Facing Temptation

Today we are going to be talking about temptation and as part of that discussion we are going to be talking about the devil.  Now we are doing that because he is one of the two main characters in the Bible story that we will be looking at today.  But I know that some of you are not comfortable with a lot of talk about the devil.  Also, in a

English: The Temptation of Jesus on the Mountain
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group of this size, there likely several of you who do not even believe that the devil exists as a real person.  But what I am hoping that we can have a conversation, and what I am concerned about is that, if you don’t believe that the devil exists as a person, you will automatically dismiss everything that I have to say and you won’t get any benefit out of the words that I will be sharing today. So can we agree that there is evil in the world?  Let’s list some things that are evil:  Hitler – evil, cancer – evil, suicide bombers – evil, Boston Bruins – evil?  Totally evil!  So if we can agree that there is evil in the world, perhaps we can think about the way that evil influences people and draws them in and that, after all, is what temptation is really all about.  And what I hope to do today is share with you the Good News that Jesus can help you when you are facing temptation.

So let’s take a look at Luke 4:1-13. What we have in these passages is often called the Temptation of Jesus.  It takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  He is about thirty years old and he has just been baptized with John’s Baptism of Repentance. And this temptation scene happens just before Jesus preaches for the first time in his home synagogue of Nazareth.  So this is a key event as Jesus begins his ministry.

Verse 1 reads, 1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert,.  If you have a Bible, you could underline the phrase full of the Holy Spirit.  Luke emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit both in his Gospel and in the Book of Acts, which he also wrote.  And with this phrase “full of the Holy Spirit” Luke is indicating that Jesus will be functioning in a prophetic manner, declaring God’s Word with power and clarity.

Note that Jesus was led by the Spirit in, or, as some translations put it, into the desert.   The desert has played a prominent role in the history of God’s people. After they left Egypt, the Israelites fled into the desert.  When the majority of the scouts sent into the Promised Land warned of giants, the temptation of the scouts’ words connected with the fear in the Israelites’ hearts and they said “No!” to God’s command to enter and take the land of milk and honey.  As punishment, the Israelites wandered for forty years in the desert before a new generation entered the Promised Land.

The desert has long been known as a spiritual place.  Bruce Feiler writes these words in his book Walking The Bible after ascending the desert mountains of the Sinai:

The emotion I felt upon reaching these levels was not all that different from the emotion I felt upon being in extreme positions at other times in my life, whether it was pulling myself up a rope as a child, climbing a mountain as a teenager, or scuba diving as a adult:  fear.  Fear that I might lose control.  Fear that I might fail. Fear that I might disappoint myself.   When your god is self-reliance, and you let yourself down, there is nowhere else to turn.

This reaction, I was coming to see, is the first lesson of the desert:  By feeling uneasy and unsure, by fearing that you’re out of your depth and therefore might falter, by feeling small, and alone, you begin—slowly, reluctantly, maybe even for the first time in your life—to consider turning somewhere else.[1]

The desert is a place of fear, where you have no control.  The desert is a place of spiritual formation, where a new person, a new generation is formed.  And now Jesus, Israel reduced to one person, goes into the dry, barren wilderness of fear and formation for 40 units of time.

Tired, alone and hungry, Jesus is tempted by the devil.  This is no chance meeting.  Jesus’ purpose in coming into the desert was to be tempted by the devil.  And Jesus does not come as some superhuman being with x-ray vision, super human strength and a big red S on his chest.  That’s the Jesus that we know personally, the risen, glorified Lord of all creation whose divine qualities permeate every aspect of his humanness.  But Jesus, as he lived on earth before his resurrection, did not function in that way.  Jesus was still both fully human and fully God, but from the time of his conception in Mary’s womb to his resurrection from the dead, Jesus had emptied himself and set aside the use of all of his divine powers.  Jesus was going up against the Prince of Darkness as our representative, one ordinary human being who represented all of humanity.

As the devil tempted Jesus, his tactics were nothing new. From the beginning of time and down through the ages through to today, the Deceiver uses the same old same old to try entice people over to his way of thinking.  He begins by saying to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God.”  The devil’s purpose in tempting us is to get us to question our relationship with God.  If we question our relationship with God, then we are like sheep without a shepherd, easy prey for an evil predator.

The devil continues, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”  This one of Satan’s common tactics: the temptation to pleasure.  If you have a Bible, you can write “Temptation to pleasure” beside verse 3.  I use the term pleasure in the broad sense.  Being hungry, Jesus certainly had a need, but the temptation to pleasure would be to look to the devil to supply that need immediately, instead of looking to God and waiting for him to supply for the need in his time. The temptation to pleasure is in play when we want to reach into the cookie jar just before the family sits down to eat dinner.  Jesus quotes Scripture, Deuteronomy 8:3, as he refutes the advances of the evil one by saying, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’

Then the devil leads Jesus up to a high place where he shows him all the kingdoms of the world all at once and says, “I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.  So if you worship me, it will all be yours.”  This is the temptation to power, and if you have a Bible you can write “Temptation to power” beside verse 6.  Whenever the devil tempts people with power, it is important to remember that the power of the devil is ever and always counterfeit.  There is never as much power as was promised.  And the power always comes with a big catch:  you have to do something that you wouldn’t normally do.  So a guy says to a girl, “I love you and I want to give you a big house with a picket fence, an SUV and 2.3 kids.  And if you sleep with me now, it will all be yours.”  Or your boss calls you into the office and says, “I really like your work and you are up for a promotion with a nice increase in salary and extra benefits and a membership at the golf course.  And if you change a couple of figures on our yearend report, it will all be yours.”  That’s what the temptation to power looks like today.  At the beginning of time, the temptation to power looked like this:

[The serpent said,] “For God know that when you eat from [the tree that is in the middle of the garden] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.  When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye [temptation of pleasure], and also desirable for gaining wisdom [temptation of power], she took some and ate it.  She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:5-6).

Jesus again quotes Scripture, Deuteronomy 6:13 this time, to refute the devil by saying, “It is written:  ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’

Then the devil leads Jesus to Jerusalem, has him stand on the highest point of the temple and says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here.”  This is the temptation to manipulate God and if you have your Bible you can write “temptation to manipulate God” beside verse 9-11.  This temptation is a tricky one because with this one even well-meaning Christians can get sucked into sinning and think that they are still on the right track.  You could call it the “have your cake and eat it too temptation.”  The temptation to manipulate God happens when you have a serious pornography problem in your life and you don’t do anything about it because Jesus paid for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).  Or you are so self-centred and full of pride that those closest to you find it extremely hurtful, but you don’t do anything about it because love overlooks a multitude of sins (cf. 1 Peter 4:8).

With this third temptation, the devil throws a changeup, because he also quotes Scripture to support his claims.  Looking to Psalm 91, verses 11-12, he twists and misapplies Scripture when he says, “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”  The devil leaves out the phrase “in all your ways” from the original passage which reads “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”   In his commentary on Luke, Arthur Just writes, “There is one way Jesus must go in which he will not receive the Father’s protection, but rather, the Father’s wrath.  That is the way of the cross.  As man, Son of God, Messiah, Jesus is obedient in all his ways, even to the point of death….  Authority and glory come through service, suffering, and death.”[2] Commentator J. Nolland writes, “According to the Devil’s theory there should be no martyrs.  But the divine purpose for Jesus, as for certain others, is that they should be preserved through death, not from death.”[3]  Jesus knows the destiny for which he came to this earth and so he refutes the devil a third time by properly quoting and applying Scripture, Deuteronomy 6:16 this time, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’

In this temptation narrative, Jesus shows us what it means to be human:  living within the boundaries of our humanness in a right relationship with God.   The devil, you see, is constantly trying to get us to cross over the boundaries of what it means to be human and enter into his kingdom.  But the devil’s kingdom is always a counterfeit kingdom, a corrupt shadow of the glorious and true kingdom of God that Jesus brings to us.  By resisting the temptation to pleasure, the temptation to power and the temptation to manipulate God, Jesus stayed on course and completed a very important step in his mission to save the world.  By resisting the devil’s temptations, Jesus undid Adam and Eve’s succumbing to temptation.  By not letting the seduction of Satan connect with the fear in his heart, Jesus birthed a new Israel in the desert.

Verse 13 tells us, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.”  That opportune time came in the Garden of Gethsemane, when the devil tried again to get Jesus to turn aside from his mission.  Even though he was in anguish, Jesus did not turn aside from the way God the Father had set before him.  Jesus willingly went to the cross and suffered and died for the sins of the whole world.  Repent of your sins and believe in Jesus and the forgiveness of all your sins is God’s free gift to you.

Jesus has done what we cannot, successfully resist all temptation.  But he stands ready to help us in whatever temptation we face.  So it is important for us to plan a defence for those times when we are tempted.  We can immerse ourselves in Scripture so we can quote it in times of temptation.  And we can pray to Jesus and ask him to help us. When sexual temptation begins hovering before your eyes or circulating in your mind, pray “Jesus, help me to think pure thoughts” and he will remove that thought from your mind.  Maybe your temptation is with food and you find yourself thinking about having your third bowl of ice cream, pray “Jesus, help me to be nourished and comforted by you” and he will help you to turn away from the food and toward him for what you really need.

Jesus is also ready to help us in whatever temptations we face as a church. With all of the changes that are happening in the society around us, it is very easy for churches to lose their focus on Christ’s mission of seeking and saving the lost. Whenever a church loses her mission focus, it is called mission drift and it is equivalent to Jesus succumbing to the devil’s temptations to serve himself first and abandon his mission to save the world.  Next week, we vote on whether to accept or reject the Transforming for Missions Report.  If we vote to accept the report, that will be the easy part.  The temptations will come when we begin implementing the prescriptions of the report.  That’s when we will be tempted to the pleasure of what is comfortable and familiar by avoiding or delaying change.  That’s when we will be tempted to power by stepping out of the T4M process.  That’s when we will be tempted to manipulate God by allowing ourselves to drift away from his mission and yet think that we can still experience his blessings.  When we begin to implement the changes in the T4M Report is when we will really need Jesus.  And he will be there to help us.  We just need to call on him to help.  Amen.

(Shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on 15 January 2012.)

[1] Bruce Feiler, Walking the Bible:  A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses (New York:  Harper Collins, 2001), 223-4.

[2] Arthur A. Just, Jr., Luke 1:1-9:50 (St. Louis:  Concordia, 1996), 175.

[3] J. Nolland, Luke 1-9:20, 181 quoted in footnote in Just, 175.

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