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Welcome to

ST MICHAEL & All ANGELS CHURCH

(Church of England)

St Michael's Green, Warwick Road, Beaconsfield, Bucks HP9 2BN

 

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             Sermon given by Revd Kevin Beer

At St Michael’s 8am & 10.30am

9th March 2014

 

(Gen. 2:15-17, 3:1-7 – The Fall)

Romans 5:12-19 – Death through Adam, Life through Christ

Matt.4:1-11 – Jesus is tested in the wilderness

 

Aim: Dealing with Temptation

 

In Matthew’s Gospel, the first thing that Jesus does after his baptism is to go into the desert where he is tempted.  It seems to be a feature of our Spiritual lives to that our mountain-top experiences are often followed by times of particular challenge.  Perhaps this is because it is when we are most full of ourselves that our pride and vanity swells, leaving us most vulnerable to attack.

 

The story of Jesus’ temptation is an odd one, because there would have been no witnesses.  Presumably, Jesus related his experience to his disciples as part of his teaching and included his exchanges with the devil, who is quite a mysterious figure!

 

We tend to be quite dismissive of the devil these days, for example the recent moves to omit any mention of him from the baptism liturgy.  The backlash against images of a red devil with horns and a forked tail or perhaps the talking snake in the film “The Last Temptation of Christ” is to suggest that he’s to be used figuratively - the personification of evil.

 

But whether a distinct spiritual entity, or the universal rebellion against God that infects every human mind, Jesus obviously wanted to share his experience with his followers for a reason: so that we are equipped to deal with the temptations that we inevitably face.  If he who is God faced temptation, then surely we will too, for the disciple is not greater than his master, nor the servant than his Lord.  And here’s the first piece of really good news – Jesus, the man who was without sin, was tempted.  Therefore, it is not a sin for us to be tempted.  We may have evil thoughts that arise in our minds which we really hate – they are revolting and make us feel ashamed and unclean.  But they needn’t unless we entertain them further, let them take root in us or start to act upon them.  Remember that the devil’s name is the liar or the accuser, his job is to prosecute us, but only God is the judge – not the devil, nor us.  Perhaps we’ve had a nagging voice reminding us of a certain temptation that is dragging us down in a spiral of despair, with feelings of guilt keeping the temptation at the forefront of our mind – that’s the devil at work.  He tried it on with Jesus too, so you must be doing something right!

 

Whether we name the source of our temptation as the devil, we should acknowledge that we face a real and powerful enemy that would separate us from God if we let it rule our lives.  Instead, as the current decision at baptism goes, we are to reject the devil and all rebellion against God; we are to renounce the deceit and corruption of evil; and we are to repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour.

 

So, what better place to have the story of the temptation of Jesus, than right after his baptism, to show us how we might actually achieve our baptismal vows?

 

The primary spiritual weapon at Jesus disposal was Holy Scripture, not a book (or indeed, a phone app) that he carried around with him, but the actual meaning internalised so that it could guide his thinking.  Each time he was tempted, he refused the devil’s offer with the response “It is written”.  Whether he had just been reading Deuteronomy, we will never know, but all three passages he quotes are from just chapters 8 and 6 of this book.  I wonder how many of can quote relevant scripture from memory?  As the living Word of God, you might think he had an advantage!, but he was 100% human like you and me, and we know that he studied scripture from an early age and prayed to the Father so that he could understand his will and purpose for his life and kingdom.  We must do the same.

 

If we don’t get to know the Bible and its message, then we can fall into the habit of using it to justify our own purposes, “proof texts” which give a literal message whilst ignoring the spirit of the overall message.  If an example is needed, notice how the devil introduces his second temptation with a couple of verses from Psalm 91, about the angels protection, and then gives his interpretation and the implications.  Clearly, Holy Scripture can easily be misused or abused.  The more we read it, study it, pray it and just absorb it into ourselves, the better we will be able to recognise false teaching and have a strong and sure defence against temptation.  Knowledge of the Bible is our primary weapon in renouncing the deceit and corruption of evil, so use it daily.

 

The other piece of Good News from this passage is that we have a God who in Jesus fully identifies with us - not just in his incarnation in sharing our human nature, but in sharing our battle against the temptations that would separate us from God our Father – as it says Hebrews (2:18).  Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

He knows what it feels like to be us – he sympathises with us in our spiritual anxieties.

 

Are we ever tempted to distrust God’s care and goodness?  So was Jesus.

Are we ever tempted to presume on God’s mercy and so place ourselves in unnecessary danger?  So also was Jesus.

Are we ever tempted to commit one private sin for the sake of some great seeming advantage?  So also was Jesus.

Are we ever tempted to listen to some misapplication of scripture, as an excuse for wrongdoing?  So also was Jesus.

 

He is just the Saviour that a tempted people require.  We can go to him with our troubles, knowing that he will understand and sympathise; he is on our side in the spiritual battle against the accuser.  He is our defender, and has the ear of his Father who is our judge.

 

 

 


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