Reading Ramblings – September 18, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 18, 2016 – Lord’s Prayer Sixth Petition

Texts: Genesis 3:1-7; Psalm 91; 1 Corinthians 10:11-13; Matthew 4:1-11

Context: ** We continue our alternate text selections for the remainder of the liturgical year in order to preach through Luther’s Small Catechism ** The Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer deals with temptation. Temptation is the opportunity to reject God’s will in favor of our own. While we tend to think of temptation as something external to ourselves, in reality we generate our own temptations more often than not. Adam and Eve are tempted by Satan in the Garden of Eden, and Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness not because Satan is always the source of temptation, but because there was no internal temptation within them Adam and Eve were perfect and free from internal temptations to evil. So was Jesus. Adam and Eve faltered when they encountered external temptation, while Jesus did not. Their failure plunges creation into sin, while Jesus’ successful rejection of temptation, his perfect obedience to the Father’s will is what redeems creation and all those who accept it. Temptation is something we can and should resist. Our resistance will not be perfect, but as we practice resistance we grow stronger. We also become more aware as we grow resistant to one type of temptation, of the other sources and types of temptation both within us and without us. While we shouldn’t discount the role of Satan and his minions, we must recognize that our most dangerous enemy is our own sinful nature.

Genesis 3:1-7 – The first temptation. There is only one command to be followed, so the nature of the temptation is very specific. Satan fails to confuse the command itself, but succeeds in planting doubt about the reason for the command, and whether obedience is better than disobedience. Temptation is always the idea that one course of action is better than another; disobedience is better than obedience. Temptation is always appealing in some respect – the fruit is beautiful to behold and to eat, despite the command not to eat it. And temptation always holds out the idea that the repercussions of failure or disobedience aren’t nearly as bad as they’re made out to be. They might even be beneficial! Of course, we are good at fooling ourselves into believing whatever we want in the moment, so long as we get what we want. Our reasoning is flawed, but God’s Word can always be trusted. If He says something is wrong, it is. If He says something is bad, it is. If He says something is forbidden, we can rest assured that even if we can’t understand the how or why of it, it is still better to avoid what is forbidden rather than to seek it out.

Psalm 91 – This is the psalm that Satan quotes as he tempts Jesus in the wilderness. His exegesis seems flawed, attempting to use this verse as though it is specific to Jesus rather than to God’s people in general. But Jesus doesn’t balk at the exegesis. The greater error is assuming that this protection is ours to command, rather than God’s to provide. Victory is given, but victory on God’s terms, not ours. We rest assured that the temptations of Satan cannot destroy us; our sin no longer brings the penalty of the law onto us. But though every and any sin can be forgiven, we must constantly be wary of sin rather than taking it lightly, as it could easily lead us away from our Lord, until we no longer see sin as sin, and therefore no longer recognize our need for refuge, protection, and forgiveness.

1 Corinthians 10:11-13 – These verses are often taken out of context, extending the assurance of a means of escape to any type of trouble or adversity rather than the specific issue of temptation. Paul has just called on the Old Testament as a means of demonstrating that despite being God’s people, we are not immune to temptation. We can and do and will sin, and there are very real consequences to that sin, up to and including death. So we must take sin seriously, and not overestimate our ability to resist it. We are to rest in the assurance that whatever our temptation, it is nothing that hasn’t been faced by countless others before us. We are not doomed to failure. We can resist. And we should expect that we will find a way of resisting, a means of sidestepping the temptation. Some have taken these verses to mean that it is possible for the Christian to perfectly resist sin and temptation. The scope of Scripture and Paul’s own writings make it clear that this is not the point he is trying to convey. We are not slaves to sin any longer. We are empowered to fight against temptation and we should.

Matthew 4:1-11 – Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness. This temptation is intentional; it is something that Jesus must face. If He falls to temptation here, the rest of his ministry is doomed to failure. He must face down Satan’s temptations and continue to face them down throughout his life and ministry. The temptations seem simple enough. Turn stones to bread. Demonstrate his power and majesty. Sidestep a bloody and painful death while still gaining all the world. Certainly no worse than eating a bit of forbidden fruit, right?

It is not the scope of the temptation that matters. Giving in to temptation means to sin, and all sin is equal in God’s eyes. For our purposes as fallen creatures, we have to rank sins from lesser to greater, prescribing varying degrees of punishment. Shoplifting a candy bar when you’re five has different consequences than murder when you’re 25. But before God both sins are the same. Failure in any one aspect of obedience to the Law is equivalent to failing all of the Law. As such, we should be careful not to boast. We may not struggle with the kind of sin that someone else does, but we struggle with sin of some kind.

Our hope is not in resisting sin to the point that Jesus approves of us and forgives us. Rather, we are to take confidence and hope in the perfection of Jesus, and in his death and resurrection for us. Our sins may not land us in prison or on the front page of the newspaper, but our sins are every bit as lethal as those more public ones, and every bit as much in need of the forgiveness given in Jesus Christ. We are not forgiven at our prettiest but at our ugliest. This is our need, and this is exactly what we receive in Christ. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)

This is not the last time Satan will tempt Jesus. He will tempt him in Peter’s rebuke in Mark 8:32. He will tempt him at the Last Supper, in the moments before Judas leaves to bring the mob to arrest him. Satan will be present in the Garden of Gethsemane, moments before his arrest. Temptation comes to Jesus in many ways and times and guises, and He faces each one reliant on the perfect love, power, and plan of his heavenly Father to see him through. His victory becomes ours. His death is not for his own sins but for ours. His resurrection is the demonstration that the demands of the Law have been fully satisfied, and those who trust in this and in Him are free.

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