First Sunday in Lent
February 29, 2004
The Gospel: Luke 4:1-13
Sermon: "What is Temptation?"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
After his baptism, 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, for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
What is Temptation?
First Sunday in Lent - February 29, 2004
What is temptation? Often time we see temptation displayed in various television commercials and movies. Temptation is the father who has been sent to McDonald's to get dinner for the family. On the way home he is constantly glancing back and forth between the road before him and the french fries beside him. It is almost like they keep calling his name willing him to eat them. Many of us may remember the scene from the movie Animal House where the young boy has an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other shoulder. He has to choose between what is right and wrong concerning his date who has had way to much to drink and has passed out on his bed. Temptation would be described in both of these as the line between what is right and what is wrong. Does the father eat all the fries before he reaches home? Does the young man do the right thing and take his date home after she has passed out or not?
Temptation, however, is deeper than just morality. Oh, morality plays a big part in temptation. For example, temptation can be the desire for material possessions we do not need. We want them so we do anything we can to possess them. Temptation can involve stepping over somebody to get the promotion we want. It could be putting someone else down to make our own selves look good. Temptation does involve morality. Temptation at its heart is a spiritual matter. Nothing makes it more clear than the lesson we have before us today.
In today's lesson we see Jesus tempted in the wilderness. During the next few minutes I would like us to look deeply at the following questions? When was Jesus tempted? How was Jesus tempted? How did Jesus respond to the temptations? Finally, what does his response tell us about our own temptations?
The first question is relatively easy to answer. Right after Jesus was baptized he went into the wilderness. After forty days without food, Jesus was tempted. In short, Jesus was vulnerable. He was tired, hungry, and alone. One could say he was under a great deal of stress. Now, was the perfect time for him to be tempted. Now, is the time when he might stumble and give in to one of three of the most prevalent temptations.
Three of the most prevalent temptations are meeting our own needs, gaining power by compromise, and putting God to the test. Jesus was first tempted with making bread from stones. He had to be starving. The first temptation was to fill his own belly, to meet his physical needs. Would we have begrudged him if he had made some bread and eaten? We probably would not. However, Jesus had to face this temptation and overcome it because once he stepped over that line what would be the next thing he would need? Would money be his next need? How about clothing, new sandals or a new robe? How about a camel so he could cover more ground and spread the word of God more effectively? Would his needs change from bread to rich meats and cheeses, the finest wines, and the sweetest cakes and fruits? Meeting his own needs was only one part of this temptation. The biggest part of this temptation was that Jesus would be depending on his own ways and means for meeting his needs and not depending on God. It is the old adage of I can take care of myself. I don't need you God because I can take care of things on my own. If Jesus makes bread from stone he has just told God he doesn't need God.
From this temptation Jesus is tempted with gaining power through compromise. The devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. The devil claims he has the authority over these kingdoms to give them to Jesus. Jesus will be glorified and have all authority if, if he falls down and worships the devil. Power and authority over these kingdoms comes at a cost. It is a Faustian challenge. It is making a deal with the devil. It is choosing who your master will be.
From this temptation we move to the third and final challenge putting God to the test. Jesus is tempted to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple. Scripture says God will not allow the Son to perish. Challenge God and let us see if God is real. It is as if to say, God, if you are real, then show me by, and fill in the blank.
These are three very real temptations, meeting needs, power, and testing God. How does Jesus respond? To all three temptations Jesus responds with scriptural references. They are all from Deuteronomy. To the first he responds that a person does not live by bread alone. If we finish that verse the rest of it says but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Jesus' response is more than just a casual reference to scripture. One does not live by food alone. People live by, with and through the love of God. Food is a necessity for life, but life is also more than food. Life is living with God and with each other. How can we know and understand love if we do not try to love? God is the author of all love. God is the source of all love. It is God who has created us. It is God who sustains us. It is God who will help supply our needs. I am not talking about wants here. God supplies our needs. Many of us constantly get needs and wants confused. A want is a cell phone. A need is a way to communicate. People were communicating with one another long before cell phones. We need food, but too much food can cause us other problems too. The spiritual aspect to overcome is to place our dependence on God for our needs and not ourselves. For when we depend on ourselves our wants quickly become our needs.
As Jesus responded to the temptation of need with scripture he does the same with power and authority. Here we see the devil bargaining with Jesus. In the bargain Jesus must worship the devil. Jesus' reply is that there is only one to worship and that is God alone. In other words what is first in our lives. God is to be our source of worship. It is God whom we worship and God whom we serve. If we do not serve God then who or what do we serve instead? Do we serve money and the things it will buy? Do we serve somebody else? If times get hard will they stand by us or will they desert us? Do we serve material possessions? We have to have them and we will do anything to get that one thing. Do we serve prestige? Are we like the mother who took out a contract against another mother so her daughter would be the head cheerleader at the school?
The final temptation is also met with scripture. Jesus is asked to put God to the test and scripture says no. We are not to put God to the test. Yet, we do. God if you will help me out of this situation, I will do anything you ask. Isn't that a test? It may be born out of desperation but it is a test. The movie, The Passion, is showing in the theaters. Jesus dies for the sins of all of humanity in the film. He suffers through all of the pain and torment that humanity can inflict upon him. He is degraded. He is spat upon. He is beaten. He is whipped. He has a crown of thorns placed upon him. Before the crowd, he is stripped naked and nailed to a cross to suffocate slowly. By dying in this manner he takes on all the sin the world has to bear and carries it to the cross. Imagine, just imagine, what would have happened if Jesus had never made it to the cross? What would have happened if Jesus had thrown himself down from the pinnacle at the temptation? Would Jesus have died? Yes. God's promise is not that we won't die. Every human being will die. Dying is a part of life. The temptation is to test God. The answer is to trust God. We trust the One who created us. We trust the One who loves us. We trust the One who has marvelous plans for us for this life and for eternity.
Now, we have an understanding of when Jesus was tempted, how he was tempted, and the meaning of his response to the temptations. What does all this mean to us? If we look close there is a deep spiritual meaning to these temptations. As the disciples of Jesus, these responses by Jesus to temptation are relevant to us. When we look at them as one unit we see that life is much more than meeting our own needs; we are to worship and serve God and God alone; and we are not to put God to the test. In short, there is one purpose for our life. That purpose is to worship God. Anything that gets in the way of that purpose is temptation. Anything we pursue, any priority, any material possession, any person, place or thing, that preoccupies our time, thoughts or endeavors such that we neglect to worship and serve God is temptation. So, anything can tempt us. It is not the fact that the world will tempt us that is important. What is important is where is our spiritual center? Over the next forty days we have time to reflect and ponder where our spiritual center lies? I hope and pray we have a holy, spirit-filled, and life-giving season of Lent. AMEN