Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-11
Rev. Peter Faass
One of my favorite jazz singers is Diana Krall, and her signature song, Temptation, composed by Tom Waits:
Temptation, oh temptation, temptation, I can't resist . . .
My will has disappeared
Now confusion is so clear
Temptation, oh temptation, temptation
I can't resist.”
Imagine these lyrics sung by Eve as the serpent tempts her with the forbidden fruit from one tree in the Garden of Eden:
“Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” the serpent slyly asks Eve. “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;” she replies, “but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’“ But the serpent said to the woman, “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.”
Whew! One bite of this fruit and I will be like God? Temptation, oh temptation, temptation. I can’t resist. Chomp!
We have two scripture stories about temptation this morning. The Genesis story is about the fall of the perfection of creation in the Garden of Eden when Eve and Adam disobey God and eat the fruit the serpent tempts them to consume. By caving in to temptation, they introduced death, the pain of childbearing for women, and hard labor to earn their daily bread. The humans are also expelled from the idyllic world of Eden. For his nefarious roll in their fall from grace, the serpent is condemned to slither on his belly. This intriguing punishment leads one to believe that the serpent walked in some upright fashion prior to this; certainly not an image of snakes that I want to think about too deeply!
Adam and Eve were easy marks for the serpent’s wily temptations. How about us?
As we enter Lent, the temptation in Eden poignantly reminds us of how we resist the seductive call of things we have given up this Lent as part of our self-denial. We are subject to weakening resistance even five days in. I suspect many of us hear the serpent’s voice calling us in the chocolate bar, the cup of coffee or the glass of wine. “If you partake of me, you shall not really break your Lenten fast.”
At this time of year, I frequently am asked if it’s okay to break our Lenten disciplines on Sundays, as Sundays are not officially a part of Lent. This is technically correct. The six Sundays of Lent are not counted in the forty days of the season. While that may be legally correct, breaking one’s Lenten fast on Sundays is suspiciously spiritually barren.
Listening to the wrong voice in your life leads us away from keeping our commitment to God. If you eat that hunk of chocolate or drink that coffee you gave up for Lent on Sundays because it’s “not technically Lent,” inevitably the siren sound of the serpent will grow more seductive and insistent, tempting you to do so again on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, because that’s just how temptation works when it wants you to turn away from God. Temptation, temptation, I can’t resist.
Our second temptation story focuses on Jesus in the wilderness. Satan tempts Jesus after forty days of fasting in the desert. Jesus has already gone the distance with his fast - presumably no Sunday exceptions for him! He’s not eaten, so he’s starving and in a weakened state, which makes him vulnerable.
Taking advantage of Jesus' hunger, the devil tries to entice him by turning stones into multiple loaves of bread. He tempts Jesus to demonstrate his close association with the powerful, proving that God's angels will keep him from injury. The devil also lures him to secure the glory of political leadership by offering him the power to rule all the kingdoms of the world if he would only but cave in to temptation, turn from God, and worship the devil.
Think of how often we have had these temptations proffered to us in different forms. Hey, grab all you can get to ensure your own needs and more. Live by the motto, “I got mine too bad for you,” or, “It’s not what you know it’s who you know. Nepotism is good!”
Make sure you fawn over the rich and powerful despite how they treat people, if you believe doing so will benefit you. Amass as much influence and power as you can to satisfy your own ego and meet your goals, regardless of the means, despite how that may be to the detriment of others.
All of these temptations are held before us like luscious fruits of Eden in the world of commerce, advertising, community life, our professional lives, and maybe most poignantly, in politics. If you thought that chocolate was tempting, wait until unlimited stuff and power and status seduce you.
Temptation, oh temptation. I can’t resist.
Despite his weakened state, Jesus does not cave in to these temptations. He refuses to turn stones into bread to assuage his own hunger. He will instead feed thousands of hungry people in the wilderness with just a few loaves and some fish. He makes sure all have what they need, not just himself.
Jesus refuses to take advantage of his relationship with God by hurling himself down from the heights of the Temple. At the end of his earthly ministry, he endures taunts and scourging, trusting God's power to the end as he hangs on a Roman cross.
Jesus turns down the devil's offer of political leadership over the kingdoms of the world, and instead offers the kingdom of heaven (the restoration of the fallen Eden) to all those who follow him in the ways of justice and righteousness.
Jesus’ response to temptations becomes the template for his earthly ministry.
Each is replayed in Jesus' encounters with persons who are sick, hungry or in need; with persons who use their connections to power to gain benefits for themselves; with people who too easily worry about the world's assessment of their greatness rather than God's assessment of how they are doing with loving one another as they have been loved.
If we take nothing else away from this story of Jesus’ temptation, I pray that we understand that when we are tempted (in ways great and small), God is with us, always. God was with Jesus in the desert and stayed with him throughout his life, even when he hung from the cross.
God is with us when:
God is with us.
God knows our temptations and how seductive they are because God in Jesus experienced them. Because we have an incarnate God who knows our humanity inside-out, we have a God who not only knows and is with us, but who sympathizes with us when we are so tempted as well.
There is no place so desolate, so distant, so tempting or so challenging in human life, where Jesus has not already been. There is no test or temptation so great that Jesus has not already overcome. Because he has been there and done that, he can love us back into right relationship with God, even when we have given in to our temptations.
Whether it’s the seductive call of chocolate, wine or caffeine during Lent, or the tempting voice of evil in the world saying it’s okay to think only of yourself and your own needs to the detriment of others, even when you are tempted by the offer of excessive accumulation, status and power, know Jesus has experienced it. When we pray, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” know that Jesus hears our prayer and he is with us and in his strength, we are strengthened to resist. God’s reign draws ever closer.
Let’s continue to work toward that coming reign as we walk the way of a holy Lent.