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What Would You Do?

2/12/2016 First Sunday in Lent The text is  Luke 4:1-13.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

It happened just a couple of weeks ago, on a Friday as I remember. But it’s happened so many times, it’s hard to separate one occasion from another. Kris and I were in a nice restaurant….alone, for a change. Most of the meal behind us.  Coffee and the check in front of us. When the waiter appeared before us and said: “Kindly allow me to tempt you with a little dessert.” Well, the desserts weren’t little. And, goodness knows, they weren’t cheap. As for the waiter, he was a nice chap in a nice tux with a haircut that completely hid his horns, and no sign of a red suit or pitch fork anywhere.

As to whether he could “tempt us,” I didn’t know.  But after he’d been so nice to us….and worked so hard for us….not to listen seemed somehow rude. And I work very hard to avoid being rude. So even though we were as satisfied as we were satiated, we indicated a willingness to listen politely, before refusing outright.

There was, of course, the carrot cake which he described as “sinful.” Next, he highlighted the crème caramel which he labeled “irresistible.” Which was followed by the Bavarian torte (layered with mousse) which he offered under the heading of “obscene.” And he concluded with the ever-obligatory brown thing known, in this restaurant, as “death by chocolate,” which (he told us) was “surely to die for.”

Uncertain as to when we had last updated our wills, we skipped the chocolate thing. But we did choose a little something….one little something….accompanied by two forks….with each of us convinced that we would (out of kindness, of course) take one bite and then shove the remainder in the direction of our spouse. Seven dollars and several seconds later, the dessert was gone…. the waiter was gone….and we were gone….still wearing a silly grin, as if to say: “We didn’t really need that. But it was good.”

This cute little story from sermons.com really shows us how we trivialize temptation.  We joke about tempting places like the dessert table and the shopping mall.  But real temptation is much deeper than that.  It has to do less with cheating on a diet than with facing evil forces at work in the world – forces that would turn us away from God and God’s will, and toward ourselves and our wants, needs and desires.

In the wilderness, Jesus comes face to face with this type of temptation as he faces the devil, the personification of the forces of evil.  Now, this is no little guy sitting on the left side with pitch fork, tail and horn, enticing him to make a poor choice.  And, there is no little guy with halo and wings on the right side, suggesting that he stay on track.  This is so much more than the temptations involving a Bavarian torte or a box of Valentine’s Day chocolates.  What Jesus faces is pure evil as he has a head on confrontation with the forces that try to pull him away from God and God’s will.  Jesus faces the forces of evil in life and death temptations.

What would you do, if you were in Jesus’ shoes, and you had no food and hadn’t eaten in days?  You’d beg.  You’d steal.  You’d scrounge around in the dumpsters.  You’d eat bugs if you could catch them or whatever green stuff you could find.  You might even kill or cannibalize like the survivors of the Donner party years ago when trapped by winter storms.  You would do something to fill your empty belly.  You would do something in order to prevent starvation.  And if, with a word you could change stones into bread, you’d do it in a heartbeat.   The forces of survival would overpower any socially acceptable norms.  They would overpower what you know to be right.  They would squelch anything you know about God’s law and promises.  For, survival is the basic instinct of all animals…and the type of hunger Jesus faces in the wilderness would reduce most of us to just that – animals.

Yet, Jesus refuses to allow his bodily needs to get in the way of God’s word.  He understands that survival involves more than filling a belly.  Our survival is rooted in God, the source of life and salvation.  For whether live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.  We do not live by bread alone.  Our lives need to be filled with faith and trust in God’s word, and the promise of God will sustain us beyond the here and now.  It will provide us eternal life.

With Jesus’ refusal to allow his bodily needs to get in the way of fulfilling God’s will, the devil tries another tactic.   He sees that Jesus is in the wilderness, alone, with nothing other than the clothes on his back and the sandals on his feet.  Jesus has no visible means to support himself.  So, why not offer him the world?  Why not offer him money, power and authority?  For who among us wouldn’t want to be wealthier than Bill Gates and Donald Trump combined?  Who would not want to live in the lap of luxury?  Who wouldn’t want people to do our bidding without question (especially in a world where most people can’t get their children to obey them – let alone others)?  Even though we know you can’t take it with you, many people would sell their soul for wealth and power – many would, but not Jesus.

Jesus refuses to worship money and power, and the evil that comes with it. He lives ina world where he has seen that absolute power corrupts absolutely.  And that hasn’t changed through the years.  We have seen its destructive power in the despots who have reigned – people like Hitler and Stalin.  We have heard of death camps and genocide and other atrocities.  It isn’t that money, in and of itself, is bad.  It isn’t that power and authority, in and of itself, is bad.  It is the evil that comes with worshipping these things that is destructive.  As people of God we are to “worship the Lord our God and serve only him.”  Our God is a jealous God and wants to be number one in our lives.  And where God is number one, love and mercy abound.

By now, you would think that the devil would have had his fill with tempting Jesus.  But, ah, the devil has one more temptation up his sleeve.  And this one is a sneaky one.  It deals with manipulating God’s word in such a way to get Jesus to toss himself off the pinnacle of the temple.

Too often, we see this type of temptation at play in our everyday life – a wife beaten by a husband who quotes the passage about being submissive to him; a man justifying staying with an abusive spouse because divorce is a no-no; a child kept behind closed doors because children should be silent.  We have seen the death that can result from the abuse of scripture in places like Jonestown, in the Branch Dividians, and other cults.  We have felt it through Muslim terrorists and Jihadists when the Koran has been abused in such a way. Even Hitler, a modern personification of evil, uses scripture to justify the Holocaust.

But Jesus knows better.  He knows God to be the source of life and not death and he knows enough not to test the God who provides all good things, so he refuses to be sucked into abusing God’s word.  And with this, the devil is finished.  The devil is finished with him for now….but the devil never gives up.

The devil never gives up.  Evil persists and temptations abound.  What will you do when temptation comes knocking at your door?  For, as a receptionist at a nursing home is quoted as saying, “The devil is busy.”   Mary Austin had never heard this phrase before hearing it from the receptionist, and she “found her answer charming. When we look at the sorrows of the world and the messes we get ourselves into, it’s easy to imagine a busy devil stirring up trouble behind the scenes.”

The devil doesn’t make us do it, but the devil knows what we find tempting.  Let us not give into temptation, but may we follow Jesus’ example and keep the love and promises of God as our way of life.  And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.




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