Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
It was persistent, insinuating and it got to her where she was becoming vulnerable. It twisted everything she knew and understood, everything she had experienced or perceived. It reached into her mind and soul, and it went on and on.
No, I am not describing an advertising campaign, although it might apply, or an interview or interrogation by security services, or even the pressures to conform to the latest fashion at school or work – although it might have been any of these.
It kept coming up however when she was on her own, and then slipping away when anyone else came near, and it was urging upon her something that was both repugnant and yet at the same time, it had a sickly-sweet attractiveness and allure.
And every time she argued that God had said you shall not eat of it, the tempter came back with a new angle, a new put down, a new kind of suggestion.
“Did He really say that? Are you sure? Could He have meant something else, perhaps He was being figurative or using metaphors, or even maybe He was being humorous, possibly ironic.”
And so what God had said was progressively twisted and distorted, becoming misshapen even idiotic in the face of such appealing logic. And she was being tempted ever so nicely, not really violently, although it was definitely an aggressive campaign against what God had said.
Eventually Eve gave in and took the forbidden fruit and ate it. But Adam had not been subjected to this pressure, and he was still full of the joy and wonder of the garden. He was making plans on how to look after it, and manage it and possibly suggest to God the alterations which would enhance it even further.
Adam still dwelt in the favour of God and enjoyed His fellowship. They could talk together, and in the cool of the day they could relax and enjoy the view.
Adam was under no kind of pressure to eat the forbidden fruit, so when Eve handed it to him, he could consider what he was doing: he could stop or say that no he would not eat it. Whatever the blandishments that had undermined Eve, Adam did not have to comply.
And any such compliance was entirely of his own free will. Eve might repeat what the serpent had said but Adam could weigh these things up for himself.
And yet, Adam accepted the fruit and indeed he ate: in full knowledge of what he was doing. And that is why we still speak of the sin of Adam, rather than that of Eve.
Jesus also faced the tempter. Whereas only one suggestion had been put to Eve, Jesus faced three of them. All of them were about the fulfillment of His ministry, and all of them involved misusing His powers and authority to satisfy human impulses and to avoid the cross.
He could have provided bread for all, eliminated hunger from the world, and no power on earth would be able to withstand that, especially no power that engorged itself on taxing the people to satisfy its own self-regard.
He could have raised an army, claimed the kingdoms of the world, and ruled them wisely but perhaps with growing impatience with those who did not follow every aspect of His leadership.
He could have entertained the people with displays of great wonder and dexterity: and He could have done all three, in varying combinations.
But what Jesus said then was simply “It is written.” The tempter might try to distort and devalue and dissemble, but Jesus was clear and definite in His response. No words wasted, no futile arguments, no points to score or demonstrations of academic prowess.
Jesus was confident in taking His stand on what the scriptures said, even if some might say that they have to be interpreted, to be seen in context, and with all the nuances of their original languages.
For this is where Jesus stood firm and where Eve had been undermined and where Adam had rebelled. Jesus was content to sit under the law and the prophets and the psalms without judging them or speculating on them. He would not make Himself superior to it, or seek to re-write it or re-apply it under modern circumstances.
In our own day we continue to be asked “Did God say …” It is suggested that perhaps God had really meant something else, or that modern times demand modern applications of the word.
We continue to find it being re-written to mean something else, and we continue to be asked “Did God say …”
But note this: that even when on the cross, and His life was draining away, and His soul was being tortured with the sins of all of human history, Jesus was continuing to draw comfort from the scriptures, and from the Psalms.
And here the tempter was being finally defeated, as Jesus continued to submit Himself to the Word of God.