Sermon on Matthew 4:1-11
February 10, 2008
Richfield United Methodist Church (9:30 am)
Badin United Methodist Church (11:00 am)
March 13, 2011
Woodleaf United Methodist Church (9:30 am)
Mount Tabor United Methodist Church (11:00 am)
The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.
“I can resist anything…except temptation.” Or so says Oscar Wilde. “I can resist anything except temptation.” Though this phrase is humorous, there’s also a great deal of truth behind it. Temptation is almost impossible to resist. St. Gregory the Great, writing towards the end of the sixth century explains the problem of temptation the best of any. He says that temptation happens upon us in three stages: suggestion, delight, and consent.
It doesn’t matter where you are, whether you are alone in a wilderness or with a group of people somewhere, the suggestion of temptation will arise. And the thing about temptation is that it’s just so tempting, and because the suggestion of temptation is so tempting, we begin to delight in it. We imagine it. We yearn for it. And then we consent. And, then in an instant, sin has won.
But I think there’s an even simpler explanation of temptation than suggestion, delight, and consent. It’s a simple matter of what Word we believe in. The Word of God, or the Word of something else? At the root of it, is this simple test—do we believe the Word of God, or do we rely upon the alternate words that come our way? We do not lack for alternate words in our society. We are a society built upon opposing viewpoints. We want to hear every possible opinion on something before we make up our minds.
Adam and Eve faced this same problem. Jesus faced this same problem. What Word do we believe—God’s or the alternate word? In the Old Testament lesson, the famous story of Adam and Eve, God tells our ancient parents, “You may eat freely of every tree in the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” That was God’s Word.
But then the serpent comes along and he offers an alternate Word. “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” There was the suggestion. Now comes the delight: “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.” And there’s the consent. Suggestion, delight, and consent.
But even deeper than suggestion, delight, and consent is the issue of trusting in God’s Word or trusting in the alternate Word. Ultimately, our ancient parents trusted in the alternate Word. It’s not that they didn’t know God’s Word. Eve clearly repeated God’s word to the serpent at the beginning of the suggestion to sin. But it was an issue of trust.
But then in our readings for this, the first Sunday of Lent, we flash to another scene. We have been transported from the Garden of Eden to the wilderness. The serpent is now simply the devil. The temptation is the same though—believe in God’s Word, or believe in the alternate Word. That was the situation Jesus found himself in. He was hungry. He had gone for 40 days without food. The devil tells him—trust in yourself, indulge in your desire. I can hear it now, “Jesus, if you are the Savior of the world it would do you no good to starve to death out here in the desert. Take matters into your own hands. Turning a rock into bread isn’t evil. There’s no law against such a thing. You wouldn’t even be breaking any rules.” That’s the alternate Word. But God’s Word says, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” God’s Word or the Alternate Word?
Next, the devil tempts Jesus with another alternate Word. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from this pinnacle of the Temple to prove to people you are who you say you are. Wouldn’t that impress folks! Just this one time, use your power to impress and entertain. Think about how many followers you would get with just this one act.” That was the alternate Word. But God’s Word simply says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” God’s Word or the Alternate Word?
Finally, the devil tempts Jesus with his last alternate Word. “All the kingdoms of the world I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” So maybe God’s word says not to worship anyone but God, but if you just do this one thing, God’s purpose will be realized instantly and painlessly. Isn’t it better to go ahead and commit one not so wonderful act than to have some of these kingdoms of the world perish from their own free will? Everybody in the world will worship you if you just worship me this one time. That’s the alternate Word. To do good by letting a little bit of evil slide. God’s Word or the Alternate Word?
Basically, if Jesus gave in to those temptations, he’d be giving into fear. Fear that God’s Word could not be trusted. That’s the essence of temptation in a nutshell—do you believe in God’s Word or do you believe in the alternate Word? Do you give into the suggestion to indulge, impress, and possess—or do you trust God to be your bread, your salvation, and your possessor? The bulk of my seminary education can be summed up with this very simple phrase: God is God and we are wee. There is a God, and I’m not it. That’s what temptation is—the suggestion that we are God and that God is not God. I for one, am very glad that I am not God. Too often I forget this simple fact. Too often I listen to the alternate Word. Too often I fail to remember the Word of God. Too often I fail to trust the Word of God. It’s just too tempting to think a bit too highly of myself. But we are called to resist temptation in whatever form it presents itself. We are called to resist anything that is an alternate word to God’s word. I can resist anything…except temptation. Amen.