finally be over as he laid hold of the Savior of humanity, and claimed Him as his own.
As he came to Him Satan didn’t necessarily come like we assumed he would, filled with hatred and contempt for God. Nowhere in the accounts of Scripture where the Temptation of Christ appears does he look upon God with apparent hostility or anger. Though he showed Him the kingdoms of this world in but the blink of an eye, promising Him dominion over them, nowhere does he take to Christ with the idea that He should somehow question His Heavenly Father or His purpose for Him. Just as Jesus Himself knew that a grim and harsh fate awaited the Lamb of God who was to be given as a sacrifice for humanity’s lost and fallen ways, yet there is no mention of that. Not once does he denounce God, or any part of His purpose, not a word about whether not the burden might be too heavy for Jesus to carry or that there might be something better for Him then what God intended.
No, instead he takes upon himself the words and the promises of God Himself, twisting them, altering them, changing them according to his deceptive design. (2 Corinthians 4:4) He uses them in such a way that it almost seems as if he is saying rely more fully on God, when, in truth, he is seeking to use vanity to get us to test God. (Matthew 7:15) His appeal is to a baser nature that would seek a God who is more magic than miraculous, and more genie then genius.
You can see it clearly in the tests and the temptations that he lays out. If you are the Son of God then command these stones to become bread that you may eat. Isn’t it God who supplies manna in the desert after all? Isn’t it God who cares for our needs and our wants? How could it be wrong of Him to turn the stones to bread when He hungered? Throw yourself off the cliff unto the rocks below. After all, doesn’t the Scripture promise that you have authority over the host of angels? Would they not protect you from the pain and the death? Just show me, right here, right now the instance of God’s boundless power and limitless love, give me that one sign of it and I will leave you be.
How often is that the temptation that presents itself in our life? How often do we hear that voice inside us or the call from others asking doesn’t God want you to have everything you want? Isn’t God there to prevent worldly harm from coming to you? Isn’t he there to ensure that you don’t have to face more than you can handle? Shouldn’t He give you dominion over the earthly so that nothing can harm or hurt you? After all, think of all the good you can do, all that you can do in God’s name if you have that. Human knowledge, human understanding can ultimately justify anything, and, once it does, learn how to attribute it to God and His divine plan and nature.
Though we are warned (2 Corinthians 11:3-4) it has become some prevalent, so universal in our culture that we don’t always recognize it for what it is from anymore. We live in a society that all too often, all too readily claims that God’s blessings are temporal, earthly blessings. We live in a society where we are told all God wants for us is to find happiness and He is there to spare us from any and all discomfort. Too often we are taught that life itself is a road map to success not to salvation as we are taught a feel good Gospel of health and wealth as if it were God’s divine and wondrous plan for us. It is stripped of all meaning and purpose as if we are to put God to the test, refashioning Him, as if nothing more than a Golden Calf, a sign of our worldly focus and love of worldly fortunes.
Yet faith in God, as so clearly demonstrated in the temptation of Christ, is not intended to be a life of comfort and ease, nor are His promises meant to be a self help book to guide you to worldly success and simple pleasures. Our faith, our trust in God is meant as a path to the greatest and most wondrous spiritual enlightenment there is, salvation in Christ Jesus, where our only true success lies as it opens a world to us beyond our vanity and our own base desires. It is a path to righteousness, far from the deceit of this world and its prince that seeks to offer us the stagnation of false comfort and fading hope.
Yes, this may mean that we are forced, throughout our journey through this world, to face troubles and trials that are more than we think we can handle, more than we believe it is possible to take on. In those moments that we are tested, God is tested with us as He shows that His grace will be sufficient for us and our salvation. (2 Corinthians 12:9) Our place isn’t to test Him further as if somehow He owes to us something beyond the promise of freedom and eternal life He has already delivered to us.
Our focus can’t be on the world and our worldly success because that’s not God’s focus. The world, with all its triumphs, comes and goes within an order of change that seems oblivious to our existence, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Even those promises made by the deceiver that cause us to stumble in his temptation are quickly eclipsed as we find that what we reach so hard for and try to hold on the tightest too can easily slip through our grasps.
Remember then, dear brothers and sisters, in good times and in bad, when struggles are near or when success is close at hand, God promises us more than this world. Yes, we all wander through the desert, weak in this world, hungry for true nourishment. This is how the devil finds us and seeks to work his will upon us, presenting us with temptation, hoping we will eat of his poisonous fruits (Matthew 24:24) before we see the feast of joy and salvation the Lord lays out for us. In this our place is to humbly trust our God and His plan for us, to set aside the temptations of our own vanity and to go back to His Word with each and every promise that seems too focused on this world, to truly understand what God is saying to us. It is to see past the deception of those who would twist Scripture, verse by verse, to fit their purpose and their meaning rather than God’s true heart, and to understand that He truly and rightly intends more for us and our lives.
Remember that eternal joy isn’t transient comfort or temporary ease. It is a heart that comes to the Lord and says “As you will”, not “as I want.” Once we realize that we can truly put temptation behind us as we come to our God with a heart given to a sincere trust and a soul that will follow wherever the Spirit may lead.
Lord, grant this unto us all.
Now may the peace of the Lord that transcends all human understanding keep your hearts and souls, spirits and minds in Christ Jesus even unto life everlasting. Amen.