Now, But Not Yet
The Dangerous Road of Temptation
Sometimes you hear stories that just really get you. A salesman was waiting in an office to submit his company’s bid. When the person he was to submit the bid to stepped out for a few
minutes, the salesman noticed a competitor’s bid on the desk, but the amount was covered by a drink can. No one was around so he decided to take a quick look to see if he needed to adjust the bid. What he didn’t know was he was being tested. There was no bottom on the can and it was full of BBs, which went everywhere when he lifted the can.
The Dangerous Road of Temptation is our topic this morning, as we continue our series Now, But Not Yet.
This is a series about the kingdom of God breaking into the world and the changes the kingdom brings. Going until Easter we will study events from the life of Jesus that teach us what the coming of the Kingdom of God means to us and to our world. It’s not a chronological study.
We return to Luke’s gospel this week to study the temptation of Jesus. After his baptism Jesus goes into the wilderness for forty days where he faced a series of temptations.
Temptation #1 – Turning Stones Into Bread – Forsaking the Spiritual.
I don’t know about you, but when I think of wilderness, I think of a forest. A lush forest with streams of sparkling clear water, and maybe some wild blackberries, some fruit trees – the kind of place where you could live off the land for forty days.
That is not the type of wilderness Jesus experienced. The wilderness where Jesus spent his forty days was so harsh and desolate it was called The Devastation (Barclay, p. 43).
In fact, here is a picture of what that wilderness looks like -
I don’t see any wild blackberries or fruit trees there, do you? Forty days is a long time to survive in the harshness of that terrain, and the hunger that would settle in must have been tremendous. Scattered throughout the terrain would be rocks like these some of which look like small loaves of bread.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t do hungry very well. Sometimes I struggle with forty minutes of doing without food, let alone forty days. In fact, I think the wrong word is used; I would call it a slow rather than a fast. What are you doing today? Well, today I’m slowing.
Imagine the hunger that must have been gnawing at Jesus, and into that hunger comes the first temptation – if you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.
On the surface it makes a great deal of sense, doesn’t it? Why shouldn’t Jesus do something to take care of his hunger? What could possibly be wrong with providing some bread for himself?
Didn’t God miraculously provide for the Hebrew people while they wandered in the wilderness? Wouldn’t he be better prepared for his ministry after having some physical sustenance?
The key, I think, is in the meaning of the word fast. The word fast, means to demonstrate a firm and unshakeable commitment. To hold fast to something, is what we say. When Jesus began his fast it wasn’t just to avoid eating for the sake of avoiding eating; Jesus was fasting and was committed to that fast because he was about to begin his public ministry and he was demonstrating an absolute, unshakeable commitment to that ministry. Nothing was going to come between Jesus and his mission. It wasn’t that Jesus shouldn’t have eaten; this was about what was going to matter most to Jesus.
Here is where the lesson is for us – do not forsake the spiritual component of life or forsake the mission God has given us in life. We live in such a demanding time, where the daily grind of making a living and providing for our family overwhelms us to the point that we can forget there is a spiritual side of life that must be nourished and nurtured.
Will our lives be defined by the physical, the temporal, and the daily list of urgencies that pop up on our radar screen every day? Will life be only about putting bread on the table, enjoying some entertainment, and accumulating a pile of stuff, or will there be a spiritual component and will we hold fast to the spiritual? We are far more than just stomachs that have to be filled and bodies that have to be clothed; we are spiritual beings with a calling to remember that life is about far more than just visible and temporal matters.
Temptation #2 – Worshipping Power – How Do We Advance the Kingdom of God?
The second temptation is one that has been with us since the beginning of time. It has inspired stories from the literary classic Faustus, where Doctor Faustus makes a deal with the devil for power, to Captain Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s about a trade – a very bad trade.
Jesus is presented with a trade – I’ll give you the world, the devil tells Jesus, if you bow down and worship me. There are all kinds of dangers in this temptation, but the one I want us to consider is the temptation of power, and specifically, how do we further the kingdom of God? This is a question that could lead us into its own series of messages, so trying to answer that question in one point of one message is very challenging, so I’ll simply say this – we must be very careful how we view and use power. Power is very tempting.
The most recent election brought about a change in the balance of power in Washington, and that is a city that is all about power – who has power and who doesn’t have power. The currency of politics is power.
The political view of power permeates every facet of society. If you want to get something done in our culture then you seek power to accomplish what you want. Jesus would face near constant temptation to use political power to accomplish his mission. Even his closest disciples carried the hope that he would usher in a new political age for the nation of Israel by becoming a political Messiah.
But the currency of God’s kingdom is not power; it is love, which is a far great power. The gospel has political overtones, but there are many dangers when political power is used to advance the gospel. The gospel does not need political power in order to be advanced. In fact, I believe we run the risk of diminishing the gospel when we mix it improperly with politics. Charles Colson, who went to prison for is role in the Watergate break-in back in the 70s and was converted while in prison, made quite an interesting comment. Colson said this – the early church had no political power, but had tremendous influence; the modern church has great political power, but very little influence.
I think he is absolutely correct. The kingdom grows through the power of love, not the power of politics.
Temptation #3 – Leaping From the Temple – Do We Trust God?
Many of you have done what’s called a trust fall. It’s hard to let yourself fall back while trusting others to catch you.
What Jesus is being asked is this – are you sure you can trust God? Don’t you think you ought to put him to the test? He says you can trust him, but don’t you think you should make him prove he is trustworthy?
Our temptation is the same – do we trust God? Do we trust God when life turns difficult? Do we trust God when we get a challenging diagnosis from the doctor? Do we trust God when things get tight financially? Do we trust God when standing for our beliefs begins to cost us something? Do we trust God when we look at a world that seems to be coming apart at the seams?
The thread that connects all these temptations together is the importance of choosing what matters most in life. As parents we try and instill in our children the importance of looking at the long-term ramifications of decision making, of the danger of making a decision that brings us a short-term desire but has terrible long-term consequences.
Jesus gives the warning in Matthew 16:26 – For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? And what will a man give in exchange for his soul? What will a man give in exchange for his soul? What is the price tag on a soul?
The danger is that it is easy to sell our souls a little bit at a time. Life has a way of wearing us down and driving us into compromises where we are trading away our soul, one small piece at a time. What seems like a small temptation leads to a bad decision that leads to another bad decision and soon we find that piece by piece, we have given away our soul.
I used to enjoy putting together jigsaw puzzles. Everyone has their own system for how to assemble a jigsaw puzzle. Some start with the border; I would look for similar pieces, which gave me several disconnected sections. I would look at those sections and try to figure out how it all fit together. I think this is a metaphor for life. We see life in pieces, and those pieces often seem unconnected to us. We keep looking but we can’t figure out how the pieces fit together into some kind of whole. God, though, sees the whole picture. We must trust that while we cannot always see the big picture, God does, and he is always at work making connections and pulling our lives together.
The Dangerous Road of Temptation is ever before us. Beware of that road.