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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Wednesday, April 14, 2021
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

Tempting, Isn't It?

Tempting, Isn’t It?
Matthew 4:1-11
Have you seen that Mac and Cheese commercial on TV. If I recall correctly, we see an elderly gentleman stealing a bite of his grandson’s mac and cheese while the family is holding hands praying before they eat. Of course the grandson sees what is going on because he is holding his grandfather’s hand. Then we see a woman cleaning up after dinner and covertly grabbing a bite or two of someone’s leftover mac and cheese on their plate. That’s one of the perks of cleaning up after a big meal. We are faced with small temptations day in and day out. How do we keep from giving in to those temptations that in the long run harm us or others?
Well, we come to a story about Jesus that takes place before he begins his ministry. He has just fasted for 40 days, probably in conversation and communion with God. He has probably grasped the magnitude of his task on earth. He is famished, tired, and perhaps at a breaking point in his humanness. So along comes temptation. The first temptation appeals to his immediate need to satisfy his extreme hunger. It would be natural to use any means to feed himself and the temptation to use supernatural powers would be at its greatest. But Jesus is focused, and casts that temptation aside. Next is the appeal to use his supernatural power to his own advantage, tempt fate as it were. He could demonstrate to the world what he was capable of doing, the astounding feats he could accomplish. But he is focused and rejects that temptation. Next he is offered ruler ship of the world, wealth and power beyond measure, control of all that is before him. His would be ultimate power. But he is focused and chooses to become an itinerate preacher and healer instead. His would be a humble ministry with just a few friends along the way. 
Jesus knew who he was. He knew what he was capable of. The stage is set for testing and temptation. After all, he is the Son of God, capable of ruling the world should he choose, capable of saving himself from all harm, capable of having it all. But Jesus knew what God had in mind, he knew God’s will. He had just spent 40 days most likely in communion with God. He saw a bigger and better picture. So he was obedient to God’s dream. He remained sin free, not giving in to the way of the world, the way of temptation. 
Jesus knows we are not the same as he is, even though he asks us to follow and be like him. We do not have his fully divine part and we are more capable of giving in to life’s temptations and sin. Sin is a part of our being. As much as we might want to do what is right in God’s eyes, we still give in to temptation. Perhaps we know something isn’t right. We sense that it isn’t right to give in to anger in hurtful ways, but we still do it. Although it’s not right to covet what someone else has to the point that we hurt ourselves or others to get it, we still do it, some even to the point of lying or stealing or coercing or dipping into much needed savings to get what we want. The voice of temptation is so often loud and strong. And so we sin in countless ways to get the world the way we want it. From pilfering from a plate of cookies to robbery, murder and adultery we run a whole gamut of temptations to get what we want. We just can’t seem to get things right.
There is a reason Jesus was obedient to the point of death. He had purpose and he stuck to it. He knew we needed a way to get right with God, to overcome temptation and sin. He knew how difficult that was on our own. He knew how powerful temptation was and how subtle it was. So he did things his Father’s way, a way that would be more permanent and far reaching than anything had been before. He chose a way that would create enemies, that would fly in the face of those who would come to oppose him. His (God’s) way would lead to pain and death, but it would also lead to a new way of thinking about life and about God and give us a way to live righteously. 
Clearing us from guilt and the prison of sin, Jesus made it possible for the literal transformation of the world. When we sin and when we recognize our sin and the damage it has done to ourselves and others, we have the freedom to repent and make things right with our souls, with others, and with creation. Through what Jesus did we are free to live in the joy of God’s grace.  We are free to pursue and deeper relationship with our creator. And as we grow in this freedom our whole being becomes more aligned with what God intended us to be, whole and fully capable of knowing and living in God’s will. As we grow in faith, sin becomes less powerful and temptations lose some of their hold on us. We will still be imperfect, but we won’t be slaves to our imperfection. We won’t have to despair because we can’t quite get it right. 
Sometimes it gets discouraging always having to repent. “I am sorry God. I know I didn’t do the right thing, but I will try to follow your way.” It becomes a mantra in our lives. We wonder if it’s doing any good. But as we continue to repent and turn to God, we change. Temptation and sin become more subtle, less overt. We may mostly be doing the right things, certainly not committing the “big” sins, the 10 commandment type sins. But we still commit those “oh I shouldn’t have said those unkind words, or I shouldn’t have treated the other person like that” sins. But the fact that we start to recognize where we need work becomes our changing point. “Oops, God! That was one of those behaviors that I need to work on,” becomes a standard part of our lives. The more time we spend with God, it seems the more we recognize what we are doing wrong, and we don’t have to dwell in the guilt of it. As our relationship becomes more entrenched in God, we find ourselves in more of a give and take relationship with our creator. God’s Spirit within us helps us mold and fashion our lives into righteous living. The Spirit begins more and more to direct and guide us in our actions and in our ability to love ourselves, those around us and all of creation. 
And Jesus made that possible because he knew what we were capable of becoming. He provided a way to free us from the guilt of sin, to help us realize that the important thing was a vital, deep relationship with our Creator. Jesus demonstrated how to overcome temptation by staying focused on what really mattered, his Father’s will and way. And Jesus freed us from the trappings and devastation of guilt from the sins we commit. That doesn’t mean we aren’t going to be sorry for what we have done, it means that we have the freedom to repent and turn ourselves around to live better lives. We are free to approach God with anything that disturbs our sense of wholeness and God in turn will respond and show us a better way.  

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