March 1, 2020: 1st Sunday in Lent

Let us pray: Dear Savior, You are our Champion in every aspect of life.  For You triumphed over sin, death, and Satan’s power by standing up to it all, by suffering in our place, and by rising to a new life for us to thwart all such evilness.  Today, focus us on this truth: when evil comes calling in our lives, keep our gaze and our faith fixed upon Your victory.  Amen


TEXT:  Matthew 4: 1-11

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          Scenario One: The little boy sees a twenty dollar bill on the floor, recently dropped by an older lady in the store.  He reaches down to pick it up and briefly, the thought of pocketing it enters his mind.  But, instead, he returns it to her.  He was tempted, but did he sin?  Scenario Two:  King David is on his rooftop on a hot night.  He looks down and spies a gorgeous woman taking a bath in her rooftop pool.  He briefly considers looking away, but doesn’t.  Later he invites her to the palace and the rest is history.  David was tempted and he did sin. 

          Temptation is not the same as falling into temptation and sinning.  Everyone is tempted every day.  But sin occurs when we toy with that temptation, think about engaging in and with it, and then acting upon it. 


          I’ve known people that had great trouble grasping and praying this section of the Lord’s Prayer: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  Why would God lead us into temptation?  He knows our weaknesses.  He knows we can easily succumb.  So why does He include this in that Godly Prayer?  Dr. Luther answers this way in his explanation: “God surely tempts no one, but we pray in this petition that He would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our own flesh may not deceive us or 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.”

          The point is: God never ordains evil.  He doesn’t want it to come to us.  And if and when it does, He will use it to strengthen, uplift, and build our faith all the more.  Yes, God may allow evil to test us.  But only to further upbuild us in our reliance upon Him and show us His power over evil.  And today’s lesson of Christ’s temptation—undertaken for us—shows this. 


          Temptation is part of everyday life.  We live in this world.  But God wants us to not be a part of this world by acting on the temptations that come our way.  He has better and more noble plans for us.  We’re told in the Bible that “Christ was tempted in all things just as we are, yet He was without sin.  So, being confronted by the temptation itself isn’t the same as sinning.  I’ll admit this is a fine line.  But knowing this truth saves a lot of sleepless nights.  And it also inaugurates a deep analysis of where and how the power of faith kicks in and protects us. 

          We’re told the Holy Spirit led Jesus out into the wilderness where He fasted and prayed for 40 days and nights—mirroring our Lenten season.  At the end of it all in a weakened condition, but possessing great clarity of mind, Satan came to tempt Christ.   In  every case, Satan began with the words: “If you are the Son of God…..”  As if there was any doubt?!  The devil knew Jesus was God’s Son.  Christ knew it, too.  But the Evil One is all about doubt, unbelief.  And then he wraps his poison pills of temptation by trying to get Christ to dance to his tune and do his bidding to show off and prove what doesn’t need proving!  “Turn these stones into bread.”  Satan knows Jesus is hungry.  The temptation is very real.  But Christ is far more concerned about saving us than Himself, so He answers: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  That shuts Satan up.  But only briefly.

          Next, the devil ups the ante.  Now he takes Christ to the highest point of the temple and tells Him to throw Himself off because in Psalm 91 God promises the use angels to protect Jesus.  Satan misquotes and misuses that Psalm, trying to use God’s Word against Christ Who is its Author.  It doesn’t work.  Christ repeats another portion of the Word: “Do not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”  Question: Does Satan ever try to use your faith against you via trickery and mental/emotional games, too? 

          Why does Christ allow any of this to happen? Isn’t it because He needed to triumph over all Satan’s temptations in your place and mine?  Isn’t it to comfort us when we’re tempted likewise to have a Godly antidote?  The antidote is Jesus Christ and clinging to His Word of truth.

          The final temptation is Satan’s hole card.  Arrogance, pride, and worldly power and riches are what he feeds on.  So, he concludes: “I’ll take Jesus to a mountaintop, show Him all the riches of this world and try to get Him to worship me.  I’ll tempt Him this way because it always seems to work on humans.  But again, Christ knows a better way: Remember: God humbles the proud but exalts the humble.  So Jesus finally gets rid of him by saying: “Away from me, Satan!  Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only!”


          The standard we use to analyze a temptation is this: “Does it violate God’s Word codified in the 10 commandments or not?  That’s why we have children learn them in Sunday School.  Let’s put it another way.  In any aspect of life, is what we think, or say, or do give glory to God, or not?  Everyone has thoughts that come out of the blue as to: keeping someone’s lost money, or wondering if an attractive person would like to act out their fantasy and engage in sex.  As to the latter, recall Joseph at age 20 and Potiphar’s wife at age 40-ish trying to seduce him.  He literally runs away from her saying: “How can I do this great sin and wickedness against God!”  That’s really, really good advice, my friends.  Yes, God surely tempts no one.  Satan does.  Recognize the difference, invoke God’s power, and then run away from it!

          But what about the times we don’t run away?  What about the times we’re weak, toy with, and ponder giving into temptation and then act on our indecision?  Well, that’s where our text comes into play.  Admit your guilt.  Ask for forgiveness.  Ask Him to restore you to His good graces.  And He will!  Christ’s power over temptation right here will be transferred to You. The rightness with God He won right here will be given to you.  And your faith will once again be made whole.  God grant this to each of us.  Amen


Pastor Thomas H. Fox

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