1st Sunday in Lent  /  February 10, 2008  /  Matthew 4: 1-11   /  The Devil Made Me Do It   /  Message by: Rev. Carol Kniseley

Growing up in the 70’s, I couldn’t help but be impressed by Flip Wilson, an extraordinarily gifted comedian who at the drop of a hat could transform himself into a number of characters, one of which was a female.     Dressed in a tight purple dress, a red wig, panty hose and matching high heels…Geraldine was the star of every show that she appeared on.   And the line that made her a house hold name?   The devil made me do it!    No one could say that line like Flip Wilson…and come away with so many laughs at what really is a pretty touchy subject.

By in large, we don’t like to talk about the evil in this world…much less give the devil his due.   But the truth is, whoever it is that chooses to oppose the will of God is alive and well this many years beyond the Garden of Eden.    And make no mistake, his most powerful weapon remains without exception that of “temptation”.   Case in point:  the temptation of Jesus.

Matthew tells us that immediately following Jesus’ baptism, Jesus was led up by the Spirit…into the wilderness…to be tempted by the devil.   We need to note that it is not by accident that the tempter chooses to voice what God has already claimed.   Looking back to the Greek translation, we read:    Since…you are the Son of God…which  implies that Satan knows full well who Jesus  really is.  

Note also that the same Spirit that descended upon Jesus at the Jordan River is now leading him out into the wilderness for the express purpose of being tempted by the devil.    Whereas God, through the Spirit, intends to test Jesus; it is Satan himself who seeks to tempt the Son of God and to turn him away from doing his Father’s will.

Let’s now turn our attention to the 3 temptations experienced by Jesus…the first of which should take no one by surprise.   Knowing that Jesus has spent the last 40 days and nights fasting in the wilderness…with nothing to eat or drink…it would probably be safe to say that he is HUNGRY!       Satan then shows up from out of nowhere and says:  “Since you are the Son of God…command these stones to become loaves of bread.”     

It is an honest temptation born out of an honest need to be fed.   Fed with what?     Jesus knows that when the people of Israel found themselves in a similar situation having wandered in the desert for some 40 years…they fell prey to mistrust .    They no longer trusted God to provide them with the food that they needed…and so when the manna fell, they hoarded it, breaking the covenant agreement.   

By contrast, Jesus refuses to give way to mistrust by exploiting the Spirit’s power…and providing himself with bread from stones instead of confidently waiting for bread from heaven.   As an example to all of us, he draws strength to resist the temptation by quoting scripture (Deut. 8:3:   One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.)   Jesus faithfully remembers…that he, too, is totally dependent upon God.   

The second temptation again reflects Israel’s dispute with God.   At one point, the people dared to imply that God was no longer in their midst and challenged God to fulfill his covenant obligations.        Jesus, on the other hand, refuses to call God’s presence into question by leaping from the top of the temple.    He refuses, not because of any lack of faith in God’s power and providential care.   He refuses because honoring God excludes any form of manipulation…including putting God to the test.   

Need an example?   Who hasn’t at some point tried to bargain with God?    If you do this for me now…I promise to do this for you later.    It happens every time something unforeseen takes place…that we never saw coming…over which we have no control.  The temptation is to somehow manipulate God into taking appropriate action…to which Jesus strongly cautioned: do not put the Lord your God to the test.

The third temptation is the one that really hits home with just about everyone:  idolatry.    Again, Israel failed miserably when it came to keeping God #1 above all other would-be gods.     It was not so with Jesus.    If there was one thing that Jesus totally grasped,  it was the central place that God held in every aspect of his life.   As it turned out, there was not one thing that the devil could tempt Jesus with that would make him turn his back on his heavenly Father.  

Having said all of this, it would be easy for folks to say well that’s all fine and good for Jesus…but  how in the world can Jesus relate to our temptations today?   We live in a world that is coming apart at the seams.    Our lives are fragmented into a million different pieces leaving us feeling like we’re “living in a world of permanent white water”.     We long for a more “centered” life, a sense of wholeness where we don’t feel alone, adrift, confused, and fearful of what the future might hold.   No wonder we’re so easily tempted to grasp onto anything and everything that even remotely looks promising.  

We may not be tempted to turn stones into bread, but we are constantly tempted to mistrust God’s readiness to empower us to  face our trials.     None of us is likely to put God to the test by leaping from a cliff, but we are frequently tempted to question God’s ability to help when things don’t quite go the way we planned.       

Haven’t seen the devil lately?   Oh…I think we have.     He may not be dressed like Geraldine these days…but one thing is for sure:  temptation is still his #1 drawing card.   And yet, the one card he’ll never hold…is our ace in the hole:  Jesus, who has shown us what it “looks like” to live a life completely centered on God. It is a life lived “faithfully” awakened…called…set free…and nurtured by the one in whom we live and move and have our being.  

And so…the next time temptation comes around…don’t say “the devil made me do it.”   Next time, simply close your eyes…and pray to the one who really does understand: 

        ‘Our Father…who art in heaven…

hallowed be thy name…

thy kingdom come…

thy will be done….

on earth as it is in heaven.’      

Amen