Tempted to Believe
Do you use that expression? Tempted to believe? Do you say, "I'm tempted to believe the IRS doesn't know its own tax code?" "I'm tempted to believe the economy is never going to get back on track." I use it, and with this text I mean it literally. I want you to go home today tempted to believe.
The first thing I'm tempted to believe based on this text is that there is no way I can do what Jesus did. I can't do in a community of believers on a full stomach what Jesus did alone in a desert on an empty stomach. I'm tempted to believe if this text is about how to overcome temptation I may as well have stayed home.
Jesus parries the Devil's temptations each time with a quote from Deuteronomy. He uses none of His divine powers He has as God. He uses the very Bible we have but seldom actually use. Each passage Jesus cites is from a time when the Old Testament Church was in the dessert and failed to stand. I'm tempted to believe I'm more like them than Jesus.
Not 2 chapters after the Lord miraculously delivered them from the Egyptians pursuing them, they lusted after the good food they had while enslaved in Egypt. They said, "There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death." You take my physical comforts away or my physical needs aren't satisfied and I rebel right quick against God and His caring for me. If I could have, I would have not only turned stones into bread but into meat, drink, and a flat screen TV.
I'm tempted to believe that there is no way for me to do what Jesus did. What gods wouldn't I worship if they could deliver as promised? 2 Cor. 4:4 calls the Devil "the god of this age." Jesus Himself calls him "the ruler of this world" and "the prince of this world." Faustian deals with the Devil are real. The Old Testament Church was tempted to make them in wilderness. The pagan worship all around them looked grander, more prosperous, and above all else was doable. If you did this, their god would do that. The god of here and now, the god of pleasure, the god of mammon, the god everyone else bows down to quite happily seems a lot better to serve than the God who promises death to self, crosses, and many tribulations.
I'm tempted to believe I can't pass any test involving temptation. How many times do I think, "If God really loved me He would do this or that?" And those Pentecostals who go on about the miracles they see God doing in their life tempt be to believe God is holding out on me. How blasphemous my thought that unless God does what I want when I want or even what He promises when I want, He isn't God.
If going to heaven hinges on my overcoming every temptation, my first lust of the flesh, my first nod to an idol, my first test of God condemns me to hell and to Satan laughing with delight the day the music dies for me. Therefore, I'm tempted to believe that what I won't do, can't do, Jesus did.
Hebrews 4 says Jesus was tempted in all the ways we are. He felt the lust that is like a knife edgy and dull cutting a 6-inch valley through the middle of His soul. He knew temptation that makes your mouth water. His 40 day experience wasn't fun or easy, but soul dunning, body draining, and very tempting. How come I can say this? Because by saying Jesus was tempted in all the ways I am Scripture invites me to know His based on mine.
I'm tempted to believe Jesus went through what I go through with one important exception. Hebrews 4 says He was tempted in all the ways we are, but it concludes by saying "yet without sin." Jesus tells Peter that Satan desired to sift him as wheat. Satan does the same thing to you tempting you with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life, and he finds great big lumps of unbelief, lust, pride, despair. But not in Jesus. In the upper room Jesus says, "The ruler of this world comes, and he has nothing in Me."
When someone makes a Faustian deal with the Devil, the end scene is usually the Devil collecting. Something of his, that man's soul, belongs to the Devil and he pulls and drags the man body and soul into hell, and the man is screaming, begging, dealing all the way. In the text, the Devil is sifting Jesus and he finds nothing of his in Him. The Devil returns at the opportune time of the betrayal, trial, crucifixion, and death of Jesus and still nothing of his is there. No lumps of fearing, loving, or trusting something else more than God. No misusing the name of the Lord. No failure to rely on God's Word.
But Jesus was dragged into hell anyways. Why? All those times you give into temptation, so many that you couldn't recall all of them even from a single day, were put on Jesus. On went that lustful look, that word of gossip, that thought that God is unfair to you, that despairing of His promises. All that unbelief and misbelief were piled high and heavy on Jesus.
You can sum up what happened to Jesus this way: God the Father didn't answer the prayer Jesus taught us to pray when He prayed it. He wasn't given His daily bread for 40 days; He was led into temptation. The text plainly says, "Jesus was led by the Spirit in the desert where He was tempted by the Devil." In fact Jesus was delivered into evil. The last petition of the Lord's Prayer can be translated: "Evil One." Who led Jesus up to a high place? Who led Him to Jerusalem? The Devil, the Evil One.
I'm tempted to believe that Jesus did the impossible. He was put into a rain storm of sin but never got hit by so much as a drop. He was thrown into a mud hole and came out clean. Time and again Jesus proved the Devil had no beachhead in Him, no place to land, no pride, no worry, no lust, no greed from which to base operations. Yet still the Father sent this unsoiled, unspotted, unsullied man to the Devil, and on the cross the Father does what He did here. Abandoned Him. This is no less heartrending than a child calling "Mommy, Mommy" or "Daddy, Daddy" and the parent hearing but not answering let alone coming to help.
That's horrible! And that's the Gospel and I'm tempted to believe it was all for me. The Father abandoned the Son to Devil, cross, damnation, and death, and the Son suffered these for us men and our salvation, for men who are so temptable, so sinful, so contemptible in our sin and sinfulness.
Luther said if a man is alone when tempted he can't overcome temptation either of the flesh or the spirit (LW, 26, 318). And because of Christmas we're never alone. A Luther Christmas hymns says it best: "Oh, then rejoice that through His Son/ God is with sinners now at one;/ Made like yourselves of flesh and blood,/ Your brother is the eternal God./ What harm can sin and death then do?/ The true God now abides with you./ Let hell and Satan rage and chafe,/ Christ is your Brother--ye are safe./ Not one He will or can forsake/ Who Him his confidence doth make./ Let all his wiles the Tempter try,/ You may his utmost powers defy."
Jesus didn't enter the desert or climb up on a cross for His own sake but yours. He didn't need saving you did. He didn't need to withstand temptation or to die miserably, painfully, and damnably on a cross to overcome the Devil. With but a Word, with but a finger flick, with but a thought the perfect God-Man could have defeated the Devil. Be tempted to believe it was for you, in your place, on your behalf, and be tempted to believe it was far more successful than you've ever been led to believe.
Your salvation has never rested on your ability to withstand, overcome, or overpower temptation. It has only and always rested on Jesus, the One who was tempted just like you are everyday but didn't sin. There's not a temptation that you've given into that Jesus did not feel and withstand. Where you have been tempted to unbelief and gave in Jesus did not. Where you have been tempted to lust and gave in, Jesus did not. Where you have been tempted to see God as angry, unloving, and uncaring and did, Jesus did not even when chased about in the desert or hanging helpless on a cross.
So how do you access, have, celebrate, use Jesus' victory over temptation? I'm tempted to believe it can't be through the Law. The more you use words like must,' should,' and had better', the more you empower temptation and the Tempter. Everyone knows this about dieting. The more you tell yourself you must not eat this, you should eat that, and you ought to eat this the deeper the valley cut in your soul and the more your mouth waters. People, pastors, or books that give you the impression you can overcome temptation by something you do whether use the Bible, sing a song, think a happy thought, or have pure ones, are preaching despair or self-righteousness to you, not Christ.
Luther tells how a nun sorely tempted by the Devil would be delivered. She would say, "Christiana Sum!" I am a Christian! Luther says that when the Devil heard that he immediately fled from her (LW, 58, 185). Sounds too good to be true? Here I've been trying to outsmart the Devil, out discipline the Devil, out pious the Devil, and the simple words "I am a Christian" send him running? I'm tempted to believe that it's too good to be true, but this is exactly what Scripture says: James 4:7, "Resist the Devil and he will flee from you," and 1 John 4:4, "Greater is He [Jesus] that it is in you than he [Satan] who is in the world."
I'm tempted to believe that I cannot believe these things too much. I'm tempted to believe that the Devil flees from my Baptism like a vampire from holy water. I'm tempted to believe that the one little Word that fells Satan is "absolvo." I'm tempted to believe that the Body and Blood of Christ that are in me are many times greater than he who is the world. And I'm tempted to believe even if I didn't believe any of this it would still be true, and the Devil knows it. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
First Sunday in Lent (20160214); Luke 4: 1-13