The Temptations of Jesus

There is an old Chinese proverb which goes:-

“We cannot avoid birds flying round in our heads- but we need not let them make a nest in our hair.”

In other words we are, every single one of us, all vulnerable to temptations. We cannot avoid them, but that is not to say we SIN because we are tempted! .....TEMPTATION IS NOT SIN........but if we allow that temptation take up residence in our lives, by that I mean, to entertain it, nurture it, feed it and enjoy its company and allow it to bear fruit..... that’s what the proverb means by making a nest in our hair.

It is this residency that makes it easy for sin to be born, when we give in to it, and act it out knowing that we go against God’s laws.

In Gethsemane Jesus cried out, in a time of great testing, “Not my will but yours be done!”

To sin is to completely turn that sentence around until it reads,”Not your will, but Mine be done!” The bible makes it quite clear that it isn’t God who sends the temptation, he does not tempt anyone.

According to the dictionary, temptation IS

an inducement or enticement into sin; or

according to Ephesians, it is an experience described as being fired upon by flaming arrows, arrows sent by the Evil one Satan himself, and these firey darts can only be extinguished by using the shield of faith.

This shield is not something we hold out here like some soldier, because temptations actually reach the mind.

The faith which shields us must also be firmly installed in the mind. A faith so strong that it allows the firey darts to pass right through, and straight out again, without harm to ourselves.

In this mornings gospel we see Jesus resisting Satan with a strong faith in God and in his word, but the New Testament reminds that Jesus didn’t find it easy, that he was human too, just as we are.

Hebrews 2 emphasizes that Jesus has been through it all, and has experienced the same kind of pressures we experience today, and that he suffered when he was tempted.

I was quite surprised when I read that.

Many of us have this impression that Jesus, cooly resisted Satan and fought him off quite easily by quoting scripture at him. But the very fact that he suffered in the process, is encouraging to those who also suffer when trying to fight off temptation. Jesus was fully human and is able to identify with us fully in OUR weaknesses, even though he did not sin.

This gospel passage before us today, has many lessons to teach us. I have read this passage countless times and still keep coming up with some new revelation.

First we learn that temptation can come at times of great vulnerability in our lives, in Jesus case he had been fasting for forty days and nights. He is weak, tired and famished.

Sadly we sometimes find that it is when we are at our most vulnerable times, sick, lonely, troubled, stressed out , that temptations of fear, anger, doubt are not far behind? That is something for us to be aware of.

Temptation can also come at times when we feel a wonderful closeness to God, or when we’ve been certain of his direction or his hand upon our lives.

At this time in Jesus’ life, he is fresh from a deep awareness of the reality of God in his life. His calling, has just been confirmed to him at his baptism in the Jordan; God’s voice has been heard testifying to the fact that he is God’s own Son., but he is also vulnerable in that he has spent forty days fasting in the wilderness and he is famished.

And in the devil comes in with a vengeance,

“If you are the son of God..........” (casting doubt immediately, on this baptismal revelation..) “Command these stones to become loaves of bread!”

In other words:- “You are hungry, why not feed yourself?”

For Jesus to succumb to satisfying his hunger and to test out his powers before their time, was a real test. To accept such a challenge would have also meant a lack of trust in God’s provision for him. It would have implied that he had already begun to doubt.

So Jesus, knowing scripture well, fought back with the words:- “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Deut 8:3)

We too must respond to God’s voice, to take time to listen, alongside God’s word, to be able to sift out what is not meant to be for us.

Human beings are vulnerable, what we really want is to have our basic needs met,

and we all have basic instincts and desires; It seems that most advertisements today show us how to fulfil those desires, all we have to do is to be able to afford the product on offer and we will be fully satisfied.

And then again, a lot of the programmes on television and at the cinema actually demonstrate how to explore and revel in our basic and most savage instincts.

Yet we are not animals, and our physical needs must not be allowed to dominate us, especially those that go beyond God’s will for us.

Again Satan challenges him, this time on the high pinnacle of the temple, “If you are the Son of God.......throw yourself down; for it is written “He will command his angels concerning you”; and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone!”

Satan uses a piece of scripture about God’s care and provision, quite out of context, to try to entice Jesus into sin and recklessness.

Have men and women down the ages, not been tempted just like this, with an isolated piece of scripture taken out of context to control others,empower themselves and cast others off in order to segregate, discriminate and injure their fellow human beings.

If we are to use scripture it must be used in context, it must be the whole word of God.

The sure test is whether the word is of God or of the devil is to ask the question, Do my actions build up or destroy; create peace, love and harmony or causes havoc, dissension and deeply rooted divisions.

Also if Jesus had thrown himself down from the high pinnacle, and been miraculously rescued by angels, it could have brought about an uprising, it could have been seen as the sign people were waiting for to revolt against the oppression of Rome. But this was not God’s will.

Aggression, unloving attitudes, hostility are not the way of Jesus. We must guard against it. Jesus again fights scripture with scripture; “You must not put the Lord your God to the test!”

Finally, the most subtle of tests, comes when Jesus is taken to a high vantage point to survey all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour... a very real temptation to Jesus as a king. Power, wealth, splendour, fame, glory, majesty;

Certainly not a temptation ever likely to be put before us in our lifetimes............ or is it?

Yet we must ask ‘Is not the draw of the quick million or the fast buck or the backhander or the fiddle....in order to make ourselves more comfortable and better off than we are, not a very real temptation to us today.

Or is not the pull to worship created things rather than the Creator himself, not one of the biggest temptations we face in our part of the world today? New words have been invented to describe our obsessional behaviour- shopaholic, workaholic, chocoholic...

Materialism is a very real danger, for it blinkers us and prevents us from looking beyond ourselves, to the very real problems of those in real need and Jesus was able to see right through this offer, and reply,

“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him!”

In Jewish law there was an ancient custom by which the owner of property would take a prospective buyer to some high vantage point from which he might ‘receive it with his eyes.’

Just like Satan did with Jesus.

And so too we must ask ourselves,

“What is really important in our eyes?”

“How good is our eyesight?”

How many nests are there in our hair that we don’t even realise are there?

How many nests do we deny even exist?

The temptations of Jesus teach us that we need to be familiar with God’s word, that we need to be listeners and doers, living in love and by faith, living daily by the will of God, and having no other gods before him.

In old Greek legends, there were some creatures called ‘sirens’ who sang so sweetly that all who sailed near their home were fascinated and drawn to their shore only to be destroyed. Some tried to get safely past the enchanted spot by putting wax in their ears, so that they should not hear the luring bewitching strains. But Orpheus when he came, found a better way. He made music on his own ship, which surpassed in sweetness that of the sirens and thus their music had no power over his men.

The best way to break the magnet’s pulll of this world’s alluring voices is not to try to shut out the music by stopping our ears, but to have our hearts filled with the sweeter music of the Spirit of Jesus himself and his joy in our lives.

Then temptation will not have power over us.

Amen.