I am imminently unqualified to talk about temptation. Well, except maybe giving in to it. For way too long I have been tempted by the same old sins. Either Satan is not very creative or I’m boringly stuck in the same place where I started this Christian race.
Note: Audio of this blogpost is available at the end of the post.
Just about the time I think I’ve overcome and feel like I’ve really grown in holiness, then I trip up again. I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, except I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. Don’t get me wrong, there have been many victories and I give God all the credit for those. It’s usually when I do not turn to Him for help that I walk into the danger zone. That happens too often.
Temptation is not sin, but it sure does open the door with a smile.
The controversial movie The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) was based not on the gospels but on a fictional account of the death of Christ in a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. In Kazantzakis’ vision, a Christ filled with existential angst struggles between the desire to fulfill his mission as God’s son and the human desires to marry, have a family, and escape the death of the cross. The film caused an international uproar and is still banned in several countries.
(As an aside, Christians who are unhappy with inaccuracies in the Son of God movie should be a little relieved in contrast!)
If you were reading Matthew for the first time, this scene from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry might have you a bit worried:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” ~Matthew 4:1-3
Jesus is hungry. Really hungry. A food temptation. I know all about those. But I’ve never been on a forty day fast. Forty hours is a major accomplishment for me. Satan, with a simple but deceptive plan, asks Jesus to do something that is within His power and it doesn’t even seem to be a sin. Even at his weakest, Jesus has strength to fight the tempter’s plans. Three times in this text, to some very substantial temptations, Jesus says, “It is written.”
I’m not saying that quoting a Bible verse makes the temptation go away, but it’s not working out too well trying to beat temptation on our own power.
Unlike Nikos Kazantzakis’ vision of a weak-willed Christ, our all-powerful Jesus manages to turn the devil away through His faith in the Father and the Word of God.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. ~ Hebrews 4:15
We follow a sinless Jesus – who knows how powerful those temptations can be. Rather than excusing away sin, however, he calls us to learn from Him and adopt His ways. It’s a long process.
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. ~Matthew 4:11
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. ~ James 4:7
How willing are we to resist? That is really the question. Is the desire of our hearts to pursue the desire of our hearts or the desire of His heart? I covet the ministry of angels strengthening those who resist and are in need of inner healing.
Pray about that because temptation is coming.
The last temptation of John is probably not going to be much different than the first one. But whatever our temptations may be, God is more powerful. And the door of escape is always present.
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. ~ 1 Corinthians 10:13
A second post on this text contains the lesson notes I eventually used for my sermon at Forsythe. Check it out HERE.