Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Strengthened in Temptation: Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Week Ending January 10, 2010

Purpose: To realize that in Christ we can defeat our temptation and cling to the will of God.

Scripture Text: Matthew 4:1-11 (NRSV)

Matthew 4:1-11
(1)Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (2)He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. (3)The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ (4)But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’

(5) Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, (6)saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’

(7)Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’
(8) Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; (9)and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ (10)Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’ (11)Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

My Thoughts by Burgess Walter

My approach to this story might be different than most you may have heard. Certainly Jesus is both the means and example for those wishing to overcome temptation. But let's look at this passage from Jesus' point of view and understanding.

Evidence tells us that Jesus was aware of His mission, and understood that He was the Messiah. But, what if at that moment after His baptism, Jesus begins to recall His Pre-incarnation Knowledge. He along with the Father had planned this all out in heaven prior to the Incarnation, but at what point would Jesus' mind allow Him to remember His prior existence or it would be revealed to Him by the Holy Spirit. Jesus was “led up by the Spirit”, and from the first time that Jesus saw His mission till Golgotha, Jesus reaction was not unlike both Moses and Elijah who joined Him on the Mount of Transfiguration. Both Moses and Elijah had unusual deaths, if in fact they ever experienced death, as we know it. Both had fasted for forty days; Jesus would also join them in fasting for forty days.

Jesus in Pre-Incarnation knew who Satan, the tempter, the devil, was, but whether this was an appearance in person or in the mind and thoughts of Jesus we are not clear. After forty days of fasting, Jesus was attacked at His weakest point at that time, hunger. We know that Jesus could produce bread, because He did that to feed the five thousand, but this was not about Jesus doing something for mankind, but rather a selfish act of simply feeding himself. Jesus' temptation was similar to one's we face, being selfish and putting our comfort and self satisfaction before others and before our mission or calling. Only Jesus and the tempter knew that caving in to this desire or thought would disqualify Jesus for His mission.

The two then traveled in spirit to Jerusalem and the temple, where now the devil is quoting the scripture. Did the forty days of fasting and prayer have an effect on Jesus view of Himself and His mission? Was there a way He could avoid the cross? Interesting that one of Jesus best friends, James, the brother of John the beloved, would later be thrown from this very pinnacle of the temple and suffer a humiliating death, and no one came and saved him. Jesus knew His mission was to save the world, but how? Could He do it with miracles and marvelous powers or would He have to do it at the cross as He and the Father had planned?

At the next scene, the devil takes Jesus, whether in mind or in person, to a high mountain outside of Jericho, and displayed the world before Him and promised it all to Jesus, if He would just worship the devil. Imagine for a moment the power and respect Jesus could have had if He had chosen to use His powers for showing off and convincing men to follow Him because of these miraculous powers which he possessed or even compelling men to follow Him.
It may have been that all of the temptations Jesus faced were about avoiding the cross, usurping the plan put together by the Heavenly team of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But in facing these temptations, He also overcame what many of us face in selfishness, vanity, greed, materialism, secular power and thrill seeking.

Three men in scripture fasted for forty days, Moses, Elijah and Jesus. They represent the Law, the Prophets, and the Messiah. The location of Jesus’ temptation took place where He could see Mt. Sinai, where Moses fasted, and Elijah was on his way to the same mountain when he fasted for forty days, No wonder God was so pleased when they reunited on the Mount of Transfiguration, and declared victory over Satan. Companions in suffering would soon become companions in glory.

Do you think Jesus was impressed with what the devil showed Him, when He had seen it from a different view?

The devil wanted Jesus to compel obedience; Jesus wants to change our hearts. Our choice is to yield to our desires, or allow our desires to be changed. Where is your heart? What are your priorities for the New Year?

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