Monday 30 November 2009

Temptation of the Son of God - Matthew 4:1-11

Yesterday we looked at Jesus' temptation in the desert by the devil in Matthew 4. Here are some of the concluding thoughts I wanted us to reflect on as we considered how the experience of Christ connects with us in our struggles with temptations:

1. Jesus' temptation is a picture of Satan's temptation over humanity
Remembering the first temptation of man in the garden, the serpent seduces Adam with the offer he seemingly could not resist: Take and eat of the of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil - and man will be like God.

The only power of the devil is in his lies yet we empower him as we believe in his lies. He appeals to Adam's desire, ambition and identity to lead him into rebellion against his creator and God. Adam is taken in by empty words, yet dangerous words - and his sin results in the expulsion of the man and the woman from the garden and the introduction of death intro the created order.

Here Jesus is portrayed as the Second Adam who resists the temptation of the evil one, spurning his words and denying the opportunity to fill his own needs, instead relying solely on the promises of the word of God. Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

Christ thereby reverses the curse of death bringing about life that is full and everlasting.

2. Jesus' testing in the desert is representative of the trials of the people of God
As the nation of Israel spends 40 years wandering in the wilderness, so Jesus experiences hunger and thirst during his 40 days of testing in the desert.

Israel, addressed by the LORD as his first-born son, fails in their obedience to God - complaining bitterly against the One who delivers them from slavery in Egypt. The 40 years is a result of God's judgement over a generation of God's people who reject his inheritance of the Promised Land, and question his goodness displayed daily in the LORD's protection and provision in the wilderness. A whole generation is wiped out, never gaining entry into the land prepared for them by God himself.

But Jesus the true Son, continually submits to the will of his Heavenly Father. He learns obedience through his suffering and temptation, thereby displaying his status not simply as the Son who receives all authority and power promised him by God in fulfilment of Psalm 2, but also his willingness to be the Servant King and Suffering Christ.

Jesus is the true Israel who stands at the entry point into the true land of promise, heaven itself. And he opens the way for us so that together with him we might have access into the very presence of God.

3. And yet Jesus' experience is the historical record of the unique temptation of the true Son of God

That is, this passage is not primarily there to teach us how to face temptation. The moral of the story is not how we can deal with the devil (Step 1: Bring lots of snacks; Step 2: Wear a parachute; Step 3: Watch the Prince of Egypt on DVD).

The Bible is not a "How-To" book. How to face temptation. Much less, how we can save ourselves. We would be foolish to think that we can take on the devil on our own - for we are weak-willed creatures, easily seduced through our passions and worldly desires.

Rather, the account of the experiences of Christ in the wilderness is there to tell us how Jesus faced temptation on our behalf. The gospel tells of how Christ took our sins upon himself.

What we have here is not a three-stage attack by the devil. Satan has but one purpose in tempting Christ - to turn Jesus away from the cross.

And we are not to think that this is the only encounter between Jesus and Satan. The conflict stretches all through Jesus' days on earth, right up to the cross. For Luke's gospel tells us the devil left Jesus "until an opportune time". That is, Jesus was in battle with the Tempter every step of his journey to his death.

The constant pressure to prove his authority by performing yet another miracle. The egging by his own family to "go public", motivated not by love, but as John tells us in chapter 7, by their disbelief. The bold confession of Peter that Jesus is indeed the Christ - You are the Son of the Living God! - only to be followed immediately by Peter scolding Jesus for explaining how the Christ must suffer and die in Jerusalem.

Jesus' reply? Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.

Jesus detects the words of the Tempter. The Devil's scheme to lead him away from the cross. The words of Satan himself found on the lips of his family, his followers. Even his closest friends.

4. He was tempted like us. Yet without sin
But what good does it do us if Christ was tempted on our behalf? It makes sense to say that Jesus took my sins on the cross. He removes God's righteous judgement over my rebellion and I receive his righteousness. But how does his temptation help mine?

Christ enters the world as God the eternal to be declared eternally as the obedient and faithful Son of God. At the cross, he breaks the power of the evil one over this world. In his conflict with the devil he triumphs over the temptations of Satan by trusting in his Father's will and rejecting the lies of the Tempter. He removes the blindness on our minds, opening our hearts to the light of the glory of the gospel displayed on the cross; displayed through his shameful death. The Son of Man must die in order for us to live.

Yet rather than just show you how, I want to end by telling you why. Why you and I should go to him in our weakness. Turn with me to Hebrews 4:

14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.

You see friends, Jesus has been tempted in every way like we are. We can go to him in our weakness, because he understands. With our temptations that we struggle with, even those we are too ashamed to talk about - we can go to him. Like us, he has been tempted. In every way.

And yet unlike us, in that he did not sin. And because he did not sin, he could take our sin on himself. Because he did not sin, he can be our High Priest, the one at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us, even now.

It means that we can come to God and be totally and confidently accepted. It means he not only understands our need, he can help us in our need. It means God looks at us and he sees Jesus, perfect in his obedience and love.

It means God looks at us and he calls us "sons". Sons of God.

Friday 6 November 2009

Sundays at the Chinese Church

Gathering as God's People
around God's Word