Posts Tagged ‘Matthew 4:1-11’

Words Have Power 3-5-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 4:1-11, I explore the temptation of Christ, and the power that is held in the different names used in the story.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Names are important…and far more than we realize…names have the tendency to mean something. (pause) For some of you long time attenders, this might sound a little familiar as I’ve shared it before…but I am fascinated by the meaning of names…and the idea that what we are called might mean something more than “the sound that comes out of my mouth to identify that person over there.”

Sometimes when I think about the names that parents have given to their children, I realize that both sides of the coin are in play. Some people just like the sound of a name and that’s why they choose it. Others pick names for their kids based on the meaning…based on what the name itself is supposed to indicate. And thinking along these lines, I did a little personal research into my own identity.

My given name is Scott Allen Dalen. Scott is a descriptor meaning literally from Scotland. Allen means either rock or handsome. And Dalen comes from Dale which is a clearing in the woods. So my name…Scott Allen Dalen means that I am a handsome rock in the midst of a clearing in the Scottish woods…Fascinating…If you’re curious about what your name might mean…a quick google search will tell you volumes. (pause)

Now I bring up names, because there are a lot of them being thrown around in today’s gospel lesson. It’s a familiar one…the temptation of Christ…one that we hear about every single year at this time…as the 40 days that Jesus is in the wilderness enduring various temptations seems quite reminiscent of the 40 dark days of the season of Lent, stretching out before us until the culmination with Christ dying on the cross just before Easter.

But before I jump into today’s story, a bit of logistics…the end of chapter 3 features the baptism of Jesus…and in the final two verses of that story, which we actually heard 2 months back at the beginning of Epiphany, the Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus, and the voice of God the Father identifies him as his own beloved son. (pause) And now, here as we pick up the story…the newly baptized Jesus is led by that same Spirit which just came upon him, out deeper into the wilderness.

We hear that Jesus fasts over the course of 40 days…and then…boom…Satan shows up and here comes the temptation. We hear about three of them…as the intensity and the apparent cost continues to ramp up. If you’re the son of God, command these stones to become bread. I know you’re hungry, you haven’t eaten in weeks…best to sacrifice this tiny bit of God’s creation in order to meet your physical need.

But Jesus isn’t havin it…and he quotes some scripture back at the devil…temptation number 1 being overcome…the tempter tries again…and he switches up his tactic…Hmmm Jesus quoted scripture…maybe I’ll do the same.  And he wiskes Jesus off to the top of the temple and tosses an obscure psalm at him.  If you are the son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written that God will send his angels to catch you and you’ll be unharmed…Might as well be saying “Hey, if you are who you say you are” or maybe “If what God has said about you is true” then why don’t you prove it. (pause) But Jesus tosses scripture back on that one as well…You shall not put the Lord your God to the test. (Pause)
Well fine…let’s try one more…and the devil thinks to himself…it seems that Jesus is trying to reconcile the world…to gather them all together under his banner…so lets try appealing to this mission…and so Jesus finds himself on a mountain looking at all the kingdoms of the world…and the promise that all of them will be given to him…if he’ll only forsake the first commandment, turning his back on God to worship the father of lies.  But once more, Jesus isn’t having it. Because the power of the world…which is the power that the devil has some control over…that’s not what God has in mind…and Jesus knows it, and so once more…scripture in the face of temptation…and finally this time, Jesus calls that wiley old liar by name. Away with you Satan. (long pause)

Now if you’ve been paying attention…maybe you’ve noticed that I’ve been throwing a lot of names around…especially one that anyone familiar with Saturday Night Live in the early 90’s would find familiar…who remembers Dana Carvey playing the church lady? (in the voice) Maybe…Satan?

Its interesting, how many different names are given out to that old bugger in this brief story…He’s called the devil…at one point the tempter…and finally Jesus calls him Satan…about the only name we’re missing at this point is Lucifer and we’d have all the bases covered wouldn’t we? (pause)
But now remember…names have meaning right? And each one of these does too.  Now to call him the tempter…that’s pretty much on the nose…pretty self explanatory…and as we’re hearing about the temptation of Christ, that’s a fitting one…so having acknowledged that one, we’ll leave it alone.

Next is the name that we hear the most, both in this passage, and I think probably within our regular day to day conversation whenever we find ourselves on the topic of evil or sin or temptation…and that name is the devil…now this name means the accuser or the liar, which might just be fitting…because we hear in this passage how he’s twisting scripture…how he’s lying about what he can give Jesus…so that one’s pretty fitting.

But the final one is perhaps the most important. Satan. Now Satan means the adversary…the one who is standing in opposition of what God is up to…and so calling the devil Satan…well that’s pretty spot on isn’t it…because clearly Old Scratch is working pretty hard in opposition of the mission that Jesus is up to…to bring about reconciliation between God and humanity…to repair the breach caused by the dark powers of sin and death…those powers that are present all the time in our existence, but perhaps seem even stronger now in this dark season of Lent…that season that will ultimately culminate in the death of Jesus to atone for the of all humanity.

And it would seem that Satan believes that if he can just trip up Jesus…even this one time…then he wins…and he’ll remain in power…he’ll hold onto whatever twisted authority has been granted to him…and that’s why he’s tempting Christ. (pause)

Now here’s the thing on that. We hear today, that once the third temptation is finished, Jesus tells Satan off…and Satan has to listen, which makes sense because Jesus is God the Son…and as much as he hates it, Satan knows who’s boss…but its also important to realize that temptation itself didn’t end here. It was ever present right up to the instant that Jesus breathed his last and died while he was hanging there on that cross.

And we see a lot of similarities between the temptation story here today and the passion coming up in 40 days. Today Jesus is hungry and is tempted….on the cross he’s thirsty.  Today he’s lifted up in Jerusalem, and on Good Friday he’s lifted up just outside the city, only that time he’s nailed to a piece of wood. Today, the devil offers him political authority, to draw all nations under his power…and on the cross he draws all people to himself…

And there’s one more similarity…in both cases…on both ends of this season…Jesus is mocked because of his name…because of his identity. If you are the Messiah, come down from there…save yourself if you can. If you’re the Messiah, prove it. (pause)  And today…if you are the Son of God…prove it. (pause)

Keep in mind that the temptation of Christ begins as soon as his baptism is over…as soon as he has been named as God’s son. We might do well to remember that in our lives, that our baptism doesn’t excuse us from temptation, only that it cleanses us from the resulting sin. (pause) But the truth of this whole situation, regardless of Satan twisting it or not…is that Jesus IS the Son of God…and because of this, his words ARE true.

And I’m drawn to the one name that Jesus gives to his tormentor today…Satan…adversary…one who is opposed to what God knows must happen…and Jesus calls one other person the very same thing later on in the gospel. At a certain point, Jesus has told his disciples that he would be betrayed and killed…and Peter rebukes him for it…and as a result, Jesus calls Peter…Satan…adversary…one who is opposed to what Jesus knows must happen.

Now if Peter can get in the way…Jesus’ most trusted disciple…the one that he will eventually place in charge of the church, I find myself wondering, do we get in the way? Or perhaps more importantly, what do we allow to get in the way?

In short, I’m posing the question, what tempts you? What lies get whispered in your ear that draw your attention away? What physical needs come up that draw us away…what desires…or maybe what insecurities?

Satan tries to trip Jesus by making him question if what God had said about him was true. If you are the son of God, prove it. Did God really say that about you? (pause) And I fear we come under the same attack…Does God truly forgive you? Does God really love you? Are you good enough…I know the truth…just like you do…and if everyone else knew, they’d never accept you. (pause)
Those are the lies that the adversary…the deceiver…the liar, whispers in our ears…and he’s a crafty one…but no matter what he tells us, he can’t overcome what God the Son has said about us…that we are made heirs of the promise…and that if the son calls you free then you are free indeed. (pause)

Let me make one important thing clear. When we hear the story of Jesus’ enduring temptation and overcoming it…this is not some moral obligation for us to follow. This is not giving us an example to live up to…its not telling us that if we simply pray hard enough, or quote enough scripture…or are pious enough that we can overcome temptation…so don’t think that. Because our human broken WILL fail us every time.

Rather, let this story be a reminder that names have power…and if you don’t believe what I’ve already said, remember that when Jesus calls him by name, calls Satan what he is…and then tells him to leave…Satan has to listen…because what Jesus says…Goes. And Jesus tells you…he promises you…that you have joined with him as an heir to the promise of the kingdom of Heaven.  You are a beloved Child of God…and nothing can take that away…not any failing on your part…not any lies that the devil throws your direction. You have that name and nothing, not even you…can get in the way of that being true. Amen