The Story of Temptation
First Sunday in Lent – 03-05-17 – Cycle A
Scripture – Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
There once were no people on our planet named Earth. God had created the heavens and the earth out of the chaos. Other aspects followed. You know. Light appeared, then Darkness. Plants appeared. Animals followed. Then God said, “ We are not finished. We need people in our image. And so humans appeared from dust! Dust! Yes, dust, name of Adam. Then Adam lost a rib so that Eve could be a partner – a very special partner. Adam declared, “Here is someone like me! She is part of my body, my own flesh and bones. She came from me, a man. So I will name her Woman!” We know her as “Eve.” Dandy! Everything was fine and dandy. But, then temptation reared its ugly head. You know. The snake, personifying evil.
Life changed for our Adam and Eve. Justifying the crime did not work. God would have none of that. A rule is a rule is a rule. The rule had a purpose. God is in control. No one else. The man and the woman were condemned. Is there no reprieve? The reprieve is on hold for centuries. In that one act of disobedience, sin had gotten a stronghold on humans. Children arrived. One son murdered the other son. No matter how we feel about God’s part in that episode, the truth is one son killed the other son. It was not an accident.
On and on it goes. These human creations knew no bounds. Humans thought some ways of living were too good to leave alone. Finally, things got so bad that the flood came. “Yes,” said God, “we will start over with one family and of course we will keep the sinless animals.” So, away went all living things except whomever and whatever was in the ark.
A new beginning! Don’t we wish we could try our lives again. Well, maybe you made good choices all the way from Day 1. Good. I definitely envy you. Let’s just say that I wish I could have a second chance at choices from Day 1. It won’t happen. We get one opportunity to cling to God. We get one chance to do it right. Does that mean condemnation? Stay tuned.
Let us visit a person named Paul. He had been called Saul when he was persecuting Christians with a vengeance. He was an outstanding, practicing Jew in the time of Jesus. He thought God wanted him to squelch this “Jesus Movement.” However, God grabbed Saul. God transformed Saul. God put the light of Christ into Saul’s life who from then on is called Paul. Did you notice that God did not rain down fire on Saul? God had plans for this new person called Paul. God rained “grace” on Paul. Free grace. Grace that brings freedom. Grace that steps around judgment. A transforming grace. An enabling grace.
Now Paul was enabled to use his determination and strength to reach the world with this new-found understanding. When we are excited about something, we rarely can keep it to ourselves. We need to share it. We need to share the secret – an open secret. This God-in-control is a God- of-blessing. God uses us in our weakness. God draws us into big things for God’s work.
This Paul was used by God to start many new churches around the Mediterranean Sea. After he started each congregation, he moved to another city to start another congregation then he settled for writing letters to each congregation; some were encouraging letters, some were scolding letters. In our Romans passage today, Paul is explaining a frequent occurrence in the story of the Bible. Old Testament characters are matched with New Testament characters in meaningful, striking ways. Adam is matched with Jesus.
Adam’s one sin apparently brought all of us under God’s judgment. Jesus action of obedience on the cross freed us from that judgment. Jesus brought God’s grace to our burning souls. Soothing, healing grace. We may be declared righteous many times over, as often as we fall, as deep is the fall! Amazing, is it not? We can rise and shine and give God the glory! We can shed all of the guilts which are living in our hearts and minds. True freedom this is! Clean as a whistle. An honest-to-goodness new person.
Through Moses, God gave rules to us, good how-to-live commandments. Through Jesus, God gives us love; deep agape love; light, ethereal love.
“Oh,” we say, “We need not be concerned about living away from the commandments because God will always forgive us.” Not so. The goal is to follow the commandments as much as humanly possible. Why should we even care? Because the commandments are good. If we will only focus on a good world, good things will start to happen. This world would have food enough for everyone, a sanitary existence, enough water for healthy living, where fear is minimal, where all human life is respected and given dignity. We would see each person developing into the person God planned for him or her to be.
So we work on this with a vengeance. But will it make us virtuous, free of sin, redeemed? First of all, we may be developing a real solid hatred for a bunch of “world leaders.” Second, we may become weary. We may want to crawl in a hole and forget the whole goal. What a crazy project, we start to say. Would it not be nice to chase fun instead of chasing a fair world for all people?
I had a wonderful Greek teacher who gave us credit for every little thing we got right. I definitely benefitted from that method. I never got the whole idea correct. In my opinion, that was grace. I can picture God giving us credit for everything little thing that we do with mercy and kindness. Should I also say that God gives us a minus for each time we hurt someone – accidentally or on purpose as an automatic revenge for being hurt ourselves? God could probably handle that task, just as God can handle all of our prayers at the same time; just as God protects all of us at the same time. But that method would be beneath God. God is love, not an accountant.
You know how God sent Jesus to earth so we could see and hear God in the flesh. We are to believe that Jesus did experience temptation; that Jesus felt pain, that Jesus became hungry, that Jesus needed to sleep; that Jesus was human. It is tempting to think that Jesus could resist all of the temptations which the devil delivered to him in our Matthew 4 passage today because he was, at the same time, a vital part of God, one of the three persons of God. But let’s give the benefit of the doubt in the slant that Jesus had to overcome temptation because the things that were being offered to him were ones that are tempting to humans: food, power, protection.
Jesus quotes Old Testament (Hebrew) commandments to resist these appealing offers from Satan, the Devil. Jesus calls on rules to help him to resist temptation. Should not we be calling on that same defense ourselves? How good it feels when we overcome! Matthew reports that angels came and ministered to Jesus when the last temptation was overcome. Was he exhausted from the effort? Did he feel drained? It seems logical and natural – something like ending a wrestling match. I like to extend that scene into joyousness at the victory. Jesus overcame. Jesus obeyed the written rules. Jesus knew the rules and followed. Great reason for celebration and happiness. But where is grace? Did Jesus need grace? This is where it becomes confusing.
Did Jesus ever fail? Did Jesus ever disappoint God? Was there ever an occasion in his thirty-three years on earth, that Jesus did not meet the goal? We might say that God’s grace covered Jesus from that Holy Night in Bethlehem to the Ascension, not to turn sin into righteousness but to protect from sin.
Can we claim that grace of protection from evil? Can we wrap God’s grace around us as we go into a chaotic world where kindness, mercy, and love are a challenge to find? “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”
Great are the tribulations of the wicked; but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord. Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; shout for joy, all who are true of heart.”