Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent
|Text: Luke 4:1-2
Jesus returned from the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit and was led by the Spirit into the desert, where he was tempted by the Devil for forty days.
Our family Facebook page has a picture of our son standing victorious over a very fat dead rat. He lives in Scotland and at the moment it’s the middle of winter. The rats have come out of the snow and freezing ground of the nearby farmland into the shelter of his shed. There they are warm and there’s plenty of places to hide and food to eat, especially the chicken food.
Now you’d think they would be happy to hide away there until the weather warmed up and not draw attention to themselves. But oh no, if things weren’t easy enough for them in the shed, they thought it had suddenly got even better when the scent of extra tasty morsels of food – cheese, sausage laced with sweet smelling vanilla suddenly appeared. Chicken food immediately seemed so dull by comparison. These tasty treats just a whiskers length away and there for the taking. The temptation was too great. The greedy rat was so focussed on the delight of the food he didn’t see the bigger picture – the trouble that this was going to get him into. He barely got a sniff and the trap of temptation snapped shut.
I think we are all aware of what temptation
is. Temptation might be defined as
the desire or inclination to do something wrong but I believe it goes a bit
further than that. Temptation is
the desire to take an easier path that is unwise and will take us on a different
road than the one we ought to go.
Every temptation of the Christian is to get us away from Christ,
to stop following his ways,
to lead us to believe that discipleship is way too hard and complicated for us,
that involvement in the lives of other people and to show love and forgiveness and encouragement is not really our cup of tea.
Every temptation wants us to desire something easier – faithfulness, commitment, trust, unconditional love, reaching out with forgiveness when I don’t want to forgive are all too hard . There’s got to be something easier than all of this.
Temptation plays up to our own egos, our own selfishness and the need to look after ourselves above anyone else. You know how it goes. Someone offends us and our immediate temptation is to give back as good as we’ve been given. Our egos have been hurt. It’s easier to hit back; it’s far harder to be kind and understanding and forgiving.
Adam and Eve found out in the Garden of Eden what their initial temptation had brought into their lives. Instead of facing God and owning up to what they did, it was easier to hide. And when God finally caught up with them, it was easier to lay the blame on everyone else and accept no responsibility themselves.
When Satan tried to tempt Jesus we see the
same process at work.
“Take the easy way out, Jesus,” Satan
“You’re hungry, right.
You’ve got the power. Make food out of these stones”.
“Okay, if you won’t do that, how about I give you all the kingdoms of the world. You’re a really nice guy, Jesus, I don’t want to see anything bad happen to you. Just bow down and worship me and they’re all yours.”
“I know you want people to follow you. Look Jesus, there’s a quick way to gather a whole lot of followers. Just jump off the temple roof. That will impress everyone gathered in the courtyard below as you gently land in the middle of the crowd. That will get you instant fame. The religious leaders are going to give you a hard time, they will be impressed as well. How about it, Jesus? What I have to offer will save you a lot of blood, sweat and tears.”
Temptation is always gift wrapped and presented in a really nice way – like the sweet smelling cheese and the rat who already had everything – a cosy shed with all the food he could possible eat while the snow fell outside and the temperature dropped to below 0 degrees. Often we don’t even recognise the temptation until we have fallen for it and suffer the consequences. Satan has the same intentions for us as he had for Jesus. He wants us to abandon God’s ways, to doubt God’s love for us, to reckon that God’s path is too hard for us, to desire something that is far easier and satisfying.
So how do we confront temptation and counteract the desire in us to want to do what is unwise and ungodly? How do we deal with the fact that we will give in to temptation more often than we care to admit every day of the remainder of our days on this earth?
One of the things we can learn from Jesus’
own temptations is how to say “no”.
He knew what was God’s way from the Scriptures.
He counteracted Satan’s temptations by quoting the Bible.
He knew what was God’s will.
So likewise it’s important that we know God’s will for us through his Word.
What is it that God wants us to do?
How does God want us to behave?
What reaction does God want us to have to other people and their attitude to us?
God has given us his Word and the Holy Spirit to guide us and to fight off the desires and urges that Satan puts into our minds and hearts. He invites us to pray because we need his strength and power to fight a foe that is more powerful than our weak wills.
Temptation involves making choices – following the ways of the world, Satan and our own desires or following the ways of God. If we are going to make choices that reflect God's will and ways for us, then we have to know what is God's will. We need to know God’s mind and his plan for each of us through his Word. That’s how Jesus resisted Satan’s very tempting offers in the wilderness. He had choices to make and he knew how to make the right choice from God's Word. When the trap of temptation is about to snap tight around us like it did the rat, God’s Word provides guidance in making the right choice that will keep us safe.
Another aspect of saying “No” to Satan is remembering to whom we belong. Even though we fail in the face of temptation, God doesn’t give up on us. We belong to God and his kingdom. We have been adopted as children of God. God is more powerful than Satan. In fact, in Jesus Satan has already been defeated. At our baptism, God made a commitment to us that he would always be ready to help and support us as our loving heavenly Father. He sent Jesus to defeat the power of Satan to condemn us. All of our sin has been nailed to Jesus’ cross. We have been set free from the guilt that goes with giving into temptation.
We are God’s holy and dearly loved children and we don't want to disappoint the love that has been shown to us so generously. But it's a fact that we will fail miserably as Jesus’ disciples but God’s love for us never changes. Our sins have been forgiven. We have been made clean pure and holy in God’s presence through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Death, which comes as a result of sin, is now nothing but a passing from this life into the eternal heaven that Jesus has prepared for us.
just entered the season of Lent – a time of self-examination and renewal.
During this time, we realise how weak we are when it comes to temptation
and ask God to help us, to forgive us, renew us and make a new start.
But let’s not make Lent just a focus on ourselves.
This is a special time to focus on Jesus and the struggles he went through to overcome evil and death. There were no shortcuts or easy way out. Jesus is the focus and centre of this time leading up to Good Friday. He is our comfort and strength in every temptation. He has won the victory and defeated evil and death.
© Pastor Vince
14th February 2016