Saturday 4 March 2017

Turn with me to Mathew’s gospel in Chapter 4 verses 1-11, the story of the temptations faced by Jesus in the wilderness.
We are now in a period of 40 days when we are to reflect and consider our spiritual state. In the early days of the Church this was a time for converts to the faith to prepare for baptism at Easter.

In observing the 40 days, we are reminded of the period Jesus spent in the wilderness directly after His baptism, resisting the temptations set before Him by the devil, and we journey with Christ in readiness for His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to face the glory of the Cross and His resurrection three days later. We recognise we need a Saviour and accept Jesus was the One who came to seek and save us.

The story of Jesus’ trials is hard for modernists to accept and believe, and ask can you really believe this in 2017, but as Jesus was alone it must have been told by Him. Jesus and His Apostles clearly taught about the devil, and when see and read and hear of all the evil in our own world, it should not be hard to accept. Others ask why Jesus had to be tempted, but He was both human and divine and it was His human nature which was being tempted. . This human side is revealed in the Bible when we read the descriptions of His compassion, tears, gratitude and hunger.

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.

The Bible teaches the Christian life is a warfare. The Christian life is a battle, a fight, a struggle, a warfare from beginning to end. We are told that we as Christians must be strong in order to wrestle against the forces of darkness. Much of the New Testament concerning Christian living has to do with warfare.
The Bible teaches that not one single Christian is ever exempt from fighting this battle. God calls every Christian, not to a religious playground, He calls us for a grim, terrible, conflict. And God says that the Christian life is a combat and a fight and a wrestling match from start to finish.
The moment you become a Christian, you have started a battle that will last the rest of your days. Now you are on God's side, and the devil does not like it.
Many times, the darkest hour of temptation comes after a spiritual victory. This time of adjustment is just like getting married. The first few months of marriage is fun and it's a wonderful experience, but there are adjustments to be made; there are difficulties too. So it is when you first come to Christ. You give yourself to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and you feel a new person, but the next thing you know, temptation is pulling you in a direction you had never dreamed you would be pulled.
We read that Jesus was led into the desert where He fasted for 40 days and nights, so would be extremely hungry. 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.

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. Now the Church seems to think if you entertain people by having a quiz or some guessing game instead of a sermon, it will attract more people, but results do not support that belief. Faith which needs entertainment is not real faith. A gospel built on gimmicks is doomed, which is why so many church efforts fail

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.’

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.

So many people are led to believe that there are many ways to heaven; that is where they are led astray. They are told you don’t have to make any commitment; you don't have to repent of your sins; if you'll just do good and try to please everybody, you'll be all right without having had any personal experience with Christ.

A very sad outcome is that so many people, who like to call themselves Christians, are following lifestyles which betray the faith laid down by God in the Bible. This is exacerbated when such are members of the clergy; and even bishops are not only accepting and embracing a secular culture, they are encouraging the same.

Jesus said we should not put God to the test. We are to resist the devil, and in the power of the Holy Spirit and with the Word of God, we can do so. You can't do it in your own strength. You can only do it if Christ lives within you and you have submitted yourself completely to God

We all have been in situations when we have to make a decision in some controversial matter and in our mind we know what we should do to act morally and honestly, but the alternative often seem more appealing. It is to our innermost thoughts and desires that the tempter comes into our minds. In today’s evil world we are confronted by so many temptations.

Sadly at all levels in the Church men and women are fulfilling their own desires rather than accept the spiritual guidance God has given. To do this and to try and justify their actions, and in some cases ease their conscience if they have one, they also try to re-interpret Scripture in accordance with their actions, to convince themselves and others that the Bible is on their side.

The ultimate sin is to ignore God and to live as if His Word is not binding. The Bible is not a pick/n mix option. Always be careful when the Bible is quoted to justify some action which is not what you would expect, even from a pulpit.

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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