First Sunday in Lent
March 9, 2003
The Gospel: Mark 1: 9-13
Sermon: "Jesus' Temptation in the Wilderness"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Mark 1: 9-13
Jesus' Temptation in the Wilderness
First Sunday in Lent - March 9, 2003
"Temptation is seductive and beautiful. Temptation lures us in and gives us a false sense of security and makes everything seem right for awhile." These were the words I heard the televangelist say to the TV camera and his congregation. I fully agreed with what he had to say to this point. However, he lost me when he said, "And if you will send a donation to my ministry, I will pray for you to overcome whatever temptation you may have. I will hold your letter in my hand, pray for you by name, and that temptation will leave you never to return again." I couldn't help but wonder who was praying for his temptations.
The reality is sin is seductive. Temptation draws us and lures us into sinful behavior. Years ago I heard a very old song about the Garden of Eden and temptation called Dem Bones. In the song there are several verses about the serpent and Eve near the Tree of Forbidden Fruit. They go like this.
Long came a serpent six foot three. Dem bones gonna rise again.
Wrapped himself around that tree. Dem bones gonna rise again.
He wrapped himself around that trunk. Dem bones gonna rise again.
And his eye at Eve he wunk. Dem bones gonna rise again.
My those apples sure look fine Dem bones gonna rise again
Take one, the Lord won't mind. Dem bones gonna rise again.
The song describes temptation very well for us. We see something we want and we try to rationalize our need for it. The temptation can be for anything. It can involve money or worldly goods. We want the great things money can buy. We want the worldly goods. We want what the Jones' have. The temptation is that the worldly goods move from luxuries to needs. We feel we need these things. We have to have them.
Another temptation is power. Another name for this temptation is control. We want control over everything around us. We want people to notice us. We want the accolades. I call this the E.F. Hutton syndrome. When we walk into a room or say something our desire is for people to notice us. This temptation is very powerful. It occurs in homes and families. It occurs in business. It takes place in churches. Look at me. Look at all the things I do in the church. Look at how important I am in my own world. Another way this temptation rears its head is in addiction. We think we can control alcohol, drugs, sex, the compulsion to make money, or any other addiction. We are in control and nothing can control us.
This temptation to control is so powerful that it leads to a temptation even more interesting. I am so powerful I can even put God to the test. I can do whatever I want and God will save me because God and I are best buddies. We are just like this (crossed fingers). In essence we are saying I am so important God does what I want.
Have we noticed that Jesus was tempted with these same temptations in our Gospel reading? He was tempted to change stones into bread. He was tempted with individual need. Of course, we can say he was hungry. He was fasting, of course, he was hungry. Breaking the fast prematurely was the temptation. He was tempted with worldly power. He was offered kingdoms, riches, and control over everything in the world. He was finally tempted to challenge God. Jesus, you are so important God would never let anything happen to you, so throw yourself off of here. Try to commit suicide, God won't let you die. Yet, Jesus sees the traps. He sees the temptations and he overcomes them.
By overcoming the temptations and being without sin, Jesus becomes our example. Jesus becomes our hope. Do you remember algebra in high school? In my algebra book we had a lot of problems on each page. For each section they gave a sample problem as an example for us to follow in completing the homework. Jesus is our example to follow. Jesus overcame the temptations of possessions, power and control over God. He used scripture, prayer and faith to overcome the temptation. Jesus gives us an example on how to deal with our own temptations. We even have one more source for help. We can call on the power and faith of the Christian community. After Jesus is tempted he calls the disciples together. He builds a community that can uplift and uphold one another in their life in Christ. Jesus sets the example through prayer, faith scripture, and the formation of the community.
In addition to setting the example, Jesus also is our hope. The world will continue to tempt us. No matter how hard we try. We are going to stumble from time to time. We are human and we have our faults. Now, that doesn't mean we can sit back and say its alright to sin. We are to be like Jesus. We are to struggle against temptation. But, when we fall, when we stumble, Jesus is there to help us. When his disciples stumbled and fell, Jesus did not abandon them. He taught them. He loved them. He forgave them. Jesus is our hope because when we stumble Jesus will teach us. Jesus will love us. Jesus will forgive us.
Temptation is very real in our lives. There are many apples out there that we could pick. Through the love and grace of God in Jesus Christ, we have help not only to resist the temptation, but to save us when we need the grace of God the most.