Lent 1 – Series C (March 10, 2019)
“How Do We Beat Temptation?” (Luke 4:1-13)
What have you given up for Lent? Anything? Giving up something for Lent is one of those things we call “adiaphora.” That’s the fancy theological term for something neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture. Still, many people do it. It’s associated with the 40 days in Lent because of the 40 day fast that Jesus endured in the wilderness after his baptism. Many people fast from certain things such as coffee or sweets or television. Some people take a social media fast. When we give something up for Lent, it’s meant to focus us on Jesus and how he gave up his life for us and for our salvation.
This year, I thought I might try to skip one meal during the day and only have one small serving of food the other meals. That didn’t last long. It didn’t even last past Ash Wednesday. The soups were too good at our soup supper, and I ended up having three bowls! I’m so weak!
But that’s not real temptation. God doesn’t care if you have coffee during Lent, or a piece of chocolate, or an extra bowl of soup on Wednesday night. God doesn’t even care if you check your Facebook notifications. He does care about those temptations that come our way to sin against his commandments … the sins of not putting God first in our lives, neglecting his word and worship, disrespecting our parents and teachers and other authorities, looking at things on the internet that we should not be looking at, cheating on a test at school, talking about people behind their backs, the sins of greed and envy and … do you need me to continue? I could, you know. I don’t need a hidden camera in your home or a drone to follow you around to know that you are sinners. Because I know that I am one, too. Those sins I listed are all “sins of commission” … the sins we actively do. Don’t forget about those “sins of omission,” too … the good we ought to be doing but fail to do. And each of us have memories of things we’ve done in the past that we revel in rather than being repulsed by.
How do we beat it? How do we beat temptation? It seems impossible to avoid it. It seems impossible to conquer it. We fall so soon after we first feel tempted. We throw in the towel and give up the fight in the first round. Maybe we make it to the second or third round, but not likely. In fact, we easily sin without even really being tempted. We just let ‘er rip. We walk right into it. The devil doesn’t even have to get involved. Our sinful nature gladly goes into high gear.
How do we beat temptation?
Today’s Gospel lesson reveals to us the battle that Jesus fought against the devil. As soon as Jesus left the waters of his baptism, he was plunged into the desert to face Satan head on. He was led there by the Spirit, St. Luke tells us. This was all part of God’s plan. Jesus fasted for forty days. He was brought to a point of great weakness in his human nature. Yet Jesus was not caught off guard by the devil, like we often are. Temptation often sneaks up on us. And the devil knows our weak condition, which is nothing like the condition which Jesus was in.
But even in his great weakness, Jesus beat temptation for you. He overcame the devil’s cunning for you. He is the linebacker on the offensive line who knocks down the blitzing defender, sending him humiliated into the turf. He is the steamroller who flattens and smashes all obstacles in the road. He is the army’s secret weapon who infiltrates enemy territory and foils their plans and rescues the prisoners of war. And Jesus did this, not using his power as God, but staying strong as a Man. He did this, feeling the full force of every temptation … not like us, who fall well before Satan runs out of fiery darts to shoot at us. Where the first man Adam failed when he was tempted, the man Jesus – the Second Adam – succeeded. And he did it all for you. Jesus stayed faithful to his Father all the way to the cross so that he would be the perfect Lamb sacrificed for the sins of the world.
How do we beat temptation? We beat temptation by staying connected to Jesus. We trust in Jesus and “take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).
You don’t live by bread alone. You feed on Jesus, the Bread of Life. He comes to you in his Word. He gives you his Body and Blood in the bread and wine of his Holy Supper.
You can’t have all the kingdoms of the world. Who needs them? You are a part of God’s kingdom by Holy Baptism and by faith.
You don’t need to test the Lord to see if he will really care for you. Just look back at your life up to this point. See how he has already cared for you in so many ways, carrying you through all kinds of challenges and difficulties and even temptations. Your faithful Father will surely keep on caring for you.
When you do fall to temptation – and you will because you and I are so deeply depraved – remember that you have a righteous Savior who deeply loves you and forgives you and gives you his own righteousness. Don’t beat yourself up, but beat a path to confession and absolution. Do it here in the Divine Service. Do it privately with your pastor when you have certain sins that persistently gnaw at your soul.
And just as Jesus used Holy Scripture against the devil’s temptations, we can, too. As you spend time in God’s Word, here in the Divine Service and at home in your personal devotion time, you will find that the Holy Spirit really does work to mold you and shape you and strengthen you. He will redirect your thoughts to what is pleasing to God, as St. Paul writes in Romans 12: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
Jesus also invites us to join the battle against temptation in prayer. He taught his disciples – and us – to pray: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” … or “the evil one” as it can be translated. Luther explained it this way in the Small Catechism: “God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”
In the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he was crucified, Jesus told the disciples to pray. He told them to “Pray that you may not enter temptation” (Luke 22:40). But they did. They fell asleep, failing to pray, while their Lord agonized over going to the cross. Judas showed up with his opponents, betrayed his Teacher, and the phrase “Judas kiss” was born. Jesus’ opponents arrested him in order to murder him.
The first temptation happened in a garden, and the First Adam fell. The final temptations of the Second Adam happened in a garden, and he remained faithful. This was probably the “opportune time” which Satan was waiting for in order to strike at Jesus one more time. But he failed again. Jesus kept his eye on the prize – the joy that was set before him: forgiveness and paradise for you – until his final breath, until the very last necessary drop of his blood was shed.
St. John tells us that, in the place where Jesus was crucified and buried, there was another garden (John 19:41) and a new tomb where Jesus’ dead body was laid. It was from this garden that new life blossomed. Jesus rose again. The banners of Jesus’ certain victory over sin, death, and the devil were unfurled. Now, when we are tempted, we draw strength from his resurrection and his ascension into heaven, as the author of Hebrews says, “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 4:15-16).
That’s how you beat temptation. By relying on the one who beat temptation for you.