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But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

 

Ecclesiasticus 2:1-18 : Lent I
March 5, 2017
St Paul's Anglican Church

"Prepare Thy Soul for Temptation"

The sermon this morning is all about temptation!

Forty days and forty nights
Thou wast fasting in the wild;
Forty days and forty nights
Tempted, and yet undefiled.

In this morning’s lesson from Ecclesiasticus we observe the wisdom of the English Reformers – who understood the great value of the Intertestamental Books of the Bible as far as example of life and instruction in manners are concerned! They were only deferring to the judgment of the Early Church Fathers.

The leadoff verse this morning tells us: My son, if thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thy soul for temptation. What great counsel!

Jesus came to do His Father’s Will, and what happened? The Spirit drove Him out into the wilderness to be tempted of the Evil One.

And we are told that if we would aspire to follow the Lord, the first thing we must do is prepare to be likewise tempted! Quite radical. The name-it-claim-it brand of Christianity so prevalent in the world today is almost silent on this task! In some such Christian circles, one who struggles with temptation is seen as failing in his “calling” to perpetual joy and prosperity – a modern-day Job, of sorts, whose “friends” are convinced he has secretly sinned some great sin before the Almighty! Yet hear this simple, godly counsel:

My son, if thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thy soul for temptation.

This is quite the opposite, is it not! Temptation is the lot which falls to the true followers of our Lord… not the bane of some secret sinner!

In the eighteen verses before us, we are shown three broad categories of temptation which, if they had their way, would foil us – and all of Christ’s followers -- from devoutly following Him along the pathway of life.

First, there is the temptation to DELAY…

The counsel here is to prepare our souls for temptation. Not at some future date in time, but now. Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. If you do not read the Bible, begin reading it daily and consistently. If you do not have a set time for prayer, find one and frame your life in prayer. If your Christian walk is lackadaisical, shore it up!

The Bible is all about preparing and not delaying. When Noah was told of the approaching flood, he did not delay to build the ark, but went right to it! When Lot was told by the angels to leave Sodom and Gomorrah, it was not to be at his convenience – but right then and there! If we would be true Christians, there must a sense of urgency in performing God’s commands!

Shakespeare wrote: There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune…

Please note Jesus, our Paradigm. When facing His final entry into Jerusalem at the end of His earthly tenure – to painfully suffer and to bear His heavy Cross… St. Luke tells us He…

…stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem…

He did not turn away! He set His face to go to Jerusalem – and prepared His soul for temptation!

There is a fable that tells of three young apprentice devils who were sent to earth to complete their apprenticeship. Satan asked each of them about their plans to tempt and ruin men and women and children and young people.

The first said, “I will tell them there is no God.” Satan shook his head and replied, “That will not work. Everyone knows there is a God.”

The second said, “I will tell them there is no hell.” Satan shook his head again and replied, ”That will not work either. Everyone knows there is a hell.”

The third said – with a wicked smile – “I will tell them there is no hurry.” There is plenty of time! Eat drink and be merry! Put off until tomorrow what should be done today! Procrastinate! Delay! Take your time! Make excuses! Drag your feet! Satan smiled and replied, “Go. And you will ruin them by the thousands!”

My son, if thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thy soul for temptation.
Second, there is the temptation to DESPAIR... And, my, but how true it is!
We are told that whatever God sends our way, we are to take cheerfully… and to be patient when we are “changed to a low estate…”
On such occasions, we are especially to trust our Father’s steady Hand… to believe in Him… to accept His humbling lessons… and to wait for His mercy. We are not to seek an easy escape, but rather to endure and to seek His reward…

One day a girl came home from High School crying. Her mother, who was busy in the kitchen baking a cake, greeted her with the words, “Dear, what on earth is wrong?”
She explained, through her tears, how discouraged and upset she was with the girls at her school who engaged in malicious gossip… and in hurtful backbiting… and how mean they were toward those who were just minding their own business…
Her mother watched her daughter as she continued crying with her hands over her face…
Then, with quiet kindness, she said, “Dear, I am sure you are hungry. Would you like a couple of raw eggs?” Her daughter immediately stopped crying and looked up at her in amazement…
“How about a cup of dry, fluffy flour? Or perhaps a cup of vegetable oil?” She looked at her mother with a quizzical expression! “Why do you ask me,” came her cautious reply…
“Because the best cakes in the world contain these necessary ingredients! Cakes cannot be made without all of them! Such ingredients – each undesirable on its own – must be mixed together thoroughly and baked for quite a while in a heated oven, before the finished product is complete.”
There are difficult elements in life, which are not pretty but which are required, and through which we must nonetheless pass if we intend to see our Father’s wisdom brought forth in our lives to its full and ultimate expression! Even Jesus was no exception to this rule.
In our lesson, we are told this is not unlike the refiner’s fire that heats gold until it melts – releasing unworthy impurities, which are then skimmed off. The finished product ends up more noble… more true… more perfect… more genuine… The refiner has a good intention and a great outcome in mind…
Therefore, to pass through the challenges of temptation is not the sign of weakness as many otherwise good Christians think it is; it is not to be feared as undesirable! There are always redeeming aspects to it. Whether we have hearts of trust… whether we have eyes of faith that can see this… remains to be discovered each and every day…

Third, and last, there is the temptation to DEFY.
We are asked in this morning’s lesson who of any previous generation ever trusted in God’s care and mercy – and was disappointed…
Who ever called upon the Almighty for forgiveness and atonement… and clemency… and cleansing… and was turned away? He is full of compassion. As His majesty is, so is His mercy… Limitless. He delivers His children in His Own good time.
As it has so famously been summarized: Sometimes God calms the storms of life; at other times He lets them rage, and calms His children!
Pitiful is the person who cannot see this... or believe it (even a part of it)! Jesus was tempted by the Devil to defy His Father. But He survived it… Nevertheless… not my will but Thy will be done!
To be pitied most of all are those who have not enough trust… not enough care… not enough faith… to obey God’s Word to us… All too often the attitude is one of defiance…
We are told, point-blank, that those who love and fear the Lord will not disobey His Word… nor will they seek to escape His instructions…
Why are we warned against this temptation to defy God? Because it happens!
When Adam and Eve reached out in defiance and took the forbidden fruit, it led to great and unending trouble… for themselves… and for their descendants… for this world!
I think often of the book penned by the former evangelist, John Templeton, who worked side by side with Billy Graham as an evangelist in his youth. Thousands claim to have found Christ through his preaching!
Yet in his later years he wrote a book entitled, Farewell to God; My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith.

How could it be? Temptation can overcome those who are not prepared! And of course that is why the first lesson of Lent comes to us in verse one:

My son, if thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thy soul for temptation.

Why? Because temptation comes to all of us. And woe to those not prepared!

Forty days and forty nights
Thou wast fasting in the wild;
Forty days and forty nights
Tempted, and yet undefiled.

World without end, Amen.




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