The March 5, 2017 Message is based on Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 and Matthew 4: 1-11
Do you remember what it was like to have a test in school?
Whether or not the test went well for you would often depend on what your mindset and attitude was going into it.
In today’s Gospel lesson, we hear what is referred to as ‘the temptation of Christ’.
Jesus purposely goes into the desert after being led by the Holy Spirit in order to have a time of spiritual reflection.
He goes to ponder his mission from God,… to think about who he is,… and to see how he will fare vs. the devil’s enticements.
Earlier in the bible (and from our first lesson in Genesis), we heard a similar story about temptation.
Adam and Eve, (like Jesus in the desert) encountered the devil in the Garden of Eden who came in the form of a serpent.
When we pray “lead us not into temptation” it doesn’t mean that God wants to take us into those kind of situations.
God does not actually put temptations before us as some sort of game he has concocted.
The world has an evil element within it and even if God is not orchestrating them, temptations will always come our way.
But scripture does support the idea that God allows us to face temptations as he did with Adam and then later again with Jesus.
In those cases, then, we would call God’s actions a ‘test’.
The Greek word in original scripture doesn’t actually call Jesus’ encounter with the devil a ‘temptation’.
The word properly translated calls the situation that Jesus encountered in the desert as ….. ‘a test’.
So just as Adam and Eve faced a test in the garden,…Jesus too faces a crucial ‘test’ before he begins his ministry.
In these two biblical stories,…like in life for us,….when we face a test we are given options to consider.
But the way the devil presents the wrong option doesn’t make it sound like its a bad thing, but just the contrary.
The ‘wrong’ option is put before us as a good thing that will benefit us or give us what we think we deserve.
Adam’s offer was presented in a positive vein in that he would no longer have to take orders from God.
Instead of answering to someone with more power than he, he could be God’s equal and therefore be his own boss.
He could do as he pleased and call the shots around the garden.
Of course, that promise was a lie and yet foolish Adam accepts the offer,…takes the devil’s deal and thus,…..fails the test.
That left us with this thing we call ‘original sin’ so that we all inherit Adam’s flaw and end up making poor choices and failing tests.
But Jesus doesn’t fail the test, despite the numerous good deals that he’s been offered by the devil.
So since we all have free will to decide options in life when we face tests of right and wrong,…what makes us fail those tests?
Three main reasons I think come into play -
First is our motivation making choices is often based upon fears.
Think about what Jesus was offered - physical safety,…carnal pleasure,…and undeniable power and control over life’s events.
Those are strong motivators because we all need those things to offset our fears and so we make bad decisions to achieve them.
Second reason I think that we fail tests is that we lack discipline and a willingness to deny gratification.
It was always more fun for me to watch TV or hang out with my friends rather than prepare for a test.
So I failed lots of tests in school because I could not persevere, be disciplined, and delay gratification.
We make bad choices because 'we want it now!'
I think the last reason we fail tests that life puts before us, is a lack of self-confidence;.…i.e. we too often sell ourselves short.
We anticipate failure and so it becomes a self-fulling prophecy when we tell ourselves we aren’t good enough so why bother to try to make the right choice.
We think that we’re just too weak to avoid the wrong choice and so we cop-out of saying ‘That’s just the way I am’.
If you start out thinking you’re gonna lose a contest, or flub your assignment, or fail a test,…. then usually you will.
So we’re motivated by our basic wants and fears,…..
we’re bad at the self-discipline needed to do what we should…
and we lack self-confidence to make the hard (but right) choices.
What enabled Jesus to pass his tests was his having faith that could counter all of those flaws.
Jesus was not afraid because he had unabashed faith in God to provide all the safety and security he would need.
Jesus trusted the Father would secure all of his physical needs.
Jesus also had plenty of self-confidence,…not just in himself, but faith-filled confidence in God’s power to help when he needed it.
He believed in himself because he knew that God believed in him.
And he had self-discipline because he trusted God’s love for him would sustain him through any tough times.
His faith in God that he articulated after each temptation that was offered utterly diffused those human tendencies to be tempted.
And Jesus believed and accepted that God’s love and power and control of the events in his life would enable him to be all right.
Just like with Adam and Eve,….we all face choices and decisions throughout life that one could call ‘tests’.
God may not lead us into the midst of temptations,….but when they do come along,…. he seems to allow those tests.
And, just like Adam and Eve, we often do fail, in many different ways.
We fail as kids as we stand aside and let the bully pick on a kid.
We fail as adolescents when we take our parents for granted.
We fail as adults when we offend, neglect or ignore others.
We fail in the wrong things we’ve done,….and we’ve failed in the good things we have chosen not to do.
We fail in our thoughts, words and deeds;…in things done and left undone as our ‘Order of Confession’ likes to remind us.
But the gracious God, in whom we put our faith to help us face all sorts of tests,…. does not give us a failing grade.
Like in school, tests are good for us because they help us to apply what we’ve learned and to learn what has been applied to us.
Yet, while we may pass some and fail other tests,….. God gave us the master teacher to help us with our tests.
He gave us Jesus as instructor and example in how to face tests of right and wrong and how to apply his message to us.
And he gives us the same Spirit that was with Jesus to instill in us the faith we’ve been given to help us in our tests in life.
But he also gave us Jesus as the Master and Lord of forgiveness to allow us to fail,…but then to get up and have another shot.
What some people like to call, getting a “do over”.
So that, even though we want to be more like Jesus than Adam,… when we fail those tests, we know we have another chance.
Another chance to put our faith to work and apply it as a tool to help us during any of our tests.
Faith in God’s power to help us overcome our fears,….
Faith in God’s wisdom to help us sacrifice and do self-denial,….
Faith in God’s love to be confident about things, now and always.