Summary: As Christ followers, our task is to overcome the hindrances of this world that keep ourselves and others from growing in a relationship with Christ.
What’s keeping you from Christ? What’s keeping you from God? As we think on such questions, we probably all try to find an easy way out. “What’s keeping me from Christ? Well, Christ is not here anymore. God is just like some clockmaker who sets things in motion and then steps away.” But Scripture tells us a different story. No matter where we might go, Christ goes with us. No matter what we might do, God’s grace covers us. The gospel reveals to us an ever-present God. And our hearts know better than to say simply, “Christ is not here anymore.” So, what’s keeping you from Christ?
The story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert gives us an idea of what keeps us from God. Jesus was tempted in every possible way. And the very things Jesus was tempted with were put there in an effort to separate Jesus from God. Had Jesus given in to such temptations, Jesus would have fallen, Jesus would have kept himself from being in a relationship with God.
You see, Jesus was being tugged in two different directions. God the Father was telling Jesus, in essence, “Take my love to men and women; love them till you die for them; save them by this unconquerable love even if You finish by hanging on a Cross!” Satan was saying to Jesus, in essence, “Use Your power to blast men and women; obliterate your enemies; win the world by might and power and bloodshed.” God said to Jesus, “Set up a reign of love.” Satan said, “Set up a dictatorship of force.” The three temptations we read about in our Scripture for this evening are certainly attractive, and they make a lot of sense, too. God can’t want God’s beloved Son to be famished with hunger, can He? If God wants Jesus to become sovereign over the world, then why not go for it the easy way? Why not prove it by spectacular displays of power? Why not go for the easy ride? This is what the world is whispering in our ears everyday. Go for the power. Live for self. Love is over-rated! And how often have we given in to such temptations? How often have we kept ourselves from Jesus?
Jesus’ first temptation was to turn a stone into a loaf of bread. Let’s think for a moment about all the loaves of bread we’ve let slip into our lives. The obvious parallel is food and drink. But there are also those loaves like TV, internet, or video games. And we spend our time mindlessly overindulging as our relationship with Christ slips through the cracks. Then there is that temptation for power and prestige. Jesus was offered glory and authority over all the kingdoms of the world. For us the temptation might be to become a workaholic in an effort to receive the praise of a supervisor or maybe a big promotion. Or perhaps we are so concerned about pleasing people and building ourselves up in the eyes of others that we forget about serving God; about humbling ourselves before one another. Finally, Jesus is tempted to test God. We, too, are pushed to test God in various ways. We selfishly seek things from God that are unreasonable or not even always possible. Then we become angry with God when we do not get what we want; forgetting that what we want is not always consistent with God’s will.
The temptations that you and I face day by day and at critical moments of decision may be very different from those of Jesus, but they have exactly the same point. They are not simply trying to entice us into committing this or that sin. They are trying to distract us; to keep us away from Christ, to turn us aside from the path of servanthood to which we have been called! God has costly but wonderfully great plans for us, and the enemy will do everything possible to distract us and keep us from God’s good purposes! It’s important for us to learn to recognize the voices that whisper attractive lies, and to be able to distinguish them from the voice of God! Fighting temptation isn’t about putting ourselves down or beating ourselves up in the face of weakness; it is about celebrating God’s gift of full humanity and learning to live into that gift in the best possible ways.
You can be so great; I can be so great! We can have a deep and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ! Our lives can be filled with such meaning! We can really make a positive difference in this world! In following Christ, we may not acquire power and prestige, but we are guaranteed true happiness, true fulfillment, which neither the world, nor the flesh, nor the devil can begin to imitate, much less take away from us! But we must keep our eyes on God, and trust God for everything! We have to remember our calling to bring God’s Light into this world! And if we can do that, we and we are enabled to say a firm “no” to the voices that try and lure us back into the darkness--into the misery, and we are joined with Christ!