Victory Over Temptation

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent based on Mark 1:9-15 and James 1:12-18

Dear tempted saints: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Lead us not into temptation. These are the words Jesus taught us to pray.

In our Epistle lesson, James helps us understand what this means. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he writes, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” (James 1:13-14)

In the Small Catechism, we have the explanation to the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”

We have in the Small Catechism a great treasure for the church. It so wonderfully summarizes the faith and gives simple explanation for young and old alike. You can do no better than to recite portions of it every morning and evening. If you don’t know what to do for daily devotions, pick up your Small Catechism. If you don’t have a Small Catechism, pick one up from the table in the narthex.

But back to our text. God tempts no one. From where do temptations come? Temptations come from the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.

The devil and the world don’t have to work very hard to tempt us because of our sinful nature. Our sinful nature is always ready to sin and always seeking opportunity to sin. Our sinful nature has desires that are contrary to God’s desires for us. That is why we fall into sin even when we’re not tempted by the devil or the world. As we heard, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”

This desire varies from person to person, and even within a person from youth to old age. In younger years, temptation is often in sins of the flesh. In middle age, it’s often money and power that are the greatest temptation. In older years, it is often the desire to live forever that is the greatest temptation.

Most often, however, we do not and cannot anticipate what will tempt us, from where the temptation will come, or when it will come. The truth is that anything can be a temptation for us.

We can be tempted to overwork, we can be tempted to be lazy. We can be tempted to meddle in other people’s affairs, or we can be tempted to be indifferent to other people altogether. We can be tempted into hardness of heart and believing we need no forgiveness or we can be tempted to believe that our sins are too awful to be forgiven and thus be tempted to despair.

Temptation is not just into obvious vices and evil. Temptation comes like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, disguising itself as something good.

Material possessions are a good blessing from God, but we are tempted to be more attached to God’s physical blessings than His spiritual blessings. Having a good reputation is a blessing from God, but we are tempted to not speak up when we should, for fear of the disapproval of others. Leisure time is a blessing from God, but we are tempted to do anything except study God’s Word when we have free time. Thus, there are temptations for us everywhere and with everything.

These temptations come from within us, as we desire what God forbids. The world adds to the temptation because the world does what it wants and seems to enjoy it. The devil adds to the temptation because he is ever seeking our fall.

God, however, does not tempt us. God may test us, as He did Abraham, but He does not tempt us into sin. “[God] does not test in order that we may fear and hate Him like a tyrant but to the end that He may exercise and stir up faith and love in us. Satan, however, tempts for evil, in order to draw you away from God and to make you distrust and blaspheme God.” (Luther AE 4:132)

Everything God does, He does for our eternal good. Everything the devil does, he does for our eternal ill. God wants you to trust Him in poverty, illness, and failure and He wants you to trust Him in wealth, health, and success. The devil wants you to distrust and question God in poverty, illness, and failure, and not to think of God at all in wealth, health, and success.

Thus, we pray to God, saying lead us not into temptation. Guard and keep us from falling into temptation. We cannot avoid temptation with out own strength. If we could, we would have no need to pray this petition. We pray this petition because we need God to fight temptation for us.

Hebrews tells us that Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, as He was tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin. The devil threw every temptation he could muster up against Jesus, but Jesus did not sin. The cunning father or lies is no match for the Word of God. Jesus won the battle.

The temptation of Jesus is more than Christ’s personal victory over temptation. It is our victory as well. Just as surely as we inherited Adam’s sin, so we also inherit Christ’s righteousness. St Paul put in this way in his Epistle to the Romans: For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19)

The devil won the victory against Adam. He came to him through his dear wife. God gave Eve to Adam for him to care for. He owed her spiritual care. God had made him her spiritual head. He was to care for her as a man should care for his woman by protecting her with the Word of God. Instead, he abdicated his office as pastor of his own home and elected Eve to be his pastor and immediately submitted to her spiritual oversight. The devil gained mastery over Adam through his wife. But while Eve ate the forbidden fruit before Adam did, the Bible blames Adam. It is Adam’s sin that is reckoned to the world. So it is that Jesus, the second Adam, comes to do what Adam failed to do. Whereas the first Adam disobeyed, the second Adam obeyed. (quoted from a sermon by Rev. Rolf Preus)

Jesus gave us an example of how to fight the devil’s lies with the Word of God, but He is not merely an example for us in fighting temptation. His victory over temptation is our victory because He is our substitute. His obedience is our righteousness as we heard from Romans, because He is our substitute.

Jesus was obedient to the point of death on a cross. There He also acted as our substitute. He lived our life and He died our death. In His life He fought temptation for us and won, and in His death He paid the price for our falls into temptation.

And Jesus sympathizes with your weaknesses. When you feel all alone in temptation and think that no one understands; when it seems like your whole life is taken over by some desire, know that you are not alone. Jesus is there and He sympathizes with your weaknesses. He knows what it’s like to be tempted. He suffered when tempted so His heart aches when He sees you suffering in temptation, and He helps you in temptation (Heb. 2:18).

Jesus sympathized with your weaknesses to the point of death. It is for you that Jesus suffered and died. It is for you that He rose again. His victory over temptation is your victory over temptation, and His victory over death is your victory over death. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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