Wednesday 6 March 2019

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 2019 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 did 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.

Jesus had not eaten for 40 days and when a person is physically tired and stressed, or under any vulnerable pressure, that is the time when they are most at risk of giving into temptation. We all have and all will be tempted.

Turn with me to this passage in Luke’s gospel, which is corroborated in Matthew’s gospel.

Jesus had just been baptised and was anointed by the Holy Spirit which leads Him into the desert. This was wasteland which lay between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, an area 35 x 15 miles of yellow sand and crumbling limestone which reacted like a giant furnace.

When we read Jesus was tempted by the devil it is often for people to conjure up an image of some wild eyed creature with horns and a flaming mouth. What we need to recognise is an evil spirit coming upon us to try and influence us to do or think something which we know is wrong. It is no sin to be tempted, it is the giving in which is.

We know Jesus was meant to go through this ordeal by God to test His obedience and prove He would be worthy to carry out the mission God had in mind for Him, and if He had failed He could not have been our Saviour.

Jesus was very hungry because of His fasting and has the temptation to turn the stones, which were shaped like small loaves, into bread, and He knew God had bestowed upon Him the power to do so. In a short time later he would be turning water into wine.

Imagine you have no money and your child is very hungry and is crying for something to eat. You think of the supermarket close by with all its plentiful food and your husband says nip in and sneak a loaf out. You know the commandment, ‘you shall not steal’. How would you react to that situation; would you obey the Commandment or steal a loaf? Jesus faced a like situation, but knew also God had power to provide what was needed, so He proved His obedience. He was here being tempted to doubt God’s reliability.

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.

The lesson for us here is to be obedient as Jesus was by following all the teaching God has given us in the Bible. The temptation is to fail to trust in God’s goodness and sovereign control in a stressful or worrying situation relating to the things of this life; and the alternative is to try any quick fix to put things right – with the fix being inherently wrong.
For Jesus at this stage, using his miraculous powers for his own personal purposes would have been wrong. His heavenly Father could have provided any miracle that was needed – as happened with manna in the wilderness.

So we are being encouraged to trust God, who in His way and in His time can solve all our problems in a way that is best for us. Jesus was going to wait for God’s timing for ending His fast.

In the second temptation Jesus is led up a mountain from which much of the regions could be seen, and is tempted by the devil to forsake God and turn to his way. Come to me and just turn a blind eye, don’t be too strict fall in with the times. Jesus again quoted Scripture and said, ‘we must worship God alone’.

For Christ the temptation was to have all the world under his control, by submitting to the devil’s offer instead of His Father’s will; it was to let the end justify the means.

The same thing is happening today in our world where it is what happens when you believe nothing in itself is wrong as long as you believe yourself it is right. It is a case of all that matters is you have a good intention.

Jesus was not into being bribed and should we be; neither should we try and bribe people into coming to Church, nor should we soft peddle when they do come.

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 final temptation came when Jesus was led on to a wooden plateau at the top of the Temple where the invitation was to throw Himself off and land safe and well 450 feet below which would be such a spectacle to those seeing. It is a temptation to use sensational antics. But Jesus ministry was not to be marked by sensationalism, nor should ours be. I have attended services where it was more like a party game with the Minister acting as Master of ceremonies.

I have been told by a Vicar that we should make people happy. One Vicar had a comedian visit her to instruct her how to tell jokes to make her sermons appealing. Actually, if she wanted to be a comedian, she should have chosen the stage and not the pulpit.

I thought how revealing it was when she had a small congregation, and then I watched videos of the greatest preacher in Christian history, Billy Graham, who held Crusades being based solely on Biblical teaching, and to audiences of 80,000, regularly telling them they were all sinners and were in danger of going to hell if they did not repent, yet they flocked in their tens of thousands to hear him.

In verse 12 Jesus replies to the devil, ‘you shall not put the Lord your God to the test’. All of Jesus’ answers come from God’s Word, specifically from the book of Deuteronomy which was highly respected by the Jews in Jesus’ time. By quoting Scripture Jesus demonstrates the centrality of God’s Word.

In all His action and words, Jesus sets an example for us.

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