Hebrews 2:14-18 “A Test of God”
Our scripture for this morning ends with a verse that talks about being tested. Now, I cannot speak for all of us here, but I am really quite tired of being tested during this pandemic. The last time I had to do a covid 19 test, the nurse put the swab so far up my nose that I pulled back in discomfort and started to cry.
To be fair, the first time I had it done, the nurse was very gentle. I am not sure why this last time it seemed as if she were plunging a stopped up drain pipe.
Some of you if you were reading along in your bibles might have seen that the word you had in your text was not “test” at all but rather “temptation.” Why do some bibles say “test” while others will say “temptation”? Believe it or not, “test” and “temptation” is really the same word in Greek: περειζμον. Now for once, we have the opposite of what is usually the case. Most of the time there are three Greek words for every word in English. This time, there are two English words for one in the Greek.
This fact leads us to ask the question: “What is the difference between experiencing a test of God or being tempted?” At Lent this last year, we studied the Book of Job. You may recall that Satan and God have a bet going on to see if Job can be tempted to forsake his faith in God. Is he being tempted or tested? In the end, he does not succumb to the temptation, so he passes the test. Right?
To put it most succinctly: If you come out of the time of trial, whatever it is that you are experiencing, and your faith is still intact, then it was a test of faith in God. If you lose yourself to temptation, well then your faith is damaged and you are no longer at One with God.
The most profound example of that is found in the first pages of the Bible with the story of Adam and Eve. This story actually creates for us a strange temporal paradox in that if Adam and Eve had not been tempted by Satan, failing their test to obey God’s commands, then we would not be arguing today whether something is a trial of God or a temptation because humankind would not have eaten that fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. We would have remained one with God.
Therefore, it is only in our brokenness with the God Almighty do we even find cause to argue about whether something is a test or a temptation. Maybe that is WHY Greek only has one word for it! We were never supposed to be in this place of brokenness with God in the first place.
If we had kept our faith in God and Jesus, then the fact that Satan is scheming and planning things really should not matter to us. That is the essence of the story of Job in the Bible, too. No matter what, just keep the faith. If you keep your faith throughout all the trials of living out this life, then the question of temptation is moot. Satan did not actually force Adam and Eve to eat that apple! They broke with God. And, so today we are still arguing all about good and evil because we broke with God.
Let me ask you: Is bacon good or evil? Well, if you are a Jew, you would think that it is bad because it comes from the pig which is not Kosher. But, if you are a guy named Atkins, then bacon is a staple of your diet. Isn’t it amazing that humanity has argued over bacon for thousands of years! Only in our brokenness with God should we expend so much thought on what is incredibly insignificant. How many of us here can honestly believe that when we are again at one with God in heaven that the Book of Life is going to be opened and we will be assigned to Satan’s realm because we ate pork? The whole issue only shows how broken we are and in need of atonement with God.
` People today still like to say in excuse of one thing or the other: “The devil made me do it!” The devil never made Adam and Eve eat of the fruit of the tree of good and evil. The Devil in the wilderness never made Jesus turn a stone into bread. You all will recall that right after Jesus’ baptism he is in the wilderness for forty days and is tempted by Satan. Guess what, the issue was always and will always be simply “keep the faith.” If you say “The Devil made me do it,” then you are giving Satan that power and victory that he cannot get for himself otherwise. Just keep the faith. That is the test we all face, is it not?
The funny thing about the forty days in the wilderness that Jesus experiences is that in the end, Jesus keeps the faith, of course, and the Bible tells us that Satan flees. Check out these words from Matthew 4:10 “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Begone, Satan! For it is written You shall worship the Lord your God alone and him only shall you serve’ Then the Devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.”
Yeah, Satan is gone from Jesus’ life then! Is he? As we continue to read, right in the next chapter Jesus is faced with the Devil again. He is faced with disease and illness that he heals. He talks about persecutions in the Beattitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. It seems that Satan never really leaves us. That is why we must keep the faith.
For Jesus, we have to remember how he was tempted in the Garden of Gethsemane. He cries out to God “Take this cup away from me—I do not want to taste its poison.” On the Cross we find Satan once again attacking Jesus as Jesus cries out “My God, my God, Why has Thou forsaken me?” Jesus had the power to lift himself down off the Cross, but He did not. He is chided even, “If you are the Son of God, save yourself.” Jesus prays finally to God “Not my will but Thine be done.”
Whatever you are going through right now in your life. Jesus has been through it and worse. And through it all, we see that he was doing it to be at one with God again. It was all about the greatest atonement. The reversal of the time we were broken from God in the beginning.
Our Scripture for today mentions right before the verse about being tested that Jesus is the only priest that can make atonement for us now. Remember please that this is being written to the Jews in Rome after the Resurrection. In fact, the Temple in Jerusalem has already been destroyed. The priests that had worked so hard to get Jesus crucified are all dead or on the run. There is no priesthood in the Jewish faith anymore.
The Jewish priest, when they were not crucifying God’s Son, were actually the ones a person would go to in order to make a sacrifice on the altar for the expiation of sins. So, if you really did something wrong, you know ate pork by accident or lusted after a BLT, then you could go to the priest and pay to make the sin go away. The priest would take your offering of a young lamb for instance and turn it into a burnt offering. God would get the smoke, and the priest would get the meat! That is how Jews were expected in the day to make atonement.
Jesus is the Lamb of God that has been sacrificed once and for all. He is therefore also the priest that makes the ultimate atonement for our sins. Instead of offering a dead animal, we can sit in our beds at night and pray to Jesus, “Lord, I know I did some things that you would not be proud of today. And, I know that you sacrificed yourself on the cross to take all my sins away. Let me be at One with you again.” In that moment of sincere prayer, we find ourselves once more at One with God.
Psalm 23 seems to be mostly reserved for funerals, but it is really a song for the living. It sings to us of that being atoned with God despite the tests of this life is perfectly possible. “Lo, though I walk through the valley of the Shadow of death, Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. . . .”
We are all walking through that valley of the shadow of death; we are all always being tested. Honestly, most of us may not even know if we will fail the test or not until we are standing before the throne of Jesus in the next life. And, that is when Jesus will say, “I took that test for you and passed, so you pass as well right now.” “I faced the temptations with you, and we were victorious together because you stayed with me.” “Now, be at One with god finally. Your faith has saved you.