Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ve all heard the prayer that goes,
So far today, I’ve done all right.
I haven’t gossiped, and I haven’t lost my temper.
I haven’t been grumpy, nasty or selfish.
But in a few minutes, God, I’m going to get out of bed
and that is when I’m going to need a lot of help.
Sinning is easy. Nobody has to teach child to lie. Nobody has to teach men to ogle women. Nobody has to teach women to gossip. I had to be taught to cheat on my taxes, but thatâ€™s only because Iâ€™m a slow learner. Not sinning, well, thatâ€™s a little harder. The world around us provides sin, tempts us with sin, and keeps many people in bondage to sin.
In Christ, we are free from the bondage of sin. Why are we free? It is because Christians know the truth, and the truth sets us free. We still sin, of course, but we are no longer slaves to sin. Weâ€™re able to turn away from sin, and more important, we know why to turn away from sin. The sin in our lives has a price; since weâ€™re not perfect, weâ€™re also not worthy on our own to stand before a perfect God. Who paid the price for our sin?
Letâ€™s consider two men who rob a convenience store. Theyâ€™re caught by the police, they are tried by a jury, theyâ€™re convicted of their crime. When itâ€™s time to receive their sentence, the first robber says, â€œYou can set the other robber free. Iâ€™ll serve his punishment.â€
Will the judge set the second robber free?
No; each robber must serve his time. The first robber cannot serve for both because he is guilty and has his own time to serve. Thatâ€™s no different than you and me. Perhaps weâ€™d like to volunteer to take the sins of a father or mother, wife or son, so that they can see heaven, but we canâ€™t do that. Weâ€™re too busy ogling girls and gossiping.
But Jesus is different. He was man, so he could be tempted, but He did not sin. As a man, though, he could take away the sins of another, perhaps. As God, though, He can take away the wins of the world through His sacrifice as a man without sin. Hebrews 2:17-18 says,
â€œFor this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.â€
Is it a sin to be tempted? No, not at all. We live in a world full of temptation, and of course we are tempted. Temptation comes from outside; sin comes from inside. If somebody asks you to lie for them, you havenâ€™t sinnedâ€¦ unless you lie for them.
Was Jesus tempted? And if so, did He sin? And if so, how did He resist sinning? Did He give us an example? Funny you should mention that because weâ€™re studying from the book of Matthew today, so turn to Matthew 3.
While youâ€™re turning there, consider that it is important that Jesus was tempted. For one thing, Jesus had to have free will. Jesus had to have the ability to choose right from wrong. To express his love for the Father, He must have the ability to turn away from love. A faith is made strong when it turns from evil to do good. Innocent faith may be pure, but as we saw in the Garden of Eden, innocent faith is not strong.
Iâ€™d love to spend time on Matthew 3:1-11; there is terrific scripture, fulfilled prophecy, amazing imagery. I want to continue focusing on how Jesus resisted sin, though, so weâ€™ll have to go into detail on these early verses some other time. John the Baptist is preparing the way for the arrival of Jesus, from his â€œvoice of one calling in the desertâ€ to his unique appearance. He wore clothes made out of camel hair, very coarse and ugly, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He was not a normal person, which tells me that God can use abnormal people for important roles. Thereâ€™s hope for me, after all.
John says to the Pharisees and Sadducees in verse 11 that John is baptizing with water for repentance, the forgiveness of sins. There are two other baptisms mentioned here that the one who comes after John will do. Baptism by the Holy Spirit â€“ this is mentioned again in Acts 1:5, and it is the baptism of believers today. When a sinner gives their life to Christ, they become a new creation with the Holy Spirit living inside. The other baptism by Jesus, baptism by fire, is not mentioned in Acts. This baptism refers to the final judgment in Revelation.
And then Jesus arrives to be baptized by water for the forgiveness of sins. Why is Jesus being baptized if He has no sin?
John asks almost the same question in Matthew 3:14. â€œBut John tried to deter him, saying, â€˜I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?â€™â€ John is like, â€œThis isnâ€™t right. I shouldnâ€™t be baptizing God.â€ â€œJesus replied, â€˜Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.â€™ Then John consented. â€
Jesusâ€™ baptism is unique; Jesus is being baptized in obedience to the Father, he is obeying the Law. By being baptized by John, Jesus gives approval to Johnâ€™s ministry, and John in turn provides witness to Jesus as the Son of God. Immediately after baptism, the spirit of God descended like a dove onto Jesus, and God speaks from heaven to say, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Thereâ€™s something unique here, by the way, something more amazing than the visible appearance of the Holy Spirit or the voice from heaven. All three persons of God are present here simultaneously. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
And God says He is well pleased, giving encouragement to His Son and approval of His baptism, and providing the Holy Spirit. Jesus is showing us at this moment the first step toward resisting temptation and leading a sin-free life: obedience. Jesus is obedient to the Lord. Jesus knows what the Law requires, and Jesus is obedient to the Law. What I find very intriguing about this is that Jesus does not put Himself above the law. Jesus is obedient to the Word. The bible isnâ€™t just an interesting book; the Son of God put himself below the Word of God. The first step toward a righteous life of resisting temptation is obedience.
And then, Darth Vader appears. Notice that itâ€™s after baptism and after obedience that the devil appears and offers temptation.
Let me tell you a hunting story. A hunter stops by his friendâ€™s house to ask him to go hunting with him, but he finds his friend groaning, weeping and praying to the Lord for deliverance from the devil. The hunter says to his friend, â€œYou seem to have a good deal of trouble with the devil and he never bothers me at all. And yet you are a good, praying Christian and I am not. Why doesnâ€™t he bother me?â€
His friend replied, â€œLet me explain. When we are out shooting ducks, which do you send the dog after first, the ones that fall dead or the ones that wounded and are trying to get away?â€
The hunter replied, â€œWell, of course, I send the dog after the wounded ones. The dead ones we are sure of and can pick them up later.â€
His friend said, â€œAnd so it is with Satan. He already has those who are not born again. But those that know the Lord are the ones the devil sends his dogs after. The dead ones he can pick up later.â€
The devilâ€™s attack begins when one begins in earnest to do the will of God.
Worldly sin, the sin from the devil, comes from outside. You might remember the old Flip Wilson show in the 70â€™s where Flip would say, â€œThe devil made me do it!â€ The devil doesnâ€™t â€œmakeâ€ us do anything; the devil just gives us opportunities. The devil doesnâ€™t â€œmakeâ€ us eat dessert, does he? He just serves us tres leches on a pretty plate with a little raspberry cream reduction on the side and dusted with powdered sugar, yum. But he doesnâ€™t make us eat it. What we choose and how we choose is up to us and the free will given to us by God. Worldly sin can be divided into three large categories. In 1 John 2:15-17, it says,
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the worldâ€”the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and doesâ€”comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
The three broad categories of sin are â€“
- Cravings of sinful man, or lust of the flesh. This includes primitive, self-satisfying desires. Food desires, lazy desires, sexual desires, alcoholism and drug addictions. Things we want because it feels good.
- Lust of the eyes. This includes the temptation of wealth, the temptations of power, the temptation of coveting our neighborâ€™s stuff. Things we want because they look good.
- Boasting of what one has or does, or the lust of pride. Glamour, looking good, thinking of ourselves more than others. Things we want because â€œwe deserve itâ€.
Want to see how Jesus handled it? Me too. Matthew 4:1-4,
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert 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 does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
This is, of course, the first broad category of sin, the lust of the flesh. Jesus had been in the desert for 40 days fasting. Heâ€™s human, heâ€™s hungry. Gimme food. And Satan tempts Jesus, â€œWhy doesnâ€™t your Father feed you? Why did He put you in this desert, anyway?â€ The devil tries to makes us believe that God doesnâ€™t love us, itâ€™s ok to satisfy our flesh. Eat all we want, have sex all we want, drink all we want, whatever it takes to satisfy us. The devil knows when we take responsibility for satisfying our own flesh, we donâ€™t lean on God.
How did Jesus respond? With scripture. Jesus, just like the people of Israel, wandered in the desert for 40 days. Deuteronomy 8:1-5 says,
Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers. Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.
What tools do we have today to resist temptation? Do we have any tools that Jesus didnâ€™t have? Jesus was able to resist temptation because he kept the Word of God in His heart, ready to quote the Word of God instantly.
We all are tempted, but unlike Jesus, weâ€™re sinners. Sometimes, unfortunately, we give into sin. Thereâ€™s no need to share, but think for a moment about the sin you are struggling with. We all have them; I freely admit Iâ€™m a sinner. Think about your sin; do you know why itâ€™s a sin and what God says about it? Does the bible have instruction about your particular sin? Most importantly, while youâ€™re sinning, what are you thinking about? Yourself, or Godâ€™s Word? Ask yourself this; if you could keep Godâ€™s Word in your heart with memorized scripture, and when you are tempted by sin, repeat that scripture to yourself, would it be easier to resist that sin?
Thatâ€™s exactly what Jesus did to resist temptation. He knew what Godâ€™s Word said, and Godâ€™s Word was Jesusâ€™ shield to resist temptation.
Satan has a comeback; just because youâ€™ve successfully resisted sin one time doesnâ€™t mean youâ€™re free. Satan will double his effort, and worse, Satan has learned from your resistance. Matthew 4:5-7 â€“
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.'”
I find it very disturbing that Satan knows scripture. You see those old horror movies where people hold up a cross or a bible to protect themselves from the devil, thatâ€™s inaccurate. Satan knows scripture, and heâ€™s thrilled to use it against us. Jesus is love, God wants us to be happy, believe in God and you will become wealthy. Satanâ€™s false teachings give rise to cults, weakens the church, teaches legalism and anti-Semitism and how to be intolerant of others. Satan knows scripture; to be honest, he probably knows it better than we do.
If we don’t study and continually learn, we remain ignorant of God and what he wants. The sanctification process isnâ€™t a one time event; we are to continually grow in the spirit for the rest of our lives. It reminds me of a story about a young evangelist walking down his street. As he approached one house, there was an elderly gentleman sitting on the porch. The young evangelist asked the old man, â€œAre you a Christian?â€
The old man said, â€œNo, Iâ€™m a Smith. The Christians lives two doors down.â€
The young evangelist said, â€œYou donâ€™t understand. I mean, are you lost?â€
The old man said, â€œNo, sonny, I ainâ€™t lost. Iâ€™ve lived here for 25 years.â€
The young evangelist said, â€œWhat I mean is, are you ready for the Judgment Day?â€
The old man said, â€œWhenâ€™s it gonna be?â€
The young man said, â€œWell, it could be today, or it could be tomorrow.â€
The old man replied, â€œWell, please don’t tell my wife, ‘cuz she’ll want to go both days.â€
Satan quoted from Psalm 91 but omitted the context; God will indeed protect His children, but Psalm 91 also says that this blessing is for His children who acknowledge Him in all His ways. In fact, Satanâ€™s distortion of scripture sounds suspiciously to me like the â€œname it and claim itâ€ preaching Iâ€™ve occasionally heard. It leaves out an important part of the scripture, the part about obedience to the Lord. The Psalm is addressed to those who rest in the Lord; the Lord will protect those who are doing Godâ€™s will. If Jesus tried to force God to perform a miracle, is that Godâ€™s will?
Jesus knew not only what God said, but how He said it and why He said it. He knew the Word in context. Notice that Jesus says, â€œIt is *also* written.â€ If you take one part of scripture and isolate it, you can prove almost anything you want. My favorite example is flipping through the bible until you find, â€œJudas went and hanged himself,â€ then flipping through the bible and find Jesus saying, â€œGo and do likewise.â€
Jesus responds to Satan with Deuteronomy 6:16, â€œThou shall not tempt the Lord thy God.â€ If we refuse medical care to force God to perform a miracle, is that the way God works? We cannot test God, we cannot force God to perform miracles on our behalf. Scripture tells us to trust and obey the Lord, not boss the Lord around. When we trust in the Lord, we tell God, â€œyou *are* the boss of me.â€
Satan hasnâ€™t given up; he comes back with a third temptation, this time the lust of pride. Matthew 4:8-11,
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.
Jesus knew the will of the Father; Iâ€™m sure the difficulty He faced was knowing the torture, the pain, the sacrifice and crucifixion that was coming. Satan offers a compromise; sure, Jesus, you can be king of the world. Just do it my way. Yeah, you can follow God, but you can follow me, too. You can be king of kings but without all that pain and suffering. Why go through all that? Hereâ€™s a shortcut. The ends justify the means.
And so the devil tempts Jesus by appealing to pride. You can have what you want. Just bend the corners, take a couple of shortcuts. Pride tells us that weâ€™re too important to follow the letter of the law, weâ€™re above all that. Weâ€™re too good for that. Weâ€™re basically good people, arenâ€™t we? And since weâ€™re so good, itâ€™s ok to compromise a little here and there with the world. Itâ€™s ok if men and women live together before marriage, weâ€™re basically good people. Itâ€™s ok to keep that tithe for ourselves, weâ€™re basically good people, the church will accomplish its goals without my little contribution.
I am convinced that this pride and the selfish compromise that accompanies it is the reason why godly people do ungodly things. A little pride in how good we are, a little compromise here and there, and suddenly weâ€™re like Jim Bakker, in jail for embezzling from the PTL in order to keep a mistress quiet, guilty of tax fraud, embezzling, and racketeering. Heâ€™s since confessed and repented, wrote a book called â€œI Was Wrongâ€ and all the money given back to the PTL. Heâ€™s denounced his â€œprosperity teachingâ€ and heâ€™s been forgiven, but the damage was done, wasnâ€™t it? A little pride in how good we are, a little compromise here and there, and suddenly weâ€™re like Jimmy Swaggert, caught with a prostitute, and telling his congregation that the good Lord told him that it was none of their business. Christians are especially vulnerable to pride and compromise with the devil; we can convince ourselves that our sin is ok because, other than that, weâ€™re doing the Lordâ€™s work. Weâ€™re basically good people.
But weâ€™re not basically good people, weâ€™re sinners. We need a savior because weâ€™re all guilty as sin. That little secret you and I have, that little whatever we are doing and justifying and compromising with the devil is *not* ok with God. Eventually, that sin against God will be exposed. Either God will expose it to show light upon our darkness, or the devil will expose it to reduce our effectiveness and do his best to thwart Godâ€™s will. The ends do not justify the means, and we are not better that.
How did Jesus combat the sin of pride and compromise? Again, Jesus used scripture and he used it in context and it was ready and in His heart. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13, â€œWorship the Lord your God, and serve him only.â€ Jesus didnâ€™t need Satanâ€™s offer; while the world may be ruled by Satan, God is the maker of everything and the one truly in control. Psalm 2:8, the Lord says, â€œAsk of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.â€ What the devil promised wasnâ€™t even the devilâ€™s to give; it belonged to the Lord. The devil isn’t the lord of nations; the devil is the lord of plumbing. If you don’t believe me, let me tell you about our hot water heater, our upstairs bathroom, and our kitchen sink this week. Jesus avoided compromise, knew Godâ€™s Word, and was obedient unto death. No shortcuts are acceptable when doing the will of God.
“Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” In Luke’s account of the temptations, Luke 4:13, it says, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” If we know God’s Word, we can protect ourselves from the devil… for a time. Angels do the will of the father, and just as they attended to Jesus, they attend to us, too, when we are doing the will of God. But Satan regroups, learns, and attacks again. If Satan isn’t planning an attack on you, then ask yourself, “Why isn’t Satan worried about me? Why isnâ€™t Satan trying to pick up this wounded duck? Doesnâ€™t he consider me a threat to his evil plans?â€
If Satanâ€™s attacking, itâ€™s ok. Itâ€™s not a sin to be tempted, it really isnâ€™t. Itâ€™s how we respond to that temptation that matters; we prepare by being obedient to His Word, we give our life and trust the Lord; we study His word and treasure it in our hearts. We continually grow and seek Our Creatorâ€™s will in our lives, we memorize scripture and apply it appropriately in context. When weâ€™re appropriately prepared, then we can successfully resist the temptations that are sure to come. Thanks be to Jesus who gave us this powerful example of how to resist the temptations of the flesh, the temptations of the eyes, and the temptations of compromise and pride.