The Great Cover-Up
Pastoral Prayer: Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-11; Romans 5:12-19
I was half-way out of the car when Scotty said, “He doesn’t live here, he lives down there.” Before I knew what happened, Freddie had spun his tires flipping me upside down as he aimed to let me off at my house. I got up. Looked down. My new-ish blue corduroy pants were torn at the knee. What would I tell my Mom? There was no way to cover this up. I could not tell her I got in the car, told Freddie the wrong house, he did not realize I was already halfway out of the car and flipped me upside down and somehow my pants ripped.
When Mom asked what happened I told her I fell. Well, technically I did.
Oscar Wilde, the famous Irish poet, and playwright, is often quoted as saying,
“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.”
My young soul, like many a young adolescent, wanted to fit in with the cool kids. If they were older and driving this was especially true. My problem that day, the thing that made the incident worse than tearing my new-ish blue corduroy pants? Mom had told me NOT to get in the car with anyone. It wasn’t that she didn’t know Freddie. She did. He came to our church youth group. Mom served as the Department Director for our Youth Sunday School. These guys, many who came without their parents, thought Mom was cool. But, Mom knew that early drivers were completely unaware of the lethal weapon a car may be when cool is the temptation.
In good weather, it was not uncommon for me to walk home from school. I would make the track from Taft Middle School at 23rd and May to our house at 17th and Villa. It was just about a mile or so. So, when Freddie Hibbard came driving by with some of the other older, cool kids from our church youth group and stopped to offer me a ride, the temptation to be cool won. As if I knew Oscar Wilde’s advice, I didn’t resist after my first, “Nah, thanks though.” They insisted. What was I to do? They asked? And that folks is how self-justification works. Despite what I knew would be better to do, I rationalized that I could tell Freddie to let me out of the car several houses sooner so Mom would not see me get out of the car.
It never dawned on me that I would have shown up quite a bit earlier and Mom would wonder how I got home so fast. Our self-justifications always seem to leave something out. And, that is how temptation works.
But, you knew that.
Adam and Eve’s temptation wasn’t to be cool. Instead, it was whether or not they could trust God’s words. And, that is really what human beings have been questioning ever since. Here is one more thing. When shame came over the couple in the Garden, their view of God changed. It wasn’t that God changed, that he somehow at that moment became an oppressive, ogreish Deity. Knowing their mistake led them to work to cover up what they had done. They realized they had changed. When viewed that way, when we stop long enough to consider this is our own experience, that when we choose to give in to temptation, it is not others who change it is us, we might look at the Story of God and human beings differently.
For instance, we look for all the ways to blame God for all that is wrong with the world. We want our freedom but then deny that freedom when we don’t like what we have become. Looking to cover up, to justify ourselves, we come up with all sorts of rationalizations for our decisions. We then describe the distance between us and God as if God somehow moved.
Take the way we talk about coming to faith in Christ. We ask folks if they have a personal relationship with God. Everyone has a personal relationship with God. The difference is whether or not we trust the promise God has made all of us or not. If it isn’t bad enough, that is our attempts to blame someone else, we project on to God our own lack. Look at what happens here in Matthew 4.
We already know ourselves so well, what do we think we are doing when we think this account contains the instructions for avoiding temptation? A quick look would tell us, it is better to stay in the Garden walking with God than venture into the desert, hungry and exposed. But, when we fail to take God’s word, God’s promise, we do just that.
Sure, we could do as Jesus did and know Scripture so that when the Adversary comes to us and whispers sweet temptations in our ears we might resist. We then say, “Good on us if we do.” But, the balance of our lives is such that we only and always reveal the ways in which the Powers of Sin and Death come to us, enticing us to listen to others, or worse, ourselves.
Look more closely at the Temptations that came to Jesus. It is true that they pretty much contain all the ways we are tempted. Henri Nouwen described the temptations as the temptation to be relevant, to be spectacular, and to be powerful. However you or I want to connect the Temptations of Jesus to contemporary categories today, there may be a more subtle temptation in the way Satan comes to tempt Jesus. We seem to be always tempted to project on to God a conditional love that comes to us in a conditional promise.
Think about it this way. Jesus had just heard the Voice from Heaven,
“This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”
God clearly declares something about Jesus. He then is led into the wilderness, fasts for forty days, and then as Matthew tells it, the Tempter comes. There are some who see what we have here as the culmination, the height of the temptations suffered in the wilderness. Clearly this is a call back to Israel wandering in the wilderness for forty years. The temptation they always seemed to face, “Can we trust God’s word to us that there is a place of promise?”
In this re-enactment, rather than refuse God’s promise that he would give them the land despite the obstacles they encountered, Jesus remained faithful in the face of Temptations that were couched in a way that made it seem as if the promise of God was conditional.
If you are the Son of God . . .
If you are the Son of God . . .
If you will fall down . . .
We know ourselves too well. The Tempter knows exactly how sin works to reshape our view of God. If we do this, God will love me. However, the promise is in Christ God so loved the world. Period. It is we who cannot bring ourselves to believe God’s words that we then view God’s love as we exercise our own – conditioned on the response of the ones we love. Jesus, on the other hand, illustrates that God loves us. Period.
When Adam and Eve realized their nakedness, their shame, they sewed fig leaves. They tried to cover it up. I just fell down. But, in a foreshadowing of what God would do, we find that God made a covering for them himself. God took away their shame.
The point of the Temptation story is not so much about giving us a pattern for resisting temptation, though we might do so. The point of the Temptation story is to point out that Jesus endured the temptations we often fail to resist for us and by his faithful obedience, even to death on a Cross, God covers us by Christ’s obedience and makes us his Beloved in Himself.
And this brings us again to the Table, the very place the one-way love of God is celebrated in bread and wine.
I generally take a manuscript with me to preach each week. However, the preached message is often a bit different than what you will find here. You may listen here.