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His True Servant

Matthew 4:1-11

The Rev. Jon Roberts

26 February


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.

His True Servant

Temptation in the Wilderness, Briton Riviere 1898

“When the fight begins within himself, a man’s worth something.”[1]

A much-loved minister of God once carried a secret burden of a long, past sin that was deep in his heart. He had committed the sin many years before, during his Bible school training. No one knew what he had done, and it did not hurt anyone but himself. He had suffered years of remorse over the incident without any sense of God's forgiveness. A woman in his church deeply loved God and claimed to have visions in which Jesus Christ spoke to her. The minister, skeptical of her claims, asked her, "The next time you speak to the Lord, would you please ask Him what sin your minister committed while he was in Bible school." The woman kindly agreed. When she came to the church a few days later the minister asked, "Did He visit you?" She said, "Yes." "And did you ask Him what sin I committed?" "Yes, I asked Him," she replied.
"Well, what did He say?" "He said, 'I don't remember.'"[2]

The greatest fight we face is the one that is against our self. It is fascinating how our worst enemy is often ourselves and our inability to forgive or forget our past. That is why we have Lent. Lent is a time when the fighting against our self begins and a time to “gird up our loins” as it says in the Bible. To persevere through this Holy Lent, you must learn how to fight against yourself, and it requires discipline. The root of the word “discipline” is “disciple.” It does not come so easily because you are being called to do something that is hard. It is a practice you must nurture and cultivate. It requires honesty about the wrongs you have committed, in thought, word and deed.

Claim your sin, therefore. A disciple must be refined through the trials of temptation, and this is why he, or she, wrestles. There is a purpose for temptation, and temptation does not always lead to sin. This is partly why God allows the devil to be let loose on us. In this repeating drama of the human condition that encounters temptation, there are two possible outcomes: Sin and Grace. It is our choice to fall or resist temptation. Our free will and the discipline of it, decides if we fall to sin or rise to grace. This is how we become disciples. Therefore, there are three purposes for temptation in which there are three doors that must open.

First, you must be real to yourself and be honest to God. This opens the door to humility. Second, you must learn to rely on your ability to make the right decisions and further to choose God’s better judgment for your life. This opens the door to trust. Thirdly, you must accept grace to give power over temptation. Without receiving such grace, you will fall to temptation. This opens the door to strength. A good way to remember these is “HTS” which can be remembered by the disciple as, “His True Servant.” If you want to be God’s true servant you must be humble, you must trust and you must be strong.

God allows the devil to tempt us so we can achieve our purpose in becoming His True Servant. This sounds odd, but it is the truth. Through humility, trust, and strength they are in sequence. If you start with strength, it may be tempting not to trust or have humility. If you start with trust, you may not be motivated to humble yourself or desire to get stronger. Indeed, it begins with humility, then trust, and then strength. How does this look? Jesus shows us how this works in the Gospel today, where he is led by the Spirit into the wilderness. First question we ask, “If Jesus is God and the Spirit is God, and God knew the devil lurked out there with the intention on tempting him, then why would he lead his self into this barren land?” We heard it said he was out there forty days and nights without food. He must have been terribly hungry. Have any of you gone forty days or nights without food? He must have been skin and bone, like a holocaust victim. He could have turned dirt into water, made it rain or had manna or birds fall from the sky for a meal, but he did not. He was tempted in this way, every bit as we would be, but did not sin. Is it possible that Jesus took this course to show us how He was very God from very God from the very beginning? It addresses the question of whether Jesus was ever separated from the Father.

If Jesus was being tempted to sin, we should define it and call sin what it is. It is when your own desire is above or contrary to God’s will and leads to separation. It is our struggle against God’s commands. “Thou shalt not have any other Gods before me; “Thou shalt not have any graven image. Thou shall keep the sabbath holy. Thou shall honor your father and your mother; Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal or murder.” There are more “shalt nots” than “shalls” for this reason because we, as humans, have a desire to go our own way. That is the ultimate temptation and that starts within. There, in the wilderness, conscious of the devil’s taunting and tempting, Jesus is forming his own rebuttal to temptation. You hear him say at each one, words from the Lord’s prayer. “Thy kingdom will come. Thy will be done. Give me [Father] this day my daily bread. Lead me not to temptation. Forgive those who tempt and trespass against us. Deliver me from evil.” These are just some of the words spoken today, through the Decalogue (Ten Commandments), and the Lord’s Prayer.[3]

We recite God’s Word from both the Old & New covenants He made with humanity because they help us enter into humility when we say them and act upon them. It builds our personal trust with our creator. It strengthens us and makes us alive and whole, with great purpose. When you want to make your own bread out of stone; When you want to be a dare devil and throw yourself from the cliff; When you want to be elevated higher than man and God, stop right there. You are supposed to turn to humility, trust in the Lord with all your heart, mind, and strength by calling up Jesus. The last assault of the devil, the last temptation is real. It is seen over long suffering where the sin is deeply rooted in our memories and our soul is exhausted, knowing that we keep losing the fight. We may never forget our past, but we must call upon Jesus to help us to forgive the things that we think about, can’t stop thinking about or have done. Jesus was exhausted, as we are, but not by sin. He was exhausted by the relentless bombardment of temptation to sin. It is by his subjecting himself to such temptation that he shows his own humility, trust and strength in God.

Eventually, all of us must see that the fight is first within us as we should confront our innermost, secretive place, the soul’s wilderness, with contempt. For some, residing there is longer than forty days. It might be forty years. For some, it is shorter than forty days. It might be forty seconds. What can you do about it? Follow the way of Christ, who when he was pushed to the brink simply demanded, “Away with you! Get behind me Satan. Get behind me the accuser. The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” The devil made attempt to separate the son from the Father and from the Spirit. The devil attempts the same within you every day.

Do not be like the devil who is a wily creature, taunting and accusing in order to prevent the making of disciples. Confess your sins. Be penitent. Be contrite and trust in Him. How much greater is the power of the resurrection of Jesus, who shows us the way from a wilderness to the top of the mountain. “Lead me not into temptation.” What a struggle. Some of you have been holding on for so long. Bring this to the Lord, confess, “Lord I am having a really hard time turning away from my sins. Help me. Deliver me.” Lent intentionally offers confession so that you can practice this, but most of us cannot imagine airing out those words of our sin to another human being but it is good for the soul. Those thoughts are so private, guarded and secured behind the firewalls built by self but this is not the habitation God wants you to dwell. He purposed you to be in community, with others and loving each other as you should love yourself.
If you intend to be a disciple of our Lord Jesus, just remember those three doors: Humility, Trust and Strength. They will help you forgive, and you never know, they may help you forget.
If you enter each of those, you can resist any temptation and be His True Servant.

[1] Robert Browning, “Bishop Blougram’s Apology,” 1855.
[2] Matthew 4:1-11
[3] Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

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