Let us pray: Dear Savior, temptations come in all shapes, sizes, and forms. And each of them is designed by Satan to cause us to doubt Your love and to turn our backs on the truth of Your goodness. Lord, we know that You confronted temptation head-on for us and never gave in. We know that thereby You won a life-changing victory for us. Today, and for the rest of our sojourn here on earth give us the fruits of that victory. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO KNOWS EXACTLY THE TEMPTATIONS WE ALL FACE!
TEXT: Luke 4: 1-13
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
The following stories are true. The names and places have been changed to protect the guilty….
They came to church almost every Sunday. She taught Sunday school, while he helped out around the church. Their kids went to Sunday School and later on, confirmation. Everything seemed fine. They seemed to be growing in their faith. Then, one of their parents died and left them quite a bit of money. They invested it in a vacation home. Suddenly, their church attendance dwindled to nothing. After all, they worked hard, and needed to get away each weekend. Finally, they quit coming altogether because (in my words) their vacation home had become their “god.” To this day I wonder what they think when and if they pray those words of the Lord’s Prayer: “And lead us not into temptation?”
They were a wonderful Christian couple. They were in love. They came to church most Sundays and practiced their faith. But, then, his sex drive got the better of him. He went from pornography to multiple affairs with other women. Then, she did likewise. They got a divorce. Neither goes to church today. All I can do is hope that when and if they pray: “and lead us not into temptation” their consciences bother them.
She was over 90 years of age when she confessed to me: “Remember when I was close to death in the hospital and in terrific pain? I doubted God then. I almost gave up my faith. To this day it bothers me.” She said this after we had prayed the Lord’s Prayer with those words: “And lead us not into temptation.” When she told me that, I forgave her because Christ forgave her! And today her conscience is clear once more.
Today, as we begin Lent, we need to ponder the exact meaning of those words:
AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION
In his catechism, Dr. Luther provides us with an excellent explanation of those words. He says this: “God surely tempts no one. But we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh may not deceive us nor lead us into misbelief, despair and other shameful sin and vice; and though we be thus tempted, that we may still in the end overcome and retain the victory.”
To be sure, God does test our faith. But a test is far different than a temptation. A test is always designed to strengthen our faith and to get us to rely even more on His power instead of our own. In fact, God always provides us a way out of such tests—if we choose to listen and to follow Him. Whereas a temptation comes either from Satan, the sinful world at large, or is hatched in our own sin-tainted heart. And such temptations are always designed to cause us to walk away from God and to fall from His grace. To be sure, we can and sometimes do turn Godly blessings into curses. I think of that couple who turned a blessed inheritance into a spiritual curse. Such is the nature of our wayward hearts. And that’s why it is important to pray the Lord’s Prayer regularly, so that we can walk through this minefield called life and come out unscathed.
Most of you should be very familiar with the temptation of Christ by Satan in the wilderness after His baptism. After all, it comes up in the lessons at least once, often twice, each year, and I’ve preached on it more times than I can mention. This week I came across an Ogden Nash quip about temptation which is right on the money. He once said, “I can resist anything except temptation;” and, “the only way to get rid of temptation is to give in to it.” A French philosopher once said this: “When we resist temptation, it is usually because the temptation is weak, not because we are strong.”
If you look carefully at these three temptations of Christ outlined in our text, and don’t forget: there were probably many more that are not recorded since Luke does say: “where for 40 days Christ was tempted by the devil;” well, when you look at them one thing leaps off the page. The stones turned to bread isn’t really the issue in the first one. Possessing power and glory really isn’t the issue in the second one. And showing off by jumping from the pinnacle of the temple really isn’t the issue in the third one. No, the real issue, the real temptation, is the attempt to sow internal doubt into Christ’s heart. It is to get Him to question Himself and His work in saving us. And that truth is clearly seen in those words: “If you are the Son of God, if you worship me,” and again, “if you are the Son of God.”
How often have we heard such words in ourselves? “If you are a child of God would you act that way? Would you treat God in such a manner? Are you really a Christian?” Sowing the seeds of doubt as to God’s goodness and the power of the faith He has given you is the essence of any temptation. And as long as we look inside ourselves for answers and strength to overcome temptation, then resistance is futile. None of us is that strong!
But Christ is! And that’s the point. He overcame every attempt to get Him to doubt His work, His mission, and His love for lost souls. He always kept His eyes on the prize—saving you and me. And when we focus on His power, forgiveness, and love and not on our own strength—then and only then can we resist Satan and send him packing.
Much of modern American Christianity focuses people on the “Christ in them.” That is, they focus on people’s feelings and emotions, the emotions of faith. But, that is a broken crutch. My sinful nature will always corrupt such feelings of faith. And then temptation overcomes me. No, we need to focus instead on the “Christ for us.” That is, we need to focus our faith on what lies outside of our hearts and therefore cannot be corrupted. When tempted, we need to fasten our gaze on the cross, the suffering, the death of Jesus. We need to fix our attention on the fact that His love is greater than our sins. We need to always remember that salvation lies in Christ, and not in us. When we do that via the Spirit’s power, then His victory over temptation becomes our victory, and His words become our words. Yes, His words caused Satan to flee from Him. And so, His words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Lead us not into temptation” will do the same today.
One final thought. When Joseph was in Egypt and tempted by Potiphar’s wife to commit adultery with her, how did he overcome that temptation? He did it by focusing on God’s goodness when he responded: “How can I do this great sin and wickedness before God?” Yes, focusing on God’s goodness is the only way to resist sin and come out victorious. So, go and do likewise.