In The Wilderness of Temptation
"In The Wilderness of Temptation"
I had the strangest dream the other night. I found myself standing at the gates of heaven talking to St. Peter. I thought, "Oh, man, there's still a bunch of stuff I haven't done yet." St. Peter grinned and said, "Don't worry, you're just here for a guided tour." And sure enough that's all it was. St. Peter took me around showing me all the sights. The streets really are paved with gold. Everything was more beautiful than I could ever describe. But there was one really strange aspect about heaven. Everywhere you looked there were clocks. They were all different. Some were huge old grandfather clocks, some were small mantle style clocks. There were modern, post modern and antique clocks. I've never seen so many clocks or so many styles of clocks.
Then as I was looking at the clocks, I noticed something else. Each clock had a solid gold name plate on it. And on each name plate was the name of some person. I looked and sure enough, I found names of people I knew. My mom and Dad, Mary, Joshua, my old High School buddies. I even found most of your clocks and name tags, all except for Marcus Stewart. Marcus Stewart's Clock just wasn't anywhere in sight.
The other strange thing was that each of the clocks was keeping a different time. Some of them were keeping regular time, some were a little slow or a little fast. I saw Kirby Stewart's and it was stuck on the time of her birth while others were going extremely fast. It was odd so I asked St. Peter about it. In my dream he told me that the clocks were actually sin meters. For every sin that was committed, the minute hand moved forward. That's why some were slow and some were fast.
Everywhere St. Peter lead me I could see clocks with people's names on them. I found Chuck Boggess', Tommy Spinks' and Ken Adair's all together and they were running pretty fast. Tommy's was about an six and a half hours ahead of everybody else's. But I still couldn't find Marcus Stewart's clock.
I looked and I looked everywhere we went but still no clock with Marcus Stewart's name on it. St. Peter showed me the Book of Life, where everybody's name is listed and Marcus Stewart's name was there, but I couldn't find Marcus Stewart's clock anywhere. Finally, my curiosity got the better of me and I asked St. Peter about Marcus Stewart's clock. St. Peter looked at me and said, "Marcus Stewart? Oh, yeah, we keep Marcus Stewart's clock in office. We use it for fan."
It was very tempting to go on and on, especially when talking about someone else's sin. I know Marcus is a good sport, besides, his father bought the Certificate I put together for F-4, about "The Name Of Your Choice used in a sermon 10 times" and since Wednesday is Marcus' birthday his father and I thought it appropriate to use this day.
Of course the point of the illustration is that none of us are perfect. It really is as Scripture says in Romans 3:23, "ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." All that is, except one, Jesus the Son of God.
I. JESUS WAS TEMPTED:
A. Jesus never sinned but that doesn't mean he wasn't tempted. That's what this passage is all about. After his baptism by John, Jesus went into the Judean Wilderness where he was tempted for forty days and forty nights. That's sort of the Biblical way of saying we really don't know how long but it was a real long time. Mark says that the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert.
One time, after reading this passage, one little boy wanted to know what kind of car they were driving when the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. And then he asked, is that what it means when we pray, "The Lord is my chauffeur, I shall not walk?"
The driving here was an inner compelling. Jesus was compelled to go into to Judean wilderness, out amongst the wild beasts, without food or shelter and wrestle with how he was going to carry out God's mission. He knew what needed to be done, but he had to decide to do it. He had to "set his face to go to Jerusalem" as the Gospel of Luke says.
B. Jesus wrestled with the hows and the whys of his earthly ministry. He was tempted to take short cuts and to do it his way and not God's way. God said, "Take my love to these people. Show them how much I love them. Love them yourself, love them until you die for them. Conquer these loveless people with this love undeserved, unselfish love even if you have to die on cross."
The temptation was to take the short cut, to use his miraculous powers and wow the people into loving him or to bow down to Satan and not die for the cause And even worse, he was tempted to put God's faith in him and God's plan to the test. He was tempted to test God's faithfulness.
II. TEMPTATIONS IS REAL:
A. A number of people don't like this passage. They're uncomfortable with Jesus, the Son of God being tempted and tested. They say it was all symbolic and that Jesus wasn't really tempted. But scripture contends differently. It says that Jesus was tempted in every way like we are. The temptations were physical, mental and spiritual. Through the temptations, Jesus had first hand experience of what our lives are like and the temptations we face.
For me, it is comforting to know that someone has been through the same thing we're going through. That's what support groups are all about. There is real solidarity and strength when you find out that others have the same problems as you. You don't feel so cut off and alone. You are strengthened for the long haul. You are encouraged by those who have gone through what your are currently going through. They give you help and advice. They stand by your side. Sometimes they even hold you up.
We need that extra strength because temptation is very real. It doesn't tempt us with what is ugly, instead it tempts us with something which we would think is delightful. What would be the sense in tempting us with something that we wouldn't do. It touches those nerves of the things we might do or that we've thought about doing.
For example, Hagar, that Viking from the comics and his best friend, Fast Eddie are walking along being followed by Hagar's arch enemy, Mean Max. Mean Max is hollering out things like: "Roast Pork, Potato Pancakes, Candied yams, Sticky Buns, Dumplings, Blueberry Pie, Fried Rice."
Hagar has this look of desperation on his face as he says, "I'd love to know who told Mean Max I'm on a diet!" (1)
Temptation is just like Mean Max. It never really touches you, it never really assaults you, it just follows you where ever you go, filling you with ideas of all the things you know you shouldn't want or crave.
There is something we need to understand about the power of temptation, the more we give in, the weaker we become. The more we resist, the stronger we become. In C. S. Lewis' book, THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, the wicked queen entices the boy, Edmund, with a box of enchanted Turkish Delight. Each piece is sweet and delicious, and Edmund has never tasted anything better. There is only one problem. The more he eats of this enchanted Turkish Delight, the more he wants. He doesn't know that this is the wicked queen's plan. The more he eats, the more he will want, and thus he will eat and eat until it kills him. It would never satisfy his hunger; it would never fill him up, it would simply kill him. C. S. Lewis give us a metaphor for temptation and sin. That's exactly how sin is. The temptation is to give in but it never satisfies, it only enslaves.
B. We're all tempted from time to time. This has been Girl Scout Cookie Delivery week. Thursday this room was overflowing with cookies. It got me to thinking, how many times have you opened a package of cookies and said to yourself, "I'll just eat one or two." And the next thing you know, before you even realize it, half the pack is gone.
We're all tempted and sometimes we act without even thinking. Everyone of us is tempted in some form or fashion. It might be to tell that little white lie to make yourself look better in the eyes of others. It might be that you're tempted to switch the price tags on some item of clothing that you really like but can't really afford. Or maybe you've been tempted to let some action at work which you know is wrong, go unnoticed or unchallenged.
I read recently about a man who was organizing a religious retreat and in talking to the folks who were going to be involved in it he said, "Most of you have office supplies at work. Bring some pencils and paper." One of the participants put it in a little different perspective though, when she asked, "Oh, you mean, steal some office supplies for Jesus?" (2)
It's funny how we accept the little things, the little thefts, the little lies. We don't think they amount to much so we just sort of over look them. But each time we give in to one of the small temptations, each time we let one of the little things go by, it's just a small chip away at the foundation of our faith. One chip won't make a difference. Two or even twenty little chips won't make much of a difference. But over a period of years, each of those chips add up and after a while the foundation can crumble.
III. JESUS STRENGTHENS US:
A. We're all tempted from time to time. But the Good News is that we can say. "NO!" to temptation.
In an old Calvin and Hobbes, you see the two of them sitting on top of a snow covered hill on a toboggan or bobsled. With this look of fear in his eyes, Calvin says, "Well, here we are, poised at the precipice of 'Pallbearer Peak' on a flimsy, unsteerable sled! The mind recoils in horror to imagine the awful descent! Yes, it's a thousand foot vertical drop onto a boulder field lined with pricker bushes! It's a journey calculated to exceed the human capacity for blinding fear!" He turns to Hobbes and says, "Are you ready to go?" Hobbes simply says, "Ready." And in the last scene you see Calvin and Hobbes walking away from the hill.
Sometimes, the best thing to do IS to walk away. And the Good News for those who accept Christ is that through the power of his life, death and resurrection Christ can empower our lives so that we can say "NO!" in the face of temptation.
B. That's the Good News, but the even better news is that because Christ was tempted and didn't give in; because He didn't succumb to temptation, he knows what we are going through. He knows how tough it is to say, "NO!" And he can strengthen us in the face of our temptation.
Hebrews 2:18 is very clear, it says, "Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested."
And Hebrews 4:15 says, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. "
When we put our lives in Jesus' hands, when we accept Him as Lord and Savior and call on him, Jesus is there to strengthen us and encourage us and empower us to say "NO!" to temptation. That's the conspiracy of Grace. That's the Good News. As the Affirmation of Faith for this morning said, "We are not alone! God IS with us." And that fills us with hope even in seemingly hopeless situations.
There is a fascinating story that comes out of the 1989 earthquake that almost flattened Armenia. Unlike our recent California earthquake, this earthquake killed over 30,000 people in less than four minutes. In that same short time countless other lives were changed forever. In the midst of all the confusion of the earthquake, a father left his wife securely at home and rushed to his son's school. When he arrived there he found the building flat as a pancake. Standing there looking at what was left of the school this father remembered a promise he made to his son, "No matter what, I'll always be there for you!"
Tears began to fill his eyes. It looked like a hopeless situation, but he couldn't take his mind off of that promise. He remembered that his son's classroom was in the back right corner of the building. The father rushed there and started digging through the rubble. As he was digging other grieving parents arrived, clutching their hearts, saying: "My son!" "My daughter!"
Other well meaning parents tried to pull him off of what was left of the school saying: "It's too late!" "They're dead!" "You can't help!" "Go home!" Even a police officer and a fire-fighter told him he should go home. To everyone who tried to stop him he said, "Are you going to help me now?" When they did not answer he continued digging for his son stone by stone. Courageously he worked alone because he needed to know for himself: "Is my boy alive or is he dead?"
This man dug for eight hours; and then twelve; and then twenty-four; and then thirty-six. Finally, in the thirty-eighth hour as he pulled back a boulder he heard his son's voice. He screamed out his son's name, "ARMAND!" And a voice answered him, "Dad? It's me Dad!" Then the boy added these priceless words, "I told the other kids not to worry. I told `em that if you were alive, you'd save me and when you saved me, they'd be saved. You promised, `No matter what, I'll always be there for you!' You did it, Dad!" The father worked more intently now clearing the way for his son and his classmates. "Come on out!" the father said. The son replied, "No, Dad! Let the other kids out first, 'cause I know you'll get me! No matter what, I know you'll be there for me!" (4)
That same kind of love and power is available to us through the Son of God. Jesus wasn't left all alone in the wilderness, God our heavenly Father was with Him. And Christ promises to be with us, no matter what. Even when it seems like we're alone, Christ is there. In John 14:18, Jesus says, "I will not leave you orphaned." The King James Version translates it, "I will not leave you comfortless." I like both versions. Abba God, our heavenly Father will not leave us alone, cut off, abandoned and orphaned. That's great news for anyone who has ever felt like everyone has abandoned them, whether it's because a parent or a spouse left or if you're in a strange city without family around. God cares enough so that you don't have to feel alone. God will "not leave you comfortless." Especially in those hard times of temptation.
And that really is the Good News, that's the Great News of what took place in the wilderness of temptation. Jesus overcame temptation in order do God's will. And because of that we have someone who knows what it is like to be alone and cut off and to be tempted as we are tempted. We have someone who has walked where we walk everyday. And because of that, we can be strengthened to say, "NO!" in the face of our temptations.
Dr. William Hinson in his bood, RESHAPING THE INNER YOU, tells about an amusing article that appeared in his local paper. Over the past several years in Houston there have been a rash of incidents in which dogs have attacked small children. As a result, the newspapers have run several stories about the attacks, some of which have been pretty gruesome. There was one, however, involving a little boy called D.J. that wasn't quite so tragic.
A reporter asked D.J. how he managed to come away from the recent dog attack unharmed. You can almost picture the serious expression on the little boy's face as he said, "Well, right in the middle of the attack, the Lord spoke to me." "Oh, really," asked the reporter, "And what did God say?"
And this young man reported "He said, `Run, D.J., run!'". (4) There may be times in your life when you need to listen to that voice of God. For that's always what God is whispering when we're facing temptation, "Run, Jim, run!" Or "Run, Sally, Run!"
Life may drive us into the wilderness of Temptation and we may feel all alone but we are not really alone, God will not abandon us. God still whispers the great love God has for each of us. God whispers and tells us to run from temptation. And God in Christ strengthens each of us for whatever comes our way. Even Marcus Stewart.
1. Hagar the Horrible by Chris Browne
2. Methodist-Pak, January, 1994, page 2.
3. Jack Canfield & Mark V. Hansen, CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL, (Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.), 1993, pp. 273-274.
4. William H. Hinson, RESHAPING THE INNER YOU, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1988).