Matthew 4:1-11
The Rev. Adele K. Langworthy, preaching
February 26, 2023

Every single step we take, we can choose to walk with the Lord, or not.  We can choose to live a life of faith in a God who loves us beyond measure and offers us the opportunity to receive grace, mercy and peace beyond understanding, or not.  Sometimes we are in step and stand strong, and at other times we are not.  We come by this struggle honestly.

Almost as soon as humankind was created, we were faced with the challenge of submitting to God.  There were Adam and Eve in “the garden” – paradise – and all they needed to do was to carry out the tasks God had assigned them, which in Adam’s case was to till and keep the garden, and not eat the fruit of one tree.  Yet, even in the circumstances of paradise, they struggled to simply submit to God’s will.  When the serpent tempted them to assert their own will against God’s, they failed to stand strong in their first commitment.  Eve gave into her own desires and ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and convinced Adam to do the same.

Irenaeus, an early church father, like the apostle Paul, referred to Jesus Christ as the ‘New Adam’ who accomplishes that which did not happen with the ‘Old Adam’ and redirects the actions set in motion by the ‘Old Adam’.

Adam succumbed to temptation, but Jesus did not.  Adam ate of the fruit; he did not submit to God and stand strong against Eve or the serpent.  Adam’s story was repeated in the Israelites when they did not submit to God and stand strong against temptation as they journeyed to the promised land.  For instance, while Moses was atop Mt. Sinai receiving the 10 commandments, the Israelites, at the foot of Mt. Sinai, were busy building a golden calf to worship.

At the beginning of Matthew 4, we learn that Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights, and afterwards was famished. In this physically weakened state, he needed to completely depend upon God so as not to cave into temptation.

Temptation #1
• It is recorded in Deuteronomy 8 regarding the Israelites:  Remember the long way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments.  He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
• God provides the Israelites with manna (a white sticky substance falling from the sky) to curb their hunger, but they are not satisfied and continue to grumble.  They do not recognize that the manna symbolizes God’s word being provided to sustain them.
• In the New Testament we find Jesus being tempted by Satan, If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.  He stands strong.  He quotes the words of Deuteronomy, One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the God.  He does not use the Spirit’s power for his own satisfaction by turning stones into much desired bread, but awaits bread from heaven.  And we see throughout his life that he says No to what he might get by his own initiative that he might say Yes to what he might receive by God’s initiative.

Temptation #2
• In Exodus 17 we learn that the Israelites complain to Moses and to God about not having water.  And in the midst of their complaining, they quarrel and test the Lord by saying, Is the LORD among us or not?
• God does not forget their testing of him.  In Deuteronomy 6, we find these words:  Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.  Their challenging God to fulfill his covenant obligation does not go over well and makes them unworthy to enter the Promised Land.
• In Matthew, we find the devil and Jesus on the pinnacle of the temple with the devil saying to Jesus, If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. Jesus still weak from fasting is able to stand strong for the sake of preserving his good relationship with God.  He does not fall into the trap of asking God to prove his presence or to confirm his providential care, Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’  Honoring God excludes any kind of manipulation or testing of God.

Temptation #3
• The Israelites struggle with worshipping God alone.  In Deuteronomy 6, we read The Lord your God you shall fear, him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear. Do not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who are all around you.
• We have many records of the Israelites getting caught up in idolatry and the worshipping of gods around them.  The building of the golden calf at the foot of Mt. Sinai is probably the best known idol, but they also repeatedly play ’the harlot’ with other gods like Baal, Dagon and Moloch.
• The devil tempts Jesus, yet again.  At the top of a high mountain he offers all he can see to him, If you will fall down and worship me. But Jesus knows that, while God desires all the world to know and follow him, it can’t be brought about in a flash.  Jesus will have a special work to do to make it possible.  Jesus also knows that a good end doesn’t justify just any means, such as worshipping the evil one.  Jesus stands strong and says, Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him. “And serve him only’, is exactly how Jesus will live his entire earthly life.

Chances are we are not going to hold conversations with the devil. So what is our take-away from our scripture today?
• We may not be tempted to turn stones into bread, but we are constantly tempted to mistrust God’s readiness to empower us to face our trials.
• None of us is likely to put God to the test by leaping off of a cliff, but we are frequently tempted to question God’s helpfulness when things go awry.
• Compromising to the ways of the world is a continuing seduction and it can be difficult for us to worship and serve only our God.

Actor Denzel Washington is a Christian, and understands that today the one other than God we are tempted to worship is not the devil, but ourselves.  Privately over coffee with an interviewer Washington said: “The enemy is the inner me. The Bible says in the last days — I don’t know if it’s the last days, it’s not my place to know — but it says we’ll be lovers of ourselves.  The No. 1 photograph today is a selfie, ‘Oh, me at the protest.’  ‘Me with the fire.’  ‘Follow me.’  ‘Listen to me.’  We’re living in a time where people are willing to do anything to get followed.  What is the long or short-term effect of too much information?  It’s going fast and it can be manipulated obviously in a myriad of ways. And people are led like sheep to slaughter.

“Don’t play with God.  Don’t play with God.  You hear what I said?  Don’t play with God.  You heard what I said? Don’t play with God.”  Then the interviewer mentions that Washington urged her to download and use a daily Bible reading app.  Washington said,  “You have to fill up that bucket every morning.  It’s rough out there.  You leave the house in the morning.  Here they come, chipping away.  By the end of the day, you’ve got to refill that bucket.”

Fill your bucket. Follow Jesus’ lead—allow God to be God! Submit to God in order to stand strong.  Stand on his promises!

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