Sunday, March 13, 2011

March 13, 2011 - "The Tempter Comes" - Immanuel Presbyterian Church

Matthew 4:1-11

The last thing the devil wants is a righteous death for Jesus.

Die a thousand different ways, if you want, Jesus.
But a righteous death, it cannot be allowed, it must not happen.

And what is a righteous death?
The purest kind of love.
Without regard for self.
Righteous in the biggest and best sense of that word.

When a parent stands by the hospital bed of a child, the parent would gladly change places … gladly lay down in that bed and face whatever comes so that the child might get up and live a full life.
A soldier throws himself on a grenade to save his buddies.
A sibling pushes her younger brother out of the way of on-coming traffic, only to perish herself.

To give purely.
To love without restriction.

But as good as we are, our death can never be pure enough, big enough or good enough, to cover the sins of the world.

We cannot recalibrate the moral compass of history.
Nor bend the arc of time toward justice.

Such a pure death is beyond our grasp.
But not beyond the grasp of Jesus.
And that’s why Jesus must not die a righteous death.

Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ” has it right … when Jesus dies, Satan throws himself to the ground and howls in rage – for the death of Christ is the end of hell’s reign, and the beginning of a new age.
Satan howls in rage, because Satan has been bested by the righteous death of the Son of God.

The last thing Satan wants is for Jesus to die a righteous death – a death big enough, good enough, strong enough, to take away the sins of the world.

And a part of that righteous death is a choice.
Even the great Son of God Almighty has to make the choice.
Which means, Jesus can be tempted!

Whatever transpired in that terrible wilderness …
Those forty days of fasting …
Hunger and thirst …
Weakened and weary and wary …
The Tempter comes to him …

Are ya’ hunger, Mr. Jesus?
Feed yourself.
You can do it.
You can do whatever you want.
And then you’ll be strong … strong enough to do the big things you want to do.

That little stone over there?
Why, in no time at all, it’ll be a hot, steaming chunk of fresh-baked breda.
Umm, you can almost smell it, can’t ya’?
That good, warm, yeasty aroma
You can turn all these stones into bread.
You can feed yourself, and assuage your hunger.
Then you can feed the world.
Just turn one little stone into one little loaf.
Give it a try.
It’s easy.
You can do it.
You’re the Son of God, aren’t you?
Come on Jesus.
You’re really hungry, I know that you are.

I can imagine Jesus rehearsing a thousand different scenarios in his mind …
Within a few months, he’ll be feeding 5000 and more … multiplying fish and loaves to feed a multitude … but remember the story – it begins not with a miracle of stones into bread, but a little boy with seven loafs and a few small fish.
To feed the hungry, no miracle needed.
No, just a the will to share what we have.

Augustine said it well:
Without us, God won’t. Without God, we can’t.
God doesn’t need stones to make bread.
God waits for us to share!
To share without fear.
Knowing that we cannot out-give God.
That what is given away strangely grows into enough for everyone!

Bread is vital.
Bread is important.
Nothing wrong with the belly.

But something is wrong here, and Jesus knows it.
The temptation: take care of yourself first.

That’s a huge temptation when we scared and unsure of the tomorrow.

Nations get anxious.
Churches get anxious.

I’ve heard it said so many times: Charity begins at home.
But I’ve seen those churches.
And they never leave home.
“Charity begins at home” is a cover for fear … that there won’t be enough.
Enough oil, enough food, enough water, enough money.

When we share, there’s always enough.
God doesn’t need stones into bread.
But open hands ready to share what we have.

Had Jesus turned the stones into bread, his heart would have turned to stone.
When we begin with ourselves, and our hunger, our needs, our fears, the whole thing goes bad.
Churches that fear for their future, never make it.
Nations that fear for their future always pose a serious threat to the world.
People who fear for their future become mean-spirited and selfish.

We live, says Jesus, not by bread alone.
But by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

The Tempter comes at him again.
The Tempter never gives up.

The Tempter takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple.
High above the Holy City.

Throw yourself down, Jesus.
Why not?
Your faith big enough, isn’t it?
Or is your faith too small.

Didn’t your Father in heaven promise safety?
Why, you won’t even stub your toe, but you have to step out in faith first.
Big faith.
Powerful faith.
What’s matter, are you scared?
Isn’t your faith big enough?

The Tempter goes to the heart of everyone here.
Your faith isn’t good enough.
Your faith isn’t big enough.

Haven’t we all said a time or two, “If only my faith were bigger and better …” and we can fill in the blank spaces …
“My child wouldn’t be in trouble.”
“My husband would have lived.”
“I’d still have a job.”
“I’d have more money, if only I had more faith.”

Isn’t that what the TV preachers all preach?
“Ya’ gotta have more faith!”
“And let me help ya’, and by my books and I’ll send a dozen CDs for only $150.
The wackiness of so much religion is nothing more than people throwing themselves off the pinnacle … trying to prove to themselves, or to others, how big their faith.
Fred Phelps, with his sad little church in Kansas, is throwing himself of the pinnacle.
And when folks stuff religious tracts under the wiper blades of their Jewish neighbors when they’re at the Synagogue, they’re leaping off the roof.
It’s the faith of the fanatic.
The mad man, proving faith to the world.

No one here is throwing himself off the roof these days.
But all of us have been tempted by the accuser: Your faith isn’t good enough. You’re not up to it. You need more, and I’ll show ya’ how to get it.”

Jesus replies:
It’s not about my faith.
It’s all about God’s faithfulness.

My Father in heaven is good … always good.
Good to the end, and then some.
I trust God.
I don’t have to prove that.

Within the year, Jesus would say:
Faith, the size of a mustard, is enough.
More than enough.
Even the tiniest faith can move mountains.
Because God is in the faith.
And God is at work in all things for good.

Our faith, dear friends, tiny as it is, is pleasing in the sight of God.
God is in our faith.
God is small enough to fit into a cradle in Bethlehem.
Small enough to be held in Mary’s arms.
God fits easily enough into the small arms of our faith.
Faith no bigger than a mustard seed.

The Devil has one more shot at it.
One more card to play.

The Devil takes Jesus to a very high mountain … I like that, “very high” … like Mt. Everest high, as high as one can get … top of the heap, king of the hill, it doesn’t get any higher than this …
And shows him the world.
The “kingdoms” of the world.
Their power and their glory.

If it glitters, it must be gold!
Beauty and culture and marching legions and universities and the means of production and investments and great banking houses and good restaurants and fine wine and entertainment and travel and leisure … and parliaments and legislatures and courts and kings and queens and bishops and priests and pastors and churches and pomp and circumstance.

It all yours Jesus.
Bow down a little bit.
Don’t be so idealistic.
Just a nod of the head.
A flex of the knee.
Won’t cost you thing.
It’ll be over in a moment.
I wanna help you, Jesus.
I really do.
I can give you the world.

Some have wondered if Satan were lying.
Can Satan deliver the kingdoms of the world to Jesus?
Yes, Satan can do that, in a limited kind of way.

The world was given to Alexander the Great, wasn’t it?
To the Emperors of Rome.
The Emperors of China and Japan.
To the kings and queens of France and Spain and Portugal.
To the Czars of Russia.
To Bismarck and to Hitler and to Stalin.
And to the United States, as well.
But only in a limited way.
And only for a time.

Within the next few months of his work, Jesus says:
What good is it for a man to gain the world and lose his soul?

The kingdoms of the world are not worth the paper on which the check is written.

The real kingdom cannot be given by Satan, because it’s not Satan’s to give.

Satan bestows power, but never peace.
Satan creates lust, but never love.
Satan fills the heart with malice, never mercy.

And with all that power and all the lust and all that malice comes the witches’ brew:
Ceaseless warfare and social conflict and fear and anxiety and hatred of one another, genocide and bigotry and prejudice and racial discrimination and ethnic suspicion … the rich get richer and the poor get poorer … a certain madness when the kingdoms of the world are given to us, and all it takes is but a nod our heads to the Tempter, when we bow the knee, even a little, to the glitter … to the temptations of power.

Jesus reminds the Devil,
Worship God and God alone.

Jesus later teaches us:
Your Father in heaven knows full well what you need, even before you ask.
Therefore seek the kingdom of God above all else.
And all these others things that are needful will be given to you, and then some.

The Tempter has no more cards to play, and so the Tempter goes away.

“Suddenly,” says the bible, … out of the blue, quiet unexpectedly, angels come and wait on Jesus.

Three years later, dear friends.
On a place called Calvary.
The Son of God gives his life away for the sins of the world.
The righteous death so feared by Satan becomes the instrument of our salvation, salvation for all the world.

Dear friends,
The Tempter still comes our way.

Where we work, and where we live.
In our homes.
And in our churches.
And in the nations of the world.
The Tempter still comes.

And the temptations are pretty much the same.
Feed yourself first!
Your faith isn’t good enough!
Go for the glitter!

But to each of these things, we say No.
More than No.

Because we say Yes to God.

Dear friends, rest assured: angels are always just around the corner.
And they come to us, as they did to Jesus.

Amen and Amen!