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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Tempted As We Are

Second Sunday in Lent

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. Matthew 4:1-11

A man who owned a small town grocery store saw a little boy come in one afternoon. The little fellow stood near the front door looking at a barrel of apples. He would look up at the man and back down at the apples. Finally, the man went over and said to him, “Son, are you trying to steal one of those apples?” The boy replied, “No sir. I’m tryin’ to keep from stealin’ one!”

There are times in our lives when we’re tempted to be less than we are. There are times when we’re faced with the possibility of settling for less than the best; when we’re more concerned with reaching goals than how we reach them; when we think that all that matters is results.

Each Sunday in Lent we’ll be thinking about Jesus heading toward Jerusalem. As we do this, I remind you of the words of Pilate as Jesus was brought out wearing a crown of thorns and a purple robe: “Behold the Man!” Today we look at Jesus at the very beginning of His ministry. “Behold the Man who was tempted as we are.”

One day the Carpenter laid down His tools and walked out of His shop. He went down a little dusty street out to the edge of town, and took the road that headed south. He went down along the Jordan River to where John the Baptist was holding a meeting. There, with many other people, He was baptized. Then He went back up into the hills where, as Matthew tells us, “Behold, angels came and ministered to Him.”

The time had come for Him to begin His ministry of proclaiming the Kingdom of God. But before He began His work, it was important for Him to be alone for a while, and that’s when He faced what we call, “The Temptations of Jesus.”

Since Jesus was alone, there were no eyewitnesses, and what we have here in the Gospels is the account Jesus gave His disciples about the experience. Can you picture Jesus at the end of that time, standing on the Mount of Temptation, looking up toward Jerusalem?

I’ve been to that place several times. Standing on the Tel at ancient Jericho and looking up at that mountain, can remind you of the words of the Broadway song, “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever.” I think Jesus stood there at the end of those 40 days looking out toward forever.

The temptations Jesus experienced were real temptations. Sometimes we think Jesus doesn’t understand the things we face. But the writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are.” His temptations are described in the Gospels as being a struggle with the Devil.

Jesus, of course, was never tempted to commit murder, mayhem, or immorality. The temptations He faced were more subtle than that. They had to do with the wrong use of his powers, giving in to easy solutions, achieving great ends by means which were below Him and what He stood for. Aren’t those the temptations most of us face today? Few of us would be tempted to commit some real crime. I drive by banks every day without ever considering robbing one. I go into the grocery store a couple times a week, and have never thought of smuggling a gallon of milk out of the store under my coat.

Back in the days of the Old West an outlaw boarded a train. He said to the frightened passengers, “I’m going to rob every man and kiss every woman on this train.” A gentleman stood up and said, “Sir, you can rob the men, but you’re not going to kiss these ladies.” One lady spoke up and said, “Don’t tell him what to do. He’s the one robbing this train!”

I’ve never been tempted to rob a train, either. These aren’t the kind of temptations we face. But we are faced with those subtle temptations to be less than we are. We are tempted to seek popularity, to be comfortable, to never go against the grain, to see only our side, to live for what we will eat, drink and wear, and to never look beyond any of that. We’re tempted to reduce life to its lowest level: survival. In doing that we become less than we are.

How do we face such temptations? The answer lies in the way Jesus faced His own temptations, for He was “tempted in every way, just as we are.”

First, He understood the deepest hungers of the human heart. Jesus had been fasting in the wilderness for 40 days. And He was hungry when He heard those devilish words, “If you’re the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus was tempted to use His powers to satisfy His own hunger. But there was more to it. It wasn’t just the matter of His own hunger. Just as we have compassion for starving people today, so Jesus was concerned for the hungry people of His day. It would have been easy for Him to respond by providing food for all of them. There were a lot of people who would have gladly followed any person who could supply bread. He could have easily won a following that way. But that wasn’t the way for Him to choose. He knew He mustn’t use bread in that way.

It would have been easy for Jesus to yield to that temptation. He was the Son of God being tempted to be a magician. But that was far below him. He knew the real hungers were a lot deeper than that. He knew the real need was for bread that came from Heaven. And so He answered the tempter, “Man doesn’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

You see, here’s one of the problems we continually face. Whenever we forget the deepest hungers of the human heart, we become less than we are!

We’ve gathered together a great assortment of things that don’t really satisfy. We’ve been led to believe that we must have more and more. But the more we have, the more we want, and the greater our hunger becomes for the things that don’t satisfy the deepest hungers of the human heart. And so we become less than we are because we live for things that are below us. But those aren’t the things we really want.

What is it we really want? Isn’t it something far more valuable than we can buy? Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” Jesus fulfills the deepest hungers of the human heart.

Second, Jesus knew the importance of keeping God in His rightful place. Here’s the second temptation. The Devil offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if He would worship him. He said, “If you’ll worship me, all will be yours.”

There was a lot of unrest in Palestine in those days, just as there is today. A lot of people wanted to overthrow the Romans, start a war and drive them into the sea. They were waiting for the Messiah to come and lead them in their campaign. If Jesus had just spoken the word, He could have become that kind of leader. He could have become the political savior of Israel, the new King of the Jews.

But Jesus knew that the kingdom He represented, the Kingdom of God, was a lot greater and more far-reaching than any political kingdom. He refused to take up the sword and become a political savior.

So, He answered the Devil, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.” We become less than we are when we forget that. This is one of our major problems today, filled with all kinds of dangerous possibilities.

At the outbreak of World War II, Winston Churchill said, “Someone took Mussolini to the top of the mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world.” That’s still a problem in the world today. But it doesn’t only happen to our enemies. It happens to us, too. Our lives become filled with dangerous possibilities whenever we fail to keep God in His rightful place in our lives. And then we become less than we are.

But when we do keep God in His rightful place in our lives, our hearts, our plans – then our lives are in His hands, and we certainly don’t need to worry about what God will do with us.

Jesus had that conviction. He knew that His Heavenly Father would open up the way and lead Him where He should be going. We can know that, too, if we keep God in His rightful place.

Finally, in facing temptation, Jesus realized there were no shortcuts to where He must go. There was no easy way for Him to reach His destination. And yet, He heard that nagging voice, “Throw yourself down.” But Jesus knew there could be no shortcuts, no easy way out, just because He was the Son of God. So, He replied, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Instead, He would travel the long, lonely, difficult road to the cross. He would not become less than God’s Son by trying to avoid all that life was to mean to Him. He had a mission to carry out, with the necessary and inescapable result being an agonizing death on a cross, in shame and dishonor. There was no way around it, no way to avoid it.

There aren’t any shortcuts for us, either. There’s no easy way out of life’s dangerous and difficult situations. If Jesus had to bear a cross, we shouldn’t expect anything else.

We need to remember that only Jesus can satisfy the deep hungers of our heart, and to keep God in His rightful place in our lives. This takes courage, the kind that comes out of faith in God. Experience in trusting Him helps us, too. For we find that each time we say “No” to temptation, the next time it’s easier to say “No” again!

One day Jesus said “No” to the temptations He faced in the wilderness. Because He did, we can say, “In Jesus’ name – No!” He’ll help us, he’ll comfort and strengthen us. He’ll carry us through.


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