Intro – Some of you may have noticed the title for this sermon, “Intro to Temptation” and thought, “Introduction? Who needs an introduction? I’ve already got a Ph.D. in temptation!” Well our challenge the next few weeks is to understand the nature of temptation so we can be successful in meeting it.
“Temptation” has ominous connotations. We want to beat it in theory; but in reality, we feel we might miss something by winning! Like the student in a Christian high school who found the following exam question: "What is a sin of omission?" He replied, "A sin I should have committed but didn't!" That answer fully recognizes there are "fleeting pleasures of sin" (Heb 11:25), but conveniently forgets that "its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12). Yet deep down we know that sin has consequences. That’s what makes us dread temptation. We go into it with the feeling that we are going to lose.
But the truth is that temptation, itself, is neither good nor bad. It becomes one or the other depending on our response. That's exciting, because it means that every occasion of temptation brings potential for growth. It need not mean defeat; it can just as well mean progress. Our choices determine which it is.
Now, our model in facing temptation positively and successfully is Jesus Christ. And this passage is particularly helpful. This temptation of Christ, like that of Adam, is unique. On these two occasions, one man assumed responsibility for the whole human race. Adam failed, and in his failure, we all failed. We all suffer from Adam’s sin. The Bible teaches that indwelling sin with which we are all born is our legacy from Father Adam. Death is our legacy from Father Adam. Had it ended there, we would be without hope.
But God brings hope. Rom 5:19, “For as by the one man’s disobedience (Adam’s) the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” Adam’s failure brought death. Christ’s success brings life. The great trial of Jesus is part of the process.
Now, the contrasts between the Adam’s test and that of Christ are dramatic. 1) Adam was surrounded by the perfection of paradise. Jesus had been 40 days in one of the most desolate areas on the face of the planet. 2) Adam had a forest of trees to satisfy his hunger – only one excepted. Jesus was 40 days without food of any kind. 3) Adam had companionship -- his wife; Jesus had none. 4) Adam was in peak condition; Jesus was weakened and depleted from his fast. 5) Adam fell at the very first approach of the devil; Jesus overcame 3 major temptations recorded, plus 40 days of testing prior to that. The testing Jesus went through was severe. Just like us, he had to face the question, "Who are you?" Temptation reveals who we are at the core of our being. Jesus left no doubt – He qualified as the perfect lamb of God. In doing so, He provides us a remarkable example of how to face our own testing.
Now imagine we are transported to the wilderness area east of Jerusalem. It is a land of yellow sand and crumbling limestone. Ridges run in all directions as if the land had been twisted by some gigantic hand. It is hot, dry and oppressive. The air seems heavy, bc it is at Dead Sea -- 1200 feet below sea level. Across this vast expanse of emptiness, we see 2 figures in the remote distance. They are obviously in an intense spiritual struggle with the fate of mankind hanging in the balance. That's the scene as Luke 4 opens. It is near the end of 40 days of battle. In another hour it will be over -- for now. Jesus will win. But what has he won? At this point, Beloved, all He has won is the right to enter the world of public ministry as Messiah. Satan left defeated that day, but he returns time and again until the struggle is finished at the cross.
Now, before we get into the specifics of the temptations, we need to do an overview, focused mostly on vv. 1-2. The outline is simple. There is God's part, the devil's part, and our part. Let’s start with God’s part in temptation.
I. God’s Part
It’s critical to know God plays a part in every temptation. Temptation itself is not bad. It's neutral; it's made good or bad by how we react. Now, some of you are probably already looking for James 1:13 that says, "Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” You have caught me out! How can we say that God has a part to play in temptation when the Bible clearly says he himself tempts no one”? Great question. But before answering note that God was right there in Luke 4:1, "And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by (Satan? No – by) the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” Do you see that it was the HS, 3rd person of the Godhead, who was leading Jesus? God is active in this and all temptation. I see His involvement in 3 ways here. If you really get your arms around these, it will revolutionize the way you see life, trials, temptations, success and hurdles. This can change you completely.
A. He Allows (Concurs in) it
There are 3 accounts of this temptation of Christ, and it is instructive to compare them. Mark’s abbreviated account is found in Mark 1:12-13: "The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.” The thing I want you to see from Mark's account is not only did God allow this – He actually drove, or impelled Christ to the place of temptation. And Matthew clarifies that not only did the Spirit drive him into the wilderness, but that he did so for the purpose that he could be tempted: "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matt 4:1). God clearly not only allows, but specifically positions Jesus to be at this point of testing. God is in this!
Okay, so what about James 1:13 which says “he himself tempts no one”? Do we have a contradiction? Well, first question -- is the same word used in both places? Answer -- yes. It is the Greek word πειραζω (peiradzo). It has three different meanings in the NT. It originally meant to attempt something. For example, Acts 9:26 says of the apostle Paul, "And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted (tried) to join the disciples.” The problem was this was shortly after Paul's conversion and all the believers feared him. He was just trying, attempting, to associate with them. First meaning of πειραζω.
Second, πειραζω can mean to test something with the idea of proving it right. In this case, the English word "test" or "prove" would probably be the best translation. It is used this way in John 6 where Jesus feeds the 5000. He says to Philip in John 6:5, "Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” V. 6 tells us why He asked the question: "He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.” Jesus is not trying to deep six Philip. He wants to prove his faith. This is key to understanding God's part in temptation. God's intention in allowing testing is always to approve the person. He wants us to grow. He tests us with the intention and anticipation that we will succeed. The word is used that way in many other passages, like II Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” This is testing with good intentions.
Finally, πειραζω is used to mean temptation in a bad sense. It is an attempt by someone to solicit evil. Naturally that is the goal of Satan. In this sense, "tempt" is a good translation. It is used this way in John 8 where the scribes and Pharisees question Jesus concerning the woman caught in adultery. The law prescribed stoning. But that was not their concern. Their intent is seen in John 8:6, "This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.” They put him to the test with the hope that he would fail, not with the hope that he would grow. They wanted to trip him up.
So, πειραζω has 3 meanings. How do we know which to choose? By the context. So look at James 1:13 again, "Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” Does it mean simply to try something? Obviously not. Does it mean to test with a good motive in mind of helping someone grow? Clearly not. Does it mean to tempt with the hope of eliciting sin? Well, that meaning fits perfectly. James is saying God could not even be tempted by evil. It would violate the essence of his being. It doesn't even phase Him. (Sidente: So what about Jesus? No wonder He went through with such ease. Please remember that’s not true. He was God, yes. But operating completely in the power of His human nature. His divine nature was in time-out. That’s why the writer to the Hebrews could say he had been tempted in all points just like we are! That was true). But now going on from Jas 1:13, but neither does God ever tempt someone to make him sin. But He does test us, often, with good intent – to help us grow. In Deut 8:16 Moses reminds the people, "[God] fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end.” God was looking for their best, even thru pain. God's intention in testing is clearly identified in Job 23: 10) But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” Great verse to memorize. Heb 11:7 tells us this was God's intent when he asked Abraham to sacrifice his son. It was a test to build faith. All of life is a test. Every day is a pop quiz. And some days there is a major exam. Like the mother bird who kicks her chicks out of the nest, catching them just before they hit the ground. It’s crazy scary for those babies – but they’d never fly if she didn't do it. Exactly why God allows testing – so we can learn to fly!
B. He Administers (Controls) it
Let's read Luke 4:1 again: "And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.” Jesus has just participated in the first public act of his ministry – his baptism. It was a wonderful, affirming experience. The whole Trinity makes an appearance. Man, that's a Rocky Mountain high on steroids! But now, it is the same HS, who leads him to this place of temptation. What does that teach us? God is in complete control! God didn't just allow this. He bounds the whole process.
How wonderful to know God is always in control. Nothing can happen that He does not allow. And what Satan intends as temptation to sin, defeating us – God intends as testing to build us up. Same events – two very different intentions. And God makes clear He will never put us in over our head! The promise is stated explicitly in I Cor 10:13, "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Note the promises -- a sermon in themselves. God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability – your ability, not mine or Mother Teresa’s or Billy Graham's – yours! And he will provide a way of escape. Let me ask you, "Who is controlling this?" There's no doubt about that is there? God is in control.
Job is the extreme example. Job 1 takes us behind the scenes. God says to Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? Isn’t he something – righteous and blameless in all his ways.” The devil answers in v. 9, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side?” You’ve got him fenced in! Of course, God knew this is what Satan would say. It's what He wanted him to say. It demonstrates the truth of I Cor 10:13. Now, in this instance, God eventually gives Satan great leeway with Job – although he stays him from taking Job’s life. But -- Satan doesn’t control the temptation department, God does! Satan can go so far and no further. He cannot touch one hair on your head without God allowing for some greater intention. It may hurt. It may be very painful. We may not ever understand in this life exactly why God allows what he allows. But He is in absolute and complete control.
There are a million illustrations of this. William Carey, the "father of modern missions," translated the Bible into as many Indian dialects as possible. He had a large printshop publishing those translations. Carey himself spent hours translating each day while his insane wife ranted and raved. On March 11, 1832, his associate, William Ward was working late when he discovered clouds of smoke rising from the printing room. He screamed for help, and workers arrived to pass water from the nearby River until 2 AM – but in the end, everything was destroyed. Carey was stunned when he heard the news. Gone was his massive dictionary, two grammar books, and whole versions of the Bible. Thousands of dollars worth of supplies and his own complete library were gone. "The work of years – gone in a moment," he whispered.
But he refused give in to despair. He just started over saying that it should be easier the second time through. He commented, "We are not discouraged; indeed the work is already begun again in every language. We are cast down but not in despair." Satan was tempting him to give up – God was testing him to increase his faith. You see that God is there in every temptation? When news of this tragic fire reached England it catapulted Carey into instant fame. Thousands of dollars were raised for the work; volunteers came to help with the translation. The whole enterprise was rebuilt and enlarged. By the end of 1832, nine months after the tragedy, complete Bibles and new Testaments were being issued from the printing press in 44 languages and dialects. Carey said, "There are grave difficulties on every hand, and more are looming ahead. (Now listen to this) Therefore we must go forward." There was a man who understood, God is in control. We need to quit looking for Satan when temptation comes and begin looking for God. He is there. We just need to see Him.
C. He Accompanies it
This is a stupendous truth -- beautifully illustrated in the multiple accounts of Christ’s temptation. Matt 4:1 tells us, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” “Into” = Greek preposition εις. The HS put Him there. Now compare Luke 4:1, “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.” Not “into” but “in.” The HS not only led Him to the place but continued with Him while he was there in the wilderness. This wasn’t a drop ship operation. God never left Him. Isn’t that good? He didn’t just drop him off and say, “Well, good luck! Let me know when it’s over.” Didn’t happen that way. God never abandons His own -- NEVER. He stays put all the way! Heb 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Never is a long time, Beloved. Isa 41:10, “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” This is no “kiss and go” process.
God led the 3 Jewish boys, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego into King Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace because they would not bow. But when the king looked in, He saw 4 men walking. What’s the message? “I will never leave you.” When Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, he was delivered by angels who shut their mouths. What’s the message? “I will never leave you.” When Stephen’s life was taken by stoning, we are told in Acts 7:55, “he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” What’s the message? “I will never leave you.”
Remember the movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance? It’s a western about a very bad man who forces a showdown with an idealistic, but hopelessly outmanned and inexperienced school teacher perfectly played by Jimmy Stewart. Miraculously, Stewart pulls his shaky gun and wins the showdown leading to his election to Congress and a career as the respected elder of the town. But late in the movie, we see the whole scene from a different angle, and there behind the scenes, unseen by anyone -- is JOHN WAYNE. The bad guy wasn’t shot by Jimmy Stewart at all. He was done in by Big John, who not only had a steady hand but also the nerves to shoot at the very moment Stewart did so no one ever knew the difference. God is like that only better. Whatever it may look like. No matter how alone we may feel, His promise stands, ““I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Conc – Dear friends, every occasion of temptation – every one – is devised by Satan to move us away from God. But each one is allowed by God to bring us closer to Him. Who wins? That’s up to us. But before we give in to glamor, doubt and unbelief, we must remember that God is right there with us, insuring that it is not more than we can bear, feeling the pain with us, and building a victorious outcome – if we will take it. It’s up to us.
Paul had a “thorn in the flesh.” We don’t know what it was. It could have been an eye problem as he signed the letter to the Galatians in large letters (Gal 6:11). It might have been an ongoing bout with malaria. We don’t know, but it was real and it was permanent. Paul tells us in II Cor 12:2-4 that he had been given a preview of heaven by the Lord. He links that experience to his physical disability in II Cor 12:7: “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. (Note that verse carefully. It illustrates everything we have said this morning. Satan was allowed to harass Paul physically – to discourage him, make him complain. His intention was evil. But God had another intention in the same disability. His intention was to keep Paul from pride. So, who won? Look further) 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (So what did Paul do?). Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul chose for God, and both won. Every temptation gives us the same exact opportunity. So, will it be complaint or contentment; quit or endure; give in or overcome; live for now, or invest in eternity? That is up to us. Let’s pray.