As Christians, we model our lives on following the behavior of Jesus Christ, as it is described in the Gospels. Or, maybe I should say, we should model our lives on following Jesus’ behavior. In this section of Luke, we see how Jesus responded to temptation, but there is more to this passage than meets the eye. It’s about Jesus’ temptation, and his temptation is personal, for him, not for me, not for you, but for him. When we look at these verses, we have to take into consideration that when he was tempted to turn the stone to bread, it was a real temptation for two primary reasons: (1) he could do it, and (2) he was hungry.
I’ve been hungry, not malnourished, famished, or starving, but felt like it was mealtime and I wanted to eat. But, I cannot turn a stone into bread. No matter how tempted I am to try it, I know I can’t, so the temptation is not very real. On the other hand, the evil that lurks within all of us is in me too, so there are plenty of areas in which I am tempted. You might recall that I used to sporadically poke fun at smart phones, like the i-this or i-that. You might also recall that I stopped making fun of smart phones.
Electronic gadgets can be a temptation for me. I enjoy the features and researching the technical specs. They are tailor-made for an analytical mind like mine. I stopped talking about smart phones because I bought one. I used my money to buy this little gadget from ebay. It was money I could have used to buy ten mosquito nets from Church World Service, or I could have bought 2 goats through Oxfam or World Vision. Instead, I have this gizmo. It’s great and terrible, at the same time. It’s great because now I can get my email anywhere. It’s terrible because now I can get my email anywhere. No longer do I have to wait.
This has gotten way too personal, but that’s the nature of temptation. Each one is custom designed for you, or for me, or for Jesus. Throwing himself from the temple and having angels from heaven save his life would solve some of his problems. For instance, he would no longer have people doubt he was who he said he was, and he might not have been crucified on the cross. And that’s problem with temptation. Giving in to it is a step down a dangerous path. Oscar Wilde writes, “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.” It might be funny, but it doesn’t really work that way.
Going back to my phone, as much as I would rather not, shows how this works. The temptation was to buy something I didn’t truly need. I gave in. A few months later, I realized that it doesn’t do everything I want and there is another one that does. Every so often I find myself on ebay, looking at shinier, newer, more feature laden gadgets. Do I need it? No.
That’s the nature of temptation. The word used here is peirazo, which is Greek for to make a proof of, attempt, test or tempt. Our word for temptation comes from Latin temptationem, and it comes to us through the Old French in about the 13C. Does this mean that the temptation we experience only goes back 700 years or so? No. Going back further, James 1:14, “One is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it.” Each one of us has temptations within us. They lurk beneath the surface, nagging us to give in.
Lent is the season in which we prepare our hearts for Easter. We need to prepare because the Christian life is not one we can do on cruise control. Just like in driving, we must stay fully engaged. Have you ever been distracted while driving? I’ve never told a story about my mother-in-law while preaching; I’m not going to break my streak. On the other hand, I have been driving along with my family, when I look at the stereo to find a certain track or look at the heating controls to see why I suddenly feel too warm, and I hear “Whoa!” I look up to see that I’ve veered closer to the line.
It is easy to get distracted. Something comes up and it deserves all of our time and attention. Suddenly we can’t squeeze our daily devotions in any more. Then, things get a bit busier in life and Sunday mornings seem like the perfect me time–I just want to sleep in and then read the paper while enjoying my morning coffee. What seemed like such an innocent break (I’ll just skip my time with God today, but will get back to it tomorrow) has suddenly grown into pulling us away from Christ. The temptation to live our faith unfocused or on cruise-control is always there.
During Lent, we prepare our hearts for Easter, in part, because it helps us deal with ever-present temptations. Jesus was tempted to turn the stones to bread because he was hungry. It was a real temptation, and he resisted. Why? Because he was prepared.
If we prepare our hearts, we are better able to resist temptation. Jesus set the example in this regard and it is beautifully displayed in this passage. He resisted because he was prepared. The opening lines of Luke 4 are, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned…” and it goes from there. What was he? Full of the Holy Spirit. How many of us can say that we are full of the Holy Spirit? What does it mean to be full of the Holy Spirit? It means that we are fully engaged with God.
This Lenten season, as we begin our Lenten journeys, let us be fully prepared for the temptations that surround us. Every one of us faced different temptations. You might be tempted to buy things you don’t need. Maybe a juicy piece of gossip is too good not to pass along. I’m not even going to mention the temptation to over-eat. Maybe you face darker temptations: drug or alcohol addiction, infidelity, betrayal of friends or loved ones, greed, lust, licentiousness, envy, pride… the list goes on and it includes all of us.
With Jesus, we don’t get a magic cure. We get a model to imitate. We can follow Jesus’ example. We can be full of the Holy Spirit if we seek God with our whole hearts. When the temptation comes to just reduce our engagement with God a little bit, resisting the temptation will make us stronger. Together, on this Lenten journey, let us pray for one another to be strong and resist temptation.