1st Sunday in Lent
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 4:1-11 Sermon
February 10, 2008

Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
157 "Lord Of Our Life & God Of Our Salvation"
155 "Lord Keep Us Steadfast In Thy Word"
532 "Jesus Still Lead On"
292 "O Take My Hand, Dear Father"


TEXT: (vs. 1) “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

As some of you are aware, I brought my mother to church with me this past week for Ash Wednesday services. We had both eaten a rather late lunch, so we decided that we’d go someplace to eat after church. Mum had a coupon for IHOP which was almost ready to expire, so we decided that would be the place to go.

When we opened the inside door at IHOP, we were met with this overwhelming smell of bacon cooking and fresh coffee. Mmmm! What a nice inviting smell to have meet you at the door. Even though I was undecided about whether or not I wanted coffee that night, the aroma convinced me. I also seriously considered ordering one of the breakfast items which included bacon, but I decided on something else instead.

It wasn’t until we were walking out of the restaurant that I realized something. There was a small area just inside the front door where the bacon and coffee aroma was quite concentrated. If you moved about in any of the other public areas in the restaurant, you couldn’t detect the aroma. But at the front door, it was there to greet you, long before you were greeted by an actual person, and taken to your seat.

Of course it dawned on me that the smell was there by design, on purpose. The smell of fresh coffee and cooking bacon was there to tempt me. By smelling that odor, people by nature would have their appetite piqued; realizing perhaps that they were more hungry than they originally thought they were.

Bacon and coffee are certainly enticing aromas; in fact they rank very high on the list of particular tempting smells. The one that tops the list however is popcorn. Popcorn has been rated as the number one enticing aroma.

For years, movie theatres have banked on this. Theatres will have an exhaust fan over their popcorn machine which vents to the outside by the marquee. So when the theatre patrons approach, they are greeted by this number one enticing smell. And it works too—the queue at the snack bar is so long sometimes that people will miss the beginning of the movie.

This is temptation, and these are good examples of how temptation works. Our olfactory system, i.e. our sense of smell and taste, works very well in tempting us. When we consider our sense of smell, we are a captive audience. If we are breathing, then we are smelling—under normal circumstances, that is. We don’t stop breathing because we’re walking into IHOP or a movie theatre.

The Madison Avenue advertising executives make their living on tempting us. Everything they do is with the goal tempting us to buy some product or service. All of the billboards, the radio and TV advertisements, the magazine and newspaper ads, the incentives and rebates, and even the coupons all have that purpose in mind. And if you add to that the “scratch and sniff” advertisements that promote a new perfume or cologne, we’ve pretty much hit all the senses.

And what about the credit card companies? They are really working overtime, tempting us by trying to convince us to spend money beyond our means, telling us that it’s okay to charge now and pay later; of course they don’t want to hit you with the reality of their exorbitant interest rates!

For the most part, the little meaningless inert things that tempt us are basically harmless. To be tempted by the smell of coffee, bacon, or popcorn is really no big deal. Or we look at an item on the menu in a restaurant and say, “Boy that looks tempting,” and so we order it. I’m sure we’ve all used the phrase, “that sure is tempting,” or something to that effect when it comes to making everyday decisions.

When we bring God into the picture, it doesn’t matter to him if we order bacon at IHOP or buy a tub of popcorn at the movies. There’s no moral dilemma here; it’s a personal decision he leaves up to us.

But there is an area where God speaks about temptation. In fact, he speaks so strongly about it, that we have to sit up and take notice. If we look at Luke chapter 17 verses 1-2 we get a good idea of how serious Jesus is about temptation: “And he said to his disciples, ‘Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.’”

It’s here where we make the distinction between the average run-of-the-mill temptation, and the temptation to sin. The temptation to sin is of course the main focus of our Gospel lesson for today. However I used the example of other forms of temptation to illustrate just how easy temptations of all varieties sneak up on us and take us captive.

Today we find Jesus in the wilderness. He had been there for forty days without food. Considering the situation, we are probably asking ourselves, “Why in the world would Jesus do this?” It would seem logical that if Jesus knew what the situation would be like, that he would have avoided it. Why roam around out in the middle of nowhere for a little over a month? Why did he go without food? Why wouldn’t he have stayed at a home with a roof over his head, a bed in which to sleep, and three square meals at the table? And why would he subject himself to the full force of Satan while he was in this weakened condition?

There are a lot of questions here. And to answer them, we need to go to the book of Hebrews, chapter 4 verses 14-16: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

So what’s the answer to the question? Why did Jesus subject himself to the temptations he did out in the wilderness? The answer can be found by looking in the mirror. He did it for you. He did it for me. This was all part of Christ’s journey on this earth. He was not only sympathetic, but empathetic with our earthly existence. As the old saying goes, he walked the proverbial mile in our shoes.

As we contemplate our Gospel lesson for today, I think it does us well to examine exactly how Jesus was tempted. We know that he understands our temptations, and by examining his temptations, we can gain some understanding as to how this can be.

Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days with nothing to eat, and the Bible tells us that he was hungry. Go figure! His hunger alone had to have been felt throughout his entire body. Literally every molecule had to be screaming for something to eat.

Along comes Satan and tempts him with something very basic, and something very natural. If you’re hungry, then get something to eat. He was true God, and he could have turned the stones in the wilderness into bread.

Let’s put our “bacon and popcorn” illustration back to use again. Along with the smell of cooking bacon and popcorn, another enticing smell that is at the top of the list is bread baking. Can you imagine being as hungry as Jesus was, and then be exposed to the smell of freshly baked bread? Speaking for myself, that would be sheer torture in and of itself! Had it been me, I would have probably started gnawing on one of the stones without it being turned into bread!

Verses 3 and 4 of Matthew 4 give us the dialogue between Jesus and Satan: “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.’”

That first temptation should have been a “gimme.” If Jesus would have had the mind to give in to Satan, this one should have been a piece of cake, or a piece of bread in this case. Satan starts with the most basic of human needs.

Of course eating isn’t wrong; but in this instance, it would have required Jesus to put himself first. He would have acted out of selfish motives. He would have had to have used his divine power for his own benefit, and not the benefit of the people he came to save.

With each successive temptation, Satan tries to hit every human weakness. “Throw yourself from the temple, God will save you” he says. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test,” Jesus replies. It would be like one of us getting in a car and driving a hundred miles an hour directly into a cement wall, thinking that God will protect us. We are not to put God to the test either. That’s something to remember if we put our lives in jeopardy by acting foolish.

Then he tells Jesus, “Worship me and I will give you all the kingdoms of the world.” Satan tempts Jesus with power and greed. That’s a popular temptation amongst the human race, and it has been ever since the fall into sin. “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only,” Jesus replies.

If Jesus would have given in to any of these temptations, he would have sinned. He would have been sinning against God. And if he had sinned, he couldn’t have been the perfect sacrifice for our sins. He couldn’t have carried our sins to Calvary’s cross. He couldn’t have been our Saviour.

Remember the words of Hebrews chapter 4 verse 15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”

Jesus knows temptation. He was tempted beyond what any human being on this earth could ever experience. It is safe to say that whatever temptation we experience, Jesus also experienced it, to a degree way beyond what we could ever imagine.

Temptation is easy though. We are easily swayed by so many things. Of course many tempting things aren’t necessarily sinful; but so many things are. And Satan will use every way he can to entice us. He’ll try to make sin seem so attractive to us that we will give in.

I’ll give you another illustration from this past Wednesday night. When mum and I were in the car, we turned off the freeway and headed up the Matzke toward Seward. The wind was from the south; so right after we exited, mum turned up her nose and asked me if there was a feedlot nearby. Of course we all know about the feedlot that’s just a few miles south of the freeway, and believe me, the smell was rather pungent.

The smell of that feedlot certainly didn’t make us hungry for a nice porterhouse steak, even though there were many hundreds of pounds of it on that feedlot. In fact, it had quite the opposite effect.

However, if we would have smelled a steak from one of those steers being barbecued over a charcoal fire, it would have had an entirely different effect on us. Our appetites would have been piqued, and we would be salivating at the thought of eating a nice juicy porterhouse, cooked to order.

There’s a line I remember from an old sales training course which says, “You don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle.”

That’s what Satan does to us when he tempts us to sin. He tries to sell us the lovely aroma of the sizzling steak, and not the stench of the feedlot. He uses every trick in the book to tempt us to sin, and make us think that we have made the right choice. And too often, we wind up falling for it.

Jesus knows Satan’s tricks and what it can do to us. That’s why endured the temptations he did. He did it so that every time we’ve yielded to temptation and sinned, we are also forgiven. He carried those sins of ours from the wilderness of our lives to Calvary, where they are nailed to the cross along with him.

Jesus certainly understands what we go through. He wants us to know that. He wants us to come to him in faith, and know him as our Saviour from sin. He wants us to know that irrespective of how many times we’ve stumbled and fallen and given in to Satan’s “sizzle selling” techniques, he still loves us and forgives us. He wants to take that burden of sin off our shoulders, and put it on his own. Through faith alone, our Saviour has indeed done this for us.

In the final verses of our Gospel lesson today, we read: “Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”' Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” (Matthew 4:10-11)

In much the same sense, the writer to the Hebrews says, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

In the midst of temptation, Jesus assures us of divine help. We know we are not alone. We can freely approach God in those difficult times and be assured that we will find strength and help in the very same place we find grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Look in the mirror, and see the one whom Jesus loves.