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February 24, 2020

Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.” (Psalm 32:1-2).

In the current vernacular the word “resist” is the battle cry of those who seek to foil the actions of the Trump administration. There have been countless resistance movements throughout the ages.  In the last century, many resistance movements sprung up around the world to resist Hitler and other tyrants during World War II.  One proponent of the current resist movement, Symone D. Sanders, former national press secretary for the Bernie Sanders campaign and currently a member of the Biden campaign, offered this definition: “We have to resist the urge to roll over and go with the flow.” [1]

Ms. Sanders’ definition is a good working definition of what our Scripture texts[2] are telling us this week: Resist the urge to roll over and go with the flow. “Going with the flow” means to do what other people are doing or to agree with other people because it is the easy thing to do.

Take Eve and Adam.  Eve went along with what the serpent told her because it was the easy way out. It didn’t require critical thinking: “’You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman.  ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” (Genesis 3:4-5).  There are several lessons embedded in this text:

First, obey God. Obey the clear commands of God. Resist the temptation to ignore God. Second, consider the source.  Resist the urge to go along with what an unproven source tells you to do. Eve didn’t know the serpent from Adam, yet she listened to him over God, a trustworthy authority.  Third, use your God-given powers of critical thinking when faced with a situation that screams that it is wrong.  Resist taking the easy way out and letting someone else do your thinking for you.

There are more lessons to be learned from Sunday’s Old Testament lesson.

 Fourth, resist the temptation to rationalize actions that will lead you down a destructive path: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it“ (Genesis 3:6).  Again, Eve went with the flow, and took the easy way out.

Fifth, if you do succumb to temptation, don’t take someone else down with you. Misery loves company.  Eve assuaged her conscience by rationalizing that it was okay if someone did it with her.  It was not enough that Eve failed to follow God’s instructions—she had to take Adam with her to keep her company. If someone else does it too– it must be okay, right?

Sixth, resist the temptation to hide the truth:  ”Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3: 8).  As difficult as it is, come clean.  How many times have we seen that it is not the original wrong-doing that is someone’s downfall, but the cover-up?  Resist the temptation to lie.

Seventh, resist the temptation to blame others for your own shortcomings, as both Eve and Adam did: “The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate’” (Genesis 3: 12-13).  Failing to take responsibility for your own mistakes is a sign of weakness.  Hiding behind someone else is cowardice. Be strong. Own up to your mistakes.

Because of their inability to resist temptation, Adam and Eve bought into a world of hurt. If they had just resisted one or two of the temptations, it is likely that God, who is merciful and just, would have forgiven them.  But they were arrogant and stiff-necked in their disobedience.  These are all good lessons for us. Own up to your failures.  Talk to God about them. Ask for his help in resisting temptation.  Ask for his forgiveness. Fall on his infinite mercy and love for you.

David, who knew firsthand how temptation can get the best of us, reminds us that even when we succumb to temptation, God will forgive us when we come to him without deceit: “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.” (Psalm 32:1-2).  David, and all of the other great heroes and heroines of the Bible were tested—including Jesus himself.  One would think that Satan would know better than to test God—but we need to remember that Jesus was also fully human, so he felt pain, hunger, etcetera—and he was tempted.

Jesus’ resistance to Satan’s three efforts to tempt him into doing his bidding stands in direct contrast to Adam and Eve’s failures to resist and is a model of resistance for us. Matthew records, “Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.[3] “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.’ Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4: 5-7).

It is not known exactly where the second temptation took place on the Temple grounds. The most accepted location is the southeastern corner of the wall overlooking the Kidron Valley.  Another theory is that it took place where the trumpeters were located on the southwestern corner of the Temple.  When we visited the Israel museum in January, both sites could be seen in the 1/50 scale model of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day.  At any rate, it happened at a very high pinnacle of the temple.

And why did Satan take him to the temple to tempt him? Was it to try to entice Jesus to disobey God in that holy place—to snub his nose at God?  And isn’t that what we are tempted to do from time to time?  We tell ourselves that we are in charge of our own destinies. We crave autonomy.  We say to God, as my four-year old daughter once said to me, “You are not the boss of me!”  Yet, God wants only what is best for us, and he encourages us to resist the temptation to ignore God, to follow others blindly, to succumb to the many temptations around us.

God has given us many tools to help us resist temptation—several of which he used himself to resist Satan’s temptations during his 40 days in the wilderness: mediation, prayer, fasting, simplicity, solitude, and submission.  These are several of the disciplines that God has provided to help us resist temptation and to grow spiritually stronger and more Christ-like.  Our pastors developed a series of mid-week services for this Lenten season, entitled Disciplines for Disciples.  The series is loosely based on Richard Foster’s now classic book, Celebration of Discipline.  This series will remind us of the disciplines that Christians have practiced for over 2000 years to resist worldly temptations and to receive God’s grace.

Resist. Resist following others blindly. Resist the temptation to lie.  Own up to your failures.  Talk to God about them. Ask for his help.  Ask for his forgiveness. Fall on his infinite mercy and love for you.  Practice the ancient disciplines that will help you grow in your faith.

Prayer:  Jesus, you know the temptations that we face in our everyday lives. You overcame Satan’s temptations. We need your help in our battles to resist temptations to ignore your commandments, to lie, to hide, to bring others down with us, and to stumble in our walk in so many ways.  Give us the strength of spirit to practice the spiritual disciplines that have helped Christians withstand temptation and grow in faith over the past 2000 years.  Fill us with the power of your Holy Spirit; we cannot make it without you.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] “‘Resist’ Is a Battle Cry, but What Does It Mean?,” February 14, 2017, New York Times.

[2] The Scripture texts for the First Sunday in Lent are: Genesis 3:1-21; Psalm 32:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11.

[3] Robert H. Gundry,  A Survey of the New Testament, (1994, 4th Edition 2009), Zondervan, p. 199: “The highest point of the temple may refer to the southeast corner of the temple courts dropping off into the Kidron Valley, to the lintel atop the temple gate, or to the roof of the temple proper.”

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