How to Win

Fr Tom Simmons, 1 Lent 2017, Matthew 4, Genesis 3


There’s a huge fight on.

Two camps are pitted against each other,

Each is trying to undermine and overcome the other,

remove them from power, push them to the margins and eradicate them.

What struggle am I talking about? What battle came to your minds? Is it the struggle down the road in Washington?

No, I’m taking about the struggle BEHIND all that.

It’s the larger fight between good and evil in our world. It’s been going on for a long time!

The apostle Paul once famously said, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers and spiritual forces of wickedness” (Ephesians 6:12).

Paul suggests we can’t just blame Democrats or Republicans, Muslims or Mexicans, media or multinationals.

The REAL enemy lurks elsewhere.

Our readings show the enemy lurking in a garden and a desert.

We have two up-close, personal, gritty accounts of the devil’s temptations:

Eve in the Garden, and Jesus in the wilderness.

She lost. He won.

These encounters help us make sense of how Good and Evil work in the heart of each of us.

Let’s start with Eve.

God made the world and he made it good. He created human beings in his image and blessed us with love and power. But danger lurked.

Somewhere, somehow, ingratitude and delusion crept into the hearts of God’s creatures.

An Adversary – “Satan” in the ancient language – arose to lead the rebellion against God.

Through the first people he spread his malice to man, tempting us into rebellion with the enticing advertisement: “You can be like God.”

Picture that on the roadside billboard.

Like South of the Boarder…”Pablo says…”

And the rest, as they say, is history:

people estranged from God, at war within themselves and against each other, falling to pieces under death’s domain.

The world was in darkness, until the light began to shine.

Now we get to go to Jesus.

He succeeded where we fail.

This morning he was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil”.

Jesus faced the Adversary on his own turf.

Though hungry and alone Jesus resisted temptations, overcame fear, went to the cross, rose from the dead, and won the victory over our worst enemies.

Over fear he inspired faith,

against deceit he spoke truth,

for dissatisfaction he gave generosity,

in place of malice he demonstrated love,

against power he showed strength,

in response to cynicism he inspired trust,

for stupidity he taught wisdom,

against chaos he calmed the sea,

covering guilt he shed his blood,

out of death he rose again.

This is how Jesus freed us from evil’s grip. This is how he turned the tide of history.

The devil‘s been beat, but he’s still fighting like hell, battling over each of us and the choices we make.

That puts each of us on the front lines in the struggle.

Jesus calls us to join him in this fight. We are to battle born.

This might feel daunting. “Me? Fight?”

Lenin said “you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”

Do you feel well equipped for the fight?

Jesus showed us how. Id like to point out two Rules for Resistance.


RULE #1 See through the sales pitch. What’s the serpent is selling. Remember the billboard?

He’s selling us slander.

In the creation story God made the world and he gave it ALL to us, imposing ONE simple, clear limit to see if we’d love and trust him: “Don’t eat from this one tree. If you do you’ll die.”

But the Serpent tempted Eve by calling God a liar. “Yeah no. You won’t die.”

Now who are you going to believe?

Because the Serpent’s not very credible he casts doubt on God’s good intentions. “He knows you’ll be like him…and he’s just trying to keep you down.”

So when you hear yourself assuming the worst about the good God, or flat-out contradicting his word…you know who’s talking.

He’s selling us short cuts.

Satan tempted Jesus to grab NOW what God has promised to give LATER.

“Make bread for your hungry belly.” “Make a grand display in the Temple to win the acclaim of the people.” “Serve me to secure your rule over the world.” Message: Get what you deserve, NOW.

Notice how he’s selling what he ain’t got?

All he offers is “consulting services” promising us time- and energy-saving ways of getting what we’ve got coming anyway. What a scam!

So when you see yourself pushing God aside to go for what you want…you know who’s talking.

He’s selling us a chip-on-your-shoulder.

These temptations have one attitude in common: “You don’t need God.”

It’s a pose of self-righteous independence from God. “I did it my way.” “I’ll make up my own mind.” “I have my own way of reading the Bible.”

So when you are itching to strike this pose…you know who’s talking.

> You’ve got to see through the sales-pitch, but that’s not enough. To join Jesus in defeating the Devil you’ve got to have a better story to beat the balderdash.


RULE #2 Tell a Better Story.

How did Jesus battle old Beelzebub?

He responded to every temptation with Scripture quotation.

God’s word anchored him in reality as the devil advanced his scam. Jesus won the argument.

Contrast Jesus’ performance with Eve’s in the Garden.

When asked by the Serpent, “Did God say you shall not eat of the tree…?” she misquoted God’s words.

She said, “God said, ‘You shall not eat of the tree, OR TOUCH IT.’”

She didn’t know God’s word. She wasn’t listening when God spoke. She was easy prey for the Deceiver.

> Are you?

We humans are gullible creatures, easily fooled.

But Jesus invites us to share in his victory AND he showed the way.

He was tempted in every way as we are, yet did not sin. By his grace we are able to triumph over every evil, and to live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died for us and rose again.

It’s a battle for your heart and mind and if you want to be on the winning side of this fight you’ve got to make daily use of holy Scriptures to frame your thoughts and feelings and interpret the world.

And if you’re NOT, then let me just say one thing: You can.

The best way for most to START is joining a bible study to support each other moving forward to make JESUS’ way OUR way.

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