Sermon Series March 16, 2014

#2 “When Jesus Was Tempted”

Matthew 4:1-11 & James 1:12-15

March 16, 2014

James 1:12-15

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

II-We seek either to find out, or to remind ourselves, as to what Jesus did: When he preached, when he prayed, when he taught, when he looked at people, when he took part in a demonstration, when he died…and rose again, and today, what Jesus did when he was tempted.

And he was tempted. Just as surely as you and I are tempted, so was he. That’s another of the great things about Jesus. Not only could it be accurately recorded, “He knew what was in people”, but he himself experienced the things we experience…including birth and death, hunger and hot and cold, loneliness and pain and suffering…and temptation.

A New Testament letter writer said of Jesus: “We have no superhuman high priest to whom our weaknesses are unintelligible….

Christ himself has shared fully, in all our experience of temptation…and by virtue of his own suffering under temptation; he is able to help those who are exposed to temptation….Yet He never sinned…” (Hebrews 4:15-16, 2:18)

I appreciate and am helped by that, not just by the fact that he never sinned, but that he was tempted…as we are.

I see Jesus, not as some divinely protected, providently guarded, carefully sheltered “hot house plant”, kept out of the searing heat and biting cold and bitter storms of life; but rather, one like us, exposed to the same temptations: physical, mental, moral, spiritual, even as you and I.

My own situation, however, is not accurately described in the words written by Jesus: “He never sinned”…….

My biography is more perfectly related, biblically, to the words of the Apostle Paul:

“I often find”, Paul wrote to his fellow Christians at Rome, “(I often find) I don’t accomplish the good I set out to do, and the evil I don’t really want to do….I find I am always doing….I want to do good, but in practice I do evil….It is an agonizing situation….” And then Paul asks, as well might we all, “Who on earth can set me free from the clutches of my…..sinful nature?” and answers: “I thank God, there is a way out, through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Two questions:

One-Do you, like Paul, acknowledge yourself to be a sinner? And Two-Do you really want a way out; that is, so you really want a way…a fashion…in which to stand up to temptation? If your answer is in the affirmative, then listen on.

For we think and speak about what Jesus did when He was tempted.

By the way, I share three ways of meeting temptation, suggested by a certain tale of Greek mythology. You remember the mythological sirens, (female singers…for those who think in terms of fire engines and similarly equipped vehicles) (the mythological sirens) whose bewitching songs lured seamen and their ships to death on the rocks.

On one occasion, the hero Ulysses was to sail by the treacherous shores from which the sirens sang. Before the ship drew near, Ulysses did two things: One-he had every seaman’s ears filled with wax, so that nary a man could hear a thing; Secondly-he had himself bound to the mast so securely, that though he struggled mightily to free himself, he was successfully restrained until the song of the sirens was no longer even an echo.

So it is possible that a person may close their ear’s to sin’s appeal, their eyes…when that is appropriate, their mind…at all times; or they may so provide for their physical, spiritual and moral restraint that sin’s allurement…..finally fades away. 

A third method is illustrated by the journey of the Argonauts past the same place. The Argonauts heard the sweet songs of the maidens, but simply laughed at what they deemed to be coarse and raucous voices coming from the sirens, for they had on board Orpheus, Orpheus, the sweetest singer of all; Orpheus whose songs had calmed the fluttering birds of the air; Orpheus whose voice had tamed the wild beasts of the forests; Orpheus whose singing was truly “the sweetest music this side of heaven”. The Argonauts had on board, then, the one whose songs and voice were truly the greatest.

How many shipwrecks on the rocks of temptation are avoided because of the presence within of a higher, more noble, more pure, more beautiful, more powerful attraction………..

The two most vivid scenes of Jesus in the presence of temptation are located: one in the desert, and the other in the garden.

The desert temptation, according to Matthew and Luke, occurred immediately following Jesus’ baptism. Jesus had heard a word from God, a spiritual manifestation with a voice sounding from the heavens, saying concerning him: “This is my beloved son in whom I am pleased.” Jesus had received his high and holy commission to live and labor “to the glory of God and for the good of men.”

Then Jesus had gone out into the desert…to think it all over, to plot his course, to plan his campaign.

And to the desert the devil came. Don’t let the picture of the devil on cans of devilled ham fool you; and don’t allow yourself to be beguiled, by the humor of a friend at a costume party dressed up in horns and tail and carrying a pitch fork. The devil is real, all right; he needs no physical form; he is the demonic power which seeks to rule our lives, using temptations which abound all along life’s way. In the case of Jesus, surely you remember what the record says!

Three temptations;

First: “If you are the Son of God command these stones to become bread.” Food! Food for the hungry! Certainly there is nothing inherently wrong with that!

How devastating real hunger is! And surely Jesus wants the hungry fed!

Let not the consideration of hunger as an occasion for temptation minimize what Jesus did for other hungry ones at other times. Those situations during which at the request of Jesus, 4,000, and then 5,000 were fed at once, vividly testifying to Jesus’ concern for the starving multitudes.

And spoken in another context…the words of Jesus: “I was hungry, and you gave me food” were among the reasons behind Christ’s greatest words of praise and eternal hope. So, the Haven Food Pantry is good.

But for Jesus, at this time and place in his early experience, to use his divine power for the satisfaction of his purely personal, physical want would have been betrayal…at the very outset…of his Father’s mission.

The power with which he was divinely endowed was not for himself, but for humanity. And humanity….like himself…needed more than bread!

So there came through lips that were certainly parched, the words of Holy Scripture:

Man shall not live by bread alone!”  

Don’t tempt me to forget my ministry by virtue of a full stomach, by virtue of a feeling of physical satisfaction.”

So the stone remained stones.

So the enemy tries a new tack…

Secondly: “If you are the Son of God throw yourself down….” One can almost hear the reinforcing arguments with which Satan subtly seeks to bait his trap: “What a way to get your ministry off to a ‘flying start’! People everywhere looking for a genuine man of God. Multitudes eager to know for sure they are on the right religious track!”

“Thousands of people here in the temple will get the word around in no time that you indeed must be the Savior for whom all the people are looking. It’s so simple…just let yourself go here from the top of the temple and God will protect you….that’s his business…and you’ll win the day even before the battle has begun!”

 But even you and I know that that is not God’s way; and the word from Jesus…. another biblical saying…”You shall not tempt the Lord your God!”

Thirdly: “All right Jesus, while we’re up here…another look around!” And in a vision Jesus is shown all the kingdoms of the world. And the tempter says: “All, all are yours, if only you will fall down and worship me.” “Nothing is too good for you.

All economic, and political and social success will be yours. All authority, all power will be in your hands. You will be able to say to man…’Go!’ and they will go; ‘Come!’ and they will come. “What you want will be yours when you want it. and there’s only a small price to pay…..just acknowledge and worship me as supreme.”

 When tempted like that, what did Jesus do? Another word of Scripture:

It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.”

And with that, according to the record, the devil left Jesus for a season. Yet not for long. We know that….because temptations don’t stop.

They’re as American as apple pie. They are as much a part of life as the Ten Commandments. Temptations… keep coming in virtually every aspect of our lives, and every day we are alive.

They come….and come…..and come…and come. And they came again and again to Jesus.

But that one of which the record speaks the most clearly, occurred in the garden.

Again, you know that record…the account of what happened in Gethsemane…perhaps you know it more completely than concerning the account of the temptations in the desert. You, who worship regularly here, have a reminder of it for an hour or more every Sunday. Except, of course, that one picture is inadequate.

The savior is painted there, in the window back in the hallway, but there is no way in which one picture can do the scene justice.

For omitted is the agony of the decision, the bloody seat of spiritual wrestling, the three times going and coming back to the rock, the failure of his closest friends to remain awake and watch with him, and certainly the stark horror of what his ultimate decision means: the cross! The cruel and death dealing cross!

And the prayer:

Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.”

Oh, for a last minute reprieve!”

Oh, for some other way to accomplish God’s will. Oh, for some other fashion to do what I have set out to do. Oh, for anything but this!”

Nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done!”

And after that I suspect there were no more temptations, for the divine human drama had reached a climax…and the result in the mind of Jesus, and in the eye of God was inevitable.

 Jesus made the right decision. Even though it meant the cross, He would go forward on that God-given road. And He did not sin.

 What helped Jesus? What might help us? Not just wax in the ears….that’s artificial. Not just getting ourselves tied up; for that’s impossible sometimes. Something very similar, however, to having the purest voice in your ears, and the perfect song in your souls.

 Notice what Jesus did when he was tempted.

 First- He knew, and He used the Bible. The life of Jesus was steeped in that sacred scripture, which to so many of us is more of a fetish than a guide.

Again and again he pointed out…. “It is written”, It is written…..”

The Good Book was more than a volume that was put out some years ago…. “The Bible Designed To Be Read as Living Literature.”

The Bible was more than a book designed to be read as “living literature.” The Bible to Jesus, was something that gave light on his path, it was a lamp to guide his feet, it was a beacon to illumine his mind, and it was a pure white beam that shone constantly in his heart.

 “I read it all….at once” is not what Jesus said of the holy summons of his people. He read it…and read it again. He heard it…He memorized it and taught it. He preached it. He lived it…day after day, after day, after day. The life of Jesus was a life directed by a knowledge of the Book.

 Secondly-He prayed.

I am sure He prayed more than most of us put together. He prayed more often, more fervently, more truly, more persistently than the priest, the monk, or parson, before or since. It is recorded of Him, again and again: “He lifted up his eyes to heaven.” What gesture is more typical of the man Christ Jesus than that?

 And again and again it is recorded of Him: “He went apart to a desert place to rest and pray awhile.” So often this is what the record bears witness to. He was strengthened not just by his prayers, but by his being a man of prayer, by his being a praying man.

 Thirdly-He reacted rightly, right away. A friend of mine put it concisely: “When you meet temptation, turn to the right.” Someone else described too us: “Most people who flee from temptation usually leave a forwarding address.” And a writer in a religious magazine warned: “Temptations are like pigeons….treat them kindly and they return, bringing others with them.

How tragic, that so often facing the fires of temptation we allow them to develop into a 4-alarm blaze! We dally with the tempter, we think about the temptation, we plan and we counter plan, we dream, we wonder, and we hope about the possibility of having the cake of a clear conscience, all the while eating the frosting of some misdeed;

when one bucket of water quickly and directly applied would have put out the blaze before it spread four feet. Or we dip the water out teacup or by teaspoonful and wonder why the fire gains so rapidly.

Jesus-in the presence of temptation…reacted immediately and moved immediately in the opposite direction! Right away………..!

Fourthly, and finally, though admittedly not completely, Jesus kept his eyes on the goal of his life. From the very beginning of his life….you remember the occasion of speaking to his parents in the temple and saying to them: “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” to the very end, when in the garden he could make the final word of his prayer: “Nevertheless, not my will, but Your will be done.”

Jesus faced life having ever before Him, God’s will for his life.

A young man came to a king and asked the monarch the secret of a wise and happy and sinless life. The king filled a cup with water, gave it to the lad, ordered him carry it through the streets of the city and bring it back to the palace without spilling a single drop. “If you spill any,” warned the monarch, “the soldier behind you will draw his sword, and remove your head.”

The young man went forward, bearing the cup most carefully. Safely he carried it through the streets and brought it back without spilling a single drop. “Well,” said the king, “what did you see and hear by the way?” “Nothing, O King, the youth replied. “Nothing!” exclaimed the king. “Did you not see the sellers in the market, the drunks and dancers in the taverns, the children by the roadside, the soldiers and the priests and the common people?” “No, Sire”, said the young man…. “I neither saw, nor heard any of these.” “So”, responded the king, “learn your lesson.” “Set your heart on God. Give all your mind to obey Him.” “And just as you fixed your whole being on bearing the cup, and heard and saw nothing beside, so shall you avoid the voice of temptation, and the clamor of the world.”

 Bearing in our hands, the cup of life given by Him, and bearing in our hearts the Christ….are these not facts also in which we successfully can face up to temptation?

 To know the Bible from cover to cover; to pray…not merely to say prayers, but to be men and women of prayer; to pray without ceasing, as Jesus commanded; to react rightly….right away; and to know that “We have no superhuman high priest to whom our weaknesses are unintelligible” but that (Christ) himself has shared fully in all our experience of temptation….(and) by virtue of his own suffering under temptation, He is able to help those who are exposed to temptation….”

 

To have Him…the Perfect Song…in our hearts, surely that helps when we face up to temptation, as we all most surely must.

God helping us, in the face of temptations, surely we ought to do no less.

 

Let’s pray;

May the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body, be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever!

Amen.

 

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