By Pastor Glenn Pease
Plato had a friend named Trachilus who had a very close call and almost lost his life in a storm at sea. The ship actually sank and he was thrown into the sea, but he managed to get to shore. When he reached his home he ordered his servants to wall up the two windows in his chamber that overlooked the sea. He was afraid that some bright day he would look at the tranquil scene of beauty and be tempted to once again venture out on its treacherous waters. This is one of man's major methods of fighting temptation. It is by striving not to see it.
There is no doubt about it that what we see is a primary lure of temptation. Had Adam and Eve never looked upon the forbidden fruit and seen it's loveliness they would not have been so easily enticed to taste it. Had David not seen the beauty of Bathsheba he would not have been lured into the sin that so marred his life. Had Lot's wife been unable to look back at Sodom she would not have become a pillar of salt.
The story is repeated perpetually as people testify that had they never seen that automobile with the key in it they never would have stolen it. Had they never seen that door open, they never would have entered the building, and on and on it goes. What the eyes see provoke all kinds of feelings in the mind and body, and that is why we teach the children to sing, "Be careful little eyes what you see." But the fact is, there is no escape from seeing what can entice you to choose evil. Even before television it was nearly impossible, but now it is definitely impossible. Sin is so visible in our world today that we could accuracy describe our period of history as the times of temptation.
It is reassuring for us to see that Jesus went through such a time as this himself. Satan took Him to a high place so He could see all the kingdoms and all their splendor. We sometimes think of His temptation as a one time ordeal, and so we dismiss it as totally different from the lifetime battle that we have to endure. We imagine the testing of Jesus to be like this: "Yes, I'll never forget that day when I was about 30 years old, and I had a terrible time of triple temptation." We figure that anyone can get through a tough day, and so we tend to doubt that Jesus really knows what temptation is all about for the average man.
Take note of the precise language of Luke in verse 2: "Where for 40 days He was tempted by the devil." We think in terms of 40 days of fasting and then a day of temptation, but Luke says it was 40 days of temptation. We are talking a major battle here, and not a mere skirmish for a day. W. Graham Scroggie writes, "...it is not the 40th day that we fear so much as the 39 days of petty assault, of guerilla warfare, of irritating trial....But Jesus faced these also. In ways of which we have no record, He was assaulted by the devil during the whole period, and the 40th day temptations were but the last, concentrated, and desperate assault of the infuriated foe upon His weakened body but loyal spirit."
Jesus was tempted in all points like as we are, and not just in the 3 areas of which we have record here. The last verse of this record makes it clear that when it was done it was far from over. Satan just withdrew to lick his wounds and prepare for another assault at an opportune time. In other words, a careful reading of this temptation account makes clear that this triple temptation, though of tremendous significance, is only a trickle of the total temptation Jesus had to endure. Someone said that those who flee from temptation usually leave a forwarding address. Satan catches up with them, and so it was with Jesus, for this ordeal of His was not just a one-time shot.
We do not live in a world that Jesus does not understand. He knows every trick of the devil, and He knows the power of temptation. We need to take seriously Heb. 2:18, "Because He himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted." Let's recognize that Jesus has been there. He knows the power of persistent temptation, and He also knows the way to victory. The study of His temptation is one of the best things we can do to learn how to handle this universal experience.
When I say universal, I mean it in an absolute sense. Death is universal, but we have a couple of exceptions in the Bible of those who never died such as Enoch and Elijah. We say sin is universal, but we have one exception, for Jesus was tempted in all points like as we are, and yet He was without sin. But the one thing we can say is absolutely universal from Adam to the last person on earth is temptation. God cannot be tempted, but man cannot not be tempted. Nobody, not even God in human flesh, can escape the testing, for it is part of what it means to be human in a fallen world. This leads us to the first point we want to consider about Christ's temptation, and that is the paradoxical reality of-
I. THE VALUE OF TEMPTATION.
Matthew begins his account in 4:1 by saying, "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil." Luke begins with an emphasis also on Jesus being full of the Holy Spirit and led by the Spirit. If you think being a Spirit filled Christian will shelter you from temptation, think again. This encounter of the Savior and Satan was no accident. It was an appointment. It was a part of God's plan and an important event in the life of our Lord. John Milton saw this. His two greatest poems are Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. The first deals with the temptation of Adam and Eve and their failure and fall. The second deals with the temptation of Christ and His success.
Milton is saying that what Adam lost Jesus regained in the wilderness of temptation. It is true that Jesus died for our sins on the cross, but where did he earn the right to be the spotless Lamb of God worthy of being such a sacrifice to atone for sin? It was here in the desert where He was put to the test, and it was here that He passed the test. Here is where Jesus became our Savior, and He could never become such without being tempted, and that is why He was led of the Spirit to be tempted. This means that there is value in temptation, and not only for Jesus, but for all of us. That is why it is so universal. No person can be what God made them to be without temptation.
Walter Baghot said, "It is good to be without vice, but it is not good to be without temptation." This is biblical, and that is why God allowed Satan to tempt Adam and Eve, and why He led His Son to be tempted. Temptation is from the Latin temptatia, which means a testing or trying out. Not to be tempted would be to have God reject you before you got a chance to prove you can see evil and choose good. Products are tested to see if they will serve the purpose for which they are made. Man is made to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The only way He can fulfill this purpose is to have the ability to see evil and choose what is good. This can only be tested by making the choice of evil possible, and that is what temptation is. It is the lure and enticement to choose what is not God's will.
William Prescott was right when he said, "Where there is no temptation there can be little claim to virtue." There are many sins that I feel no enticement toward at all. I am not virtuous by avoiding these, for my dog avoids them also. I am only virtuous by avoiding the ones I find appealing. The man who has an opportunity to steal and doesn't do it, even though he feels like doing it, is more virtuous than the man who never feels like stealing. If you never feel like doing something, you are not being tested, and so you never choose good when evil was not a tempting choice. The man who has an opportunity to do evil, and also feels the enticement of it, but then chooses not to do it, that man makes a virtuous choice. Edmund Vance Cooke wrote,
So you tell yourself you are pretty fine clay
To have tricked temptation and turned it away,
But wait, my friend, for a different day;
Wait till you want to want to!
What this means is that most righteous people are those who have felt the pull of sin in the world, but who have had the power to say no. Martin Luther praised temptation as one of his key teachers. He wrote, "Temptation is one of the three things needed for a saint's development." We have all heard that we need to study the Bible and pray, but we have missed this one that we also need to be tempted to grow. John Bunyan wrote, "Temptation provokes us to look upward to God." Jesus could not have been our Savior without temptation, and none of us can be all that God wants us to be without temptation. We are to love and hate temptation at the same time, for it is the door to both good and evil. It is important to see this, for if you only feel negative about temptation, you will fail to sense when you are led of the Spirit to be tempted for the sake of growth and advancement in the kingdom of God.
Every temptation is an opportunity to demonstrate where we stand. It is one thing to say, "I am for honesty and morality." But it is another thing to choose honesty and morality when the dishonest and immoral is enticing you and making you feel they are so appealing. The Christian will have these feeling where evil can seem so good. Can it be good to have such feelings? Yes it is, for that is when you value system is truly tested. Is it just something you were taught like the multiplication table, or is it something you really believe? Temptation will put you to the test and reveal just how deep your commitment is to the values you profess. Temptation separates the men from the boys. The temptation of Jesus made Him the most unique man ever, for He felt the appeal of it in all points, and yet He chose to follow, not His subjective feelings, but the objective Word of God.
The point is, this was good, and there is great value in temptation, for the testing tells you where you really are, and that is valuable knowledge. If you know there is a area where the enticement of evil could win over you, that is where you pray, "Lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil." This encounter of the Savior with Satan in the wilderness is the ultimate conflict, which rises far above those like David against Goliath, or Israel against Assyria. This is the heavy weight championship of the universe. No one else had ever defeated Satan, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
Jesus was a hybrid of both God and man. Such a being had never before existed, and now He had to be tested. Could He take the pressure of being in the flesh and not yield to the lust of the flesh? Could He see with human eyes and think with a human mind and not be lured by the lust of the eyes and the pride of life? These were the questions that had to be answered, and not on paper, but in actual combat conditions of light against darkness. Some people do not take the testing seriously. They see it as a trivial time of play-acting, for they Jesus could not sin anyway, and so it was not big deal. Such a view misses the tremendous significance of this encounter. It denies the reality of Satan's cleverness, and the reality of Christ's freedom.
There is no temptation unless there is the freedom to choose what is offered. If Jesus could not turn stones into bread, it would be no temptation. It is no temptation for us because we do not have the freedom to make that choice and turn stones into bread. That was a choice Jesus could make, and He felt the need for bread after 40 days of fasting. He could have jumped off the temple and not been injured, and He could have won the crowds to Him by this spectacular feat of magic. He could have bowed to Satan and become the greatest ruler the world has ever known. Jesus had the freedom to make these choices, and so they were real temptations. Satan was not merely playing games. This triple temptation package was subtlety at its best, and had anyone of them worked he would have thrown a monkey wrench into God's plan of salvation. Humanity would have been under his control. Jesus would have had to die for His own sin, like all other men, and not be a Savior of the world.
Thank God that Jesus remained loyal to the Word of God, and He became the first man not subject to the kingdom of darkness. Because He passed this test Jesus became the founder of a new kingdom for man. It is the kingdom of light where men can gain victory over the powers of darkness. It is the kingdom where the gates of hell cannot prevail. We note that the angels did not come to comfort Jesus until the battle was over. He had to pass this test on His own on the level of His humanity. He had to earn the right to be our Savior and Lord as a man, and He could not have done so without being tempted, and that is why we see the value of temptation.
We need not fear the feelings of temptation as if it meant that we are not good. The best of people feel these feelings. Adam and Eve felt them as perfect specimens of manhood. Jesus felt them as the only perfect man. Feelings that make disobedience to God seem appealing are not sinful. They are testing to see if you will put your money where your mouth is. Will you surrender to your feelings, or will you be loyal to the objective values you know to be the will of God? Every temptation is a call for a decision. We need to ask, "Is how I feel my guide, or is what God says my guide?" The Christian who begins to conform to the world is easily identified as one who, like the world, does what he feels like doing. Strong Christians feel the same feelings, but they do not choose to follow their feelings.
Peter Marshall, the great preacher made so famous after his death by his wife Catherine Marshall, tells of his many temptations. He was constantly tempted to use time unwisely and to procrastinate in his reading and sermon preparation. He was tempted to run away from problems and move to other areas of service. He was tempted to give in to discouragement when things did not go his way, and his leadership was not accepted. He had his female problems as well. He once had to tell a very attractive woman that she was ugly and unappealing to him to get her to stop enticing him to fly to Mexico with her, and it worked. The point is, here was a godly man with all kinds of feelings that were very real. He felt them deeply, but he did not choose to make these feelings the basis for his behavior. He chose to do the will of God, and out of that choice came other feelings that counter those negative ones and made him a greater servant of the kingdom of God. Secondly we look at,
II. THE VICTORY OVER TEMPTATION.
The victory is what gives it value. If one fails to pass the test, it can hardly be called a value. Had Jesus failed it would have been the second fall of man, and we have no way of knowing if there could have ever been another chance. The whole plan of God for man's glorification depended on this victory over temptation. One of the reasons we do not recognize the tremendous value of this victory is because it does not seem like Jesus overcame any great sin. We fail to see the cleverness of Satan, and so we miss the impact of his appeal. We need to see that Satan is not appealing to a sinful nature in Jesus, and as was the case with Adam and Eve. A sinful nature is not necessary for temptation. Sin does not begin with what is evil. It begins with what is good, normal and natural, but which is beyond the bounds set by God.
There is no evil in eating a delicious piece of fruit. There is no evil in changing a stone into bread, or of trying to get popularity or power to benefit others. The devil is not stupid. He did not try and entice Adam and Eve into chopping down all the trees in Eden. He got them to lose all the trees and beauty of Eden, not by an appeal to do what is folly and obviously evil, but by an appeal to do what seemed so right. Satan did not come to Jesus with an appeal to steal fishing nets left unattended and sell them to other fishermen. He did not appeal to him to support His movement by raiding other boats to fund it. Satan came offering to meet normal and natural desires, and to achieve goals which were legitimate, and which were appealing to the most pure and righteous.
Dr. Kyle defined temptation like this: "Temptation is the incitement of our natural desires to go beyond the bounds set by God." This is good, for it does not say an incitement to do evil and what is unnatural. We get the idea in our heads that temptation is only to do what is evil. Not so, for it is often to do what is normal and natural, but beyond the bounds set by God. The erotic feeling of passion, for example, is a God given and God blest emotion. It is good and normal. When David looked at Bathsheba taking a bath it was not wrong for him to be erotically stimulated. That is the way God intended the naked body of a woman to affect a man. It was normal and natural for him to feel as he did. The temptation was to go beyond the bounds set by God. There would have been no problem had he satisfied those feelings stimulated with his own wife as God intended. His mistake was in satisfying them with the wife of Uriah. He let perfectly normal feelings led him to choose folly rather than the wisdom God had clearly revealed.
The problem was that David did not see far enough. He did not see beyond the sin to its consequences. The Son of David also saw the enticing side of people's allegiance to him. It was a glorious vision that no doubt gave him a feeling of power and joy when he thought of the good he could do as lord over the kingdoms of the world. But Jesus gained His victory over temptation, not by avoiding the temptation and the feeling, and not by rolling up the windows of His soul so that He could not see the appealing offer, but instead, by seeing deeper and further than the scene that Satan. Jesus won the victory by seeing the consequences of how His choice would affect His relationship to God. Life was not a matter of bread, popularity, or power. He saw that life was primarily in His relationship to God. Any choice that shatters that relationship is folly beyond compare.
Jesus had an ultimate allegiance by which He could test all His feelings, and that is how He could conquer over threat of the tempter. His question was never, "Does this feel right," for He knew that feelings cannot be a final guide. His question was always, "Does it fit my loyalty and commitment to honor God in all that I do?" The way to win is not to try and escape the enticing visions of temptation, but to see them in the light of a greater picture. People who fall for Satan's view of life see from too narrow a perspective. If they would take the blinders off and see the hole they would see that which leads to victory.
The Christian professor Ed Kindson says, "The first step in conquering temptation is to visualize the sin and its terrible consequences." If only Adam and Eve could have looked beyond the lovely fruit; if only David could have looked beyond the lovely body, and seen all of the pain that momentary pleasure would produce. They were tempted by what they saw, but they could have overcome the temptation by seeing further and seeing more. Buchner Fanning said, "When the mirage of temptation is lifted, we see sin as a barren desert, a desolate wilderness whose wastes are endless. Its waters are bitter and its shade is spiritual darkness. Its singing birds are but the bats and owls from the caves of doom, and its morning breezes are but the hissings of fiery serpents. Its beauty is artificial; its promises are false; its guides are liars."
It is shortsighted folly to do evil, thinking that good will result. This is rationalizing. It is like the thief who murmured as he broke the window, "God helps those who help themselves." Victory is in seeing the total picture in the light of God's objective word. A young man said to his bride after the wedding, "Honey, I don't feel married, do you?" She replied, "Dear, you have better adjust your feelings to fit the facts." That is what victory over temptation is all about. Jesus adjusted His feelings to fit the facts of God's revealed will. In doing so, the temptation lost its power. The mirage faded, and he felt one of life's greatest feelings, which is the feeling of triumph over temptation.