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Thorough Temptation Of The Thoroughly Human

"Thorough Temptation Of The Thoroughly Human" by David O. Bales
"One Man" by David O. Bales

Thorough Temptation of the Thoroughly Human
by David O. Bales
Matthew 4:1-11

Now it’s like a distant dream, those early days when Jesus first stepped into the wilderness. Maybe only three weeks? Feels like three years. He’s lost count. At first the hunger and thirst attacked only his body. His thinking remained as certain as the flow of the Jordan. But that was the beginning. How could starvation do this? He hadn’t realized the way weeks without food consumed both flesh and reason.

His diminished senses have slowly failed until life for him is a fog of pain spreading around and through him. He struggles ever onward, barely conscious. He might not even be moving. How long can he keep this up? Again, he hears a loud mumbling, maybe a banging, and then again, “If you are the son of God.”

He’s been hearing things like this lately, though he can’t recall how long ago it began. Time has stretched and collapsed, slipped sideways and wobbled like his unsure steps. No matter the effort to clear his mind, his reckoning seems as constrained as his ability to move—twisted, tortured. He didn’t expect it would be this difficult.

He tries to concentrate as a locust leaps high before him and lands on a rock within his reach. He decides to leave it for John the Baptist. He clearly, almost clearly, recalls John the Baptist. The water. The sky opening. A bird upon him like a spirit. “Son,” that overwhelming word shaking the sky. To him. Wasn’t it? Upon the edge of consciousness, he tries to drag his thinking into his command, as he staggers amid the dry Judean landscape: 30 shades of brown, 20 grit of sand, vicious bushes ready to ambush him in a blink with a handful of stabs. All alone day after day. Where did he go yesterday? Where is he heading today? Must be wandering again, mind or body, like ancient Israel in the wilderness? Are they with him again?

He remembers his father and mother telling him of his birth and how they’d whisked him to Egypt’s freedom. That’s his deepest memory, like the foundation of his very self, recalled many times across a lifetime … and these last few days. But now the pain has distorted even that memory until all he can make of it is God’s bringing Israel from Egypt.

What was that? Something to the side. Noise. Sounded like a voice. But out here? Why can’t he see them? Why can’t he see anything now? Has he been struck blind? Thought it was about noon, noon under the sun’s punishment. But now total darkness, midday yet as though the earth is covered by a basket. Maybe someone really is near him, although he can’t grasp a feather’s weight of neighboring life. Why can he only hear and … of course, feel such pain? A noise—is that outside of him or inside?

“If you are the Son of God. If you are the Son of God.” The taunting keeps pounding into him. Where’s it from? Not from heaven. From heaven he was positive he’d heard “My Son.” It was spoken to him, Jesus, who’s now out in the middle of Judea’s nowhere.

He’d been firm in his intention not to compromise with any temptation to be less than God’s person, like God’s very son. Nothing could flick past his awareness that would pull him away from complete devotion to God. He wouldn’t presume upon his Heavenly Father to yank him out of this trial, no special privileges. He just hadn’t realized it would take this long and cause this kind of suffering. Can he maintain his faith here in the wilderness spinning dizzily this close to death? Is he deranged still to trust that he’s special?

He’d grown up believing he was tight with God. Leaning into anything that would serve God and others. But others now seem like a problem as great as Satan. Mocking him. Where’s it coming from, here in the wilderness? Even if people laugh at his suffering, they’re still the ones he’s here to serve, and heal, and forgive.

His breathing is ragged, his mouth … not just dry. It tastes like wine mixed with gall. “If you are the Son of God,” pummeling him, like the echo of a hammer on nails. His life has dwindled to this place and his obedience. And, it wasn’t his decision in the first place. Only his to follow the path he felt was laid out for him, whether Israel had followed it or not, whether for 40 years or 40 days.

It’s a matter of faith, whether in this wilderness, or especially with this clamor. Clamor? Wilderness clamor? About trusting God. Is he imagining this? Can he trust his senses? Can he trust God? All this confusion. Has everything gone wrong? What could have happened? Isn’t this what he’s supposed to do? Isn’t this the direction he’s to walk for God? Isn’t God going to lead him even here?

Yet abruptly the ordeal ends. Suddenly God’s help hasn’t arrived this time. His body and mind sag. Is it really all over? How can it be complete if he’s only just started? How can death tumble down like God’s displeasure, like the sound of a great curtain ripping?

He’s had little to say during all these days; but now he’s able to open his eyes. He sees a mob, an execution squad, dying thieves beside him, his mother not far away, a couple of his students, and within him a scream bursts forth, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His temptations have been long and difficult; but, he has endured it for God’s sake and for the sake of all those gathered around him, and for all those through the centuries who will follow. “Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.”

Preaching point: Jesus’ life—A series of tests/trials/temptations (Luke 22:28).

* * *

One Man
by David O. Bales
Romans 5:12-19

Frederick pulled his foot from a muddy hole, nearly losing his boot, and swore. He flung his left arm out wildly to gain his balance so he wouldn’t drop his musket. Solomon put out a hand and steadied him and half dragged him up. Frederick swore again, “Dust yesterday, mud today.” Frederick had an almost perfectly round face and the whites of his eyes were visible around his pupils, giving him a look of constant surprise. A couple of other soldiers marching beside him grunted. They were too tired to speak. Only few of them were Revolutionary War veterans. Their small contingent of militia trudged with a hundred other grim soldiers on the road back toward armed conflict.

The September skies had brought a boiling sun for a week, yet now delivered stripes of rain clouds sopping them every hour, always enough to make the top of the mud shiny slick. But it stayed hot. The track stretched before them muggy and muddy. Horses thudded up and down the lines as officers encouraged the troops and directed the squeaky wheeled cannons and wagons that strung behind them for a mile.  

The lieutenant ahead called, “Ten minutes rest!” The soldiers melted onto the grass beside the road, disregarding the water as they lay down because everything was already wet. Some stacked their muskets, other irregulars just laid where they were and balanced their muskets out of the damp. Two brothers immediately pulled out their miniature game board and continued their homemade competition that they’d extended for six days.

“I can’t help what I think,” Frederick said, continuing a conversation from their last rest stop, “that 1794 is the beginning of the end of our experiment with democracy.”

Frederick, Solomon and the half dozen soldiers near them were farmers drafted into the militia from the Virginia Tidewater. They knew Frederick well. As Solomon said, “Frederick complains all the time. He does, however, fight like the devil’s own spawn when round pieces of lead whiz by like hail stones.” Most of the militia members hadn’t fought in the revolution and they always gathered to listen to Frederick and Solomon jab with their different opinions about war and the things that made for peace.

“Shays’ rebellion was just the start. Now this,” Frederick said. “The land’s in ruins, the government’s in chaos. Back in ’76, Washington might have had a chance for an armistice, some kind of peace. Should have taken it. Accept the king and negotiate. One leader instead of mob rule. All the blood, the dead, the suffering, now more taxes. Should have kept George the Third instead of George the Washington.”

The others hadn’t heard such a suggestion before. Solomon laughed, “You’re disproving your own argument. If we had a king, you couldn’t say such things about the government. We get to disagree without risking our necks or our family’s welfare. That’s a mighty difference.”

Lightning flared ahead, but the rain had stopped, and the only dripping was from the trees lining the road. The lieutenant called, “Fall in!” and the soldiers were soon back in their groups, plodding ever northward. Frederick and Solomon were refreshed enough to continue discussing the country’s situation.

“Both countries tax us and draft us,” Frederick said, “and we’re fighting among ourselves again. We’re marching to battle because we have another debt of a past war to pay for. Another civil war over taxes! Yet, those back-country farmers we’re going to face are desperate over taxes. My wife’s cousin lives in western Pennsylvania where the roads are as bad as here. He raises a good crop of wheat, but by the time he lugs it east to market he’s lost his profit. So, the farmers distill their crops because whiskey’s a hundred times easier to transport.”

Solomon said, “I don’t presume to outthink the new government; but I was with Washington’s army for the last two years of the war, right to Yorktown. I’m not saying we’ve got the best government or leader just because the French sailed in and guaranteed Yorktown’s victory. But I’ll tell you what: For me Washington will always be my leader and example, no matter what happens to our country. He’s leading us today. I’ll follow.”

Solomon spoke louder now and soldiers around him moved closer until he was the center of a bundle of marchers listening to him. “I know the mistakes Washington made and the battles he lost. For me his most important leadership, his pinnacle, came right at the end of the war. You knew that for the final year I was aide-de-camp to the colonel.”

“Yes,” Frederick said, in a level voice, now very politely listening to Solomon; but, the others knew that when Frederick spoke without emotion, it was only so he could pull together his thoughts to rebut Solomon.

“After the war, in the months waiting for the signed peace settlement to arrive from France, the officers were ready to revolt. We almost had peace but also desperate poverty. They hadn’t been paid, years! The Continental Congress had promised wages and pension and some of their families were starving. Pretty much like the rest of the soldiers and the whole country for that matter, except for the speculators who bought up soldiers’ warrants at pennies on the dollar.

“My colonel was among the officers at Newburgh, New York in March ’83 when they were ready to mutiny. Washington got wind of the growing plot and dashed there. Showed up with a speech. Just walked up to the officers and spoke for five minutes. Pretty strong speech, encouraging them to hold on after all they’d sacrificed for the country. I was there with my colonel and watched the faces of men hardened by years of battle. I saw tears in their eyes, if not while Washington spoke, when he ended. He had a letter then to read to them from Congress and so he reached into his pocket and put on a pair of glasses. No one had seen him with glasses before. But, as he put them on and prepared to read, he said softly, ‘Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.’

“Here was our leader humbly stating what he’d given up for the country, and they knew he’d given it up for them and their families and a future they hoped for. That moment, that one man, at that one place was like the focus of what democracy could be. Not dominating, but serving.” Solomon let his voice hang in the air, but picked up his pace.

Those around him, stood up straighter now as they marched on with him. Frederick was with them, but in the three minutes Solomon spoke, half a hundred ideas flitted through his mind. His swirling thoughts swept away his attention to a greatness beyond President Washington or democracy. While Solomon praised the “one man” Washington, repeating the one man at one moment of obvious sacrifice, Frederick, without his conscious will, felt the staggering impact from the Apostle Paul’s teaching about what God had accomplished through the “one man” Jesus. It was as though his attention had been captured. He couldn’t draw his mind away from Jesus, his one sacrifice that mattered infinitely more, eternally for everyone.  

Frederick marched on speechless. For no reason the others understood, his eyes were wider and his silence profound.

Preaching point: The eternal impact of the “one man” Jesus.


StoryShare, March 1, 2020, issue.

Copyright 2020 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to the StoryShare service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons, in worship and classroom settings, in brief devotions, in radio spots, and as newsletter fillers. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to permissions@csspub.com or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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