First Sunday in Lent
Passage: James 1:12–1:18
†††In the Name of Jesus†††
Pastor Murray Keith
Text: James 1:12-18
Date: February 18th, 2018; Lent 1; Series B
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Temptation comes in many forms.
As children we are tempted by that cookie jar that sits on the kitchen cupboard – the one we know we shouldn’t touch.
As we grow older we are tempted by dark sites on the internet; by the gossip we want to spread; we are tempted to do a bit of cheating on our taxes, on our school work, on our spouse.
We are tempted to turn off the alarm clock, roll over back to sleep, and skip church.
Or, to stay in our housecoat and watch the curling, football game, gardening show, or whatever else seems more appealing than the Divine Service that morning.
Each day our minds are not at peace. We are at war with ourselves, with a sinful world, and a deceptive devil.
Temptation happens within us, deep within the core of our humanity, in the deep recesses of mind and spirit.
Temptation is to have forbidden fruit set in front of you - sweet and seductive. “Go ahead, take a bite,” our old Adam tells us.
It’s like a fake rubber worm dangled in front of a large mouth bass with a big hook behind it. Go for it, and you’re dead.
Adam and Eve went for it, and we all go for it too.
Oscar Wilde admitted: “I can resist anything except temptation.”
We heard in our Gospel lesson that fresh from his Baptism in the Jordon, Jesus was driven out by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted.
Jesus Christ, your brother and your God, knows temptation.
He was tempted to the core of his humanity – appetite, celebrity, power.
As God, he couldn’t be tempted, “For God cannot be tempted with evil” we heard in our reading from James (James 1:13).
But he set aside that divine power in order to experience the lure to evil that we all experience and face in our lives.
However, Jesus endured every temptation without slipping up once, without a single sin.
And best of all - he gives you his victory! His perfect obedience, his holiness, his righteousness is yours through faith.
So, why are we in this daily battle against temptation? Is God tempting us?
St. James tells us that “[God] himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).
Or as Luther says in his Small Catechism in his explanation of why we pray “and lead us not into temptation” in 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.”
God does not tempt us, but he does allow us to live in the world that we have polluted with sin.
It all goes back to the Garden of Eden, where the devil, in the form of a serpent, speaks to Eve.
Their dialogue really provides the ultimate model for all temptation.
First, the devil introduced doubt – doubt that God is true to his Word. “Did God really say?” he asked.
And then the lure of the lie, “Surely you will not die, but you will be like God knowing good and evil.”
That’s tempting, isn’t it? To be like God? To not be under the authority of anyone? To do whatever we want, whenever we want?
I am sure that Eve rationalized in her mind the same way we do when we are tempted. “What’s the big deal, it’s just some fruit?” “No one will even notice.” “I have been good - I deserve to indulge myself once in a while.” “I will just do it this one time, tomorrow I will be better.”
Eve bit on the lure, and she was hooked.
She gave some to Adam, and he ate without any protest. A partnership was forged against God.
And the rest, as they say, is history - a history into which you and I were born and live.
We do the exact same thing, every day, often without noticing.
We rationalize away the guilt we feel from our falling into temptation.
That is if we still even feel guilt anymore. Our conscience can become worn down - and that is very dangerous.
We change God’s Word and his Law into what we want it to say, so that we can continue in our sin. Or we just deny and reject his Law.
We judge our lives on the basis of others, or on the basis of our culture, not on God’s terms.
Like Adam after his fall, we like to blame others for our sin: “it’s my parent’s fault – they didn’t raise me properly” or “The government is to blame – not me.”
Blaming others doesn’t cut it. James writes, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14).
Jesus teaches us that the desire to sin begins in our own hearts. He says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19).
And of course, we have St. Paul’s honest look at himself in his letter to the Romans, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:21-24).
These readings teach us that there is absolutely no one to blame for our fall into temptation, into sin - except ourselves.
Maybe we find ourselves asking, “Is temptation really that big of a deal? I mean everyone deals with it – maybe we should just view it as simply being part of life.”
James tells us that it is a big deal. Death is the result. He tells us the awful consequences of letting our sinful desires lure us, “Then the desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 11:5).
Death is a big deal. Eternal separation from our Creator is a big deal.
In fact, I can’t think of anything that could possibly be a bigger deal!
That’s why Jesus, fresh from his Baptism, was driven out by the Holy Spirit to be tempted for forty days – hungry, exposed, vulnerable.
He lived on nothing but trust in the Word of God.
He had to do what we can’t and won’t do - resist temptation at its source.
Where Adam failed - he triumphed.
Where Adam fell - he stood and conquered.
St. Paul caught the connection between Adam and Jesus in his letter to the Romans, “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin...how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:12-17).
God’s command to Abraham for him to sacrifice his dear son Isaac, and the ram’s death in Isaac’s place, foreshadowed the Son of God as our sacrifice.
As one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all.
As by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
In Adam all sin and die. But in Christ, the second Adam, all are perfected, justified, and live.
In Christ, our humanity is restored and redeemed and raised up for good - it’s done, it’s finished, in Jesus Christ.
The victory is ours now, but temptation will remain in our lives this side of heaven.
This is why we pray, “Lead us not into temptation”.
With these words we pray that God will protect us in our time of trial - when the devil, the world, and especially our sinful flesh cause us to doubt his Word.
And the Good News is that even in our temptation, even in our sin, we are held in the death and life of Jesus who conquered sin, death, and the devil.
The daily battle against temptation - and our losses - are deeply discouraging.
But do not lose heart!
You are baptized into him.
You are fed by him, nourished by his Word, his body and blood.
He patiently reaches out to you, calling you to turn to him, forgiving you for falling into temptation, freely giving you what his Son won on the cross – “the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).
Yes, we are engaged in a daily battle. A battle that we can never win on our own.
Thanks be to God for providing us with everything we need to endure the battle; for lovingly and patiently allowing us to get back up and dust ourselves off when we do fall.
Thanks be to God for sending his Son to win the battle for us on the cross - and for making his victory ours.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.