When we hear the word “temptation” we think of being tempted to do something we’re not supposed to do. Think of all the movies about the devil trying to get human beings to do what he wants them to do. The devil always figures out what a person desires most and then offers to give it to him if he’ll do what the devil wants. Of course, what the devil wants you to do is always something you’re not supposed to do – he wants you to do something bad. So, in order to get what you desire, you have to do something bad. Therein lies the dilemma of dealing with the devil.
I want to point out to you, though, the fact that temptation is not always about being tempted to do something bad. Sometimes, we’re tempted to do things that are good. For example, your neighbor is ill and you’re tempted to offer to help her until she gets back on her feet. That’s a good thing!
Not all temptation is bad. Some temptation is good. So, how do we tell the difference? Madeleine L’Engle, the Christian author, wrote, “We daily have to make choices between good and evil, and it is not always easy, or even possible, to tell the difference between the two.” Today, we’re going to look at the difference between the two.
The gospel lesson tells us that Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit after being baptized in the Jordan River, “was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil” (4:1-2).
The devil tempted Jesus three times. First, he tempted him with food, because Jesus had nothing to eat for forty days and was famished: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread” (4:3). Second, he tempted him with power: “Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority” (4:5-6). Third, he tempted him by questioning his identity: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone’” (4:9-11).
So, the devil tempted Jesus with physical comfort, with power, and with pride. In each instance of temptation, the implication was that Jesus didn’t have what he needed to be all right. In the first instance, the implication was the he didn’t have enough food. In the second instance, the implication was that he didn’t have enough power. And, in the third instance, the implication was that he didn’t have enough confidence in who he was. You see, the devil was operating from a position of scarcity, trying to get Jesus to believe that he didn’t have enough of whatever it was he needed to be okay.
But Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit and so guided by the Holy Spirit, didn’t fall for the devil’s tricks. Jesus knew without a doubt who he was, that he was God’s beloved Son, so the devil couldn’t tempt him by questioning his identity. Jesus knew that, as God’s Son, he had access to the power of God, which was all he would ever need, so the devil couldn’t tempt him with worldly power. And Jesus knew that, as God’s Son, his life was in God’s hands and that he wouldn’t perish in the wilderness from hunger, so the devil couldn’t tempt him with food.
Try as he might, the devil couldn’t get Jesus to believe his lie that Jesus wasn’t enough or didn’t have enough. Jesus knew that he was enough and that he had enough because he knew he was the beloved Son of God.
That’s how we tell the difference between temptation that is of the devil and temptation that is of God. We tell by how we respond to the temptation. Are we responding out of a sense of not being or having enough, out of a sense of scarcity? Or are we responding out of a sense of being and having enough, out of a sense of abundance?
Why are teenagers tempted to do things that are bad for them, like smoke or do drugs? Because they don’t believe they’re good enough just as they are. They believe that they have to do what is “cool” or “hip” in order to be okay. It doesn’t matter that they may end up with throat or lung cancer or with an addiction problem. They’ve fallen prey to the lie that they’re not enough, so they’re willing to risk their lives to try to make up for a lack that doesn’t even exist in the first place.
Why are women tempted to starve themselves to attain an unrealistic ideal of beauty? Because they don’t believe they’re enough just as they are. They believe they have to look the way the prevailing ideal of beauty tells them they have to look, even if it means that they risk malnutrition. They’ve fallen prey to the lie that they’re not enough, so they’re willing to risk their lives to try to make up for a lack that doesn’t even exist in the first place.
Why do men have to deny their feelings and act tough? Because they don’t believe they’ll be “real men” if they show the feelings they have naturally. They believe that they have to fit into the prevailing ideal of manhood in order to be okay. It doesn’t matter that they may become emotionally or psychologically unbalanced, flying into fits of rage or falling into a deep depression. They’ve fallen prey to the lie that they’re not enough, so they’re willing to risk their lives to try to make up for a lack that doesn’t even exist in the first place.
The truth is we are enough and we have enough. When we’re tempted to believe that that’s not true, we’re being tempted by the devil – or by destructive energy or whatever you want to call it if you’re not comfortable calling it the devil. Evil stems from a sense of lack, a position of scarcity, the belief that either we aren’t enough or we don’t have enough. Good stems from a sense of plenty, a position of abundance, the belief that either we are enough or we have enough. As Madeleine L’Engle puts it, “Whenever we make a choice of action, the first thing to ask ourselves is whether it is creative or destructive. Will it heal, or will it wound? Are we doing something to make ourselves look big and brave, or because it is truly needed?”
An Ash Wednesday reflection I read stated, “Lent ends with the day of Resurrection, when even death has no hold on us. Jesus was freed from the tomb and alive forever. It follows that Lent should prepare us for that freedom. . . . God gives us freedom, but we need to prepare ourselves to receive it . . .” And we prepare ourselves by “struggling to overcome the forces and temptations that stand in our way.”
As we journey through the Lenten season toward freedom, struggling to overcome the forces and temptations that stand in our way, we must remember that we are enough and that we have enough.
We must remember who we are and what we have. We must remember that we are beloved children of God, baptized into death and resurrection with Jesus, and filled with the Holy Spirit. We must remember, and when the devil tempts us, we will see the temptation for what it is: a lie. Let us stand firm in the truth of who we are and what we have, and we will reach the day of Resurrection and claim the freedom that is our inheritance as a child of God. Amen.
Sermon preached by the Rev. Amy Johnson at the Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, February 21, 2016, the First Sunday in Lent.
 “A Dose of Wonder.” In Glimpses of Grace. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, 65.