Summary: Jesus was tempted but did not sin. His relationship with God, fuelled by his love for scripture was a key ingredient. This sermon looks at 3 things that can help us deal with temptation.
What did Jesus do about temptation?
Today’s question is ‘What did Jesus do about temptation? If an advert on the television is to be believed then temptation truly comes in the form of cakes or chocolate in the fridge; but of course temptation comes in many shapes and sizes, such as the story of Martin. Martin woke up one Monday morning particularly tempted to stay at home because he was feeling quite sick, fed up and nervous about going off to school and so he told his mother about it. She was having none of it.
“But Mum,” said Martin. “I hate school. Lots of people can’t stand me. Most of the children call me names. Most of the teachers can’t stand the sight of me. I can’t concentrate on anything. No one wants to sit near me at lunch time, people walk off if they see me coming, and there have even been graffiti drawings about me. Mum, I am not going to school anymore.”
“But Martin, you have to, you’re the Head Teacher.”
Martin was sorely tempted to lie and to avoid his responsibilities, and he was giving in to the temptation. He was removing the chocolate from its wrapper, and falling into sin.
Let’s be clear. Temptation is not sin. So if temptation is not sin, then what is it? Temptation is ‘pressure to give in to influences that lead away from God and into sin’ (NIV Thematic Study Bible). Temptation is a doorway and then a bridge into sin if we cross it.
One New Testament writer tells us that Jesus ‘was tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin’ (Hebrews 4: 15). Jesus faced every type of temptation, every urge to do wrong, every pressure to think of number one, every inclination to sin, and every form of temptation that we do – yet he never did wrong. Jesus lived life God’s way, He died God’s way, and He was resurrected to eternal life God’s way. Tempted in every way, as we are, yet was without sin!
Today’s episode from the life of Jesus takes place very quickly after his baptism in the river Jordan (3:13) aged about 30. As Jesus went up out of the water he saw ‘the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him; and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased”’ (3:16-17). God was well pleased - well happy - with Jesus; and it was very soon after this that God’s Spirit led Jesus into the desert where He was tempted by the devil (4:1). Note that Jesus was tempted shortly after a spiritual high, having heard the voice of God. Jesus was perfect yet he was in no way immune to temptation. It was at the end of forty days of prayer that Jesus was tempted. It was while he was hungry he was tempted, and it was just before he began to preach that Jesus was tempted; so don’t be surprised when we get tempted at all sorts of times!
But what did Jesus do when confronted with temptation, and how does that help us?
Jesus was hungry. ‘The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread”’ (4:3). The ‘tempter’, sometimes referred to as the devil, or Satan, or the accuser, suggests that Jesus should use his power to satisfy his basic need for food; and of course he could have done it! Months later Jesus would feed 5000 men plus women and children by multiplying 5 loaves and 2 fish (14:13-21) but he refused to give in to the tempting idea that he could use and abuse his authority and the power given him by God.
Some of us get tempted to abuse the authority given to us, or the position we have, or the influence we have, and to use it for personal gain. Some Christian television evangelists suggest that if we do certain things, pray certain prayers, and live a certain way, God will unreservedly answer all of our prayers with a “Yes”; but that is very presumptuous. We cannot and must not tell God what to do. Jesus didn’t.
Jesus refuted the temptation by using the Hebrew Bible – our Old Testament. He knew it very, very well, and a major ingredient in the relationship of Jesus the Son with God the Father was Jesus’ knowledge and use of scripture. When tempted to tell stones to become bread, ‘Jesus answered, “It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”’ (4:4) - quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. He knew and loved scripture.
But the devil wasn’t done with Jesus, and he next used a tactic which is quite tempting for us sometimes, especially for Vicars and preachers! The devil misused a piece of the Bible to try to get Jesus to see things differently. The devil twisted scripture and tempted Jesus to throw himself from the highest point of the Temple. “For it is written,” said the devil (4:6), copying Jesus, and proceeding to quote from Psalm 91, suggesting that angels would save Jesus; but Jesus stands firm and uses scripture wisely again.