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The First Sunday in Lent
March 9, 2014
The Old Testamet: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Sermon: "It All Started, In The Beginning"
The Very Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
The Old Testamet:
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God say, `You shall not eat from any tree in the garden'?" The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, `You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'" But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
It All Started, In The Beginning
A member of Weight Watchers was determined to make it through a full week without cheating. She dropped into a cafeteria one day for a cup of coffee. A man with two doughnuts and a cup of coffee sat down on the other side of the table. The pastries smelled truly delicious, but the woman remained firm in her decision not to indulge.
Lo and behold after a while the man got up, leaving behind one whole doughnut. An internal struggle ensued and temptation triumphed. The woman reached across the table, picked up the doughnut and started to eat it. Just then the man came back with a second cup of coffee.
Aah, temptation! That is at the heart of our First Testament lesson from Genesis this morning. We all know the story; Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The Tempter, in the form of a snake, invades paradise and seduces Eve and Adam into doing the one thing they have been expressly told not to do; to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What do they hope to gain by this act of disobedience? Itís right thereÖ, "...for God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God."
This particular desire, to be like God, has always been at the root of all temptation and sin in the human race. Consider its manifestations: to have our own way in everything; to have complete control of our lives; to be the captains of our own ships, and designers of our own destinies; to be free to determine for ourselves what is good and evil without fear of correction or reproof; to do what is right in our own eyes without having to answer to anyone else; especially any superior being, such as God. Almost all of the newer religions and cults have "becoming your own God" as their expressed central purpose.
Instead, in that moment of surrender to temptation, we read, "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked..." Naked, here, is not just literal in meaning, it is also figurative: their consciences were exposed and their frail creaturely nature was revealed in their sudden awareness that they were not and could not be God. From that first moment of trying to be God, all manner of evil has ensued ever since. Yet the human race has still not given up the idea of trying to be Gods in our own right. We still try to live life by what is right in our own eyes.
That brings us to the first thing to consider about temptation this morning: Temptation is a reality in all our lives. Consider our Gospel lesson this morning. Jesus is in the wilderness being tempted. In Lukeís account we read this, "When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time." What a telling comment, "...an opportune time..." When did that opportune time come? When Jesus was in the Garden asking that the cup of suffering be passed from him; when he was nailed to the Cross and jeered at to save himself, to curse his enemies, to take charge of things away from his Father, end his suffering and not finish his divine mission. Temptation was a reality in Jesusí life; especially at his weakest moments. Temptation comes to us in our weakest moments too; when it is especially hard to resist.
Some years ago a hearing clinic at Northwestern University ran some experiments on words that are hard to hear. One of the very hardest words to hear, they discovered, is the word no. Somehow that's not particularly surprising. Even if it weren't acoustically hard to hear, it is still intellectually and emotionally hard to hear. Our desire to rule, to control, to be our own Gods causes us to limit that word's influence in our lives. Temptation is a reality in all our lives.
That leads us to the second thing to consider about temptation this morning: Temptation is for many the ruin of their lives. It has been noted that the first temptation in the history of the human race took place in a lush garden, with humanity at peace with the whole animal creation. The temptation of Jesus, the second Adam, took place in a barren wilderness, with what were now the wild beasts. That contrast between the first temptation and the temptation of Jesus, one in a garden, the other in a desert, is a picture of the ruin which has been wrought by humanity's desire to control its own destiny apart from God.
Nathan Horwitt, a noted authority on mushrooms, has said that a mushroom, which is properly known as AMANITA PHALLOIDES, is the deadliest of all mushrooms. It is also possibly the tastiest, says Horwitt. Asked how he knows this, he explains that the poison is slowacting and that often the first symptom of poisoning is communicated when the victim remarks, "Last night I ate the most delicious mushroom of my life." Itís just like temptation; luscious to the taste, but bitter in the stomach; delightful to the eyes, but sickening to the soul; all the promises of life on our own terms, but with death coming in its wake.
We know better. But, as we all come to realize, knowing better is not enough. Consider when we are really tempted to do what is right in our own eyes, but we suspect is not alright in God's. We know better, but the lure is almost irresistible. Spouses KNOW that cheating can end their marriages and lead them to disgrace. Drug abusers KNOW that it will impair their health, and may prematurely end their lives in a horrible way. Business people KNOW that sooner or later shoddy practices will be exposed, but knowing is not enough. Temptation is a reality and a potential ruin. Something more is needed. We need help.
And that leads us to the third thing to consider this morning: Temptation has a remedy. The remedy to temptation is not will power. It would be so easy if will power were the remedy. Just say no. Isn't that what we're supposed to say? But reality is that the things that truly tempt us, are the very things over which we have the least self-control. Besides, as we have already observed, the word no is very hard to hear. We are like Mark Twain who said, "I can resist everything except temptation." No amount of moralizing seems to be helpful. We wish it were, but itís not. We are vulnerable. We need a remedy to help us deal with the temptation, and the tempter who brings it at just those opportune times. There is one.
Our Gospel lesson shows us Jesus way. Here, the Devil lays out three different temptations before Jesus. All of them have the same purpose and end result in mind; to get Jesus to break himself free from his Father's will and plan, and to make himself his own man, with his own destiny. Now someone could observe here that Jesus was also God, and he couldn't really be free to break off from himself. Without getting into the intricacies of the divine relationship, let me ask you a question. Haven't you found it to be the case that temptation has often broken you into two minds, into nearly two competing persons within your own body? The reason the Scripture calls this the temptation of Christ, is because it was possible for him to be truly tempted. Jesus really could have said yes to the Devil at this point. That is why Jesus' sinlessness is significant for us. He could have chosen differently. But he didn't, even though he was tempted as we are. If you want a Scriptural reference to that effect, and why that's so important to our relationship with God, then I recommend that you look up Hebrews 4:14-16 sometime soon. It is one of the most profound statements on Godís grace to be found anywhere. It will embolden your relationship with God. But since Jesus was able to resist, then let us look at his method.
In each case the tempter offers Jesus some great thing. Then Jesus gives his answer. Note what the answer always is; it is always from the words of God. "It is written,...Again, it is written,...for it is written,..." His final answer, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.Ē Jesus made the will of God and the service of God his heart's desire. So much had he filled his mind with the things of God, and the words of God, that when the great moment of testing came he was able to respond not just with a clever retort, but with a commanding rebuke to temptation.
A great literary metaphor for how we so often deal with temptation is found in Homer's epic poem THE ODYSSEY, the sirens were beautiful but evil creatures. They lived on an island surrounded by submerged, jagged rocks. As ships approached the island, the sirens would sing beautiful seductive songs, luring the sailors to their deaths. When Odysseus' ship approached the island, he ordered his crew to fill their ears with wax to escape the lure of the sirens' songs. This done, he commanded them to bind him to the mast so that he could face their temptation without fear of surrendering to it. He literally white-knuckled his way through the temptation. Thatís such a metaphor for how we face temptation.
By contrast, on another occasion, when the ship of Orpheus sailed by that same island, Orpheus sang a song of his own that was so beautiful and divine that his sailors did not even listen to the sirens' music!
That is what we are to do if we are to pass the tests of temptation in life. We are to fill our lives with the song so beautiful that we cannot even hear the song of the Tempter. We are to so feed ourselves upon the words of God, and fill our minds and hearts with the thoughts of God, that nothing less than God's best will be able to fit in them. It is to make such a positive commitment of our lives to God's purposes that we do not have time nor place for the negative, the destructive, the sinful.
But how do we do that? How do we apply this remedy to the reality and the ruin of Temptation? Only one way. Self-will power is a delusion. It is part and parcel of the same temptation to be our own Gods and control our own destiny by ourselves. Only God's redeemer, Jesus Christ, at work within us can unleash the power of God's remedy for temptation and sin. No human constructed way works, because it's not will power; it's Jesusí power that works.
Someone has caught this truth in a prose entitled, "The Pit." Let me share just a little bit of it with you:
A man fell into a pit and he couldn't get out.
BUDDHA said: "Your pit is only a state of mind."
KRISHNA said: "This pit is for purging you and making you more perfect."
KARMA said: ďYou have the pit you earned.Ē
A BY-STANDER said: "If you would have listened to me, you would never have fallen into that pit."
A SELFPITYING PERSON said: "You haven't seen anything until you've seen my pit."
A NEWS REPORTER said: "Could I have the exclusive story on your pit?"
AN I.R.S. AGENT said: "Have you paid your taxes on that pit?"
A REALIST said: "That's a pit."
An IDEALIST said: "The world shouldn't have pits."
An OPTIMIST said: "Cheer up! Things could be worse."
A PESSIMIST said: "Things will be worse."
JESUS, SEEING THE MAN, TOOK HIM BY THE HAND AND LIFTED HIM OUT OF THE PIT, and said, "Come, follow me".
The pit of temptation and sin is an awful place to be. But there is One who releases us. There is no other lasting remedy to the reality and ruin of temptation. Fill your life so full of Christ, his thoughts and his will, and he will set you free.