Text Matthew 4:1-11
While it is true that our Lord was tempted in every way as we are, yet did not sin, we cannot say that the opposite is true. Let me speak just for myself. I have not been tempted as He was and yet I have sinned.
Jesus was tempted to turn rocks into bread. I tried to bake bread once and managed to turn it into rocks. I have never been tempted to misuse my power over nature because I don’t have any.
I am deathly afraid of heights. A few years ago Beth and I toured the Cathedral in Florence and without thinking I decided that we should get in line and take a tour of the dome. I didn’t realize that meant that we would walk up dozens of flights and then out on a catwalk on the INSIDE of the dome. We were so high up that the people on the Cathedral floor looked small. When I realized that the concrete catwalk we were on was built in the Middle Ages, I nearly had a heart attack. We could not get down fast enough. So I’m thinking there is no way that the devil could get me to the pinnacle of the temple to begin with.
And what about the whole world bowing down to me? I can’t even get my dogs to listen to me, so there is no real temptation there. So no, I have not been tempted as He was and I doubt that few if any have. But that does not mean that this temptation story is irrelevant to us. I would argue just the opposite. This story demonstrates clearly why He is the One to whom we turn, not only during this penitential season, but also at all times.
If we are not tempted in the exact manner that Jesus was tempted, then in what ways are we tempted? One of the greatest privileges I have been given was to be a representative to the Convention in Texas that founded the Anglican Church in North America. The day before we met to establish our Canons and Constitutions we caucused to see what we were facing. When I asked the Bishop what the sticking points might be that would prevent us from coming together as one body, he described a number of them. As I thought about the points of disagreement it dawned on me that it was the usual unholy trinity of power and sex and money. Years ago I heard a Bishop say that about all of the problems in the Church fall into one of those three categories and I believe. They come up so frequently that I would suggest to you that they are common to us all. So lets put the skunk on the table and talk about them.
Power. In one sense we share in Jesus’ temptation here because He was being tempted to misuse His power. Of course we do not have the supernatural power that He was being tempted to misuse but we are tempted with power nonetheless. What is the famous truism? Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Last November the Congressional Approval Rate fell to 9%. 9%! Why are 91% of us so unhappy with our governing officials? In part because rather than doing what is best for us, the people they are supposed to serve, they are up there locked in a power struggle like a couple of bucks in rutting season.
Consider what is going on now with Russia and the Ukraine? What is the revolution in Syria about? Professor Joshua Goldstein of International Relations.com had identified 13 major wars that are going on around the globe at this moment. He is not referring to minor skirmishes, but wars where thousands are dying. And in most if not all cases it boils down to power and control.
But this is not just a problem of governments; it is also a problem of the Church. One of the more surprising discussions we had at the Convention I just mentioned was rather or not Bishops were necessary. It never dawned on me that we would try to be Anglicans without Bishops but some low church folks were trying to take us there. The goal was, if not to get rid of them, at least to make them almost irrelevant. I reminded them that Ignatius of Antioch, who was a disciple of John the Evangelist said, “Do nothing without the Bishop.” So first century Christians certainly saw them as necessary. But what was this discussion really about? It was a struggle over power between clergy and laity.
Let me take this to a more personal level. What are so many of our own interpersonal conflicts about? What are so many marriage problems about? What negatively consumes so much time and energy in your office or in your business? A struggle over control. And how old is this temptation? “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it you eyes will be opened and you will be like God…”
If the temptation of power is that old and that universal how can we hope to resist it? We do so in two ways. First by acknowledging that both in the 40 days of Jesus’ temptation and through the Cross and Resurrection, Jesus Christ broke the power of Satan. Until He freed us we were slaves to sin but no longer. The cartoons paint a picture of us as having a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, with both powers being equal. That is a false image. We may indeed have a little devils on our shoulders but we have been filled with the Holy Spirit and we stand under the shadow of the Cross. The powers of good and evil are not equal in our lives. God is mighty to save. The Bible says, “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.”
The second way we resist the temptation of power is to follow in the footsteps of our Lord and like Him become servants. In his letters St. Paul would call himself an Apostle but He would also refer to himself as “doulos” which is a servant or slave. When the disciples were arguing over who was the greatest, Jesus took up a towel and washed their feet. We avoid power struggles when rather than pulling on our end of the rope we drop our end of the rope and we pick up a towel.
The second universal temptation is sex. I don’t think I need to take any time to convince you how prevalent that temptation is. It even in our commercials, which makes me wonder if the ad agencies understand how the mind of a man works. They put some gorgeous blond on a truck commercial but after the commercial is over, if you asked the typical guy if it was a GM or Dodge that they were advertising, he would have no idea.
As important as it is for us not to be driven by lust, it is important to clarify Jesus’ teaching about it so we don’t live under false guilt. In his book, The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard points out that Jesus says if a many looks at a wife to lust after her, he has already committed adultery. The key here is why he is looking at her. If it is in order to lust after her, then it is a sin. But that is very different from finding another person attractive or even being sexually attracted to them. Those are built in reactions that God has placed in us. That’s chemistry. It is what we do with those reactions that can be sinful. Martin Luther had a saying, “You can’t keep a bird from flying over your head but you can keep it from making a nest in your hair.”
How do we keep the bird out of our hair? We follow what Jesus modeled for us when He refused to turn the rocks into bread. In doing this He declared that He was not governed by His passions, wants and needs but rather He was governed by the Word of God. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
If you think about it then you will realize that this is a more dignified way to live. In our over-sexualized culture you would think our appetites are all that we have. But as Christians we have higher standards than that. We are children of God not alley cats! Time magazine had a lead article a few years ago stating that science has discovered that men are not genetically wired to be monogamous. Well I may not be genetically wired to be monogamous but the Word of God tells me I had better be if I want to enter the kingdom of heaven. And Beth Kasch tells me I better be if I don’t want to get there sooner than I expected.
The third universal temptation is money. It is noteworthy how much Jesus taught about it, used it as illustrations and warned about its misuse. People all the time misquote the Bible as saying that money is the root of all evil when in fact it says it is the LOVE of money that is the root of all kinds of evil. It is said that half of divorces are over money. Think of the risk of life that criminals are willing to undergo for it as they sell drugs or rob or steal. Credit Card Breach Fraud has increased 320% between 2010 and 2012. Love of money is a great problem.
Notice what Jesus talks about when He warns about the temptation of money. His warning has to do about protecting our hearts so that money is not what we treasure. He said, “For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.” His warning has to do about what we trust. Our trust is not to be in our bank accounts and our 401K’s. Even our money tells us where our trust is to be!
You hear folks all the time speak of “the Almighty dollar” which sounds like an idol, and sadly for many it is. The question is how do we make the dollar no longer almighty?
Jesus gives us the answer when He preaches about it. The dollar is no longer almighty when we see how vulnerable and how temporary it is. Jesus describes earthly wealth as something that moths and rust corrupt and thieves break in and steal. Do you really want a god that moths can eat or that needs a regular shot of WD40? Do you really want to trust in something that is so easily taken from you? Of course not.
The antidote to the temptation to worship “Almighty Dollar” is not poverty. The antidote is to store up true riches in heaven, a place that is free of moths, rust and thieves. The antidote is to replace temporary earthly riches with permanent heavenly riches. God wants us to be rich, but as 1 Timothy 6 tells us, we are to be rich in love and good deeds. We store up treasures in heaven when we take care of the widows and orphans. We store up treasures in heaven when we do it unto the least of these His brethren. We store up treasures in heaven when we use our earthly treasures to promote the kingdom of God, that kingdom that we are to seek above all things.
I saw a most moving video on You Tube last week. A documentary guy arranged with a minute market owner to pretend that a lottery ticket was a winner and to give out the money. He then went to a homeless man and told him that he didn’t have any cash but he thought that he had a winning lottery ticket and wanted to give it to him. The homeless guy said, “Are you sure man.” The other said, “Yes” and they went together to turn in the ticket. The minute market owner pretended to check it and said, “You are a winner” and he counted out for the homeless man ten $100 bills. At first he was just frozen. He didn’t touch the money. He just kept saying, “Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?” Then when he was handed the money the first thing he did was to count out half of it and try to give it to the documentary guy. The documentary guy asked him, “What are you doing?” The homeless man said, “I want to share.” The documentary guy refused the money and the homeless man said again, “I want to share.” After it was clear to him that the documentary guy would not take the money the homeless man embraced him and they both broke down in tears. It made me wonder if Ray Kasch’s first act would be to share like the homeless man. Somehow he had become so free of the love of money that his basic instinct was to share. If someone who has nothing can be free of the love of money surely we who have way more than we need can be free also.
I know we all feel strapped at times but here are some startling facts that come from an organization called Remember the Poor.
• If you made $1,500 last year, you’re in the top 20% of the world’s income earners.
• If you have sufficient food, decent clothes, live in a house or apartment, and have a reasonably reliable means of transportation, you are among the top 15% of the world’s wealthy.
• If you earn $25,000 or more annually, you are in the top 10% of the world’s income-earners.
• If you have any money saved, a hobby that requires some equipment or supplies, a variety of clothes in your closet, two cars (in any condition), and live in your own home, you are in the top 5% of the world’s wealthy.
• If you earn more than $50,000 annually, you are in the top 1% of the world’s income earners.
This means ½ of Americans are in the top 1% and yet when you teach about tithing Americans act like God is asking the impossible. If we can’t tithe then no one can and yet Christians all over the world tithe and do more. We will never get there until we are free from the love of money.
Okay enough about the skunk on the table. Let me end by making this suggestion. If you agree with me that these three temptations are that prominent in our lives, wouldn’t it make sense, during this penitential season, to seek victory over them? Wouldn’t it make sense to ask the same Lord, who triumphed over His enemy to give us that grace to triumph over ours? And can’t you imagine that is exactly what He longs to do for us? Amen.