Summary: Jesus confronts temptation before he begins his ministry
March 10, 2019
Hope Lutheran Church
Rev. Mary Erickson
Tried by Temptation
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
A husband and wife both found themselves unemployed. Day after day they pounded the pavement to look for new jobs. Meanwhile, they pinched their pennies to stretch their funds. One evening, the man came home and he found his wife wearing a dress he’d never seen before. “Is that a new dress?” he asked.
The wife blushed and stuttered, “Yes, honey, it is. I – I – I bought it today.”
“Why on earth would you buy a new dress? You know we don’t have any income!”
“I know,” she said, “I was downtown to apply for a job there. And I passed by the window of Sharon’s Dress Shop. And there was this dress hanging in the window, and it was so cute. I thought, there’s no harm in trying it on. So I went inside. I tried it on, and it fit so perfectly. It’s like Satan was sitting on my shoulder, urging me to buy the dress.”
Her husband said, “When that happens, you need to tell the devil, ‘Satan, get behind me!’”
“That’s exactly what I did!” she replied, “But then Satan said, ‘You know, it looks great from back here, too!’”
Temptation. Every year during Lent, we consider the story of Jesus’ temptation. It comes up every single year. There’s something about this story that we need to hear. And I think the reason is because temptation is always so near. It comes to every one of us, and it never stops.
Temptation is very much a part of our lives. Jesus was tempted, too. The fact that he was tempted lets us know that he was fully human. He wasn’t half-God-half-man. He wasn’t some kind of a spiritual Superman.
Last week, in Jesus’ Transfiguration on the mountain, his divinity was more fully revealed. But this week, with his temptation, Jesus is shown to be fully human. He knew the pull and strain of temptation just as we do.
Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness area. He was way out in the wild, away from civilization. It’s out here in the isolation of the desert landscape that the story of the temptation unfolds.
This story reminds me a little bit of a spider web. You know, when something touches one of the spokes on the web, it sends a vibration through the whole web. This story touches off some vibrations to other Bible stories.
One of the spokes in this story’s web vibrates all the way back to Adam and Eve. They were tempted, too. They were the first ones to be tempted. But their story ended very differently than Jesus’ temptation.
Another spoke of the web quivers back to the Israelites in the wilderness after they’d fled Egypt. They wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Jesus finds himself in the wilderness for 40 days. During their 40 years, Israel was tempted time after time.
So this story of Jesus’ temptation reminds us of other biblical stories of temptation. This one begins with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit directs Jesus into the wilderness. While he is there, he’s tempted by the devil.
The early church father St. John Christostom reflected on this. He said God doesn’t LEAD us into temptation; but God also doesn’t PREVENT temptations. God doesn’t construct an invisible barrier around us so that we’re shielded from the lure of evil and wrongdoing.
He went on to say that facing temptation can assist in developing our character. For one thing, it teaches us humility. Our temptations remind us that we’re not better than others. We’re just as vulnerable and in need of God’s guidance as everyone else.
There’s a well-known story about Abraham Lincoln that illustrates this point. When Lincoln was a young lawyer in Illinois, he took up the case of a poor widow. She was suing the president of a bank for $5.00 in damages.
The bank president paid a visit to Lincoln. Lincoln’s law partner was also present in the office at the time. The bank president offered a bribe to Lincoln if he would throw the case. But Lincoln refused.
The bank president wasn’t finished. He offered a higher amount. Lincoln still refused. So the banker went higher. Again, Lincoln refused. The banker tried one more time, offering even more money.
Suddenly, Lincoln leapt from his seat and threw the banker out of his office. Lincoln’s partner was stunned. “Abe,” he said, “what just happened? Three times he tried to bribe you and you just sat there. But this last time you kicked him out of our office!” Lincoln answered, “He was getting too close to my price.”