In the Wilderness with the Devil / First Sunday in Lent

Sunday, March 10, 2019
Rev. Donald P. Beaumont

Luke 4:1-13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.

This incident just might be every child’s fantasy and every parent’s nightmare. It involves two brothers, Anthony and Jerome. It seems that the two boys wandered off from their backyard and went to a nearby Toys R Us store. While amusing themselves in the gigantic toy store Anthony and Jerome slipped into a playhouse where they fell asleep. When they woke up, the lights were out, and the store was closed.

Well, if you were two young boys locked in a toy store, what would you do? While nearly 150 adults searched for them, the boys were happily playing inside the store. They were discovered by the store manager the following morning. 

Asked why the store alarm system didn’t go off and alert the searching adults they were in the store, a Toys R Us spokesman said, they never tried to open the doors to leave. A trail of toys and empty potato chip bags were proof of that. No wonder they didn’t try to leave. They were in paradise. Two youngsters alone in a toy store, what greater temptation could there be than that?

We all know what it is to be tempted, don’t we? Even Jesus was tempted. Immediately after His baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, and for forty days He was tempted by the devil. Christ ate nothing during those days, and at the end of the 40 days He was hungry. That makes sense. That’s a very long time without food. That’s probably why the devil said to Him, if You’re the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.

This obviously frustrated the devil. When the devil had finished all his tempting, he left Him until an opportune time. Notice that Luke doesn’t say that the devil quit tempting Jesus. He says that the devil made a strategic retreat, to tempt Him at a more opportune time, for example, in the Garden of Gethsemane when He was tempted to abandon His mission.

All of us know what it is to be tempted. Some of us probably know it better than others. Temptation is part of the human condition.

Jesus knew what it was to be tempted. Jesus also knew how to deal with temptation. Jesus was aware of the powerful connection between thought and deed. In that beautiful prayer that He taught His disciples to pray, which we call The Lord’s Prayer, we find the words, “lead us not into temptation.” (Matthew 6:13a). Have you ever wondered what Jesus meant by that? Clearly God wouldn’t lead us into temptation!

Here’s what I believe Jesus was saying. It’s one thing to pray for forgiveness. It’s quite another to be so serious in our commitment to Christ that we pray, Please, Lord, keep me from ever being tempted. That’s a hard prayer for some people to pray. Because let’s face it, some people really enjoy being tempted. Several years ago, there was a popular country song by singer Lari White, the chorus of which went like this:

“Lead me not into temptation, I already know the road all too well; Lead me not into temptation, I can find it all by myself.” You get the meaning, lead me not into temptation, but by the time you get to the end of the song it’s clear that temptation is clearly what she’s looking for.

Contrast that with the idea of being so serious in our commitment to Christ that we pray, “Please, Lord, keep me from ever being tempted.”

In Matthew 6 we read those thought-provoking words from our Lord, you have heard it was said, you shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

I believe that we miss the point if we try to make this into an example of unattainable perfectionism. Rather it’s Jesus who recognizes a truth about our human nature, the deed begins with the thought. 

A young married woman sits in her pastor’s office. She describes to him a marriage gone stale, a husband with misplaced priorities, a situation in which she has excessive time on her hands and a longing for romance in her heart. Yesterday I had lunch with a fellow I almost married, she confesses. I hadn’t seen him in years. Did I do wrong? Of course, there is nothing wrong with a simple lunch with an old friend, or is there? Certainly, there is danger. 

Someone once said that opportunity knocks only once but temptation bangs on your door for years. Jesus knew the power of temptation over the human soul. He tells His disciples on the night that He is betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. And He said to the disciples, pray that you may not enter into temptation (Luke 22:39-40). Notice the link between prayer and temptation. 

What follows is a description of Jesus’ own battle with temptation. It’s here He prays, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me.” (v. 42). The description of His struggle in Luke’s gospel indicates that this prayer was no mere formality. He prayed more intensely, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (v. 44). He knew what it was to battle temptation. His humanity was caught in a struggle with His appointed mission. 

It’s interesting, though, when He returns to His disciples and finds them sleeping, He wakes them and tells them again: “Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Once more He links prayer and temptation (v. 46). The best way to deal with temptation is to nip it in the bud. Pray that we should not ever be tempted. 

Of course, to pray that we should not be tempted is to imply that the fruit of temptation, that is, sin, is destructive to our lives. 

Sometimes we’re like a train that decided it was tired of running back and forth on the same boring track. The unhappy train thought of the adventure and excitement it was missing because it had to run on tracks. So, one day he decided to jump the tracks. The result was a horrible crash. My friends, terrible crashes do take place when people decide that they can ignore God’s laws. 

I'm concerned about the way sin is being ignored in our society today, or even made out to be respectable. So-called sins were better understood and dealt with in earlier times. There WAS immorality: there WAS unethical behavior: there was wrongdoing. There was usefulness in retaining the concept, and indeed the word, SIN.” That was nearly 50 years ago. Let’s face it. There are practices that once were frowned upon that are now readily accepted even by most church people.

True nature of sin should be noted that “evil” is “live” spelled backward. Evil is anti-life. Sin is that which is destructive to healthy relationships, destructive to healthy bodies, destructive to healthy souls. It means death to everything that’s good, wholesome, lasting. 

There was once a Welshman who surprised the world by going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Amazingly he escaped serious harm. However, he did suffer a serious injury several years later. He slipped on a banana peel. No damage from going over Niagara Falls, but a serious injury from a simple banana peel. That’s the way the tempter works. It’s the little things that so often trip us up. And left to our own resources, the tempter does have the power to destroy us. 

However, we’re not left to our own resources. There is One whose power is greater than that of the tempter. “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world,” says 1 John 4:4. And that, of course, is true. 

The best antidote for temptation is to be so filled with His song, His salvation, His service, that there’s no room for temptation. However, that does not relieve us of the burden of praying daily for His divine care. 

We have this concept that we’re going to suddenly arrive at a spiritual point where we’re delivered from the charms of the tempter. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m reminded of that place in Exodus where God says to the Israelites concerning their enemies in the Promised Land, “I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land” (Ex. 23:29-30). 

That’s the way God works in life. little by little. But He does work. Our prayers are answered. And if our prayers are for God to deliver us from temptation, then we shall succeed. Romans 10:13 tells us, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” It may not be according to our time table or it may not be handled exactly according to the wishes of our hearts, but God is faithful in answering our prayers. 

St. Augustine, before he became a saint, had a real problem with temptation. But he had a mother named Monica who prayed for him daily.

On one occasion Monica prayed that God would her son from taking a trip he planned to Italy. Monica was a devout Christian, and it broke her heart to see her son wasting his life in undesirable indulgences. She knew that there were many temptations in Italy for a young man. But while she was praying, Augustine sailed for Italy.

However, here’s the ironic thing. It was in Italy that God worked a great miracle in Augustine’s life. He fell under the influence of a mighty preacher named Ambrose and became a Christian, in the very place that his mother was praying he wouldn’t go. 

We have to be careful in giving God His orders for the day. There’s that temptation to assume that we know more than God knows, that we care more than God cares, that we can see the future better than God can see the future. He does know, He does care, He does see, and He does answer prayer, though His answer may come in a form that we don’t recognize at first. 

Temptation is very real in our lives, as it was real in the life of Jesus. We need to hear Christ’s teachings. Thoughts are connected to deeds. It’s in our best interest, and in the interest of those we love, to pray that we shall not ever be tempted. We need to recognize the destructiveness of sin in our lives and confront our susceptibility. Finally, we need to learn to rely on God, whose power is greater than the power of the tempter and can give us victory over every evil. 

Bethel Lutheran Church

32410 Willowick Drive
Willowick, OH 44095

P: (440) 943-5000

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