Don't Blame It On The Snake
Genesis 3:1-7, Matthew 4:1-11
Harvard Professor Harvey Cox wrote a book many years ago called On Not Leaving it to the Snake. The premise of the book: Christians have abdicated personal responsibility for their sins. Cox says Christians have been too quick to blame the snake.
Illustration: A man experiences a series of misfortunes.
The man gets a salary cut where he works.
His wife bounces a check at church.
A piece of gravel chips the windshield on his BMW.
And he concludes: Satan is really attacking me.
Satan gets a lot of blame for the problems in our society. As Christians, we blame Satan for almost anything.
The immorality of our society - poverty, pornography, abortion.
Moral lapses in our personal lives - divorce, addictions, bankruptcy.
Some congregations talk more about Satan than about Jesus.
Illustration: Did you know there is a website dedicated to proving that Barney the purple dinosaur is an agent of Satan. The site claims that it's a big conspiracy to get the young generation to worship Satan in a plot to destroy the world!!!!
However, the Bible indicates such blame is really undeserved.
Satan does not have the power to make you do anything you do not want to do.
We've actually attributed more power to Satan than he possesses.
Ultimately: you have the freedom to choose between good and evil.
The Devil can't make you do anything you don't want to do.
Then the old saying "The Devil made me do it," is a lie."
Not denying existence of Satan. Nor Satan's desire to lure us toward evil.
In fact, the word used for Greek for the devil in Matthew is Diabolous=Diabolical= the accuser.
But, let's put the blame where it really belongs: On ourselves.
We have no one to blame but ourselves for our spiritual condition.
God gave us the freewill to choose between good and evil.
Evil deeds are committed by our own hands.
Encountering the text
Our lessons from Genesis and Matthew make this exact point.
They tell us we are responsible for our actions.
In Genesis, the snake tempts Eve with a forbidden fruit.
God tells Adam he can have everything in the Garden.
Everything but the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
But the snake tempts Eve with the fruit of the tree.
The snake takes God's word and twists it around.
However, the snake does not put it in her mouth.
She takes the fruit and puts it in her own mouth.
She had the freedom to say no and walk away.
But she did not walk away.
Whose fault is it when they are cast out of the garden?
No one's fault, but their own.
In Matthew, Satan tempts Jesus at the end of a forty day fast.
First, must be understood from the perspective of his baptism.
Divine affirmation that he is God's son at baptism.
But what does it mean to be God's son?
What path will his ministry take?
He was led into wilderness to search God for answers.
Second, must be understood from perspective of the cross.
The cross tells us what it meant to be the Son of God.
Meant that he was going to suffer and die for others.
All popular notions of the messiah had to be cast aside.
His path was to be one of sacrifice, humility, and service.
In light of all this, the temptation of Devil is understood.
The devil tempts him with an easy way out.
You don't have to suffer and die to get what you want.
Worship me and you will have everything you need.
We remember here Jesus asking on another occasion: "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul.
Something big was at stake in the wilderness temptation?
Our Salvation was at stake.
This wasn't like being tempted to break our diet.
It was a matter of life and death.
It was cosmic.
We don't think of it this way.
But Jesus actually had a choice.
As it was with Eve, the Devil did not make Jesus do anything.
He could have chosen the easier way over the way of the cross.
It was his choice to make.
Interesting how Paul sums up these two temptations Ro 5:1-19.
Paul says through the choice of man came death.
And through the choice of another man came life.
And it is with us.
The choices we make have life and death consequences associated with them also.
As Meryl Streep says in the Bridges of Madison County, "We are the choices that we have made."
Nothing is more important for our spiritual growth than accepting responsibility for our moral lapses and subsequent spiritual condition.
Nothing is more dangerous also for our planet than abdicating responsibility to some evil that is external to us.
Illustration: Whatever became of Sin by Karl Menniger. Says the trouble with our society is that we blame everything on our genetics or our environment. The earth is in bad shape because no one is willing to take responsibility for it. He asks Whatever Became of Sin? He says that we've got to start talking about sin again and it's consequences.
Making Good Choices
20/20 expose on Mac Bledsoe, father of New England Patriots Quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, who is a parenting instructor. He has written a curriculum called Parenting With Dignity. Bledsoe says one of the biggest mistakes me make as parents is making our children obey. He says, obedience as a tool for discipline is really dangerous, because it does not teach children to think for themselves, and it teaches them too listen to an outside voice to find out how to act. For Bledsoe, helping our children learn how to make good choices is a much better alternative. Bledsoe believes parents should aim to teach their children how to think for themselves, so they can act responsibly when they are left alone, and get more independent when they get older. There is more to parenting than just saying "Don't do that." (1)
The same goes for the church.
Historically church hasn't done a good job of teaching people to make good choices.
It is far too easy to just give people a list of do's and don'ts.
Not only is it easy, but also it is dangerous.
Instead, people will be better served if we teach them think for themselves so that they can make better choices for their life.
This is a strength I believe of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We do not tell people what to believe. We teach them to think for themselves with the aid of prayer and the scripture.
And Jesus is our guide here for making good choices that bring life.
He allowed the spirit to lead him. Vs. 1
He spent time searching in the wilderness. Vs 2.
He was familiar with God's word. Vs. 4-10. Better be familiar with God's word because people will use scripture to manipulate you to their own end.
And once he made a decision he stuck too it. It was a line that was drawn in the sand that he would never cross again.
Illustration: A teen is tempted with premarital sex in the back seat of a car. You don't want decide where to draw the every time you go on a date. You make your decision once and for all and you stick to it.
Illustration: As a family you make a decision once and for all that you are going to make Sunday morning worship a part of your life. You don't make that decision every Saturday night.
What is Lent then? It is a 40 day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday when we are called by God into the wilderness:
to examine our lives and accept complete responsibility for the choices we have made;
to confess our sins and the consequences that come with them;
to change those parts of our lives that need to be changed.
And to place our complete trust in God's plan for our lives.
Whatever you do, don't blame the snake.
(1) ABC News, 20/20, Allowing Disobedience, Jan. 31st, 2002.