Summary: We face difficult temptations throughout our lives, but through the grace of God in Jesus Christ, we cannot only be forgiven of our past mistakes, but empowered to overcome future temptations.
A young man was sent to Spain by his company to work in a new office they were opening there. He accepted the assignment because it would enable him to earn enough money to marry his long-time girlfriend. The plan was to pool their money and, when he returned, put a down-payment on a house, and get married. As he bid his sweetheart farewell at the airport, he promised to write her every day and keep in touch. However, as the lonely weeks slowly slipped by, his letters came less and less often and his girlfriend back home began to have her doubts. "Spain is filled with beautiful women," she wrote to him, "and after all you are a handsome man." When he received that letter, the young man wrote her right back immediately, declaring that he was paying absolutely no attention to the local girls. "I admit," he wrote, "that I am tempted. But I find myself so busy with my work that I have no time for such foolishness."
However, in the very next mail delivery, the young man received a package from his sweetheart. It contained a harmonica and a note. "I'm sending you this harmonica," his girlfriend wrote, "so you will have something to take your mind off those girls." The young man wrote her back, thanking her for the gift and promising her that he would practice the harmonica every night and think only of her.
Finally, after months of waiting, the day came for him to return to the States and his sweetheart was waiting for him at the airport. As he rushed forward to embrace her, she held up a restraining hand and said sternly, "Hold on there. First, I want to hear that harmonica!"
As the young woman began hearing less and less from her fiancé, it didn't take too much thinking to figure out what might be distracting him. It wasn't very difficult to discover the temptations with which he might be dealing. And that's the way temptation works, that's why it's such a powerful force in our lives. It’s always lurking just underneath surface; ready at any point to feed on a moment of weakness.
I'm sure many of you are familiar with Achilles. According to Greek mythology, Achilles was the guy who was dipped head first into the River Styx. This little swim supposedly made him immortal and completely invulnerable, except for the heel that he had been held by as he was dipped into the river. Achilles later suffered a mortal wound to that heel---his vulnerable spot. Temptation is like that; an Achilles heel for each of us. It is that weakness, where even the slightest lure can send us over the edge and ruin us in sin and evil.
Temptation comes to us in moments when we look at others and feel insecure about not having enough. Temptation comes in our judgments about strangers or friends who make choices we do not understand. Temptation rules us, making us able to look away from those in need and to live our lives unaffected by poverty, and hunger, and disease. Temptation rages in moments when we allow our temper to define our lives or when addiction to wealth, power, vanity, influence over others, or an excessive need for control defines who we are. Temptation wins when we engage in the justification of little lies, or small sins: a demeaning joke, a questionable business practice for the greater good, a criticism of a spouse or partner when he or she is not around. Temptation wins when we get so caught up in the trappings of life that we lose sight of life itself. These are the Achilles' heels, the seemingly insignificant moments of evil that, while mundane, lurk in the recesses of our lives and our souls.
Temptation is a constant companion and a very real danger to everyone's life. And we’d like to think that we have the power to resist temptation. But we all know how often we’ve sworn we wouldn’t “give in” to temptation, only to do so in the end. But the key to overcoming temptation is more than willpower. The greatest remedy to defeating the devil is more than to "just say no." It would be so easy if that were true, wouldn't it? But it isn't as simple as that. It isn't that easy to say no. Perhaps Mark Twain was right when he said: "I can resist anything except temptation."
When we cannot overcome temptation, we may lead a life centered on a very unholy trinity -- me, myself, and I. We grow apart from God, and we become less and less the people God created us to be. But, as we learn in today's reading, because Jesus became fully human, he understands the world in which we leave. He faced temptations and trials; we saw that quite clearly in today’s passage. And we know the great trial he faced as he hung on the cross. Christ understands our struggles, Christ has experienced it himself, and even more! And because Jesus was divine, God's very own Son, he will set us free from our past failings, and by his grace help us to overcome our temptations. God in Christ Jesus understands our plight -- our temptations, our weaknesses. Yet God will work in the midst of our temptations to perfect us in love and show us the better way. The good news of today's message is that there is hope in dealing with temptation. There is help for those who battle with sin; for there is one who has faced temptation and overcome it. Jesus Christ promises to strengthen us in our battle with the devil. He stands ready to come to our aid, but we have to be ready to receive that aid.