ST.STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH FEBRUARY 14, 2016
THE DARK SIDE
Psalm 91: 1 – 2 & 9 – 16; Luke 4: 1 – 13
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
A young unmarried couple wanted to join a particular church. The pastor told them, “To be members here at the Tabernacle we insist you practice abstinence until you’re married.” The couple agreed. When they came back two weeks later, the surprised pastor asked, “What brings you here?” The young man replied, “Pastor, I’m afraid were weren’t able to abstain.” “What happened?” inquired the pastor. “Well my fiancée was reaching for a can of corn and dropped it. When she bent to pick it up, well, I gave way to temptation.” The pastor said, “I’m very sorry but you are no longer welcome to join this church.” “That’s okay,” said the young man. “We’re no longer welcome at the grocery store either.”
Temptation has plagued humanity since the serpent suggested the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden didn’t just look yummy it would make whomever ate it like God (c.f. Genesis 3). My mother-in-law wisely says, “Every garden has its serpent”. No matter how good life is, temptation lifts its ugly head to destroy it. After Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness. As the Israelites knew, the wilderness was a harsh place which tested ones faithfulness and where the temptation to turn from God could be strong. There Jesus fasted. After 40 days the devil appeared (Luke 4: 2) with a single purpose – to tempt him. The theologian John Piper said, “The power of all temptation is the prospect that it will make me happier.” So when Jesus was in a weakened, human state the devil came to tempt him with things that might make Jesus happier. The first temptation was based on Jesus’ hunger and desire for food. After 40 days of fasting Jesus was on death’s door. His need for food and his desire for survival were completely intertwined. The devil suggested Jesus use his divine power to change a rock into a loaf of bread – you know the warm, fresh crusty stuff with a little melted butter. Jesus resisted. What would have been wrong with giving in to that temptation? Unlike some of us, Jesus didn’t need to drop a few pounds. He was famished. Surely he could enjoy a piece of bread! Jesus’ reason for resisting is found in his answer, “One does not live by bread alone.” (vs. 4 from Deuteronomy 8:3). At other times in his life Jesus enjoyed the good things of the earth – at points he was accused of being “a glutton and a drunkard” (Matthew 24: 49; Luke 7: 34), yet in this life and death moment, Jesus saw food not as fuel for the body or something to enjoy, but as an idol. To give in to this temptation would have been to forever break fellowship with God by putting his trust in something else. The second temptation was to sell his soul in exchange for authority over all the kingdoms of the world (vs. 6 & 7). A lot of people would like to be “King of the World” but Jesus resisted. The price tag on world domination is worshipping the Devil – having him as the Lord of your life. Jesus responded, “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” (vs. 8 from Deut 6:13) He would not allow someone other than God to be Lord of his life; he would not give first place in his heart to someone other than his Father. This deal would enslave him to someone who would use and manipulate him for evil. Jesus knew his “kingdom was not of this world” (John 18:36); he chose to practice “delayed gratification”. But the Devil wasn’t done – he took Jesus up to the highest peak of the Temple and dared him to prove he was the “Son of God” by flinging himself off the building. And notice the devil’s technique – he quotes scripture – two of them in fact, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you” (vs 10) and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone” (vs. 11). After 40 days of starvation in the wilderness and 2 heavy duty temptations, who wouldn’t have been tempted to shut Satan up? Wouldn’t it be a glorious moment for Jesus to prove to him that he was who he claimed to be? Wouldn’t it be great to see the look of shock on his face when the angels descend, scoop him up and while Satan’s listening for the smack of his body on the ground, to presented before him at eye level? It would be a triumphant moment, like something out of a Superman movie! But Jesus respected God too much to be manipulated by a game-player. He knew his divine right and the power behind it were not something to be used and abused for his own ego gratification. So Jesus resisted this temptation also, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (vs. 12 from Deut. 6:16)
The role of the devil is to tempt us. In fact Satan’s only power is the power of temptation. Satan can never make us do anything; his only ability is to dangle the carrot we desire in front of our noses in the hope our itch or ambition will make us choose to chase it. When we fail to resist temptation, we’re the ones responsible for our actions. The devil’s not to blame; he’s not the scapegoat for what we have freely opted to do and neither is God. God can fortify us to the hilt but if we give way to temptation, it’s our own weakness and fault. The Great Wall of China is a gigantic structure built to keep out invaders. It cost an immense amount in money and labor. When it was finished, it appeared impregnable yet eventually the enemy managed to breach it. Folklore has it that they didn’t break it down or go around it, they simply tempted the gatekeepers who happily received the bribe. When we give in to temptation, we need to take ownership of our choices and suffer the consequences for our actions without pointing the finger or laying blame. The devil didn’t make you do it – he just makes suggestions. How you respond is all on you. You will reap the consequences and you will be held accountable.
We need to beware of temptation when it comes. In the Garden of Eden, temptation came through a wily serpent; for us, temptation comes through many avenues and many people. We recognize temptation as the provocation to evil; the enticement to do wrong. Temptation an invitation to dedicate a portion of one’s life to what is against God; what is anti-Christ. Temptation seduces us to join the dark side. Unfortunately and contrary to popular mythology, the devil doesn’t come to us in a red cape and pointy horns – he’s much more subtle than that. A woman was bathing in the Gulf of Mexico. She was enjoying the comfort of relaxing on an inflated cushion that kept her afloat. Without her realizing it the current took her out about a mile from the beach. When she grasped how much danger she was in, she began to scream, but no one heard her. Eventually, a coast guard craft found her five miles from the place where she first entered the water. Having let down her guard, she didn’t see her danger until she was beyond her own strength and ability. A survey in the journal Discipleship had readers speak of their greatest times of temptation. Respondents noted temptations were most powerful when they neglected their time with God (81 %) and when they were physically tired (57 %). We are often most vulnerable to temptation when we are just plain vulnerable – times of loneliness can tempt us into unhealthy relationships; times of stress can tempt us to speak in ways we regret; times of boredom can lead us to the frig; times of illness can invite self-pity. Any time we feel unhappy is the moment Satan sees his chance to offer us “what will make us happier”.
Jesus resisted temptation first through his character – he desired above all else to please God. He also resisted temptation through discernment. He knew temptation did not come from his heavenly Father. He was able to distinguish temptation from trials. A trial uncovers a person’s moral qualities; but temptation conceals them. Trails clarify, temptations deceive. A time of trial strengths our true character and makes us realize who we are in Christ. Temptation leads us to deny our true self in Christ and causes us to sin. As the Union Pacific Railroad was being constructed, an elaborate trestle bridge was built across a large western canyon. Wanting to test the bridge, the builder loaded a train with enough extra cars and equipment to double its normal payload. The train was then driven to the middle of the bridge, where it stayed an entire day. One worker asked, “Are you trying to break this bridge?” “No,” the builder replied, “I’m trying to prove the bridge won’t break.” God tries us to make us strong and to prove to us that we won’t break. Satan tempts us in the hope that we will. He deludes us in order to destroy us. As we read in James 1:13, “No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.”
Jesus also resisted temptation through his knowledge of scripture – in order for scripture to help us resist the lures of Satan, we need to know some scripture. We know our scripture by reading and studying it. Those surveyed by Discipleship also found it helpful to pray (84 %), to avoid compromising situations (76 %) and to be accountable to someone (52 %). Feeling we are in Satan’s radar can be a troubling and fearful thing. Scripture assures us, “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7). And always remember victory is yours because “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)