Temptation is real.  Satan is real.  We know because we heard about it in the Gospel lesson this past Sunday.  Three out of the four Gospels record the event when Satan personally tempted Jesus.  The purpose of this post is really to talk about temptation in more detail because I couldn’t fit it into this week’s sermon.  So where does temptation come from?  Who or what tempts us?

To tell you the truth, Satan probably rarely tempts us on a one-on-one basis.  Satan cannot be in all places at once.  Only God is omnipresent (present everywhere).  There are a couple places in Scripture that confirm the devil is not omnipresent.  James says tells us to “resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).  The last verse of Sunday’s Gospel lesson also confirms this, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13).  Also see Matthew 4:3, 11 and Job 1:7-12.  There are only a few cases in Scripture that talk about Satan tempting people directly—Adam/Eve, Job, and Jesus just to name a few.  Though Satan is not omnipresent, as an angel he has more power than we do.  Angels are spirits and they are able to move differently than we do.  Angels are not spatially limited like us.  So Satan might be able to jump from place to place very quickly.

On Sunday I talked about Satan tempting us with three different weapons: the poison of doubt, the concealed handgun of lies, and the booby trap of God’s Word.  The reason I referred to Satan tempting us with those things is because ultimately Satan is the author of evil—ultimately he is the originator of those temptations.

As the originator of evil, Satan is also the leader of his army of minions.  Not the cute minions from Despicable Me, but evil and dangerous demons.  More often than not it is one of those demons tempting us directly.  C. S. Lewis in his book, The Screwtape Letters, illustrates this concept.  Also whenever the New Testament writers talk about the devil tempting us, they could be talking just like many people do in war situations.  Just one example: During WWII when the Germans attacked, sometimes reporters would say “Hitler” attacked.  When the army attacks, the leader is often credited.

Satan doesn’t just work through his demons; he also works through things and other sinful people in the world.  There are countless places in the Bible where it talks about unbelievers or things tempting believers.  Money and possessions are often very tempting.  They cause a sinful desire of greed to arise inside someone.  “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9).  Sex is very tempting when not used in a godly manner.  Sexual immorality is often warned against in the Bible.  Solomon in Proverbs warns young men about the temptation of a prostitute.  He talks about a time when he saw a man being tempted and lured by a prostitute on the street, “With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk” (Proverbs 7:21).  Take a look at Proverbs 5-7 for more details and context.  Money and sex are just a couple things from the world that tempt us.

Yet the devil doesn’t even need to use his demons or the world to tempt us because he has a traitor—a mole inside our very walls.  Every Christian has their sinful nature living inside them.  “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed” (James 1:14).  Our own thoughts and desires tempt us from the inside out.  We think about something sinful and sometimes that thought leads us to search for that sinful action. “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:15).  A grudge can turn into anger, anger into hatred, hatred into hurtful words, and hurtful words into violent actions.  Between Satan, his demons, the world, and our sinful nature, there are so many things that can tempt us.

Yet we must never say God is tempting us.  God does not tempt us to do evil.  Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation.”  Martin Luther has a very good explanation to this petition, “God surely tempts no one to sin, but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world and our flesh may not deceive us or lead us into false belief, despair and other great and shameful sins; and though we are tempted by them, we pray that we may overcome and win the victory.”  Scripture clearly says, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (James 1:13). 

God tests us.  There is a difference between tempt and test.  God tests us so that our faith would be strengthened in him.  That testing is for our benefit.  Think of the account where God tested Abraham when he told him to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Genesis 22).  Peter uses the illustration of gold being refined by fire.  He compares that illustration with our faith—that trials and temptations refine our faith.  “Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7-8).  God uses those tests for the good of our faith.

Yet temptation is everywhere!  It’s attacking us from every side and not just from the outside but from the inside too.  There are so many enemies against us trying to pull us away from God.  Is our battle hopeless?  Do we live our lives in fear of the next temptation?  Absolutely not!  “Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

God prepares us for those attacks of temptation.  Like a soldier who goes out for battle, he gives us the protection and weapons we need: “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:11-17).

God not only prepares us for these temptations, but he gives us comfort as well.  Paul tells us, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).  What a great comfort!  God gives us the ability to defeat every temptation through our faith in him.  God gives us the ability, yet too often we do fall back into temptation by our own fault.  When we realize our failure and acknowledge our guilt, there is comfort again waiting for us.  “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).  The writer to the Hebrews points us back to when Jesus was tempted by the devil and also to his whole sinless life.  Jesus’ perfection makes up for our failures.

Dear Christian, live your life confidently as you face these temptations every day.  Yes, we are not perfect, nor will we ever be in this world.  Yes, we will fall into temptation in the future.  But don’t let that discourage you.  The Apostle Paul faced temptation too.  And guess what…he fell too.  Just look at Romans 7:15-25.  Yet Paul did not fear or despair in life.  He pressed forward.  He moved on from his past failures.  You can press on confidently as well.  Take Paul’s attitude and word to heart: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).

Here are this Sunday's readings for your worship preparation:

The First Lesson - Jeremiah 26:8-15
Despite his enemies, Jeremiah pressed on to preach the Word of God to the people.  Jeremiah was determined to stand firm on the Word of God, even if it meant death.

The Second Lesson - Philippians 3:17-4:1
Despite our enemies, we press on to reach out goal--heaven.  In the cross of Christ we find the determination to stand firm on the truth until the end.

The Gospel Lesson - Luke 13:31-35
Despite his enemies, Jesus pressed on in his journey to the cross. Jesus was determined to stand firm so he could save us.