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Tested Faith: Facing Temptation

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Not a Super Hero

At the beginning of this year, Caleb and I were both quarantined with Covid and we watched several of the X-Men movies from the early 2000s. They are not great movies, but they were kind of fun, especially because i got to watch them with one of my sons.
There has been something of a renaissance of super here movies and TV shows over the last 20 years, from the X-men to Iron Man to Superman and Wonder Woman there is a hero for everyone. Have you ever thought about why kids love superheroes?
I think part of it has to do with the hope that there is someone out there strong enough to keep us all safe. When you are a child, you know you can’t always protect yourself, and it is comforting to think there are people out there whoa re almost invincible who want to keep us mere mortals safe.
Because, when you watch these movies, these heroes seem indestructible. They get beat up, but heal fast. They get shot and keep on fighting. They face huge odds and always come out on top. They are so great that we con recognize them simply from their symbol:
Who is this?
Superman (symbol on screen)
Batman (symbol on screen)
Wonder Woman (symbol on screen)
The Flash (symbol on screen)
The Cross (symbol on screen)
Sometimes, we can be tempted to make Jesus out to be like these superheroes. To steal away his basic humanity and hide it behind his divinity. He was God after all.
But our text today reveals Jesus basic humanity: he grows hungry, he gets tired, and he faced temptation just like you and me. Of course, as Hebrews reminds us, he was perfect without any sin.
Before we dive into the text today, let us ask for God’s blessing on the reading of his word.
Lord, our God, we bless and thank you for the gift of your Word. Grant me both the humility and the boldness necessary to preach it. Prepare each of our hearts and lives to be strengthened and changed by it. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Text

Luke 4:1–13 NIV
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “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 splendor; 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.’” 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.’” When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
L: This is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ!
P: Praise to you, O Christ!

Better Adam/Israel

Let’s start by just walking through our text today. As we think about the story, we want to remember the Bible is excellent at telling the same story over and over again with minor alterations. God brings dry ground out of the chaos if the sea at the beginning of creation. God creates dry ground in the Red Sea as the Israelites escape Egypt. And then again, he creates dry ground in the Jordan River as they enter promised land. There are lots of other examples.
Another key theme is how people respond to temptation and this is where our text today draws on two key stories from the Old Testament.
Jesus gets baptized at the end of chapter 3 and then immediately goes out into the desert where he is tempted for 40 days. He doesn’t eat anything. Which should bring to mind the original temptation of Adam and Eve who were in a garden surrounded by food, but still ate the one fruit they were told not to eat when they were tempted by the devil. Their bellies are full and they fall to temptation, Jesus is hungry and weak and he endures temptation.
As Paul says in Romans:

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

Adam sinned and all of creation was broken and separated from God, Jesus obeys and all creation is healed and reconciled to God.
We also don’t want to miss those 40 days. These 40 days are huge. 40 is a number of completeness and so we see it pop up all over in the Old Testament, most prominently in the story fo the Exodus where the people of Israel wander in the desert for 40 years before entering the land promised to them by God.
Jesus is tempted three times in the story and each time he responds with a verse form the story fo the Exodus.
When the devil tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread, Jesus responds with a line from Deuteronomy 8 where Moses is reminding the people how when they were hungry and complained to God and wanted to go back to Egypt, God provided them bread. Jesus passes the test and refuses to turns the stones to bread.
So then the devil takes Jesus to a high mountain and promises all the nations of the world. All Jesus has to do is betray the Father and worship the devil instead. Jesus responds with a line from Deuteronomy 6, just before that line Moses warns the people not to forget God and seems to be alluding to how they worshipped the golden calf at Mt Sinai. Jesus passes this test, too and refuses to worship anyone other than God.
And then the Devil takes Jesus up to the top of the temple and tells him to throw himself down. If he really is the Son of God, then God will have to save him. Jesus responds with Deuteronomy 6:16 where Moses warns the people not to test God like they did at Massah when they were thirsty and complained God had brought them into the desert to die. Jesus refuses to test God and passes the third test.
The devil leaves him and waits for another opportunity to test Jesus.
Don’t miss what has happened here. The role of Adam and Eve as image bearers of God was to rule over the creation, to extend the boundaries of the garden God had made. But when their trust in God was tested, they failed and the garden was lost.
Abraham and his descendants, the Israelites, were called by God to model for the world the righteousness and justice of God as they lived together in the promised land of Canaan, the major crossroads of the ancient world. But, they too failed the test repeatedly in the desert and in the promised land and so the land was taken away from them.
But Jesus goes into the desert as the new Adam and the new Israel and he passes the test. The great work of reconciling the world back to God has begun.

Reality of the Devil/Evil

This morning, I want to share a couple of reflections on the nature of temptation and the reality of the Devil and then end with a little application in our lives.
So first, there is a temptation in our modern scientific world to laugh at or discount stories like this that talk about a personal devil or satan who is opposed to God. We picture a little red figure with a pitch fork and a tail and it seems a little silly.
On the other side, there are some Christians who seem to want to find a little demon lurking behind every bad thing that happens in the world.
But scripture takes a different tack. Paul tells us:
Ephesians 6:12 NIV
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
There are spiritual forces at war for the hearts of humanity. There are powers seeking destruction, chaos and death in our world that stand opposed to the ways of God.

Nature of Temptation

Now, sometimes these powers work in ways that are obvious to see, but most often they work more subtly. Not by directly confronting us, but by tempting us to put good things ahead of God in our lives.
Take even these temptations of Jesus. would it have been sinful to turn the stones into bread? I can’t find any reason why, but Jesus almost never does these sorts of things just to show off his power. When it rains, he doesn’t snap his fingers to make a cool magical umbrella. Jesus uses his power to reveal who he is and for the benefit of others, not himself. His mission is not about his comfort, but the redemption of the world.
Instead, most temptations are a subtle form of the second temptation, to put something else in the place of God even for a good ends. Should all of the nations of the world worship and follow Jesus? Absolutely! But satan offers a shortcut that requires worshipping something other than God.
This is how most of us experience temptation. There may be times when we are tempted to do something we now is wrong like lie or steal. But most often, our temptation is to put something good, something we should want, something we should cherish, and put that thing ahead of our love for God.
Satan well point out how those things are good: family is good, marriage is good, a nice home is good, a successful career is good, having friends is good, getting good grades is good. There is nothing wrong with wanting any of these things. They are good things. But Satan will work to convince you the way to get those things is compromise your relationship with God.
You can have those things, he will convince you, if you just cut back on your giving to the work of God, compromise on your standards of whom to date or when to move in together (just to be clear, you should exchange some vows and rings first) or choosing extra-curricular or work activities over worshipping with God’s people. We compromise our obedience to God to get what we want.
In other words, when you had a choice between God and that thing you wanted, you tossed God aside and chose that thing. That thing, whatever it was, mattered more to you than God. There is a simple Biblical word for this: idolatry. The worship of something other than God.
That is the first way Satan works. He tempts us to compromise our relationship with God for good things. He tempts. But he also accuser. In the Old Testament he is known not as the tempter, but as the accuser.
Temptation works by making us overconfident. As we head done the road of compromising God’s values, we convince ourselves it will be OK. Nothing bad will happen and if it does we can handle it and God will forgive us.
Ad then after we sin, the accuser comes right back to tell us how we are not worthy of God and God could never forgive us of that sin. And so we sink into despair and hide from God. Notice how Satan keeps pushing on Jesu sonship. If you are the son of God. If God really delights in you. If you really are the Messiah. In other words, satan is telling Jesus maybe he can’t trust God, maybe he isn’t really loved.
Satan does the same thing to us when we become aware of our sin. He tries to convince us God can’t love people like us. The tools of Satan are temptation and accusation and he uses them well.

So what?

So what does all this mean for you and me when we get up tomorrow morning?

Jesus Understands

First, we can face the temptations and accusations of the day confident that Jesus knows our struggles. He knows the sting of accusation and the allure of temptation.
As Hebrews 2 says:
Hebrews 2:14–18 NIV
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Jesus knows what it is to be tempted so he can help us in our temptations. Turn to Jesus in those times of temptation.

How can we Respond to Temptation

Second, as we turn to Jesus in temptation there are three tools to help us in those moments.

Know Scripture

Know your scripture. Notice how Jesus responds to every temptation with the word of God. We need to be a people who know the word of God. read your Bible. Study your Bible. Memorize scripture. Talk about scripture with others so that we can help each other know ever better the will of God.

Know God

Not only do we need to know scripture, we need to know God. For 40 days, Jesus was led into the desert by the Holy Spirit. For those 40 days, he was with God, filled with the Spirit.
I did some quick math on that. Assuming he slept 8 hours a day, he spent 384 hours simply being with God. Talking with God. Listening to God. He knew God.
If you want to be ready to face temptation and testing, you have got to know God. And, you get to know someone by spending time with them. Spent time with God in prayer.

Know Your Worth

And then finally, you need to know scripture, know God, but you also need to know your worth. When God said Jesus was his son whom he loved, Jesus believed it to be true so he could endure the accusations of Satan. Do you know your worth? Do you believe Jesus really did suffer and die for you, because you are that important to God?
If you see Jesus only as an example, going through your life asking yourself what Jesus would do, you will fail over and over again. You can’t be Jesus. So, if Christianity for you is all about being good enough, you are setting yourself up to fall when the time of testing comes. You will have found your worth in how good you are at being like Jesus. And, to be clear, none of us are very good at being like Jesus.
Now, we should seek to live like Jesus, but even more, we need to see Jesus not as an example, but as our savior. It is when we look to the cross and we see all he endured: the emotional agony so great we sweat drops of blood, the betrayal and abandonment by those closest to him, the rejection by his own people, the beating, the flogging, the crown of thorns, and finally the suffocating, brutal death on the cross. When we see all Jesus did out of love for you, you will be able to resist any temptation because nothing else can compare to the gift of Jesus, nothing else could come first, and no accusation from Satan could cause you to doubt your worth.
People of Zion, you are the beloved children of God for whom he willing gives his very life. Believe this gospel and go forth to live in its peace. Amen.
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