An Emotional Lent: Temptation
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 4:1–4:13
The First Sunday in Lent
February 20-21, 2010
“An Emotional Lent: Temptation”
In case you missed it, this past Friday was the very public apology of Tiger Woods for his marital unfaithfulness. The media coverage of this event carried Woods’ image and words to people around the world, which is fitting since Tiger Woods is one of the world’s most recognized athletes. Without doubt, his face is the very face of golf itself for millions and millions in this nation and all over the globe. In his 13 ½ minute statement, Woods faulted no one except himself, putting the blame for his extra-marital affairs squarely on his own shoulders. In his own words, Tiger said he felt that he “deserved to enjoy the temptations” that came to him because of his fame and celebrity status. And yet, as he made painfully clear, all that means nothing now, as he said: “I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior.” When will he get back to golf? No clear answer was given – later, but not now. By his own admission, Woods has a lot of work to do in his personal life. For Tiger Woods, and for us, it all begins with temptation. On this First Sunday in Lent, we begin a preaching series that focuses on emotions found in the Gospel lesson each Sunday. Today, that Gospel lesson is the account of Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the wilderness. To be sure, there are some mighty powerful emotions tied into temptation, and so as we face the very real threat of temptation in our own lives, and the emotions that are part of it, we look to Jesus for strength to resist temptation and forgiveness when we give in to it. May the Lord’s rich blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus’ sake.
It often comes when we’re most vulnerable, and like Jesus in today’s Gospel, often when we’re alone. Sometimes that vulnerability is, like Tiger Woods, when we feel like we’re at the top of our game and the whole world is our oyster. We con ourselves into thinking that we’re entitled to indulge in such temptations because we’ve worked hard and we’ve sacrificed a lot to get where we are. That seems especially true here in our nation’s capital. Conversely, that vulnerability can come when we are tired and dissatisfied with where we are in life. The temptation can be for us, as it was for Tiger Woods, Mark Sanford, John Edwards, and many others, that “normal rules don’t apply” to us (quoting Tiger Woods), and the temptation of power and fame leads to sexual sin, adultery, broken marriages and broken lives. Temptation comes frequently when we are most vulnerable and when we are alone.
Jesus’ own temptation points out the truth that one of the strongest ploys which the devil uses against us is that little word “if.” In each of the three temptations, the devil poses a very alluring scenario to Jesus: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread… If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours… If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here…” (Luke 4:3, 7, 9). After a prolonged time of fasting, Jesus is hungry – famished, and the first temptation comes: “Take care of yourself. Aren’t you entitled to a little food about now? You’ve got the power, why not use it?” Worship belongs to God alone, and the second temptation comes: “Rewards come to those who are willing to compromise. Just think of the prestige and power that will be yours through this understanding of ours. No one needs to know; it’ll be our little secret.” God promises to take care of his children, and the third temptation comes: “Why not push the envelope on this to see how far you can go before God steps in to help? God loves you so He won’t let anything happen to you. And just think of how the crowds will react when they see you float safely down to earth.” “If” is used here by the devil to cast doubt on the truth of who Jesus really is as the divine Son of God. As Jesus hangs on the tree of the cross, “if” comes up again: “… the rulers scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’” (Luke 23:35). But Jesus would not come down from the cross to prove that he was the Son of God, and because he would not, he proved that he was the Son of God.
Temptation is a reality in this life, and we face it on a daily basis in our walk of faith. The devil’s purpose of temptation now with us is the same as it was with Jesus: to cause us to doubt who Jesus really is, and to doubt who we are in relationship to him. The “if” game that the devil plays is a deadly serious one! When all is said and done, the temptations we face boil down to this one little Latin phrase from St. Augustine: incurvatus in se, a curving or turning in on self. From Adam and Eve to each one of us today, the temptation is for a life lived for self rather than a life lived for God and others. It is that simple, and that profound. This is why we pray in the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “And lead us not into temptation.” We pray that the devil, the world, and our own sinful self may not deceive or mislead us, but that we would find our strength and hope in Jesus who has defeated the power of the devil. Through his suffering and death on the cross, the victory has already been won. For all of the temptations which we give in to, for all our sins, Jesus gave his life on the cross.
During this Lenten season, let us continue to go deeper into the holy Scriptures, the Word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit, a mighty weapon in battling temptation. In the Scriptures, the written Word, the living Word – the Word made flesh, Jesus himself – comes to us. And that Word speaks of a Savior who knows what it is like to endure temptation:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). Amen.