August 4, 2019

No Temptation Greater
Matthew 4:1-11

According to the dictionary, “temptation” is an overwhelming desire to do something, especially something wrong or unwise. Of course, you already knew that, didn’t you? Because temptation is common to all of us.

A poll was recently conducted by the Barna group to pinpointed the top temptations faced by Americans, and the results may surprise you. The moral struggles that vex most Americans aren’t the salacious acts that drive the plotlines of reality TV. The most prevalent temptations are a lot less sexy. So what are the top three?

The third most prevalent temptation faced by Americans is spending too much time on media. It appears that the gadgets we own, own us, and we just can’t seem to let them go.

The second most common temptation is one I tend to struggle with. It’s eating and drinking in an unhealthy manner. Yes, the appeal of fried foods and sugary treats tend to pull me away from my most ardent resolve.

So what do you think is the most common temptation faced by Americans? Believe it or not, it’s procrastination. Over 60 percent of Americans say they habitually put off those things that need to be done.

The way we file our taxes is a good example. This year 21.5 million tax returns weren’t filed until the week of April 15th, and 6 million came in after the April 15th deadline. Yes, procrastination is certainly a temptation that plagues most of us.

I decided to talk about temptation today because today’s biblical text is about temptation, not so much about our temptations but the temptations Jesus faced at the beginning of his ministry. Surprisingly, in many ways, they are not unlike our own. Listen as I read the text found in Matthew 4:1-11.

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.

Now at first reading of this text, Jesus’ temptations may sound somewhat irrelevant to us. Not many of us are tempted to turn stones into bread or leap from the steeple of this sanctuary. But if we’ll look more closely at these three temptations, we might uncover the core of the greatest moral struggles we face. What are the great temptations we find in this text?

I. There is No Temptation Greater Than the One That Promise Acceptance.

When you look behind the details of Jesus’ three temptations you discover one common allurement. If Jesus will just succumb to these temptations, he’ll be the most popular Messiah in the world. You see, these temptations were not really about making bread, temple jumping or kingdom gathering. These temptations were temptations of conformity.

Let me explain. For years, the Jewish people expected God’s Messiah to come and they had clear expectations of what he would be like when he came. They believed he would come like Moses and deliver bread in the wilderness. They believed he would reveal himself with supernatural feats like leaping from tall buildings while angels cushioned his fall. Most importantly, the Jews believed the Messiah would come as a political leader and rule the Kingdoms of the world. So if Jesus would just do these three things – make bread, jump from the temple, and be a political ruler - he’d be the most popular figure around.

Yes, there’s no temptation greater than the one that promises acceptance.

That’s the temptation you and I face just about every day, isn’t it? And the temptation to conform is so powerful. Most of us will do just about anything to be accepted.

Ruth Berenda is a psychologist who’s done extensive studies on peer pressure and on the need to be accepted. A few years ago she conducted an experiment to demonstrate just how far a teenage would go to conform.

Berenda brought groups of ten adolescents into a room for the test. Each group was instructed to raise their hands when the teacher pointed to the longest line on a set of charts. Prior to the test, nine of students were secretly instructed to vote for the second-longest line even though the instructions directed them to vote for the longest line.

When the experiment began, nine of teenagers raised their hand when the teacher pointed to the second longest line. In most instances, the one remaining teenager would glance around, frown in confusion and finally slip his hand up with the rest of the group.

Berenda reported that this conformity occurred in 75% of the cases, and it was true of small children as well as high-school students.

Now, why would someone give up the right answer and go with the wrong one? You know why, because you and I do it every day. We turn our backs on what we know is right simply to be accepted. We want to be liked. We want the other people to think we’re okay, to think we’re normal. And though we know what we’re doing is wrong, we do it anyway, giving into the temptation to conform. Yes, there’s no temptation greater than the one that promises acceptance.

But there’s a second temptation Christ faced that you and I face as well.

II. There is No Temptation Greater Than the One That Avoids Sacrifice.

From the day Christ began his ministry, he knew how it would end. He knew he would save the world by suffering and dying on a Roman cross. He knew his job could only be accomplished by making the supreme sacrifice. But in today’s text Satan offered an easier way, a way that involved no public humiliation, no painful scourging, no hideous cross. He offered the way of no sacrifice.

“Just kneel down and worship me,” said Satan, “and the kingdoms of the world will be yours. No humiliation, no painful scourging, no Roman cross. Just take the easy way out and the kingdoms of earth will all be yours.”

Interestingly, Satan’s voice sounds a lot like the commercials on TV. If you believed the TV commercials you could accomplish everything you want without having to sacrifice a thing.

According to the commercials you can lose ugly fat without diet or exercise. According to the commercials you can take care of your credit problems in one easy call. According to the commercials, you can fill your house with new furniture and pay nothing for it, at least for a while. Yes, the temptation to avoid sacrifice snares so many of us. And when we fall for that temptation, we find ourselves losers in the end.

If you want good health, you’re going to have to sacrifice what you eat and how you live. If you want a good family, you’ll need to sacrifice the way you spend your time. If we want a thriving church, we’ll have to sacrifice our time, our money, and some of our traditions. Yes, the promise of success without sacrifice is always a lie. For there is no crown without a cross, no gain without a loss and no moral victory without the struggle of the soul. Sacrifice has always been God’s way, and when we avoid it, we sadly miss the will of God.

But let’s go back to the text as we find one more temptation, one that may be the greatest of all.

III. There is No Temptation Greater Than the One That Requires Nothing.

So often, we think of temptation as the urge to do wrong; when, in reality, some of our greatest temptations simply ask us to do nothing. These are the temptations James referred to in James 4:17. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and does it not, to him it is sin.

When Satan tempted Jesus he didn’t ask him to do anything hurtful or immoral. He simply asked him to do what seemed to be helpful, or to do nothing at all.

I don’t know about you, but for me, there is no temptation greater than the one that requires nothing.
When I was a teenager, I had a good friend named Clarence. He and I had most of our classes together and Clarence played trombone beside me in the band. Oh, by the way, Clarence was black.

One day, I was riding home from school with a group of my friends and they began talking about the blacks who attended our school. One of them, who played trumpet, was upset because a black trumpeter had gotten first chair. He said, “You know those black boys always get special treatment, but they’re not that good. As far as I’m concerned, they should have never been bussed to our white schools. Things just haven’t been the same since we’ve had to put up with those blacks. (Of course, he didn’t use the word “blacks.”)

Instantly, I thought of my friend Clarence and I knew I should rise to and speak to his defense, but I also knew I was the only one in the car who felt that way. So instead of saying something, I just sat there and said nothing.
On that day in high school I gave into the temptation, not do to something evil or immoral but to do nothing, which sometimes is the greatest evil of all.

Unless I’m mistaken, I bet the temptation to do nothing is one of yours, too. To see wrong, and to stand idly by. To hear words of hate, and remain silent. To see human need and turn the other way. To see justice ignored and continue on without caring. These are the temptations which drag us into sin without asking us to take a step. These are the temptations of omission, of simple neglect, and they’re some of the toughest we face.

What are your temptations? Perhaps the temptations that bother you most are the ones you realize the least. They’re the temptations that promise acceptance, temptations that require no pain. They’re the temptations that ask no evil but simply ask you to do nothing at all. These are the temptations of which you are unaware and by them you fall headlong into sin.

So how do we handle these temptations? We do so by going to Jesus, to the one who was tempted and yet remained without sin. I like what the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 4:15. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin."

Perhaps the old hymn said it best:

Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin;
Each victory will help you, some other to win;
Fight valiantly onward, dark passions subdue;
Look ever to Jesus, He will carry you through.
Ask the Savior to help you, Comfort, strengthen and keep you;
He is willing to aid you. He will carry you through.