Luke 4:1-13
2nd Sunday of Lent
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Temptations, temptations, I can resist everything but temptation. So said 19th Century Irish novelist, poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde. He also said, in his wit, “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself.” (Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1854 - 1900) I think we’ve been following the advice Oscar Wilde more than that the example of Jesus Christ.

Much of the advertising world is built on our inability to resist temptation. “Bet you can’t eat just one,” a potato chip commercial says. Listen to this recently released GM advertisement “Great temptation has always caused man to fall for it. Adam fell for the forbidden fruit; now it’s your turn.” The image flashes from a bright red apple to a bright red Chevrolet Cruze. Advertisers are paid to figure out creative ways to appeal to our desire, to break down our resistance. A Dove dark chocolate wrapper says, “Find a passion and feed it.” Find any passion and feed it?!

Feed your passion. Give in to your temptation. That’s not what I want to say to a teenager with raging hormones. That’s not what I want to say to power and money-hungry CEOs and Wall Street gurus. Not what I want to say to alcoholics and drug addicts. Not what I want to say to people with eating disorders – overeating or under-eating. Not what I want to say to an angry tenure-seeking professor at the University of Alabama, Huntsville. Not what I want to say to any of us. What I want to say is resist the temptation to be anything other than the God-loving, neighbor-loving person you were created to be. It is an aberration of your God-given character to give in to the temptations of life. Resist the temptation to ruled by the powers of this world – powers of domination, self-protection, and self-absorption. Be like Jesus. Be ruled by the knowledge that you belong to God and that in God all your true needs will be met. This story comes after his baptism and geneology. They tell us who Jesus is. These temptations tell us who Jesus is not.

NRS Luke 4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." 4 Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'" 5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." 8 Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" 9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' 11 and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" 12 Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Desire is not evil. Desire is a God-given gift. But desire to have something at all costs is sinful. Jesus wanted something to eat after forty days – a good and natural desire. It is good for food to be appealing to us, but the desire for food should not rule our lives. There was nothing wrong with craving bread after a forty-day fast.

Aspiring to greatness can be a good and healthy desire, but when the devil offers Jesus greatness it comes with a request to worship the evil one. True greatness cannot be achieved by forsaking the first commandment to love God and God alone. Jesus is also tempted in the wilderness to win the approval of others by sensationalism. Gaining the approval of others is a admirable accomplishment, but we should resist the temptation to gain approval of others in cheap and ungodly ways. Trying to impress people falsely always leads to the downfall of politicians and ordinary people alike.

The source of our temptations is often our own legitimate, normal, natural desires. The desire for food, alcohol, sexual intimacy, success, material comfort, financial security, approval of others is not from the devil. These are wholesome, normal, legitimate desires. How do they become sinful? (Jirair Tashjian)

They become sinful when those desires lead us away from love of God and away from love of neighbor. When they take such prominence in our lives that God is in the backseat, not the driver’s seat. When they become self-serving needs, perverted by all-consuming passion, when they deny the humanity and dignity of others, they are sinful. Think about the natural and good inclination to speak about a relationship problem, to try to figure it out. We’ve had a relationship problem with a certain person in this building. How quickly does the natural and good desire to improve that relationship lead to the temptation to de-humanize a person by talking about him, making fun of him.

What makes temptation so alluring is that it seems so right, feels so right, looks so right. One commentator notes that “Jesus’ temptations were very real, in that they were possible, pleasant, and seemingly for the good of all.” (Thomas Walker, Interpretation Bible Studies) The things that were offered to Jesus in the wilderness were not evil in and of themselves. It was the means by which they were to be gained that was wrong.

Sexual intimacy is not evil. It is good. But full intimacy without an equally full promise of covenantal love in marriage or a sacred union is giving in to the temptation to cheapen God’s gift, to make a relationship less than it should be. Our culture is very confused about sex and the over 200 billion dollar internet porn business drives us to greater sickness in this area. And 12-17 year old boys are the most vulnerable. We have a good friend, a Presbyterian elder, devoted husband and father, who nearly lost everything due to this addiction. He got help, but it’s been a battle. Same with my sister’s former minister. Resist.

Financial security is a good desire, but if the lust for financial security which robs us of a primal trust in God, is wrong. If it prevents us from a faithful and free generosity toward God and humanity, then it is sinful. If our financial security is achieved by capitalizing on the economic weakness of others, it is sin. We are in a recession because people did not resist the temptation to try to make more money than was really possible. Capitalism run amok, an abuse of trust. Resist the temptation to make money your idol.

The drive to succeed is a good trait, but if, a person cheats on a test, or betrays a friend in order to achieve that success, then it is obviously wrong. Did you see the short track relay race the other night? The Koreans were doing so well. They had the gold, but in the last moment, the Korean skater gave the Chinese skater a little shove, and that one offense robbed the Koreans of any medal. The desire to achieve is wonderful, but when we cross the line and our drive to achieve leads us to push someone else down, even the slightest push, then we have given in to temptation. Resist.

Speaking of successful young people, a professor of psychology, Walter Mischel at Stanford found after forty years of study, that a four year-old’s ability to resist the temptation to eat a marshmallow placed in front of him or her was a good indicator of future academic and emotional success in life. He proved conclusively that the longer a four-year-old child was able to wait before taking a sweet, the better were his or her chances of a happy and successful life.

Jesus was like us in every way, except sin. He was so filled with the Holy Spirit and so well-versed in the Hebrew Scriptures, so secured in his identity as Son of God, that he was strong enough and discerning enough to withstand alluring temptations, even in the weakness of a forty day fast. Here we see that Jesus’ identity was forged in his willingness in the wilderness to say “no.” He said “no” to using his God-given power to satisfy physical, spiritual, or emotional desires by the wrong means.

Temptations, temptations. They are everywhere we turn. We need to resist them because they lure us away from the persons we were created to be, children of God, who love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and who love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Temptations are a challenge to our identity. Notice how the devil challenges Jesus, “IF you are the Son of God” “If you are who you think you are” “If you will worship me, the devil” With those three “if” clauses, Jesus’ identity is in question. The trap is to try to get Jesus to prove his identity by doing something that is not consistent with his identity.

You see, in the end, there is really only one temptation – that temptation is to forget to whom we belong. Tempted to forget that we are completed loved by God. Tempted to think that we will be rejected and thrown away because of sins we have committed, when God’s forgiveness has been freely given to us. Tempted to think that we’ve got to make something of ourselves, when God has already made us and redeemed us and yes, is calling us to participate in our own salvation, our own wholeness by resisting the temptation to be less than we are.

Let us say “no” to the powers and principalities that beckon us to worship anyone other than God. Let us say “no’ to the powers of this world which tell us we are free to satisfy our own desires at any cost. Let us say “no” to securing ourselves in anything other than our identity as people belonging to God. We are the forgiven and beloved children of God, called to be faithful like Christ. That is the first word and the final word of truth about us. May God give us grace to resist everything lures us away from the One who love us best.