Facing the Serpent

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Genesis 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-11

CCI: When we face the serpent, Jesus gives us the path to victory.

Intro: In 1984, Harrison Ford, as Indiana Jones, was lowered into a pit in Egypt. As he lay on the floor of the pit he looked up and there in front of his eyes was a cobra ready to strike. There he lay, facing the serpent, surrounded by snakes. It was a chilling scene. Of course Indy found a way out of the serpent pit with quick thinking and cunning. However, when we face the serpent, we need more than cunning and quick thinking. When we face the serpent, if we try to escape on our own, we will be destroyed.

The first story in the Bible following the creation stories is the story of the temptation. It is the story of the day the first humans fell into sin. On that day, humanity faced the serpent.

The story of the beginning of Genesis and beyond is the story of God’s good work, humanity’s sin and God’s redemption. It is a story of setting right, becoming lost, and being restored. The story is repeated time after time throughout the book of Genesis. And today it is our story as well.

Though this is the very first story of temptation, within this story is the kernel of all temptation. While there is a focus on the woman in Genesis, both the Adam and Eve succumbed. In 1 John 2:16, the apostle writes, “everything in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–comes not from the Father but from the world.” These are the keys to understanding this story of temptation. The Lust of the eyes – They saw that it was pleasing to the eye. It looked good.

Often temptation begins to get a grip in our lives through our eyes. Clearly, the draw of pornography begins with the eyes, but so does the greed that causes us to go into debt to satisfy and immediate need. The lust of the eye drives us to accumulate stuff just because it looked good. Remember the shock of the Philippine people when they discovered that Imelda Marcos had a collection of at least 1,220 pairs of shoes. This is the essence of the lust of the eyes, but we don’t have to go overboard to be guilty. Whenever the accumulation of things drive our behavior, we have succumb to the temptation.

But temptation does not only impact us through our senses, there is also the Lust of the Flesh – Adam and Eve saw that it was good for food. The lust of the flesh is not just about sex, though sex can be part of that temptation. The lust of the flesh is the powerful desire to satisfy what our bodies and egos desire no matter the cost. It is at the root of gluttony that controls our society. It is at the heart of the worry and distress that we may not have enough that keeps us up at night. The lust of the flesh drives us be only concerned about ourselves. It is the temptation to always be number 1. The America First Campaign just before World War 2 encouraged Americans to close our eyes to the crimes that were occurring in Europe, and close our hearts to the needs of those suffering around the world because we must focus on America First. The serpent seduced humanity through the lust of the eyes, and he has not changed his tactic because it is still effective.

And then the Serpent appealed to the pride of life – They saw that it was desirable for gaining wisdom. This is probably the most powerful of the Serpent’s tools. The pride of life is what drives us to not only succeed, but to succeed at any cost. The desire to be like God, to know good from evil so that we can judge others, to exalt ourselves and degrade the people around us, these are symptoms of the pride of Life. And we are all susceptible to this temptation.

These are the same temptations the tempter used on Jesus in the story in Matthew 4. There was the Lust of the flesh, “Turn these stones to bread.” Go ahead and satisfy your hunger, you have the power, use it.  There was the Lust of the Eyes: “he showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world with their splendor.” It can all be yours the tempter said. And then there was the pride of Life. “Throw yourself down so God can save you.” Then the people will be impressed with your power and you will have them in the palm of your hand.

When Jesus faced the serpent, he fought back by calling on the scripture. “You shall not live by bread alone.” “You shall worship the Lord your God and only serve Him.” “You shall not tempt the Lord you God.” These responses reminded Jesus of the Father’s continued presence and care. Jesus’ response to the tempter’s words, demonstrate the truth of Psalm 119, “Your Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you.” It is God’s word that provides wisdom and victory when we face temptation.

Seldom does temptation come to us in an instant. According to James 1:14, James tells us, “each one is tempted when by his own evil desires he is lured away and enticed.” When we face the serpent, whether we want to admit or not, we usually have been looking for the serpent. We are tempted when our own desires lead us away. It is not chance, it is not a surprise. Robert Obrien once said, most people want to be delivered from temptation, but would like it to keep in touch. Our own desires draw us away. And the Serpent seeks to capitalize on our own evil desires.

But here is the problem, if we recognized the danger of the serpent as clearly as Indiana Jones did, his temptations would have no chance of taking us in. The truth is the serpent seldom appears in his true form. He is a deceiver and so wears many disguises.

In Greek mythology the legend of the Sirens is at the heart of two of the founding stories of Greek culture. The sirens were legendarily beautiful mermaids whose voices and appearance lured unwary sailors to their death. The deceitful beauty was a trap.

Today the serpent presents himself in the same way. How can we recognize him?

First, the serpent will tell us that we are more important than the people around us. The serpent will convince us that our economic status, or our skin color, or our national identity, or the club we belong to, or the church we attend make us better than others. The serpent loves the phrase, We are number 1. Anytime we are being told we are better than the people around us, we can be sure we are facing the serpent no matter who we are talking to.

Second, the serpent does not want us to think seriously about God’s word. As Christians we like to live by the expression, “The Bible says. . .” The only time Jesus used that expression, he said, “You have heard it said, . . . But I say to you, . . .” When we refuse to take the Bible seriously and think about God’s word seriously, we can be sure the serpent is not far behind.

Third, the serpent wants us to deny responsibility for our situation or our behavior. He declared to the woman, “God knows that on the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” In other words, it is God’s fault that you do not have this knowledge and God is denying you the very best. At other times we will be told it is the fault of someone else that we are struggling. In Jesus’ day the Samaritan was the cause of the people’s troubles. If the Romans would go away everything would be better. Whenever we are told that the problems we face the fault of another, we can be sure we are facing the serpent.

And finally, we can know we are facing the serpent when we are told that another person can solve all our problems if we only let them. Only God can lead us to victory. No political party can solve our problems. No president whether, past, present or future is the answer to our problems. No philosopher or scientist will solve the problems of this world. The Psalmist said, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”  Whenever we encounter a claim our strength or our brains or our military is the answer to our problems, we can be sure we facing the serpent.

In the stories of the sirens the heroes were able to sail past in very different ways. When Odysseus was preparing to sail past the islands of the Sirens, he decided he wanted to hear the Sirens sing, so he had his crew tie him to the mast of the ship, and he instructed them to fill their own ears with wax. When the Sirens sang, Odysseus went mad with desire, but as he was bound and his crew was deaf, they sailed passed safely. He resisted with the help of his crew.

But when another traveler named Jason planned to pass the home of the Sirens, Jason took along Orpheus, a divinely gifted musician. They say that when Orpheus played his harp, his music made the rocks dance. When they approached the Sirens, Orpheus played sublime, heavenly music on his harp, and the Sirens began to sing. Orpheus’s music was even more beautiful than the Sirens’ song, however, and Jason and his crew sailed past unscathed.

When we are in the presence of God we will hear the more beautiful music of Jesus Christ plays in our souls. It is the word of God. When the music of Jesus fills us there’s something inside us that lifts and straightens. We are made more whole and the beauty of God’s Word can lead us to victory.

When we face the serpent, and though we may not immediately recognize him we will, we must respond as Jesus did. We resist with the Word of God. There we will find victory. Remember, temporary happiness isn’t worth long term pain.

Genesis tells us the Woman was deceived and she ate and she gave it to her husband and he ate as well. Has the serpent deceived you? Have you eaten of the fruit of the lust of the eyes, or the lust of the flesh, or the pride of life? If so, 1 John 1 says, if we confess our sins, God is faithful and God is just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Carrying the burden of guilt is exhausting, by confessing our sins, we can know freedom and victory as we face the serpent. This is God’s invitation.

As we come to the table, may be come with deep reflection, examining our hearts and confessing our sins.

Let us pray.