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03.13.11 Taking on Temptation Mark 1:12-13, Mat 4:1-11, Luke 4.1-13 Sermon Summary

by on March 14, 2011

Summary Points

  • Jesus’ temptations are our temptations
  • How temptations are opportunities to grow
  • The value and practice of fasting
  • Questions for further reflection

Jesus’ temptations, as recorded by Matthew and Luke, were not unique to him. They are the temptations all followers of Jesus face throughout their lives. The reason Matthew and Luke include these stories is to help present day disciples know how to faithfully respond to temptation.

This means readers today have to interpret the temptations, translating them into our present day, and applying them to our personal situations. There are many ways to view the three typical temptations. One example, they are the temptations to: (1) provide for ourselves—turning stones into bread; (2) test God instead of being content—jumping from the tower unharmed; (3) worship the things of the world—bowing before God’s adversary to be awarded with kingdoms.

In Temptation, Diogenes Allen urges us to see temptations as opportunities for spiritual growth. He notes that we are tempted not by evil things, but by good things. It is true that we do not live by bread alone; we need bread. Bread is good. But preoccupation with material needs can force us to forget our spiritual needs also. The second temptation, security, is also based in truth. God does care for us. But harm come into every life, and suffering reminds us to depend on God through events that are out of our control. The temptation towards prestige hides the true value of humanity from us—our own value, and the value of others.

It is this true humanity that is revealed to us in Jesus Christ. In our Lenten Devotional, and in the book In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen notes that the temptations are towards human progress and upward mobility—to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful. But what Jesus revealed is that true divinity and humanity is just the opposite: poor, humble, meek, merciful, peacemaking, and justice craving (see the Beatitudes).

During Lent, I encourage us to “take on” temptation, but not in the sense of doing battle and trying to overcome. (We’ll approach temptation that way during Easter in a series on the “Seven Deadly Sins.”) During Lent, let’s take on temptation in the sense of embracing it, as Allen and Nouwen suggest, as opportunities to grow into the children of God we were created to be. Traditionally, one way to do this is through the practice of fasting.

Both Jesus and the Gospels assume that we will fast. It isn’t an optional spiritual practice. According to the biblical examples, fasting is an enhancement of prayer. We see biblical Israel fasting during national crises. People fast in relation to their prayers for repentance, for guidance, and for healing. Jesus even suggests at one point that certain “demons” cannot be overcome except by “prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29, variant reading).

Fasting serves to remind us of our dependence on God. This is evidenced by Jesus’ first temptation and response after he fasted 40 days (see Allen’s first interpretation above). Religions around the world attest to the spiritual insights gained through fasting.

And the early church fasted in order to save money to be able to give to others. The three traditional practices during Lent are praying, fasting, and alms giving.

Fasting can take on an unhealthy and theologically errant tone. Some people fast believing they need to participate in the sufferings of Christ. They believe their bodies are bad and need to be overcome. The more severely they treat their bodies, the more grace they merit. We reject this way of thinking. But we still fast for the many good reasons.

Fasting today, as long as it is in the spirit of the above good reasons, can take on many forms. I don’t fast from food as a rule during Lent. I fast in other ways, dedicating the time and effort and any money saved to prayer and helping others. But however you fast, you will still face other temptations this Lent, just as Jesus did. Take on those temptations, embrace them, and become the person God created and calls you to be.

Thoughts for Further Reflection

  • What are some temptations in your life? What would happen if you began thinking about them not in negative terms, as things that are bad, to be avoided, or overcome? What if approached them as opportunities to trust God, be led by the Spirit, to be born anew as a child of God?
  • How do Jesus’ three temptations show up in your life? How are you tempted to neglect God’s providence, protection, and power?
  • What’s something you can fast from that would give you more time for prayer and opportunity to help others? Is it food, like your weekly (daily?) latte or eating at restaurants? Is it Facebook? TV? Pray about it, and God will lead you to fast something.
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