Temptation: A Message on Luke 4:1-13

(Artwork: Christ in the Wilderness by Briton Riviere.)

Temptation
A Message on Luke 4:1-13
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 6, 2022
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Luke 4:1-13 (NRSV)

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 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. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 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. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”

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,’

and

‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

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.

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Today we switch liturgical focus as this is the first Sunday in the season of Lent.

Lent is 40 days before Easter (not counting Sundays) and historically it has been a season of preparation, of repentance, and of practicing spiritual practices.

One way some Christians observe Lent is to “give up something” for Lent. The reason for this goes back to the scripture we read today where Jesus fasts in the desert for 40 days and nights. As a spiritual practice, people will fast during the season of Lent in remembrance of Jesus’ fasting in the desert.

Here’s the deal, though. Whatever you give up has to be important to you. For example, if you don’t like coffee and don’t drink coffee, then it wouldn’t make sense for you to say, “I’m giving up coffee for Lent.” Nope. It needs to be something that is important to you. It needs to have an aspect of sacrifice associated with it.

The scripture we read today from Luke’s gospel tells us of Jesus going into the desert to fast for 40 days and nights.

Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness occurs in all three of the “synoptic” gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In all three accounts Jesus goes into the desert right after being baptized by John in the Jordan river. In Matthew and Luke Jesus is “led” by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, whereas Mark is more forceful, saying the Spirit “drove” him into the wilderness.

So why does this happen?

Well if we explore the Old Testament scriptures we can find out. There we find that before anyone begins a profound religious experience they first fast.

In 1 Kings 19 we find the prophet Elijah running for his life from Jezebel. He heads out into the wilderness toward Mt. Horeb, and in making that journey he fasts for 40 days and 40 nights. (1 Kings 19:8)

Moses fasted as well. In Exodus he climbs Mt. Sinai (which is also Mt. Horeb) and fasts for 40 days and nights while getting the 10 commandments and the laws from God. He does this not only one time, but three times!

So fasting is historically a way for God’s people to prepare for a great religious experience.

Jesus is at the start of his ministry, so he gets baptized and then fasts in the desert in preparation of that.

But why the temptation? Why does the devil show up to tempt Jesus?

I think we can find some answers in the temptations themselves. The first temptation the devil tries on Jesus deals with something that humans experience: hunger. The devil says, “Hey, with all that fasting I bet you’re hungry. You’re the son of God. Use some of that power to turn these rocks into some nice, warm, freshly baked loaves of bread that you can eat. Come on, you can do it!”

But Jesus doesn’t do that, does he? He tells the devil no but in a creative–and effective–way. He quotes scripture to the devil. Scripture out of the book of Deuteronomy, to be specific.

“One does not live by bread alone.” This comes from Deuteronomy 8:3, which reads, “He [God] humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” – Deuteronomy 8:3

Luke shortens that passage, but Matthew’s gospel contains the entire last part of the verse.

Seeing that Jesus has resisted the temptation of hunger, the devil then changes tactics. Here in Luke’s gospel he next resorts to the human temptation for power. Here is The Message paraphrase:

“For the second test he led him up and spread out all the kingdoms of the earth on display at once. Then the Devil said, ‘They’re yours in all their splendor to serve your pleasure. I’m in charge of them all and can turn them over to whomever I wish. Worship me and they’re yours, the whole works.’”

Again Jesus resists the temptation and quotes Deuteronomy to the devil, this time paraphrasing from 6:13 and 10:20: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

The devil, being persistent, tempts Jesus one more time. And this time he uses scripture to do it. He takes Jesus up to the top of the Temple and tells Jesus to throw himself off of it so that angels can catch him and keep him from falling. And the scriptures he quotes Psalm 91:11-12, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” – Psalm 91:11-12

(See, even the devil knows the scriptures.)

But for the third time Jesus resists the temptation, once again turning to the good ol’ book of Deuteronomy where he quotes the first part of 6:16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test…”

Now that’s the order of the temptations here in Luke. In Matthew the last two are reversed, and there are theological reasons for that, but I don’t want to go into that today. That’s another sermon for another time.

Today I want to focus on temptation.

The beginning of Lent is a good time to focus on temptations.

Several years ago I gave up fried foods for Lent. Things were going real good until I went to Kiwanis Club that Thursday. At the time we were meeting at a Mexican food place, and when I sat down I saw in front of me chips and salsa. It was at that point that I knew I had messed up. I suddenly became aware that those lovely, crisp, delicious, salty tortilla chips were, sadly, fried.

I usually sat near Janis Adams, who works at Austin Bank, and we always teased each other about how many tortilla chips we ate. Janis and I could empty that basket in no time, and the poor people that worked at the restaurant were always having to bring us more.

But that first Thursday in Lent years ago I sat down, looked at those chips, and realized I was facing temptation. I knew I had given up fried food for Lent, and I knew that those tortilla chips were fried, but I also thought, “Man, I didn’t think about tortilla chips when I gave up fried food for Lent. I should have picked something easier.”

I was tempted to eat the chips anyway. Who would know? Didn’t Jesus say to keep your fasting secret anyway? No one would know but me. Well, and Jesus.

So even though I was tempted, and to paraphrase Yoda, the temptation was strong with this one, I didn’t give in to it. I didn’t eat the chips.

Janis noticed immediately. “You’re not eating chips? Are you okay?”

I explained to her that I gave up fried foods for Lent.

Janis, being Janis, was really supportive of me. She said, “Huh,” then picked out the biggest chip, dipped it in the salsa, looked me straight in the eye and took a big ol’ bite, going “Mmmmmm. Oh these chips taste so good! Mmmmmmmm!”

Because we are human we will be tempted, and most of the time it will be by something much bigger and more important than tortilla chips.

The devil will tempt you where you are weakest, whatever that may be. And none of us are exempt from temptation.

Being a Christian doesn’t shield you from temptation. If anything it puts more of a target on you. The devil seeks to get a foothold wherever he can.

Jesus being tempted illustrates his human-ness. He was tempted but also showed us how to overcome temptation.

The Apostle Paul knew about overcoming temptation as well. He wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)

And Jesus’ half brother, James, knew about temptation as well: “Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. 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. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. – James 1:12-15

Jesus tells his disciples in Mark 14:38 (which is also in Matthew 26:41), “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Mark 14:38 (NIV)

And here’s what the author of Hebrews says: “Because he [Jesus] himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. – Hebrews 2:18 (NIV)

And again from Hebrews: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” – Hebrews 4:15 (NIV)

So yes, we will be tempted. And yes, our faith in Jesus, who was also tempted, can give us the strength to overcome temptation.

So my challenge to you this week is to resist temptation. As we enter into this season of Lent remember Jesus being tempted in the desert. Take the words of James to heart: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

Temptations will come, but we can overcome them. Even if they are tortilla chips.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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