Temptation in the Wilderness

I preached the following sermon at church today.  May this serve as a blessing to others.

Today, we start a journey through the wilderness. We explore our talents and passions and search for how we might grow in our walk with Christ.

In our church, this time of Lent is one that allows us to struggle with those things that hold us back. We take steps, sometimes tiny, in our way forward to Christ. The hope of this time in the wilderness is to discover how we might serve God. Where are we called to be the hands and feet of Christ?

Led by this question, we equip ourselves for the 40-day journey, hoping to find the answer to the question. Put more succinctly, why are you on this planet? What have you been called to do with your life? And finally, the question that leads us into the desert, “Discovering where I am supposed to be, how do I get there?”

There are some of us who hear our calling at a very young age. Now, let me be the first to say that a calling does not only mean something that a pastor experiences. I am talking about the awareness of the Divine spark in your soul. You know, the thing that motivates you and brings you incredible joy. That is your calling.

Sometimes it comes to us in the smallest of voices. You know, that unseen strength that keeps sounding in our ears until we acknowledge its presence. It whispers but is rich in what it must say to us. It wants to define us.

There are times, however, that we hear and see the movement in our lives very clearly. We are knocked to our knees, overwhelmed with God’s work in our lives. It is a thing of beauty. A moment to behold.

And so, our text takes us into the wilderness to be tempted. I want to clear something up, we are not led into the wilderness because we have done something wrong. We are led to encounter God.

Remember, the Hebrew people discovered the presence of Elohim in the wilderness. They journeyed on as the Holy One led them through a long odyssey (40 years to be exact). Where would they have been as a people, as a country without their wilderness experience? They needed it to be reminded that God desires a relationship.

As it was with the ancients, so it is with us. We need a break from the normal to experience the extraordinary. How can you enjoy the mountaintops if you never look up? We need to go into the wilderness, away from the things that call our attention. This is the way that we are free to experience God’s presence.

The first show I ever saw on Broadway was Into the Woods. There is a song that the Baker’s wife sang when she was captivated by a handsome prince. She says, “If life were full of moments, how would we ever know we had one. Let the moment go, but don’t forget it for a moment, though. Just remembering you had an and when you’re back to or makes the or mean more than it did before. Now I understand, and it’s time to leave the woods.”

We will come out of the wilderness, but we will not be the same people. We will be changed by the presence of God. Our lives will reflect the loving mercy of our Creator, and we will leave the wilderness grateful that we have this experience to carry us on to the rest of our journey.

And we need to remember, this will not be our only experience in the wilderness. We are invited to return as many times as we need to so that we can learn new ways of loving, new ways of being. We use the time to craft us into the handiwork of Christ.

Back to our text. It is amazing to me that Jesus was led, by the Spirit of God, into the wilderness to be tested by the adversary. This was his sole purpose to be in the desert; to be tempted. He is tempted three times and for three different reasons.

The first temptation concerned the source of sustaining life. The tempter in the story tells Jesus, “If you are who you say you are, force these stones to become bread.”

We know what it is like to be tempted in this way. It goes something like this, “Jesus, if you are who you say you are, do this, or give me that.” And then, we quote scripture to support our reasons for doing this.

Here this, I don’t care what you hear on TV, God is not in the business of doling out rewards because of your faithfulness. God allows us to share in holy love with each other and with Him. This is our gift. And the reward is the realization that we are children of the Divine.

We are not meant to do good works so that we can be rewarded. Our good works should flow out of us as a sign that our lives have changed. Reward or not, we cannot help but praise God and love people. The journey is not about turning God into some magician but directing our hearts to the one who is the beginning of all wisdom and hope.

And then, the second temptation is somewhat sneakier than the first. The Adversary tells Jesus to jump and let the angels catch him. Again, quoting scripture to support his theory. Jesus fires right back and reminds him that the Scripture from which he quotes also says that we should not put God to the test.

At first, I struggled with this temptation, and then Jesus’ response. Isn’t this what faith is for? Why shouldn’t we have the kind of faith that allows us to be secure enough to know that we will be protected because God will catch us? I think having that kind of faith is a good thing, but should we really stand up and jump off the edge, simply to prove to the world God is who the Divine proclaims to be?

This is the temptation. Not to be any less confident that we will be saved, but to insist and manipulate the situation that would play God’s hand, so to speak. Our faith is more mature than that. God doesn’t need us to always flex our spiritual arms but to bow down and worship. We are called to love, not designed to test.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. I am the first to say that I believe our entire faith is in the hands of the Almighty God. The problem is when we manipulate God into action. It is one thing to risk and step out in faith. It is another thing to act out expecting action in return. We are not to test God, yet we are to step out boldly sharing our faith with the world that needs to hear stories from our spiritual journeys.

And in the third temptation, the adversary offers Jesus the world if He would do something that appears to be easy on the surface; bow down and worship the Adversary. Why couldn’t Jesus “make a deal with the devil?” Here he had, at His very fingertips, the riches of the world.

Think about that for a moment, everything that had value was placed at His feet. The price was vast and extraordinary. Its sum was priceless. He could have had his fingers crossed behind his back and accepted the kingdoms of the world. To Jesus, meeting a lie for a lie was not an option. The Messiah made it clear that there is only one God and to him alone will go all worship. Ultimately, one could quantify the price of what the world has to offer, but the grace and love of God could not be measured.

Think about it for a minute. Have you ever had something presented to you that seemed too good to be true? I remember hearing someone say that, “If someone ever offers you something that is too good to be true, it usually is.”

Never make a choice to love and want something so much, that it replaces God. It will kill you. It will inflict serious injuries to your soul. You will never be filled.

As I think about this Gospel story that we read today, I am reminded that we walk into the wilderness every day. We are bombarded by temptation after temptation that attempts to hold our true selves in captivity. There are days when the world becomes so rough that we fall to our knees. With God’s grace, we get back up and start anew. There are times that we are equipped to face every battle, every assault to our spiritual core.

We are powered by the love of God to respond to the world that is often hostile and rallies against itself. There are times that we experience the full love of God in all its glory. We hold on to these times, hoping to experience all that the Divine has to offer.

As you begin the process of a holy Lent, and journey into the wilderness, guard your heart with care. Be amazed at what God does through you and for you. The gift that we receive is our heart’s desire, which despite what people tell you, is to be one with our amazing Creator.

Thanks be to God for this holy season. May we find new ways of being, new ways of loving, new ways of hoping.


Published by joekmac

I am a pastor in the United Methodist Tradition. I am the Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Belen in the New Mexico Annual Conference. I am married to Cazandra and have two sons with hemophilia.

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