The Tree of Life and Jesus’ Temptations

I had a good Sunday morning with an all age service at 9am (where we actually had a baby and a 10 year old plus 27 adults) followed by communion at another church at 10.30am. At both services I had the benefit of a projector/screen to be able to show a video and lots of images to illustrate the sermon. I am writing this up as I await our dinner cooking before going off to a 7pm communion where it will just be me talking – but I will take my prayer journal with me to show the pictures which summarise the whole thing. I showed it at the end of the sermon, but have put it here at the beginning for the benefit of those reading this.

This sermon definitely needs the images, but I hope it works without. I will know in a couple of hours.

First Sunday of Lennt

Lent 1

Genesis 2:15-17;3:1-7 and Matthew 4:1-11 I showed the video from Bible Society – Tree of Life. From Genesis to Revelation via Calvary.

There was a tree in the middle of a beautiful garden….. Adam and Eve only had ONE thing they were told they couldn’t do… eat of the fruit of that tree.  Just one thing – and that was the thing therefore that the devil… that crafty serpent Satan…. latched onto.  Go on…. you know you want to…. it won’t really hurt you…..

And so they listened to him.    They didn’t stop and consider asking God what he thought.  Did he really mean it?  Was it a temporary ban? No, they didn’t listen to God.  They chose to listen to the other voice.

And, the rest, as they say is history.   The history of the world changed as human beings and their relationship with God was spoilt, ripped apart and they were kicked out of Eden.  Death entered the world, through one man, Adam (representing us all).     What a horrible God, kicking them out!!!!    Well…. perhaps God knew all along that for humans to be fully made in his image and therefore fully reaching their potential they needed to grow up and move out.  We see it in our children don’t we?   There comes a time when they are mature enough to make their own decisions, their own homes and their own lives.   So maybe it was God’s plan all along to allow the devil a voice and to see what people would do.  

Because, we are made to be like God and that includes knowledge of good and evil; and the ability to chose between them:  Free Will.

God gave his people rules to live by, to help them with the decisions about good and evil.  The Big 10 and various others summarised so well by Jesus as he quoted from their scriptures what we now call the Shema:

Shema (“hear”) is the Hebrew word that begins the most important prayer in Judaism. It is found in Deuteronomy 6:4, which begins with the command to “Hear.” The whole Shema prayer, which includes verses 4-9, is spoken daily in the Jewish tradition and starts with the familiar:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

And as you know Jesus added on a further verse about loving your neighbour as yourself.  All the law and the prophets depend upon these.  And Jesus came to fulfil them.

God himself became human and identified with us.  Last Sunday we had The Transfiguration – Jesus appearing on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, representing the law and prophets.

I was particularly struck by the words:  This is my son the beloved in whom I am well pleased.  Listen to him.   They have stuck with me.

And now this week, we are earlier on in the story of Jesus.    And I wondered, as we are following Matthew’s gospel, what were the first words that Jesus is reported as saying.   What does Jesus say to us?  Often first words are the most important ones.   Like first impressions, they are lasting.

Right at the beginning of his ministry Jesus was baptised.    His first words recorded in Matthew’s gospel are that he has to be baptised to fulfil all righteousness.   We then get God’s voice affirming Jesus as his son.

When we were baptised, we joined with Jesus in his baptism, as well as his death and resurrection.  We are adopted as heirs – sons and daughters.  And as Jesus shares our humanity, we also share in his divinity.   What applies to him applies to us, so as we consider his encounter with the devil, and see his replies, we also can take it on board for ourselves.

Jesus’ next words are those targeted at the devil as he goes on his 40 day retreat into the wilderness in preparation for his ministry.  Something we can all learn from – we can’t expect to share God’s love if we don’t dig down deep and know it for ourselves.

In the Morning Prayer for Lent are the words from Psalm 51:  “Give me again the joy of your salvation, and sustain me with your gracious spirit, Then shall I teach your ways to the wicked and sinners shall return to you”.   The world is in need of God’s love and you and I are part of showing God’s love and sharing it with others.  We can only do this if we know the joy of that relationship with God being put right and if we are kept going by the Holy Spirit within us.

Lent should be a joyful time of refreshing our relationship with God – of remembering again what we will be celebrating at Easter.  I was speaking to a bishop this week and he said he enjoyed Lent.  I need to adjust my thinking…. I approach Lent as a training exercise that has to be done – so this year I am going to enjoy Lent….   Easy to say on day 2 as I write this…. ask me again in 38 days.

So what about the other 3 things Jesus says right at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel.  They are part of his conversation with the devil.

The devil starts with IF you are the son of God….  He is questioning Jesus’ identity.  IF you are a Christian…. our identity as God’s children can also be questioned.  We need to stand firm.  Nothing can separate us from God’s love – no sin you commit – nothing on earth can separate us once we are joined again to God through baptism. 

So let’s have a look at the 3 short exchanges.

“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.”4:4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Deut 8:3.

God’s people were 40 years in the wilderness.  It humbled them and tested them.  It revealed what was in their hearts.  We read that their clothes didn’t wear out nor their feet swell.  They had manna to eat and God was showing them his care for them and his desire to lead them.    “Know in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you”  Deut 8:5

When Jesus started his teaching, having successfully got through the 40 days and called some disciples, he did it up a mountain.  We call it the Sermon on the Mount.  That was when he said don’t worry about what you will eat or wear.  Look at the birds and consider the lilies.  Jesus is God’s Word to us.  Listen to him.  Trust him.  And don’t worry.

4:5 Then the devil took him to the holy city,8 had him stand9 on the highest point10 of the temple, 4:6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you and ‘with their hands they will lift you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Ps 91:11&12.

It’s interesting here that the Devil tries to play Jesus at his own game – and fails.  Jesus had quoted from the bible and so the devil has a go.  But he takes the verse about angels out of context.  Mis-use of scripture is something we need to watch out for.   So, you’ve got to know your bible.

It’s interesting though that Psalm 91, which the devil quotes verses 11 and 12 from also contains this next verse

91:13 You will subdue a lion and a snake;

you will trample underfoot a young lion and a serpent.

The lion is elsewhere taken as a symbol of the devil prowling around to see who he can devour.

1 Peter 5:8 Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.

And he is particularly interested in the church and seeing where he can get in to stir things up, causing divisions and problems. So watch out!

When he taught us to pray Jesus also included: lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil (or the evil one).

  Jesus comes back to the devil with:

4:7 Jesus said to him, “Once again it is written: ‘You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.’” Jesus is quoting from Deut 6:16 which includes a reference to the people testing God as at Massah and is a reference to the time in the wilderness when Moses struck the rock to obtain water (Exod 17:1-2). The complaining Israelites had, thus, “tested” the Lord, a wickedness that gave rise to the naming of the place Massah (Exod 17:7; cf. Deut 9:22; 33:8).

So let us pray that we do not similarly complain to God when things don’t go our way.

4:8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their grandeur. 4:9 And he said to him, “I will give you all these things if you throw yourself to the ground and worship me.”

to  fall down, throw oneself to the ground is a sign of devotion, before high-ranking persons or divine beings.”

4:10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” A quotation from Deut 6:13) This brings us back to the Shema – hear O Israel…. and Listen to Him (Jesus). Who do we listen to? Who is our boss, our leader and our guide in life? Who do we worship?

We can’t say that we worship God and Jesus if we ignore their will for our lives and don’t listen to them.  

So the invitation once again this lent is to check out – are we eating from the tree of life?  whose voice are we paying attention to?  Where are our priorities in life?

When we ensure that it is God we worship, Jesus we listen to and are fed by, then we will have life, and life in all its fullness, as he promised.

To summarise – look at the page of my prayer journal. Death and sin entered the world through one man: Adam. Life came through another man: Jesus. Through our baptism we join with him and by God’s grace we are able to pray “Our Father” “Your kingdom come, your will be done” “Give us our daily bread” “lead us not into temptation” “Deliver us from evil”. Eat from the tree of life for strength to stand firm with the same power as Jesus.

First Sunday of Lent

Rev’d Liz Jones

1st March 2020

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