The sermon at today’s Lenten service focused on temptation.
The pastor opened by confessing that he had an immense sweet tooth. He could eat a whole box of Twinkies in one setting, supplemented by glasses of whole milk. He is tempted to prioritize his sweet tooth over other things that are important to him, such as being healthy enough to live a long life to be there for his grandchildren.
Our temptations tell us what we truly love and value. In Genesis 3, Eve initially expresses love for God, affirming God’s command not to eat the forbidden fruit. But the serpent tempts her to desire other things more than God: wisdom, being like God, and the desirable fruit itself.
We can even blame God for our failure to face temptation with success. In I Corinthians 10:13, Paul states that God will not allow Christians to be tempted more than they are able, but will provide a way out. If we give in to temptation, we can easily blame God for not providing that way out, or (more accurately) not seeming to do so. God must not have strengthened us sufficiently with his Holy Spirit, we reason.
The pastor then commented on the story of Jesus’s temptation in Matthew 4. The first temptation, that Jesus turn the stones into bread to assuage his hunger, relates to our desire for our needs and wants to be met here and now. That is a temptation in this age, when so many things are immediately accessible. With one click of the mouse, we can access the entire library of the Vatican.
The second temptation is the desire to be noticed. Satan was tempting Jesus to jump off the pinnacle of the Temple, a public place. God would deliver Jesus before all those people, and Jesus would be noticed by the public. We desire to be noticed, to be seen, and we resent when people fail to give us so much as a “Thank you.”
The third temptation is that of power. Satan tells Jesus he will give him all the kingdoms of the world, if Jesus would fall down and worship Satan. We feel vulnerable and powerless in this world and would like to be in control.
We face and meet temptation head on when we remember that Jesus is with us. Jesus underwent temptation and prevailed over it, and he delivered us from the slavery of the devil.
In listening to this sermon, I identified more with the problem than the solution. I would like to be noticed and am upset when I am not, which occurs more often than I would like. I would like the ability to manipulate my environment to my liking: to say the right things to people in the right way, and that would make them like me, to use an example. I also desire certain things deep down, and they overshadow whatever love for God I have: acceptance from others, knowledge, sex, money and the security that comes from that, political podcasts. I have spiritual wants and needs, which is why I pray to God and read the Bible and other religious literature: to feed my Spirit, to find comfort, and to find nourishment in what is righteous and wholesome. But to love God more than other things? God may be more valuable, inherently, than those things, since God is eternal and perfect, but to give things up would be to make life barren, unless God replaces what is lost with something greater and more enriching. What is more, can I give up my desires, which are a part of me?
How does Jesus deliver us from temptation? Is it through his presence? I remember reading a rambling post defending once-saved-always-saved, and the blogger said that his attitude changes towards pornography on the Internet when he remembers that Jesus is sitting right next to him. Jesus, in that context, is not wagging his finger but is an accepting friend. That discourages the blogger from surfing for porn. True? False? Somewhere in between?
Does Jesus also deliver us from temptation through the hope that he provides? Because of what Jesus did, we have the hope of eternal life. We have acceptance from God. We need not get bent out of shape when people do not notice us, for God notices us. We do not have to stress out about getting all of our needs and wants met here and now or in this life, since we have the hope of eternal happiness. And, when things do not go our way, we can recognize that God is sovereign. Maybe these things can help us counteract temptation. The challenge is truly believing them.