Date: April 2, 2017
Text – Matthew 4:1-11
Title – The Gift of Temptation
Jim Grant in Reader’s Digest told about someone else who faced temptation. An overweight businessman decided it was time to shed some excess pounds. He took his new diet seriously, even changing his driving route to avoid his favorite bakery. One morning, however, he showed up at work with a gigantic coffee cake. Everyone in the office scolded him, but his smile remained nonetheless. “This is a special coffee cake,” he explained. “I accidentally drove by the bakery this morning and there in the window was a host of goodies. I felt it was no accident, so I prayed, ‘Lord, if you want me to have one of those delicious coffee cakes, let there be a parking spot open right in front.’ And sure enough, the eighth time around the block, there it was!”
It seems that many of us do not really talk about temptations. Maybe, it is easy to consider the light side of temptation by thinking about how to overcome our temptation with the chocolate, ice cream, or ice cream. If we are more serious about it, we might think of the A.A. group that meets weekly celebrating the story of overcoming the temptation to the alcohol or substance use. But at one point in our life, we deal with many temptations whose consequences could be devastating. A couple of Sundays ago, I heard that our Sunday school taught the Ten Commandments. And one of the children raised her hand and asked, “What is adultery?” As I heard the story, we all laughed together. But it is a serious matter, as we all know that the consequence of adultery is brokenness to our marriage or someone’s.
But in today’s sermon, I want to address more about temptation as not such as good versus evil, somewhat easy to distinguish. But I mean more as what looks good versus what is faithful. William Blake was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. He drew “The Second Temptation” that illustrates the temptation story of Jesus in the middle of the wilderness. What is interesting about this painting is that the person that stands next to Jesus looks more like a Hebrew prophet. He looks pious and sincere but actually is Satan who is tempting Jesus to jump from the top of the pinnacle. He does not have horns on his head, or fangs in his mouth. He does not hold pitchforks in his hand. The painting probably describes the nature of temptation in more foundational way – temptation lures us into believing that we are actually doing something good, not necessarily doing something bad.
After Jesus was baptized, the Gospel tells us that the Spirit drove him to the wilderness. It is interesting that Jesus taught us how to pray saying, “Deliver us from the temptations.” God gives us strength to overcome when we deal with temptation. But God does not promise our life free of temptations. As it is our human condition, Jesus also participates in it by obeying the command to go to the wilderness. He fasts for 40 days. Just imagine how famished he was after days and nights of hunger and thirst. When he is panting in agony, Satan comes to him and whispers to his ear, “If you are the Son of God, why don’t you turn these stones into bread?” I hear from his whisper that Jesus is tempted to save himself. He is to help himself. There is nothing wrong about caring for your own needs.
It makes sense to us. I hear many Christians argue, “Jesus said love your neighbors as yourselves. Jesus did not exclude ourselves from the object of love and care.” There is nothing wrong with self-care. Even Jesus sometimes withdrew to a remote place where he could rest and pray alone. We need to tend to ourselves and help ourselves. But the problem is that we build a wall around ourselves and our life becomes just about us. It is about my health. It is about my family. It is about my marriage. It is about my children. It is about my vacation. There are plenty of Christian preachers who lure us with such message today. “Just be positive in your mind about yourself. You are blessed. You are good. You are wonderful.” There is no language of sin, brokenness, and suffering in the world. There is no justice, righteousness. In a way, the worst enemy of Christianity today is not Islam, but group of Christianity that promotes individualistic happiness as the ultimate goal of Christianity.
But Jesus responds to his adversary saying, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” It is very easy to respond to our immediate needs and be satisfied with that. But Jesus resists such temptation by trusting in God who is the source of our life. Jesus becomes the true bread for all of us. A few years ago, I had a conversation with a ministry consultant. I told her that I was upset with many churches in our conference that all their ministries have become nothing but fundraisings. Some of them say, “We are here to exist. What’s wrong about collecting some money from the neighborhood so we can continue our tradition and memory in this church?” She took a moment to contemplate and said, “Bob, many churches are struggling with spiritual depression. After they struggle financially and spiritually for a while, they come to the point where they can do nothing but stay open. There is no mission. There is evangelism.”
After the first temptation with turning the stone into bread, Satan brings him to the pinnacle of the temple and whispers, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.” Satan even quotes from the scripture, “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” Simply put, he is saying, “You are not going to die.” It seems that Satan is telling Jesus, “Go and destroy yourself.” The second temptation is self-destruction. It is interesting that our human nature is that we often seek thrill and pleasure when we stand on the verge between death and life. Before I married Sungha, we went to Six Flags in Springfield, MA. I am not a big fan of the rollercoaster. I had the worst day sick to my stomach while Sungha had the best day in her life.
In a more serious matter, self-destruction lures us into believing that there is nothing wrong with destroying ourselves. I hear Satan whispering, “Do you really think that you are going to save the world? Give me a break. Let’s see if you can save yourself. You can try if the angels would come and protect you. What do you have to lose? If you die, you do not have to go through all the pain and suffering through the trials, whipping, and dying on the cross. Just finish it already.” Such whispering takes away one’s purpose of life. It encourages one to be satisfied with eternal amnesia.
A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to speak with a social worker from Putnam High School. She was very concerned about the legalization of drugs in the country. I know that legalization has been a political issue centered on criminalization. But she was deeply worried about the health of many young people who would be exposed to more drugs. Monica and other adults work with a group called SAAD to encourage young people in Putnam to make healthy choices in their lives by avoiding drugs and alcohols. But I believe that it should be adults who maintain healthy lives first so that young people could adopt such mentality and learn from us. Adults need to stay away from drugs for substance use. Adults be healthy in their mind, body, and spirit, instead of choosing self-destruction. Jesus responds to the adversary, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” He responds to the second temptation that is based on the scripture with scripture.
At this point, Satan is frustrated and comes up with the final temptation. He takes Jesus to a very high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world. “If you fall down and worship me just this once, I will give all these to you.” Just imagine that someone takes us to the top of Empire Building in the New York City and shows us around all the beauty of the city at night. And you hear, “you see this beautiful city? If you show me any sign of respect this once, I will give all this to you. The Time Square. Central Park. Rockefeller Center. All these buildings and houses will be yours.” Think about how rich you will be. Why not show a little sing of respect and own all these things? The third temptation is a temptation to worship something else other than God who has created this world and created us.
And the purpose of such temptation is to divert our attention from worship God. God created us to love and worship God in the beginning. The image of God in all of us indicate the intimate relationship with God founded on the love of God for us. When we seek God with all our minds and hearts, God gives us joy and happiness in our hearts that are different from that in this world. It is not temporary joy and happiness that we have today and lose suffering emptiness tomorrow. Rather, it is joy and happiness that grow in our heart knowing that we know the purpose of our lives why we are here and how God is shaping us and molding us as God’s instrument. But we lose our focus of our worship when we worship something else.
In our world today, I believe that it is easy to translate such temptation as self-worship. Jesus is told that he can seek his own privilege, affirmation, and respect. And in our culture, we are tempted to do the same thing especially through the social network service. In the Forbes magazine, a team of psychology warned that social media narcissism is on the rise. That’s not to say that everyone on social media is a narcissist but it is where these people tend to hang out. People share often what happens on Facebook and Twitter because their content appears at the top of the newsfeed. As they become the center of attention, they expect how many people would affirm their picture or posting with like or wonderful praise.
You know, I have done that myself as well. When I was struggling with ministry, I put posting that says how wonderful I was doing with my ministry. Or just post pictures of my life such as selfie or picture of my family. Of course, people would say nice things here and there trying to encouraging me. But the issue does not go away. If the struggle comes from physical relationship with another person, I am called to go and sit with that person and be reconciled. Social media is not the place where I need to go and express my emotion to wide audience without any filtering. If the struggle comes from my relationship with God, then I need to kneel in my heart before God and healed spiritually. Instead of seeking my own comfort and affirmation, we need to remain silent so that the Holy Spirit may speak to us whether whispering or thunder-striking. And Jesus answers, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”
The good news is that we are not alone in this constant struggle to answer such a question. Jesus already prevailed the devil by trusting in God’s words. That is what Jesus also invites us to do; to prevail our temptations by trusting in God’s words. Blaise Pascal once said, “It is vain, O men, that you seek within yourselves the cure for your miseries. All your insight only lead you to the knowledge that it is not in yourselves that you will discover the true and the good.” Maybe the gift in times of temptations is that we can rely on God more that ever as the source of revealing who we are meant to be and what we are called to do. We do not necessarily follows what seems good to us, or what makes sense to us culturally. Instead, we follow what is faithful to God. Amen.