Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Land of the Shadow of Death

The wilderness, the land of the shadow of death, the unknown, temptation, sin, and darkness all these pull at our souls trying to get us to turn our backs on God.
Sometimes we resist and win. Sometimes we resist and then give in. And sometimes we just give in. Then we feel rotten because we’ve failed to live as believers of Jesus Christ.
In times of temptation it doesn’t always help to know that Jesus was tempted and didn’t give in. Even when we remember that he fasted for 40 days before he was tempted it doesn’t help.
Jesus was God and God was stronger than anything Satan could bring to the table. But we aren’t. Therefore, sometimes, we give in to temptation.
Think back to one of the stories from Genesis. Think back to the time when the world was so evil, so bad, so wicked that God wanted to destroy it. But he didn’t destroy all humankind. Noah found favor in his sight. He and his family survived the devastation of the flood.
There was a movie about Noah starring Russell Crowe. In the movie Noah went and walked about the city and when he returned he said to his wife, “The wickedness is not just in them, it’s in all of us. I saw it.”
You won’t find that in the Bible but you have to admit that this statement makes a powerful point. There’s quite a few places in the Bible where we can discover that none of us are perfect or sinless.
In John’s first letter he wrote, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Paul bemoaned the fact that even though he knew what was right and that it was wrong to not do the right thing, still he did what he knew wasn’t right. And we know Jesus was tempted.
In the movie “The Last Temptation of Christ” based on a book written by Nokos Kazantzakis the film showed Jesus on the cross imagining, as he hung on the cross, what it would have been like if he been granted his wish that the cup would pass from him and he wouldn’t have had to endure the agony of the cross. He imagined being married with children.
There were many folks who called this blasphemous. But, if he was in such anguish as he prayed in Gethsemane and sweat like drops of blood as he prayed, to me, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine these thoughts passing through his conscience as he was dying on the cross. After all he was human, he felt pain, he was just like us.
So, what do you think Matthew’s point was in telling us about Jesus’ time in the wilderness fasting and being tempted by the Evil One? Part of the reason he did what he did was to point out that what Jesus did was a fulfillment of Scripture. After all he tells us this many times in his gospel.
The other reason may have been to show that Jesus wasn’t anything like any of the other teachers or rabbis. He wouldn’t and didn’t give in to the power that was available to him. He really did only do what the God, the Father, told him.
So, what do we do? How are we tempted today? What temptations bombard us today, power, ambition, pride, wealth, fame? Are these things good or bad or maybe a little of both?
Could it be that our own attitudes may determine goodness or badness? Could it be that our values might change how we look at these temptations? We all know that these temptations are nothing new. They’ve always been here and will continue to be here.
It may be a help to look back at how Jesus dealt with these temptations. How did he answer the Tempter? He looked back in the past and pulled up in his memory the stories he’d learned. It’s a good possibility that if they gave Jesus what he needed to resist temptation that they’d also help us.
Maybe that’s how some of you already cope with temptation. I wonder what Scriptures or stories you lean on when tempted. Myself, I think of the psalms, the valley of the shadow of death, the hills where my help comes from, there’s no place that God isn’t.
Paul’s words to the churches about praying all the time, giving thanks for all things, looking/focusing on the prize at the end.
All these give me hope and keep me focused when all around things are falling apart and the world seems to be going the wrong direction and nothing seems to be turning it around.
Friends, look around at the folks here today. They’re our friends, our family and there’s things they do that we like and appreciate, that we value in them. Today might be a good day to write a note to them telling them what a gift they have been to you. Let them know how they’ve helped you be more like Jesus.

Friends, remember that God loves you and so do I. Thanks be to God. Amen.