Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"Dealing with Temptation"

Message preached February 17 , 2002
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon  Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7, Matthew 4:1-11

Order of Worship

            Last week, when the junior youth entered their Sunday School classroom, there was no teacher. However, there was a sheet of instructions - one for each of them. At the top were these words: "We are in a brief meeting. Weíll be back in about five minutes. Please follow the instructions below. See you shortly! Thanks! Your teachers." ... Now, item #1 of the 10 on the list of things to do while they waited stated this: "Read only the odd numbered instructions. Do not read any of the evens."

            Perhaps you can guess the result. Apparently, many of them failed to really read that first instruction. The clincher came in the final two on the list, one of which instructed them to write their name and "Satanís" on a piece of paper, and the other had them writing their name and "Godís." I think I heard that not many of them got it correct. We wonít ask who. If only dealing with temptation were simply a matter of reading the instructions right.

            Think back to the primary story in the Bible, the very first tale of a garden, and God, and Adam and Eve. The instructions God gave were pretty simple. Not 10 of them. Just two. #1 - "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden." #2 - "Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat." Simple enough. It even gave a reason. Why not eat of that one tree? Well, "in the day that you eat of it you shall die." (Genesis 2:16-17)    Makes sense. Not difficult to understand. Easy. A lot of room to dance.

            To dance? Hmmm! I wonder, what would it be like to envision this story as if it were one of the events in what many of us are paying a lot of attention to right now.

(two speakers at this point, one from the pulpit, the other from the lecturn:)

1 - Welcome to the first Winter Olympics, folks, and to the very first competition in these games

2 - Yes, welcome. And we do mean the first. The crowd here is ready for some fine skating.

1 - Between the heavenly host and the rest of Creation, I donít know who is filled with more anticipation.

2 - Indeed. Many were wondering if this event was going to be "menís singles" or "couples."

1 - Which would you have preferred, Scott?

2 - I donít know. Iím pretty partial to the menís solo work, Tom. But the addition of women makes this competition electric.

1 - It sure does. I canít wait to see how our first couple does.

2 - How big a slate of skaters have we got for this event, Tom?

1 - Letís me see (look at list), I believe we just have one couple.

2 - Well, then, it wonít be hard to guess who gets the gold.

1 - You never know though, Scott. One or two falls can take you right out of competition.

2 - I guess it all comes down to the judgesí call. Who are the judges, Tom?

1 - Uh, thereís just One, Scott - the Lord God.

2 - Okay! Iíd say we wonít have any problems with impropriety on that end.

1 - No sir, though there has been some talk about trouble on the coaching staff.

2 - Yes, I heard thereís a chance a substitute may be brought in, a real crafty fellow.

1 - Some would call him a slimy character.

2 - A real "snake in the grass."

1 - You got it. Will Adam and Eve listen to this guy, or stick with their original coach?

2 - And who is their coach?

1 - That would be the Lord God.

2 - Heís the coach and the judge?

1 - Sounds unbeatable to me.

2 - I guess so. I think Iíd stick with him if I were this couple.

1 - Well, Scott, it looks like itís time for their program to begin.

2 - Yes, and they do look great in those outfits.

1 - Indeed, they seem to have not a care in the world.

2 - They skate so naturally, donít they?

1 - They certainly do.

2 - Itís marvelous to see a fresh team like this.

1 - Some would say theyíre a little wet behind the ears.

2 - Thereís a lot to be said for youth and naivete!

1 - What energy!

2 - Wow! Did you see that triple salchow? Perfectly in synch with each other!

1 - The crowd is going wild.

2 - If they keep this up, the gold is theirs!

1 - The gold is theirs, anyway, Scott.

2 - Details! ... Wow! What a performance this is! There is real chemistry between these two.

1 - Itís like they are one person, perfectly in unison.

2 - Now comes the difficult part. They are separating at the middle of the rink and skating in separate directions, while still keeping their timing together.

1 - Can they do it? Itís never been done before.

2 - Of course itís never been done before, Tom. This is the first competition ever!

1 - Right.

2 - Wait a minute, whatís happening on the other end of the rink?

1 - Eve looks like sheís talking with someone.

2 - I think itís the other coach, if Iím not mistaken.

1 - Switching mid-routine is not a good move.

2 - Now sheís holding something in her hand.

1 - What is it?

2 - I believe itís some kind of fruit.

1 - Thereís nothing about this in their program.

2 - Iíll say. This is a big change. Look, sheís taking a bite out of that fruit as she returns to Adam.

1 - Now sheís handing the fruit to him, and heís eating it also.

2 - I donít know about this. Their most difficult jump is coming up.

1 - Will they make it?

2 - Weíll soon find out.

1 - There they go.

2 - Oh, no! They both fell!

1 - Ouch! That looks like it really hurt.

2 - But theyíre getting up and trying again.

1 - Thatís remarkable.

2 - Wow! They fell again.

1 - This is unprecedented.

2 - Of course it is! Theyíre not looking like medal contenders any more.

1 - There they go again. How many times can you fall in a program?

2 - I guess weíll see.

1 - Wait a minute, theyíve stopped their routine and are headed to the edge.

2 - What are they doing?

1 - Is that what I think it is?

2 - Yes, theyíve grabbed some leaves and are covering themselves up.

1 - Why?

2 - I donít know. For some reason their faces are all red, like they are embarrassed.

1 - Iíd be embarrassed by all those falls, too.

2 - I donít think thatís it, Tom.

1 - What, then?

2 - Theyíve lost that innocense they had at the beginning. They seem so ... self-conscious.

1 - I believe youíre right, Scott. What are they doing now?

2 - Theyíve left the rink. It looks like they are trying to hide.

1 - The judge isnít going to like this.

2 - Iím wondering if theyíll ever be able to skate again.

1 - Maybe this is a good time to take a break for a word from our sponsor.

2 - Weíll be back for more about these shocking developments after this...

            There was a lot of room to "skate," to "dance" in that Bible story. And yet, that first couple managed to fall flat on their faces. In fact, if you read this book, that was a pretty common occurrence, from beginning to end. Still is. As for me, I know Iíve done my share of falling flat on my face, as Iíve tried to "skate" through life. We all have, and you know that Iím not just talking about what we do in an ice rink.

            It seems I fall all the time. Letís be honest, folks, for this is a time for honesty. Honest to God. Honest to ourselves. Honest with one another. "If we say that we have no sin," the Bible says, "we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). We fall a lot, donít we? That initial story in the Bible, of Adam and Eve, what is it often called? The "Fall." It has to do with temptation, that within all of us which pulls us away from God. Itís not merely a matter of paying attention to Godís instructions, as important as that it. Sometimes those very instructions, which were intended to help us to "skate," to "dance" by faith; sometimes Godís commands are the very thing that trips us up. Though they were intended for our good, there is something within us that always pulls us away from the good. Call it "sin," not a terribly popular word nowadays.

            We are all "sinners." "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," the Bible says (Romans 3:23). Isnít that the truth. The story of Adam and Eve is our story, not just theirs. Add a few fig leaves here and there and youíve got us. And we face into temptation every day. I stood before the judge in traffic court on Friday, having given in to the temptation to go a little faster than I should have (actually, more than just "a little" faster - two points worth, to be exact). Whatís worse is that I fell flat on my face with my son as a witness. When I was called before the judge, I pled guilty. He asked, howís your record, to which I truthfully answered, "clean." The truth in a technical sense, that is. I actually had been before this same judge three years ago, receiving "probation before judgment," thus wiping my record clean.

            On Friday, the judge then asked if I had received any citations in the last three years. I suddenly felt very naked. Pass the fig leaves, please. The temptation I now faced was whether or not to tell the truth. It may not have made a difference one way or the other in the outcome, but Iím not a very good liar. Did I fall flat on my face yet again by admitting the truth? Some would say yes. Paying the hefty fine hurt, but my conscience didnít.

            We all face temptation every day. And if the truth be told, the occasions when we fall may outweigh the times when we donít. This story of Adam and Eve is your story and mine. Of course, we wouldnít be here if it werenít for another story. There was another "skater," the real "Lord of the dance," who - if you will - earned the "gold." Now, we wonít bring back "Scott" and "Tom" for an "Olympic" version of that competition. You heard it earlier according to Matthew. Scripture itself juxtaposes these two stories, the one about Adam and Eve and the one about Jesus, side by side.

            Itís sort of like how, on television this past week, we saw Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze on the left side of the screen, and Jamie Sale and David Pelletier on the right, doing similar jumps in their routines. In the Bible we have this fateful, beginning performance by the first couple almost side by side with Jesus. In fact, he is called the second "Adam." Whereas the "first" Adam royally messed up, thus paving the way for all sorts painful falls for the "children of Adam" and Eve - that is, all of us; the "second Adam" didnít. Though as scripture says, Jesus "was tempted in every respect as we are," he didnít give into it (Hebrews 4:15-16). He didnít fall flat on his face.

            Weíre not just talking about his 40 days in the wilderness when he faced down the devil, refusing to change coaches - if you will. The testing didnít stop after that. In the garden of Gethsemane, before his arrest and trial, he was tempted to allow "the cup to pass" from him, to avoid doing what was right, what would lead to the salvation of the children of Adam and Eve (Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:40-46, see also Matthew 26:52-54 for a description of what his alternative might have been). Instead, he chose the right way. "Not what I want but what you want," he prayed. The apostle Paul put it like this, "Just as one manís trespass led to condemnation for all, so one manís act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all" (Romans 5:18).

            Now, in dealing with temptation ourselves, as followers of Jesus we need to place our daily struggle in the context of Christ Jesus. Otherwise, we are condemned to a replay of the same old story. Face it, if "Scott" and "Tom" were to do a play by play on our lives, theyíd be commenting on plenty of "flat on the ice time." Am I right? However, in the context of what Christ did for us - the wonder of his grace, his deep, deep love - when we fall, as we will, we are given the courage and the ability to stand back up and keep on keeping on.

            Listen! I hear the music playing. Are you ready to "skate?"

©2002 Peter L. Haynes

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