March 9, 2003: Who Won?

Dear Savior, you’ve promised to never leave nor forsake us. You’ve promised to be with us always. And You’ve told us that when we resist the devil in Your name, he will flee from us. Lord, today as we ponder the depths of temptation, keep our eyes fixed on Your promises. And as we leave today, inscribe in our hearts the truth that You have beaten Satan for us, overcome all temptations known to humankind, and that by trusting in Your victories—we will be victorious, too. Amen

TEXT: Mark 1: 12-15

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Have you ever been tempted? If you asked that question of Christian and non-believer alike, I believe you’d receive the almost universal answer of: Yes! The idea of temptation is a universal in our society. In the church you hear it spoken of in terms of violating God’s holy will by our own willfulness. In society at large you hear it referred to in more simplistic terms like: “Don’t tempt me with that extra piece of chocolate cake!” But, have you ever thought about what temptation really means and what it presupposes?

If you acknowledge the reality of temptation, you’re really acknowledging the reality of good and evil. Put in church terms that means you believe that both God and Satan are real. Likewise, by admitting temptation you’re also saying that you’re not totally “good” and that you have a bad side which seeks to lead you into trouble. In the church we call that “original sin.” All this leads me to wonder whether the atheist who denies God’s existence, or the unitarian/universalist who says people are basically “good” are just shallow or stupid?

Lent is the season of repentance. It is the season in which we examine our temptations and seek Divine forgiveness and help with them. To assist us, the first Sunday of Lent always deals with the temptation of our Lord Jesus Christ and how He overcame it on our behalf. As we examine our own failures to overcome temptation you and I need to always look to Christ. And as we examine today’s lesson, you need to ask yourself but one question:


Jesus has been ordained into His office as our public Savior. That occurred when He has baptized by St. John in the Jordan river and the Holy Father and the Spirit put their seal of approval upon His work. Mark then adds: “At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”

Both Matthew and Luke go into much greater detail when they recount this part of Jesus’ ministry. They list the 3 major temptations and also exactly how Jesus overcame them—by using God’s holy Word to fend off the devil. Mark paints a much broader picture, though, doesn’t he? And Mark adds one important addition: “he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan.” Did you catch that? “Being tempted” means continual action. There weren’t just three temptations, there were many, many more, as well. Exactly what form did those various temptations take? We aren’t given specific information except this important passage from Hebrews chapter 4: “For we do not have a high priest (Christ) who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”

Temptation means that you are considering turning your back on God and choosing to do something that is against His will. As such, temptation begins in the heart and then shows itself by actions. As true Man, as our Brother, as the possessor of our same weak flesh, Jesus was tempted in our place. He literally has walked in our shoes—all of them—from dirty sneakers to dress shoes to hiking boots. He was tempted to show off His power for ego reasons alone. He was tempted to cut corners and take the easy way out of a tough situation—turning stones into bread. He was tempted by the allure of wealth and human acclaim. He was tempted to give up His mission of saving us from sin. Greed, lust, hatred, pride-fueled anger—all of them were faced by Jesus. Being holy and good is a hard road. And as Jesus walked that road Satan was there each step whispering into His ear to take the easy way out, to give up, to cut corners, to ignore Godly truth. But Christ overcame every one of those whisperings because He loved us more than He loved His own life. And as the book of Hebrews also says: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”


Who won? Who was the Victor in this titanic battle between good and evil? Between selfish love and self-giving love? Between the way of pride and the way of the cross? All you need to know is: Jesus won! His Divine nature gave strength to His human flesh. And by trusting in Him—His strength, His victory becomes ours!

The French philosopher, La Rouchefoucould, once said: “When we resist temptation, it is usually because temptation is weak, not because we are strong.” That kind of sums up our lives, doesn’t it? We are weak. And more often than not the only thing that holds us in check is fear over the consequences of a particular temptation. If you doubt that, just ask yourself as you fill out your taxes: “Have I ever been tempted to fudge the figures to save a few bucks?” But then the fear of the IRS gets the better of us and we send accurate information. Fear is a powerful motivator. Fear of failure, fear of shame, fear of God all combine to keep our flesh in check. But today, God gives you an even more powerful motivator. Love and honor. As Christians we love and honor Christ because He has loved and honored us with His very life. In doing so He changes our hearts so that we want to resist temptation in order to honor Him for His gift of salvation. And so finally, it is Christ Who turns us into winners.

“Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’” After His trials in the desert, Christ points people to His Word of eternal truth. For it is God’s Word that works faith in our hearts. It is God’s Word that gives us the benefits of Christ’s victory. It is God’s Word that changes sinners into saints. If you’re worried right now over a particular temptation that got the better of your this week—good! It shows you can’t overcome temptation on your own. So, listen to your Savior. Trust that He has made you clean in God’s sight. And next time temptation comes calling, remember one thing: Who won? Christ won—for you! Amen