H.H. Pope Tawadros II – Weekly Wednesday Sermon - Wednesday March 13, 2019

Friday March 15, 2019

How to Resist Temptation? – Matthew 4:1-11
.H.H. Pope Tawadros II – Weekly Wednesday Sermon - Wednesday March 13, 2019

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. One God. Amen. May His grace and blessing rest upon us, from now and to eternity. Amen.

By the grace of Christ I will read a portion of Scripture, from Matthew 4:1-11. This is read on the second Sunday of the Great Holy Fast, which is also known as “Temptation Sunday.” From the Gospel of our Teacher Matthew:

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (This happened after Jesus was baptized).
2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. 3 Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 
4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ”
5 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple (the pinnacle of the temple is like the corner of a table that is raised up, and so they also call it “a high place”),
6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
7 Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ ” 8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.
9 And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” 
10 Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ” 
11 Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
The grace of God the Father be with us all. Amen. 
The temptation on the mountain took place at the beginning of the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, when after His baptism He went into the wilderness. And of course every word in this event has special meaning and significant interpretation. 
The Lord Christ went into the wilderness and in the wilderness Satan (who is also called the devil, the liar, and the father of lies) began to attack Christ. I want you to know that the wilderness symbolizes a human’s life on Earth, for we are in the wilderness of this world. Why? Because we have left our country of origin, heaven. Because human’s have the breath of God in them, their country of origin is in heaven, and they were placed on Earth for a period of time, and this period of time we call “a person’s life.” 
And this period of time of a person’s life on Earth is a period of testing, and so it is that the entire time a person is in his life on Earth, he is undergoing a period of testing, and these tests vary in their shapes and forms, as we will discuss this in a little while. 
But the wilderness is also a period that reveals to a human the measure of God’s care for him/her, and so it is both a test for the person while they are here on Earth, while at the same time giving him the opportunity to see God’s care for him and to experience the works of God that He does with us.
And this is why we begin our Prayer of Thanksgiving (Agpeya) by mentioning seven characteristics of God that He does for us, and which demonstrate His greatness toward us: We thank You because You have “covered us, supported us, preserved us, accepted us unto Yourself, had compassion on us, sustained us, and brought us to this hour.” And so these seven acts (and as you know, the number seven is one of the numbers which represent perfection) reveal the measure of God’s care for a person during the period of his journey here in the wilderness of life on Earth.
And during this journey a person is exposed to and faces many battles and tests, just as any student in any course of studies undergoes a series of tests, and sometimes he gets high marks and other times low marks, but he is always being tested and always, in one way or another, having to take some kind of test. But the smart one is the one who continues, the smart one is the one who is able to endure through any test. 
And with the Lord Christ, Satan designed specific tests to test Him. And this is one of Satan’s deceptions, is that he designs specific tests for each individual according to their circumstances and stage of life. For example, the tests one faces during the period of childhood are different from the tests of adolescence, are different from the tests of midlife, are different from the tests of one’s older years. It is a step-by-step, progressive and continual process, and the enemy of good hides himself within it, which is why we call him “the liar.” 
The first test is very common and is one that all of us may be exposed to, it is the test of the lust of the flesh. He’s been fasting for forty days and forty nights and Satan comes to Him and says, “What do you think? I have a good idea. Why don’t You turn the stones to bread?” 
And He could have just turned the stones to bread, eaten, and end of story, but Christ responds to him with a quote from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy Chapter 6 in order to help transform our thinking and make it more spiritual, so the point was not to just demonstrate overcoming an attack to fall into the lust of the flesh. 
And He said to him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” And there is a shift here: that spiritual things can support you even through the battles of the flesh, or in other words, that the Word of God and not only physical food, is able to satisfy a person and keep him alive, and we practice this in our Church. 
Why is it that we have periods of abstinence fasting in our Church? Because although food is one of God’s blessings that He gives people, but periods of abstaining from food strengthen my will. When I say, “No, I’m not going to eat this, I’m not going to drink water because I’m fasting,” or “I’m fasting because I’m going to the Liturgy,” this is a way to strengthen one’s will, and to remind myself that my life does not depend on food, but my life comes from God Himself. 
Food is the medicine for the stomach, and Scripture even says about some people, “Whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame” (Phil 3:19), and so one’s stomach can be his god. And so periods of fasting give me an opportunity to say to God, “My life comes from You and not from the food of the earth.” 
In the second test or temptation, he took Him up to the holy city, set Him on a high place, and told Him to throw Himself down, “When people see You do this they will clap for You. And You will become famous and great, and You will have a sense of pride and heroism. So throw Yourself, and don’t be afraid, because when You throw yourself, the angels will come to carry You so that no stone will even hurt You.” 
But how did the Lord Christ respond to him? He said, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” Are you, O human, going to test God? Are you going to give God a test? Are you going to test God’s care for you? This would be like someone taking a warm shower and saying, “I live my life with God and He cares for me, so I’ll go out and walk in the cold weather now.” But aren’t you going to get sick? Of course you will, and you may get very sick and even diseased. Do not test God’s care for you. 
I want to share this beautiful statement with you: “I love God with all my heart, and therefore I do not need to test God regarding His care for me.” I love God with all my heart and I do not need to test God in order to know whether He is caring for me or not, or whether He is supporting me or not. 
God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt 5:45), and He cares for all creatures – humans, animals, and plants, and He cares for nature – the air, the water, the light and the dark, and He cares for the stars, so God’s Divine care enfolds and is shed upon every human. 
And so in this second test he tells Him, “Why don’t You throw Yourself from this high place and receive glory from the world, fame from the world, become a hero?” And of course this is false heroism, as the Bible teaches us, “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 Jn 2:16). 
The lust of the eyes, this is the lust someone has when they want to be popular. A person who wants to become well-known will do anything, he will use any means. 
“Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” And so in this third test he said to Him, “Let’s go up this high mountain, a mountain from where You can see the entire city and all that is in it.” And he lied to Him and said, “All these things I will give You” – give You? Even though he owns nothing, he’s a deceiver!
“All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Meaning, I’ll give you something very, very great, in return for a very small act. And this is why a single moment can destroy a person, a single moment of sin. 
“All these things (these things - this is the lust of the pride of life, the lust of possessing things) I will give You (in return for something very small, something very, very small), that You “fall down and worship me, that’s all.” And in this way a person falls, like one who gambles when they tell him, “Just wager a small amount, just to join the game,” and the result ends up being devastating. This is evil, wickedness, deception, and it causes a person to fall into a trap.
This is exactly like the small traps bird hunters set for birds when they are trying to trap them. They set a trap made of a few simple cords, and as soon as the bird sees some food and comes down, her foot gets trapped and she can’t fly away. This is exactly what happens with people when they fall in the trap of temptation, in the trap of tests, and in the deception of the devils.
And the result is that on the appearance level it looks very simple, like how you may sometimes receive a message that says, “You won one million pounds!” or, “This bank had a drawing and your name was drawn. You won! All you need to do is give us some information so that we can transfer the money to you.” A trap! Deception. Deception. And on the basis of this deception many people fall, either due to the reason of the lust of greed, or the lust to possess, or because one spends time daydreaming about what he wants, but in the end, the result is that he falls and the outcome is always bad, negative. And greed is what always causes a person to fall into all these sins; greed. 
And the Lord Christ responds to him saying, “Away with you, Satan!” You’ve been exposed, all your tricks have been exposed. “For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” And of course this is one of the commandments we have and live by, and it comes from the Book of Deuteronomy, but I want you to know how to face temptations that come against you. How do we face them? 
In each of our lives, each one of us faces many temptations, and as I told you, you may face different temptations according to your age and the stage of life you are in, and also, sometimes Satan will leave you for a while and come back with different attacks; this too is a temptation. 
And the spiritual battles which arise along the path of a Christian are known and many Fathers have written about the spiritual wars. One of the great Fathers who wrote much about this subject was St. Theophan the Recluse. He wrote many books and these books were translated into Arabic, about the many different shapes and forms of spiritual wars that a person may face. So be careful, beware lest you lose the blessing you now have in your hands. 
And as we agreed (at the beginning of the Fast) that God asks us a question every week, let me tell you what today’s question is. The question is: Do you know how to overcome? Do you know how to be victorious over the many attacks of the enemy of good? 
The enemy of good can cause a person to fall into the sin of complaining or rebelling (when a person doesn’t accept anything), or he might fall him into a very bad sin called “the sin of stubbornness,” or he can fall him into the sin of doubt, or he can fall him into the sin of atheism, or he can trap him in the sin of carelessness, or he can fall a person into the sins of lying, and there are so many of them, many sins. 
Or he may fall a person in small sins, like, “Do you really have to pray every night? Sleep, you’ve been working hard all day,” or, “Do you have to read the Bible every day? You’ve already read it before, many times. Don’t you remember when you were a young kid - you read it and studied it, you know it,” or, “Do you have to go to Church today?” This is the way of the enemy of good, he just keeps attacking a person, even with the very smallest of sins. 
Sometimes it could be in a single household, a single family, and you would assume that this family would be united as one, but sometimes one member will hide something from another family member and this thing will be major, and the enemy will whisper, “Oh, just let it slide, it’s just a small thing, just a small secret. You are transparent about everything else, this is not a big issue,” and the outcome of this will be very bad. 
3 Ways to overcome temptation
We are all exposed to temptations. How can we overcome temptations? I will tell you three ways for you to put before you. 
1- Keep the Word of God before you all day long
The first way is to know the Word of God and place it before you at all times, for the Holy Bible was not given to us for nothing, it wasn’t given to us to decorate our bookshelves and libraries with. No, the Holy Bible was given to us so that we can cling to it, to live by it. 
I suppose I’ve told you the story before about this very large and luxurious home, and they had a very fine table with fine handiwork. And on it there was a Holy Bible and every day mother would dust around to remove any dust that had accumulated on the table. And one day her young son, around 4 or 5 years old, came to her and said, “Mama, who does this book belong to?” She said, “This is the Lord’s Book,” so he said, “Then let’s return it to the Lord.” 
So the mother thought it strange, what do you mean “return it to the Lord?” So she asked him, “Why did you say that?” He said, “Every day you clean the dust off the book, and not one day did you ever open the book and read it.” 
The Holy Bible is not for decoration, nor is it for the sake of merely owning one. Hold fast to the Bible, know and hold fast to the Word of God continually. Let God’s Word always be before you and practice the commandments that you read in it. Practice the commandment, apply it, and experience it in your life. 
I want to tell you something important: the Holy Bible is not just some nice words, it’s not about some nice words. The Holy Bible is a book of Holy promises, Holy commandments, Holy experiences. For example, when you pray the Psalm that talks about God’s care for people, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Ps 23:1), these are not just some nice words, or when we pray the Repentance Psalm and we say, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your loving kindness” (Ps 51:1), this is not just a story about a man who repented and it has nothing to do with me, no, this is for me, for me to apply and to experience.
Cling to God continually, cling to Him. Do not let a day go by that you do not pick up the Scripture and read it, and several times – once, twice, ten, and twenty times, so that it may pour into your life, so that you may really experience it. 
When He says to us at the end of the Gospel of our Teacher Matthew, “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20), we have memorized this verse very well, so then why are there days that you aren’t with Christ? Why are there days when you take decisions and actions on your own without Him? Because then, you aren’t living in and by the Word of God. 
So this is the first step, that you always have your Bible with you, that you constantly read it, constantly contemplate upon it, and that you constantly extract from it God’s specific messages for you personally. Notice this, that when you read the Bible today, God will be sending you a personal message, and when I read it, He will be sending me a different message, and to a third person, different messages, and so on. God sends each person messages according to their personal needs, so do not bet without the Bible. 
Sometimes you open and check your mobile phone tens of times a day, how many times do you open your Bible? You turn on the television three or four times a day, how many times do you open your Bible? Pay attention to this. 
And this is also an important matter for every home, because when conflicts and disagreements and tension and separation and all such problems increase within a home, know that the Word of God is not abiding in this home, it does not dwell there. Or if you see a person talking nonsense, gossiping, yelling, and so on, know that the Word of God is not dwelling in him. You can know this, right away. 
2- Expel every doubt and the spirit of doubt
The second thing needed in order to have victory over sin is to throw out every doubt and the spirit of doubt. I have said it before that when the enemy of good does battle against us, he fights against us with one of two weapons: either with doubt or with despair (making you feel hopeless). 
And because the world today is more interconnected and open, the enemy of good makes people cast doubt on everything, everything! Every small and big thing. So be careful to not allow just any words to enter into your heart or your mind. Cast out the spirit of doubt. 
There are truths! And these truths are what has been handed down to us and what we have lived by. And since the days of St. Mark who was one of the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, and who knew and experienced the life of the Lord Christ with Him while in the body and witnessed His service, this entire life of the Lord Christ was transmitted to St. Mark and St. Mark brought it to us here in Egypt, and in Egypt, from generation to generation we have been living it. 
These are things have been handed down, and then someone comes and casts doubt on anything, on any fact. And of course the matter becomes more critical when someone creates doubt around the core beliefs or around Divine things, or matters of faith. Be careful, because once a person enters into the realm of doubt, it is not easy to come out from it, it is not easy. And so throw out every doubt and everything that may cause doubt that comes before you. 
And from here comes the spirit of guidance which we practice in our Church, for example, when a matter comes before you and you are uncertain which way to go, know that there is one who knows more than you, an elder whom you can go to for help. For example, there is a spiritual advisor, or your father of confession, or your church servant, or a bishop father, or your priest father – you can find help and attain clarity. 
Expel any doubt and the spirit of doubt regarding any of the promises, commandments, and teachings of the Holy Bible, because as I have said and keep repeating, the Holy Bible is not just some nice words, not just some nice words. David the Prophet once stood before God and said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps 139:23-24).” Can you imagine a person asking the Lord to test their thinking so that they may know what’s in their thinking, lest there be any shred of doubt, and tad of despair, or any bit of sin? “And lead me in the way everlasting” – if there is vanity in me, remove it, and lead me on the path of eternity; make my path always be directed toward heaven. 
And I’ll remind you of the phrase, “I have loved God with all my heart,” and so I trust that every promise, every commandment, and every teaching is for my own benefit and for my personal salvation. One of the nice prayers we say is found in our Third Hour Prayer (Agpeya) when we say, “Blessed be the Lord our God whom we praise each day, because He prepares our path, for He is the God of our salvation.” 
“Blessed be the Lord our God whom we praise each day,” meaning that God gives His blessing in a person’s life, every day. And He doesn’t just give the blessing, but He also prepares our way for us; He makes my path the best path possible, as long as I abide in reverence to Him. “But why do you do this Lord?” He says, “Because I am walking with you step by step, until you reach heaven.” 
But what does the enemy of good want to do? He wants you to slip out and away from the Lord’s hand, to move far from the Lord, one time with doubt, another time with despair, another time with sin, another time with a lie, and so on. 
“I love God with all my heart, and I do not need to test God regarding His care for me.” He cares for a person both during the morning and during the evening, He never leaves a person. 
3- Have the awareness that God is the only Source of good
The third way to overcome temptation is to fix your awareness on the Truth that God is the only Source of all good. We always pray saying, “Let us give thanks to the beneficent and merciful God (the Creator and Giver of Good),” and every day we say, “Good morning,” meaning, the morning that is of the Source, who is God. 
God alone is the Source of good, and that is why we are to come to Him in prostrated worship. Satan said, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me,” this is the prostrated worship of the world, which does not satisfy a person and it is not right worship.
Our readings from the Holy Bible and our confident assurance in the promises Christ made to us, we transform these into prayer, we transform them into worship. For example, our Reading from Exodus Chapter 15 in the First Hoos is from the story of the exodus and salvation of the people of Israel, and their beginning their journey through the wilderness. In church, we took this Reading and we turned it into a prayer, and thus, this Bible Reading became the praise doxology of the First Hoos in our Church. 
Psalm 136 is a Psalm of thanksgiving, where David the Prophet stood and gave thanks to the Lord. And so we (the Church) take this Psalm and we turn it into a prayer and into worship and prostration, and we call it The Second Hoos. And it is in the same manner with all our prayers, even the Liturgical prayers themselves all come from verses and sections of the Holy Bible. 
And so it is that reading the Holy Bible and having confidence in the Bible’s promises as you read the Bible, this transforms what you read into worship. And then a person can live between the two: between the Bible which he reads, and the prayers that he offers. And so the prostration that we offer is our worship, and this worship is to come from a person’s heart. 
But what does Satan want to tell us? Instead of your worship and prostration being done aright, “Come fall down and prostrate before me and worship me, and I will give you this or that … I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” The enemy of good wants a person to sell his life at any price, to sell his precious life, the life which Christ saved on the cross. 
And this enemy of good is constantly desiring us, which is why during the Great Holy Fast we pray saying, “Fasting and praying are what expel the demons,” and demons of all kinds. Demons come in many forms: one time as a certain lust, another time as a desire to possess a certain thing, another time as an inner struggle, another time as certain tests a person goes through, and so on. 
Worship is not merely a ritual, worship is not merely some music that we sing according to a traditional format, but at its essence, worship is when the heart is prostrated. And when He says here, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve,” this means that your eyes (your attention) should be fixed only upon the Presence of Christ and on no one else. Not on events, not on troubles, not on temptations, but your eyes are to remain fixed only on the Presence of Christ. And when we come together to pray during a Tasbeha or Liturgy or prayer meetings, our only focus during any of these gatherings should be to keep our eyes fixed only upon the Presence of the Lord Christ.
David the Prophet made the beautiful statement, “One thing I have desired of the Lord, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord, And to inquire in His temple” (Ps 27:4). Just one thing, nothing else; having nothing else in addition to Christ. 
How do you overcome the attacks of the enemy of good? Do you know how? Know these three ways:
Cling to the Word of God
Expel every doubt
Transform everything you read into worship, prayer, and inner-prostration
We begin the Great Holy Fast with Preparation Sunday, then we have Temptation Sunday, then we have four Sundays, each of which focus on a particular story, and you are to seek to find yourself in each of those stories: the prodigal son, the Samaritan woman, the paralytic, and the man born blind, so search to see if you can find yourself in each of these stories. And so the first two weeks are an introduction to the four weeks that follow, as we enter into the depths of repentance.
May our Christ grant us that our lives would always be pure before Him. To Him be all the glory and honor, from now and to eternity. Amen.