Summary: A talk at the start of lent that considers the temptation of Christ and the temptations that come our way. God always offers a way out for us to take, but we don’t always take it.

A native-American elder once described his own inner struggles like this: “Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time.” After being asked which dog wins he thought for a moment and replied, “The one I feed the most.” (From a Bundle of laughs by J John and Mark Stibbe)

I hope that the pancake lovers in our midst were able to get well fed-up with pancakes on Tuesday; but much more than that I pray that in this season of Lent we will each be fed and nurtured by God’s word; and will each be transformed more into the likeness of Jesus; feeding our souls with good things!

Where Adam and Eve failed Jesus succeeded. In the Garden of Eden where God walked and talked with them (Genesis 3:8-9) they were free to eat from every tree except one.

The crafty serpent (Genesis 3:1) - a whispering liar also known as the Devil, the evil one or Satan – convinced them it would be OK to eat fruit from that one tree; and eating or toying with forbidden fruit has been at the heart of the human condition ever since; but where Adam and Eve failed Jesus did not.

Where Israel failed in the wilderness Jesus succeeded. The sin of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit is often referred to as Original Sin – the tendency within every human heart to reject God and to reject God’s commandments and boundaries for good and holy living; but God did not abandon humankind on account of Original Sin. He chose a small nation of people – the Israelites – to demonstrate his love, his rescue, his provision for our needs, and his provision of a way for us to know sins forgiven and a relationship with our creator; but after rescuing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and taking them into the wilderness they rebelled (Dt. 9:7).

But where Israel failed Jesus succeeded – and where we fail and fall into sin Jesus succeeded. The writer to the Hebrews – comparing Jesus to a High Priest - puts it like this: “We do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Do you ever feel weighed down by an inability to live life in the way of Jesus, unable to keep the 10 commandments both outwardly and inwardly, struggling to forgive as Christ forgives us, perhaps feeling miserable because of a sin that repeats itself over and over again? If you feel burdened by your sins then we have Jesus – the Great High Priest who sympathises with us in our weaknesses.

Or do you feel no burden at all? Some people resign themselves to sin because we’re human and say, “It’s OK for Jesus. He didn’t sin because he was God.”

The problem with such a thought process is that it usually leads to complacency. It leads us to say, “I can’t do it. I can’t stop myself. It’s just the way I am. I’m too old to change now; and in any case my sins aren’t that bad compared to him, or her, or him.”

It’s a state of mind I experience from time to time; but Jesus is not just our Saviour, he’s also the model human being; and if we dare and decide to trust in the victory of Jesus there is always a way out, always a door through which we can pass to overcome the temptation. Hence Paul writes this: ‘If you think you’re standing firm be careful you don’t fall. No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. 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 stand up under it’ (1 Corinthians 10: 12-13). Have I always taken the way out offered to me by God? No, I haven’t; but I have no excuse. I can’t say I couldn’t help it.

It’s not OK to say, “It was different for Jesus because he was God.” Although he was fully human and fully God he willingly left behind all of his godly privileges when he chose to take on our flesh. He was tempted – severely – in every way.

A man went to see the Doctor and complained that he had broken his arm in two places. The Doctor replied, “In that case I suggest you stay away from those places.” So if a certain TV channel is a cause of sin and temptation, let’s stay away from it.

But of course we can’t completely avoid temptation. That’s not possible; and Jesus was even led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted - tested (Matthew 4:1)! Having just been baptised and having just experienced the warmth of the approval of God – a voice from heaven declaring, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17) Jesus immediately faces an onslaught of whispering voices.

As the Union Pacific Railroad was being constructed in the United States, an elaborate trestle bridge was built across a large canyon. Wanting to test the bridge, the builder loaded a train with enough extra cars and equipment to double its normal payload. The train was then driven to the middle of the bridge where it stayed for an entire day. One worker asked, "Are you trying to break this bridge?" "No," the builder replied, "I’m trying to prove that the bridge won’t break." In the same way, the testing – or the temptations - that Jesus faced weren’t designed to see if He would sin, but to prove that He wouldn’t.

We mustn’t think this was the only time Jesus was tempted. He was tempted on all kinds of levels later in his ministry, for example when his friend Peter wanted him to avoid the humiliation of the cross at all costs (Matt 16: 22-23); that was real and deep temptation to take a short cut, avoid the costly road of discipleship laid before him; the temptation to not do God’s will.

After the high of his baptism and hearing the audible voice of his heavenly Father Jesus now hears the audible whispers of the tempter. For us, the whispers are usually either those silent voices in our head, or a heavy yearning or inappropriate desire of the heart; but for Jesus on this occasion the whispering voice was audible; and the temptations were to use his gifts and privileges for personal gain; to use his gifts to satisfy himself; to use his gifts in opposition to God’s will; and that’s one way temptation comes to us. If your gift is public speaking there may be the temptation to spin words, or twist truth for selfish gain.

Temptation is not simply an attempt by the Enemy of God to get us to sin, it is an all-out assault aimed at distracting and blowing-us off course from God.

Having heard his Father say, “This is my son” the Tempter twists that around and says, “If you are the son of God tell these stones to become bread” (4:3).

Jesus knew he was God’s Son, but he was hungry, and so the Devil attacked him on two fronts, tempting him to use his God-given power to generate bread – something he would later do for crowds of people at the allotted time (Matt 14:13ff); but not today for personal gain; and certainly not to prove to himself or anyone else that he was indeed a child of God.

And perhaps we recognise that whisper; or maybe we’ve heard it from friends or family: “Surely if you’re a Christian you should be this or that”; but Jesus turns to the storehouse of scripture tucked away in his heart and quotes from Deuteronomy: “Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Dt. 8:3). Jesus was not prepared to do a conjuring trick to either satisfy his own personal hunger, or to bribe men and women to follow him.

The tempter takes scripture and twists it and it’s a temptation we must be careful to avoid.

Jesus is shown the highest point of the temple and is tempted to throw himself down, because the Bible says ‘He will command his angels concerning you …so that you will not strike your foot against a stone’ (Mt 4:6 & Ps 91: 11-12); and yes whilst that is indeed scripture Jesus replies, “It is also written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matt 4:7 & Dt. 16:6).

Jesus models a careful approach to scripture; because it is easy to pluck out a sentence and hang a belief system on it; tempting even; but for Jesus the whole meaning was more important than the words.

The Bible commentator Craig Keener says that ‘whereas Jesus uses scripture to teach him God’s will, the devil presents it merely as promises to be exploited for one’s own purposes’.

And it’s the same with the temptation to bow down and worship Satan, who promises Jesus the kingdoms of the earth if he will do so (Matt 4:8-10).

The kingdoms were already promised to Jesus, but he had to endure the cross first. He is again tempted with a short cut, a kingdom but without the cost of the cross; and perhaps we’re tempted to cut corners at work to achieve the end result; or to avoid the pain of living sacrificially, or an awkward conversation.

Whatever temptations are coming your way at the moment let’s remember that on the cross Jesus dealt with the barrier between us and God. On the cross he took upon himself the penalty for our sins; and he has made a way for us to be reconciled to God.

And when we’re tempted he does provide us with a way out; but we need to take it. For example the off button might be the way out, or literally the door might be the way out. Throwing something away might be the way out; or sitting down for a heart to heart chat with the one you love might be the route away from temptation or from sin; but whatever it is, let’s take it.

I’ve just finished reading a novel by Tosca Lee called ‘Demon – a Memoir’. Don’t be put off by the title because it’s a clever book. A fallen angel called Lucius contacts an editor at a publishing house and asks him to write up his memoirs, dating right back to his rebellion against God before the dawn of time. Lucius describes the rage and jealousy that he and the other fallen angels felt when God lovingly created men and women; and how that anger grew deeper when God continued to love humanity despite our continuing rejection of him. But the book is just as much about the life story of the man chosen to write up the memoirs, as he begins to examine his own life and to face choices that will affect the rest of his life. If you enjoy fiction with a twist of fantasy but full of truth it’s a great book and one of the best novels I’ve read for a long time. It’s opened my eyes to certain aspects of the spiritual battle we are in, as the story explores the origins of temptation and the loving way out that God has given us through our saviour Jesus.

Let’s pray.