Sunday January 15, 2023 – Temptation of Jesus
God reveal your presence: as we now adore you and with awe appear before you.
Like the holy angels gathered all before you, may we ceaselessly adore you.
Bow your ear to us here; hearken, O Lord Jesus, to our humble praises.
© Gerbard Tersteegen 1729. Frederick William Foster and John Miller1789, William Mercer 1859 alt. All rights reserved. Used with permission OneLicense.net #A-723756
Acknowledging the Territory
Once again, we acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and we commit ourselves to use and share it wisely.
Call to Worship
Facing temptation, Jesus refused to turn stones into bread.
Facing temptation, we too often will do anything for the bread we need.
Facing temptation, Jesus refused to use power for its own sake.
Facing temptation, we are too often seduced by power.
Facing temptation, Jesus refused to test the promises of God.
Facing temptation, we too often doubt God’s promises.
We gather here today to worship the one who promises us the strength to overcome whatever life may throw at us.
We gather to worship God.
Lighting the Christ Candle
We light our Christ Candle to remind ourselves and others that the light of Christ still shines in our lives and leads us wherever we go.
Gracious Creator, you never promised us that we would not have to face times of temptation and uncertainty. You never promise us that we would not face sorrow and pain. But you have promised that we will never have to do this alone. You have promised that you will always be there to offer us the strength we need to overcome whatever we must face. We pray for the courage, the strength and the faith to believe and hold on to that promise, no matter what. Amen.
Gift of Music Forty Days and Forty Nights #114
Following his baptism, the Gospel According to Matthew tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the desert where he fasted for 40 day and nights and was then tested by the devil. Following his temptation, Jesus learns that John the Baptist had been imprisoned and he returns to Galilee to begin his ministry.
Matthew 4:1-17 Good News Translation
Then the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the Devil. After spending forty days and nights without food, Jesus was hungry. Then the Devil came to him and said, “If you are God’s Son, order these stones to turn into bread.”
But Jesus answered, “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’”
Then the Devil took Jesus to Jerusalem, the Holy City, set him on the highest point of the Temple, and said to him, “If you are God’s Son, throw yourself down, for the scripture says, ‘God will give orders to his angels about you; they will hold you up with their hands, so that not even your feet will be hurt on the stones.’”
Jesus answered, “But the scripture also says, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Then the Devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in all their greatness. “All this I will give you,” the Devil said, “if you kneel down and worship me.”
Then Jesus answered, “Go away, Satan! The scripture says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!’”
Then the Devil left Jesus; and angels came and helped him.
When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he went away to Galilee. He did not stay in Nazareth, but went to live in Capernaum, a town by Lake Galilee, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was done to make come true what the prophet Isaiah had said, “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, on the road to the sea, on the other side of the Jordan, Galilee, land of the Gentiles! The people who live in darkness will see a great light. On those who live in the dark land of death the light will shine.”
From that time Jesus began to preach his message: “Turn away from your sins, because the Kingdom of heaven is near!”
What would you be willing to do if you were offered the ability to end all wars and conflict in the world? What would you be willing to do if you were offered the chance to cure all illness and disease? What would you be willing to do if you were told that you could end world hunger, once and for all? What would you be willing to give up or to sacrifice? What compromise would you be willing to make? What negatives would you be willing to accept in order to bring about a greater good? Could you justify in your own mind, doing whatever it took to achieve the greater good?
When we think of the temptation of Jesus, we often tend think of it in very simplistic and superficial terms. Jesus had been in the desert for forty days, so the devil tempted him with food. Jesus was just about to begin his ministry but as yet, was unknown, so the devil tempted him with fame. Jesus had come to change the world, so the devil offered him the world, his to change, rule and remake in any way he wanted.
But when we break these temptations down into three basic categories, we discover that Jesus is not the only one to be tempted in these ways.
The first temptation is the temptation for physical satisfaction or pleasure. How many of us have never been tempted to have that second helping of cake, or chocolate or Christmas turkey and stuffing or whatever our favorite food is, even when we know that our bodies are no longer hungry?
And the physical temptations of life are not just about food. The temptation to have a few drinks or pop a few pills to dull emotional pain is something that many people are unable to resist. Others turn to sex or pornography or other forms of physical pleasure to fill a void in their lives.
None of us is able to overcome temptation all the time. We all give in at one point or another. But what would have happened if Jesus had given in to his physical hunger and accepted the devil’s offer of food? The problem with giving in to that temptation was not the food itself but the cost.
If someone offers you a second piece of cake simply because they think you might enjoy it, that is very different from the person who is only offering because they actually want a piece themselves and are trying to guilt you into taking a piece so they don’t feel so bad about having an extra piece they know they really don’t need.
If Jesus had accepted the devil’s offer of bread it would have justified and validated the devil’s desire to test God. It was not the bread that mattered, but the intent of the offer.
The second temptation was the temptation of fame. Now for many of us that may seem like an easy temptation to avoid. After all, how many of us would really want to deal with the complications to our lives of being famous? And yet, think of all the influence that a famous name can offer. Think of all the people that will listen to a famous person when they dismiss what an ordinary person says. Think of all the good you might be able to do if you were famous.
What if Jesus had accepted the devil’s offer of fame? What if he had jumped from the temple? Certainly, anyone who had seen him jump from such a height and remain unharmed would have immediately dropped whatever they were doing to find out more. Jesus would have instantly been able to reach huge numbers of people who would have hung on to every word he said. If his mission was to reach more people, wouldn’t this be a perfect way to get their attention? And once he had their attention it would be so much easier to explain to them what it was that God wanted of them and what God offered to them.
But Jesus said no. He knew that it might be a whole lot easier that way, but he also knew that the people would listen to what he said and follow what he told them, not because their hearts had been changed and they had come to know God, but because they had seen him jump from the pinnacle of the temple and remain unharmed. Tempting, as it might be to suddenly have thousands of people listening to him, Jesus knew that it would not bring the people to a deeper understanding of and connection to God.
So, the devil ups the stakes, by promising to make Jesus the ruler over the entire world. In one single moment, Jesus could change everything that was wrong with the world and remake things into a second Eden, into a perfect world of love and peace, where everyone knew and obeyed, not human laws but the laws of God. And it would not simply be obeying out of fear or out of a sense of responsibility. It would be obedience out of love and out of an understanding of what God truly wanted for all people. It would be a perfect world, a perfect paradise.
What would you do if you were offered the opportunity to make this world perfect … to end all war and violence … to solve all the environmental issues our world faces … to end hunger and poverty and to redistribute the world’s wealth in a more equitable way … to ensure that all people had adequate food, clean water, shelter, clothing, access to healthcare, meaningful work and compassionate and caring support? What if, in one single moment you had the power to make this world into a perfect reflection of the image of God, or at least what you that image of God to be?
We know this is simply a hypothetical question, but try to imagine, what it would be like to live in a world without evil. What would it be like to live in a world with no crime, no selfishness, no hatred … nothing to draw us away from God. Is such an offer not worth any price?
But every tempting offer does come at a price. There are always consequences. If we eat too much, we gain weight. If we attain fame, we have to put up with paparazzi and with a loss of privacy. And if we attain power, all too often we find ourselves struggling to maintain that power or to increase it.
The truth is that we all face many temptations every single day. Some we will give in to and some we won’t. But this is a reality of being a human being and it goes back as far as time itself. Temptation existed even in the proverbial Garden of Eden. Even when everything was perfect, when nothing was lacking and the presence of God could be felt walking with them in the garden, Adam and Eve still experienced and gave in to temptation. Perhaps this is simply part of being human and perhaps that is why Jesus was also tempted.
How often do we pray that God will not lead us into temptation? How often do we ask God to teach us the difference between right and wrong, between good and evil? How often do we ask for guidance to make the right decision when we are not even certain what the right thing is?
But what if we were to look at temptation, not as something to be feared and avoided, but as an opportunity? When Jesus was tempted it was not the promise of fame or riches that he had to overcome, but with promise of quick, easy and certain way to fulfilling God’s purpose for him. Yet Jesus knew that, tempting as it might be, trying to take a short cut to fulfilling God’s plan would only take him away from God. He knew that it was not his plan that mattered, but God’s plan, even if he couldn’t understand how that plan would play out. In the end, it was in overcoming this temptation, that Jesus emerged stronger and more deeply committed than ever.
The deepest and most profound temptations we face are not the temptation to have that extra piece of cake of to win some award or recognition. The temptations that touch us on the very deepest level are the temptations that tap into a longing for purpose, for understanding and for a deeper connection with the Divine.
When we can recognize the things that truly tempt us, then we can also recognize what it is that we most long for at the very depth of who we are. It is therefore within the deepest desires of our souls, that we face our most challenging temptations.
But it is also within the deepest desires of our souls that we find the strength and the courage to overcome temptation. The reason for this is, that it is here, in the very depth of who we are, that we are most closely connected with the Divine. And it is that relationship with the Divine, the relationship that enabled Jesus to turn away from temptation, that relationship that can also enable us to overcome our own temptations, and in doing so, to renew and strengthen our own relationship with the Divine. Amen.
Gift of Music Jesus, Tempted in the Desert #115
We Offer Our Gifts
Offertory Response #538
For the gift of creation, the gift of your love
and the gift of the Spirit by which we live,
we thank you and give you the fruit of our hands.
May your grace be proclaimed by the gifts that we give.
© Abingdon press used by permission OneLicense #A723756
We Offer Our Prayers
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
Divine Guide, we know that in our everyday lives, we all face many temptations, both large and small. As we gather here in prayer, we seek your guidance to steer us through those times of temptation. We know that we are not the only ones facing temptation on a daily basis, and so we ask your strength and direction for ourselves and for all those who are ever tempted; to look the other way when wrongs are happening in homes, workplaces or communities; to misuse our gifts and talents for our own purposes at the expense of others; tempted to allow selfish desires or untamed emotions to rule our lives; tempted into corruption by power and money; tempted to stay in a rut rather than risking the uncertainty of new directions and new possibilities.
We pray for all those who feel pushed and tested almost beyond their endurance;
those in positions of heavy responsibility who feel overloaded to the point of burnout; those facing pressure from all sides by the demands of family, workplace or community; those who are suffering and those who must watch a loved one suffers feeling helpless of make a difference; those whose patience with a difficult situation or a difficult friend is almost at breaking point; those whose mental health causes them inner misery which no one seems to understand or be able to ease.
We also pray for those who are in a position of influence, power and advantage:
may they always use the blessings they have been given with compassion, wisdom, generosity and gentleness.
None of us know the extent of the pressures that others may be under regardless of who they are or what their position in life is. Help us to never forget this, so that we may always be people of loving kindness and gentle faith as we strive to follow Christ’s example. Amen.
Gift of Music O Love, How Deep #348
So now we go out from here knowing that no matter what may lay ahead of us, we can handle it because we don’t go alone. God is with us, Christ leads us, and the Spirit accompanies us each step of the way. We go with God.
Choral Blessing MV#222
May the peace of God be your peace.
May the love of God be the love you show.
May the joy of God be the joy you know
and may the world that God would see be found in you.
© November 2001 Neil MacLaren. email@example.com. Used with permission Onelicense .net #A-723756