The story is told of a couple that after looking at their financial situation decided that they really had to save more and spend less. So they decided for their New Year’s resolution they were in fact going to spend less money. They did really well in January but in February she went shopping and found the dress of her dreams. It cost way too much, but she decided she really had to have it. When she showed it to her husband, he exclaimed, “After all we said about spending less money, how could you?” There was a pause and then she replied, “The devil made me do it.”
“The devil made you do it? Well, when he was tempting you, why didn’t you say, ‘Get behind me, Satan’?” asked the exasperated husband.
“Well, I did,” she replied, “but then he said ‘Whoa, it looks really great from the back too!!!!!”
This is the first Sunday in Lent and every year on this Sunday we look at the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. We are told in this section of Scripture about 3 temptations of Christ, turn stones into bread, receive the glory and authority of all the nations in the world, and finally to jump off the pinnacle of the temple. Now, those are not exactly the same temptations that you or I face, are they? In one way no, but in another way, they really are. In the first temptation Jesus is tempted to make a stone a loaf of bread. This temptation is similar to the one the ancient Israelites faced when they were hungry and wandering around in the wilderness. The basic premise of this temptation is to stop trusting in God to provide. The devil is insinuating that God cannot be trusted to provide for his Son so Jesus should stop depending upon him and just take care of himself. Jesus’ response is short and to the point. One does not live by bread alone. He says in essence, “human livelihood consists of more than the mere meeting of daily dietary needs.” In Matthew’s account, Jesus adds the words, “but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.” Life is more than simply eating, drinking, sleeping, and working. Life is more than simply caring for our bodies! We need something that brings us meaning and worth to our lives. Mere physical existence does not bring fulfillment. For us today, can God be trusted to help us with our basic needs? As Christians we affirm yes and not only the bread that fills our stomachs but we need from Him the living bread that will fill our hearts and give meaning to our lives.
The second temptation is more subtle. Satan offers Jesus the authority and glory of all the kingdoms of the world. Now, Jesus knew, as well as Satan that the Messiah was going to already receive the kingdoms and their glory—so what was this temptation all about? Satan was offering a short-cut. You see, Jesus could receive everything without having to suffer for it. All Jesus had to do was to bow down and worship Satan and it could all be his! Wasn’t that a lot easier than to go through the rejection, the betrayal, the beating and the crucifixion? What would one time of bending the knee to Satan cost? Jesus knew that there could be no short-cuts. One has to choose the right path the whole way. There is no real joy, no real life found except through God. Jesus replies that we are to ‘worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” Now you and I do not get this sort of temptation exactly. No one is offering us all the worldly kingdoms but how many times are we tempted to take short-cuts that seem to offer us fulfillment and meaning to our lives? Money, possessions, pleasures are the heartbeat of our society and they are promoted as means to fulfilling our lives and bringing us satisfaction. But the fact is there can be no real or lasting fulfillment that can be found in wealth, possessions, or the pursuit of pleasure by themselves. Our lives only find true meaning and joy in God and in serving him. It is how God designed us when he created us.
And the final temptation is also subtle. Here the devil even uses Scripture. He takes Jesus and puts him on the pinnacle of the temple and says, “Jump! God will protect you! Because it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you to protect you and on their hands they will bear you up so that you do not dash your foot against a stone.” It is important to note that Jesus is brought to the temple where the presence of God is. If God is not going to protect you there, then where can one go for protection, right? God protects the righteous and who is more righteous than you, Jesus? So the temptation is about whether or not God will care for him and protect him. But as Jesus points out, it is a false situation. Jesus is not in danger unless he jumps and if he jumps he would be testing God which is a sin as he points out.
What about for us? I suspect that most of us are not ever tempted to jump off of high buildings in the hopes that God will send angels to catch us before we hit the bottom. So how does this temptation apply to us? It applies to us when we put ourselves into certain situations that we ought not to put ourselves into. One example would be if I foolishly overspend and then I want God to rescue me through some sweepstakes or lottery. I am not talking about people who are careful with their money but then run into situations where they need help. That has happened to many of us. What I am talking about here are people who are foolish with their money and then they expect God to rescue them. Another example could be if I were to engage in dangerous or foolish behavior and then pray that it won’t catch up with me. Examples of what I mean are foolish behaviors like sex outside of marriage, or drug or alcohol abuse, or reckless driving. And sometimes God does protect us; sometimes He does rescue us. But to knowingly engage in foolish or dangerous behavior even though we know we ought not, and hoping, praying even, that God will save us is testing God and Jesus tells we are not supposed to do it.
Jesus faced temptations that are ones that we struggle with as well. We tend to focus on our physical life and worry only about physical needs when what we really need to focus upon is God’s Word in our lives. Our lives need to be shaped and formed by God and we should not simply be satisfied with food in our bellies and nice homes in which to live. We also are tempted to take short-cuts thinking that having more money, possessions or pleasures will bring us contentment or fulfillment. And finally some of us may be acting in ways that are reckless and/or foolish and yet want and maybe even expect God to save us from the results of those behaviors. It is NOT that the devil makes us do things. No, sadly, we seem to get into trouble all by ourselves. And we do.
Scripture tells us that if we say we have no sin, if we say, the devil made me do it or it is someone else’s fault we are simply tricking ourselves and not being honest. But if we confess and admit our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. So this Lenten season let us recognize and admit our sins, let us recognize and admit our weaknesses and ask for God’s forgiveness and strength. And let us try all the harder to not give into temptations but prove to be faithful like our Lord Jesus when he was tempted. Amen