Today we are talking about temptation. The topic is not a new one as it is introduced to us early in the Bible. Apparently, human kind has always been plagued by the lure, the appeal, the excitement even of temptation and all of its false promises. Ah! Temptation! It offers to be our friend in the loneliest of times.
The appeal of temptation first appears to us in the book of Genesis. Do you remember the story of how Adam and Eve were tempted and lured by the serpent to eat of the fruit of the tree and to go against the wishes of God? In the story we are told how they were filled with desire for something new, and thus they sinned and turned away from their faithfulness to God.
Ah! Temptation! Its lure can knock down the strongest man’s faithfulness. Everyone here knows temptation, even if you say you have never given in to it, you surely know it. When you do avoid giving in to temptation there may be a sense of disappointment at first and if you do give in to temptation, the costs are not always evident. These factors, unfortunately, give more power to our temptations.
Through experience we have learned that temptation can cause us to do things we know are not right. These temptations seem to take on a power all of their own. We also know from experience that our faith can lead us away from sin and temptation… if we stay open to it. Many of us have felt temptation’s power. In our lives we experience a struggle between our temptations and our faith. Even when we are spiritual fit, even when we have faith in the God of Love and Life, we experience temptation. We feel desires and live through events that test our faith and seek to lure us away from God and have us serve evil instead.
I love chocolate and coffee, ah the temptation they bring to me. Unfortunately, the caffeine contained in both raises my blood pressure. Every time I go to a restaurant and ask for a cup of decaffeinated coffee and the waitress tells me that it is not fresh or it is unavailable I am tempted to order the stuff with caffeine in it. The temptation is real. The excuse for giving in to the temptation is easily justified. The consequences, however, are also real. I also struggle when one of you offers me a piece of chocolate. It is a powerful temptation. Ah yes, it is a temptation that I often give in to.
My little temptations with caffeine and chocolate are relatively minor. The list of temptations that we each face is not so minor.
Many of us find ourselves unable to stay away from our temptations, whether it is temptations relating to our diets or temptations that lead to sins against the laws of God. Our scripture passage testifies to us that Jesus has triumphed over temptation in life and in death.
This is clearly seen in the story of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. He does not give in to the temptations that confront him there. We also see the strength in Jesus as he faces death, upon the cross. He does not give in to his pain and anguish. His faith remains strong. The triumph is seen three days later – in the resurrection.
Rita Brown an American writer said: “Lead me not into temptation. I can find the way myself.”
(Story: Author Unknown)
[Two hunters got a pilot to fly them into the far north for elk hunting. They were quite successful in their venture and bagged six big bucks. The pilot came back, as arranged, to pick them up. They started loading their gear into the plane, including the six elk. But the pilot objected and he said, “The plane can only take four of your elk; you will have to leave two behind.” They argued with him; the year before they had shot six and the pilot had allowed them to put all aboard. The plane was the same model and capacity. Reluctantly, the pilot finally permitted them to put all six aboard. But when they attempted to take off and leave the valley, the little plane could not make it and they crashed into the wilderness. Climbing out of the wreckage, one hunter said to the other, “Do you know where we are?” “I think so,” replied the other hunter. “I think this is about the same place where we landed last year!”]
(Story: Author Unknown)
[The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him, and every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming. He eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements, and to store his few possessions. One day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky. It was just more than he could take. He was stunned with grief and anger. “God how could you do this to me!” But the next day, he woke to the sound of a ship approaching the island to rescue him. “How did you know I was here?” he asked in wonder. “We saw your smoke signal,” they replied.]
Our despair, that blinds us to God’s gift of love and salvation, is brought on because of the temptations we face. Many have fallen into this trap. Imagine if you will a great pit or a ditch – a depression perhaps of your own creation – or perhaps one created for you by others. See in your mind’s eye this deep pit, this ditch, into which you have fallen and cannot get out of.
A hole in the ground, a pit… is an awful place to be, particularly a ditch or pit created by the force and energy of temptation. Many, if not all of us, have fallen into one of these deep holes. There are varieties of pits, all shapes and sizes. These traps are everywhere and they await us at every turn, of every day. The good news is there is one who will help. There is ‘One’ who has managed to avoid the ditches and who seeks to help us out of ours.
This season of Lent upon which we have entered, is a time when we can retreat into the desert with Jesus. Joining him as we face our temptations, head on, just as Jesus did. God the Father, through the Holy Spirit, gave Jesus the strength he needed to avoid giving in to temptation, thus staying out of the pit.
Do not stay in the ditch you have fallen into. Do not accept this abyss, this chasm that has come between you and God as your fate. Rather reach out your hand to the one who has stretched out his hands for you, and who still reaches out for you today. Likewise, reach out to others around you. Let them know that there is a better life to be had, a life that is given freely to all that desire it.
You may ask, “Why was Jesus tempted?” Why am I tempted? “What was the purpose?” What is the purpose? There are many possible answers. First, it is believed that Jesus was being prepared for the work he was called to. His journey into the desert clearly strengthened him. His faith was tested and fortified. We also know from his teachings, that Jesus lived his life as an example so that we might follow in his footsteps. Through his example we have been shown how to avoid giving in to our temptations.
Jesus was tempted physically. He became hungry and craved for food and water. He was tempted to use his powers to turn the stones into bread. Yet, Jesus remained faithful, quoting scripture saying: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on the word of God.”
Jesus was tempted spiritually. He was tempted to test the power of God. Yet, Jesus remained faithful. He responded from the words written in the Old Testament again, saying: “It is written: do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
He was tempted with the material world and with every earthly power, if he would simply serve Satan rather than God. Yet, Jesus remained victorious as he sent the devil from him, quoting again the words of the Bible: “It is written, worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”
How are you tempted? Do you find yourself unable to turn to God in the midst of temptation? Each time you give in and do not ask God for the help you need to be free of its enticing lure, the harder it will be to get free of the temptations that bind you.
Temptation comes in many packages. The question is how do you respond to temptations? When temptation comes do you say a simple prayer? Perhaps simply saying, “O Lord, help me to overcome this.” Or do you simply give in to them, and then ask God for forgiveness that night, thus testing your relationship with your God? Communications between individuals improves a relationship. If you do the same with God you will improve that relationship also.
You can call upon God for help when you are tempted. You can also keep yourself from known temptations. Let me leave you with this promise from Paul’s first letter to the church in the city of Corinth. “No temptation has overtaken you that was and is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the tempting he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”
You can be certain that there are going to be times of testing simply because of the stress of everyday living. Knowing this about ourselves, we ask God to “lead us not into temptation.” When you turn to God for help, you are asking for protection and getting it.
This is not the same as running and hiding. No one builds a good and lasting faith through constant avoidance. We still have to live in the world of stress and temptation. That is why it is important to ask God to give us “a way out” of circumstances we are still not able to handle.
Thankfully, our God has promised to do just that.
Ah! This is a wonderful promise!
Cling to it and not the temptation.
Continue on toward Easter, and cling to the example Jesus set rather than temptation!