Lent First Sunday Evening Prayer (6 March 2021) Luke 4:1–13
Sermon by the Revd Mark Spiers, St Andrew’s Church, Bentley
I recently read a story about a little boy named Bobby who desperately wanted a new bicycle. His plan was to save his pocket money, until he finally had enough to buy a new 10-speed bike. Each night he asked God to help him save his money. Kneeling beside his bed, he prayed, “Dear Lord, please help me save my money for a new bike, and please, Lord, don't let the ice cream man come down the street again tomorrow.”
This morning we are going to talk about temptation. We are all tempted. We can't help it. We all have some things that are just hard to walk away from. We are all subjected. Subjected sometimes with greed – power – sensual pleasures – jealousy – prestige. The list goes on and on – and Jesus was no different.
From our reading from Luke – We see that Jesus is tempted in the wilderness. Jesus is baptised and anointed in the Spirit and then is immediately led into the desert for a time of reflection, to be alone and to ready himself for the ministry that lay in front of him. And it's at this time that Jesus is tempted.
The first temptation was to turn the stones into bread. This was the temptation to get men and women to follow him because he could give them material possessions. But Jesus knew he could not bribe people into following him. He rejected this temptation by saying, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendour; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”
And finally, the devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Jesus denied temptation and so can we. But it's better to understand that before we are ever tempted, the thought of the temptation begins in our hearts and minds.
Shortly after the Reformation, some young followers of Martin Luther wrote to him with a question, saying, “We are harassed by many temptations which appeal to us so often and so strongly that they give us no rest. You don't seem to be troubled in this way and we would like to know your secret. Don't temptations bother you? Are you somehow immune to sin?” Luther wrote them back in reply, saying, “I, too, know something of temptation. But the difference is that when temptation comes knocking at the door of my heart, I always answer, ‘Go away! This place is occupied. Go back where you came from, for Christ is here.’”
Martin Luther knew all about who he was in Christ. He knew who his God was and his identity in God. Martin Luther didn't just have the head knowledge, he had heart knowledge.
And so did Jesus. Jesus knew just who he was. God had just identified him in the passage of scripture right before this when he was baptised – And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” So, he went into the wilderness knowing that He was the Son of God.
He knew who he was and who his God is. He had no self-doubts or doubts about God's faithfulness. He trusted God and God's promises.
When we know who we are we can come out the wilderness living in the promises of God. As Jesus was – we are God's children, we are His beloved.
When we understand this like Jesus and like Martin Luther, our hearts are filled with love and devotion for God. There aren't any places for temptation seeds to grow.
So, when there aren't any places for temptation seeds, our choices between right and wrong – good and evil are easier. That's what happens – the seeds are planted and begin to grow, and we find ourselves in the midst of the temptation and we are already weak.
There was once a woman who had a problem with beautiful clothes. Every time she went past a clothing shop or a display in a department store window, she would talk to herself, saying “Don't do it…don't do it…remember how much you owe… you don't need it. you've only worn the last dress once… your credit card can't take anymore…remember how Mark feels about it……don't do it. get behind me Satan.” She was doing so well, 4 weeks went by and she hadn't brought a thing, and then one Saturday evening she came home with a gorgeous £350 dress. Her partner couldn't understand it. Why? “The Devil got me again,” she said. “I couldn't resist.” “But how often have we talked about it?” he said. “You were doing so well – For four weeks you've overcome by fighting back get behind me Satan.” “This time it came too late.” She responded. I thought I was strong enough just to look. But before I knew it, I had the dress on, looking at myself in the mirror. The dress was gorgeous, I tried to fight back. Get behind me, Satan. But before I could move from the mirror, he said, “It looks as good from the back as it does from the front.”
The battle with temptation is it always begins within our hearts and minds. But it isn't long before the temptation moves us to making a choice.
There were once three ministers who decided to spend a few nights away together to discuss their ministry. One evening they decided to tell each other their biggest temptation.
The first minister said, “Well, it's kind of embarrassing, but my big temptation is gambling. One Saturday instead of preparing my sermon I went to the racetrack to bet on the horses. “Mine is worse still” said the second minister. “I sometimes can't control the urge to drink. One time I actually broke into the communion wine.” The third minister was very quiet. “Brothers, I hate to say this,” he said, “but my temptation is worst of all. I love to gossip – and if you will excuse me, l'd like to make a few phone calls!”
Wrong choices lead us into paths of our own demise. Our souls are riddled with guilt, shame, and remorse. We have a hard time living with ourselves and it's in this time that we may begin a slippery slope of wrong choices. We begin to turn away from God into a path of more self-destruction. We feel bad about who we are and believe that God doesn't love us and care for us any longer. We believe we let God down. But there is Good News – the Grace of God – Jesus Christ is with us
The wilderness of temptation is hard work. It is a place of fear and trembling. The experience reminds me of a sign I once read on vehicle repair garage – “Come in! Let us shock, tire, break and exhaust you.”
I'm sure Jesus was. He was out there on a 40 day fast. Tired, dirty, hungry. He was human. He suffered those same things we do.
But there is Good News – In the wilderness of temptation – we encounter Jesus – Jesus meets us! Jesus is with us through the pain of our temptation. Jesus is there giving us strength and encouragement. We can come out victorious because we know Jesus is with us. Jesus reminds us that he loves us and that he is our refuge our strong tower.
He's greater than any temptation – Jesus who is God's grace poured out – is there to bring us out of temptation and make us Victorious.
A wise man once said, “If you can walk on water, you are no better than a straw. If you can fly in the air, you are no better than a fly. But if you can resist temptation, you can conquer the universe.” Genuine power, real strength, comes from resisting temptation by God's grace.
Only one man totally resisted temptation. We heard about him today. Jesus alone experienced the full force of temptation. But you and I are like plants that waver according to whichever way the wind blows. But Jesus is like a mighty Oak with no internal decay. Only He has withstood the full power of temptation. The temptations occurred at the beginning of Jesus' public ministry so that – in his humanity – he could take power from those temptations.
We are weak, but each time we stand with Jesus, each time we resist temptation, we gain power. That power ultimately does not belong to us, but to God. The power is real but when we think it's our own, we set ourselves up for a big fall. Remember this, temptation has three purposes:
Humility: to expose one's real self.
Trust: to entrust oneself to God.
Strength: by God's grace to take power from temptation.
Humility, trust, strength. A way to remember this is by the phrase “His True Servant." HST: God allows the devil to tempt us so we can gain humility, trust and strength – become his true servants. As Jesus said in response to Satan's final temptation: “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve." Amen.