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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC)                                               Sermon # 1241

January 17, 2016                                                                                Luke 4:1-13 

Dr. Ed Pettus


"Temptation’s Appeal"


  • Temptation’s Appeal


If there is one thing advertisers know about people, it’s that we are tempted and often fall to that temptation.  Temptation is a good selling tool.  How many times have you watched a commercial and thought or said, I was tempted to buy that?  For men that means sex sells.  For women, well, you’ll have to fill in the blank here!  All I observe is anything that has a discount or a coupon and the accompanying story of how much money you saved.  (Please be gentle, I’m only joking!)  Advertisers present whatever will tempt you to buy a product or service or information.  Hardee’s has used supermodels to sell hamburgers and recently even a male model to appeal to some women, I suppose.  These days it is hard to tell.  Car companies have a long history of placing a bikini clad model next to their car in ads or at car shows.  It reminds me of Hosea’s word to the priests of Israel, “They feed on the sins of my people” (Hosea 4:8).  The priests were likely profiting through a sin offering and because they also had rejected God, they were encouraging more sin by their rejection.  Some people still operate this way, feeding on the sins of other people and by doing so they themselves increase in sin. 

Temptation can often reveal a lot about ourselves.  I found it profoundly revealing that, after Tec Cruz made a comment about New York values, a New York newspaper posted an altered picture of the statue of liberty flipping a particular finger at Ted Cruz, thus proving his point.  They could not resist the temptation to reveal their values.

Our story for today reveals much about Jesus Christ and also about the devil.  The Bible also reveals how Israel failed temptations while Jesus resisted everything the devil could present.  Let’s take a look at temptation’s appeal. 


  • The First Temptation – Hunger and Food (Luke 4:3-4)


The first temptation is about hunger and food.  Jesus’ story is not the first story of testing in the wilderness.  There are many similarities with the nation of Israel.  Israel, according to Hosea 11, is referred to as God's son. 


When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son (11:1).


Israel, as we know, was led out into the desert for 40 years and faced testing by God.  The forty days of Jesus ' journey into the desert is similar to the forty days and nights of Moses' fast on the mountain and is reminiscent of the 40 years of Israel’s wilderness sojourn.  Forty days is a long time without food.  We find four hours troubling; it may be difficult for us to imagine four days without food, but forty seems impossible.  When the body is not fed it gets weak.  The devil comes at Jesus’ weakest human moments, just as the devil comes to temp us when we are our weakest.    I’m beginning to think that the devil comes to me every night around 10pm to tempt me with food and hunger!

There are some fascinating connections between the two stories of Israel and Jesus.  Both Jesus and Israel face three temptations, both are in the desert, and both are called "son" by God.  Yet one major difference is evident, Israel fails the tests, but Jesus is faithful to God in every one.    


The first temptation deals with hunger and bread.  Jesus is asked to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger.  After forty days without food, this would probably be the first place we would have failed.  We would probably better relate to Israel as they struggled to overcome their temptation.  Israel's test came prior to the gift of manna from heaven.  The story is told again in Deuteronomy 8:2-3,

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 


Israel was eventually given a great gift in the manna from heaven, but they proved their faithlessness by grumbling and not trusting God would indeed provide for them.  God's son, Israel, did not trust and in their faithlessness they broke covenant with God. 

But Jesus proves true to faith, and in remembering the story of Israel, a story of failure, he draws strength from Deuteronomy 8, trusting that "humans do not live by bread alone."  God alone gives life and Jesus’ memory of a story about God’s people enables him to stand firm against the devil.  Jesus demonstrates that he is totally dependent upon God, Jesus trusts God to provide. 

Our temptations around food are more about overindulgence than what Jesus faced.  But we so often even fail to master the temptation to overeat.  It is the warning of Philippians 3, For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (18-19).  Of course, eating is not the main concern, but trust in God as our provider, trust that God’s Word feeds us; trust is the main issue.  Can we trust in God or should we go out on our own and turn stones into bread?  Jesus really sets the tone for this temptation narrative by emphasizing that we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God, and then he battles every test from Satan with a Word from God. 


  • The Second Temptation – Idolatry (Luke 4:5-8)


A second temptation is offered, 

 And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

The temptation here is idolatry.  Worship another and all could be yours!  Looking for other sources of satisfaction, other providers, other gods to give life.  But again Deuteronomy tells us,

Deut. 6:13-14    It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.  You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— 

Israel continued to follow other gods as they sought to save their lives, but Jesus trusted only in God.  Jesus did not fall to the temptation to worship another, specifically the devil.  Jesus demonstrates his fidelity to God even when offered the world.

            Idolatry is a much greater temptation in the Bible than something like atheism.  Idolatry is a concern for both believer and non-believer.  Idolatry is the temptation to worship anything or anyone other than the true God.  It is to demonstrate that by trusting in anything or anyone other than the true God.  Jesus quotes from his knowledge of the scriptures,  “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”



  • The Third Temptation – Testing God (Luke 4:9-12)


The third temptation in Luke is the temptation of testing God.  And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ 11 and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

I am amazed that the devil quotes scripture in an attempt to tempt Jesus, to cause Jesus to stumble.  He quotes from Psalm 91:11-12,  “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.  On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.”
 What nerve!  If anyone can misuse the text, I imagine the devil is the best at it. 


  But Jesus knows another story of the scripture, the story of Massah,

Deut. 6:15-16 “for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.   “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.” 

Israel tested God in Exodus 17:1-7, as we read in the Old Testament Lesson.  There was no water to drink so they quarreled with Moses.  The quarreling led Moses to ask why they put the Lord to the test.  Again the Israelites grumbled against Moses and God.  The name Massah means test, and Massah became a memorial to the faithlessness of Israel.  But Jesus does not fall to this temptation.  Jesus will not arbitrarily place his life in jeopardy to see if God will save him.  Jesus does not ask God to prove himself for him to believe.





  • Three Temptations We Face – (1 John 2:15-17)


The temptations Jesus faced are not presented to us in such grandiose ways.  We don’t even have the capability to turn stones to bread as Jesus does.  The temptations that come our way are more like those in 1 John, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (2:15-17).  Maybe temptation comes in threes!  Jesus faced three temptations from the devil, for food, for power, and testing God.  The world tempts us with desires: of the flesh, of the eyes, and of riches.  No matter the source of the temptation, no matter the method or the enticement, temptation opens possibilities for sin.  Temptation exposes possible weakness.  And yet, as we see in Christ, temptation may lead us to greater strength as we resist the devil and the world and our own weakness. 


  • How to Resist Temptation – The Word



We do hold one thing in common with the temptations Jesus faced; it is the temptation to faithlessness.   It is to act as if anything we might receive or do is received or done outside of the providence and sovereignty of God.  While we are not tempted to turn the rocks outside into bread, we are tempted to think that we will not be given bread unless we provide it for ourselves, forgetting that God is to be thanked for our daily bread.  Our temptation is given by the philosophy that trusts, not in God, but in the self-sufficiency to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get your share.  This is the temptation to autonomous existence.  Our temptation is to trust that turning two dollars or five dollars, depending on your bread, into a loaf of bread is independent of God.  Our temptation is to treat God as a party outside our world of earning and buying and eating and living.  We may not be able to turn the stones into bread, but we can sure enough exempt God from our world by thinking that our stones of dollars and cents can substitute for any bread God might give.  We also are tempted to think that bread is our only sustenance for life, forgetting that we live by God’s word.  Perhaps that is our greatest failure to the devil’s temptation.  We fail to remember that we live by God’s word, not by the lunch we will receive this afternoon.  I think if there is one temptation where the devil gets us, this is the one. 

It is not likely that we will be offered the kingdoms of the world if we would just worship the devil, but we turn to idolatry each time we trust other gods to fix our problems or give us new life or provide for our families.  Our temptation is not in taking over the world, but in considering that God is not to be worshipped and thanked.  Our temptation is to forget that worshipping this living God is crucial to our lives.  Our temptation is to take God for granted.  Our temptation is to believe that worship is a take it or leave it proposition.  Our idolatry comes when we compromise with the ways of the world in its continuing seduction.

I doubt that any of us would climb to the top of the church steeple to test God's care for us, but we do test God when we question God's helpfulness the moment things do not go just right.  We test God when we forget that God's grace is sufficient for us.  We test God when we forget that God's power is made perfect in weakness.  We have our moments when testing God is our temptation. 

But Jesus proved himself faithful.  And Jesus has become the great high priest who, tempted as we are, and perhaps even more, resisted temptation.  He did so through the knowledge of scripture, taking the lessons from Israel's faithlessness in the wilderness.  He did so by acknowledging that only the living God is the true God.  Only Yahweh is to be worshipped and trusted for life.  Only God. 

Jesus looked to the sacred stories of God's peculiar people and used those stories to resist the devil, to resist temptation and to be faithful to God.  Jesus, who had learned these stories in synagogue all his life, drew strength from them to resist temptation and to acknowledge God as God alone.  Jesus’ temptation teaches us, among other things, the power of knowing the word of God.  The devil himself used the Word to try to seduce Jesus, but Jesus recognized his schemes and battled Satan with the Word of God. 


 How do we resist?  We get into the word in such a way that the word gets into us!  Temptation has a lesser chance of succeeding when the Word of God is at the core of our heart.  Jesus sets the example showing us the vital importance of knowing our story and the tricks that the devil may us to lead us into temptation.  May the word of God abide in our hearts and minds so that we might not fall to temptation.  Amen