Temptation to Triumph #1 in the Series
Temptation, we’ve all faced it. It seems to be a part of life. Have you ever noticed that sometimes life seems to be one gigantic test? And at times it seems that we’ve all been set up to fail.
There was a young man named Fred, from the mountains of eastern Tennessee. He was the poster child for lazy and no-good. When he got his draft notice during the Vietnam War, Fred had high hopes that he’d be exempted because of he had double vision.
The doctor said, “See that chart on the wall over there?”
“Not very well, Doc. It’s all blurry,” said Fred.
“You’ve passed,” said the doctor.
Fred protested, “What do you mean I passed? How can I pass when I told you it’s all blurry?” And the doctor replied, “That was your hearing test.”
As funny as that is, we all know what it is to be tested and tempted. And when it comes to temptation, we’ve all had moments when we failed, not just a little but miserably. But we’ve also had moments and seasons of victory and experienced the triumph of faithfulness.
As we begin our Lenten Journey, a time of spiritual preparation for Easter, the first thing we need to look at is Temptation. Because from the very moment Jesus set the course of his ministry, he was Tempted to turn away.
The passage for this morning is found in Matthew 4:1-11 (NRSV)
 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.
 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.'”
 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,
 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.'”
 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor;
 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”
 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
One of the unique things about the Temptations is that they appear not only in Matthew but also Mark and Luke. Since Jesus was alone, the only way they could have known is if Jesus told them. While there’s no proof that he did tell them, I believe he shared his own personal struggles with the disciples in order to give them strength to face their own temptations. And in doing so He gives us strengthen as well. Let’s take a look at the Temptations themselves.
I. THE TEMPTATIONS:
A. STONES TO BREAD The first temptation was the change stones to bread. It was physical; it was the temptation to think of his own need first. His hunger and thirst were very real, he had a very physical need. He had spent the last 40 days in fasting and prayer. While His spirit may have been full from spending so much time with God in prayer, His body was famished. His human body NEEDED and craved food. Jesus’ response was, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
B. LEAP FROM THE TEMPLE The second Temptation was theatrical. It was also a little more insidious. The Tempter used Jesus own weapon against Him and tried to goad Jesus’ pride and vanity. The Tempter acknowledged that he knew who Jesus was. And basically said, “Well, if you’re the Son of God, then prove it. Jump from the highest point of the Temple. Scripture says the Angels won’t even let you stub your toe.”
it was the temptation to force God’s hand by putting on a show. It was the temptation that followed Jesus in every aspect of His ministry. That’s why He didn’t perform more miracles or do more signs and wonders during His ministry. He didn’t want the message to be overshadowed by Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show. It wasn’t a show, Jesus invites us into a relationship where we can experience the love of God not view it like a movie.
C. BOW DOWN TO THE TEMPTER: And the final Temptation was more political and spiritual in nature. The reason it was political and spiritual is that there was a real expectation by the people of Israel that the Messiah would suddenly appear at the Temple, lay claim His kingdom and kick their oppressors out. Jesus was being tempted to short circuit the process, and avoid the pain and agony of the cross and slide right into the throne of the world. And all He had to do was change political and spiritual allegiance and bow down to Satan.
II. THE IMPORTANCE:
A. I don’t think it’s coincidence that the Temptation of Jesus is in the Gospels. I think Jesus wanted us to know what He went through. He shared the story with the Disciples because it reminds us that Jesus was just as human as you and I. It reminds us that He faced every temptation that you and I face every day. We face physical, political and theatrical temptations in all that we do. We are constantly tempted to think of our physical needs and wants first. We constantly tempted to transfer allegiance and take the easy route. And we’re definitely tempted to sit back and watch and not be engaged in ministry, convincing ourselves that attendance in Worship is all we have to do.
We’re tempted to think it’s all about us. That’s where Adam and Eve got it wrong. And we keep making the same mistake over and over again.
I won’t blame iPhone but I will use them as an example because Apple fell upon the most marketable approach of selling their products ever conceived. Their market strategy plays right into our need to feel like we are the center of the universe. iPhone, iPod, iPad, iPad Mini, iTunes, iMac and iMac Pro. What do they all have in common? They all begin with “I”
The problem isn’t the name, the problem is the focus. “I,” “I,” “I”.
But I want you to notice some other words as well. prIde and sIn.
At the very heart of each of those words is the little letter “I” And that little letter is a big BIG problem We have let pride and sin take over our lives. We put ourselves at the center of the universe. Everything revolves around us. If we don’t get our way, we throw temper tantrums like spoiled children. We point fingers and blame someone else. There’s no sense of equality because we’re better than everyone else. There’s no sense compromise or working together because our way is the only way.
We no longer teach the golden rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Instead, we teach its illegitimate lead brother, “Do unto others before they do unto you.”
Everyone wants to be the center of the universe and no one wants to take responsibility for their own behavior. We don’t want to take responsibility for our children’s behavior. We don’t want to do the hard work. When PRIDE is at the center, everyone wants to lead and no one wants to follow. Everyone has a better idea but no one wants to get involved. We want mercy for ourselves and justice for everyone else.
When PRIDE leads the conversation, there is no middle ground, there’s no room for discussion. Growth and action come when people of different minds and ideas, come together with humility to search and discuss the best solution. Nothing gets done when someone arrives with complete and absolute certainty that their approach is the best and only approach.
Jesus could have been like that. Of all people he had the right and the ability. But instead, He showed us a better way. The way of faith. The way of love. He didn’t get into an argument with the Tempter. He who was the Word made Flesh, spoke the Word of God and with the same breath that created all that was and is and ever will be, blew the Tempter away.
And in so doing, He healed the rift between us and God. He repaired the relationship which had been damaged in the garden. This is why the Apostle Paul calls Jesus the Second Adam. Where Adam failed, Jesus succeeded. And in so doing, made it possible for us to overcome Temptation as well.
That’s why the author of Hebrews was able to write in 2:18 “Because Jesus himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”
B. And boy do we need that help. WATCH this. It’s titled Cooper Loves Ice Cream. You can find it on Youtube.
That’s one of the funniest videos I’ve seen in a long time. I crack up every time I see it. One of the reasons I crack up is because that’s exactly how we are. It’s a perfect example of how our appetites and desires consume us.
That’s what happens when that BIG “I” in prIde and sIn is the center of our lives and not God. But, because Jesus faced down Temptation; because Jesus was faithful and kept God at the center of His life, His purpose and His mission, we can, too; Because Jesus strengthens us.
III. THE STRENGTH:
When we are Faithful in the face of Temptation; when we call upon Jesus to give us strength in those areas of weakness in our lives, those areas we are most likely to stumble and fall; when we are faithful then God honors us. God honors obedience.
How many of you have seen the movie Courageous? It’s a really good Christian movie about men of faith taking spiritual responsibility for their own lives but also the lives of their families. One of the main characters, Javier Martinez, is interviewed for a job opening in the company he works for. In the interview his boss asks if he can be team player. Javier says “Yes.” But then the boss asks if he’d be willing to prove it by lying on a report? It put Javier into a quandary. Has asks if he can have the night to think about it. He comes back the next day.
I am absolutely convinced that God honors obedience. It may not result in a promotion or anything monetary. But God honors obedience. Even more importantly God is faithful and when we call upon Jesus in the middle of Temptation, we are given the strength we need to do the right thing; the righteous thing. We’re are given the strength to push ourselves out of the way and make the decision that honors God. And it is Christ Himself who will strengthen us through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.
During the Lenten Season, some denomination practice the act of “giving something up” for Lent. I know that some people do it just because their church says they ought to. But most people undertake “giving something up” as an act of spiritual discipline. They remind themselves of the Sacrifice Christ made for them by making a physical sacrifice in their lives. Some people give up sweets. Some people give up meat. Some couples give up eating out and instead give the money they would have spent eating out to a local food bank or other worthy charity. Not only are they practicing good spiritual discipline but they are also teaching themselves to be concerned for others.
A friend of mine has given up all Social Media. And if you knew how much this person is involved in the various areas of social media, you’d know what a sacrifice that is.
But I got to thinking; giving up something like sweets or meat or even eating out seems pretty easy. What if you gave up some attitudes. What if you gave up being judgmental of others.
What if you gave up Gossip, even that kind disguised as concern.
What if you gave up being putting on airs.
What if you gave up being impatient?
What if you gave up frowning and offered a smile to everyone.
What if you gave up talking behind people’s back.
What if you gave up being critical and said only kind things about others, things that would build them up, not tear them down.
What if you gave up griping about the younger generation and started encouraging them with a note or a pat on the back or a simple “good job.” What if you encouraged the wait staff that serve you during the Lenten Season by leaving a 20% tip and a note saying Thank You for your service.
What if you simply moved the BIG “I” out of the equation all together and let God be the center of your life as well as the universe?
I wonder what our community would look like if we all did that for the next 40 days. I wonder what the world would look like?
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.