Luke 4: 1-11
My life of crime began when I took a small plastic car from McCrory’s 5 & 10 cent store on Eighth Ave. in Homestead PA. I didn’t do it on purpose. I think I just put it in my pocket when my Mom said it was time to leave the store for the bus. I discovered the toy long after I had left the store. I do remember thinking easy it was to steal. So I did it again, from time to time.
The gas cap was stolen from my car, I spotted another car like mine, even the same color, so in the darkness borrowed it. I say borrowed, because it bothered me. A few days later, also in darkness, I put it back.
This career in periodic petty crime ended came to an end in 12th grade when I was victimized by another who had higher stakes than my own. All my Christmas gifts were locked in my car on my way to the family celebration after Christmas Eve Service. They were stolen. I felt angry and violated. The worst part was in the giving of gifts that night, all I could do was say was it was to have been.
I learned a lesson, and was thankful no one discovered earlier my ways. I still do inappropriate things; don’t we all? But I haven’t given in to theft for over fifty years.
Temptation is so subtle. We are given a glimpse of something that we want, or something we think we really need or something we think we really deserve. And then our mind starts to work on us.
• “If I write notes on my hand I’ll do better on that chemistry exam.”
• “Other guys have new “this or that”, why shouldn’t I have one?”
• “If I don’t report this income on my taxes, I’ll save thousands!”
• “If I take just one drink, I’ll relax, loosen up; have more fun.”
When we yield to temptation, the next time is even easier. We reason that “I did it once, one more time won’t hurt” and we give in to temptation again. Soon we don’t even bother with the formality of inner-conflict; we “just do it.” We’re not proud of it, we still know its wrong, but we don’t stop…or we can’t.
In his book The Screwtape Letters, author C.S. Lewis describes the relationship between Screwtape, a “high ranking officer in the devil’s army,” and a “devil in training” whose name is Wormwood, and who happens to be the nephew of Screwtape. Wormwood’s assignment is to lure one suspect away from his faith in God, using all the tricks that the devil has in his arsenal. Early in the assignment, Screwtape writes this:
“My dear Wormwood, the first thing is to delay as long as possible the moment which he realized this new pleasure is a temptation. You will say that these temptations are merely very small sins. That is true, but it doesn’t matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to lead the man out of Light and into our darkness.”
“Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
God warned Adam and Eve; he told them that, for their own safety. But then the tempter went to work. “C’mon Eve, didn’t God say you could have it all?”
“Well yes,” said Eve. “But that tree is off-limits. God says if we eat from it, we will die.”
“You’re not going to die! God’s just jealous because it will make you as smart as he is. It looks delicious doesn’t it, that fruit. And you deserve it. You’ve been working hard in this garden, naming all the animals, and aren’t you just a little bit curious about how this apple would taste?”
“Well, I suppose you’re right,” said Eve. “One little bite wouldn’t hurt.” And she bit, and then she brought it to her husband, and said “Look, I took a bite and I’m fine. Try it.” And he bit. And immediately sin swept into their lives. Immediately they did die, spiritually. The choice they made separated them from God.
This time it was only a little different. “Psst! Jesus. If you are God, turn these rocks into hamburger buns. Come on Jesus, can you prove you’re God or not?” The tempter now begins the tease. “Hey Jesus, let’s try something fun. Jump off of this cliff. If you’re God, you can fly. Come on, show me.” That didn’t work, so the devil tries a different tease; “Hey Jesus, look at all the wealth and power the world has to offer, and I’ll give it all to you, Jesus, if you’ll just get on your knees and say that I am your hero.”
No matter how hard the devil teased Jesus, he wouldn’t have any of it.
What about us? The teasers in this world look very attractive. New cars, pretty women and big houses are the trophies of success. If we have them, people will love us. If we have them, people will listen to us, and follow us, and worship us. As long as I don’t hurt anyone else in the process, what’s the big deal? No blood – no foul. That’s the tease.
When you leave today, the temptations will begin again. The tease will look good to you: success, money, intimacy, excitement, influence; the tempter knows just how to do it. Will we give in resist? Cave in, as did Adam and Eve? Fight the good fight, as did Jesus?
Before leaving the topic, I have one bad statement and three good questions. The bad statement is really a bad prayer: “Forgive me, God, for what I’m about to do.” Knowing it’s wrong, realizing that to follow the tempter into his snare and asking God in advance to rescue me. A horrible prayer. We do it, but it’s a terrible prayer. It cheapens what Jesus Christ died for on a Cross. It cheapens grace.
The three good questions are these.
The first question is “Is this thing I am about to do good for me?” We know the things that are good for us and the things that are bad for us. We’re not talking about having a second piece of pie; we’re I’m talking about a decision that is immoral or illegal or detrimental to our lives or the lives of others. We know right from wrong, we just need the courage to follow through.
The second question is this: “Will this thing I am about to do honor God?” Do we know how God grieves when we follow through with things that we know are against his will?
And the third question: “Will I regret my actions tomorrow?”
Lent is not the season of rules and regulations; it is not a time to beat ourselves up as failures. Lent is the season of introspection and repentance; a time to consider God’s amazing grace, and how our lives might demonstrate our thanks for that grace.
In the coming days of Lent, refuse temptation. Know that your faith surrounds you; guards you and guides you.
May God grant us strength for these forty days. Amen