Text: Matthew 4:1
Then the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the Devil.
A young man, who worked for a travel agent, was sent to a Pacific island. Even though it meant being separated from his girl friend, he accepted the job because it would enable him to earn enough to marry her.
As the lonely weeks went by, she began to have doubts that he was being true to her. After all, the holiday resort where he was working attracted beautiful women from all over the world. The young man declared that he was paying absolutely no attention to them. But he did write this in one of his letters, “I admit that sometimes I’m tempted. But I fight it. I am waiting for the day when I can be with you again.”
Not long after he had sent that letter, the young man received a parcel. Inside there was a note and a harmonica. The note said, “I’m sending this to you so you can have something to take your mind off those girls.” Dutifully the young man wrote back to his girl friend and told her that he was practising the harmonica every night and thinking only of her.
Eventually the young man’s work on the island finished and he flew home. His girl friend was waiting at the airport. As he rushed to embrace her, she held up her hand to stop him and said sternly, “Just hold on there a minute. First I want to hear you play that harmonica!”
Every year at the beginning of the Lenten season we hear the account of Jesus temptation in the wilderness. And again this year we are faced with the subject of temptation, Satan’s power and cunning lies and our response to temptation.
When we pause and look into our hearts, we are alarmed that we give in to temptation so often and so easily. We are disturbed by these temptations because we think of ourselves as good people, honest, hardworking, caring people with high morals – yet there – lurking inside some of us is anger, jealousy, envy, worry, pride, bitterness, sexual weakness or an addiction of some kind. There are desires of every sort within us that Satan will use against us and cause all kinds of havoc in our relationship with God and other people.
When this happens the Bible uses the word ‘sin’. It lives in us and is very much a part of us. It is Satan’s delight to awaken the evil that lies beneath the surface of our lives with temptation. He knows our weak spots and manipulates our sense of what is right and wrong. He uses those weaknesses to ignore God’s way and follow the path that leads to pain and broken relationships.
The Bible says he is prowling around seeking someone to devour. In our case, he doesn’t have to do too much prowling. We leave ourselves wide open to following his temptations again and again when we are led to believe that wrong is right. Sometimes we don’t even realise what we have done until we see the devastation our wrong has caused in someone else’s life or someone points out to us how we have been led astray.
Today’s text tells us that even Jesus wasn’t exempt from temptation. He has just been baptised in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. The voice of God spoke from heaven, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased.” And wham! The next thing you know, not only is the Son of God tempted, he is tempted three times. And when the Devil finally leaves he does so “for a while” or more accurately, “he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). In other words, this wasn’t the end of Jesus’ temptations.
The point I’m making is this. Jesus is the most spiritually and morally perfect person that ever walked this earth, yet he experienced the power of the devil. Temptation will come to anyone regardless of how close they believe they are to God or how focussed they are on being God’s people in everything they do. We are powerless to stop temptation but it’s what we do when temptation comes that really matters.
But let’s be clear. Satan is very sneaky. He doesn’t tempt you with anything that is so way out that you can quite easily see that it’s wrong. Temptation often is very logical and appears to be good. It seems to be the most natural thing to do.
In the Garden of Eden Eve wasn’t tempted with something that was seemingly sinister and evil. She saw some fruit and it looked very inviting. Surely eating a piece of fruit can’t be all that bad. And besides that serpent had some pretty convincing arguments why satisfying her hunger was all right and how good it would be to have that special kind of wisdom that came with eating the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden.
Satan is so sneaky that we don’t even recognise them as temptations because they seem the most normal and natural things to do.
His temptations are so appealing. It might even be argued that he really does seem to have our best interests at heart. That is a lie! He didn’t really care about making life better for Adam or Eve or even Jesus. He just wanted them to abandon God.
He does that to us. Satan sidles up to someone whose marriage is floundering and he says, “You deserve more! You ought to be getting more attention, more affection, more spark in your life. And if your spouse isn’t going to give it to you, well, you’ll just have to find it elsewhere. So go for it!” It’s all so logical and attractive. But remember Satan is a deceiver. He is not interested in your happiness.
The temptations that Jesus experienced in the wilderness were quite logical. He had been without food and or drink for 40 days. Turning stones to bread was the most natural thing to do. Who would be hurt by this? After all, it would be ridiculous for God’s Son to starve when he could have food with a simple command. He had the power to do it, so why not?
Jesus is taken to the roof of the temple. Satan tempts Jesus to throw himself down onto the courtyard below. Things would be a lot easier if he dramatically landed in the courtyard below to the wonder of everyone crowded below. With such a spectacular display the crowd would flock to him. What better way to promote the kingdom of God? He could even avoid the whole Good Friday ordeal.
Then Jesus is shown all the kingdoms and countries of the world. He could have them all if he would bow down and worship Satan. Look at all the good he could do. There are so many who are sick and dying and with all wealth of the kingdoms set before him, this is his chance to do some good.
Think of the hospitals that could be built,
the research that could be funded to find a cure for cancer;
the starving that could be fed;
and the wars that could be halted.
Jesus was always compassionate and loving and Satan knew just how to use those good qualities to his advantage.
There is good logic behind each of these temptations. In themselves there is nothing sinister about them. There are some very good ideas here. They offer an easy way out for Jesus to calm his grumbling stomach, to win instant acclaim, and to do so much good and gain the whole world for his kingdom without any suffering and dying.
Temptation appeals to our natural instincts. Temptation is often not simply choosing between good and evil, but choosing what is easy and what is hard. And it is Satan who provides the simple and easy answers.
That’s why we find ourselves disheartened so often. We are tempted and we fall for it hook, line and sinker. And often it is only after when we are experiencing the consequences of our choice that we realise that once again we have obeyed Satan rather than God.
Satan doesn’t give up. We know all too well how we fall for the same temptation again and again.
What hope have we got? We know God doesn’t take sin lightly. Our failure to resist can bring severe consequences.
It is Satan’s joy and delight to see us turn against God’s ways, to fill us with guilt and step on our self esteem and in the end draws us away from God into damnation. When we become disheartened and upset because we fail, remember the cross of Jesus. It was there on the cross of Calvary that Satan’s power over us was defeated. His power to condemn us has been broken forever. Jesus died for us. He has won for us forgiveness for all of our failure to live as God’s children, for all the times when we have chosen one of Satan’s easy solutions. With Christ’s forgiveness and the Holy Spirit to point us back to God and his love, Satan has no power over us.
Finally, it’s worth noting how Jesus confronted the temptations that were put in front of him. Temptation involves making choices – following the ways of the world, Satan and our own desires or following the ways of God. It always seems that one choice is easier to follow than the other and inevitably it is Satan who presents the most attractive choices. How are we going to know what the right choices are?
If we want to make good choices – ones that are in keeping with our status as children of God – then we have to know what God wants us to do. The Bible is God’s Word for us to help us make the right choices. It’s true not every modern temptation and problem is mentioned specifically in the Bible, but you can bet the Bible has something to say about every choice that confronts us. For instance, the Bible may not mention drugs specifically but it does have a lot to say about the Creator who made us, gave us our bodies, saved us body and soul, and how he expects us to take good care of this special gift from God.
Too often we flounder when faced with choices because we don’t know our Bibles well enough. When we are at a crossroad and have to make a choice we are confused and easily led astray because we don’t know the directions that God gives us through the scriptures.
The Bible also tells us that when we do make bad choices our heavenly Father reaches out to us, he calls to us, he seeks to guide and help us and above all he is ready to forgives us and assure is that his love for us is as strong as ever.
Jesus knows what it’s like to be confronted with temptation. He knows that we give in too easily and make choices that are comfortable rather than make right choices. Even more importantly we know that Christ has already triumphed over Satan. He’s got no way to hurt us eternally. Thanks to Jesus, we’re forgiven, restored, and bound for heaven. Jesus has won the victory for us.