Fourth Sunday in Lent – Laetare
Temptation vs. Testing
St. John 6.1-15; Exodus 16.2-21; Galatians 4.21-31
31 March 2019
Seminarian Simeon Cornwell, Vicar
+ In the Name of Jesus +
In his explanation to the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “deliver us not into temptation”, Luther writes: “God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair or other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”
God tempts no one, but He does test His people. An important distinction needs to be made between testing and tempting.
The difference between the two lies in the intentions of the one performing the action. One who tempts intends for the other person to fail. Therefore, Satan is called the tempter. For he desires us to fail. To fall away from the living God.
On the other hand, the one who tests desires the other to succeed. Just as any teacher who cares in the least bit for his students does not give them a test in order that they might fail. Instead, he gives them a test so that they might grow.
God indeed doesn’t tempt His people. He does not, as some earthly teachers, give us trick questions to try and trip us up. He does, however, test us. But this, for our good.
This testing comes up in both our Old Testament and Gospel readings for today.
Shortly before our Old Testament reading, Moses records of the people complaining because of the bitter waters at Marah. And after the waters are purified, Moses seemingly mentions an insignificant detail of the account: “Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water” (Ex. 15:27).
You might be wondering, why did God lead them to a place where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees? Do these numbers really matter? Why did Moses even bother to record this fact?
But in leading them to such a place, God reminded the Israelites of His promise to Abraham. How He promised He would make them as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sand on the seashore. And how God was fulfilling this promise through their twelves tribes.
How when they initially entered Egypt, they were a meager seventy persons in all. But now, 430 years later were, by generous estimates, close to two and a half million.
He is reminding the Israelites of His love and care for them, so that when lack comes, they might take comfort that He will provide for all their needs of body and soul. Since He has been doing so for quite some time up to this point.
The Lord is preparing them for a test. For right after this comes our Old Testament reading where the people become hungry and begin to call into question whether they were lead into the wilderness to be put to death by starvation.
They have already forgotten of the Lord’s recent reminder of His goodness. They grumble against the Lord, desiring the meat pots back in Egypt. But what does the Lord do? Out of His unfailing goodness, He gives them meat and bread to eat.
He tells them to gather just as much as is needed for them and their families that day. But on the Sabbath, they are to gather twice as much, since it is a day of rest.
He tells Moses that He is going to test them by this. Yet He does not do so without giving them the promise that if they listen to His Word, gathering twice as much the day before the Sabbath, they will not have lack. So He tests, yet wants them to succeed. He wants them to look to Him for all good. He who is nothing but goodness itself.
So also in our Gospel text Jesus asks Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” And then John adds, “He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.”
But Philip was not left without the means with which to pass this test. For he had been following Jesus since the beginning of His ministry. He had seen Jesus turn water into wine. He saw Him heal the official’s son, as well as the invalid at Bethesda’s pool.
He had even heard Him preach to the Jews that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. He knew of and had seen Jesus’ love for all people.
Philip had been well prepared by Jesus for this test. He had everything needed to pass. For Jesus had provided these means because He wanted him to pass.
God does not tempt His people. But He does test us.
He tests us by allowing a society that disdains marriage. That says two men or two women can join in this union as well. A society that exalts pornography and treating men, but especially women as objects for self-gratification, rather than people created by God whom He desires to save.
He allows us to be tested to see if we will stand up against these things, not only by speaking good things about them to our neighbors, but by receiving this good gift of marriage for ourselves. By encouraging our children to pursue such a blessed gift. By living as faithful husbands and wives, fathers and mothers.
By upholding the sanctity of life and standing up for those who cannot speak for themselves; for the unborn or those struggling with mental illness or disabilities.
He may be testing us by financial struggles in our lives. By stress as our jobs or within our families. Or if we’ve lost a loved one or our bodies themselves are decaying quicker than we would like.
However it is that the Lord is testing us, do not become discouraged. Because such testing is a sure sign of His love. For Scripture tells us that the Lord disciplines those whom He loves, just as a father does to the son in whom he delights.
And in testing us for our good, He even gives us the means with which we can succeed. He does not leave us helpless or try to trip us up. This is Satan’s work.
For we do not wrestle against human enemies. And so the weapons of our warfare cannot be earthly. Rather we fight against the spiritual forces in the dark places, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness.
Our foes are indeed powerful. Yet the Lord, not wishing us to fail, over-abundantly provides for all our needs so that we may succeed.
He gives us weapons not of this earth, but ones that have divine power to destroy strongholds. Weapons that can topple Satan and his forces as easily as one might crush an ant.
This weapon is His Word. The Word which speaking of, Luther once said: “The devil is called a master of a thousand arts. But what shall we call God’s Word, which drives away and brings to nothing this master of a thousand arts with all his arts and power? The Word must indeed be a master of more than a hundred thousand arts!”
This Word reminds us of His precious and very great promises. Of His goodness and loving-kindness. This Word tells us that He will never leave nor forsake us; His people. That He takes no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but rather that he turn from his wicked way and live.
This weapon is so powerful because it is this Word of God that points us to Christ, the true Bread of Life who never leaves us wanting. Who always fills us with what we need. The Bread of Life which never grows moldy, or breeds worms or stinks. But rather the Bread of Life that endures forever, that is in fact a pleasing aroma to the Father, and makes us such.
The True Bread of Life that comes to you this day. To fill you with what you need for the journey throughout this life. To make sure that you do not go hungry, but rather that you are fully satisfied. That you never have any lack.
For He will indeed preserve you by such food until He calls us home to Him, where we will with all the saints, join in the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.