Chocolate. Wine. Ice Cream. Cheetos. Do we get tempted by food? Yes we do! Sometimes that is something we can laugh about. Just a little something here and there won’t hurt, right? But for some people, these little temptations can be a matter of life and death. Chocolate to a diabetic or wine to an alcoholic are temptations that can threaten well-being in big ways.

We are fortunate that where we live, most of us aren’t actually starving. But if you have ever found yourself tempted by a tasty morsel, imagine what it would be like to have not eaten for 40 days. That’s what the Bible says Jesus was doing. He had been fasting for 40 days. He must have been ravenous. And then along comes the devil.

Exactly who or what is the devil anyway? Well, the word can be translated as false accuser or slanderer. Someone who lies to you. In our scripture today, we don’t actually get a physical description of this devil. It’s interesting to note that in this passage the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness, and the devil leads him to a high place for one of the temptations. We don’t usually think we see the Holy Spirit, although we can deeply feel the results, and I suspect the same is true for the devil here. It doesn’t have to be a guy with a pitchfork and a tail to grab our attention. Sometimes the little voice in our own head does the job just fine.

So Jesus is starving, and the devil moves in. “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” There is certainly a lot packed into this small sentence. First we have the word “If.” Jesus knows he is the Son of God. That was confirmed at his baptism, which happens just before this story in Luke’s Gospel. The heaven was opened, and a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Now Jesus gets the chance to show it. So the accuser tries to plant doubt. Maybe you aren’t really the Son of God. Prove it, not just to me but to yourself. Go ahead and turn these stones into bread.

But Jesus knows who he is, and he answers with the word of God from scripture. “One does not live by bread alone.”

So the devil ups the ante. The devil leads Jesus to a high place where they can see all the kingdoms of the world, and tells him that he can have all the glory and authority over them, because the devil has it and will give it to Jesus if he will just worship the devil. Can we relate to that one at all? What is it worth to be important? To have authority? To be able to make a difference? Last week the Rotary club put on a presentation on leadership and ethics for about 100 high school students. One of the ethical dilemas presented to them was this:

Shannon is the president of a mid-sized nonprofit that conducts cancer research. Her organization relies totally on government grants and private donations.

Bob is a well-known multi-billionaire who owns several clothing lines. Bob has received a lot of bad press lately for maintaining inhuman conditions and paying substandard wages at his clothing factories in third world countries. Bob has recently hired a public relations firm to help repair his image. The P.R. manager has suggested that Bob should make a couple of large, well-publicized charitable donations to curry favor with the public.

Shannon gets a call from Bob’s agent informing her that Bob intends to make a $200 million donation to her non-profit in exchange for her holding a press conference to publicly thank Bob for his generosity. Shannon is unsure of what to do. The money would be a huge windfall for the nonprofit- it would triple their operating budget for the next decade. However, Shannon is repulsed by the thought of taking donations from someone who has profited by exploiting others.

Discussion Questions:
1) Can one justify using money obtained from objectionable sources to fund noble causes?
2) Is it the responsibility of those who run charities to question where the money from their donors comes from?
3) Bob already has the money, regardless of how he got it. Isn’t it a good thing that some of it goes to good use with a charity like the one Shannon runs?

Jesus could do a lot of good with authority over everything and everybody. Can he “justify using (power) obtained from objectionable sources?” Once again, he relies on scripture and replies; “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

So now the devil gets really crafty. He takes Jesus to the temple of all places. Specifically, he takes him to the top of the temple, which was many stories high. And the DEVIL quotes scripture now. But first, the words of doubt again. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you, and On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

These are the words from the Psalm we read this morning. “Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.” And then it says what the devil quoted. What on earth does this mean? We know it’s not literally true, at least for us. There are many who have centered their life in the Lord, and bad things still happened to them. But figuratively, these are amazing words of beauty and trust. No matter what happens, ultimately, I am in God’s hands, and ultimately, nothing can separate me or you or any of us from the love of God.

Jesus won’t be tempted by the devil’s use of scripture either. He quotes scripture right back. “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” It may be that the words were literally true for him. We don’t know, because he didn’t test it. But does that mean that he wasn’t actually tempted? Fred Craddock says that “If anyone is having trouble believing that Jesus was really tempted, then he or she needs to keep in mind that … we are not tempted to do what we cannot do but by what is within our reach. Temptation is deceptively attractive.” I am absolutely positive that I could never be the president of the United States so I am not even a little bit tempted to run. You have to believe that it might be possible for you to win, or to at least attract a lot of attention, if you want to do that. The devil is offering up possibilities to Jesus that are real options for him, and he is so strongly rooted in the word of God that he does not budge.

So why does this story matter to us? Why do we tell a version of it out of one of the gospels every year? Because it is important to remind ourselves that although Jesus was amazing in ways that we might never fully be, he was also in a human body like ours. He could be tempted by the same things we are. Food, power, a sense of being really special. We get tempted by the devils words of doubt too. If you are a real man, if you really love me, if you are a good parent, if you are a real Christian…The list goes on and on. We don’t like to have our identity questioned. But when we know who we are and whose we are, when our identity is grounded in the fact that we are a child of God, we are able to resist having to prove anything to anyone. And that is so important.

Jesus, having lived among us as a fellow human being, is a role model. He had a fairly simple system of resistance actually. He understood clearly who he was, the relationship he had with God, and he was able to quote scripture when the voice of temptation whispered, or maybe even shouted, calling his name. It was much more than the phrase “Just say no.” But it was far different from engaging in a debate with his tempter as well. Scripture, God’s word, was Jesus’ policy statement. “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ That passage from Deuteronomy continues, ‘but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” It is written, ‘worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ “It is said, Do not put the lord your God to the test.’” All of these are quotes from Deuteronomy, part of the scriptures with which Jesus would have been familiar. In essence, I won’t do it because it’s not what God wants. It may not be wrong in and of itself, but it wasn’t the way God wanted it to happen, it wasn’t how God wanted him to behave, and it would damage the relationship he had with God. Jesus could have taken the easier, faster way, but he took the time to consider the effect it would have on his relationship with God, and with the people he had been called to minister to, and he said no. He had the freedom to say yes, but he knew that the easier, faster way, the way that relies on a show of unearthly power, was not God’s way. We too are tempted to free ourselves from physical discomfort, to please others and enjoy glory and power, and to demand of God signs of love, such as answered prayers, healing, and world peace. But God doesn’t often bend the rules of nature, God doesn’t twist arms, or make us into robots programmed to do the right thing. God gives us freedom to choose. God helps us learn through our pain, our failures, and our struggles, and God stays with us through it all. Love, the power God chooses to change the world, works its miracles slowly but surely. You can change behavior with violence and abuse, but to really change a heart takes patience and time. During this season of Lent, when we are called to examine ourselves in light of God’s love for us, may we take that time to listen carefully for God’s word for us in our lives and to dwell in the knowledge that we are loved. Amen

We Get Tempted

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