Sermon: Temptations Along the Way

Temptations Along the Way
Luke 4:1-13
RUMC Jan 24, 2016

               When I was on active duty in the military, it seemed that whenever we had a 4 day weekend, the commander would assemble all the soldiers and give them a pep talk or a safety briefing.  It went something like this:

  • Don’t drink and drive.
  • If you drink, call a cab or have a designated driver.
  • Don’t bounce checks.
  • If you get angry with your spouse or loved one, walk out of the house.
  • When you drive, don’t go over the speed limit on the military base.
  • Stay out of night clubs that have been put off limits.

A retired detective once told me that police have their own version of a safety briefing during their roll call when the chief would mention certain code words, such as beer, women, and bribes and that was enough to keep officers alert to their temptations.

As believers in God, we need to be alert to the temptations that come our way.

My scripture text is Luke 4:1-13.  This was the time when Jesus was tempted in the desert.  Notice that the devil’s tactics with Jesus are similar to what he does to us.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Several years ago, Discipleship magazine conducted a survey and asked its readers to list those sins or things that they struggle with.  Here are the results:

  • Materialism
  • Pride
  • Self-centeredness
  • Laziness
  • Anger
  • Sexual Lust
  • Envy
  • Gluttony
  • Lying

Most of our temptations come when we are either alone or physically and emotionally tired.  They often come to us when we have neglected our time with God or if we have been away from church for any period of time.

The temptations that Jesus faced and what we face have many similarities and there are many ways to analyze them, so I have classified them as the following:

  1. The gratification of the body-that is when we let physical urges get out of control and take precedence over the Kingdom of God.
  2. Taking the easy way out-that is when we avoid difficult situations, take unhealthy short cuts or cut corners.
  3. Putting God to the test-or to see how much we can get away with.

One sure-fire method to deal with temptation is to avoid the places where temptations occur.  When our son was about 2 or 3 years old, it got to the point where we couldn’t take him into certain stores.  If we had to go inside, we would put him in a shopping cart and one of us would make sure that when we were with him, we avoided certain aisles in the store.  Otherwise the temptation of him wanting every toy or piece of candy would be too much for him to handle.  And of course there would be a scene of tears where he would cry “I want this and want that.”

As for believers in God, if we know if there is something that is not good for us, we would do well to stay away or avoid it.  Let me give you some quotations on this.

  • He who avoids the temptation avoids the sin.
  • It is better to shun the bait than to struggle on the hook.
  • If God bolts the door, do not climb through the window.
  • Each sin has its door of entrance, keep that door locked.
  • Pheasants are fools if they invite the hawk to dinner.
  • He who would not eat forbidden fruit must stay away from forbidden tree.

I think many are prone to test boundaries: to see how close we can get or what we can get away with.

Jesus said, “Men and women do not live on bread alone” which means all of us need physical food to survive, but we also need spiritual food to feed our souls.  Simply put, if we are to master temptation, then we need to let Christ master us.

Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformer once asked how he overcame the devil and he said.  “When the devil comes knocking upon the door of my heart and asks ‘Who lives here?’  The dear Lord Jesus goes to the door and says, ‘Martin Luther used to live here, but he has moved out.  Now I live here.’  The devil who sees the nail prints in the hands and the pierced side, takes flight immediately.”  And that is how Martin Luther dealt with temptation.

When we invite the Lord into our hearts, we are given spiritual strength, to deal with the temptation; however there are other spiritual disciplines that will help us.

  • Prayer
  • Personal Devotions
  • Worship in Church
  • Communion
  • Service
  • Witness to our faith.

When we do these things, it doesn’t make the temptation go away, but we became stronger, and often times it gets our minds off the thing that tempts us.

  • The Apostle Paul in Ephesians tells us to “Be Strong in the Lord.”
  • James tells us to “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you”

If temptation is too strong for us to handle, we would do well to find a friend to help us or join one of the anonymous organizations such as Alcoholics, Overeaters, Gamblers, Narcotics, Family or Alanon.  What these groups do is provide strength and group accountability.

Margaret Thatcher, the first prime minister of England said “You might have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”  In other words, when we resist temptation, we need to be ready for another day.  Temptations will always be there especially when we feel weak and vulnerable.  Even though Jesus was tempted in the desert, the devil never really went away.  He was around to bother Jesus throughout his ministry.

When it comes to food, I have very little will power.  And to help me in that area, I joined Weight Watchers and have been with the program for over ten years.  I am what they call a life time member.  When I left NH, this past June, I knew I should join one of the WW meetings at the Tri City Plaza, but I didn’t.  I figured I can keep the weight off without any help, but it didn’t work.  I got sloppy, cut corners, tried to see what I could get away with and as a result I gained some of the weight back.  It wasn’t that much, but my clothes started to get tighter.  So I am back to going to meetings again.  It is not just “dieting”, but it exercise, drinking lots of water, making good food choices, and avoiding those pitfalls.  That is a little bit of my story.

Temptation is just a part of life and we all want to please the Lord.  We feel better spiritually when we have success.

Let me give you a pop quiz, which is a little more fun that what you would get in school.  These questions are designed to make you really think and there are no right or wrong answers and perhaps some all of the above.  Are you ready?

  1. Which of these temptations would be the hardest for you?
  2. Chocolate; all you can eat. Skipping work on a nice day.  c. Sleeping in on a Sunday morning.  d. Sneaking into a ball game.
  3. How would you compare your own temptations with the ones Jesus faced?
  4. Different, but not as real.  Not quite so big.  c. Not quite so obvious.  d. Bigger than what Jesus experienced.
  5. When do you find yourself most vulnerable to the tempter?
  6. When I am tired or under stress.  When I am alone or away from home.  c. After a spiritual high.  d. When I am not expecting it.  e. When I let my mind dwells on certain things.
  7. What has helped you overcome temptation?
  8.   b. Having a friend nearby.  c. Prayer.  d. Talk myself out of it.  e. Change of scenery or fleeing.  f. All of the above.
  9. What has made you feel good about resisting temptation?
  10. Avoid the hurt. Just knowing I did the right thing.  c. Gotten stronger as a Christian.  d. Pleasing God.

Let me bring this to a close:  Temptation is a life time struggle.  Best thing is to stay strong and close to God.  Avoid those things that would make you fall.  If you do stumble get up, receive forgiveness and go on.