There is much to be said for temptation. If we were robots we’d just do what we were programmed to do, like the good little automatons we are and temptation wouldn’t be an issue. But we’re not unthinking robots, we’re not automatons and we make decisions every day. Some good, some not so good. Aggravating as being tempted by that last cookie on the plate may be, temptation keeps us aware that we’re not mindless zombies wandering across the face of the earth. Temptation is a reminder that we’re alive. A reminder that comes to mind every time I go to the grocery store and think, “Oooh, THAT looks good.”[audio http://www.buzzsprout.com/33052/238049-testing-testing.mp3]
(Click above to listen to the sermon podcast. The remainder of the sermon text follows. It approximates what is on the audio)
In today’s story we have the devil, the tempter showing up to offer some tempting things to Jesus. There is a lot of confusion about who Satan and the devil are and how they’re related. Today we tend to equate the devil and satan as the same entity and the cosmic form of evil. It hasn’t always been that way. In early old testament times the satan was seen as an ally of God. The satan was the tester and did the things that tested the soundness of creation. Testing is a good thing.
We’d be unhappy if medical people didn’t have to pass tests. The issue of other drivers would be even worse if we didn’t have some form of driver’s testing. In today’s text, the satan was something of a cosmic building inspector enforcing the Universe’s Building Code.
Now, no one really likes having to call on building inspectors, cosmic or otherwise, but we do have to be grateful to them. They’re the folks making sure that no one uses ‘creative’ and ‘electrical wiring’ in the same sentence.
So the cosmic building inspector comes to administer some testing to Jesus. The testing of Jesus isn’t about testing his faith. He is the Son of God, after all. His faith is perfectly fine. Actually, his faith is just perfect. So what did Matthew expect by sharing the story of the temptation of Jesus? It is on our behalf that he does so, that he shares the idea that Jesus was tested and passed with flying colors. It is the same reason that we like knowing that medical folks have done lots of testing and passed. It is the same reason we like knowing that our house has not been creatively wired. We are assured by the testing.
In the first test Jesus, who has been fasting for oh, 40 days!, is tempted to turn some rocks into bread so that he can have a snack. Seems like a reasonable thing to do. He hasn’t eaten anything in over a month so having something to eat would be simple. We even have a common word for this, breakfast. Break Fast.
The thing is, this is about more than food. Jesus could turn the stones into bread, have a beife snack and go on fasting and no one is really going to know too much about it. It’s just food, right? As a faith tradition we don’t have food laws but they can and do serve a purpose for people who observe them. They are a reminder of who they are as people of faith. Jesus’ refusal to eat is simply a statement of who he is and what he has committed to do.
In the second test, satan delves into the realm of the laws of nature. Now remember, Jesus is the Son of God but also the Son of Man. Fully divine and fully human, all at the same time. Which means that he too is subject to the laws of nature. He doesn’t get a pass on gravity.
It is important because it has been said far too often that anything is possible if you have faith. Jesus has enough faith for, well, anything but even he isn’t stepping off the side of the mountain. If he did, the fact that he is fully human would come into play and he is going to, as Jamie on Mythbusters says, “interact with the ground.” It would be something straight out of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.
Our takeaway is that our faith is just fine. It needs work, refinement and practice like anything but fundamentally, it is fine. We’re subject to the laws of nature and no amount of faith is going to change that. We don’t have terminal diseases because of a lack of faith and we don’t stay sick because of a lack of faith. We’re simply subject to the laws of nature like anyone else.
The third reassurance we hear from Matthew is about our need for revenge. Is there anyone here who has not wanted to get revenge on someone else for something they said or did, or perhaps we heard or thought they said or did?
Jesus has every reason to want revenge and here the devil is giving Jesus the ability to exact revenge on anyone he wants to by offering him all the kingdoms of the world. And he has ample reason to want revenge. We didn’t get into the story of the Slaughter of the Innocents a couple of weeks ago because Captive Free led worship that day but after Jesus was born and King Herod couldn’t find him, remember the Wise Men skipped going back to see Herod? Herod couldn’t find him and so ordered the death of all the kids 2 years and under in Bethlehem. Horrible man, Herod was. And so Jesus lost all of his cousins plus any adult who attempted to defend them.
He’s got pretty good reason to want revenge all these years later. And now he has the opportunity to get it. And….. He doesn’t.
In being presented with all these temptations and in his successful resistance of the devil we have the assurance that Christ really is who he is. Christ is the one who has come for us and he really is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior.
If we were unthinking robots, if we were mindless zombies none of this would matter. We’d just move along with our programming. But we’re not. We’re thinking creations of God and are reminded of this when we’re facing temptation. And when we are tempted we are also reminded that Christ, OUR Christ, passed the test.