Father, we thank you for the privilege gathering in your name today. And I asked that your word would accomplish in us that for which you sent it, that we might be more transformed into your image, and we might live into what it is to be your ambassadors to the world around us, we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
Well, good morning. I begin with a bit of a disclaimer today. And the disclaimer is this, that this sermon will not be relevant for everyone here today, because I’m only going to be addressing the issue of temptation. So if you are beyond that, I encourage you still to take notes for the person next to you.
For the rest of us, temptation is something we should talk about, because Scripture talks about temptation. In the midst of this giant Bible we have, we get only three chapters into it before we come across temptation and sin. And even in the midst of Mark’s gospel, which is this profound account of what Jesus did, we get only three paragraphs into it before we encounter Jesus being tempted out in the desert.
Temptation Versus Sin
So what we’re going to look at today is this idea of temptation. And the first thing we have to understand about temptation is that temptation is not the same as sin. Temptations are invitations to sin, but think of it this way, getting a wedding invitation in the mail is different than actually going to a wedding. After receiving the invitation, there is still a choice to make about whether or not you are going to show up at the wedding. And in much the same way, temptation in and of itself is not sin. But temptation is the invitation that can lead to sin.
If you want a picture of this out of Scripture, I would point you to Genesis 4. In it, Cain was jealous of his brother Abel, Cain was tempted to do something in the midst of his jealousy. And then God said this to Cain:
“Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
That’s a great picture of temptation. See, outside the door is sin. Sin is is knocking; it’s deceptive. It’s hiding. It wants you to open the door, but sin is still on the outside. It is temptation that wants you to open the door and let sin in. Now sadly, Cain did not rule over sin. Instead, sin ruled over Cain. Cain open that door, sin entered, and Cain killed his brother. So if you are tempted, realize that temptation in and of itself is not sin. Instead, when you are tempted, there is a moment in which you have a choice about whether or not to open that door to sin.
The First Lie Of Temptation
So then the question becomes, what do we do when we’re tempted? Well, when we are tempted, the first thing we must realize is that we are not alone in our temptations. One of the great lies that accompanies temptation says that when we are tempted, we are the only ones who are tempted in that way; that you alone are isolated, and no one else would understand what you are going through in your circumstances. But the truth in the midst of any temptation is that you are not alone. You are part of the body of Christ; you’re part of the church. As we gather together, we gather to worship, to study Scripture, to pray for one another, and to encourage one another in fellowship and relationship. One of the reasons we desire everyone at St. Helena to have a belonging group, a place to belong, is for you to be supported when you are in a place of being tempted, and for you to support and encourage others when they are tempted.
Scripture reminds us that we are not alone in our temptations.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.
1 Corinthians 10:13a
Paul’s words reminds us that there is no temptation that comes upon us that others have not experienced. And while there’s some comfort in that, Paul continues with even better news.
God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:13b
So it’s not just about setting up a support group to talk about our temptations. Instead, Paul reminds us that God is faithful and will provide a way of escape. Many times the ways of escape the Lord provides are one another. We support one another and pray for one another.
Remembering that we are not alone in our temptation is not just about fellowship with one another, though. More importantly, it’s also remembering that no matter where we may go, no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in, the Lord Jesus is there with us as well.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Jesus Christ, our great high priest, can sympathize with us in our weaknesses, and in our temptations. And it is also the same Jesus Christ, our great high priest, who we can fully trust to lead us because though he was tempted, he never opened that door to sin. So temptation should never shame us away from the Lord. If anything, when facing temptation, we should approach the Lord; to go to the Lord with our temptation. So first, when you are tempted, remember that you are not alone.
The Second Lie Of Temptation
But in order to truly overcome our temptations, we have to understand what temptation is. From what Scripture shows us, before temptations manifest and become a sinful act, temptation is first an attack on our identity. Let me explain. From the reading today, we heard that after his baptism, Jesus was immediately led into the desert where he was tempted. That sequence is important for us to acknowledge that he first was baptized and then was tempted. Think of what happened at Jesus’s baptism: his identity was declared to be clear for both he and everyone around to understand who Jesus was. As Jesus came up out of the water, he heard his father’s voice say, “You are my beloved son. With you I am well pleased.” His identity was clear and secure. He was the beloved Son of God.
But notice how Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness. Now, Mark’s gospel doesn’t give the specific account of the temptations, but if you look at either Matthew or Luke’s account, Satan began each temptation by saying to Jesus, “if you are the Son of God.” So the very thing that was declared over Jesus, that he is the Son, is the entry point for temptation. When Satan was saying, “if you are the Son,” he’s saying in other words, “if you are the Son of God, prove it. If you are the Son of God, why would your Father want you to be hungry? If he loves you, why don’t you just turn these stones into bread? If you are the Son of God, then throw yourself down from the temple. And if your father really loves you, he’ll catch you. if you are the Son of God, then bow down to me, and I will give you all these kingdoms in their glory. Because why would you want your Father to put you through all the suffering he has planned for you?”
You see each temptation had with it an action that the devil wanted Jesus to do, but behind the tempting action was actually an attack on Jesus’s identity. “If you are the Son of God.” What we need to understand when we are tempted is that the devil uses the same strategy with each one of us. The devil wants us to believe a lie about who we are, and whose we are, because the devil wants us to reject the identity and security that God offers us.
Top To Bottom
Never forget, our identity as Christians is not from what we do. Our identity in God is given as a gift. We see this throughout Scripture. Just as God established a relationship with Noah through the covenant God made with him, God has offered us the relationship made through a covenant as well. It’s the new covenant in and through Jesus Christ. We read in Hebrews 4:15 that Jesus is our great sympathizer. He understands our temptations, but there’s even better news in Hebrews 4:16.
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Consider those words. We are instructed to approach, to draw near, to the throne of grace.
Mark’s gospel actually gives us a really neat insight into what that means, to enter, to draw near to the throne of grace. Remember what Mark wrote around Jesus’s baptism. He wrote,
And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.
The heavens were torn open. In other words, there was no divide between the heavens and Jesus, as the Holy Spirit came and rested on him. The heavens being torn open demonstrated the access that Jesus had to his heavenly Father. And that access Jesus had to his heavenly Father defined Jesus’s ministry for the next three years. Scripture tells us that Jesus only did what he saw the Father doing, and he only said what he heard the Father saying. Jesus proclaimed and demonstrated the reality of the kingdom of heaven, because he was so intimately connected to it.
Now, three years after the tearing open of the heavens at Jesus’s baptism, Mark records one other tearing in Mark 15. As Jesus hung dying on the cross, Mark wrote,
And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
In the temple the curtain separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. The temple curtain was this this heavy fabric, this massive curtain made several inches thick that protected the Holy of Holies, which was where God’s presence was. It was a place that only the high priests had very limited access to. But as Jesus breathed his last, that curtain of separation tore, and it tore top to bottom. It tore from God to the people; it tore from heaven to earth, so that all of God’s people would have access to his presence.
as Jesus’s identity was established when the heavens were torn open at his baptism, our identity as Christians was established when that temple curtain was torn in two. We, as the people of God, now have access to our Heavenly Father, and our access to the throne of grace is not because of what we have done, but because of what Jesus did in our place. That is, he took on our sin, He gave us his righteousness, and it is because of that righteousness he gave us that now we can confidently approach that throne of grace.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
In any way that you are tempted, realize it is first an attack on your identity as God’s child. When you face temptation, remember whose you are: you are a beloved child of God, and you can confidently approach the throne of grace to go to your heavenly Father with that temptation.
Truth Overcomes Lies
Lastly, temptations attempt to separate us from God’s truth. To give into a temptation is to believe a lie. And to overcome a lie, you must first know the truth. Jesus said this in John 8.
So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
That is why the Word of God is so important. When we are facing temptation, the Word of God is the truth about who God is, and who he says we are. When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, notice how he responded to each temptation. As the devil came to him and said, “if you are the Son of God…if you are the Son of God…if you are the Son of God,” Jesus’s rebuttal was, “it is written…it is written…it is written.” He quoted Scripture. When Jesus was presented with a lie, Jesus trusted the truth of the Word. And each time Jesus overcame the lie by proclaiming the truth of Scripture. It’s no accident that when Paul wrote to the Ephesians instructing them to put on the full armor of God, his first instruction was to fasten on the belt of truth. And what is our weapon in the midst of battle? Paul tells us to take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Friends, the better we know the Word, the more we will know the truth, and the easier it will be to discern the lies of temptation.
There’s a Christian musician named David Crowder. Some of the youth went and saw him last year in Daytona. He actually had a concert up in Charleston on Friday night. One of his newest songs is called Run Devil Run. He wrote it because for many years, he felt as though he were being chased by the enemy, that he was being stalked and that the devil had the upper hand in all of the temptations that he faced. But then one day Crowder began to stand on the truth of Scripture. And when he stood on the word, not only did Crowder no longer feel as though he were being chased by the devil, but he now realized that standing on the truth of Scripture caused the devil to flee; caused the devil to run. This is the bridge of this song of celebration, the declaration of his faith:
I got the King of kings and the Lords of hosts
I got angel armies and the Holy Ghost
I got spirit filled, baptized by fire
I got a valley of bones that came alive
I got a cross, a hill, and an empty grave
I got a trumpet sound and one sweet name
Shake the gates of hell, it’s finished and done
I got my Jesus and the devil gotta run
I got my Jesus and the devil gotta run. Friends, when you are tempted, you are not alone. Not only are we called to support one another, encourage one another, but you also can confidently approach the throne of grace. You have an advocate in and through Jesus Christ, the righteous. When you are tempted, remember the truth of who you are, and whose you are. Because Jesus has you, and when you have Jesus, the devil gotta run.
Defined By The Love Of God
I want to close by sharing with you a story about a boy named Josh. I was Josh’s youth minister for a few years back in Wisconsin. Josh was adopted at birth. He had incredible, loving, adoptive parents. But Josh’s childhood was filled with struggle and with rebellion. He never quite felt like he fit in and he was always looking for acceptance in all the wrong ways. From a young age, Josh knew he was adopted. At one point, his parents presented him with his adoption certificate in a frame. Josh took that certificate and put it under his bed.
in his early teen years, Josh became fixated with finding his birth parents. His adoptive parents were supportive in this. And after a few years of searching, Josh finally made contact with his birth parents who lived several states away. And when Josh turned 17, he made arrangements to fly and spend one week with his birth parents. And he was so excited.
We had youth group that week, the week before Josh left to go meet his birth parents. We prayed for Josh, we pray that he would have a real sense of God going with him. And I remember Josh saying something like I finally get to see where I came from. I will finally understand who I am. After flying out and being with his birth parents for only two days. Josh changed his flights and came back several days early. Nothing bad happened. It just wasn’t what Josh had built it up to be.
Now this is what’s interesting. When Josh returned home to his adoptive parents, he said the first thing he did was he went up to his room, he got out that framed adoption certificate from under his bed, and he hung it up on his wall. For the first time in his life, wondering what else was out there didn’t define Josh. For the first time in his life, he accepted the love that he was being offered, not because of what he could do, but because of whose he was.
Friends, that’s a picture of you and me. From that moment on when Josh got back from looking for his birth parents, he was transformed. He became a completely new young man because of the security he accepted from the love of his adoptive parents and friends. That’s us in our decision to accept the Father’s love, as demonstrated once and for all through Jesus Christ.
That’s what this season is about. In the midst of Lent, as we acknowledge our sins, as we acknowledge the ways that we are tempted, that despite those things, we are first and foremost defined by the love of our God. And he invites us every day to say yes to the adoption that as John wrote, it would be true not only in our lives, but in our hearts, that we can be called children of God.
Would you pray with me. Father, we thank you for the privilege of gathering around your word. It is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword. And I pray, Lord, that we would have a renewed sense of being invited to your throne of grace, that we would set aside all the merits we have accumulated in this world, and that we would come as your children to know your loving embrace this day, and in the days to come. And I pray, Lord, for us, as a church that when we speak to those outside of here, family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, that we would also speak that same message of hope, the good news that you have done a great work that none of us could do on our own. May we say yes to the invitation, yes to being your children. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.