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Sermon for 9 March 2014

First Reading                     Genesis 2:15–17; 3:1–7

Chapter 2  15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.  16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Chapter 3  1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 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.'”  4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.  7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.


Psalm                                                      Psalm 32

1 Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away!  2 Happy are they to whom the LORD imputes no guilt, and in whose spirit there is no guile!  3 While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, because of my groaning all day long.  4 For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.  5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not conceal my guilt.  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.”  Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.  6 Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.  7 You are my hiding-place; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.  8 “I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; I will guide you with my eye.  9 Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; who must be fitted with bit and bridle, or else they will not stay near you.”  10 Great are the tribulations of the wicked; but mercy embraces those who trust in the LORD.  11 Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the LORD; shout for joy, all who are true of heart.

Second Reading                      Romans 5:12–19

 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned — 13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law.  14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.  15 But the free gift is not like the trespass.  For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.   16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin.  For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification.  17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.  18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.  19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.


Gospel                                          Matthew 4:1–11

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.  3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  4 But he answered, “It is written,

            ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

            ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so thatyou will not dash your foot against a stone.'”

7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written,

‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

            ‘Worship the Lord your God,  and serve only him.'”

11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.





“Lead me not into temptation,” sang country artist Lari White a few years back, “I already know the road all too well; Lead me not into temptation / I can find it all by myself.”  It’s a chorus that makes us silently chuckle, but after a few moments of reflection, we understand that this is, at heart, a sobering statement of the human condition:  “Lead me not into temptation; I can find it all by myself.”

A certain man was visiting his psychiatrist.  Among the many questions the doctor asked was, “Are you bothered by improper thoughts?”  “Not at all,” the man said.  “The truth is I rather enjoy them.”  And we do enjoy them, until they get us in real trouble.

          Futurist Faith Popcorn in her Dictionary of the Future introduces a new term that has crept into the vocabulary of the workplace.  She says it is called the “Boss Key.” “There you are,” she writes, “expanding your creativity and stretching the boundaries of your mind by playing a video game during office hours, and your boss has the nerve to walk into your office.  No problem, just hit the boss key . . . and you will return to a harmless looking page of text.  Some sites also have a boss icon a rendering of a grim‑faced ogre that you hit to escape the game.”  The question we can ask is, why don’t we want our boss to see what we’re doing when we’re playing video games on company time?  It’s the same reason Adam and Eve ran and hid after tasting the forbidden fruit:  Temptation. 

The allure of the forbidden follows us to the office, it faces us in the cafeteria, it forces us to say no to some of our most basic desires.  It’s as old as humanity.  We can read about it in the second chapter of Genesis:  The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”  Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”  “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.  She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.  It’s a story we all know well, and we all know the power of temptation.  Every human that has ever lived has struggled with temptation and that even includes God’s only Son.

In our gospel lesson for this morning we read, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”  Jesus answered, “It is written:  ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

          Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.  “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down.  For it is written:

‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”  Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

          Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”  Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan!  For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”  Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. 

Jesus’ identity, strength and authority are suddenly tested in a quick succession of encounters with satan and his wily powers of deception.  As is so often the case with temptations, these encounters come when Jesus is most vulnerable—alone, needy and unproven in His newly announced calling.


Furthermore, the trickery in the tests is primal and powerful, simultaneously raising doubts concerning God’s promises and appealing to purposes that can be good in and of themselves:  “feed yourself, feed the world; generate a public spectacle, demonstrate God’s power for all to see; and here’s political leadership, use it to free your people and save the world.”  Recognizing, resisting temptation is neither simple nor easy.

In the third temptation, the evil one tips his hand:  “All these I will give you, if you fall down and worship me.”  In temptation there’s always a price to be paid.  With evil the price is costly:  This will, in the end, cost you your allegiance to God, your freedom and your life.  The ways of evil are pathways to death.

Three tests, three temptations, yet our Lord was able to overcome the tempter.  And this is good news for us.  Jesus knows what it’s like to be tempted, to be enticed at a difficult time and yet He overcame.  Therefore, He understands the difficulties of temptation and when we ask, He also provides the means to withstand and to overcome.

          To be a human being is to be tempted; tempted to anger, tempted to lust, tempted to sloth, tempted to stubbornness, tempted to vengeance, and the list goes on and on.  How do you say no to the tempter?  In children we refer to it as “Impulse control”, and it’s the most important virtue they can acquire.  But how do we learn to control our most basic impulses and desires?  It’s tough.  And we, like Jesus, find that the tempter hits us where and when we’re most vulnerable.

A writer named Susan Nielsen wrote a wonderful column about temptation in the publication, the Oregonian, sometime back.  Her temptation, according to this column, is materialism.  She writes how she envied a neighbor’s pool.  She said it opened her mind to the idea of disposable income, “of buying things you don’t need and your neighbors can’t afford.”  She said, “It was like meeting the devil himself, in a swimsuit and a smile.”  She adds, “I’ve been running from that devil ever since.”

          After college she says she worked on luxury yachts for a while and, she adds, “The devil worked beside me as a deckhand . . . Some of the yacht owners flew in private jets.  Others merely flew first class.”  Later she moved to Oregon, bought a house and spent a solid year gloating about owning a washer and dryer.  The ability to do laundry at any hour . . . was a significant improvement in her quality of life.  “Then,” she writes, “the devil stopped by with a welcome basket and a little gossip.  The neighbors have central air, he said.  The people down the street have a landscaper.  The couple across the way buy gourmet cheese . . . for $12 a pound.  They also use doggie day care, their bathroom is tiled and their wine collection is amazing.”  She says, “I almost cried myself to sleep on the futon couch.”

          She says this about the tempter:  “He loves selling the American dream as a scarce commodity.  He loves hinting that if I don’t try harder to be rich, I’ll end up poor.  This is why we have the same conversation now as we did 25 years ago, next to the swimming pool of a girl whose face I barely remember.  I tell him I’m blessed with everything I need.  He laughs and says, in a voice as old as money, that’s not enough.”  And for many people, it isn’t enough.  There’s constantly that voice, “More . . . more.”  All of us have a point where we’re vulnerable to temptation.  Some of us are weak at one point; others are weak at another.  The tempter always hits us where we are most vulnerable. 

Satan came to Jesus when He’d been fasting for forty days and offered Him bread.  He came to Him when He was pondering His mission of sacrificial service.  Satan offered Jesus shortcuts:  “Throw yourself from the pinnacle of the temple and let the angels catch you.  That’ll catch their attention.  It’s a lot easier than hanging on a cross.  Bow down to me.  Let me give you the kingdoms of the world.  That’s a lot quicker than working generation after generation through your fickle disciples and those folks who will follow them to build your kingdom.”  The tempter always approaches us where we’re most vulnerable.  But Jesus didn’t give in.  And neither should we.

What can we learn about dealing with temptation from Jesus’ experience in the wilderness?  Jesus showed us that there are at least three ways.  First of all, know the scripture.  It’s interesting, don’t you think, that one of the things the tempter did in dealing with Jesus was to quote Hebrew scripture to Him?  Of course, satan took the scripture out of context, and Jesus knew that because He was grounded in the Old Testament Scripture.  And this is a very important thing to remember.

          We’re told that farmers in Minnesota used to hear advertisements on the radio for “Babcock B 300’s.”  Babcock B 300’s were a special breed of chickens that were supposed to lay more eggs than any other kind.  But what was really interesting was the fellow who developed them.  His name was Monroe C. Babcock, and he had this theory:  he believed that chickens would produce better if the farmers read their Bibles more and went to church often.  He believed that people who knew the love of God would be more loving and kind to others around them, even to the animals on their farms!  And chickens that were treated kindly would produce more eggs!

          Now I really can’t speculate about the effect that reading the Bible has on chickens.  And I’m not certain if any research has been done, leastwise I couldn’t find any.  However, the rest of Babcock’s beliefs are spot on:  people who read their Bibles and go to church often, are people who know the love of God and generally will be more loving and kind to others around them, even to the animals on their farms!

TV host Greg Lauri interviewed one of the women from the Survivor television show.   This woman had gone on Survivor and been told she could bring five things with her to the location of the shoot.  She said that one of the things she wanted to bring was a Bible.  The Survivor producers said, “No, you can’t bring a Bible.  Somebody already did that.  You’ve got to bring something different.”  So she went to this island without a Bible, or any Christian relationships and it had a profoundly negative impact on her life.  A change in her behavior could be seen almost immediately.  From the beginning of the season, her character began to change, the way she talked, the way she spoke to the others and the kind of words she used.  The attitudes she had toward others, the jealousy, the hatred.  All of it immediately came into her life.  She told Greg Lauri, “I didn’t realize how weak I really was.”  Her experiences are not nearly as unique as we’d like to believe.

          In reality, that woman’s story is our story, we’re all weak.  That’s one reason we need to immerse ourselves in the Scriptures.  It’s so we can have support in the time of testing.  This woman’s experiences also demonstrate a second necessity.  We also need to stay as close as possible to our Christian friends.  We’re always more vulnerable to temptation when we’re alone.  Notice that the woman on the Survivor program said she was “without a Bible, with no Christian relationships.”  That’s when we’re vulnerable.

The tempter came to Jesus when He was alone in the wilderness.  The tempter came to Simon Peter when he was alone beside the fire in the Temple courtyard, the tempter came to Judas when he was away from the other disciples.  The devil knows, that’s when we’re vulnerable.

Pastor Jerry Vines tells about a young man from a rural family who went to the city to get a job.  Before he left, his mother said, “Son, I want you to promise me that you will go to church on Sunday.”  So he promised, and went to the city.  He worked the first week and made some new friends.  As the weekend drew near, his new friends invited him to go horseback riding with them on Sunday.  He remembered his promise to his mother and he said, “Sorry, guys, I can’t do it.”  But they continued to pressure him and after a while he agreed to go.

Sunday morning came, and they began their horseback ride.  Around 11:00, they rode near a church.  The bells were ringing, announcing the morning service.  In his mind the young man could see his parents walking into their little home church.  He remembered his promise to his mother but he just kept on riding.  The bells grew fainter. Finally the young man stopped his horse and said, “Guys, I come from a Christian family.  My mother asked me to promise her I’d be in church today.  I’ve noticed as we have been riding that the church bells have been getting fainter and fainter.  If we ride anymore, I won’t be able to hear the bells at all.  I’m going back while I can still hear them.”

It’s a simple story, but it contains a profound truth.  When we drift away from worship, we’re in danger of not being able to hear the bells when we need to hear them most.  How do we stop the tempter?  Know the Scriptures, stay near Christian friends.  And finally, resolve to stay as far away from any compromising situation as you can.  “Lead me not into temptation,” sang Lari White, “I already know the road all too well . . .”  And that’s the problem.  If we give the tempter the least bit of room in our lives, resisting temptation becomes all that much more difficult. 

The story is told of a certain African tribe that learned an easy way to capture ducks in a river.  The tribesmen learned to go upstream, place a pumpkin in the river, and let it slowly float down into the flock of ducks.  At first, the cautious fowl would quack and fly away.  After all, it wasn’t ordinary for pumpkins to float down the river!  But the persistent tribesmen would subsequently float another pumpkin into the re-gathered ducks.  Again they would scatter, only to return after the strange sphere had passed.  Again, the hungry hunters would float another pumpkin.  This time the ducks would remain, with a cautious eye on the pumpkin, and with each successive passing, the ducks would become more comfortable, until they finally accepted the pumpkins as a normal part of life.  When the natives saw that the pumpkins no longer bothered the ducks, they hollowed out pumpkins, put them over their heads, and walked into the river.  Meandering into the midst of the tolerant fowl, they pulled them down one at a time.  That’s how the tempter works. 

Satan doesn’t normally attack us head on.  He begins with small compromises.  A few dollars out of the till.  Not enough to notice, at first.  A wink, a smile, a phone call.  And before long we’re roast duck.  How do we deal with temptation?  First, know the Scriptures.  Second, be faithful in worship and in church fellowship opportunities.  Third, stay as far as possible from temptation.  And most importantly, pray, “Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil . . .


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