Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christians throughout the world pray, “Lead us not into temptation” several times a day. Jesus taught us to pray that God would guard and protect us from every temptation of the devil, the world, and our own sinful selves. And there is a reason why Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Because even in the best of times, we have a poor track record of resisting temptation. But did you notice that this morning’s Gospel reading says that Jesus was led into temptation? John had just baptised Jesus in the Jordan River. The Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove, and then He was filled with the Holy Spirit. And what does the Holy Spirit do? Leads Him into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. The Temptation of Jesus allows us to ask, “what does it mean to be tempted?” And, “How can I overcome temptation?”
Temptation through Desire
Jesus did not have a single thing to eat during the forty days in the desert. When the forty days came to an end, Jesus was incredibly hungry. How hungry would you be if you didn’t eat anything for forty days? He had the exact needs common to all men. He felt the need for food. I want you to see that Satan tried to take advantage of this.
“Turn this stone into bread.” That would have been easy for the Son of God. After all, he performed miracles and even multiplied loaves of bread! Jesus could make bread from stones. But that would not be a proper use of His ability. His power was to serve others, not for gratifying himself. Jesus is hungry, and the devil seizes on the opportunity.
I want you to see that Satan tempted Jesus by taking advantage of his desire for food. I want you to see that he tempted him to misuse his divine powers to gratify that desire. Now, I want you to imagine how much worse it would be if you added into that picture sinful desires. Because while Jesus does not have any sinful desires, we do, which makes our situation that much worse. The devil is an opportunist, always looking for an opening, a weakness, a vulnerability.
Our wants and desires are what makes us incredibly vulnerable. We’ll do almost anything to satisfy a pang of hunger, a craving, an urge, a passion. You can’t be tempted to do something you don’t desire. I can’t tempt you to eat a bowl of gravel. Why? Because you have no desire to eat gravel. Desires come from a need, perceived or real, seeking to be met. We desire food when our stomachs are empty. We want warmth when our bodies are cold. Desires are born when we lack something. But, you can want a good thing, but try to get it the wrong way. You can also have too much of a good thing. You can use good things in inappropriate ways. We have both good desires and bad desires. The evil desires are longings we have for something that God has forbidden.
Your desires give you an appetite for something you think you need, something you think you can’t be satisfied without. Then a circumstance comes along and acts as bait. That circumstance dangles the opportunity before you, and you are tempted to take a bite. But what we can fail to see is that buried in that bait is a sharp, nasty hook. First, it lures you, and then if you succumb to the temptation, it hooks you and drags you away.
Now, don’t misunderstand. There’s nothing wrong with having our needs met. But, we can only be seriously tempted by what we want.
This is how temptation works in our world. Our culture often preaches that we should “follow our heart.” Our culture is geared towards getting us to gratify our desires. Our consumer-driven world lures us into being dissatisfied. And then it urges us to satisfy our thirst for more earthly possessions. The entire LGBTQ movement results from giving in to your desires and letting them control your life, and allowing your desires to become your identity. The world is not entirely at fault; we share the blame. Temptation, then, is not just something that happens to us; it is also something that happens inside us.
So, just because you have a desire doesn’t mean it is good. Just because you feel something doesn’t mean you should act on it. Just because it feels right doesn’t mean it is right. And even if what you want is good, the ends never justify the means. The temptations we all face, day in and day out and at critical moments in our lives, are very different from those of Jesus. Still, they have precisely the same point: to get us to disobey God and worship something other than him. This should be a huge wake-up call for us. How do we fight our own desires?
Overcoming by the Word
Today’s text reminds us that our ability to repent and to resist temptation comes from our relationship with God’s Word and the grace of God rather than from our own strength and initiative. That’s how Jesus responded to the devil’s temptation. “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone,” God said that through Moses. Jesus quotes the Word to the devil. Notice He doesn’t use His power as the Son of God, but He uses the power of the Word. That is what we have at our disposal. “One little word can fell him.” “Resist him, standing firm in the faith.” You don’t need divine power to resist the devil. You simply need the Word. That we don’t use it, that we don’t honour and respect it, that we barely even know it, is testimony to our old Adam who prefers the devil’s lie to God’s Word. It’s in us too.
That is why Jesus came. Jesus does what we don’t do, what we often fail at doing. Jesus is our representative, stand-in, and Champion going out to do battle for us. Jesus is one of us, and the devil looked for vulnerable moments of opportunity to get at Jesus. Jesus does what we don’t. He refuses temptation stops it cold in its tracks. Finally, there is a man who will say no to the devil! Adam didn’t, and we don’t either. Yet Jesus does. Jesus came to reverse the curse of sin and death, and the devil. Jesus came to save you. The devil doesn’t want that to happen. He’ll do anything to keep Jesus from accomplishing his mission.
“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone,'” Jesus says. You see, there’s more to life than just serving your belly and satisfying your own desires. We do not live a good life by feeding all of our fleshly desires and giving ourselves everything we want. We live the good life by feeding on the Word of God. Just satisfying the desires of your flesh, independent of God’s Word and will–that would be to fall into the devil’s trap. Whether you’re struggling with lusts of the flesh like overeating, pornography, tobacco, drugs, alcohol or whatever, the solution is always the same: the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus responds to the devil, not by arguing but by quoting scripture. He succeeded where we failed. Physical needs and wants are important, but loyalty to God is more important still. The enemy will return to test this resolve again, yet Jesus will show his loyalty to God all the way to a bloody cross. He never lets Satan divert him from what he came to do. Jesus came to reverse the curse of sin and death, and the devil. Jesus came to save you.
The more we put our faith in the truth of who God is for us in Christ, the more he fills in the lacking places within us. The Holy Spirit creates new desires within our hearts as he does this. We can call upon Christ in times of temptation because Jesus is at our side. Martin Luther was once asked how he overcame the devil. He replied, “Well, when he comes knocking upon the door of my heart, and asks ‘Who lives here?’ the dear Lord Jesus goes to the door and says, ‘Martin Luther used to live here, but he has moved out. Now I live here.'” When Christ fills our lives, Satan has no entrance. Christ’s presence in your life cuts temptation’s legs out from under it. His Word leads us away from sin and toward holiness.
Jesus conquered every human temptation with nothing but the Word and promise of God. And because He was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin, we can pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” We will be tempted. The devil will use our weakness. Yet, Christ would not be diverted from going to the cross, which means you and I can take our stand with our Champion, Jesus, confident in his strength and victory–victory over sin, death, the devil, and yes, even over temptation.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesu