So Many Ways to be Tempted; One Sure Way Forward

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Lent 1
February 26, 2023
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: No one is exempt from temptation, not even Jesus. Jesus was tempted but did not sin. Instead, he showed us by example how to live a life of faithfulness.

Paul Simon's song, "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," was released in 1975 on his "Still Crazy After All These Years" album. Simon wrote the song following his divorce from Peggy Harper. It became Simon's sole number one hit as a solo artist on the Billboard Hot 100.â 1 You've probably heard these lyrics:

You just slip out the back, Jack

Make a new plan, Stan

You don't need to be coy, Roy

Just get yourself free

Oh, you hop on the bus, Gus

You don't need to discuss much

Just drop off the key, Lee

And get yourself free.

Paul Simon was not around at the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, but Satan was, and he was ready to use any means necessary to thwart Jesus' work and ministry. The striking similarity between Simon's song and Satan's attack is the ease with which both treat what they are suggesting as being of little significance. Simon's repeated use of the word "just" hints at how seemingly unimportant his suggestions are: "Just slip out the back; just get yourself free; just drop off the key; and get yourself free." It's no big deal, right?

Satan's take on this was to use the word "if." "If you are the Son of God, command these stones ... If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down ... All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." It's no big deal, right?

Big deal? Jesus certainly knew it was. Let's look at this closer.

Jesus was tempted

There are times you may have wished for special privilege because of who your mother or father is. Perhaps they started and own the business. Or they know the president of the company. Or one of them went to school with your teacher. Or your coach is a close friend of your mom or dad. It's not that you want to shortcut the system, but occasionally, it's nice to catch a break.

Yet the one person in all of history who had every right to claim privilege, chose not to do so. Paul said of Jesus, "Let this same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited ...."2

Matthew tells us that after Jesus was baptized, "Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil." Indeed, Jesus did not claim privilege. In today's scripture he was tempted three times by the devil, and not because the devil snuck up on him, for the Father and the Spirit knew this was going to happen. So, it is right that when we pray the Lord's Prayer, we petition God to "lead us not into temptation" but also know that God will be with us when temptations come.

Satan prefaced the first temptation by questioning Jesus' sonship: "If you are the Son of God." In fact, Matthew tells us that at his baptism, right before this time of temptation, Jesus had heard a voice from heaven affirming that very thing: "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."3 This temptation is also reminiscent of the serpent's first words to Eve, "Did God say, 'You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?'"4 Right from the start, one way temptations come is to question God's word.

The devil starts with a temptation dealing with the practical. Jesus, you're hungry. Why wait? "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." We know Jesus was famished, having not eaten for 40 days and nights. Jesus answers with God's word, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." Quoting from Deuteronomy, Jesus refers to a time in which God let the people get hungry enough to try this new thing -- manna -- which God was giving to them.5 God tells them there are new things in store for them which they cannot even imagine. By God's grace that is true even today.

The second temptation again starts with, "If you are the Son of God," again questioning Jesus' sonship. "If you're the Son of God, show everyone, and do it in a spectacular fashion!" Using God's word from Psalm 91 in the temptation,6 the devil challenges Jesus to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple so that the angels will "bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone." The devil is tempting Jesus to get a head start on his ministry by making a name for himself right at the beginning. Of course, he is tempting Jesus to misuse his sonship and exploit his divine power. Jesus answered this temptation by quoting from Deuteronomy, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"7.

In the third temptation, the devil skips the questioning of Jesus' sonship. Rather, he takes Jesus to a high mountain and shows him "all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor." Then he said, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." He offers Jesus the world! But he offers it at a price Jesus will never pay. "Away with you, Satan!" Jesus says, and adds another command from Deuteronomy: "for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him."8 Here Jesus recognizes the temptation as one that is personal; to give in to that temptation would change who he was and abort his mission in coming to earth,

"Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him," Matthew tells us.

So many ways to be tempted

If we're talking about temptation, it's almost impossible to list all the broad categories in which we can be tempted every day, and it is certainly impossible to list all the specific ways we are individually tempted. But taking our clues from today's scripture in Matthew, let's at least touch on some of the major categories. The first temptation of Jesus dealt with practical things in life where a less-than-honest shortcut here or there would, we're quick to think, make life better. For Jesus it was stones into bread, and for us the possibilities are endless.

Taking a shortcut and preparing a "cheat sheet" for a test in school where we didn't study enough; exceeding the speed limit; fudging on our expense reports; "forgetting" to list all our income for tax purposes or doing work "under the table" and not reporting it at all; shoplifting; exaggerating the worth of something we sell on eBay. We justify all these things in our minds by saying that no one is getting hurt; so, what's the harm?

The second temptation of Jesus dealt with the spectacular. Exaggerating and stretching the truth; lifting one part of our life for all to see so the parts of our life about which we are embarrassed won't be seen; stretching the truth about what we've accomplished in life; lifting ourselves up at the expense of someone else's worth or dignity. While no one is being killed, we certainly are running loose with the truth. Who knows what might happen because of what we've started?

The third temptation of Jesus dealt with him personally. "You can have it all; just bow down to me," the devil said. As we give in to these temptations, self-respect is thrown out the window, relationships are broken, marriages end and families are destroyed, laws are ignored, jobs and careers are lost, dreams turn into nightmares and health issues become health problems.

This quick list is woefully small. A quick Google check said there are about 7.96 billion people in the world in 2022. That's at least how many ways there are to be tempted and to give into temptation.

Dealing with temptation - one sure way out

One thing stands out in our scripture today: No one gets out of life without being tempted! Jesus, the Son of God, was tempted. He was not exempt, and neither are we. So, how do we deal with temptation?

Jesus gave us a basic outline of what to do. First, learn and live by the word of God. That is, do not try to live as if the Word of God doesn't apply to us. Of course, that means we must spend time in the Word individually and corporately with other believers. The easiest way to do this is through a local church where you feel both the love of God and the love of the family of God.

Second is that we should not put God to the test. That is, we should accept God's word and love and live within the bounds of that love. The "WWJD" practice of previous years seems to have come and gone, but really, asking "what would Jesus do" is not a bad prescription for resisting temptation.

Third, Jesus said we should "worship the Lord your God and serve only him." As we seek to live and resist temptation, let our worship be centered on God, and on him alone.

Finally, we should remember that we serve a loving and forgiving God. There is one sure way out. We should resist temptation, but remember at the same time that God knows our strengths and weaknesses. God loves us despite our failings and wants to be in relationship with us from now and into eternity. Worship, learn, repent, receive forgiveness and live out your life as a person of God.


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