John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.
(St. John iii. 27)
He must increase, but I must decrease.
Let us pray:
O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
I would like to reflect with you today on the temptations of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I am sure that you have studied them extensively in your Christian journey, and so if I tell you what you already know please use it all as inspiration for a renewed determination to pray it into your lives. My chief concern today is prayer. And I would like to share with you today just how the temptations of Jesus Christ can become our own through prayer. The real benefit of the Christian religion is that whatever Christ has endured for us in time past can be made present to us and can become our own in prayer through the Holy Spirit. So, today we are asking the Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son to help us to face the temptations that Christ faced, to resist them, and to embrace those virtues that will establish us in true obedience to our Heavenly Father. This is what Lent is all about. Of course, none of this can be done without God’s Grace. Jesus Christ is the new pattern of full and perfect obedience to the Father through the Spirit. So, we pray that we might become a part of the pattern that He has established. If we become a part of the pattern that Christ established for us, the Holy Spirit will sanctify us and lead us to salvation.
Let us turn to Scripture. Here we read:
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. (St. Matthew iv. 1)
The Son of God has come down from Heaven to save us from the sins that would alienate us from God our Heavenly Father and His Kingdom. He has come down from Heaven to save us from the sin that has corrupted and enfeebled us. God has made our natures good but sin has corrupted us. Sin has enfeebled us so that we cannot obey God by willing His goodness into our lives. We are born into sin because our first Father, Adam, disobeyed God at the urging of Satan. We have inherited Adam’s sinful nature. Christ has come down from Heaven to free us from our sinning and our sins. Christ has come down from Heaven to make us right with God again. In Holy Baptism, He began that process of regeneration. Regeneration is being born again to obedience and virtue through the Holy Ghost and from above. But our regeneration is the work of a lifetime. So, to continue this process of being born again through the Holy Ghost, we must travel with Jesus into the desert or the wilderness. To continue this process, we must forever be on guard and be ready to engage in battle and wage war with the temptations that Satan always brings before our minds and our hearts.
We must realize also that temptation is normal and good. Temptation is not sin. Temptation is trial and testing. Anything that is worthwhile in life has to be tried and tested to see if it is worthy of our attention and good enough to be established in us as a habit of life. Trial and testing involve struggle. To struggle means to fight. To fight to discover if something is good and then to fight for its acquisition is all part of man’s perfection. Man is made to use his mind and heart to see and will the good in life. And all of this involves trial, testing, and struggle. Man is made to know and to love. When we find the good, we must struggle with all of our might to embrace it in our hearts. We can do this through God’s Grace. We can do this in and through Jesus Christ who promises us His Spirit. No pain no gain. No guts, no glory. No cross, no crown. Temptation presents us with all of those choices other than God’s. Temptation presents us with all of those false gods, which we must resist if we hope to be saved.
So let us be determined to be tempted, tried, and tested. Let us struggle to see what is wrong with sin and what is right with goodness. Let us struggle to surrender to God’s will in and through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. Through temptations our characters will be tried and tested and hopefully formed by the goodness that overcomes all sin.
Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. (Idem)
The wilderness is a desert. It is a place removed from the usual distractions of human life. Please keep your cell phones off for the duration of our retreat. We need to create a space of quiet and stillness today as we allow ourselves to face our temptations, to resist sin, and embrace God’s goodness.
Today, Jesus Christ wants to teach us how to gain holiness by overcoming temptation. (The Life of Christ, Sheen, p. 62) Christ leads us into that stillness and quiet that will contemplate temptation. With Him, He will ask us to be tried and tested as we consider in what ways we have yielded to temptations and sinned in our lives. There will be three kinds of temptations that we shall be asked to resist with Him.
And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.
The season of Lent imitates Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the wilderness. Fasting from food and drink for specific periods of time tames the body and opens the soul to a deeper awareness of reality. Reality is better perceived to be full of temptations when our bodies are less full of food and our minds are not altered by drink. Reality with its temptations to good and evil can be confronted best when we fast and pray. Adam was tempted by good and evil and chose the latter. Christ must be tempted by both to reestablish our way into goodness once again.
St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that as Man Christ wished to be tempted. Our Saviour wishes to be tempted so that He might endure our nature to its fullest. What a friend we have in Jesus! As God, He cannot be tempted. But Jesus is God as Man. As Man, Christ will endure all of our temptations, trials, testings, and struggles.
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling
of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
(Hebrews iv. 15)
Jesus will be tempted but will not yield to the temptation in sin.
Jesus is God as Man. After forty days of fasting in the wilderness, He is hungry. When we don’t fast, we put earthly hunger before all other things. When we do fast, earthly hunger assaults and attacks us. The point of fasting and prayer is to find a deeper and more lasting communion with God. The point of fasting and prayer is to embrace God’s goodness more fully in our lives. The Devil hates our fasting and prayer. The Devil hates for us to find the sanctification that leads to salvation. The Devil hates for us to take up a cross that promises a crown! But Jesus reminds us of the words of the preacher: My son, if thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thyself for temptation.(Ecclus. ii.1) While we fast, we are in union and communion with God feasting on His Word. When we finish, naturally enough, we are hungry. We are tempted to put earthly sustenance, satisfaction, and even joy before God’s Word. This is our first temptation.
If thou be the Son of God, command these stones to be made bread. (Ibid, 3)
We fast and we pray. We try to keep a good and Holy Lent. We want to go to God’s Kingdom. Yet we are so moved and defined by earthly food, earthly lust, and mammon. In these dark and dangerous days, our earthly comfort is paramount. In these dark and dangerous days, our body’s appetites are predominant. But we are not called to rush headlong into gluttony, lust, and avarice. We are not called to rush headlong into gorging that is full of greedy passion for bodily fulfilment. Our time of fasting should moderate and temper our body’s appetites. Our time of fasting and feasting on God’s Word should move us to the virtues of temperance, chastity, and generosity. Jesus rebukes Satan and says, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (Ibid, 4) What is most important for the man who will resist temptation is that he should rely wholly and completely upon the nourishment that God’s Word provides. Earthly comfort cannot save us. Our obsession with it might very well damn us. Food, drink, clothing, and money are all secondary to Jesus. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (St. Matthew vi. 33)
Jesus has nothing in the wilderness but stones and is tempted to turn them into bread. We have bread to waste and want more. In our quiet, let us pray about how we have worshipped the world, the flesh, and devil. Let us focus especially on how we have overindulged food and drink, have overindulged sex in ways other than God has intended, have been greedy and thus have worshiped money, mammon, and have been hoarders and spendthrifts.
Let us Pray:
O LORD, we beseech thee, mercifully hear our prayers, and spare all those who confess their sins unto thee; that they whose consciences by sin are accused, by thy merciful pardon may be absolved; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons