Over the past fortnight we have watched with horror events unfold in Ukraine. President Putin’s invasion of that country has shocked us all, and our hearts go out to the people of Ukraine for what they have suffered. I don’t think its too simplistic to describe this conflict as a battle of good versus evil, of democracy versus dictatorship, of freedom versus tyranny.
This confrontation in Ukraine is just the latest episode in a conflict between good and evil that has characterised life on earth ever since Eden – ever since the Fall. A conflict that we also see in our reading today. Because our passage from Luke chapter 4 this morning describes a battle of wills Christ and the devil, a spiritual battle between Satan and the Son of God.
This titanic tussle takes place out in the wilderness, a remote barren place in which Jesus found himself hungry, alone and vulnerable. Vulnerable not just to wild animals, but vulnerable to the spiritual assaults of Satan. The devil tried three times to divert Jesus from his God-given vocation. Three times the devil attempted to lure Jesus away from wholehearted obedience to his Father and his Word. Three times Satan sought to try and make Jesus selfish rather than servant-hearted.
But its not just Jesus who had to battle against temptation. Its a battle every Christian has to fight, in one form or another. We may not see the devil before our eyes. Our temptation may not even come from the devil at all – it may come from within us or from other people. But wherever it comes from, temptation is a universal feature of human life in this broken, fallen world.
In my experience, temptation seems to take two main forms. Some temptations relate to our physical appetites, and others appeal to our psychological pride:
• When it comes to physical appetites, I guess we all know what the weak spots are in our own lives – the physical appetites where we are most susceptible to temptation. For many it may be for food, money or possessions, where we are at risk of greed, avarice and materialism.
In the case of Jesus, his physical appetite for food was the subject of his first temptation. Verse 2 and 3 today tell us that in the wilderness Jesus ate nothing for days and at the end of them was hungry. He must have been starving, in fact. So Satan tempts Jesus to abuse his power and turn a stone into bread. To perform a self-serving miracle rather than one designed to help others – like healing the sick or raising the dead. Thankfully Christ did not succumb, and answered the devil with those famous words: “Man does not live by bread alone.”
• So Satan’s appeal to Jesus physical appetite failed. But perhaps the most insidious temptations we all face are those that appeal to our pride. We are all prone to pride – our desire to being popular, respected, influential and important, and we sin when we pursue these things in the wrong way – too aggressively or selfishly or arrogantly. Our pride means we must always question our motives and resist every temptation to put ourselves ahead of others. We must guard against selfishness and look out for ungodly attitudes towards others.
Satan tried to tempt Jesus with power and glory, offering him all the kingdoms of the world if only he would worship him. A proud man would have succumbed to such an offer, but not Christ. Jesus knew that his path to power and glory would go through the cross. Proud people worship themselves or their idols. But Jesus knew that God alone should be the object of our worship.
Oscar Wilde famously said “I can resist everything apart from temptation.” We might admire his honesty, but if we are Christians we know that Wilde’s attitude was not just pessimistic but also untrue. Sin can be conquered!
If we are Christians, with God’s help we can win our daily battles against temptation. With God’s help we are no longer powerless in our fight against the flesh, the world, and the devil. We can experience victory over temptation, just as Jesus did when he faced the devil in the desert. There are God-given tools at our disposal.
For example, if we read and learn our Bibles, we will be well-equipped to fight off temptation. If we spend time with the Bible each day, and learn God’s promises, God’s goodness and God’s commands, then it will help us fight off doubts and temptations. When he was tempted in the wilderness, Jesus repeatedly quoted the Bible to defeat Satan’s temptations (the book of Deuteronomy to be precise). If the Bible is good enough for Jesus, its good enough for us!
In his letter to the Ephesians the apostle Paul actually calls the Bible “the sword of the Spirit”. A sword to help us in daily battles against temptation. In the same passage, Paul briefly mentions two other weapons at our disposal:
• One is prayer. When we pray, we invite God’s Holy Spirit to give us the strength, self-control and courage to be holy and godly ourselves. Tremendous divine resources are at our disposal if we only ask! In verse 1 of our reading today, we’re told that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit, and God’s Spirit went with him into the wilderness. It was the Spirit’s power that helped Jesus endure the temptations he faced – and the same power is accessible to us today through prayer.
• Another weapon against sin is the prayers and support of other Christians. We are to share our burdens, weaknesses and temptations with one another, and support one another practically and prayerfully in our different battles against sin. House groups, Sunday services and Christian friendships provide ideal settings for such mutual accountability.
Its interesting that the other Gospel accounts of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness end by saying that God sent angels to minister to Jesus whilst he was there. Even Jesus needed companionship and encouragement to come through temptation – and certainly so do we.
So God’s Word, God’s Spirit and God’s People are all available to help us in our daily battles with temptation. But perhaps the most important and encouraging thing to remember during our skirmishes with sin, is that the war is already won. If we are Christians, following Jesus and trusting in his death for us on the Cross, then sin’s ultimate defeat is assured. Christ has conquered sin for us.
The Bible tells us that Adam and Eve brought sin into the world when they succumbed to the Serpent’s temptation. But Jesus held firm whereas they failed. You may remember that the people of Israel sinned seriously during their forty years in the wilderness. But Jesus stayed perfect and pure during his forty days in the wilderness.
And, at the end of his earthly life, when Jesus died on the Cross, he removed the penalty and power of sin from us, today. As the one man who never sinned, even under great temptation, Jesus was qualified to be the perfect sacrifice, the spotless sacrificial lamb, whose death was sufficient to bear our sin and wash away our guilt before God.
So as I finish, I hope that we have been reminded of the nature of temptation, and the tools that are available to help us resist temptation. But most of all, I hope we have all been reminded that sin has been conquered. Because the great news of Christianity is that sin’s penalty has been paid for us by Jesus, our guilt is gone. And one day, in God’s new Creation, even the presence of sin will be banished forever. It’s a wonderful future that we can all claim by faith in Christ.
Copyright © 2015-2018 St John the Evangelist, Ashton Hayes. All rights reserved.