Genesis 9:8, I Peter 3, Matthew 4:1-11
Sooner or later, it always comes down to POWER – in our relationships, families & communities, nations.
Do you & I have power? Yes we do – each one of us. But what kind of power?
Do you remember your BAPTISM – CONFIRMATION? Did you experience any surge of divine power from the Holy Spirit? I have no memory of my Baptism over 77 years ago – I was a babe-in-arms! But I do remember a tiny surge of ‘holiness’ when I felt the bishop’s hands gently laid on my head at Confirmation. Was it just a teenage fantasy? Who knows?
But this I do know – that BEING OPEN & READY TO RECEIVE GOD’S POWER IS SOMETHING WE GROW INTO – and it is usually a long uphill learning & faith curve.
Even Jesus, after receiving the power of the Spirit in his baptism, had a tough struggle coming to terms with his God-given power, and how he was meant to use it.
So we come to
THE TEMPTATIONS, out there in Jesus’ “Wilderness retreat”: the wild, turbulent forces at war in his mind and spirit; the reality of seductive evil trying to access and dominate his human centre.
IMAGINE THE CONFLICT RAGING INSIDE HIM.
GOODNESS, I AM HUNGRY! Surely it wouldn’t do any real harm if I turned these stones into bread – no-one would be hurt, and I would be able to carry on….. Just think how impressed people would be, what influence I could have for the good! Yes, I KNOW no one can do without bread, even though we all need feeding in other important ways – to be nurtured by God’s truth, his Word to us.
But Jesus resists this temptation, and comes through the stronger. And how important this is for us today, with our very materialistic consumer culture! Because it’s only when we become grounded in the knowledge and understanding of life’s true purpose – which comes from God – that we learn how to use and share bread and all earth’s resources, sufficient for everyone’s welfare.
O.K. – UNDERSTOOD. But now surely, Jesus thinks, when I’m next in Jerusalem, it wouldn’t do any harm to step up onto the Temple-Wall and make just a little demonstration to show how powerful God has made me – goodness, what a SUPER-MAN, BAT-MAN MESSIAH I CAN BE! Then people really would be convinced God is with me, that have God’s power. And neither I, nor anyone else, will end up harmed!
But again, Jesus quickly recalls what sort of Messiah he is meant to be – and this stunt-man stuff is not God’s way, it is not the really challenging, tough way of self-giving love. So – no short cut here either!
FAIR ENOUGH – BUT WHAT ABOUT ANOTHER REAL SHOW OF POWER – SOMETHING WHICH MIGHT DO A LOT OF GOOD IN THE SHORT-TERM! YES – JESUS REFLECTS – I REALLY COULD BECOME A STRONG-MAN, HEROIC LEADER AND RID MY PEOPLE ONCE-FOR-ALL OF THESE UNGODLY, CRUEL AND EVIL ROMAN INVADERS – MAYBE THAT IS THE SORT OF MESSIAH GOD NEEDS – SO WE CAN THEN ALL GET ON WITH PUTTING THINGS RIGHT, AND SPREAD GOODNESS ACROSS THE WORLD – BRING EVERY COUNTRY
OH DEAR – how good we can be at justifying strong-leader, force-full power to make the world a better place! The end surely does justify the means, doesn’t it – even if we have to be a bit cruel and destructive sometimes?!
BUT NO – ACTUALLY – THIS IS NOT GOD’S WAY. THERE IS NO QUICK, DECISIVE SHORT CUT IF WE ARE TRULY COMMITTED TO FOLLOWING GOD’S COVENANT PATH.
INDEED – HOW RADICALLY DIFFERENT ARE THE WAYS OF THE WORLD FROM THOSE OF GOD!
Yet even so, human history past & present continues to be littered with examples of people who – from worst and best motives – PLAY GOD.
To greater or lesser extent, the itch – the desire to do good and make the world an ideal, more tidy, controlled place, always gets mixed in with greedy, self-serving impulses. And all too often the greed for sovereign, coercive power dominates! How easy it is to kid ourselves – convince ourselves even – that we are acting in God’s name! How soon do those who desire power, like Goethe’s ‘Faust’, end up making a pact with the Devil!
Such is the deadly way of strongmen and strongwomen dictators and war-lords, whole peoples even – including the biblical Israelites! Remember Ahab. Remember too Belshazzar, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Attila the Hun and Ivan the Terrible, the Crusading Sultans and Kings, Napoleon, Lenin, Stalin, Assad, Putin, Trump – and Hitler.
Remember the warnings from God in today’s readings. Remember Eve, Adam and the seductive serpent in Eden – remember God’s trusting covenant which time and again we break – remember the Tower of Babel and those who would usurp God’s place. Remember also words spoken by the Jewish thinker and scientist Jacob Bronowski some 50 years ago as he knelt by a muddy pond in Auschwitz:
“The ashes of four million human beings were flushed into this pond by arrogance, dogma and ignorance. This is what people do when they believe they have absolute knowledge. This is what they do when they behave as if they were gods. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge, power and right”.
At that moment, the question of God is poised – tottering – on a razor-edge.
At that point, we have to face the question: “Is it any longer possible to speak of God after Auschwitz?
Where then was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?
Indeed, that Auschwitz pond still puts the question to you, me and all Christians: “How confidently and comfortably can anyone speak of God after that, and now too, when worldly genocidal power continues to create hells on earth?
BUT HERE WE ARE TODAY – REMEMBERING THAT IS NOT THE WAY OF JESUS CHRIST MESSIAH – EVEN THOUGH HE WAS SO THOROUGHLY TEMPTED.
SO WE CONTINUE TO PERSIST IN FAITH.
WE REMEMBER AND HOLD TO THE TRUE MESSIANIC WAY – THE POWER OF SOVEREIGN SELF-GIVING LOVE.
WE DO OUR UTMOST TO FOLLOW THE WAY OF THE CROSS.
WE HOLD TO THE WAY WHICH WE ARE INVITED – INDEED, REQUIRED – TO TREAD.
AND WE SAY THE CREED – HOWEVER HALTINGLY. BECAUSE, TRULY IN GOD’S NAME, WE DO OUR VERY BEST TO FOLLOW THE LIBERATING PATH OF GOD’S COVENANT, THE WAY OF THE BODY OF CHRIST.
FOR THIS IS OUR WAY – ‘TO DO JUSTICE, LOVE MERCY, AND WALK HUMBLY WITH GOD’.
Rev Paul Fisher