Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent

Text: Luke 4:1-13
Jesus returned from the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit and was led by the Spirit into the desert, where he was tempted by the Devil for forty days. (verses 1,2)

Handling temptation

An overweight businessman decided it was time to shed some kilos. He took his new diet seriously, even changing his route to work in order to avoid his favourite bakery. One morning, however, he showed up at work with a gigantic mud cake. Everyone in the office told him off for giving into the temptation, but he continued to smile. "This is a special mud cake," he explained. "I accidentally drove by the bakery this morning and there in the window was a host of goodies. I felt it was no accident, so I prayed, "Lord, if you want me to have one of those delicious mud cakes, let there be a parking spot right in front of the bakery." And sure enough, there it was - after circling the block eight times!"

We can all relate to giving in to this kind of temptation. In fact, temptation of one kind or the other forms a part of almost everyday as we give in and do something that we know is not the right thing to do.

On the occasion of our baptism and confirmation we confessed confidently, "Yes, I reject the devil and everything he does, so that I will no longer be led by him."
How successful have you been in carrying out what you promised?
Are you feeling as guilty, as I am, because you know that too easily and too often you have been led by Satan into all kinds of things that you know are not pleasing to God?
It seems that we are bombarded with temptation of every kind coming from all different directions and we give in so easily.

Todayís text tells us that Jesus wasnít exempt from temptation either. When we think about Jesus itís easy to forget that he was as human as you and I. He ate, he drank, he slept, he got dirty, he prayed, he cried, he gave thanks, he worshiped. Jesus did and experienced all the things you and I experience in this life. He even experienced temptation.

Satan came to tempt Jesus when he was the most vulnerable and when he was most likely take the easiest path to follow. A lot of our temptations are just that Ė instead of taking the harder road we are tempted to take the path of least resistance - the easy way out.

The devil is quite persistent and tries to get Jesus to give up the difficult path that would lead to his suffering and death. He has three goes at it.

Firstly he says, "Jesus, O Jesus. You must be so hungry. Why donít you turn these rocks into bread? You can do that? Youíre the Son of God, right?" The words of the devil are all true. Jesus is hungry, after all he has been fasting for 40 days, and he does have the power to change the rocks into a banquet of his favourite food; he is the Son of God.

When Jesus refuses to succumb to this temptation, the devil says smoothly, "Come with me." In an instant, the two of them are standing on top of a high mountain peak. Below them are spread all the nations of the world.

"Theyíre mine you know," says the devil, arms folded across his chest. "All of them. Jesus, I can give them to you or anyone I chose. I like you, Jesus. You can be king and lord over everything. I will give it all to you, if youíll worship me here on this mountain. Just fall on your knees - no one else has to know..." Again, Jesus resists the temptation for easy power, glory and riches.

The devil leads him down the mountain into the city of Jerusalem and onto the roof of the temple. "Jesus, if you are the Son of God, if you really have divine power, then you could throw yourself off the edge here, because itís written in those scriptures you keep quoting, "he will command his angels for you, to guard you carefully." When the people see you with a host of angels floating down into the temple courtyard they will be so impressed and adore you as the Messiah."

In each case, Jesus refused to be tempted to take short cuts, to take the easy way out. Godís plan of salvation included hardship, suffering, pain, even death. There was no easy way to complete God's plan of salvation but that wasnít going to stop Satan trying to sidetrack Jesus from his role as Saviour with easy options.

The Father of Lies, Satan, hasnít changed his tactics one bit. He is always putting in front of us the easy options, very attractive alternatives, the course that appears more logical, the path that seems to be the most natural thing to do, the direction that will satisfy our own cravings and impulses.

To resist temptation is to take the path that is more difficult and will involve hard work perhaps even pain. Thatís what happened to Jesus. Of course, he was hungry and the most natural thing to do would be to satisfy that hunger. To take the easy road to being powerful, rich and famous is always a great temptation.

Being tempted is not sinful in itself. Temptation is Satanís way of leading us away from God. We sin when we give in to Satan's temptation; when we fall for his easy way doing things hook, line and sinker and follow the cravings and impulses that we should not follow.

There is no one on this planet who is exempt from temptation. We might try to justify our action by saying that moral standards have changed, or by excusing ourselves or accusing others for leading us astray. We might even say that this little temptation wonít affect anyone else. But letís call a spade a spade. Anything that leads us to go against God and his will for our lives is sin, and no explaining it away will help.

What is happening when we give in to temptation?

Firstly, when we give into Satan and his tricks and sin, we forget to whom we belong. We belong to God and his kingdom. We have been adopted as children of God.
The Bible emphasises again and again, "You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. So then you must resist the temptation to do harm toward others. Clothe yourselves with qualities that demonstrate that you belong to Godís family".

I remember a father telling me about a conversation he had with his son. In his teenage years the son had really tested the boundaries set by his parents. As an adult he made this statement to his dad. "I know I caused you a lot of worry and Iím sorry for that. When the other lads wanted me to get involved in something that was wrong or dangerous, I couldnít do it. All I could think of was your love for me and how much you and mum would be hurt when you found it. I could never do anything to hurt you".

Knowing that you are special and treasured child of God,
someone for whom God paid the ultimate price,
someone who is so loved by God that he would do anything for you even when you donít deserve it,
someone who has been adopted into God's family and made one with Jesus at your baptism Ė
knowing all this enables you by the power of the Spirit to resist temptation.

Secondly, we forget that God wants to help us. Make no mistake, Satan is powerful and he easily seduces us to go against God. Our own desires are powerful and we give in so easily. God is more powerful than Satan. In fact, in Jesus Satan has already been defeated. God is always ready to help us when we are tempted. At our baptism, he made a commitment to us that he would always be ready to help and support us as our loving heavenly Father. He gave us the Holy Spirit to help us in our battle with Satan and to be our guide and counsellor always pointing us back to the Bible where we find the answer to the most common question we ask, "Which way shall I go? What does God want me to do?"

Thirdly, we forget that we are human and no match against the power of Satan. Given a certain set of circumstances, we fall into the same temptations again and again. We may try to stand up to Satan on our own but we know from personal experience that he has a way of manipulating our desires, feelings and needs so that we follow his path. Remember the more we give into temptation the difficult it becomes to resist it.

God made us and knows all about us and our weaknesses. He invites, no insists, that we call on him in our time of temptation and trouble in prayer and ask our loving Father in heaven to help us to stand against Satan.

What did Jesus do when it would have been far simpler for him to take the easy way out and forget about the suffering of the cross, the shame and the dying? He went to his Father in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He struggled with his own humanity that wanted any other way out that didnít involve suffering and pain. He was able to resist temptation and was given the strength and the courage to follow God's will for him. He looked to a strength that greater than his own human strength to reject temptation and turned to his Father in prayer. If Jesus had to do that, how much do we who are so caught up in sin.

Temptation involves making choices Ė following the ways of the world, Satan and our own desires or following the ways of God. If we are going to make choices that reflect God's will and ways for us then we have to know what is God's will. And where do you find out detail about what God wants? The Bible. God's Word for you. Thatís how Jesus resisted Satanís very tempting offers in the wilderness. He had a choice to make. He knew what was the right thing to do because he knew what God's Word said.

Too often we flounder when faced with choices because we donít know our Bibles well enough. We donít know what it is that God wants us to do when we are at a crossroad and have to make a choice because we donít know what he has told us in his Word.

Fourthly, remember that while we are on this earth we will have to go to God and humbly admit that we have messed up. Jesus came so that we could have forgiveness for the many times that Satan and our own bodily desires get us into trouble. He went to the extreme of dying on a cross so that the guilt that comes from giving into temptation can be removed and we can be right again in the sight of God. In fact, even though we might feel terribly disappointed in ourselves and totally unworthy of Godís love, Godís love never changes.

Lent is a time of self-examination and renewal. During this time, we realise how weak we are when it comes to temptation and ask God to help us, to forgive us, renew us and make a new start. Lent is a time when we rejoice that God is a God of refreshment, of new life, of new beginnings. Our comfort and strength in every temptation is that Christ has won the victory and defeated the evil one.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
25th February 2007

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