Real Tempting


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The last time I remember being real tempted was while deer hunting after Christmas. A big buck appeared in another man's pasture. It stood there unmoving, broadside to me, for 10 minutes. I had it in my scope. How tempted I was to shoot! Real temptation comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and it often comes from a direction that you don't expect it.

Take our text. You know what's real tempting here? To believe that Jesus wasn't really tempted. Hey, He's true God. The devil is less than a bug before Him. Where's the temptation? Where's the struggle in God facing the devil? But Scripture is very clear. Hebrews says Jesus, "was tempted in all the ways we are," and He "suffered being tempted." So, when we're tempted to skim quickly over this text not giving it much thought, we're missing something important.

This was a bonafide temptation. Jesus felt like you feel when you find something is real tempting. His mouth watered; His heart fluttered; He ached like you ache when something you really want, really need, is dangled before you. The text clearly says Jesus was hungry, so it was real tempting to make bread. Surely, after 40 days and nights of no food, Jesus was at least as tempted to make bread as we are tempted to take a french fry on the way home from McDonalds.

Likewise, it was real tempting to think about getting the power and glory without going to the cross. Jesus says after Easter that "all power in heaven and earth has been given to Me." Scripture says that Jesus was exalted after Good Friday. The devil offers Jesus the power and glory without Good Friday. You've got to see this for the delightful, mouth-watering, alluring temptation it really was for Jesus. Don't you remember in Gethsemane when the cross loomed large and ugly before Jesus how He prayed to His Father for the cross to pass Him by? Don't you remember how the text says that His soul was in anguish to the point of death, how He sweat blood? The devil offers the power and glory of Easter without the pain and gore of Good Friday. That's real tempting.

The third temptation, however, is worst of all. The devil, says, "If you are the Son of God throw yourself down from here because the Bible says God will take care of His children." This is real tempting because it doesn't look like Jesus is a Son of God. The text says Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit out into the desert where He was tempted literally "under" the devil. Then the text says the devil was able to lead Him from mountain top to temple top. Does He look like the beloved Son of God that the Father declared He was just 40 days earlier at His Baptism? O how Jesus ached, like you do, for some external sign that He was still God's beloved Son.

Jesus is God in flesh and blood, but these were real temptations, real battles between the devil and Himself. And Jesus didn't overcome the devil as the Son of God, but as the Son of Man. Jesus used no miracles, no divine power, no privileges or prerogative that He has as God. He entered the battle with the devil armed with nothing more than we have. He had His Baptism to testify to Him that He was indeed God's beloved Son. He had God's Word that sustains a man where bread alone won't no matter how much you have. He had all the Old Testament which promised Him that it was necessary for the Son of Man to suffer to enter into His power and glory. These were all that Jesus used to resist the devil, to not give in to the real tempting things he dangled before Him. Jesus didn't overcome by using His divine powers and not even by using deep, theological insights. He overcame the devil by quoting the Book of Deuteronomy 3 times.

It is real tempting to believe that since Jesus is God there was no real tempting going on or that it was easy for Him to overcome the devil. It's also real tempting to think that Jesus is showing us how to defeat the devil. It is real tempting to think Jesus is our great example here and so develop 3 steps for dealing with temptation.

There is no doubt about it, Jesus' temptations are my temptations. The devil comes to me asking, "If you really are a son of God; if you really are a Christian; if you really are a believer; if you really are forgiven? " Then he places before me all sorts of things that I must do to prove that I really am what God says I am in Baptism. The devil comes to me promising that he has a way to get me good and godly things quicker and easier than God can or will. He promises good feelings in a glass bottle; love in easy sex; prestige in money. And finally the devil comes to be whispering that I'm not really a Christian, not really saved, not really forgiven unless I have faith enough to put God's promises to the test.

O it's real tempting to believe that I'm suppose to use what Jesus does here as an example. I am suppose to take the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and slay the great dragon Satan as Jesus did. But friend, this is utter foolishness. If perfect Adam and Eve were not able to defeat the devil, what makes you think you can? If Peter in the very presence of Jesus could go from being blessed by the heavenly Father with a good confession of Christ to being Satan and denying the crucified Christ, what makes you think you will fare any better?

Listen to what Luther said about doing battle with the devil. "Do not argue at all with the devil and his temptations or accusations and arguments, nor by the example of Christ, refute them. Just keep silent altogether; turn away and hold him in contempt. For no one conquers the devil by arguing with him, since he is incomparably more clever than all of us."(LW 10, 182).

We conquer the devil in Jesus. We are more than conquerors says St. Paul through Christ who loved us. This text before us is such a joy, such a comfort, such power to poor sinners because in it we see Jesus redoing the Eden story and winning this time. Sin is such a problem not because we do this and that wrong, but primarily because all mankind fell in Adam's sin. One common sin corrupts us all. The devil slithered into the Garden of Eden and Adam couldn't stand. Perfect man, in a perfect world, with his wife by his side, surrounded by a paradise of food, water, and life fell to the devil's tempting. Jesus, the perfect Man, in a fallen world, with no one by His side, surrounded by a desert without food, water, or life, withstood the attacks of the devil. As all mankind fell in Adam's sin, so all mankind stood in Jesus'faithfulness. Jesus kept every single commandment required of mankind. He didn't break any in the least: not in deed, not in word, not in thought.

This is called the active obedience of Christ. Jesus actively kept all the laws of God. Without this, the commandments of God hang over our heads undone. Without the active obedience of Christ you would have to have a constant, "I should do this; I gotta do this: I must do this" going on in your head all your days. What Jesus did in our text is meant to silence that voice. When the devil, others, or your own conscience bring you a persistent, "you gotta," "you must," or "you should," you send them to Jesus. There's the perfect Man who always resisted the devil, who never faltered in His faith in God. He answers for me.

It's real tempting to overlook the active obedience of Jesus for us sinners here, but if we do, we also miss the fact that His active obedience sets Jesus up to give the devil his final damning blow. The active obedience of Jesus is Him "doing" for us. The passive obedience of Jesus is Him "suffering" for us. Jesus had to be innocent of breaking any of God's laws. He had to have never, ever given in to a temptation of the devil so His suffering would not be for His own sins but for ours.

Jesus stood perfect against the devil, so when God's hammer of judgment, damnation, and wrath came down upon Him, it was our sins that were being paid for. What I see Jesus enduring and suffering in Lent, He does because I do doubt that God's Word is able to sustain me. Jesus pays for my sin of thinking this or that medical procedure, diet, or lifestyle can preserve my life. When I see Jesus whipped without mercy, I know He suffers to pay for my giving into the devil's lies. He suffers to pay for, to blot out completely my sin of taking the devil's quick fixes over God's promises. God forsakes Jesus so I might know that I am not forsaken by Him even when I think He must pass some miraculous test I set up to prove I really am His Child.

It is real tempting to pass by what Jesus does here today and make it about what I must do to withstand temptation, but if I could on my own withstand temptation, then I would not need a Savior. I wouldn't need someone who kept the Law in my place. I wouldn't need Someone who paid for my not keeping it. But I need a Savior, not an example. I need Someone to show me how come I am saved even though I have given into the devil's temptation rather then Someone to show me how to withstand temptation.

I can set a Savior over against Satan. An example does me no good. When real temptation comes and it will: when my mouth waters, my heart pounds, and the desire to believe that God is holding back something that is good for me is unquenchable, I don't try to be like Jesus and dialog with the devil. I run instead to Jesus my Savior. In temptation, I think not about the bread I don't have but the Bread of Life I do have in Communion. In temptation, I think not about the hard things like sickness and suffering that lie before me but about the crown of glory Jesus has already won for me and given me in Baptism. In temptation, I think not about testing God's love for me, but about Jesus telling me I most certainly have God's love for His sake.

In a nutshell, resisting something real tempting is not about asking yourself what would Jesus do but about Jesus asserting in Word and Sacrament what He did do for you. Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

First Sunday in Lent (2-29-04); Luke 4:1-13