English theologian, John Owen, who lived in the 1600s had this to say about temptation.
“Occasions and opportunities for temptation are innumerable. No wonder I do not know how deeply involved I have been with sin.”
I’m hoping that as we have been discussing temptation, we have all become more and more aware of the everyday temptations we face. Some of them seem trivial on their own. Whether it’s giving in to an extra slice of cheesecake, watching one of the Real Housewives shows, or telling a little white lie to get out of doing something, our days are full of so many little temptations.
The small and seemingly insignificant temptations we face likely don’t strike us as being big deals. After all, who is going to be hurt by our choice to give in to temptation?
The problem with that school of thought is our perspective.
When we are faced with temptation, the focus of what tempts us is ourselves. We gravitate towards what is comfortable, pleasurable, easiest, most rewarding, etc. No matter what the object of temptation is, we usually benefit the most.
Today we discuss the third temptation that takes place between Satan and Jesus.
So far, the devil has tempted Jesus to question God’s provisions. He wanted Jesus to turn stones into bread to eat after His 40 days of fasting. He then tempted Jesus to question God’s protection by telling Him to throw Himself from a high point and have faith that God would send angels to save Him. Now the devil tempts Jesus to question God’s promise of authority.
Luke 4:5 NIV “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
As He has done in the other two times the devil has tempted Him, Jesus responds with the words of Moses found in Deuteronomy. This time He quotes Deuteronomy 6:13 where Moses is speaking to the Israelites just before they enter Canaan. The first verse stresses the importance of worshipping God and serving Him only. Deuteronomy 6:1 ISV “Now these are the commands, decrees, and ordinances that the Lord commanded me to teach you. Obey them in the land you are entering to possess, 2 so that you, your children, and your grandchildren may fear the Lord your God. Keep all his decrees and commandments that I’m giving you every day of your life, so you may live a long time.”
In this address to the Israelites, Moses reminds them to love God with everything they have and to teach their children to love Him as well. He speaks of fearing the Lord God and doing what is right in God’s eyes. Moses tells them that God is a jealous God who won’t tolerate idolatry. And nestled there in the middle is this reminder. Deuteronomy 6:10 NIV “When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
In other words, God is giving you all that you need so don’t forget Him. Instead, be thankful for what He’s done and what He has given you.
The devil will often tempt us with what we don’t have. In fact, the very definition of temptation is this: “the wish to do or have something that you know you should not do or have.”[i]
Consider the first temptation mentioned in the Bible. Genesis 3:1b NIRV “The serpent said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat fruit from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden. 3 But God did say, ‘You must not eat the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden. Do not even touch it. If you do, you will die.’ ”
4 “You will certainly not die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “God knows that when you eat fruit from that tree, you will know things you have never known before. Like God, you will be able to tell the difference between good and evil.”
6 The woman saw that the tree’s fruit was good to eat and pleasing to look at. She also saw that it would make a person wise. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her. And he ate it.”
What was Eve after? Wisdom. It was only her and Adam there at the time so who was she trying to impress with wisdom?
Consider the Israelites throughout their 40 years of wilderness wandering. What are some of the things that tempted them? Hunger, thirst, idolatry, worry, fear, distrust in God. All these things are driven by selfishness.
John Owen also had this to say about temptation: “Temptation is like a knife, that may either cut the meat or the throat of a man; it may be his food or his poison; his exercise or his destruction.”
That’s the problem with temptation, isn’t it? We can’t always predict the consequences of giving in to those temptations. Adam and Eve could not have possibly understood the ramifications of eating one small fruit. And yet, look at the world around us.
Sometimes what seems to be insignificant and trivial can actually cause a chain reaction that we never saw coming. A great example is King David and Bathsheba. He sees her bathing and is tempted. (Lust) He sends for her. He sleeps with her. (Adultery) She becomes pregnant with his child. He tries to fix it by having her husband, Uriah, return from the war. (Manipulation) When that plan failed, King David gave orders to put Uriah at the front of the battle line so that the potential for Uriah to be killed was great. And he was. (Murder) King David then took the widow Bathsheba as one of his wives to make him seem like a caring king. (Lying) Because of his of giving in to temptations, the child Bathsheba was carrying died. (Death) In just a few moves, King David goes from a lustful thought to the death of his child.
Do we take temptations seriously? Do we understand how even the most innocuous temptation can lead us down a path we are not meant to travel?
Back in 1974, an animal activist by the name of Temple Grandin came up with a more peaceful and calm way of leading cattle to the slaughterhouse. Prior to this, cattle were rounded up and herded into a large mass. They would be hit and prodded to keep them grouped. Often the cattle would demonstrate great resistance and would show fear and hesitancy. Temple Grandin came up with the serpentine ramp. “Temple designed the ramp so that it prevents cattle from being scared by the workers or the abattoir up ahead; semicircular turns take advantage of the movement cattle naturally make in groups.” [ii]
I had to look up the word “abattoir”. It means “slaughterhouse”.
They found that by using the serpentine ramp, the cattle were much calmer and more peaceful, and more willing to walk themselves to the slaughterhouse.
It’s no coincidence in my mind that the ramp is described as serpentine which means it’s formed like a snake or a serpent. The devil, who first tempted man while in the form of a snake, uses this same serpentine ramp to entice us to walk ourselves right into temptation. We oftentimes give in to temptations willingly and unscared not realizing where our actions are leading us and the consequences that are sure to come.
But why does Satan spend so much time tempting God’s children?
Even if you’re like me, and don’t know much about sports, there is one thing we all seem to understand about team sports. Whether it’s football, soccer, baseball, or basketball, the goal is to score more points than the other team. All the players on one team are to work together to not only score points for their team but also to prevent the other team from scoring.
I used this analogy many years ago, but it is a true story and had such an impact on my life and how I behave.
I was watching a high school baseball game. The players out on the field were wearing blue uniforms. The other team’s players were wearing red. One of the red players went up to bat, hit the ball and it went right to a player in blue. I do know enough that you’re supposed to catch it. This guy, apparently, had missed that day in training. The ball dropped right at his feet. He picked it up and then proceeded to drop it. He picked it up again and threw it to his teammate, but it was too little too late. The hitter had made it to the base and was safe.
I couldn’t help but watch this player throughout the game. I don’t know if he was just having an off-night or if he was just not that good. But it seemed as if he wasn’t doing his part to help his team. In fact, there were times those around me questioned if he was trying to help the other team instead.
Even though he was on the blue team, his actions and sometimes lack of action, were more of a benefit to the red team.
At the end of the game, the red team won. That one player didn’t actually score points for the red team, but he certainly didn’t do his part to keep them from scoring and he most definitely didn’t contribute by making any scores on his own for his team.
That really struck me because I thought of being out in public or just living my life day-to-day. There is a spiritual battle taking place all around us. We are either on God’s team or we’re on the devil’s team. There isn’t any undecided. If a person doesn’t choose God, then, by default, they are on the devil’s team. So, we must be intentional each day with the actions we take and the words we speak. At the end of the day, which team did we help more? God’s or the devil’s? Each temptation we face, whether big or small, scores a point. It’s up to us as to whether we are scoring for God or for Satan.
The temptations we face today are not unlike the temptations Jesus faced.
Satan tempted Jesus to satisfy His hunger rather than waiting on God to provide nourishment. Besides food, we are tempted in other ways that give us instant gratification. We want and sometimes feel that we need something now! Not in God’s time, but in our time.
Jesus was tempted to question or test God’s ability to protect Him. We too are tempted to worry that God isn’t big enough or attentive enough to guard and keep us within His care. We encounter situations that threaten our health, our security, and our well-being, and we have a hard time fully entrusting it to God. We also do reckless things with our life outside of God’s will for us, and expect Him to protect us from the chaos we create.
In today’s Scripture, Jesus was tempted to acquire great power and authority by worshipping Satan. We probably miss this temptation more often than not. We can be driven by selfishness without realizing it. It starts at a very young age. Most children don’t like to share their toys. They’ll push others out of the way so that they can be the line leader.
As we grow older, our selfish behaviors change from toys and line leaders to larger things. We like to brag about ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren to the point of being obnoxious. We inflate our accomplishments and make sure that we get the credit we feel we deserve. We monopolize conversations with our advice and opinions. We consider ourselves to be experts in every field. We fixate on our situations and minimize what others are going through. We think of ourselves as the solution to every problem. We dilute what we do for God’s Kingdom by boasting about what we do for God’s Kingdom. We spend so much time seeking glory and recognition for ourselves and our accomplishments that we fail to be thankful to God for the talents, gifts, and wisdom that He gave us that we use. We can easily idolize our own selves without realizing it.
Proverbs 11:2 NIV “When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with humility comes wisdom.”
Proverbs 2:6 ICB “Only the Lord gives wisdom.
Knowledge and understanding come from him.”
Much like the Israelites, we mustn’t forget where our help comes from. He gave them land with cities they didn’t build, houses and good things they didn’t provide, wells they didn’t dig, and vineyards and groves they didn’t plant. How much more has He given to us? We must fight off the temptation to overlook the fact that all that is good in our lives comes from God. Jesus, being perfect and being part of the Holy Trinity did not allow Satan to stroke His ego and fall into the trap of temptation of worshipping anything or anyone other than God. Jesus relied solely on the authority and power of God to resist the temptation.
Jesus faced these temptations for one reason. For us.
Hebrews 2:17 CEV “He had to be one of us, so he could serve God as our merciful and faithful high priest and sacrifice himself for the forgiveness of our sins. 18 And now that Jesus has suffered and was tempted, he can help anyone else who is tempted.”
Jesus knows what it feels like to be tempted. He knows the tricks and tactics used by the enemy.
Russell D. Moore wrote a book entitled Tempted and Tried (Temptation and the Triumph of Christ). Here are two quotes from his book.
“You will be tempted exactly as Jesus was, because Jesus was being tempted exactly as we are. You will be tempted with consumption, security, and status. You will be tempted to provide for yourself, to protect yourself, and to exalt yourself. And at the core of these three is a common impulse—to cast off the fatherhood of God.” [iii]
“Temptation is so strong in our lives precisely because it’s not about us. Temptation is an assault by the demonic powers on the rival empire of the Messiah.”[iv]
Did you catch that? Temptation from the devil isn’t about us. Rather, it’s Satan simply using us to score more points for his team. Temptation is his tool to use us as pawns in his fight against God. Every time we give into his temptation, regardless of how small it may seem, his score goes up.
Satan promised Jesus the kingdoms of the world along with authority and splendor if only He would bow down and worship one who wasn’t worthy of being worshipped. Satan was offering Jesus the glory of the crown without the agony of the cross. For some of us, that would have been tough to resist.
What he didn’t share were the consequences of doing such a thing. Where would we be today without the cross? “Satan gives Adam an apple, and takes away Paradise. Therefore in all temptations let us consider not what he offers, but what we shall lose.” – Richard Sibbes Thankfully, Jesus knew what would be lost if He gave into that temptation. We would be lost.
Here are two equations we need to remember.
Temptation + Surrender = Sin (score one for the devil’s team)
Temptation + Resistance = Peace (score one for God’s team)
It’s important that we pray daily for deliverance from temptation. Your temptations are different from the temptations of other people, but we can all find ourselves being tempted in ways we never imagined. Satan and his followers can and do use all sorts of things – bad things and good things – to tempt us. Even things that, on the surface, seem to be pleasing to God, can be used to entrap us. Satan, described as “crafty” will use anyone or anything to entice us to move God down on our priority list. That’s why we are told to “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith.” (1 Peter 5:8-9)”
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[iii] Tempted and Tried by Russell D. Moore
[iv] Tempted and Tried by Russell D. Moore