Friday 7 March 2014

Turn with me to Matthews gospel in Chapter 4 verses 1-11, the story of the temptations faced by Jesus in the wilderness. We read that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

In the Old Testament the Israelites were led into the desert to be tested and humbled to prove to God that they were able to keep God’s commands. Here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry He is going to prove that He will obey every word that comes from God and be faithful. It was important for Jesus to be tested for if He had succumbed to temptation He could not be our Saviour.

When we talk of the devil people conjure up an image of some wild eyed creature with horns and a flaming mouth. By the term devil we mean that evil spirit which comes upon us and tries to influence our thoughts and actions for evil. There are times when we have to decide a course of action. In our minds we know one way is right but the other is more appealing, and whilst we know what we really should do, we succumb to temptation, and do the wrong thing.

Is that not how we are tempted? Sometimes people turn to drink or drugs rather than face up to emotional problems. It is so much easier to turn to vodka and numb yourself than to delve into and solve your troubles. People move from one relationship to another rather than make a loving commitment, and avoid devoting themselves to one person.

When you listen or read news reports you can readily appreciate the powerful influence of evil, for the stories are frightening. When we read, ‘the devil said to Jesus’. or the devil took Jesus, we are to understand that in a vision Jesus had these temptations put into His mind. It is through our innermost thoughts and desires that the tempter comes to us and puts such evil thoughts into our minds.

There are occasions when people feel the devil is very real. Martin Luther was once so convinced of a presence of the devil that he threw an inkwell at his wall.

We read that Jesus was led into the desert where He fasted for 40 days and nights, so would be extremely hungry. Forty is a significant number in the Bible. Moses and Elijah spent days when they were fulfilling God’s purpose for them in the wilderness.

The place where Jesus went was between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea and was so barren it was called ‘devastation’. The ground was a mixture of yellow sand and limestone which created an atmosphere resembling a massive furnace, and was utterly deserted, there being no lonelier place on earth. There he faced temptations from the devil.

The first temptation was when the devil called on Jesus to turn the stones into bread. The desert would be littered with little round pieces of lime stone, each of which was exactly like a loaf of bread, so for someone in a starving state and who had supernatural powers, the temptation was there.

There is always the temptation to use powers God has given us for the wrong reason. God has given us all gifts and we have to ask not what I can make for myself out of them, but what can I do for others. A person may have a talent for making or doing something but will only do so for personal reward. It is perfectly acceptable to make profit for an ability but wrong to do so exclusively.

Jesus could have turned the stones to bread, He would later turn a few loaves into food for thousands, but replied as in each temptation it is written, then He quoted Scripture. In this case He said that we live not only by bread, material food, but also by spiritual food, God’s Word.

One sure way to get a following is to offer people something for free, but Jesus did not come to bribe people, and nor should His Church ever think of doing so. Jesus called people to give and not just to get to feed the hunger in the heart. He relied on God for His power and when we are in some form of wilderness we need to remember to call on our God. Jesus did not ignore our physical needs, but directed our minds to the spiritual.

Then the tempter tried in a different manner. In a vision Jesus was taken to the top of Mount Sion where there was a level plateau and the Temple buildings were there. There was a drop of 450 feet and Jesus was asked to jump in order to capture the people into following Him with the devil recognising the power of Jesus saying, ‘you are under God’s control.’

The Church has often tried to use gimmicks, and seems to be doing so more so now in an attempt to persuade people to attend, and some of them are quite silly. When someone comes to Church they do so in the belief they will hear the Christian message expounded and find something in that message which will fulfil the purpose for which they came. Faith which needs entertainment is not real faith. A gospel built on gimmicks is doomed, which is why so many church efforts fail.

Finally the devil calls on Jesus to worship him. There seems to be a similar call now as we are being asked to compromise and follow society in being modern, 21st century etc. Jesus laid down the uncompromising nature of the Christian faith, and we should never be ready to answer the call of those who are prepared to change our faith to be popular.

Christianity should never stoop to meet the mood of the world but rather lead society’s thinking. Some of our bishops are playing at being politicians writing to left wing newspapers on political matters, which I suspect few really understand, but brings them to public attention. Perhaps one day we may read letters encouraging people using spiritual language.

A Christian commentator was once asked if the Church might become disestablished when Prince Charles became King, in view of his attraction to another faith, and she replied that she thought it would happen earlier as society no longer accepted the morality of the Bible. We now have Parliament threatening the Church if it didn’t follow society and ordain homosexual men and appoint women bishops.

The Bible teaches that the Christian life is a battle and as Christians we must be strong in order to fight the forces of evil.Seventy five years ago men fought the Battle of Britain and now we are fighting the battle for Britain, and the enemy is more powerful than the Luftwaffe ever was, he (or she) is right among us not many miles above us. The moment you become a Christian, you are facing opposition. The Bible says, ‘be vigilant, be sober. because your adversary the devil is like a roaring lion seeking who he may devour’.

The temptations in this passage could only have overcome b y someone with special powers. Only Jesus would have known of these temptations, so the story must have originated from Him. Jesus made it clear He would live by the Scriptures and Christians and the Christian Church should do the same.

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