Imagine you're stranded in the desert; you have no compass or GPS, your cell phone battery is dead, your portable computer is getting no wireless signal,
you're car is out of gas, and you're all alone. It gets very hot during the day and it gets kind of chilly at night. You have no food and can't find any food, and you're getting
really hungry. And since you locked your keys in the car you're sleeping on sand and dirt. Now after a couple of days you realize you're really sweaty, dirty, and smelly, and have
had just about enough.
It's not a pretty picture is it, especially for those of us who are used to the convenience of electronic gadgets, cars, eating several meals a day, and
taking a shower or bath at least once a day.
Then out of nowhere you see this figure coming towards you. It looks like someone dressed in fine clean clothes, eating a juicy steak and cheese sub. And then
you realize, oh no, of all the people or beings to come and help, it's the devil. As he approaches, the devil begins to entice you by offering you things and opportunities that will
relieve you're suffering, like he did Jesus.
Man it sure sounds inviting, but the things and opportunities being offered are being offered for the wrong reasons. Nevertheless you're tempted to indulge
because of all you've been going through.
I think for many of us it wouldn't take too long before we would give into the temptations being offered, at least some of them. Our threshold for
inconvenience is low, and when you throw pain or suffering into the mix I suggest our temptation avoidance threshold is even lower.
And, if we're honest, I think many of us would sympathize with anyone going through such an ordeal. We would understand, given the circumstances, why someone
could or would give in to the temptations being offered.
Then after some time I suggest many folks would proceed to rationalize how God would understand why we did what we did, after all God is full of love and
grace for his children. Surely God wouldn't be upset.
But God would be upset, because when we give into the temptations of the devil we are denying God.
" Now we may never be tempted to turn stone into bread, but we may be tempted to turn food, or other addictive behaviors, into our god. " We may not be
tempted with the idea of ruling the world, but we may be tempted to want to rule over people who are different or think differently than we do. " We may never be tempted to jump off
of our church steeple, but we may be tempted to test God with a list of to do's with the caveat, give me these things and I will believe in you.
You see the devil's temptations are never helpful. The devil tempts us for the purpose of tearing us down and turning us away from God. Now temptation is a
universal human experience, going all the way back to Adam and Eve and the temptation of the serpent to eat the fruit of the tree. Every human being that ever lived has been tempted.
So there's no getting around it, temptation is part of the human experience.
This is why Jesus had to be tempted. By experiencing temptation Jesus was showing his humanness. He experienced what it's like for us to be tempted. And then
by God's grace Jesus served as a role model for us, showing us how to counter or resist tempting situations.
In addition, our Gospel reading this morning isn't so much about the specific temptations Jesus faced, as it is about how he was able to resist the
temptations placed before him, no matter how appealing they seemed to be. And please realize the basis of our Gospel reading isn't to prove Jesus was incapable of sinning; it's that
Jesus was able to avoid sinning although he was being tempted.
Therefore the temptation narrative that Gene read this morning becomes a very important part of Jesus' life, and our understanding of his life. It also
becomes an important story for us to reflect on as we encounter temptations in our own life. You see the thing Jesus was able to do, that we tend to struggle with, is Jesus was able
to turn away from temptation.
For so many people it's easier, at least in the short-term, to give into temptation. When we're under a great deal of stress or pressure, we give in because
it often times relieves the immediate pain of what we're going through.
At the moment of giving in to temptation we aren't considering the longer-term consequences of our choice or choices, such as: " Unwanted pregnancy "
Addiction " Life of violence " Out-of-control debt " Life-long disability " Or eternal separation from God
Now for some of us, the problem we might have with reading this temptation story is that it seems unreal, far removed from what we typically experience in our
daily lives, it seems irrelevant to the situations we encounter. After all, the devil doesn't appear to us and transport us from place to place. And the temptations we often
experience aren't always recognizable as the temptations they are.
The devil is also pretty crafty these days. It seems the devil knows our weaknesses both physical and spiritual, so he works covertly in penetrating our
souls; he gets into our heads trying to coax us in a direction to do something we know we shouldn't do, or he leads us down a path of destruction and denial.
This reminds me of the conversation between the two little voices in our head. You know, one is often times illustrated by an angel sitting on one shoulder
and the other voice is the devil sitting on the other shoulder. They both make their arguments, trying to persuade us to follow-through with what they want us to do.
But the choices we're faced with on a daily basis, unfortunately, tend not to be the clear choices between good and evil. We often deal more in the gray areas
of life, which in turn makes choosing what to do even more difficult doesn't it?
You'll remember in the classic western movies and television shows, the good guys always wore the white hats and the bad guys wore the black hats, and it
seems that the battle between good and evil was always fought in the middle of Main Street at high noon. In this way all could witness the triumph of good over evil. And by the color
of the hats we always knew who were the good guys and who were the bad guys, good and evil were pretty well defined.
But this scene of a well defined good and evil really breaks down in real life. It seems we wear gray hats most of the time. We seldom experience clear
choices anymore, and even if we have the moral fortitude to handle the recognizable choices between good and evil, we often lack the wisdom to deal with the choices we face in a
It seems morality and good values have taken a back seat these days to doing what one wants in the name of "it makes ME happy, so leave me alone." So
identifying good and evil in our overly permissive and me-focused culture becomes even grayer, and making the right godly choices becomes all the more difficult.
Now although the temptation story doesn't offer clear ethical instructions that cover every conceivable experience we might face, it does describe the
persistent ethical challenges that Christians face today, such as: " The temptation to forget our baptismal identity. In other words to forget or dismiss that we are children of God
and what that really means. " The temptation to use our faith or religious convictions for personal gain. " The temptation to focus on being successful rather than faithful, being
success-driven rather then Spirit-led. " The temptation to be dazzled by the riches of the world. " And the temptation to make compromises when we're called to stand firm.
Now having read this temptation story I suggest some of us might say, "Sure Jesus could resist temptation after all he's the Son of God." And many of us would
say that we expect Jesus to be able to do such a thing, and actually would probably think less of him if he fell to the devils tempting.
We might say, "Sure, Jesus was fully human, but he was also fully divine. He has something we don't, so how can we be held to the same standards Jesus is?"
Well let's look at how Jesus was able to avoid the temptations from the devil. First, Jesus allowed himself to be led by the Holy Spirit. Now Luke emphasizes
the Holy Spirit and the importance of the Holy Spirit a number of times in his Gospel, more so than any of the other Gospel writers. This is significant, and we see this in our
Gospel reading this morning.
At the beginning of our scripture reading the text reads, "Jesus, was full of the Holy Spirit…and was led by the Spirit into the dessert." And if we were to
read the verse following the temptation story it reads, "Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit."
This indicates to me that the Holy Spirit was with Jesus before he entered the desert, the Holy Spirit was with him while on his desert journey, and the Holy
Spirit was with him as he left the desert to continue on with his life and ministry. Also in his experience of wrestling with the temptations, Jesus used another tool to rebuke the
devil; Jesus responded to the devils tempting with Scripture that emphasized God's purpose for life and the call to worship and serve him.
In turning away from the temptations Jesus quoted from the Word of God, which he knew to be the absolute truth, and was able to throw back in the devils face
why he wouldn't give in to his temptations. Jesus had the power and courage to do this because he was full of the Holy Spirit, and was aware of God's purposes through his
understanding of scripture.
This in turn gave him the power and authority to say, "NO" to the devil, even while experiencing the human suffering of being in the dessert for 40 days. So,
as you can see, Jesus used two very powerful spiritual tools to avoid succumbing to temptation: the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
Well, we also have the same two tools available to us. The Holy Spirit and the Word of God that empowered Jesus are the same Holy Spirit and scriptures that
empower us today.
We can do the same as Jesus if we learn to recognize the presence and leading of the Holy Spirit and faithfully live in God's Word.
Jesus was open to being led by the Holy Spirit because he understood the Holy Spirit's role in his life. Jesus was also able to use scripture to rebuke the
devil because he understood what the scriptures said about God's desire and purpose for him and all humanity. Well these abilities are not reserved for the Son of God. God has given
us these gifts as well.
The ability to turn away from temptation as Jesus did can be ours as well if we will choose to be open to the Holy Spirit, and if we will study and seek to
understand the Word of God. The ability to avoid temptation doesn't just occur, it takes an open heart, it takes work, and it takes making the choice to want to know God and God's
will more fully. Now, as we know, Christian ethics don't come prepackaged in a long list of concrete do's and don'ts. Sometimes I think this would be helpful, but then again we seem
to have a hard enough time following a basic list of Ten Commandments; I can't imagine how poor we would be at following a longer list of specific do's and don'ts.
Besides God has given us the gift of free will and wants us to respond to him out of heart-felt faithfulness, not out of some obligation to a list of do's and
So as Christians our purpose isn't to refer to a list of rules, but to always respond out of faithfulness to the purposes of God. And as I've already
mentioned we have the powerful tools of scripture and the Holy Spirit to help us.
So if you find you're in a place where you are spiritually hungry, dirty, and tempted by evil, follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit, connect with God
through his Word, reach out to him, seek him, and experience the fullness of life as Jesus did.
It's not too late to move from being hungry, dirty, and tempted to a life of faithful response and fulfillment.
Regardless of how we might have responded to temptation in the past, no one is so far away from God that God won't forgive and redeem them. No one is so far
away from God that "new birth" in Christ cannot be experienced.
For it is written in Holy God's Word, "…that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height,
nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:37-39)
Thanks be to God, Amen.
Read other messages by Pastor Wade