Lent 1 — Temptations Of The Devil

Preached March 13, 2011

2 Corinthians 6:1–10
St. Matthew 4:1–11

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Our Lenten journey to Jerusalem has begun this past Wednesday with Ash Wednesday. We begin a three week cycle today considering, week by week, the temptations of the devil, the flesh, and the world. Thus we begin today with the temptations, or trials, presented by the devil.

Our Gospel lesson presents the temptations of the devil to our Lord Jesus. Notice first of all the circumstances. At the end of Chapter 3, just preceding today’s lesson, we have the baptism of the Lord by St. John Baptist, with the great theophany in the form of the descending dove and Matthew 3:17  And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. This is a time of great exaltation, a time of exhilaration for our Lord, being publicly recognized and proclaimed by God the Father before St. John Baptist and the others present there at the Jordan river that day. Then immediately, at the beginning of our lesson for today, Matthew 4:1  Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. Those times when we are most elated, most excited, are the times when we are most vulnerable to the attacks of the devil, and thus it is that this is the time when the devil chooses to attack our Lord. But notice that the devil does not make his attack there in the crowd at the river Jordan, but rather takes Jesus into the desert. In the wilderness, there the stark conflict between good and evil, between right and wrong, is completely laid bare. There is nothing to confuse the issue, no mitigating circumstances, no secondary issues, nothing at all but the eternal conflict between God and the devil.

Just as Jesus is attacked when He is in a state of spiritual exhilaration, so we likewise should be most on our guard when we think everything is going so very well. Let us not be deceived into thinking that we are in any way less subject to the attacks of the devil than was our Lord, and it is just when we are complacent that the devil will strike.

People sometimes wonder why God allowed the devil to tempt Jesus in the desert. What was this all about? This is actually a matter of critical importance to us, the people of today. It was done for our salvation, that we might know that there is no guilt in temptation itself and that God does provide strength and grace to resist the wiles of the devil. We are prone to think that merely because we have been tempted to sin, we have committed sin. They are not the same thing. They are also inclined to think that if they are tempted, they are powerless to resist. It is important to recognize that sin can be resisted, the devil can be overcome by the grace of God, and Jesus Christ is the prototype of this resistance for us. Let us recognize and appreciate what our Lord has done for us in showing the ability to resist the devil, that we too can do likewise.

As St. John says, John 1:12  But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: The idea of sons of God occurs repeatedly in the New Testament; it is an important concept there. Jesus Christ came to make us adopted sons of God, and heirs, with Him, of the Kingdom of God. All of the temptations of the devil, both to Christ and to us, is a temptation directed against sonship.

The first test that the devil offered to Jesus was to satisfy His own hunger by turning stones of the desert into bread for his own gratification, Matthew 4:3  And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. The devil is saying to Christ Jesus that He should use His power for His own purposes, rather than to be a Son, dependent on the Father that had so recently recognized Him at His baptism by St. John Baptist. The devil is encouraging Him to show His independence. In precisely the same way, the devil tempts us to show our independence from the Father, to provide for ourselves, rather than to trust in God for all of our needs. If we look around us, is this not one of the most common sins we see? Who wants to admit their dependence on God for anything? We all think of ourselves as independent, self–sufficient people, proud of our ability to provide for ourselves. The very idea that we are dependent on anyone else, much less God, is directly offensive on its face, because the devil has sold his message so very well. And yet, if we are truly adopted sons of God, we have to admit that everything we have, everything we receive day by day, comes directly from the hand of God the Father. Are we willing to be true sons of God?

The first temptation worked against Christ’s weakness, His physical hunger. Failing in that, the devil turns to attack against His strength, His faith in God. Matthew 4:5-6  Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. The devil is tempting Jesus to presume upon His relationship with His Father, to make demands on that relationship. This is exposed in His answer, Matthew 4:7  Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.

We presume on God’s mercy anytime we say, “Oh, God really will not object to this sin,” because we know that God hates all sin. God provides us grace to resist sin, and He is merciful in forgiving sin. We err grievously anytime we plan to commit sin with the thought that we will simply confess it and obtain forgiveness later. This is presuming upon the mercy of God in the extreme. This is one reason why the offer of an indulgence before the fact for some occasion of sin, as is given at times in the Roman Church (1), is completely bogus; it presumes upon the mercy of God most grievously. Anytime that we put ourselves in unnecessary spiritual danger, presuming upon God to protect us, we are violating the conditions of sonship. Are we willing to be true sons of God?

The third temptation is to disloyalty. Matthew 4:8-9  Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. The devil has great power on earth, and he can promise much to those who will build their lives around him. We see this everyday with the countless many who fall for this line in our own day. The devil offers riches, power, pleasure, influence, and even what many perceive as the opportunity to do good. This last is perhaps the greatest trap because it ensnares many well intentioned people, people who want to do good things for mankind, but who are intent on doing it their own way, rather than following God’s way. Look around you at all the many people talking about helping others, world peace, feeding the hungry, providing fair wages for everyone, using government to achieve a utopian state on earth. Many of these voices are talking about doing good works, but they are not proposing to do them in God’s name, but rather strictly as the works of man without God at all. As such, the results are never good. Jesus’ answer is the appropriate response, Matthew 4:10  Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. The works we do as sons of God will be blessed by God and will prosper, but those works which we do at the urging of the devil will wither and turn to dust as they must. Are we willing to be true sons of God?

In our Epistle lesson for the day, St. Paul is talking about the grace of God that we have now. This is grace that we received at our baptism, the grace that makes us adopted sons of God. This grace is immediate, it is now, it is not something for which we must wait, but rather it is available to us as soon as we are baptized. It covers past sins, and it is there to help us resist current temptations. As St. Paul says, quoting the words of God the Father from Isaiah 49:8 from the Septuagint, 2 Corinthians 6:2  (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.) Now is the day of salvation, now is the accepted time, now is the time when grace is active in our lives. It is not something that comes at the end of our lives, for which we wait, but rather it is something that is with us day by day as we go through our Christian lives.

St. Paul points to the extreme efforts of the early Christian messengers, particularly himself, that they do nothing to interfere with the message that they are carrying. They go do great extremes to make certain that there is nothing about their own behavior or actions that will detract from the message, because of the extreme importance of the message. It is the message that is all important, and the messenger must not get in the way of the message.

As we journey toward Jerusalem, let us beware of those assaults of the devil that attack sonship in its various forms. It is only when we are truly adopted sons of God that we can travel with Jesus up to Jerusalem, to great events of Holy Week, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. Let us assure our understanding of our place as sons of God.

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

——————————————

(1)  I have seen the offer a plenary indulgence included with the ticket to parish festivals at some Roman Catholic parishes, essentially a pre–paid sin card much like a pre–paid telephone card.

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About Father D

I am a priest of the Continuing Anglican Church, the continuation of orthodox Anglicanism into the present 21st century. My theology is definitely that of a Reformed Catholic point of view, neither Roman nor Calvinist.
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9 Responses to Lent 1 — Temptations Of The Devil

  1. Randall Gerard says:

    Hello Father D,

    I followed you here from Faith & Heritage, because it occurs to me that my post addressing you there may have seemed somewhat confrontational. That was not my intention. I really am interested in classical christianity, but I acknowledge that I wasn’t very clear about why. I’m not looking for a fight, just some information and hopefully some clarity in my own rather muddled and confused walk with Jesus.

    You see, I thought my spiritual journey had ended and I was home for good, in a presbyterian reformed church. But lately, I’ve come to believe that sola scriptura, the very lynch-pin of the reformation, can’t be true. The Bible doesn’t teach it. No ancient church ever taught it. Which basically means, it was an invention of the reformers, most notably Luther and Calvin.

    What this realization has done, is open my eyes to the presence of ‘tradition’ within the polity and practice of every church, whether that church is protestant or not. And, it has also opened my eyes to the possibility that churches with a more ancient lineage might have a greater claim to orthodoxy then my own 450 year-old tradition, scottish presbyterianism. Anyway, I was hoping you might like to tell me about anglicanism. For example, what is the ‘continuing anglican church’? I’ve read the 39 articles, which seem pretty reformed protestant to me, but I understand their are anglicans who are at the same time, in communion with Rome? How does that work? Thanks for your time. Nice blog by the way.

    • Father D says:

      Randall, I’m glad to have you drop by. I did not see your comment as confrontational, so don’t worry about that.

      You asked some very big questions that I’m not sure I can adequately answer in a blog comment, but let me take a shot.

      I presume you know the story about Henry VIII wanting his divorce. That is not the whole story, but that is a starting point for the story of Anglicanism since the Reformation. Anglicanism actually goes back to the Early Church, but that is for many purposes another story. Henry broke with the Pope, but essentially changed nothing in the theology of the Church, or as little as possible, I should say. This was quite different from the Reformation on the Continent. Henry died before too much more happened, and was succeeded by his son, Edward VI, yet a boy. That is when things began to change. The first Book of Common Prayer was published in 1549 under Edward VI, and was soon denounced as “too Romish.” The second BCP appeared in 1552 to “correct” the Romish tendencies. Edward was a sickly boy and soon died, to be replaced by his older sister Mary (Bloody Mary) who turned the country back to Rome. After only a few years she was replaced by her younger sister, Elizabeth I, who turned away from Rome.

      Elizabeth was determined to develop a united nation. One of the things she most was not going to tolerate was religious differences within her kingdom. She wanted everybody on the same page. She seems to have leaned slightly in the Catholic direction, but most of all she wanted unity. There were divisions among groups that wanted Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Catholicism. He instructions to her council was “work it out; I will not allow divisions.” This led to what is called the Elizabethan Compromise which made room within Anglicanism for many points of view.

      Ultimately there were some who were still dissatisfied, such as the Puritans (Calvinists), and they decided their best option was to leave which they famously did. Others found a niche within Anglicanism and remain to this day.

      In the mid-1800s, there was what was called the Oxford Movement that revived the Catholic side of Anglicanism, today called Anglo-Catholicism, or simply High Church Anglicanism. This is simply Anglicanism with a very high view of the Church and the sacraments.

      Anglicanism spread world wide with the spread of the British Empire. Even though the empire is long gone, the Anglican Church is found well planted in all of the former colonies of the empire. Worldwide, there are roughly 80 million Anglicans today.

      The Anglican Church in the USA for generations has been known as the Episcopal Church USA. In the 1960s, the ECUSA began to assume very liberal positions on many issues, to the concern of many of its members. At that time, it was using the Book of Common Prayer 1928, but in 1979 it issued a radically revised BCP. This was the turning point for many members, and substantial numbers withdrew from ECUSA to form small groups known as Continuing Anglican Churches, that is Anglican Churches continuing as they had been before the liberal trends had set in. In addition to the radical prayerbook revision, the other major issues have been the ordination of women, the promotion of the LBGT agenda, and a general denial of classical Christian doctrine. The Continuing Anglican Churches maintain all of the classical positions on these issues.

      You might be interesting in looking at the Book of Common Prayer 1928 on line. Do a google search and you will find it. I think the site is justusanglican or some such.

      I hope that this helps. Come by again and we can talk further.

      • Randall Gerard says:

        “Anglicanism actually goes back to the Early Church, but that is for many purposes another story.”

        But Father, how can this be so, if the gospel didn’t reach Britain until around the time of St. Patrick? Or, is my recollection of church history wrong?

      • Father D says:

        Randall, there is not clear, well defined mark in time showing when Christianity reached Britain. There is, for example, the legend of the Glastonbury associated with Joseph of Arimathaea, a wealthy merchant, who some say may have even brought Jesus Himself to England before the days of His public ministry. Admittedly, this is really reaching, but there are such legends and stories.

        It appears that Christianity was brought to Britain by the Roman government of the island, and also that it came via the Irish monks at the island of Iona. These early sources left what is referred to as “Celtic Christianity” after the Romans departed.

        Augustine was sent as Abp. of Canterbury in 597 AD by Pope Gregory the Great to bring Latin Christianity to Britain. Thus we have Latin Christianity centered in the Southeast, and Celtic Christianity centered much further north at Iona. The Council of Whitby was held in 664 AD to reconcile these two groups, with the result that Celtic Christianity capitulated to Latin Christianity.

        This is still during the formative period of Christianity, the period of the great ecumenical Councils that hammered out the fundamental definitions of the faith that we have today. We may reasonably put Celtic Christianity back into the early to mid-4th century AD with a modest degree of certainty, even though the exact details of the path are not quite known.

        If you wish to explore this area, the internet has a wealth of further information that you can pursue.

  2. Randall Gerard says:

    Father D,

    Thanks for the history lesson. So, I take it that the 39 articles were written and adopted some time before the Oxford movement? Are there two branches of Anglicanism, one ‘protestant’ and one ‘romish’? Thanks again for your time.

    • Father D says:

      Randall, the 39 Articles were written in the 16th century. This is one reason some of the items addressed seem so very dated today while others are much more timeless.

      Today’s Anglicanism is often described using three terms: High Church, Broad Church, and Low Church. High Church refers to having a “high view” of the Church, that is a high view of the Sacraments and Liturgy of the Church. The High Church is often described as being Anglo-Catholic because in external forms it looks much like the Roman Church although there very distinct differences (I am an Anglo-Catholic, but I could never be a Roman Catholic.) There is the Low Church which is much less concerned with the Sacraments and Liturgy and is more focused on preaching. This is where most of the Evangelicals are to be found. Finally there is the Broad Church which is somewhere in the middle, often not too greatly concerned with any particular details, and (to my thinking, at least) pretty sloppy in churchmanship.

      One other thing that I failed to mention earlier is the number of Anglicans currently in transit to Rome under a specific invitation from the Pope made in October 2009. The Pope has invited groups of disaffected Anglicans to come in groups to the RCC and some significant numbers are in the process of doing this. I am inclined to think this is a mistake that will end badly, but I have many friends who are involved in this process at this time. This is happening on a worldwide basis under the name Angloreum Coetibus (sp?) (my Latin is not very good any more). The only place it is actually in operation yet is in the UK, but it is coming in Canada, the US, and elsewhere.

      • Randall Gerard says:

        Father D,

        Would you care to elaborate on the differences between anglo-catholics and roman catholics? Thanks. I hope I’m not monopolizing your time too much. I imagine you’re quite busy with your parish responsibilities.

      • Father D says:

        Randall, there are many different ways to compare Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholics, so I’ll only take a few cuts at the problem.

        As Anglicans, we are catholic, with a small “c”, just as are the Romans, and the Easter Orthodox, which is to say that we are part of the clearly identifiable universal Church. The other two officially deny this, each claiming to be the “One, true catholic Church,” but that is of no importance to this discussion. Our fundamental doctrines are the same as theirs are, and they all come from the undivided Church of the first millennium. We were all on the same page until 1054 AD.

        The Roman Church tends to be very legalistic, very law oriented, with a rule for everything, setting minimum requirements for what people must do in every matter. As a result, people usually do the minimum and no more. Anglicans take the opposite approach and have very few rules, but rather tend to have many recommendations, nothing required, with the result that those that are serious do far more. It is an entirely different perspective, and it attracts different sorts of people.

        The RCs have tended to added things to their doctrine that we cannot support such as (1) papal infallibility, (2) immaculate conception (of Mary), (3) assumption of Mary, (4) indulgences. Most Anglicans would say that if a person finds comfort in 2 and 3, they are permitted beliefs, although they are certainly not required (referred to as matters of pious opinion). I know of no Anglicans that believe in 1 or 4, and not many in the other two either.

        As a consequence, Anglicanism tends to look more like the Orthodox Church in terms of dogma than it does like the RC (the OC does not accept these additions either, as far as I know).

        Traditional Anglicanism is very focused on worship as opposed to the social gospel message heard in many churches today. The Mass is completely focused on Jesus Christ from start to finish. A big part of that is bring beauty into our worship as we seek to come into the presence of the Almighty God. We do this with the architecture and decoration of our worship space, and also with our very traditional music. We are privileged to have some of the finest Church music that has every been gathered in the Episcopal Hymnal 1940.

        Hope this is of help. I’ll try to answer your other comment tomorrow.

  3. Randall Gerard says:

    Just my opinion, but in retrospect, Elizabeth was truly a great Queen, to see so clearly the value of religious unity to her nation. Would that Great Britain thought that way today! And, if more had wanted unity on the continent, Europe might have been spared 100 years of blood-shed.

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