Defeating temptation

Temptation!

The ‘Apple’ logo on my computer often makes me think of Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden!

Sermon for Today, First Sunday in Lent Year A. Text Matthew 4:1-11

Temptation is a horrible thing!  Even as I was trying to write this sermon the temptation to do just about anything else, such as having a walk around the garden in the sunshine, or to go and make a cup of tea or find a piece of cake or to check the cricket score just didn’t stop!  It was so difficult to concentrate and so difficult to write, but with God’s help I got there in the end.  And that is the key to dealing with temptation ‘with God’s help’.  We all know that we are simply not strong enough to deal with temptation on our own, we need help, specifically God’s help, otherwise we will never be successful.

As we look at the reading for today from Matthew’s gospel, we learn a few very important lessons from the Lord Jesus, as we look at how He dealt with temptation.  The Lord never asks of his followers anything that He has not already gone through Himself.  He has been tempted, as we are often tempted so therefore, He is able to help us. Listen to this verse from Hebrews chapter 2:

“Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” (Heb.2:18)

So how did the Lord do it?  First of all we read about how the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert in order to meet the trial ahead.  The Lord fasts for forty days and forty nights and it is only after this time of preparation that the devil comes to him.  As we read this text we might realise just how mysterious it all is; the boundaries of time and space don’t seem to matter very much – but taking all that on board we must not be tempted ourselves to think of this as some kind of parable or allegory.  This is a real event, it’s not some kind of metaphor – these were real temptations by the chief devil, Satan himself.  (Concerning the devil, good advice is given to us by C.S. Lewis, who wrote):

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils.  One is to disbelieve in their existence.  The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive interest in them.  They themselves are equally pleased by both errors…” (‘The Screwtape L.etters’ p.9)

Of course we need to be aware that when we are tempted by whom it is we are being tempted, it is not our imagination, it is from a very real and a very powerful enemy.  Thankfully we have an infinity greater Lord and Saviour, but don’t let any of us ever think that we can conquer temptation without God’s help.

So then, the devil comes to the Lord Jesus and says:

‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’4But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’ (v. 3b, 4)

In the paragraph before today’s reading, we have the account of Jesus’ baptism and it is at His baptism that God the Father says in a voice from heaven:

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matt.3:17)

So the devil is picking up on this as he says, “If you are the Son of God,” and tries to get the Lord to use his divine power to satisfy his natural desire for food.  Of course there is nothing wrong with food and eating, God gives us many wonderful foods to enjoy and to share, but in this instance the timing was wrong.  The Lord was in the desert to fast, not to eat and because he had come to live as a man on the earth he had willingly limited his divine power so that He might experience human frailty – he wouldn’t use his power to change stones into bread.  We too may be tempted to satisfy perfectly good and God-given desires in the wrong way or at the wrong time, such as indulging in sex before marriage or in stealing food to eat.  Many of our natural desires are good, but God wants us to satisfy them in the right way and at the right time.

How does the Lord silence the tempter?  By quoting from the Bible, which is a very powerful and potent weapon against the enemy.  Ephesians 6:17 tells us that the sword of the Spirit is the word of God.  We need to read our Bibles, we need to memorise verses of Scripture so that when we are tempted, we will be able to stand against the enemy.

For the second temptation, the devil comes to Jesus and leads Him to Jerusalem up to the very pinnacle of the temple and says:

‘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.” ’ (v.6)

Again, the devil uses the “if you are the Son of God” line, trying to put a seed of doubt into the Lord’s mind.  First time around the devil tries to get Jesus to abuse His divine power, now similarly the devil tries to get Jesus to put on a spectacular and impressive display by throwing himself down from the top of the temple and letting an army of angels come dramatically to His rescue.

The Lord responds by quoting Scripture once More:

‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’ (Deut. 6:16)

God is not some magician in the sky ready to perform tricks and God does not need to prove Himself to the devil!

Twice the devil tries to tempt the Lord to abuse His Divine power and twice he fails, so now he tries a different tack, in effect saying, “forget your heavenly Father.  Just worship me and I’ll give you power and greatness like no one else ever had.” (phrase from Tom Wright, ‘Matthew for Everyone” Part 1, p.25).  We read:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; 9and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ (v. 8,9)

Of course the devil did not have the kingdoms of the world to give, but that did not stop him offering them!  Likewise the devil will try to tempt us with materialism and power and he offers us so much without any intention of giving it to us.  The Lord’s response to this ridiculous temptation was swift and decisive:

‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God,  and serve only him.” ’ (v. 10)

Then we are told that the devil leaves and angels come to the Lord and wait on Him.  So again, the Lord quotes Scripture to defeat the enemy.  When we are tempted we need to resist those temptations in the same way that Jesus did, by wielding the sharp, double-edged sword that is the word of God.  Perhaps it would be a good exercise in Lent to memorise some scriptures specifically to do with temptation?

I’ll finish with what author Brian Larson writes on the subject of temptation[1]:

Temptation is always seductive, and so we can hardly have too many reminders of Satan’s purpose in it.

Last week I had a simple reminder. I was at a party over lunch with a dozen of my fellow workers. It was a warm day in early September, and we had the windows open wide. Soon a bee found its way in, and after buzzing near me it landed on some food on the table. One of my colleagues a few chairs away took hold of an empty bottle of sparkling grape juice and put the mouth of the bottle near the bee. When she did that, I expected the bee to be startled and fly away for its own safety, as a butterfly might do. Instead, without a moment’s hesitation, the bee flew to the mouth of the bottle as if it had done this a hundred times before and climbed inside the narrow opening. Immediately my colleague put the cap on the bottle and screwed it shut. The bee spent the rest of our party drinking at the bottom of the bottle. As far as I know, the bee was never released.

What was my colleague’s purpose in luring the bee into the bottle? Was she concerned about the bee, wanting it to enjoy our hospitality and have plenty to drink? No, she dislikes bees. Her purpose was capture and control. The bee had flown into a trap.

When Satan incites us to indulge in the pleasures of the world in a manner that oversteps God’s commands, what is his purpose? Is he concerned that we might miss out on the good things of God? No, he despises humans. His purpose is capture and control. We must never forget that when we follow Satan, we walk into a trap.

When the Tempter comes around, it is better to have the instincts of a butterfly than a bee.

Let us pray… Amen

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One Comment to “Defeating temptation”

  1. When I first saw the Apple logo under the subject of temptation, I thought that maybe you were being tempted to buy a new iPad 2! (My husband struggles with this temptation…)

    Great sermon! Thanks.

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