Giving Up Negativity: the Temptation of Christ

Matthew 4:1-11

Temptation of Jesus

4 Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. 2 After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.”

4 Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.”

5 After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him,6 “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.

7 Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.”

8 Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.9 He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”11 The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him.

 

 

Thoughts on the passage:

During the season of Lent, we are focusing on the idea of “Giving Up Negativity.”  Most of us are guilty to some degree of letting negativity dominate our thinking.  Sometimes we frame it in positive ways like, “I am not a pessimist, I am a realist.”  Other times we give it fancy names like “constructive criticism.”  Whatever we call it, the reality is that our negative and critical thoughts run counter to how God sees the world.  When God looked over creation, rather than remark on the faults (like mosquitoes), God called it “very good.”  During Lent our challenge is to give up on the negativity that we often default to and see the world as God does.

Lent is a spiritual journey that starts with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter.  The forty days of Lent mirror the 40 years in the wilderness for the Israelites as well as the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness when he was tempted at the beginning of his ministry.  For that reason, it is fitting to begin our Lenten journey with his story.

During his time in the wilderness, Jesus is tempted in three different ways by the Devil.  First, he is asked to make bread from stones.  Next, he is challenged to throw himself from the temple to prove that the God will protect him.  Finally, he is offered dominion over the world if he will worship the Devil.  In each instance, Jesus resists the temptation.  He remains content with what he has and refuses to do something to improve his circumstances or prove his power.

One of the dangers of negativity is that it centers on a lack of something.  We all remember from school that negative numbers symbolize the amount of something that is missing from the equation.  The greater the negative number the more that is needed.  The Devil tries to highlight what is missing in Jesus’ life as a way of tempting.  First, he entices him with bread, when he has had nothing to eat.  Next, he applies to a need for protection, when Jesus is on his own and vulnerable.  Lastly, he offers power, something Jesus might need if he wishes to live into his Davidian role of king.

Now, a part of me wants to say that Jesus is immune to the temptations because he is Jesus.  After all, we would expect the Son of God to not be easily swayed, even by the Devil.  At the same time, I think the way that Jesus resists is less about who he is, but instead about the attitude that he takes.  Jesus is not tempted because while the Devil sees a negative, a lacking, a need, Jesus does not.  Jesus is content.  His ability to see the positive, what is there, allows him to avoid the temptation of the negative, what is not there.

The good news in this for us is that if Jesus can resist temptation NOT because of his divine nature, but because of his attitude, then we can do the same.  While we cannot be the Son of God, we can strive to have the same positive view of the world that he does.  As we seek to give up negativity in Lent, this will be a great help to us.

What allows Jesus to resist is that he can see the positive in his circumstances.  He does not need bread, because God’s spirit is feeding him.  He does not need to test God because he has faith.  He does not rule the world because he knows that God rules the world.  Jesus anchors himself in what God is doing.  In order for us to be positive rather than negative it would benefit us to do the same.

There is technique called community asset mapping.  It is a process for a group or an organization to look at all the assets that exist in a community.  It is built on the premise that all of us are assets to the community and that all of us have things to offer.  To do asset mapping effectively you need to be able to look at traditionally negative things and see them as positives.  This is not a rose-colored glasses approach that ignores needs in an area.  Rather it does not see those needs as negatives but instead as opportunities.

We often talk about challenges in our community like homelessness and poverty.  It is easy to see those as negatives.  In doing so we focus on the lacking that exists, potentially becoming overwhelmed with it, or worse stretching that negativity to how we view the people connected to it.  Instead of just thinking about homelessness as a negative, we start to see the homeless as a negative as well.  Instead, we need to look at things in a positive way.  Homelessness is clearly an issue, but as we address that problem we encounter good things alone the way.  The negative, of being without a home, brings a family in contact with so many other people through Family Promise, allowing that family to be blessed by others, but also to be a blessing in return.  When people gather together for our Community Meal, what can be forgotten in the focus on the need for food is that the ways that these meals bring people together.  The richness of the Community Meal comes not just from the food that we share, but also the fellowship, and that is something that everyone brings to the table.

There are events that are really hard to see the positive side of, like cancer, the loss of a job, or death.  Even so, the same principles can apply, even if they take a lot more effort to get to.  A loss of job brings with it a lot of negatives, but it can also become an opportunity.  It is not good for income.  It is good for having more time to spend with family.  It is a chance to reflect on what you really want to do with your life.  It can be the push that gets you to try something new.  Are there challenges and negatives to losing a job? Yes, but there are also positives.  It is just a question of how we choose to see it.

All around us are signs of God’s work in the world.  We can look for the areas where God does not seem present.  We can focus on the negative and the lack.  If we do this we are giving in to negativity.  Instead, we can be like Jesus and remember what God has done for us and see the world as God does and Christ does.  When we do this, I think we will realize that it is all very good.

Questions to Ponder:

Do you think of yourself as a positive or a negative person?

When is it hardest for you to be positive?

Who is someone you know who can always look on the bright side of problems?

Prayer:

Creator God, when you brought this world into being you called it “very good.”  When you look on each of us in our sins and our brokenness you call us your children.  When we are faced with challenges and problems, help us to remember your positive view of the world.  Help us not see the lack of things in the world, but instead to see your presence all around us.  Amen