Temptation, the desire to do something, especially something wrong or unwise. It started a long time ago beginning with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden where they had everything they needed and wanted for nothing. God said, “There’s only one rule: don’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
”Temptation, the desire to do something, especially something wrong or unwise. It started a long time ago beginning with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden where they had everything they needed and wanted for nothing. God said, “There’s only one rule: don’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”
One day the snake tempts them by saying, “Are you sure that’s what God meant? Did he really say you couldn’t eat from that tree? Did he really mean it? You won’t die if you eat that fruit. Look at how beautiful it is and think about how wonderful it must taste. You know, when you eat it, you’ll be like God!” So, they ate it and they fell from God’s good graces. And we’ve been struggling with temptation ever since.
Temptation is so much a part of our culture now we do not even think about it much. It is easier just to give in to it. In our culture we pretty much get what we want and we don’t want to have to wait for it.
Jan and I recently took our two granddaughters and their parents to Disney World. Disney is a master at many things, fun, creativity, customer service, technology and temptation. We rode many of the rides with the girls. Fianna, the three year old particularly loved the rides, seeing the characters she knew, the lights, sounds and thrills. But when the ride ended, in order to exit, we all had to walk through a gift shop loaded with toys and items that she had just seen and experienced.
We were being tempted at every turn. It was difficult to resist the temptation to try to keep her smile and laughter by buying her what she saw and wanted.
Going through the dreaded checkout line at the grocery story is difficult as we have to stand and look at our favorite candy bars and snacks while waiting our turn with the cashier.
These are what we might call temptation lite, when you are tempted to eat that piece of chocolate cake when you are trying to keep your weight down. Temptation lite is something we might be inclined to do even though it may not be what we should be doing or may not be the best choice, but it likely will not cause any lasting harm to ourselves or others.
There are more serious temptations like being tempted to cheat on our taxes, or when we are tempted to roll through a stop sign, when we’re tempted to make ourselves feel better by using too much alcohol or drugs, when we’re tempted to be unfaithful in our relationships. These temptations are more serious, with greater and darker consequences for ourselves and others.
And then there are the temptations we may never even realize are temptations. Like the temptation to believe that we are worthless or unlovable, the temptation to believe that there is no God, the temptation to believe that we can control every part of our lives or the people in our lives, the temptation to believe that someone else’s life is far better than our own, the temptation to live without hope, the temptation to believe that all that matters is money and power.
Our world today makes it difficult for Christians who are urged to not yield to temptation.
In our Gospel story we read of Jesus being tempted by Satan. After his baptism Jesus was lead into the wilderness by the Spirit. He spent forty days and forty nights in the wilderness preparing for his ministry, fasting and praying. It was during this time in the wilderness that Satan tempted Jesus three times. In the first temptation Satan wanted Jesus to prove his divinity by turning stones into bread to ease his hunger. The second time Satan told Jesus to throw himself off the temple, reminding him that scripture says that the angels would protect him. And the third temptation was to gain power for himself immediately by worshiping Satan instead of God.
Satan wanted Jesus to put his own needs above God’s will and to act independently of God. He wanted Jesus to more concerned about the present time than his future. Jesus was tempted to use whatever power he had to care for himself when he is hungry. He was tempted to test God's love for him. He was tempted to seize power rather than wait for it to come to him. He was tempted to trust in himself, and not in the power that comes by being in relationship with God.
Satan tempts us in much the same way. He tempts us with idolatry. Idolatry is when we put anything before God. Satan tempts us with material things; money, automobiles, boats, big houses, clothes, vacations. He tempts us with power, prestige, control. None of these things are necessarily bad but it is when we choose them to the point that we put them first in our lives that they will impact our relationship with God and prevent us from doing the will of God. These are the things that prevent us from caring for those in need. Prevent us from creating a just and equal society. Idolatry prevents us from loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Jesus met Satan's challenge by trusting to do all things in God’s time, in God’s way, and with God’s results. Jesus faced these temptations and chose to remain faithful to and in relationship with God. We can choose to follow the example of Jesus in overcoming temptation through trusting in God also.
Our lives are filled with wilderness journeys, filled with temptations and trials. Lent is a time to practice overcoming Satan’s temptations?
Jesus’ experience in the wilderness gives us three spiritual tools to use in our times in the wilderness: prayer, fasting, and faith in the Word of God.
Jesus prayed. Being in conversation with God, prayer, meditative reflection, listening for God's voice, will always guide us through life's most difficult moments.
Jesus fasted. Traditionally lent is a time for fasting. We purposefully put ourselves into temptation's way by giving up something that we like or by taking on something that we must make time for. Temptation is not necessarily bad. Resisting temptation can strengthen us. In the book of James we read “consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Temptation can empower and strengthen us for service to God.
And finally, Jesus relied on the foundation of faith. When faced with the three temptations Jesus quoted scripture. “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” and “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” I believe it is a good practice to have some “go to” scripture that you can easily pull up in your mind to help you during life’s difficult times. There are two pieces of scripture that I often turn to when I need help. The first one is the story of Peter walking on the water. Peter was walking toward Jesus and doing just fine until a storm came up. Peter took his eyes from Jesus, became afraid and started to sink. This story reminds me whenever I am fearful, lack confidence or unsure of myself that I need to keep my focus on Jesus instead of my fears and insecurities. Keeping my eyes on Jesus helps me to get through the tough and scary times.
A second piece of scripture that I rely on when I am feeling weighted down with problems is Jesus saying “take my yoke upon you— for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. When oxen are yoked together, working as a team, their load is easier to pull. I envision that Jesus and I are yoked together like the oxen and that Jesus is there beside me to help me carry my load.
What scripture do you look to when you are in the wilderness? What piece of scripture gives you the strength you need to carry on?
I pray that we all may use prayer, fasting, and faith for our journeys through the wilderness. Let us view trial and temptation as times that can bring us closer to God.
Immediately after Jesus came out of the wilderness, he began his ministry. We are called to do the same. Finding our way out of the wilderness means that we have completed our trial and have resisted the temptations and are ready to love our neighbors as our selves and to serve God in God’s Kingdom. Have a blessed Lenten journey. AMEN.