November 11, 2017
Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, NC. Learn More »
(Reflection on Matthew 4:1-11)
Here we are again at the beginning of Lent. The start of a journey along the path that leads to Jerusalem, a festive welcome for Jesus, a frightening turn of events, his death on the cross and the glory of his resurrection. But it all begins here with Jesus' temptation in the desert. Drawn from the drama of Matthew 4:1-11, again this year, we will hear from Satan. He would like to stop this whole Easter thing from coming. And so he has asked for equal time to tell the story of Christ's temptation from his point of view. If nothing else, it should be an interesting presentation!
I love it when people are famished. Whether they hunger for food for their stomachs, or whether they need their egos fed, I’ve done some of my best work with food.
They call me the accuser, that is what Satan means. And I was not always the reviled character that has been made popular in myth, Halloween and Bible School. I was God’s go-to guy, I was God’s Attorney General. Hey, I was only trying to be helpful, that’s what I do. But… I fell out of grace after the Job incident. I’m still not quite sure how that all happened. I thought I had Job just where I wanted him. But that is another story.
My job was to challenge all human beings. None of you are up to the task of living the lives that God calls you to. And you know, my job is all too easy, just a little nudge, a slight suggestion, and you people fall flat on your faces. It just irks me so much, God has such a high opinion of all of you. And you all are so unworthy of that adulation. So I took it upon myself to show God how pathetic you all are. It doesn’t take much, and like I said, I do some of my best work with food.
After all, it was food that started my entire career. It does not matter what the fruit was, apple, pomegranate, prickly pear, or ugly fruit what mattered and what still matters is the promise of what will be yours if you eat of it. I love the story of Adam and Eve, because it illustrates just how easy it is to separate you from God.
You do remember the story, you teach it as if it is ancient history, but it is the story of every human being. And it is not about the food, it is about the promise. Why should you follow God’s rules, God’s laws, when you can be your own boss, make your own choices, be masters of your own fates. You don’t need God, if you take charge of your own lives, you can be just like God, heck, you can be your own God! That’s all I have to suggest, and in the end you walk away from paradise!
When I saw Jesus, famished after forty days in the wilderness, I figured I had him. He may have had a high opinion of himself, I know that God had a high opinion of him, he called him his beloved son. I figured it would not take much for me to bring him down. I knew I could nip this whole mission of his in the bud, and it would never flower.
You see, I know if I can get a person to move away from God’s plan and put them on the path of independence from God, I have done my job. It’s the short cuts, it’s the easy ways, it’s the paths of least resistance that will do you in every time. For every step you take away from living in God’s love, is a step further away from paradise. And once you are out on your own, you show your true colors. I see it every day on your news broadcasts, on your playgrounds, and in your homes. I see it in your workplaces. Taking what you want, living for your own gratification, thinking only of your own desires, trying to get on top no matter who you hurt. You know, the whole “what’s in it for me?” thing.
So when I met Jesus in that wilderness, all I needed to get him to do was to use that immense power of that divine mandate for something so mundane as bread. One loaf would have been fine, but I wanted him to make loaves of bread. Hey, there were stones everywhere. One of the hallmarks of the Judean landscape is stones. You think that they are ubiquitous here in New England? Well, wait until you see Israel.
You see, I was not just challenging him to make a cheep meal or himself, I figured that I could get him to make enough bread from the stones to feed all of the hungry peasants of Israel. After all that is how Rome kept the poor happy, just throw them some bread, and they are yours. Yeah, Jesus, make yourself happy, make your people happy, fill their stomachs and they will follow you anywhere.
Jesus, you don’t have to teach them anything, you don’t have to suffer at their hands, you don’t have to waste the next three years of your life on a bunch of sheep who will run from you at the first sign of trouble, at the first howl of the wolf. Just feed them, and they’re yours.
I said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread."
But you know Jesus, he’s always got a snappy answer to everything, what does he come out with? "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
Yeah, the word of God. Well not much to worry about there, you people have been choking on it, fighting over it, and misunderstanding it for thousands of years. I suppose I can take a little credit for that too.
So, Jesus wanted to play the Scripture Card, Well I knew I could play that game too.
So I took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple. There below us in the outer court, and in the city streets below that, milled the throngs of people. The pious who had come to make sacrifices, the women who waited expectantly for their husbands to emerge from with in the temple itself, the children who invented games and made mischief to while away the time until they returned home, the venders and street merchants selling everything from sacrificial animals to olive oil and wine, even some Roman Soldiers were there; it was a sea of humanity.
I was trying to be helpful, that’s what I do. He wanted the attention of the people, he wanted them to recognize his authority, he wanted them to listen to what he had to say, what better way to accomplish all that than to perform some great demonstration of his power and authority.
I offered him a short cut. Any fool could see the wisdom of it. Why slog away for years and years and sacrifice to get ahead when there is a short cut that will get you there more quickly and easily?
Why spend hours studying, when with far less effort – and far more free time to enjoy – you could just Google the test answers on your smart phone? Why invent the wheel again in your term paper when some one else has already done that, been there, and with two short commands – cut and paste – you can knock out an entire section?
Why spend decades toiling away for peace and justice in the world when in a matter of a few weeks of asymmetrical warfare you can depose a government, or for that matter impose one. The way of peace takes too long and at least in war, you can show immediate results.
Why put up with the sacrifices necessary to protect the earth’s environment when it is so much easier to go with the flow and bow to those who have huge financial interests, you know, those who make you afraid of change?
Why not tell a lie when telling the truth is difficult?
Why not vilify an enemy when confronting them with the truth in love may make you look weak and vulnerable?
Like I said, shortcuts, any fool can see the wisdom of it
But Jesus was not just any fool.
I told him, this is your big chance. Dazzle the crowds, astound the masses and there will be no end to your legend and the stories of you will travel to the far corners of the world. Grab their attention and they will be yours to COMMAND!
He wanted to play the scripture card, I gave him scripture. There we were standing on the pinnacle of the Temple and I said to him, "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.'" Hey, Jesus, if that won’t impress the masses, if that won’t get their attention, I don’t know what will.
But alas, Jesus reacted as if I were using the scriptures for some dark demonic purpose. He just replied, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
Now, I like Baseball. It is one of the only games where failure 65% of the time is considered admirable. But let me tell you, That day with Jesus, I did not like being 0 for 2. I had tried to appeal to his sense of hunger, and that of his people’s. I had tried to appeal to his desire for all to hear him and follow him, after all, I know that people like to be loved and admired.
You know, I was just trying to be helpful, that’s what I do.
I had one last trick up my sleeve. I could appeal to his ego.
So, I snatched him up again and took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. From here we saw not only Israel, but the entire Roman Empire, the lands that spread from there to the north and south, the tribes of Africa and Germania, and lands across the vast seas. Empires on other continents and people who spoke strange languages. There was all of the wealth and promise of every place on the face of the earth. All of the gold and silver, all of the livestock and the grains of the fields. All that is produced from the labor of craftsmen and artisans. Literally EVERYTHING that the world has to offer. I told him it was all his for the taking. I had been running this place for a long time and now, I was willing to give it all to him. Albeit, at a price.
Oh, there are so many who have settled for far less. You have heard the stories of blues guitarists who have sold their soul to me for fame and fortune. But in the end, it is much more subtle than that. It’s the spouse who is willing to trade away their family when they give into the temptation to stray. It is the person who is willing to trade away their relationship with their children for a quick ascent up the corporate ladder. It is the person whose apathy allows them to trade away a little of their integrity when they turn away when others are treated unjustly. It is in a society willing to trade away that justice and increase its wealth while it ignores the poor and the sick, making them fend for themselves, starving and dying in the streets.
It is because people are so far from God’s paradise, so far from the word of God, it is because they have chosen to live apart from Divine Love, that they don’t see that they are getting what they ask for at the price of following my lead. Like I said, It is all too easy, just a little nudge, a slight suggestion, and people fall flat on their faces.
Jesus wanted to be Lord of all. To rule in your hearts and minds. He wanted all people, all lands, all nations, to proclaim him King of Kings. And so, I offered him all that. Like I said, I’m just trying to be helpful, that’s what I do.
I said to him, "All the kingdoms of the earth I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me."
And that ingrate, that pompous holier than thou Jesus of Nazareth just cast all my offers aside with a swipe of his hand. He just said, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"
God knows I tried. I tried to derail this Christ thing, this Savior mess before the train ever left the station. The last thing that I wanted was to have Jesus preaching that God loves you just as you are. You see, once people realize what God’s love is all about, it starts to draw them back to a real and deep relationship with God. That’s the last thing I need. If you start to return to living the way that God calls you to, you might even find your way back to living in a Eden. Then all my best efforts to show God how truly selfish and egocentric you can be will all be for naught.
Think clearly on it. You can be masters of your own fates, kings of your own universes. You can be like God. Heck, you can be your own God! Think Clearly on it.
Like I said, I’m just trying to be helpful, that’s what I do.