Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Sunday's Sermon - Jesus’s Victory Over Temptation

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, April 15, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. This is the second message in a series entitled "Victory: A New Life Awakens." In this sermon, we talked about Jesus's victory over temptation. You can hear a podcast of the sermon on the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page and at the end of this sermon. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

Let me ask you a really simple question; did anyone beside me enjoy the warm weather the last couple of days? I mean, wasn’t it great. I’ve got to tell you, I’m not a hot weather guy, but I kind of enjoyed turning on the air conditioner in my car yesterday and for the first time in about six months, cooking hamburgers on the grill Friday evening. Of course, we’re at the dead center of April; therefore, it just makes sense that the weather’s changing. I mean, there’s no way that we’ll see the snow we saw all day last Monday coming down again, right? My gosh, that would mean something screwy is going on with our climate, and we all know that’s not possible. No, warm weather is on the way; therefore, it’s really tempting to pack away all that heavy winter stuff, pull out the short-sleeves and light-weight, and get the lawnmower ready to cut some grass. I’m telling you, yesterday, I could feel the pull to cash in my winter stock and buy into spring. Man, I was being tempted big time.

And I’ll tell you, that’s what we’re going to focus on this morning, and I’m talking about temptations. You see, that’s the second topic in our series, Victory: A New Life Awakens. Last week we spent a little time looking at sin, and in particular, what it is and how Jesus defeated it and how we can claim his victory ourselves.

And this morning, we’re going to do the same sort of thing with temptations. First, we’re going to define it, you know, establish what it is. And then second, we’re going to consider how Jesus overcame the temptations he faced. And third, we’ll look at why his victory might be important to us. Now that’s the plan.

And the first step is to define what it is. And you know, I think that’s really important for us to do, because often we use the word to talk about things that are, when you get right down to it, pretty innocent. For example, unless we’ve got some kind of psychiatric problem and we’re off our meds, we generally don’t talk about being tempted to murder or being tempted to steal or being tempted to commit some other crime against humanity. Instead, as we use the word, we’re tempted by a piece of chocolate cake, right? Or we’re tempted by a television show when we know we’ve got work to do. Or we’re tempted to put something off, oh lets say, sending our father a birthday card because his birthday is today and I’ve been really busy. That’s the kind of stuff we usually think of as temptations.

But that’s really not what the word means, not according to the writers of the New Testament. You see, this particular Greek word can also be translated “test.” In other words, in every verse in which we say “tempt” or “temptation,” we could substitute the words “test” or “testing.” You see, for the writers of the New Testament, those wonderfully appealing things that sort of entice us and draw us away from what he think we should be doing, man, they aren’t just distractions; they’re tests. And because we’re be tempted by one thing or another all the time, we’re also constantly being tested. Just listen to what James wrote: “God will bless you, if you don’t give up when your faith is being tested. He will reward you with a glorious life, just as he rewards everyone who loves him. Don’t blame God when you are tempted! God cannot be tempted by evil, and he doesn’t use evil to tempt others. We are tempted by our own desires that drag us off and trap us. Our desires make us sin, and when sin is finished with us, it leaves us dead. Don’t be fooled, my dear friends. Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father who created all the lights in the heavens. He is always the same and never makes dark shadows by changing. He wanted us to be his own special people, and so he sent the true message to give us new birth.” [James 1:12-18, CEV] I’m telling you, tempting is just a part of life.

And since these temptations are actually tests, well, speaking for myself, I think my GPA is pretty low. You see, if I’m really honest with myself, I pretty much have to recognize that, an awful lot of the time, I fail the tests, you know, I fall short. And what’s really frustrating is that even when I can see it happening, I still mess it up. In other words, I still succumb to what tempts me; therefore, I still flunk the test. For example, something happens. Some kind of temptation comes up. In other words, I’m looking at something that’s really appealing and enticing but that might also test my character or my relationships or my faith. Of course, often these tests are kind of sneaky, because I’m not always sure I’m actually taking one until it’s already finished and turned in and graded. And so, often, I just do what comes naturally, and I end up with the same grade a friend of mine got in a two-semester United States History class in college, one that he seldom attended because, as we all know, an 11:00 class is just too early. We were studying for the second semester final exam, and I remember, when he opened his text book, it cracked. I’ll never forget the sound. When it comes to a lot of the temptations, a lot of the tests I face, man, I’m not prepared. But you know, even when I am, you know, even when I know it’s coming and think that I have all the answers, some how I still fall short. I still give in. And because of that, I still wind up hoping that the test won’t count against me. As a matter of fact, I can understand how the Apostle Paul felt when he wrote, “The Law has shown me that something in me keeps me from doing what I know is right. With my whole heart I agree with the Law of God. But in every part of me I discover something fighting against my mind, and it makes me a prisoner of sin that controls everything I do. What a miserable person I am. Who will rescue me from this body that is doomed to die?” [Romans 7:21-24, CEV] You see, according to the New Testament, being tempted and being tested, man, they’re actually the same thing. You see, that’s what temptations are all about. And I’ll tell you, since it is, I think we should all be praying that God grades on a curve.

But Paul wrote something else that should give us hope. He wrote, “Even if you think you can stand up to temptation, be careful not to fall. You are tempted in the same way that everyone else is tempted. But God can be trusted not to let you be tempted too much, and he will show you how to escape from your temptations.” [1 Corinthians 10:12-13, CEV] You see, God knows that left to ourselves, we’ll never be able to resist temptations. We’ll never be able to pass the test. And so, when he entered our time and space as Jesus Christ, he did something amazing of us, something he didn’t have to do, but he did anyway. Man, he left us an example, a study guide that can show us how to pass the tests we face.  In other words, Jesus Christ shows us how to be victorious over temptations, because that’s exactly what he did. You see, he passed the tests he faced and so can we. And I’ll tell you, he resisted the enticements of the very best tempter of all.

And the story of how he did is right here in the Gospel of Luke. Just listen. When Jesus returned from the Jordan River, the power of the Holy Spirit was with him, and the Spirit led him into the desert.
For forty days Jesus was tested by the devil, and during that time he went without eating. When it was all over, he was hungry. The devil said to Jesus, “If you are God’s Son, tell this stone to turn into bread.” Jesus answered, “The Scriptures say, ‘No one can live only on food.’” Then the devil led Jesus up to a high place and quickly showed him all the nations on earth. The devil said, “I will give all this power and glory to you. It has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. Just worship me, and you can have it all.”  Jesus answered, “The Scriptures say: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!’” Finally, the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem and had him stand on top of the temple. The devil said, “If you are God’s Son, jump off. The Scriptures say: ‘God will tell his angels to take care of you. They will catch you in their arms, and you will not hurt your feet on the stones.’”  Jesus answered, “The Scriptures also say, ‘Don’t try to test the Lord your God!’”  After the devil had finished testing Jesus in every way possible, he left him for a while. [Luke 4:1-13, CEV] 
Now that’s how Jesus ended up winning a victory over temptations.

And I’ll tell you why that’s important or at least should be important to us right here and now. You see, we can use the example offered by Christ to resist the temptations that we face. And to do that, well, in my opinion, it all comes down to two very clear and simple truths that we can find right here in this story.

You see, first, this story shows exactly why the stuff we find tempting, man, why they’re so stupid hard to resist. I mean, not only are temptations really attractive and appealing, often they seem obvious and harmless, even reasonable, you know, like turning one stone into a loaf of bread when you have the power to do it and you’re really hungry. I mean, dah. What would you do? In my book, that’s a no-brainer. But you know, even though we can always make a good case for doing what we want to do, an awful lot of the temptations we face and the ones that can really mess us are, well, they’re often grounded in lies, plain and simple. You know, like the Devil claiming to have power over the entire world and the authority to give it to anyone he wants, something we know is a lie, because it’s God who has the power and authority, I’m telling you, just like the tempter lied to Jesus, the temptations we face are often also grounded in pure baloney, and I’m talking about the lie that what we choose to do or to say will have no impact on anyone else and the lie that if we just do it or say it, man, it’ll somehow be really good for us, and the lie that even if we get caught, we’ll pay no consequences at all. I’m telling you, just like in the story, the most tempting temptations are probably going to be followed my a lie. And don’t think that we as Christians have some how risen above this, because I believe a lot of the temptations we face are justified and even validated by the Bible. I mean, remember how the Devil quoted scripture when he told Jesus that, if he took a header off the temple, God would send angels to save him? Well, the better you know the words of the Bible, and I’m talking about the chapters and the verses, the easier it is to justify anything you want to do and to condemn anything you want to condemn. And I’ll tell you, it’s really not all that hard. And you know, if we really want to do something, we just may be willing to distort the truth to do it. You see, if we’re serious about sharing in Jesus’s victory over temptations, if we’re serious about passing the tests, we need to be aware of why temptations are so difficult to resist. In other words, we need to understand why the tests are so stupid hard. And that’s the first thing we see in the story.

And second, again using Jesus’s encounter in the wilderness as a guide, we can also get a pretty good idea why Jesus was successful in resisting those temptations. For example, just remember how Jesus dealt with that temptation to turn one stone into bread. He resisted it by maintaining his priorities. As it said right at the beginning of the passage, the Spirit had led him into the desert to be tested by the Devil and I think part of that testing must have involved fasting and not turning the landscape into croissants. His top priority wasn’t eating. And you know, as followers of Jesus Christ, well, no where does the Bible say we’ve been called to be really comfortable or to be extremely popular or to be personally satisfied. Now that’s what we want and those things aren’t by their nature bad, but I don’t think getting that stuff is what God wants us to do first. Instead, just listen to what Jesus told his disciples, “My children, I will be with you for a little while longer. Then you will look for me, but you won’t find me. I tell you just as I told the people, “You cannot go where I am going.” But I am giving you a new command. You must love each other, just as I have loved you. If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples.” [John 13:33-35, CEV] Man, if we want to resist temptation, we need to be clear about what’s really most important. And along with that, we also need to keep our focus, and I’m talking about our focus on God. I mean, just like Jesus didn’t worship the Devil because that would mean shifting his attention from God, his father, I think it’s important for us to keep our focus on God, and I’m talking about the Father who loves us and the Son who saves us and the Spirit that inspires us. And even though we can be extremely creative in overlooking the lies to justify what we want, anything that forces us to shift our focus from God, well, it just can’t be true. And speaking of creative, if we want to avoid buying those ridiculous interpretations of Scripture that are used to distort the truth and excuse behavior that in no way is Godly much less Christian, well, we need to do more than just know the Bible. Now I have to say that carefully, because I sincerely believe one of the biggest problems in the modern church is that most believers have only a cursory knowledge of the Bible at all. Still, just knowing the words and the verses and the chapters, I really don’t think that’s enough. You see, I think it’s important for us to understand the meaning. And I think it’s important to understand how all those words and verses and chapters work together to present a truth that’s greater and more profound than the individual parts. And I think it’s important to understand that even though the truth stays the same, the application is constantly changing. And that’s what Paul was getting at when he wrote this to Timothy: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” [1 Timothy 3:16-17, NRSV] You see, the Bible isn’t static nor stagnant. And it sure doesn’t belong in a dusty case in a museum or under a polished coffee table in a living room. That’s not where the Bible belongs, because in ways we’ll never understand, the Holy Spirit is constantly breathing new life into God’s word so that it can speak in new ways to new people who are struggling with new opportunities and temptations. I’m telling you, right along with offering us the ability to understand why temptations are so hard to resist, Jesus gives us an example of how we might do it, in other words, how we might actually pass the tests we’ve been given. And for me, that’s the second reason why his victory is important.

Now, do you remember how we started this sermon by talking about how nice and warm it was yesterday and how I was really tempted to cross over to spring and burn the bridge behind me. Well, now I see that not only is the temperature going back down into the 30s, we may be looking at some snow Monday night. May God help us all.

But as it relates to all the other temptations we face, well, I think we have a pretty good idea what they are, they’re like these tests that we’re constantly taking and often failing. But we also know how Jesus won his victory over temptation, and he did it by staring down the tempter himself. And you know, that’s why it should be important for us, because when we claim his example, we not only have a pretty good idea about why temptations are so appealing but we also can understand why the one whom we follow was so successful in his resistance. And I’ll tell you something even better than that, brothers and sisters, we can be successful too.

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