First Lesson: Genesis 2: 15-17; 3: 1-7
Responsive Reading: Psalm 22
Second Lesson: Romans 5: 12-19
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 4: 1-11
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin by telling you the story of a guy named Bill. Bill was like a lot of guys getting up there in years and trying to drop a little bit of weight. Bill figured that to drop his extra weight, he would need to make a few lifestyle changes. The first lifestyle change that he needed to do was avoid his favorite donut shop in Bernie’s Bakery. Bill passed Bernie’s every day on his way to work. Bill could never say no to chocolate custard stuffed long johns. Bill always had to get two or three of them which would be scarfed down before arriving at the office every morning.
Bill’s weight loss journey had been going pretty good. He had been on the straight and narrow for the last few weeks dropping a few pounds in the process. Bill had been taking a different, slightly longer route to work as a way of avoiding Bernie’s Bakery. Bill one day, via force of habit, got back on his old route to work. Bill immediately got nervous about passing Bernie’s Bakery. Bill quickly discerned that driving this way must be a sign from God to stop in. Perhaps if there is an empty parking spot, I’ll know it's God’s will for me to buy chocolate custard long johns. A parking spot wasn’t immediately open, but perhaps God was trying to teach Bill patience. Bill starts driving around the block, and around the block. And finally, on Bill’s eight-time around the block, the parking spot that God wanted for Bill at Bernie’s Bakery finally opened up!
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”-Matthew 6:13.
Today’s Gospel Lesson comes to us from Matthew 4. It tells the story of Jesus being tempted by the Devil in the wilderness for forty days. The Devil makes Jesus the most dramatic of offers to give into temptation during these days in material possessions, glory, and power. Jesus resists these temptations with more willpower than we can seemingly ever muster in the presence of our chocolate custard long johns. Today’s lesson describes a boxing match between Jesus and the Devil that goes forty rounds that were able to leave Jesus standing in the end.
What’s really interesting in Today’s Gospel lesson is how it points to ways that the Devil seeks to get us to give into temptation. How the Devil makes his ways so attractive, pleasurable and bringing about all sorts of temporary joy. How exactly does the Devil strike us???
One of the most influential books that I’ve ever read is Robert Cialdini’s Influence . Influence is widely considered to be the greatest book ever on the psychology of persuasion. Influence describes six modes of influence to get people to change their minds. These modes are on display in not only the Devil’s attacks on Jesus but also on us.
First Attack Mode: Consistency and Commitment:
Kent Crockett tells the following story. Andrew Golota was one of the best boxers in the world with a record of 38-5 with 31 knockouts. Golota had an upcoming match with Lamon Brewster for the WBO heavyweight title. Brewster starts preparing for the fight by studying tape of Golota’s fighting, looking for an advantage. Brewster saw that Andrew Golota’s fighting style left him continually vulnerable to a left hook.
Fight starts! First round, Brewster sees an opening and throws a left hook, Golota goes down. Golota gets up; Brewster lands another left hook, the same story. After Golota gets back on his feet a second time, Brewster kept attacking Andrew Golota’s weak spot with a left hook.
A much anticipated Heavyweight boxing match ends in the first round because Andrew Golota’s weaknesses left him perpetually vulnerable.
Andrew Golota had spent years developing all sorts of strengths as a fighter leading him to a championship fight, but it was his own, unique weaknesses that was his downfall.
Like Andrew Golota, we all have our weaknesses that the Devil exploits. Bill had a weakness for chocolate custard long johns. Bill had eaten so many of them throughout the course of his lifetime; one stop wasn’t going to be a big deal.
Consistency can lead to the greatest of spiritual struggles: “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”
The first temptation that the Devil seeks to exploit in Jesus is his momentary weakness brought about by deviation from consistency. Jesus is sitting in the desert without having eaten for forty days. “Turn these stones into bread.”
I can barely write a sermon or read a book after not having eaten for a few hours. I cannot imagine, saying no to the simplest of material possessions after forty days. Jesus had eaten bread all sorts of times before for his benefit. Here this first temptation describes what makes the Devil’s attacks so enticing, something is presented as life-giving when in reality it will lead to nothing but death just as the Devil tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Second Attack Mode: Social Proof. When I was in junior high, there was a hierarchy of jeans. Girbauds were at the top, followed by Guess, followed by Levis then Lees and lastly Wranglers which weren’t real popular among suburban kids. One’s cool quotient was often determined by where they fell on this scale.
My middle school classmates failed to ask was an important question “Is there any proof that Girbauds are higher quality jeans than Wranglers especially for active seventh/eighth graders?” My classmates did actually hit on a trend in advertising.
David Lose tells of watching a PBS documentary several years back called “The Persuaders.” “The Persuaders” was dedicated to the evolution of modern advertising. Now some years back, advertising would focus on the quality of the product. Recent years though have seen a change in advertising trends to focus not so much on a product’s quality but rather its social status. New cars are not evaluated on things such as safety, reliability, nor gas mileage as much as the type of lifestyle it conveys to the world around you.
Now as Lose points out such appeals on the surface probably sound silly. Why would TVs or computers matter so much? Still, advertisers have been able to determine that people are often so starved for meaning or purpose in life that they seek wholeness by their social proof.
This week I was reading a book by a phycologist named Scott Sonenshein who spoke of all the ways that human beings run into trouble chasing non-essential things they don’t have to the detriment of the resources around them. For many of us, the worst thing we can do lose is our cool factor!
The second temptation that Jesus deals with is an offer for all Earthly glory. Throw yourself off the top of the Temple and save yourself for the world’s amazement. Perform a miracle on demand. Have everyone worship you for your greatness!
Here’s the thing about social proof, while it seems great at the moment there is often something much deeper we are after.
Third Attack Mode: Liking. When I was in third grade, I got into a fight that caused me to spend recess time in detention. Now I’m not going to stand up and say I was fighting for a noble cause; my cause was being well-liked by my classmates. We had a kid in our grade that I’ll call Jimmy. Jimmy was like a lot of third-graders in that he had a big mouth. Jimmy liked to brag about being the best at stuff when he clearly wasn’t. So one day at recess a group of kids was picking on Jimmy. I was by no means the leader of the operation, but like most third-graders was a willing follower. I didn’t have any problem with Jimmy, but I wanted to be liked by more people than just Jimmy. So one day on the playground, Jimmy was being picked on. Another kid got behind Jimmy in the form of a bridge and I pushed Jimmy. The playground monitor saw this and I was in trouble. Now as the years went by, Jimmy was a really good guy. I went to Jimmy’s high school graduation party even though we graduated from different schools. I was willing to push Jimmy for the sake of more power regardless of any reason to do so.
Peer pressure is powerful because we want people to like us. Think how many times in life, we’ve acted to failed to act a certain way so someone would like us.
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”-Romans 7:18
The final offer that the Devil makes unto Jesus has everything to do with popularity.
“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Now there is nothing wrong with being well-liked! Being liked can have its downsides. How many people have bought something from a friend out of pressure, only to eventually regret it? How many people have been swayed by beauty only to regret it later? How many kids pushed Jimmy on the playground out of a desire to be popular? There are limits to popularity’s benefits. Jesus saw something much more important than just being the most well-liked person in the world.
Jesus saw his temptation as having a higher purpose. Those forty days in the desert would not be the only times that Jesus experienced temptation in his life, Jesus could have later given in by running away when he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus could have advocated for his life before Pontius Pilate before going to the Cross. Popularity might come and go, but God’s promises shall surely endure forever!
Our conclusion for this morning is this: there once was a man tempted to go into a donut shop, chocolate custard long johns were the vice. The man found every reason under the sun to give into temptation. Satan as in the case of boxer Andrew Golota will always be able to spot our weaknesses. There once was a kid growing up wanting to be popular, so he got involved in a fight for no good reason, he could not see how all the allures of this world are merely temporary. Jesus went out into the desert for forty days and forty nights. Forty rounds of boxing with Satan without a drop of food in his stomach. The Devil gave Jesus all sorts of chances to choose an easier world for himself, yet Jesus vowed to keep going even beyond these forty days. Even to the point of death. Our lesson for Today is no matter how things seem on this day, Our Lord, in the end, is more powerful than anything Satan can throw at him. Amen
 Llewellyn, Tony. “Sermon Illustrations: Temptation”. Hotsermons.com. Web. Feb.26.2017.
 I really liked chocolate custards as a child, so that’s why I use this example.
 Llewellyn, Tony. “Sermon Illustrations: Temptation”. My version is an expanded telling of Llewellyn’s analogy.
 Matthew 4:1-11
 Cialdini’s book was published by Harper Collins (Collins Business) originally in 1984.
 Crockett, Kent. “Open for a Left Hook.” Kentcrockett.com. Web. Feb.26.2017.
 Crockett, Kent. “Open for a Left Hook.”
 John 8:34.
 Lose, David. “Into Temptation”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 07.Mar.2011. Web. Feb.26.2017.
 Lose, David. “Into Temptation”.
 Sonenshein’s book is titled Stretch published by Harper Business in 2017.
 The following examples come from Cialdini’s chapter on Liking titled “The Friendly Theif” found on pages 167-207 of the 2007 third edition of Influence.