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How Do I Recognize Temptation?


Sermon on Genesis 3:1-15 and Matthew 4:1-11 for Lent 1,A, March 1, 2020

  1. Temptation is something that is both complex and simple. It is complex because the devil keeps working at us, slithering his way in. He gets us to distrust someone around us. Distrust turns into suspicion. Suspicion turns into assumptions about evil motives. Assumptions turn into hatred. Or if he can’t go that route, he’ll find another. If it isn’t mistrust, anger and hatred, he’ll work on your flesh/your sin-infected human nature. Your desire for self-preservation will turn into selfish ambition. Selfish ambition turns into pushing others down to try to raise yourself up, and so on. Or the devil will take you down a path of despair. “Poor me. Why does everything go wrong?” And maybe he’ll throw in some paranoia… “Everyone is working against me!” Or he’ll find some other weak spot to hit, or maybe many at once. That’s the complex. The simple side of temptation is its main goal: to lead you away from God, to doubt his goodness, to destroy your faith.
  2. So how do we recognize temptation? Today we will look at the very first temptation and the temptations of Jesus and we will learn how to better recognize temptation. We’ll also learn about relying on the power God himself gives us to resist temptation and find our power and victory in him.


I. Is the Issue Certain or Uncertain?

  1. First, is the issue certain or uncertain? When God speaks, he always speaks clearly. God gave Adam and Eve a command: “You may freely eat from every tree in the garden, but you shall not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, for on the day that you eat from it, you will certainly die.” There aren’t too many ways to interpret that, are there? But the Devil comes in and tries to make it uncertain. “Has God really said, ‘You shall nto eat from any tree in the garden?” Eve’s first answer was good. “God has said, ‘you shall not eat from it. You shall not touch it, or else you will die.’” On God’s part, issues are always certain.
  2. Think of the temptations of Jesus. His temptation happened right after his baptism—and what did he hear at his baptism? “This is my Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with him” (Matthew 3:17). That was a clear, solid declaration from the Father himself. Nothing uncertain about it. Then the devil comes in with uncertainty. “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down [from the temple].” “If you are the Son of God…” What had Jesus just heard? Does Jesus need to prove himself? Does he need to try something to see if he has his Father’s approval or protection? No. The Word is enough. That’s why Jesus answers, “It is written…”
  3. God’s issues for us are certain, too. His commandments are clear. “Honor your father and mother.” “You shall not murder.” “You shall not commit adultery.” “You shall not steal.” “You shall not bear false witness.” I’m afraid that we have a problem with situation ethics. Is it always wrong to steal? What if you’re poor? What if the person you’re stealing from will never miss it? Is it always wrong to kill? What if someone is really sick? What if someone is really old? What if someone is very likely to be unwanted or have a miserable life? God gives his commandments. He gives many other directions in Scripture that tell us to love, help and provide for our neighbor’s needs, or to respect our neighbors money or property, because those are God’s gifts to our neighbor. There is no gray area. The “what ifs” do not come from God. His commands are clear.
  4. And it’s not just a matter of God’s law. It’s a gospel issue, too. At the beginning of most of our services, after we confess our sins, we hear the pastor say, “Your sins are forgiven.” “By the command of Christ and by his authority I forgive you your sins.” The devil comes with his “what ifs” about that, too. What if you did something really bad? What if it’s a bad habit, something you’ve done over and over? Can God forgive that? What if… what if you’re beyond his grace, beyond his forgiveness, not worthy of his pardon? God himself has no what ifs. He has no conditions connected to his forgiveness. He wants you to have joy and peace and relief. That’s why he gives us his gospel. That’s why he gave us Jesus to be our Savior, so we can look at him resisting temptation and remember that he succeeded where we often fail. His holiness covers you and me. No “what ifs”


II. Is the Issue Real or Unreal?

  1. Second, is the issue real or unreal? The very first temptation was a temptation of the unreal. “You will be like God knowing good and evil.” They were already like God, created in his holy image. The devil’s temptation was that God was holding out the very best from them—but they had God’s perfect world to live in. The promise of something better was unreal. The third temptation of Jesus was unreal. “I will give you [all the kingdoms of the world and their glory] if you bow down and worship me.” The devil does have his control over the world, but truly, these things weren’t his to give. The temptation was unreal.
  2. He takes God’s gifts and gives us unreal counterfeits in their place. What is our culture, our society obsessed with? Sex! And what is God’s plan for that? Marriage: a man and a woman come together for a lifetime. Someone to hold your hand. Someone to laugh and cry with you. Someone to share every experience with you. Someone to build a family with you. What does the devil do? What does the world do with sex? They throw images in front of us. Ink on paper. Images on a computer or TV screen. Unreal. And really, it’s cold. Not personal. Not beneficial. Not a blessing at all.
  3. Another obsession in our culture is greed or materialism. That’s the temptation “If you only had this, if you only had more, you would be happy.” It’s the promise of every commercial. It’s the true meaning of the word “covet.” You buy the gadget. You buy the clothing. You buy the car. Sometimes you’re pleased with it—for a day or two, until you see something else. “Oh, now I need that, too!” Sometimes you’re not pleased with it. It comes in the mail, you open the box, and you say, “I didn’t think it would be this small.” “I thought it would do more.” The promise is unreal and the result leaves us feeling empty.
  4. The devil often tries to destroy our peace by tempting us with unreal feelings. Anxiety. What could happen? What’s happening that you don’t know about? Our minds race with all kinds of thoughts about what disasters lie ahead. Is it real? Do you or I have any prophetic gift that we can see into the future and know for certain what terrible things will happen? No. Anxiety and speculation are all unreal—the devil’s plot to destroy our peace, and distract us from the certain promise of God, “Fear no evil, for I am with you” (Psalm 23:3; Isaiah 41:10).

III. Is the Issue Selfless or Selfish?

  1. Third: Is the issue selfless or selfish? In our study of the Lord’s Prayer we learned that temptation comes from the devil, the world and from our sinful flesh, that is, our broken, sin-infected human nature. And that human nature is always set on serving self. The governing question for the flesh is always “What’s in it for me?” That was in the first temptation. “You can have more. God wants to ruin your fun!” That was in the temptations of Jesus. “Serve yourself. Turn these stones into bread!” “Serve yourself. Take the kingdoms of the world now!” That’s in so many of our temptations, too. How many of our complaints can be translated into meaning: “See how inconsiderate you are! Don’t you know how concerned I am about me?”
  2. When Jesus’ disciples were obsessed with themselves, he told them, “Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you will be a slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. ” (Mark 10:44-45). Jesus calls us to serve others. He leads by example. He also empowers us for service.

Conclusion: We give thanks to our God that he sent Jesus to be our Savior,  our victorious Lord who fought the battle for us. That’s what we see in the temptation of Jesus. There is nothing uncertain about him, what he did for us. His strength and his victory. There is nothing unreal about him. He suffered when he was tempted with blood, sweat and tears. There is nothing selfish about him—he gave himself for us. This is why we focus on Jesus as Savior—more than example. He freed us from the power of sin by breaking its power himself. Because you have such a Savior, you don’t have to fall for the uncertain, the unreal, the selfish. And you have his pardon, peace and the power of his forgiveness to restore you when you do. …




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