Subtle Seduction

I'd like to ask a couple of you a question about what defines you as you. What adjective, noun, concept, trade, hobby makes you identifiable? Your life's definition? 

How did you come to that conclusion? What makes you qualified for that? Lots of time spent in study? Internship, practice, great degree of interest?

Do you think you could be swerved from that? Change your mind? Go into a different field, interest?

Now are there any other ideas that you might be? Something that is unchangeable?

It is important to know who you are, because there are always going to be events or people that will challenge that definition that will attempt to undermine you and topple you from that. If you are not secure in who or what you are, you will stumble, become less effective, and possibly fall. And, then people that you could have influenced or helped, will go unaffected. And, it becomes a chain reaction because those folks might have in turn helped another. You've seen movies like that, where someone thought they were unimportant and wondered what life would have been like if they had never been born. The movie, It's a Wonderful Life addresses that very idea.

All of that may seem very trite, until you get to this passage that we have about Jesus being faced with temptations proposed by the devil. Now, most of us know the outcome. Jesus 3, Devil 0. And, the devil walked away. Jesus was able to stand in the face of evil and say, no. And, many of us know that he used Scripture as part of his line of defense, especially when the devil used scripture to back up his proposals. Check out Psalm 91 verse 11: For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.

We come away from this reading, thinking, whew! I'm glad he was strong enough to stand up to evil. We use Jesus' example as our guiding star. We try to memorize the significant passages in scripture that we can hold up like Jesus did to help us stand firm in our faith. In fact, if you travel very much, you know that the Gideon Bible is placed in most hotel rooms. And, if you look at it, there is a section that lists those moments in life where a handy little verse might be just what you need to get through. Need protection in times of danger? Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-5. Going through temptation? Read James 1:12-16. Need courage? Hebrews 13:5-6.

Well, that's all very well and good, except that this event has even deeper implications and consequences than most of us can see on a first reading.

Let me give you a little background information. In Jesus' Israelite heritage, the term Satan or Satan had a slightly different connotation than what we have come to understand it today. Satan was a term used in legal court system for the person known as the adversary. The one who accused the defendant, presented evidence against him, and badgered him until the truth came through. In early Israelite understanding, this Satan was an important person in the royal courts of God, where God sought to bring to light the true nature of all human beings to dig beyond our rationalizations and our surface hypocrisy. He was a valuable tool placed there for God's own purposes, to sanctify us. Until we are faced squarely with our weaknesses, we cannot repair or strengthen our brokenness. A fun experience to go through? Absolutely not! Does it ever ease up? Absolutely not! We are constantly in the refiner's fire. And Satan continues to throw evidence and situations at us that strike at our very core, to uncover the cracks in our foundation.

Now, the term devil (dialobos) was the word for the evil one. And it is easy to see how these two terms could be interchanged freely in anyone's speech, mind, or heart. We all have felt that frustration. "Just when we get through one problem, another one crops up. Hardly enough time to recuperate. And, we feel that the devil must be working overtime on us."

Indeed, as the early Christian witnesses went from country to country, culture to culture, they sought ways to connect the experiences and mythologies of those that had never heard of Jesus Christ, or understood the faith practices of the Israelites. In this way those new converts understood the concept of grace and new life and the struggle to live like Christ. The concept of Satan easily adapted to the characteristics of the evil one in every culture. And discovering the God that forgives when faced with the adversary became an anchor to hold on to when life was so difficult.

If you read the temptation story in Greek, you will see both terms used. The devil tempts Jesus every step of the way. And, finally, Jesus shouts out to Satan, "Away with you Satan, for it is written, You shall worship the Lord God and him only shall you serve." Jesus understood the concept of being tested. It was a necessary piece of preparation for the work that was ahead of him. How many of us, when we are in school liked final exams? No one, except those who had prepared long and hard. For the rest of us, it confronted us with our laziness, our poor attitudes in class, our hatred of what we thought was busy work instead of discipline…homework! I've got better things to do with my time, and our stupid teacher who never went over that material. In other words, we were confronted with our lack of purpose and direction, but that's not how we saw it…well not until we got out there and tried to get a good, well paying job that actually accomplished something worthwhile. We found out we couldn't handle the responsibility and had to start at the bottom of the pay scale until we got the training we could have gotten years before.

Jesus prepared long and hard in order to be ready for his job, remember he was in the temple talking with the elders at the age of 12! 12 just as knowledgeable as those who had studied all their lives. You could blow it off and say, well, he was God, afterall, he ought to have all the right answers. But then you would be missing the other half of who Jesus was….not just totally divine, but also totally human. Susceptible to every one of our weaknesses. And, he like us had to address those weaknesses and prepare for the moments when they might trip him up. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, praying, meditating on the history of his people's interaction with God, sorting through his physical hungers and discovering who he was and what were the essential priorities in his life.

We have read the gospel story just verses before this one. Jesus went out to be baptized by John, who protested much as we might have. But during his baptism a voice from heaven declared, "This is my beloved Son." Now, what would any of you parents have done if at your child's baptism, you heard a voice from heaven? Would it have changed the way you prepared your child for adulthood? Well, it is a question we should always ask ourselves. Because we may not hear an ethereal, disembodied voice speaking from the sky, or have a dove land upon the waters, but the words are in our baptismal service. We are declared children of God.

And all of us are swept out into the world that is filled with temptations and trials. We may not like being faced with the adversary. And, we may think of him as the worst of evil. But God promises we are made perfect in weakness. And, the world loves to point out our mistakes. As soon as someone makes it to a place of influence, there is someone who wants to find the flaws. The world does not understand grace. The world does not realize that even in the midst of one's imperfection, God has intended something valuable for you to contribute. Take those moments of humiliation or embarrassment as important moments of discovery. Repair and strengthen your weaknesses through the Lord's word and spirit.

When you choose to live your baptismal identity, child of God, follow the example of Jesus. Claim your inheritance. You have the inherited right to prayer and a daily walk with the Father in heaven. You have the inherited right to claim forgiveness because of what Jesus sacrificed. You have the inherited right to study the Bible, to claim those stories of weakness and tragedy but also stories of grace and lives that were turned around. Claim your baptismal identity and prepare for every good work. For how you live through your challenges and your temptations, will speak the greatest witness to others who watch what a Christian will do. How you show grace to another who is struggling with the snares of this world will speak volumes to that person or others who watch what a Christian will do. Will you condemn and abandon them to protect yourself or risk it all to walk with them through their weaknesses with the hope that you will bring them safely ashore?

When you live your baptismal identity, o child of God, you will face adversity and temptations and trials. But it is the refiner's fire to prepare you for every good work.

Read other sermons by Pastor Joan