VICTORY IN TEMPTATIONS
A Sermon by Rev Frederick M. ChapinSeptember 17, 1995Charlotte, North Carolina
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Mt 4:1)
Everyone, who makes the effort to live a life of charity, will experience struggles. Such a life does not come automatically to us. A life that puts other people’s interests above our own is completely opposite to what we are inclined to do. Many times, while we are in the process of turning from our natural inclinations to a life of devotion to the Lord, intense conflicts are fought within us. At times it requires a great deal of energy and determination to remain faithful to what the Word teaches us. Sometimes the attraction to what is evil is very strong and powerful. Other times, compliance with the Word may appear to produce ill effects and not resolve our troubles. And there may be incidents where we may be in so much confusion and doubt, that what the Word teaches us does not seem to address our individual problems. It is during these times that compliance with the Word becomes most difficult and troubling.
The Lord Himself was very familiar with these struggles while He was on the earth. In fact, no one will ever experience the degree of temptations that the Lord had to deal with. They were much more intense than we could ever imagine. From our lesson in the Psalms, we can get a idea of the anguish the Lord was in, when we read: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning?” (Ps. 22:1).
Even though our struggles are not as intense as the Lord’s, yet there are definite parallels with what the Lord suffered and what we must endure and overcome, if we are to be a true disciple of the Lord. Also, we are to use the same principles as the Lord did, when He conquered the evil spirits, who attacked Him.
In the Psalms, we read of the despair that the Lord was in while He was in temptations. However, in the Gospels, we are taught the basics of how the Lord was able to have victory over each temptation that He was afflicted with. This is brought out in our lesson from Luke which treats of the Lord’s temptations in the wilderness. As we reflect upon the Lord’s temptations, they can give us guidelines in what we are to watch out for and how we can have the victory in the end.
The Lord’s temptations came after He was baptized. The Lord’s baptism ushered in the period of His public ministry. Prior to this time, the Lord was not publicly known. He was quietly being prepared for His mission upon the earth. After His baptism, He was now ready to publicly teach and display the love and wisdom that comes from God.
The Lord’s baptism can picture our commitment of living a life that seeks to be led by the Lord’s love. We are making the effort to apply the teachings of the Word in our lives. When we put forth this effort, we strive to make known the Lord’s commandments to others by the manner in which we live. When we make such an effort, the Lord becomes visible in us, just as He was more visible after His baptism.
It is interesting that immediately after the Lord’s baptism, He was led into the wilderness to be tempted. It will become inevitable that when we make the effort to live a different life than we are inclined to live, temptations will come. Temptations are unavoidable if we are to make serious changes in our lives. Notice that it specifically states that the Lord was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Each temptation that the Lord fought was designed to have His Humanity more in conjunction with His Divinity.
Likewise, each temptation that we are in is designed to make us into a stronger spiritual person. The Lord does not allow any spiritual battle to happen just for the sake of our suffering. Each conflict is permitted so when we have victory, the Lord is more conjoined with us as the end result. And from this closer relationship, we are better able to be a shinning example of the Lord’s life before others.
As the Lord was in the depth of these spiritual struggles, He was said to be hungry. During this time, the Lord was in confusion, disenchantment, doubt, and despair. We certainly can relate to these sensations when we find it difficult to continue to live the life we are to live from the Word. Yet, our hunger is totally unique from every one else. No one will ever face the same struggles as we will. It is by facing unique battles that we are able to perform a unique use in the Lord’s kingdom.
While the Lord was in this despair, He was tempted to do these three things. Turn the stones into bread, fall from the pinnacle of the temple, and worship the devil upon a high mountain. Each one of these allurements sheds light upon what we are to be on guard against. Despite our unique and personal struggles, they all encompass one of these three temptations that we are to overcome.
The three avenues we are to be on guard against: First, to justify or excuse what is wrong and violates the Lord’s Word. This is represented by changing the stones into bread. Second, to force or impose our own will upon any situation. This is pictured by the Lord throwing Himself from the temple. Third, to no longer have the Word as our highest source of good, but having a greater trust in our own instincts. This is seen in the offer to worship the devil upon a high mountain. When we allow the Word to shed light upon what we are to be alert against, it becomes far easier to maintain allegiance to the Lord’s teachings regarding life.
First, the Lord was tempted to turn stones into bread. This pictures the justifications or excepting the excuses that allow us to indulge in affections and practices that are simply wrong and disorderly. We can turn what is hard and stony into something that appears nourishing and wholesome. It is natural tendency to want to twist the meaning of the Word and have it say what we want it to say. We are all inclined to have the Word confirm our delights that do not benefit our neighbor nor strengthen the Lord’s kingdom. We must have a conviction to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. We can not base our lives upon what merely appears to be good to us. Instead, we must have a trust that the Lord will teach us and provide what is genuinely good and productive.
Second, the Lord was tempted to throw Himself from the pinnacle of the temple. If the Lord would have done this, and survived the fall, He probably would have converted many people. But that would have imposed His will outside of Divine order. The Lord must leave people in freedom and not force salvation upon them. Likewise, we may have an overwhelming surge of passion for something that we feel must be attained, and we may be tempted to impose our concept of good upon others. In other words, we want our own way and we are not sensitive to other peoples feelings or ideas. We must trust in Divine order that leaving people in freedom is the only way true acceptance can remain as a possibility. When we have as our utmost determination not to abandon the steps the Lord has established, we are making the same statement the Lord made, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God”.
Third, the Lord was tempted to worship the devil upon a high mountain. Here the Lord was tempted to try to bring salvation to mankind outside of Divine order. Mankind seemed so lost that Divine truth was powerless to save them. Therefore, the Lord was tempted to put His external appearance of good over the internal devotion to remain faithful to His true calling. Likewise we may be tempted to follow our instincts of what needs to be done and not have the Word determine what we are to do. We are to respond as the Lord did, Get behind Me Satan, the Lord your God shall only be served. We must resist any practice or method, regardless of how appealing it may seem, that delineates from complying fully with the Word. We worship the Lord when we treat and regard the Word as the highest authority that determines what is good and how we are to live.
After the Lord was tempted, and had victory over them, angels came to minister to Him. This describes the state of peace that comes when the storms of attack are over. As we read in our lessons from the Writings for the New Church, peace is referred to as having as inmost friendship, full confidence, and a desire to do good. This personal perception can be strengthened when we emerge victorious from times of temptation. This peace can also give us a clearer light as to what the Lord would have us do, and a firmer resolve to live a life that truly worships the Lord and gives genuine help towards our neighbor. This state of rest is a personal and intimate awareness of the presence of the Lord being active within us. It is this heavenly peace that the Lord brings to us through angels who comfort and minister to us.
However, the devil departed only for a time, then he returned. Likewise, we must go through difficult states over and over again, if we are to allow the Lord to continually perfect us. It is important to understand that the devil refers to our natural inclinations that we must all fight against. We are really fighting against ourselves. When we are under attack from evil spirits, they are really using the loves that are lodged within us. Our selfish loves and delights are the weapons that are used against us. The only way they can be removed is by making the deliberate choice not to indulge in them when it would be so convenient to do so. When they are so removed, the Lord replaces them with loves and delights that look for the good that all can share and benefit from, not just ourselves. This delight will be far more enjoyable than that which only pleases ourselves. The peace the Lord offers to us is content with what we have and has the full confidence that we are safe in the Lord’s omnipotent hands. It is then we have complete assurance in these words. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (Jn 14:27)