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Toshiki Toma

Temptation vs Force of the Lord

14. febrúar 2016

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. -Amen.

It seems we have just celebrated Christmas a short time ago, but we have already entered Lent, namely the period when we especially think over and meditate the journey of Jesus to the cross on the hill of Golgotha (Calvary). And we begin Lent by spending time together with Jesus as he goes out to wilderness and is tempted by the Devil.

Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “…Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil…” The original word of “temptation” in Greek has two usages. One usage is “temptation” in its usual meaning, and another is more like “trial” or “trouble”.

We may understand “temptation” as something that tries to make us apart from the way that God has prepared for us.

So Jesus taught us to pray not to encounter temptation. Nevertheless, in Lent we contemplate how Jesus dared to go and meet temptation by the Devil. Why does Jesus dare to be tempted instead of avoiding it?

This had happened just before Jesus began proclaiming the Gospel to the people, so it looks like as if this temptation were a final exam for Jesus as the Messiah.

But it wasn’t like that. Jesus dared to meet the temptation of the Devil on our behalf, because he knows that we meet temptation though we pray not to meet it. He wanted to show us how to fight against temptation.

What Jesus teaches us through the fight against the Devil’s temptation in the wilderness is, if I may summarize shortly, the following. Firstly, it is “To listen to the word of God”. Secondly, “Not to misuse God”. And finally, “To worship and serve God”.

Each of those points is actually a big theme, and we could discuss it for hours. But let us simply remember those three points as guideline to fight against temptation: “Listen to word of God; do not misuse God; worship and serve God”.

Temptation is the bait that seduces us to sin. So it is an evil thing itself, but it doesn’t necessarily look like an evil thing or bad thing. When the snake seduced Eve to take the apple from tree, how was it?

The Bible says: “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes …”(Gen. 3:6)

Temptation appears most often when we want something strongly, when we are really in need of something. What was the Devil’s first temptation for Jesus?

“And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’ ’’ (Mat. 4:2-3)

Jesus became hungry after 40 days fasting, and the Devil talks about bread. This is the temptation.

When we want something badly, or are in real need, we know that we are vulnerable to temptation. Add to this that we have our personal flaws, such as greed. Greed means here not only greed for money, but also greed for power, fame or for sex. When we are in trouble, and when we are greedy, we wish something very strongly.

So if we see things from the side of the tempter, those occasions are the most opportune times to tempt someone, seduce someone from the way of God. I have no way to measure the temptation in the world, but when I look around me, I think I may say that 80% of temptation to human persons are related either to our problems or our greed.

Now I want to think a bit more about the temptations we meet when we are in desperate trouble, because such emergencies are more urgent than in the case of greed.

When we are in trouble, of course we look for a solution. We wish that the trouble would be dismissed. People applying for asylum need positive responses from authority. People who are suffering difficult illness wish to get cured. An unemployed father of family desperately needs to get a job to take care of his family.

Some people are ready to use those situations as opportunities to tempt the people. For example in Japan, there are many patients suffering diseases who are tempted by dubious religious groups.
These groups sell promises of healing in exchange for a certain offering to the group. Such people are of course swindlers. Or an unemployed man might be tempted by an under-the-table job, or even by some criminal activity.

These are rather typical examples, but there is also low-profile temptation, too.
For example, to envy others is also a trap of temptation. In the asylum application issue, some applicants get refugee status, others might get humanitarian resident permit. But there are more people who are rejected and sent out of Iceland.

And I find it difficult to understand why this person has been accepted with humanitarian reason, but not that person, because their situations look quite similar to my eyes. I ask sometimes if it is not unfair treatment.
In such a situation there is a temptation for a rejected applicant to envy those who have got accepted. It is very human thing and I cannot blame anyone for feeling it.

Nevertheless it is temptation. It is a sin to envy others. It won’t bring anything good to us, just makes us more miserable and depressed.

When we are in trouble, we are in a weak position. Even a rich, powerful man can be in a weak position if, for instance, he has poor health. And temptation appears around our human weakness.

We can see two types of human weakness. One is a situational weakness, being in a weak position because of external causes, such as being a refugee or being unemployed. The other type is the weakness that arises from within, from a person’s nature.

I have already mentioned greed: being greedy is a kind of human weakness that coming from a person’s nature or personality. Addiction to gambling or alcohol is also this type of weakness.

All of us have some kind of human weakness, because of our nature and personality, or because of the situation in which we are trapped. And temptation targets our weak points.

So it is good to know what are our human weaknesses are, in order to fortify ourselves against temptation. It’s a battlefield. We have to confront the temptation by counting on the Word of God and obeying God without trying to misuse God.

To misuse God is, for example, when we ask God for a wish but it doesn’t come true, and if we respond with something like: “Oh, God doesn’t hear my prayer, then I don’t need God”.
This is an example of misusing God. God is not a vending machine. We can’t expect our wishes to come true as easily as buying a soft drink or a candy bar.

Here is one thing that is important. If temptation targets our weak points and we are forced to fight against them with our prayers, power and grace from God also appears there the most.

As I mentioned earlier, today is the beginning of Lent. The Lenten season will end when we remember the death of Jesus on the cross on the hill of Calvary. The night before Jesus was arrested, he went to the garden of Gethsemane and said, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death.”(Mat.26:37)

Jesus also had weakness: he was scared to be taken to the cross, and had to fight against the temptation of running away. Jesus prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”(Mat. 26:39)

And then he could continue to walk the way to the cross, obeying the will of God the Father; and his task of the salvation of us sinners was done. Exactly at the moment Jesus fought against temptation and prayed, the power and grace of God were also given.

St. Paul says the same thing in his own words: “… but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses.”(ⅡCor.12:5) “… and he (Christ) has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. … when I am weak, then I am strong.”(ⅡCor.12:9-10)

We don’t have to be afraid of meeting temptation. We don’t have to be ashamed of our weaknesses. When we pray from our weaknesses, we can receive sufficient grace from God.

And at that time, God gives you even special power. When you stand up and speak from your battle against temptation, from human weakness, your voice has strength. Just as the words of Jesus in the wilderness expelled the Devil, your words have force to move things into love and justice, through the name of Jesus Christ.

So do not afraid to stand up and speak out from your battle against temptation, from your human weakness. When we are weak, then we are strong. That is our privilege as followers of Christ.

Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Amen.

Text: Genesis 3:1-7

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’”

The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written,
‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and *said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command His angels concerning You’;
‘On their hands they will bear You up,
So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

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