The Message, February 26, 2023: "Just Say, 'NO!'", Matthew 4:1-11

The Message, February 26, 2023: "Just Say, 'NO!'", Matthew 4:1-11

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
February 28, 2023


“Just Say, ‘No!’”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Matthew 4:1-11

            What did you give up for Lent? Did you give up anything at all? Are we still doing that? It does not seem like we talk about it much anymore.

            For those of you who did … or are doing that discipline … what did you give up?  I am not going to ask you to share out loud. Some of them might be private. Did you give up chocolate? Or perhaps caffeine? Did you give up wine? Or beer? Did you decide to give up watching television or spending so much time online in your social media accounts? Did you change your diet? Did you give up meat on Fridays?

            I watched a few minutes of one of the network morning shows on Wednesday and saw a famous celebrity with a cross of ash on his forehead say that he had given up meat on Fridays. One of the cohosts said that she was going to give up the time that she spends on Instagram.

            Why? Why is that? Why do we give up those things that are pleasurable or enjoyable during the season of Lent? Are we making some sort of sacrifice for God?

            Now, let me say that I am not opposed to practicing certain disciplines during the season of Lent. The question really is about why we are doing them. What is our motivation?

            Do we think that God cares if we eat a chocolate bar or enjoy a cup of coffee? Does God care if we eat meat on Friday or spend too much time online? Certainly God cares if we participate in activities that are unhealthy for ourselves or for our families or communities. (The morning show cohost said that she was going to give up Instagram and spend that time with her children. Wonderful!) But in terms of those “sacrifices” that we make, is that what God desires?

            Perhaps these words from Psalm 51 will help:

            “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17)

            God does not desire our sacrifices. God does not desire a thousand sheep or ten thousand gallons of oil. God desires an upright and faithful heart.

            Our Gospel lesson this morning is a familiar one. It is the traditional lesson that we read as we begin the season of Lent. This passage follows immediately after the baptism of Jesus by John. This follows immediately after a Voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved. In him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)

            Jesus was about to begin his public ministry. He was about to call his disciples. But first, this happened. The passage says that the Spirit led him out to the wilderness to be tempted. However, the word ‘tempted’ can also be translated as ‘tested.’

            We all know what the word tempt means. The dictionary definition means “to seduce or entice one into doing evil or wrong. To persuade one in the wrong way.”

            Does that sound like God to you? Do you think that God tries to entice people to sin? Do you think that God seduces people into doing wrong?

            Or … are we tested?

            Testing is intended to make one stronger. Testing is intended to develop or strengthen ability. A teacher does not … or should not … give their students tests to punish them or to break them down. Tests should encourage their students to perform better … to study, to learn, to grow … so that they can achieve more.

            The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. It was an area between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea that was called Jeshimon, which means “The Devastation.” It was a hard and desolate place with a rough and rocky terrain. It was a place in which Jesus would be more alone that anywhere else in Palestine. It was there that he fasted for forty days and for forty nights. It was there that he was tested.

            As he prepared for his public ministry, Jesus knew that the path before him would be difficult and trying at times. He needed to prepare himself.

            At this point, I contemplate how to proceed. Do I offer a test-by-test analysis or exploration of this event? Or do I explore how and why this event applies to our lives and our journeys?

            This story, this event, is likely not a historical account of an actual battle that took place in a particular location at one particular moment in time. Yet it is one of the most sacred stories in scripture.

            Consider this … there was no one else in the wilderness with Jesus. He was alone … very alone. There was no one there to witness this event, this struggle. The only way for Jesus’ disciples to know about this event was for him to tell them. Jesus had to be the one to share this with the others. This is the account of Jesus’ very real challenge. He did not have to share it with the others, but he did.

            Why did he do that? To glorify himself? To say to them, “Look at me! I was tested by the Demon, and I won! I am the Satan Slayer! Follow me!”

            Or did he do it to encourage them? To let them know that they were not alone in their struggles. To let them know that they do not need to feel shame or guilt when they wrestle with their doubts and fears.

            As I read through the commentaries and articles I came across one that posed an interesting thought. He asked, “What if Jesus was not struggling with Satan in the wilderness? What if he was struggling with himself?”

            He suggested that Jesus, being both fully divine and fully human, had a very human struggle in the wilderness. Last Sunday, we explored the possibility that Jesus was asking for reassurance from God that he was doing the right thing at the end of his ministry. What is to say that he was not wrestling with the same questions as he began his ministry?

            Jesus knows the struggles of the human heart and the human will. Jesus knows that the disciples, and all of those who will follow him, will not struggle with Satan, the Tempter or the Tester. Jesus knows that often our greatest struggles will be with ourselves, with our own hearts.

            This account is a lesson in what it means to live as a beloved child of God. As we just pointed out a few moments ago, when Jesus rose from the waters of baptism, the Divine Voice proclaimed, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” The first two tests by The Tempter begin with the words, “If you are the Son of God …” However, that can also be translated, “SINCE you are the Son of God …”

            The test for us is not to see IF we are the beloved children of God. The test is BECAUSE we desire to live as God calls us to live.

            Jesus knows that there will be lures and temptations. Jesus knows that there will be forces that will try to pull us away from the Way of God, the Way of love, the Way of servanthood. And Jesus knows how to resist those lures and temptations.

            Jesus answered every question on the test with scripture. The Word of God filled his heart and that was his strength, his guide. In the very next chapter in Matthew’s Gospel we will hear the Sermon on the Mount. We will hear the foundation, the core, of Jesus’ teaching. He will tell us that we are to have pure hearts … hearts that focus upon God and God alone.

            Jesus knows the lure of Greed. He calls us to the Way of generosity.
            Jesus knows the lure of power and prestige. He calls us to the Way of gentleness and humility.
            Jesus knows the lure of influence. He calls us to the Way of the servant.
            Jesus knows the appeal of avarice. He calls us to love others more than our desire to feed our appetites.

            We may not have been given the powers that the Son of God possesses, but God has blessed us all with a variety of gifts. God calls us to live lives of giving rather than lives of getting. So as we venture into the wilderness, we can wrestle with our own questions: “How can I use this gift for my own benefit? Or how can I use this gift to benefit others?”

            Just say, ‘NO,’ to the lure of power and prestige.
            Just say, ‘Yes,’ to your own value and your own self-worth.

            Just say, ‘NO,’ to the lure of pride and arrogance.
            Just say, ‘Yes,’ to the way of humility and gentleness.

            Just say, ‘NO,’ to the lure of earthly appetites.
            Just say, ‘Yes,’ to lives of righteousness.

            Just say, ‘NO,’ to the accumulation of material assets.
            Just say, ‘Yes,’ to sharing your resources with others.

            Jesus gave us all of the answers for the test. SINCE we ARE the beloved children of God, this is the way that we will live and love.

            Blessed are you, children of God, for yours is the Kin-dom of Heaven. Amen.


Congregational Church