Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: The Temptations of Christ

First Sunday of Lent
21 February 2021
Morning Service

Revd Nicholas Mercer

In 1988 I went to see the film “The Last Temptations of Christ”

It was directed by the very talented Martin Scorsese – but like so many other films about Christ, it stirred strong emotions

In this case, this was largely because the film contained scenes of a sexual nature

Indeed, when I went to watch the film people some people walked out- but I was not among their number

Not least because I think that the questions raised are enormously interesting

As the title suggests, the film depicts the life of Jesus and his struggle with various forms of temptation

These include fear, doubt, depression, reluctance and lust

Temptations with which all of us are, no doubt, familiar

The film made it clear that it was not based on the Gospels but rather “a fictional exploration of the eternal spiritual conflict”

Some people took exception to an exploration of this kind

I am not among them – largely because I belong to the liberal Christian tradition which does not regard such questions as being off limits

Indeed, if Christ was in an “eternal spiritual conflict”, which the Biblical account suggests, then so are we

And if we are being honest with ourselves most of us will have struggled with the temptations I have just spelled out

Rowan Williams once remarked that if someone came up to you in the street and whispered: “They’ve found out! Run!” nine out of ten of us would

We have all succumbed to temptation

The reality is however that we don’t want to be under the kind of scrutiny that threatens us by exposing them

As if we are sitting under a bare light bulb being interrogated.

So when it looks as though our secrets are about to be revealed,

We would probably all panic and run…………………..

Not only have we succumbed to temptation, we don’t even want to confess our failings

And so this morning we hear about the temptations of Christ and how Christ himself dealt with them 

Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days and nights and, to compound his difficulties, he was tempted by the Devil

Indeed, the account states that he was led into the wilderness “to be tempted by the Devil”

This appears to be the main purpose of his sojourn

First Jesus is tempted by the Devil to turn the stones into loaves of bread

Most of us will have been hungry at some stage of our lives but, at this point, Jesus had been fasting for forty days and forty night

Imagine how that must feel?

The devil offers Jesus immediate personal gratification – something we all face on a daily basis

Jesus resists the temptation and does so by quoting Scripture

“Man does not live by bread alone”

Secondly, the Devil takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and invites him to throw himself off so that the angels can save him

This time the Devil is trying to appeal to Jesus’ vanity

In effect he is saying, “why not show off to the world who you really are?”

It is the ultimate “I’m a celebrity get me out of here”

But Jesus, once again, resists the temptation, again, using Scripture to do so

“Do not put the Lord your God to the test”

Finally, Jesus is tempted by wealth

He is offered all the wealth in the world if he will only bow down and worship Satan

Many of you will have watched the wonderful series “Rev”

Starring Tom Hollander the series revolves around a Church of England priest, who becomes the vicar of an inner-city London parish

Utterly fed up with the parish he decides to seek a lucrative job in the City instead

As he is being offered untold wealth, high up in a London office block, all he can see is the Church in the urban landscape

He resists the temptation of riches and returns to the way of the cross

It is a modern day illustration of the same temptation that Jesus was offered

And he too was able to face down the temptation before him

The temptations that we have heard about this morning are so instructive for our own lives

We have all been tempted by some or all of the temptations that Jesus himself had to endure

Instant gratification is probably common to us all and celebrity and the promise of untold wealth will have passed across many a desk too

First of all it is important to recognise that we all face temptation, often at critical points of our lives

Secondly, it illustrates just how easy it is to fall prey to such temptations and make decisions we come to regret later

Thirdly, and most importantly, these temptations are not just about enticing us into sin, but trying to distract us from the path of servanthood for which our baptism has prepared us

My Father used to say of his business career that he had “sold his soul for mammon”

God claims us as his own but there are those who seek to thwart him

The reading this morning also exemplifies how to defeat the temptation – store the Bible in your heart, and know how to use it

But what is true for us is of the utmost importance for Christ himself

He was led into the wilderness “to be tempted by the Devil” to prepare him for the ministry which lay ahead of him

And as we all know, he resisted all temptation to abandon his central vocation

The road which his baptism had committed him – the path of servanthood that would lead him to suffering and death for the saving of all mankind

I can’t remember very much about the film which I watched all those years ago but I do remember the final temptation

Confusingly at first, Jesus is saved from the cross by what appears to be a guardian angel

He returns to Mary Magdalene to live the life of a married man with children

But, just as you think the film is about to conclude, it is revealed that he has been deceived

He is so mortified that he returns to the place of his crucifixion and begs God to let him fulfil his purpose

-to “let him be God’s son.”

Naked and bloody, Jesus cries out as he dies, “It is accomplished”

May we too accomplish what God has committed us too