2 Corinthians 6:1-10 St Matthew 4:1-11
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness
to be tempted of the devil.
We begin our first Sunday in Lent by reflecting on the temptations we can expect to face in Lent and in our larger context of our lives and how these temptations can be overcome.
Our Gospel is the three temptations faced by Christ after he was driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness.
In each case Jesus overcomes the temptations as a man to show us that we can overcome temptations as men and women and how we can overcome them. Jesus recalls in each of the three Temptations the words of Moses from Deuteronomy. It is clear that in his own wilderness wandering for 40 days, he is thinking about the wandering of the people of Israel for 40 years in the wilderness. Jesus’ responses to the temptations of Satan are all taken from Moses’ advice to the people of Israel at the end of his life just as they are about to enter the Promised Land. Jesus calls us to loyalty, to obedience, to God. There is no new teaching here, but a call to follow the lessons of the Old Testament faithfully. [Orthodox Study Bible]
1. The first temptation: what is it to be tempted to turn stones into bread?
In this temptation, the physical hunger of Jesus is very sharp – it shows he is fully human. Forty days is about the maximum a human being can survive without food. Jesus does have power, as the Son of God, to provide miraculously for himself, but he wants to overcome this temptation as a human being, for our sakes, to show us how it is done.
Jesus responds with the words of Moses in Deuteronomy to the people of Israel - man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Here is more fully what Moses said to Israel:
And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. [Deut 8:2-3]
Jesus remembers the whole way.
So this advise of Moses is in the context of the hunger that Israel experienced in the desert. And God did provide to them manna and God is to be trusted by us to provide for us in our deep hunger.
In our privations in life of material or bodily comfort, or in our dissatisfactions with our current circumstances, where do we turn? Do we double up our efforts for material or sensual comfort or do we look higher at the nature of that deep longing? When we experience anxiety in our Lenten fast, we have the opportunity to train ourselves, in a way, to form a habit, to turn more quickly to God. There is something primary in our nature, in our desire for comfort, that is a longing for God, and can be satisfied with nothing less. We are made in the image and likeness of God, we are spiritual creatures. If we turn only to material or bodily comforts in our distresses, we will cover over our true longing.
Spiritual satisfaction is less tangible when we are less mature, but that spiritual satisfaction becomes more real the more we seek it out. It has been the practice in the Church to fast before receiving Holy Communion. If you have done this, you may have found that after church you are actually not that hungry.
The first temptation is to confuse material and bodily comfort with our spiritual longings. Man does not live by creature comforts alone, but by recalling our ultimate purpose, which is discovered in a life lived in relation to our Maker.
2. The second temptation: what is it to be tempted to throw oneself off the Temple and trust God will catch you?
Jesus responds to this temptation, again, with the words from Deuteronomy: You shall not put the Lord to the test. The context in Deuteronomy that Jesus quotes from is Moses warning the people,
“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his testimonies and his statutes which he commanded you. [Deut 6:16-17]
Moses is referring to the time in Exodus [17:7] when the people of Israel were wandering in the dessert and thirsty – it was much later in their journey and they cried to Moses for water, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” And Moses struck the rock (twice) and brought forth water. Why does Jesus quote this?
What is the difference between hunger (in the first temptation) and thirst (in the second temptation)?
Thirst is often connected in the New Testament with the Spirit – poured out in our baptism, the well of living water within us welling up to eternal life that Jesus promises us – those who drink of this water will never thirst. [St John 4:14]
What would be an example of this temptation?
For every one of us there very well may be times of spiritual dryness – even as we proceed in the spiritual life, following all the spiritual disciplines, seeking to follow all of the commandments, growing deeply in knowledge – the pinnacle of the Temple. But what will happen if God withdraws his spiritual consolations and we experience spiritual dryness in these later stages of our life, our dark night of the soul?
Will we expose ourselves intentionally to dangers to test or prove God’s protection? Will we lose our faith in God at the moment we are no longer receiving the spiritual consolations? Do we love God for the highs we get from Him or do we love God because of who God is? Will we stay with the very real spiritual suffering, the dryness – neither denying it nor demanding God fix it?
On the cross Jesus experienced being utterly forsaken – what could be more dry? He cried out, I thirst! And then, nailed to those beams, onto that place of suffering, he did not come down off the Cross, but he waited…and he trusted… and he prayed, Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit… Will we bear the cross Jesus has given us faithfully to the end and commend ourselves to Him?
3. Third, what is it to be tempted, by all the kingdoms of this world and their glory, to fall down and worship Satan?
The devil attacks our Lord, with offering Jesus the very things that are his and that he desires. It is a real temptation for Jesus.
Jesus wants the salvation of all the kingdoms of this world, that is why he came. But Jesus knows it will not come through worldly ways—through lies and expediency, through worldly wealth and power, the way of the devil, it will not come by avoiding going up to Jerusalem... The way of the Cross, the way of humiliation and of suffering, must not be avoided by Him, and it cannot be avoided by us.
The Church (and its monastic communities) in its power through the ages has been tempted in this way and has needed continual reforms to return to the Gospel. We have to be aware, in this new church we are starting, about how we measure “success” as a church and how we seek it. We must avoid all attempts at manipulation, any collusion with the spirit of the age, anything that is not honest.
And as individuals we need to think about how we measure a life well lived? Do we confuse worldly success with God’s blessing of us? What are we aiming for in our vision of the Kingdom of heaven? Do we confuse it with the kingdoms of this world?
Jesus responds again to the devil with the words of Moses from Deuteronomy, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” [Deut 6:13]
St Paul is put forward this morning as our example of one brought to maturity in Christ and who holds all he does under the call to worship God and serve him only.
In today’s Epistle he speaks of his life as a kind of wilderness wandering through the desert, and yet also a participation in the kingdom of heaven now - he knows joy in the midst of it. He lists what he has suffered physically out of love – afflictions from others, beatings, imprisonment, and suffering privations – sleepless nights and hunger (or in the King James Version – in watchings (vigils) and fastings – which are willed by him not imposed). He lists the way he does his ministry, not by expedience or by deceit but… as servants of God…by genuine love…by truthful speech… in the power of God… “As poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”
What is it to have nothing and yet possess everything? He knows Jesus Christ, he dwells in God and God dwells in him. He views others and the Creation itself from the perspective of God, as his to love.
Overcoming three temptations – to be unsatisfied with bodily comfort alone, to wait for God when we are spiritually thirsty, and to minister without deceitfulness or succumbing to the spirit of the age but in truth and in the power of God.
In each of the temptations, Jesus overcame them not as God, but as a man, and he overcame them by remembering the words of Moses.
Regular participation in Holy Communion is, in part, about keeping us in remembrance of our God, and of His words to us, more continually.
So let us now remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed. Through the Cross he forgives us our past fallings into temptation, and through our union with him, he will strengthen our resolve when the devil comes to us again.
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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2