March 5, 2017 “Stuff We Want” – Matthew 4:1-11
“Stuff We Want”
March 5, 2017 – First Sunday in Lent
How many of you have given up something for Lent? Don’t worry if you didn’t raise your hand, because, as our bulletin said last week, giving something up is not the only way to observe Lent. But if you did give up something, raise your hand if you are already finding it pretty hard to do. I am.
Despite His advantages as the Son of God, Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness without food were hard. Fasting from all food is no light endeavor. You lose the desire to eat after a few days, but you grow weaker and weaker. It’s not easy for a human being to go without food. While He was fully God, Jesus was also fully and completely human, including our physical weakness. It was hard for Him. Count on it. Jesus knows what it’s like to be us and to give up something we really want.
Verse 1 shows us Jesus in His full humanity. “Jesus was led up by the Spirit.” That’s the source of His whole direction and strength. He was God, but as we will read from Philippians 2 on Palm Sunday, He did not hang on to all His power as God. Instead, as a human being like us, He depended on the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit.
That’s why we should never look at Jesus going without food, or doing a miracle, or forgiving those who crucified Him, and say something like, “Well, it was easy for Him. He was God.” Yes He was… and is. But He laid all His God privileges aside when He became human, became one of us. And in everything He did or said, Jesus relied on the same spiritual resource He gave to you and me, the Holy Spirit.
It was the Spirit who led Jesus out into the wilderness to be “tempted.” That word can also mean “tested.” It was the devil who did the tempting, but the Spirit brought Jesus there to be tested by those temptations.
Verse 2 tells us that Jesus who gave up His divine rights also gave up a very basic human right for forty days there in the wilderness. He fasted. He did not eat. Those forty days in the wilderness remind us of the forty years Jesus’ people, the children of Israel, spent in the wilderness. Go back and read Exodus and you will find that, unlike Jesus, they were always complaining about not enough to eat or even not having just what they wanted to eat.
So Jesus went into the wilderness to get right what His ancestors had gotten wrong. He went out to be tested and tempted and hungry, but without complaining, without giving in or failing God His Father. That’s the story of Jesus’ life and our salvation. He does what we fail to do. He gets right what we get wrong. And then, without deserving it, we get to participate in His success. We get saved by His goodness when we haven’t got any of our own. Jesus was out there getting tempted so He could overcome temptation for all of us who have given in to temptation over and over.
Jesus suffered three temptations. Some of you know this story well. First, Satan played on Jesus’ hunger. Verse 2 ends saying He was “famished.” So verse 3, naming the devil by what he does, says “the tempter” tempted Jesus with an easy solution. Use His power as the Son of God, His power as God, to make rocks into bread. Food was the first human want used to tempt Jesus.
Then in verse 5, the devil changes strategy to play on a human desire that’s much more subtle. He took Jesus up on top of the temple, literally the “wing” of the building, the extreme edge. It looked down into the Kidron Valley far below. Then the devil used the fact that human beings want safety, want to know they are secure. So he encouraged Jesus to test His safety, quoting God’s promise in Psalm 91 that He will send angels to protect the one He loves.
The last temptation in verses 8 and 9 focuses on something the Son of God had come into this world for in the first place. He came to be its King, to take control of it, and rule it with His love and peace. As a human being, Jesus felt like you and I feel, the desire to be in control, to rule our own lives and even some of the lives around us. So He was tempted by that human want, that need to be in control.
Food, security, and control. Those were Jesus’ temptations there in the wilderness after forty days of going without food. They are still our temptations. Most of us have plenty of food, but we are still tempted by the way we get food, tempted by our want for more and more money to buy food and everything else we desire. Many of us are pretty secure in all the ways that matter, but we are tempted by our want for more security, for more laws and walls and weapons to protect us from things we fear. And a number of us have a lot of control, a lot of power over our own lives and the lives of others, but we want more. We want to rise to the top, to be the best, to tell others what to do instead of being told. You and I as human beings want and are tempted by the very same things our divine but very human Savior wanted and was tempted by.
Jesus in the wilderness passed the test which Israel failed in the wilderness. He trusted God and resisted the temptations there. What Jesus gets right and repairs goes even further back. We read from Romans 5 verse 18, “just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” Adam, and Eve, the first human beings, failed the test of temptation and made us all sinners. But Jesus passed that test and made us all righteous in Him.
In our reading from Genesis 3 today, we heard how Satan tempted the first human beings. What did Eve see when she looked at the fruit on the tree? It “was good for food, and… it was a delight to eyes, and [a] tree… to be desired to make one wise.” Eve, and then Adam, wanted food. They wanted something that looked good. And they wanted to be wise, in control. The serpent told them they would be safe, secure, “You will not die.” And he told them they would “be like God.” They would have power. When Jesus was tempted, it was that moment in the Garden of Eden all over again. Except Jesus got it right.
I John 2:16 also numbers out three temptations, “the desire of the flesh,” that’s hunger, “the desire of the eyes,” that’s wanting to see yourself safe and sound, and “the pride of life,” which is wanting to be in control, to have power. John says that those desires, those wants, come from the world, not from God. Verse 17 declares, “And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.”
We have wants. We want stuff. Some of it is literal stuff, like food. So in today’s world we pretty much want money, lots of it, so we can buy all the other physical stuff we want. The other stuff we want is more subtle, harder to exactly identify, but it’s basically things like security and power. We want to feel safe, to feel like someone will take care of us, that we will be loved and protected. And we often want some power, some say about our lives, to be able to control what happens to us. But Jesus shows us that those perfectly natural and normal human wants can be great temptations.
Last week I got a new cell phone and a new phone plan. I’m telling myself that I did it for others. My old, cheap, prepaid cell phone made and received calls just fine, but text messages often failed to come through if they were too long or somebody included a picture. Maybe, I said to myself, one of you or someone in my family would be trying to text me something important and I would miss it. So I wanted and I got a new phone.
But I don’t have to dig very deep into my soul to realize that I also just wanted a spiffy new gadget with a bigger screen and faster performance to load apps like my Kindle book reader. I wanted the security of feeling like I’m up to date and in control on my phone. I still think I had a good reason for getting it, but I also know it was mixed with those human temptations for all the stuff we want.
Most of the stuff we want is like that. In many ways it is good and right for us to want and have it. Food and security and control are all precious and good things. Even money is a good thing to have and to save and use wisely to obtain what we need. But running through and alongside of those wants is a voice tempting us with that stuff in ways that are not good, using that stuff to draw us away from God and what He wants for us.
These temptations came for Jesus at a crucial moment. At the end of Matthew 3 you see that it came right after His baptism. Look ahead to verse 17 and you read that it came right before He started preaching. But Jesus was not going to be distracted from what He came for. He was going to follow God the Father’s will instead of His own human wants. He was going to rely on the Holy Spirit rather than on His own power.
It is often pointed out that Jesus’ response to every one of His temptations was a quotation from Scripture. Tempted by bread, in verse 4 Jesus recited Deuteronomy 8:3, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every world that comes from the mouth of God.”
When the devil tried to get Jesus to test His security, to make His safety a sure thing, Jesus went to Deuteronomy again, chapter 6 verse 16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” And when Satan promised Jesus absolute control over the whole world for the very small price of falling down and worshipping Satan, Jesus went right back there to Deuteronomy 6 verse 13 and said, “Away with you Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Jesus wanted stuff. He wanted good stuff. But He was not going to let His wants, let the temptation to have that stuff, get in the way of what God wanted for Him. And His answer was to go back to what He knew God had said about what God wanted, about what really mattered in human life.
We want stuff. At least some of the stuff we want is good. Food or money can be good. Security is good. Some degree of control over our lives and our world is good. God created human beings to “have dominion” over creation. But our adversary, the “accuser,” which is what both “devil” and “Satan” mean, constantly tries to turn our wants against what we really want, which is to know and love God and to do what He wants.
Friday afternoon a couple of people on our homeowner’s association board stopped by my office to get my signature. In the process one of them, an older Polish woman, mentioned that I should Google her father, Dr. Eugene Lazowski. It turns out Alexandra’s father was a kind of Polish “Schindler.” He was a medical doctor during the Nazi era. He discovered he could fake a positive test for typhus by injecting dead typhus bacteria into people. So he injected Jews about to be sent to prison camp from a ghetto near him and then sent their blood for testing. The Nazis were so afraid of infection that they wouldn’t take the “infected” Jews. He injected thousands until the Nazis decided that a typhus epidemic was breaking out and cordoned off the whole neighborhood, leaving all those Jews in peace and safety. Dr. Lazowski used his medical knowledge to resist the evil of his time and saved about eight thousand people.
Jesus resisted Satan’s evil by His knowledge of God’s Word and saved the whole world, anyone who believes in Him. Our way to resist evil, to resist temptation to get stuff we want instead of seeking God is the same as for Jesus. We turn to the knowledge God gave us about ourselves and our world. We turn to Scripture, to the Bible. That’s why we’re reading Scripture together again this Lent. So we can know it and remember it like our Lord Jesus knew it. Then we can resist evil when it shows up around us and in us.
I often talk about this, but one of my privileges as a pastor is to be with and talk with people in the last days of their lives. Some of them have lost pretty much everything they thought they wanted, including their memories. They may not know my name, their children’s names or even their own name. But sometimes if I start saying familiar words from God’s Word, like, “The Lord is my shepherd…” they will join in with me, “I shall not want. He makes me like down in green pastures…” and we will say it together.
When the day comes to face the final test, when you and I are getting ready to depart this life, I don’t think any of us will wish that we had eaten more. I kind of doubt anyone will regret not having had the latest cell phone. I’m even pretty sure we won’t be looking back feeling like we could have lived more safely or exerted more control over our lives. But we might wish, I know I will wish, that we had known and trusted God’s Word more.
We want stuff. But sometimes God asks us to resist temptation to have that stuff. It may be bad or it may not be good for us at the moment. It’s hard, but just like Jesus we need to resist the tempter, to resist evil, wherever and however it appears. We all see lots of evil going on around us. Our Lord’s example teaches us not to go along with it to get what we want. Like Him, we need to resist, and resistance is not futile.
We want stuff. But God wants to give us the truly good stuff. He wants to give us Himself, to give us the true desires of our hearts in His own love and grace. That’s what Jesus came to give us. That’s what He got right for us. Now let’s follow Him and let Him get it right in us. Let’s study and know His Word, so that when our wants for stuff are getting the better of us, we can always turn toward what is better, toward Him.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2017 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj