“Lead Us Not Into Temptation” – Matthew 3:13 – 4:17
Lent 1 – March 5, 2017
- Jesus’ Baptism: My Beloved Son
Our essential Bible passage for today encompasses two accounts from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry – His Baptism and His temptation at the hands of the devil. We always hear about and celebrate Jesus’ Baptism in early January, and the account of His temptation is always read on this first Sunday in Lent. But they do have an interesting connection in Matthew’s Gospel, and we’ll use the Lord’s Prayer phrase, “Lead us not into temptation” as our guiding theme.
The account of Jesus’ Baptism in Matthew’s Gospel is short and sweet. There is some context early in Matthew 3 of a man named John baptizing people in the Jordan River for repentance and for the forgiveness of their sins. In Luke’s version of John’s baptism ministry, John even put skin on their Baptisms, explaining what living as a baptized child of God means: share with those in need, live lives of honesty and integrity, be content rather than greedy – things like that.
Then, surprisingly, and without prior notification or consultation, Jesus shows up to be baptized. We know that Jesus and John had met once before – while they were both still in the wombs of their mothers. Jesus’ mother, Mary, had gone to visit and perhaps help out her aged relative, Elizabeth, when she was pregnant with John. We don’t hear of any other meeting of Jesus and John – either in their childhood or as adults. But somehow, maybe only by revelation from God, John recognized Jesus and knew who He was – the Messiah, the Saviour. He said, “You’re coming to me for Baptism? It’s me that really needs to be baptized by you, in you, through you.” Jesus explained that His Baptism needed to be done to fulfill righteousness. Jesus didn’t need repentance. After all, He was the Son of God, and without sin. But we’ve heard in the last couple of weeks how Jesus hung around with sinners. The key to understanding Jesus’ Baptism is the word “fulfill.” Later, when Jesus hung on the cross outside Jerusalem, He would bear the burden of the punishment and the penalty of the whole world’s sins. Even now, at the beginning of His ministry, He identified with sinners, taking on their sin, being baptized for the forgiveness – not of His sins, but of theirs, of ours. In fact, in the Gospel of John, John the Baptizer is heard to say, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus’ mission was to take the sins of the whole world on Himself. His life on earth – from beginning to end – was devoted to fulfilling that mission, even His Baptism.
Just as we heard the affirmation of the Heavenly Father last Sunday at Jesus’ transfiguration, so at His Baptism we hear the Father say, “This is my Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” In the waters of the Jordan, Jesus was connecting with sinners as the book of Hebrews explains: “He had to be made like His brothers in every respect… to make atonement for the sins of the people.”
- Jesus’ Temptation
As Matthew 3 turns into Matthew 4, we read these words: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” What a shock it must have been for Jesus to go directly from the close fellowship with God that He experienced at His Baptism to the traps that Satan had prepared in the wilderness. Hard on the heels of His Baptism – being identified as God’s Son, but Himself identifying with sinners – comes Jesus’ temptation. Sin, and its mastermind the devil, was going to stare Jesus right in the face, tempting Him, daring Him not to succumb to it.D
a. Describing sin
There are lots of ways to define or describe sin.
Missing the mark refers to God’s target for our lives – perfect love for Him, perfect love for our neighbour. When we fail in those perfect loves, we not only miss the bull’s eye, but sometimes we entirely miss the target. That’s an image of sin.
Debt is another picture of sin. Like the man in one of Jesus’ parables who amassed an uncountable debt toward the king of 10,000 talents of silver, we have amassed an unpayable moral debt of sin toward the King of kings – Jesus, Himself.
Trespassing describes sin as knowing the line which we are not to cross but stepping our toe across that line to see what will happen, how and when.
Often when we confess our sins, we say that we have sinned in thought, word and deed. Sometimes we talk about the wrong things we have done and the good and right things that we have left undone – sins of commission and omission.
b. Sin starts with temptation
But sin always starts with temptation. Lead us not into temptation. Temptation leads us to question God, His will, His ways. Temptation leads us to challenge God, thinking that we know better than the Creator. In the end, temptation leads us to disobey God in any of those sin-ways we have talked about.
Before we hear about Jesus’ temptations, let’s talk about things that tempt us. This is the congregation participation part of the sermon. Think about things that tempt people your age, your stage of life – single, married, divorced, widowed, kids, no kids, employed, unemployed, retired, in school, whatever. What tempts people your age? Be honest – even if it’s something that tempts you, that’s OK, you can say it, because we are all sinners, and we want to be real, and we’ve got to be real with God so that He can help us through our temptations and lead us to His righteousness. So, what tempts people your age?
There are lots of things that tempt us, aren’t there? I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that Jesus was led into the wilderness, into the desert to be tempted. Temptation is a spiritually dry and desert place where we feel hot and sweaty and parched, and where we don’t know which way to turn to find the oasis of God’s grace. It often feels like there is nowhere to turn to escape the desert of temptation. But stay with me, for there is an escape.
When Jesus was led to His time of temptation, to His preparation for public ministry, He first fasted. Fasting is a spiritual discipline that is meant to take us into the very presence of God, with no earthly distractions – not even food… just a focus on God, God’s presence, God’s will, God’s ways, God’s power. Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights – all the while focusing on His up-coming ministry, and, no doubt, His sacrifice for the salvation of the world. 40 was often the numbers of days (and sometimes the number of years) that indicated a period of trial and testing, and a transition from one era to another. In the wicked time of Noah, it rained 40 days and nights – a transition to a new world and era. Moses spent 40 days and nights with God on Mt. Sinai, receiving the 10 Commandments. The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness corresponding to Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. For them it was a period of preparation and a formation of their identity as a nation before moving in to take over the Promised Land. For Jesus, that time in the desert also shaped His identity before His death and resurrection opened the way for us to enter the Promised Land of heaven.
c. Jesus: Prove Yourself, enhance Yourself
OK… so what were Jesus’ temptations?
Well, after 40 days of fasting, anyone would be… hungry! Because Jesus was human, He experienced hunger. It was time to eat, but not in the “prove yourself” way the devil suggested. He said, he questioned, he challenged: “If you are the Son of God, turn these desert stones into bread, and satisfy yourself. Prove your divinity, prove your power over creation, provide for your human hunger with a divine demonstration.”
The second temptation was also a “prove yourself” test. The devil took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, looking down on a 100 foot drop to the Kidron Valley below. Again, the devil taunted, “If you are the Son of God… if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, take a joy ride, an adrenaline rush, a leap of faith, because you know that the angels will protect you.”
Video clip of my leap of faith!
Now for some people, that may have been fun, a thrill, but not for a guy like me who is scared of heights. Yeah, I know it was only the height of a two story building and I was landing on a giant pillow, but if there hadn’t been people in the line behind me, I might have stood at the edge for a minute or two, or I might have ashamedly turned around and walked back down the ladder like some other people actually did. (I don’t blame them!) But at some point it’s good to face your fears, especially if there is no apparent danger. Others would just have fun, making jump after jump, laughing and whooping it up.
I don’t know if Jesus was scared of heights, too, but there was just no good and Godly reason for Him to take that leap of faith.
After the two “prove yourself” temptations, the devil formulated an “enhance yourself” trial. This one didn’t start with “If you are the Son of God.” It was just an offer, an insidious offer of what Jesus had come for – to establish and build God’s kingdom here on earth. The devil said, “I can give them all to you… all the kingdoms… all the people… right now… no effort, no pain, no sacrifice. Just bow down to me, acknowledge me, worship me – and it’s ALL yours!”
Following a time of spiritual growth – or maybe even during a time of spiritual growth – is often when the enemy chooses to pounce. When Cain’s murder of his brother Abel is described in Genesis 4, it says that sin is crouching at your door. This image reminds me of one of my favourite poems, by Ogden Nash. It’s simply called, “The Panther.”
The panther is like a leopard, except it hasn’t been peppered.
Should you behold a panther crouch, prepare to say ouch.
Better yet, if called by a panther, don’t anther.
If you’re growing in your relationship with God, watch out. Satan, like that crouched panther, will pounce and try to disrupt and derail your walk with God. At all times we want to earnestly pray that petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation.” The Bible assures us that God does NOT lead us into temptation, but one nuance of the prayer is that God would lead us through temptations that are sure to come and that, like Jesus, we would resist and be strong in the face of those temptations
d. Jesus’ temptations are ours, too
Jesus’ temptations are ours, too. The devil may plop something in front of us, in essence saying, “Prove that you are a son or daughter of God.” It might be the temptation to express angry words to your spouse or to a colleague in a moment of weakness. It might be the temptation to pursue an unhealthy relationship when you are needy. It might be the temptation to ignore God when we’re sick or tired – the times that we need Him the most.
The devil may plop something in front of us, tempting us to take the easy way out – like a big gain on the stock market, solidifying our dependence on money and eroding our trust in God, or developing a believable lie that will get us out of trouble and not have to take responsibility for some course of action for which we really need to ask forgiveness, or settling for a relationship that may not be good for us in the long run.
When the devil says, “Prove yourself,” and in our human weakness we fail, then he’s convincing you that you’re a spiritual weakling, or a spiritual phony.
When the devil says, “Enhance yourself,” and we find success, then he’s convincing us that we really don’t need God, and that life is better without Him.
Proving ourselves, enhancing ourselves – yes, Jesus’ temptations are common to us, too.
- Jesus’ responses to temptation
But we haven’t talked about Jesus’ responses to His temptations, His defense against the wiles and deceitful schemes of the devil. Jesus’ answer to the devil’s ploys was consistent. Each time, He relied on the Word of God: its truth, its strength, its authority.
Deuteronomy 8:3 – “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Bread may satisfy our physical hungers but God’s Word satisfies our soul, gives us real life.
Deuteronomy 6:16 – “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” In other words, lead me not into temptation.
Deuteronomy 6:13 – “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.” There is only one true God. Fearing, loving, trusting any other idea or person or created thing is idolatry, plain and simple.
Jesus knew Scripture and even when the devil tried to use it against Him, Jesus knew it in context and used it for the purpose for which it was written. Sometimes in sports they say, “The best defense is a good offense.” The best defense against temptation is the offense of using God’s Word as a sword, which is the way it is described in Ephesians 6.
God’s Word gave Jesus the solid ground on which He could stand to make Godly choices.
God’s Word gave Jesus the moral compass to guide and shape His life and ministry.
- We don’t face temptation alone
Lead us not into temptation. If we are honest with ourselves, if we are honest with God, we HAVE been led into temptation, and sometimes the resulting sins have not been pretty. Jesus’ temptation cautions us not to walk through life’s deserts alone. Jesus faced temptations and endured, with the authority of God’s Word. More than that, when temptation reached even greater heights, when Jesus asked for the suffering of the cross to be removed from Him, He stood firm, endured the cross for us, and forgave ALL our sins. We don’t face temptations alone, we have a strong Word, and a loving Saviour who has already won not just the battle, but the war against sin, against temptation, against the devil. That means that God looks at you, and says, as He said to Jesus at His Baptism, “You are my beloved Son, You are my beloved daughter.”