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This morning we want to follow Jesus into the desert where He faced temptation.
I. 4 Points About Temptation
A. 1st We Are Tempted By The Devil.
We want to make four points about temptation based on Jesus’ temptation in the desert. The first point is this, every temptation is an attack upon us by the devil. ‘Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.’
It’s important to understand what we’re up against here. Luther saw the devil much more clearly that we do today. In one particular bought with the devil while Luther was in exile in the Wartburg Castle, he felt the devil tempting him to give up what looked like a losing battle for the gospel. Luther picked up the ink well at his desk and threw it at the devil. It broke against the wall of his study where it left a huge ink stain, which even if it isn’t true, is a great story.
We may think that Luther was just a ‘poor medieval fool.’ Our modern and enlightened worldview has freed us from such silly superstitions as a personal devil. A 2009 survey of professing Christians in America by the Barna Group reported that 59% of American Christians ‘strongly agreed’ or ‘somewhat agreed’ with the statement that ‘Satan is not a living being but only a symbol of evil.’
But when we see the world in which we live through God’s Word, we see things in a way that may surprise us. In his Revelation, St. John writes what he sees, ‘Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries.’ (Rev. 21:3-5)
You and I see a funny little man in a red suit with a tale and pitchfork and call it superstition. But when Jesus went in to the desert ‘ this is what He saw. And this is what Jesus sees when He sees us faced with temptation in our everyday life. Maybe if we saw every temptation with the eyes of faith, we would not take it as lightly as we do.
B. 2nd – Tempted by What Is Good.
The second point about temptation that we learn from Jesus’ temptation is that we are very often tempted by that which is good. We can’t help but notice that none of the temptations that Jesus faced in the desert were temptations to do evil things. To make bread; just think of all the people he could feed. To jump safely from tall buildings; just think of how many people would believe in Him. To rule the kingdoms of this world; just think of all the reforms he could carry out.
Each of these temptations were to do good things. Yet the devil twisted each one of these good things into a test of God’s Word and promise. The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert immediately after His baptism in the Jordan River. Jesus had just heard His Father say, ‘This is my BELOVED SON, with whom I am well pleased.’
But now the devil wants to turn every good and noble act into a personal challenge to God’s Word. ‘If you are the Son of God” ‘If you are the Son of God”
This is why it’s so dangerous to think that our good works are pleasing to God. The devil is so cunning that he can use even our good works to lead us into temptation to sin against God.
C. 3rd ‘ We are tempted by the small things.
The third point about temptation that we learn from Jesus’ temptation is that the devil attacks us through the small things in life. It’s things as simple as bread, the things we take most for granted and as too ordinary to matter, that the devil can use to try to separate us from God.
In fact, we hardly ever sever our relationship with God by shaking our fist at heaven and renouncing Him. As a rule the decisions that we make against God and His Word are done in the things that we think hardly even matter.
A Lutheran theologian from 60 years ago named Helmet Thielike said this. “I believe that the simple fact of the radio and the movies, have had far more influence upon the decision against God than the anti-Christian ideologies and misguided philosophies. Not because the radio and movies set people against God, but rather because both of them take up so much of our lives that we no longer have the opportunity to ask the question of eternity or listen to its question to us.” Couldn’t we easily apply that to our own life simply by substituting computers, cell phones, sports?
How many things have we each given into, little things that couldn’t hurt anyone, yet each one must done apart from God. How often have we let the little loves of our life rule over us, maybe even in the name of love itself ‘ and yet contrary to the Word of God?
D. 4th ‘ We are tempted by the big things.
But the devil tempts us to sin with the great and noble things in life too. ‘The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give to you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
What is it that Luther mentions in his famous hymn that the tempter comes after us with? The great things, the most loved things in our life, “house, goods, honor.” These are much bigger and nobler than daily bread.
Have we ever let go of God’s hand for just a while in order to grab hold of something big and grand; the chance to advance or to be accepted? A bigger house, more goods, greater honor? Is there anything intrinsically wrong with any of these things? No, not in and of themselves. But in the hands of the devil, they can become powerful tools to separate us from God and His Word?
II. Resisting Temptation
A. 1st ‘ Not in us.
What then shall we do? How are we to resist the temptation that comes at us without ceasing, day and night, for forty days and forty nights, and from every direction? How are we ever to become that “blessed person” of whom the letter of James speaks, who resists every temptation and receives “the crown of life?”
Well, let’s begin by saying that the answer certainly does not lie within ourselves. It is, in fact, because we are not able to resist the temptation to sin that Jesus Christ has come into the world.
The first thing to understand is that the answer to temptation is not simply to try harder. St. Paul warns, ‘Let anyone who thinks that he can stand take heed lest he fall.’ (1Cor. 10:12). As counter intuitive as it sounds, we are at our weakest when we think that we are strong enough to resist temptation, and we are at our strongest when we know that we are weak. For when we are weak and we know it we run to Christ and cling to Him.
B. 2nd ‘ Use The Word of God.
As Jesus entered the desert, He possessed a powerful weapon against temptation – the Word of God. In each of the temptations Jesus faced, He always answered, “It is written, it is written, it is written…” Jesus held tightly to the Father’s hand in the face of every temptation by holding onto the Word of God. Against this, the tempter could not stand. As Luther had us sing, ‘one little word subdues Him.’
But how can we apply this to ourselves when we don’t know God’s Word? I’m afraid that we fall for temptation as we do, not because we doubt God’s Word, but because we simply don’t know it.
But the more we are in the Word, reading it, meditating on it, memorizing it, letting it sink in, the more we are able to use it’s power to identify temptation and resist it.
C. 3rd ‘ Use Prayer.
There is also another weapon that we are given to use in the face of temptation. Often, as Jesus goes about His work of teaching, preaching and healing people, He goes away to a solitary place. The word for ‘solitary place’ is the same word as ‘desert’ right where the Spirit has led Jesus.
So, it should surprise us, that when Jesus teaches the disciples how to pray, he says, ‘When you pray, say, ‘Our Father who art in heaven’ lead us not into temptation.’ Was that not His prayer here in this desert that He now gives to us to pray in His Name?
As Luther explains it in the Small Catechism, ‘God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.’
And so just what is the power in this Word of God, this Holy Scripture, that we pray to God would turn back the devil and deliver us from evil? It is simply that the Word of God, from the first word of the Genesis to the last word of Revelation points to Jesus Christ.
And He is the Man who is tempted in every way, just as we are, YET WITHOUT SIN. He is the 2nd Adam, who is not deceived by Satan’s clever schemes but faces every temptation successfully. He is the One who has crushed the Tempters head. For just as just as Satan once overcame by a tree, now by the tree of the cross, he is overcome. When we turn to the Word of God in every temptation, we are turning to Jesus Christ who has faced the Tempter on our behalf and won the victory.
It may be helpful to once again, picture the outcome of this confrontation between Christ and the devil in the desert from heaven’s perspective. St. John writes what he sees, ‘And I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down” (Rev.12:10).
‘Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.’ To which we breathe a sigh of relief and say, ‘thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ, our Lord.’ (1 Cor. 15:57).