Near Cowra, NSW 2011.

Don't forget Egypt

Week of Sunday March 9 - Lent 1
Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ 4But 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, 6saying 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.” ’ 
7Jesus 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 splendour; 9and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ 10Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
   and serve only him.” ’ 
11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

False prophets are two a penny. Just listen to the next ad on TV: Use my product and it will save you, or turn your life around, or.....

Jesus said, "You will know them by their fruits." Matthew 7:15-20

•••

In the drama of his gospel— think of Matthew as a movie— before Jesus actually begins his ministry, Matthew shows us that Jesus is not a false prophet. He shows us Jesus doing the hard yards. He shows him being tested and found trust worthy.

After the temptations, the movie goes on to show Jesus doing some of the very things that he refused to do during the temptations: He does multiply loaves of bread. And while he does not jump off the pinnacle of the temple, he does some very spectacular healing.

And so maybe it's not just what we do that counts, but when... and why... and how. What motivates us? What spirit drives us? How will we live?

•••

Let's look at the Temptations.

The first thing is that Jesus is out in the desert. It says he is famished. He's done the right thing for 40 days and nights— he's listened to God, and been obedient and stayed in the desert— and still nothing's happening. He's just getting hungrier.

And so the tempter says, If you are the son of God....  if...

Jesus knows he is the son of God. Just a few verses before our reading today God tells everyone, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased!" (3:17)

So, the first temptation is not to make loaves of bread out of stone; the first temptation is...  to not trust God. "Don't trust the God who said you are the son of God. Don't trust that; make your own food; live life your own way; do it yourself. You can do it!"

And Jesus rejects the tempter by quoting a verse from the Hebrew Scriptures, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’

•••

Jesus is not teaching us how to do proof texting. In the culture of the time, this is Jesus saying, "Go and read Deuteronomy Chapter 8— that's what he's quoting— and learn from that story how to resist the temptation to do it all yourself, and how to trust God, instead.

•••

Deuteronomy Chapter 8 says.

2Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. 3He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

I heard an Australian translation that goes like this: Mate, if I keep you out here in the wilderness long enough, maybe you'll get so hungry that you'll eat the food I've got for you. Just trust me will you?

Manna was most probably an insect deposit on leaves... people were not acquainted with it— a bit like we are not acquainted with eating grasshoppers— it was strange food. And the strange food God has for us is all about trusting God; about whether, as it says in Deuteronomy, we will keep his commandments. We are not very acquainted with doing that; we're more inclined to do things our own way.

So, short answer: keep his commandments— every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

•••

We get some more information about how to live from the second temptation... this is the one where the devil took placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said, "Jump off and God will  save you."

The Australian translation goes like this:

"Oh... so we're going to quote scripture, hey? OK, I can play that game.
You're going to trust God, y' reckon? How do you know you can trust God? Don't
you think you should test him out, just to make sure, before you get started on this Messiah thing.

If you jump off the temple that'll make him act... that's if he really is God, of course."

(We might just note, here, that if we think coming back at someone with a smart proof text is a good way of discerning what God wants, the first person to use it in the bible is the Devil!)

Jesus directs the Devil— and us— to read Deuteronomy Chapter 6.

16 Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. 

Massah is the place where Israel was terribly short of water during the 40 years in the wilderness, (Exodus 17:2-12) and the people demanded that Moses provide some. In the story, God tells Moses to strike a rock-face, and water flows out from it!

In the Old Testament, this event is not seen as a miracle, amazing as it may have been! It is seen as a failure of faith of in God. Moses called the place Massah and Meribah, it says, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’ (Exodus 17:7) The word Massah means testing, andthe word Meribah means quarrelling.  

What happens when you test the Lord? You might remember that in the story of the Exodus, Moses is not allowed to enter the Promised Land; he dies before he gets there. And the reason was that Israel tested the Lord at Massah and Meribah. (Deuteronomy 32:51)

So let's read Deuteronomy chapter 6 a bit further.

16 Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. 17You must diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his decrees, and his statutes that he has commanded you.18Do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, so that it may go well with you...

"Don't test the Lord. Diligently keep the commandments...  18Do what is right and good ... I'm going to live God's way," Jesus tells the devil.

•••

Satan thinks to himself, "Gee, this bloke's serious! I'd better pull out the big guns." And so he says,

 Mate, I can give you everything. None of this sitting in the desert with the blowflies rubbish. Do it my way— [that's what bow down and worship means]— do things my way instead of God's way, make a few smart political moves, change a thing or two, and you'll own the whole the world!"

Jesus' directs him— and us— back to Deuteronomy 6.

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart….

and then, a few verses down, you get to our bit...

  12take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 13The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear. 14Do not follow other Gods…

So from the Old Testament Matthew is telling us that being the Messiah, the son of God, and that being a follower of the Messiah; that is being a Christian, means these things:

Trust God— every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Keep God's commandments.
Diligently keep God's commandments and do what is right and good in God's sight
Only serve God; do not follow other Gods....

and there is one last thing... 12take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. We see this over and again the Hebrew Scriptures. 12take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Egypt is the place of slavery. God brought us out of Egypt. Don't forget this!

Even when the Jewish Passover is held today the youngest child still asks, "Why is this night different from all other nights, from all other nights?" And the answer is: we were slaves in Egypt and God brought us out.

Today, we celebrate communion. Maybe the youngest one here should ask the question! "Why is this meal different from all other meals?" After all, our Eucharist  echoes the Passover meal.

"Why is this meal different from all other meals?"

The answer is this: We were slaves. Jesus has brought us out of Egypt, out of our slavery, and into the church. If we forget this—

if we stop trusting God—  
if we don't keep God's commandments—  
if we don't diligently keep God's commandments and do what is right and good in God's sight—

then we will going back to Egypt. It may look like a good idea at first, but if we live that way, it will enslave us.

We are trying to do things differently here, and to treat each other differently. It is because God has brought us out of Egypt, out of slavery, and we don't want to go back. If we go back to Egypt, we will be enslaved again. We will give away our freedom.

Trust God.
Keep God's commandments.
Diligently keep God's commandments and do what is right and good in God's sight
Only serve God; do not follow other Gods....

and there is one last thing... 12take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!


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