03 Mar Temptation
March 1, 2020
Sermon: “Temptation is All Around Us”
Scripture: Luke 4:1-13
A man and his wife were shopping at a mall when a young, very attractive woman in a short, form-fitting dress strolled by. The man’s eyes followed her. Without looking up from the item she was examining, his wife asked, “Was it worth all the trouble you’re in?”
Temptation is all around us. You and I are constantly being tempted to buy something new, to not go to school or to work, to eat the foods the doctors told you to stop eating, Or, to watch something on the internet you know you are not supposed to watch. Or, we can be tempted to say something mean or hurtful to someone we don’t like.
The story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert gives us an idea of what real temptation is, and what is keeping us from God. Jesus was tempted in every possible way. And the very things Jesus was tempted with were put there to separate Jesus from God. If Jesus had given in to such temptations, Jesus would have kept himself from being in the relationship with God that they both wanted. You see, Jesus was being tugged in two opposite directions. God was telling Jesus, take my love and compassion and share it with all men and women. Satan was saying to Jesus, use your power to obliterate your enemies, and rule the world by might and power and bloodshed. God said to Jesus, instill a reign of love among the nations of the world. Satan said, “Set up a dictatorship of force.”
If God wants Jesus to become sovereign over the world, then why make things so difficult, why not make it easy for him? Or, why not prove God’s love and God’s rule by a spectacular display of power? This is what the world is whispering in our ears every day. You should go for the power and the fame. You should live for the selfish ego, and love is over-rated. And how often have we given in to such temptations? How often have these temptations separated us from God?
Jesus’ first temptation was to turn a stone into a loaf of bread. Let’s think about all the loaves of bread we’ve let slip into our lives. The obvious parallel is food and drink for nourishment. But there are also those loaves that nourish us like TV, internet, cell phones, or video games.
And we spend our time mindlessly overindulging in our vices as our relationship with Christ slips through the cracks.
Then there is the temptation for power and prestige. Jesus was offered glory and authority over all the kingdoms of the world. But Jesus already had all the power he needed, and he was not interested in prestige. God sent Jesus to fix the earth; not to complement us on how we are running things. If God liked the oppression of the poor, the greed, and the wars; if God was really so impressed with the way the Romans and the Jewish elite had rigged the economy where 10% of the population owned 90% of the wealth, and if God was so impressed with the way us humans were running things, then God would not have needed to send Jesus to save us from the world we had created.
Next, Jesus is tempted to test God. We, too, are pushed to test God in various ways. We selfishly seek things from God that are unreasonable or not always possible. And when God does not supply us with what we want we become angry with God. We soon forget that what we want is not always consistent with what God wants for us.
The temptations that you and I face day by day may be very different from those of Jesus, but they make the same point. Temptations are not simply trying to entice us into doing something we know we are not supposed to do. They are trying to distract us… by keeping us away from the teachings of Christ.
God has great plans for us all, and the enemy will do everything possible to distract us, and keep us, from God’s purpose for our lives. I believe it’s important for us to learn to recognize the voices that whisper attractive lies in our ears… and to be able to distinguish them from the voice of God. Fighting temptation isn’t about putting ourselves down or beating ourselves up in the face of weakness. However, it is about celebrating God’s gift of full humanity… and learning to live into that gift the best way possible. We can have a deep and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Our lives can be filled with such incredible meaning. And we can make a positive difference in this world.
In following Christ, we may not acquire power and prestige, but we are guaranteed true happiness, and true fulfillment, which neither the world, nor the devil can begin to duplicate. But we must keep our eyes on God, and trust God for everything. We must remember our calling to bring God’s Light into this world. And if we can do that, then we are able to say a firm no to the voices that try and lure us back into the darkness—and into misery.
So, this morning I would like for us to look at what temptation is not. Then we will discuss what temptation is. Because when we know what temptation really is, we will be better prepared to face it.
First, temptation is not sin. Too many people go through life feeling guilty because they are tempted. Some people believe if you are tempted to sin, you have already sinned. And no, that’s not true.
Hebrews 4 tells us, for we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
So, does temptation ever come from God? No, it does not. James says, “when tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; however, temptation does test our trust in God.”
Would the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into sin? No, Jesus was tempted to sin, but he did not.
Remember temptation to sin is not sin. And temptation is unavoidable. If that is true, and it is, then what is temptation? Well for temptation to be real, the temptation must be meaningful. We must be open to temptation. And if we’re open to temptation, it’s because the choice before us is a meaningful, real choice. And that means that we have free will. If we didn’t, then our tests would be meaningless as well. If we could not choose to do good, then tempting us with evil is just as meaningless as the idea that Jesus could be tempted to do anything other than good.
Just like Jesus, we are tempted because in our humanity we have free will, we are free to choose we are free to walk down the path of righteousness or the path of wickedness. I also believe temptation can also make us stronger. I know some of you are thinking really. How can temptation make us stronger?
As you resist the temptation you get stronger in your faith in God. Hebrews 2:18 says, because Jesus himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. If Jesus being tempted made him able to understand our temptations, then it makes sense that when we resist temptation… we too will be able to help others with the same temptation?
Some of you may be thinking why God allows Satan to temp us? God allows temptation so we can learn. Every day we have choices to make. Sometimes we make the right choice other times the wrong choice. And then we must deal with the consequences. In other words, temptation is another part of the human condition.
The good news for today is that Lent is another opportunity for deepening our relationship with God. My prayer is that all of us will be able to receive the gift that God is offering us during these special days.
So, what is this special gift of Lent? The special gift of Lent is the gift of Christ. The gift of Christ is here to free us from the temptation of this world. And by freeing us from temptation we will be able to assist Christ in bringing about the Kingdom of God that he so often preaches about. And we get this gift by being open to receiving it by wanting it with all our hearts, and by asking for it over and over again from the loving God who grants us this divine gift.
Now, I need to be clear about one thing. Lent is not a second chance to see if we can keep our New Year’s resolution. But, part of Lent is giving up something that may be harming us. Many of us need to let go of whatever is threatening to take over our lives. This is going to be different for each of us. Some of us are still trying to fill that hole in our chests with too many things, too much food and drink, too much entertainment, too much work, too much alcohol and drugs, or too much shopping, and too much temptation. God does want us to pay attention to our desires. And he wants us to replace superficial desires with our very deepest desires-for love, for compassion, forgiveness, and peace.
Above all, Lent is a time of renewal. This is the time of year that we ask God to help us with the important task of inner renewal. Lent is the promise of a new start for us all, and not a time of discouragement or sorrow. Rather, it is a time when we rejoice that God is a God of refreshment, of new life, and of new beginnings.
Throughout this Lenten season, we should all be looking at the things that are tempting us and then seeking out the gospel message that helps us to overcome them. But as we do, please keep in mind that the very fact that we can be tempted means that we have been freed to do so by a loving God who desires our freedom in order that we might truly be in relationship with Him.
Once again, that does not mean that there won’t be consequences for our choices. Our freedom to choose means that when we choose incorrectly, we must take responsibility for that choice. But none of that changes the fact that in all our choices, we are loved. We are loved by the one who loved us so much that we are set free to choose or reject Christ with all the temptations, all the consequences, and all the blessings that brings.
And today we praise God for the gift of Christ. Because Christ is the one who walks beside us in our times of temptation and struggle, Christ is the one who walks beside us when we find ourselves in our own wilderness, and he is the one that is at our side during our testing and our succeeding in life because he is the source of our power.
Christ gives us the power we need to say no to the temptation of violence, no to the temptation of greed, no to the temptation of judgement, and no to the temptation of excluding someone because they don’t look like us, or think like us, or they don’t dress like us, or they don’t live in the same country as we do, or God forbid they don’t worship like us. Amen