Sermon: Temptations

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Preached on 25th February 2007
by Reverend Keith Harbour

  1. Hebrews 2:18:- "He can help those who are tempted because he himself was tempted and suffered."
  2. Hebrews seeks to show who Jesus is; the eternal Son of God, the One high priest, the final and ultimate sacrifice for all sins.  It also stresses the unique, divine nature and divine activity of Jesus.  It also shows us the  human Jesus, one of us sharing our common humanity, sharing the failures, disappointments, rejections, suffering and temptations common to us all.
  3. If we think of Jesus as purely divine, total God, we can fall into the trap of assuming temptations can't have been as bad for Jesus as they are for us, he had divine will power and human strength we could never possess.  But Jesus is fully human.
  4. Because the human Jesus is one with God, his temptations were far greater than ours.  Knowing who he was, knowing what his mission entailed, knowing the tremendous responsibility to get it right, must have been an incredible burden, greater than any burden we could ever even imagine.

i. The Temptations of Jesus

1.      Use your imaginations, close your eyes if it helps, look at the cross if it helps, try to imagine Jesus led into the wilderness (or as Mark suggests driven into the wilderness by the Spirit).  No choice, he has to do it, it could not be avoided.  But always being tempted to avoid doing something he didn't want to do, as for us.  How quickly and easily we make excuses to avoid doing things we don't want to do!

2.      Use your imagination, driven into the wilderness, there a long time, 40 days, a few berries and roots perhaps, scratching around for water, hunger pains, scorching heat, bright sun.  Bitterly cold nights, exhaustion.  A stone shaped just like the cobs of bread he'd seen, he'd smelt, his Mam cooking.  He could do it, he could turn it into fresh bread, no one would know, hardly a sin.  But what was he doing in the wilderness?  Fasting! 

Why was he fasting, what was the point of it?  To learn an important lesson, "Man cannot live by bread alone." 

Not just a lesson for him, but for thousands, millions of others, "Man cannot live by bread alone."  could that be his ministry as the Saviour, the Messiah?  Feed people, give them bread, or give them the Bread of Life?  Was this what his Father required, feed the hungry people?  Spiritually!  That's what he'd do "Man cannot live by bread alone, but by every word that God speaks."  Get behind me Satan, not your way, but God's way!

3.      High in the wilderness, views for miles, the coast to the west.  All that trade.  Syria to the North, Persia to the East, Egypt to the South.  All those nations, and God's chosen, now subdued by the might of Rome.  Break Rome!  Defeat Rome and the rest of the world would be liberated and gladly fall into line.  How to defeat Rome?  Swords and spears, an army of Jews, with a charismatic leader, soon get people roused, use the sword for a few years, then a reign of peace for ever.  Submitting to the sword and violence, the ways of the devil?  No!  "Worship the Lord your God, him only shall you serve."  God is love . . . .violence, the sword, the things of evil, this is not the way, get behind me Satan!

4.      Dreaming of Jerusalem, or was it real?  Was he really standing on top of the temple, God's holy house?  God's only Son, his rightful place, his home!  This is where he would lead the people in real worship and the Nations would flock to him.  Look at those crowds, he'd show them just who he is, magic, that would turn their heads, then they'd listen, jump, it wouldn't hurt, show them how much he can trust God.  What a show, a show of faith and trust, what a demonstration!  Then they'd be open to listen to God's word?  Or would they?  Would they be more interested in a trickster, would he become just a popular entertainer?  "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test."  Get behind me Satan, that is not the way it is to be, that is not my Father's way!

5.      Jesus in the Wilderness, tempted, not just as an individual, but considering all his ministry, carefully meditating on just what God required of him and how God wanted his Mission fulfilled.

Not a feeding of bodies, or providing material prosperity. Nor a show of magic, popularity and entertainment. Nor through political and military strength.

6.      Jesus' ministry, God's mission, to be pure love.  Whatever happened in his ministry, whatever temptations or suffering, Jesus knew he must never flinch nor swerve from the Universal Mission, God is Love, the end is Love, his ministry must be LOVE.

 7.      The temptations kept coming - buoyed up by the crowds' adoration who wanted to make him king, rebuked by Peter for prophesying the Way of the Cross, sweating tears like blood in Gethsemane, denied by Peter, deserted by friends, the mockery of a trial, the beating, the agony and the failure of the cross, the constant temptations to hate, to use magic, to fight back.

ii. What of our temptations?

1.      It's good for us to stand by Jesus, that is what Lent is about, with him in his Temptations, Conflicts, Sufferings, Rejections, Pains and Dying Agony.

2.      But what of our temptations. Temptations to sin as the General Confession says in:- "Thought and word and deed. Through ignorance, weakness and our own deliberate fault."  Temptations that make us think wrong things. Then we say wrong things and cause hurt and upset.  And those errors we make without thinking, with the universal excuse "I  never really thought."   This is how we fail again and again.

3.      Let me illustrate it from the world of motoring.  Imagine driving north up the A1 in a long line of slow moving traffic.  You only get stuck in traffic when you're in a hurry - you're late for an appointment.  You get frustrated as the minutes tick away, a car is waiting to come onto the main road.  You drive on, did you see him?  Perhaps you never noticed, too intent on keeping up with the car in front, too intent on wondering how late you would be for your appointment, someone else would let him in anyway, not your concern.

4.      I'm not saying you're a sinner, but the illustration shows exactly our attitude. Our lives become blinkered.  There are so many urgent things in our lives, we haven't got time to think about the essentials - God, his Purposes, his Love. And so the temptations of ignorance come to us, we never think, we're too busy, our priorities are only for self.

5.      It is a case of gearing up our whole attitude, our total living, to the Will of God.  Being alert, ready to respond, at any moment, day or night.  Let us pray is a call to enter into a relationship, and that relationship should be constant, not just while we are at church or in our times of prayer.  One thing, our priority, God's will first.

6.      Going back to driving up the A1. Alert, clear minded motorists know, getting agitated makes no difference.  Stuck in a queue of traffic you just have to bide your time.  Alert, clear minded motorists are aware of what's going on around them - cats and dogs, the traffic in front and behind, cyclists, children playing, joggers, side roads with approaching vehicles. Alert, Aware, Patience - the keys to good driving.

7.      So with life, Alert for temptations that sneak up on us and take over before we realise what's happened.

Aware of the Spiritual realm, of the inner God, who is  ever present with his strength and his love always at our disposal. 

Are you aware that the infinite God is with you therefore your life has infinite possibilities. 

Are you aware of that now? 

And Patience, as Jesus in his Passion, wait on God to turn your life, that's full of urgency, into a life that's full of the essential, the very essence, the love of God, and his will for us.

8.      Trust him, he knows, he's been there, he's done it, he's worn the T-shirt.  His experience is deeper and darker temptations and sufferings than we will ever know, and  he won.  "Now he can help those who are tempted because he himself was tempted and suffered."   He is the Victor, his Victory is not just for himself, it is for us, so wait on the Lord, every hour of every day. 

The Lord is infinite and with him there are infinite possibilities.

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