Think back 14 or 15 years to two significant events in the lives of two different people.
15 years ago in April 2000, South Africans were stunned by allegations that Hansie Cronje, captain of the national cricket team, had taken bribes to fix matches. The very idea that this national hero and role model would contemplate doing something dishonest and corrupt seemed incomprehensible. When some allegations were confirmed there was a real sense of national mourning. People asked: ‘If someone like Hansie Cronje can do this what hope is there for the rest of us?’
Cronje’s response, when allegations were confirmed, seemed to blame the devil for making him accept bribes to fix results. South Africans saw this as an attempt by Cronje to evade responsibility for his actions. And they were right.
To say, ‘The devil made me do it,’ is to attempt to avoid facing our own internal demons. We are responsible for our own actions.
Less than 9 months later in the winter of 2000/1, Ellen MacArthur came to prominence as one of our most outstanding sports-people. It surprised me that it was as long ago as March 2001 that the TV programme about her was shown. Do you remember it? … The story of her amazing journey round the Antarctic as part of the Vaunday Globe Race. I can remember my sense of disbelief at the stamina and commitment she showed, the difficulties that she faced and the obstacles that she overcame. Do you remember … the speed of the yacht, the height of the waves, the sight of her hanging by one arm from the mast 60 ft about the deck in the middle of a storm, trying to mend wind-measuring equipment?
At one point, Ellen said that she had a dream which she didn’t believe would ever become a reality. Yet, she said, with persistence she realised that dream. For Ellen, the chance to pit herself against the ultimate sailing challenge was the dream.
Fulfilling the dream required wholehearted commitment to see it through, remaining true to herself and to the values she had embraced.
Successful people the world over will tell you that pursuing a dream, to be the best, requires commitment, application and stamina. They will tell you of the sheer slog of hard work involved, the guts and determination that it takes to be the best. And they will tell you too that the feeling which comes after success, the joy of holding that gold medal, the status that they achieve – makes all the hard work worthwhile. Their dream, their mission achieved, they have every right to feel proud.
On the first Sunday in Lent, we remember that Jesus was tempted. In the Gospel stories, he is engaged in the sternest of tests of his commitment to his mission. The account in Mark is short. In Matthew and Luke we get a much fuller account of the battle he fought. Satan tries, and fails, to turn Jesus away from God’s plan. Satan offers Jesus the easy way out. Matthew and Luke talk of three different temptations.
Actually, it is really the same temptation in three different forms. The temptation to set aside God’s plan for his life – to put the dream on hold. A temptation that Hansie Cronje could not handle, a temptation that Ellen MacArthur faced and overcame.
Jesus is first tempted to put himself first – to change stones into bread. He is tempted to grasp power for himself rather than bring in God’s kingdom. And Satan also tempts Jesus to look for the easy route to draw people to himself, to seek fame rather than suffering and death. To look for the instant, short-term solution, rather than face real and necessary struggles.
In each case, it’s God’s plan that Jesus chooses to follow – a path of self-denial that will lead through the cross to eventual resurrection. God’s plan, God’s dream, is the defeat of death and evil. Unlike Hansie Cronje, Jesus follows the dream, no matter the cost. Much as Ellen MacArthur did, Jesus remains focussed on his dream, on God’s dream.
So what is God’s dream? … What can we commit ourselves to wholeheartedly? … Here are four clear challenges from the full story of the temptations.
- Priorities: Jesus was tempted to place physical need above spiritual, to live without trusting God, to turn stones into bread. … We so easily base our security in our jobs, our homes and our money rather than in God. We need to begin again to experience God’s provision for us, rather than just living off our own resources. So, here’s the first challenge – to be prepared to make sacrifices in our lifestyle, to make serving God our priority. …. Perhaps this Lent, rather than giving up chocolate we could do something different, perhaps we could use Christian Aid’s Count Your Blessings materials to engage with what it means to share in the pain and struggle others in our world face every day: (http://www.christianaid.org.uk/getinvolved/lent/count-your-blessings). Or ….. you could join one of the Lent groups this year, promoted by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (http://www.ctbi.org.uk/688), which are aimed at helping us to understand what it it like to live in the countries of the middle east at this time.
- Prayer and Worship: Also, in being tempted to turn stones into bread, Jesus was tempted to turn away from his relationship with God, to become self-reliant. …. How can we together, begin to show our reliance on God? …. By praying and worshipping, together and alone, by expressing together, our need of God’s help. God can & does provide the resources we need to follow the dream. We need both to rely on God, & to be seen to do so.
- Persistence: In Satan’s encouragement to throw himself off the temple, Jesus was tempted to look for the instant, the short term solution. To wow people into the kingdom, to impress with magic and illusion. We can so easily fall into the trap of looking for the stop-gap solution, the one that will only require a little effort now, not a long-term commitment. The easy option. … God’s call is to persistence, to commitment, to seeing things through.
- Place God’s kingdom above personal advancement: Satan tempted Jesus to worship him. To gain a position of power and influence. God wanted Jesus to walk the way of the cross. … It is so easy, isn’t it to want others to see our commitment, our diligence. To want others to praise us. To want to take the lead. Whereas God, in the example of Jesus, is calling us to a path of humility and possibly even suffering, and if we are to be leaders, then it will be a great cost to ourselves. …..
Ellen MacArthur had a dream – she gave it her wholehearted commitment, she risked everything to achieve it. Hansie Cronje gave in to the temptations around him.
We need a dream, God’s dream. We need to listen for his word, watch out for what God is doing and make that our dream. And if we really commit ourselves to that dream, it too, through God’s power and strength, can become a reality.