Jesus’ Temptations and Ours
RUMC 5 March 2017
Just before a very big military battle, three military chaplains–Protestant minister Reverend Robertson, Catholic Priest Father O’Toole and Jewish Rabbi Bernstein–sat together and solemnly discussed the possibility that one or more of them might be killed in the next battle. Father O’Toole said, “I feel like I need to unburden my soul and make a confession. I must own up to a terrible impulse to drink. O I fight it, I do; but the temptation haunts me constantly and sometimes I give in to it.” Reverend Robertson chimed in, “I don’t have too much trouble with liquor, but I must own up to the terrible urges that I feel toward attractive women. I do fight this temptation desperately.” After that there was a pause. Finally the priest and the reverend both turned to the Jewish chaplain and said, “And you rabbi, do you have any particular sin or temptation?” And the Rabbi sighed and said, “I am afraid I have an irresistible impulse to gossip.”
A few years ago, Disciple Journal magazine asked its readers to list and rank in order the temptations that they struggle with. Here are the results in order:
- Sexual Lust
I would say that all of us struggle with at least one of the temptations on that list. But what I have learned over the years is that the Lord understands my human nature. If I do give in to temptation, He will forgive me and help me get back on track.
Today’s scripture is a familiar one; it took place when Jesus was tempted in the desert. My scripture text is Matthew 4:1-11.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, ‘and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him. 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
This is one of those stories in the life of Jesus where there were no eyewitnesses; it must have been our Lord who told the story to Matthew of how He battled temptation in a showdown with the devil.
I would like to look at each of the three temptations for some common ground, similarities, or insights we can use as we battle our own temptations.
Temptation #1 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Here was the situation. Jesus had been in the desert and had not eaten in 40 days when the devil showed up. He was weakened from hunger, and Lucifer tried to present a reasoned argument to get Jesus to submit to temptation.
Let me paraphrase his statement, “Jesus, you look like you are having a rough time and since you are the Son of God, why don’t you turn all of those stones into bread. You don’t have to suffer.” Now on the surface, that didn’t sound too bad.
The temptation for Jesus would be using divine means for his own personal purpose. But for us, it is to take the easy way out. That is by passing God’s natural order of things. Instead of growing food, just change stones into bread.
Here is another thing: There is the tendency to get nourishment from the wrong places. There are certain sins that will never satisfy and sometimes the best way to deal with temptation is to rule it out in advance.
According to Harry Truman’s biographer, David McCullough, President Truman was under incredible pressure, to preserve the peace while he attended the Potsdam Conference in Berlin, Germany. One evening, after a long day of difficult negotiations, President Truman prepared to leave to go to his lodgings. A young US Army public relations officer stuck his head in the car window and asked for a ride. Truman told him to get in and the two struck up a conversation which was overheard and later reported by Truman’s driver. At the time, in Berlin, the black market was rampant and everything was available. So the young Army officer told the President “If there was anything that he wanted, anything at all he needed, he had only to say the word. Anything, you know, like women.” Truman bristled and said, “Listen son, I married my sweetheart. She doesn’t run around on me and I don’t run around her. I want that understood. Don’t ever mention that kind of stuff to me again.”
The temptation is this case is nourishment from wrong places. President Truman knew that and ruled it out. In our struggles to do right, the Lord understands our human nature. However if we avoid some triggering things or places, it will go a long way in our effort to overcome temptation.
Temptation #2 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
From the desert, the devil took Jesus up on the rooftop of the temple and suggested that he would prove God’s love if the angels caught him when he jumped off the roof. Now this temptation is like backing God into a corner and forcing him to act. This temptation allows us to be irresponsible or unrealistic and at the same time, ask God to pick up the pieces from bad decisions.
For example, if we lived beyond our means and racked up credit card bills, should we expect God to bail us out financially? If we were to neglect or abuse our body, can we always expect God to perform a miracle.
When I worked as a hospital chaplain, we had a young soldier who got drunk and stupid at a party and fell out of a window. He broke several bones, suffered from serious internal injuries and brain damage. His mom, who was deeply religious, somehow believed God was obligated to heal her son. She placed him on all kinds of prayer chains all over the country, and she told me that God had to answer her prayers. Her son did make some improvement, but not much. Unfortunately, her son made some bad choices and there were tragic consequences.
Temptation #3 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
The third temptation was that Jesus could have it all now, with no cross, pain, suffering or rejection if only he would worship the devil, which He quickly ruled out.
For us the temptation would be this: Do this and you will be happy. Try this and you will have peace of mind. Experience this and you will feel good about yourself. Sometimes things on the surface look good, but in the end, they can be deadly.
Once there was a policeman who was sent to keep people away from downed power lines. The lines had fallen due to ice and snow build- up on the tree branches surrounding them. While he stood there, the fallen power line cracked and popped with electricity and threw out sparks. Those sparks reflected off the ice covered branches and sent out a rainbow of glimmering colors. To the onlookers, it was a pretty sight, a good example of something that looks so beautiful, but is really deadly. It is the same thing when we substitute the worship of God with something else; it can cause problems.
The worship of God is like buttoning a shirt or sweater. If we get the top button right, all the others will fall into place. If we miss or get the buttoning sequence out of order, we will look odd. It is the same thing for our spiritual life. If we worship the Lord, things will go well.
Temptations don’t hit us when we are strong. They get us when we are stressed, feel weak, tired or spiritual low. The good news is the Lord understands when we get tempted and fall. He is not here to beat us up, but to help.
Let me close with the words of 1 John 1:9. If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness.