The Temptation of Jesus – Jan. 27, 2019

George C. Parker was born on March 16, 1860 in New York City to Irish parents. He had four brothers and three sisters. Being in a large family meant that he had to speak up to be noticed and he had to be good at getting attention to get his needs met.

After Parker graduated from High School, work was hard to come by, so he became a con artist to make ends meet. In fact, George Parker was one of the greatest con men in US history.

A banker named David Hannum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” This quote has since been associated to PT Barnum but also with George Parker. Here’s why…

George Parker made his living illegally selling New York property that was not his own. He sold large public landmarks to immigrants who were trying to make a fast buck. Among his successes, he sold; the original Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grant’s Tomb (by pretending to be the general’s grandson) the Statue of Liberty and you probably guessed it; The Brooklyn Bridge.

Parker was very good at creating fake documents and concocting very believable stories. He often claimed to be an architect that enjoyed building things rather than owning them. One newspaper article claimed that George Parker was ‘The man who sold the Brooklyn Bridge twice a week for 30 years’.

While his exploits are surly exaggerated, it is true that he sold the Brooklyn Bridge on a number of occasions. Police reported several instances where they had to remove people who claimed to own the bridge and began trying to collect tolls to cross it.

Parker was convicted of fraud 3 times. After one arrest, he stole a sheriff’s hat and coat and walked out of the courthouse and disappeared. After his final conviction, he was sentenced to a mandatory life sentence in Sing Sing Prison. He died eight years later behind bars, but he earned a reputation of being the most popular inmate. You see, everyone loved to hear the stories he told.

Ephesians 5:15 reminds us to, “Be very careful, then, how you live not as unwise, but as wise.” There are always those who will try to take advantage of us, they look for our weaknesses and prey on our needs and/or desires.

But there is no greater con man then the devil himself. The Bible says ‘he masquerades as an angel of light’, that he is a manipulator of truth; 1 Corinthians 14:33 calls him The Author of Confusion, John 8:44 reads, “When he speaks, he speaks in his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies, – and finally, 1 Peter 5:8 says ‘he is like a roaring lion waiting for someone to devour’.

Rev. Kent Crocket once remarked, “The devil looks like a nice guy. He gives you what you most want…but at a very high price.”

1 Corinthians 7:5 reminds married couples to stay connected and to not be tempted because of a lack of self-control. But this really applies to all of us. No one understood this better than Jesus himself.

After his Baptism by John the Baptist, Luke chapter 4 begins, “Then, Jesus full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan river. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for 40 days he was tempted by the devil.”

Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. All he had and needed was some water and the Spirit of God to fill him. Gandhi fasted for 21 days while in his 70s. And doctors agree that humans can fast without food (only water) for at least up to 2 months.

The desert is hot, desolate, wild and harsh. It is a tough place to be when you are fasting and praying. It quickly zaps your energy. Jesus was fully human and wrestling with internal and external questions. After 40 days, he had passed the worst of the stomach grumbling and hunger pains. But he was surely exhausted and the idea of sitting down to a good meal must have been on his mind constantly.

And that is when Satan, the Adversary, shows up in the desert. He knew what Jesus had been through and he was looking for Jesus’ weaknesses. And he found 3 possibilities…

First he sees Jesus’ physically weak state. “Haven’t eaten in a while, huh? I bet you’re starved. If you are ‘the Son of God’, tell those stones to become bread.” What little imagination he has. Let’s turn these stones into a steak, baked potato and apple pie ala-mode, right?

The Devil is appealing to his hunger, his appetite. Our drive to eat is a very basic human need. He is hoping to break Jesus down on a physical level. I can hear Satan whispering, “Give up this fast, its ok. You’re only human. Go ahead satisfy your own needs and desires.”

Really, that doesn’t sound that bad. In a short time, Jesus would be multiplying loaves and fishes, so what’s the harm? But no! Jesus is showing him and us that we can stand up to the liar. If he is to beat Satan, he must do it as a man, without heavenly powers. His strength must came from his relationship to the Father in heaven – not from himself.

Right now, Jesus was seeking the will of his Father in heaven; that came first. Later, as recorded in John 4:34, we see this more fully explained, Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”

So Jesus answered, “It is written; Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4) Thwarted, Satan tries again…

The second temptation deals with Jesus’ ego and pride. Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Matthew 4:5-6.

The southwest corner of the Temple, according to Josephus, was a designated spot on the corner of the Temple, high above the houses and shops below, from which the priest stood when blowing the trumpet. It was probably about 450 feet high.

Satan is saying, ‘prove who you say you are. If you are divine and of God, nothing can happen to you.”

But Jesus understands that he is here to do the will of God, not to try to force God to serve or rescue  him. Ultimately, Jesus came ‘to give his life’, so this is contradictory to God’s plan.

So Jesus does not concede. He answered, “It is also written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Matt. 4:7)

Finally, the devil appealed to Jesus’ desire for power and dominion over the earth. The Bible says, “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’” (Mt. 4:8-9)

Satan took Jesus to a mountain, probably Mt. Hermon located at Israel’s northern border. It was the tallest mountain in Israel. Once there, he offered Jesus a shortcut to power and glory. In God’s plan Jesus would be given the place of supremacy only after suffering and being raised from the dead. In Satan’s plan, Jesus could bypass the cross and reign over the kingdoms of the world now.

In many ways this must have been a tempting offer. Jesus just had to hit the easy button! In exchange, all He had to do was bow down and worship Satan. Surely, just the thought of that broke the spell of the temptation.

Imagine, asking Jesus to ‘accept everything that God already owns’; also, everything that was created was created through Jesus and for him. In the end it may save Jesus from pain and suffering – but it would condemn the rest of us. Again, Jesus remains steadfast. He said, “Away from me Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” (Matt. 4:10)

You will notice, Jesus used no special powers, did not give Satan an inch and held his ground. That is how you do it; that is how you avoid temptation. Jesus proved that it can be done by any man or woman.

The truth is, we don’t follow his lead as often as we should. We stumble and fall when it comes to temptations of the flesh, to our pride and for want of power and ease. Jesus taught us that we can overcome through him with the Holy Spirit, when we stay near the Father and scripture.

I Corinthians 10:12-13 reads, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to all mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

One day, John Wesley was walking along the road with a friend who was deeply distressed and troubled. Then, the man expressed his ‘doubts of God’s goodness’. “I don’t know what I should do with all my worries and troubles,” he said.

At that point, Wesley noticed a cow looking over a stone wall, and asked the question, ‘Why does a cow look over the wall?’ Annoyed the man said, “I don’t know, because it can’t see through it, I suppose.” 

“Precisely!” said Wesley, “So, if you can’t see through your troubles, try looking over them and look up to God.”

We know that Satan is going to test us, so why wait until the last minute to fight him? Is it any wonder we give in and fail? Jesus showed us ‘how to stand strong in trials and temptations’. We just have to follow his example.

If we already know we are going to be tempted, why not be ready with scripture and filled with the Spirit ahead of time?  History proves that hard times define us as people and as a nation. Mankind, with the help of God, always makes it through. That is because we were created in love to endure through Christ.

Put your hope in God, just as Jesus taught us. It is by the saving grace of Jesus that we live to fight another day. If he could endure the cross for us, we can certainly overcome life’s temptations with his guidance.

I want to end with this illustration; A jeweler explained the way to tell a real diamond from a fake one. He said: “An imitation diamond is never as brilliant or strong as a genuine stone.

“If your eye is not experienced enough to detect the difference, a simple test is to place the stone under water. The imitation diamond is practically extinguished. A genuine diamond sparkles bright under water and is distinctly visible. If you place a genuine stone beside an imitation under water, the contrast will be apparent even to the least experienced eye.”

“The real diamond,” he said, always shines out when it is under pressure or when it is tested.”     

So, be the real deal. Shine the truth of Christ and you will survive and stand out in the darkest, most troubled times. Follow his lead, you don’t have to be a superhero, you just have to know, trust and serve the Lord.         

Your assignment is…to read and memorize one short passage of scripture that can help you, if you feel overwhelmed or tempted. And remember, as Ephesians 5:15 reminds us, “Be very careful how you live, live wisely.” Do not be taken in by anyone who wants to con you; especially the devil!

Jesus alone, showed us the way through.

Amen.