Temptation and Joy

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.             Genesis 3:6

Alexander MacLaren, in a sermon entitled “Faith Tested and Crowned,” distinguished between being tempted and being tested or tried.  He said that,

“the former word conveys the idea of appealing to the worst part of man, with the wish that he may yield and do the wrong.  The latter means an appeal to the better part of man, with the desire that he should stand.  Temptation says, ‘Do this pleasant thing; do not be hindered by the fact that it is wrong.’  Trial or proving says, ‘Do this right and noble thing; do not be hindered by the fact that it is painful.’ The one is a sweet, beguiling melody, breathing soft indulgence and relaxation over the soul; the other is a peeling trumpet-call to high achievements.”

Satan tempts us to bring out the worst in us; God tests us to bring out the best in us.

Today has two different sets of temptation and two different outcomes.  On the one hand is the temptation of Adam and Eve and their fall into sin, on the other hand is the temptation of Jesus in which Satan failed.

Looking at what happened to Adam and Eve, some things need to be identified: for example, why did Satan approach Eve and not Adam?  Had Adam been approached first, Eve would have had an excuse.  If Adam fell first, she could have pointed out that she was simply following the one whom God had designated as the head, the leader of the family.  But if she fell first, then there would be no question that she was responsible for her own sin, and when Adam also rebelled, then he would be responsible for his own fault.

St Paul, in First Timothy [2:14], stated that the woman was deceived, whereas the man was not deceived.  If you will, the chink in the woman’s armor is her heart – it is both her asset and her weakness.  On the whole, traditionally a woman’s main concern is her care for her family and her husband.  She wants the best for them.  She wants whatever will improve their lot.  Since Adam was created to be leader and representative of God to creation, in charge of the world, she was created to be the helper fit for him.

Today, “helper” often means an expendable assistant, but not so here.  Almost everywhere where is it used in the Bible the word refers to divine help.  God is not some expendable assistant, His is the help of a Savior.  Suppose you fell down a cliff, and at it bottom lay bleeding, bones broken and unconscious, you need a helper – not some mere assistant, but a Savior.  That’s the word for the woman – although the man is her leader, she is to be to him a savior.  On that order then, God declares that the Messiah Who will come will be the seed, not of man, but of woman, thereby indicating that through the woman would come God’s help of salvation.

So the woman has a significant place in God’s design, which is her strength – and her weakness.  It is in her role as a “helper” where Satan directs his attack: she was deceived in thinking she could improve her and her husband’s position in creation, which would equip them to run creation the way it “ought” to be done, now that they had complete knowledge and God-like power – this is, of course, with the best of intentions.  However it provides one of the foundations for such sayings as “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” or “God preserve us from well-meaning people” – her “best of intentions” were ultimately deadly.

Satan gets Eve to repeat God’s command concerning the tree, a most essential step in this sequence of events.  It’s important to understand where Satan is coming from.  He hates God.  He wants to destroy God’s wonderful creation.  He doesn’t want Eve to merely make a mistake or absentmindedly forget the command; he doesn’t want a misunderstanding or ignorance – he wants rebellion: he wants the full awareness of what is being done is wrong and yet the step is taken anyway.

This temptation is not something that just occurred once some 6 thousand or so years ago.  Satan does the same thing with us today.  If you think back to the things you have done wrong, you will realize that somewhere along the line, the thought will come to you that what you are or aren’t doing is wrong.  Listen to the way we speak, “I know I shouldn’t, but…” or “I know I should, but…” – and Satan is right there doing the same thing to us as he did so long ago.  He is making sure that we are about to act in fully recognized rebellion against God.

And then when Satan makes his pitch, “your eyes will be opened, you shall become like God, you shall know good and evil,” – it happens to us as well: all we can think about are the good things, the glowing benefits if we go ahead.  So often Satan’s lies are not always lies in the sense that everything he says is obviously false.  Sometimes he doesn’t speak any lie.

The lie is in what he doesn’t say, the blanks he leaves which we are all too eager to fill in for him, and therefore he leaves us to paint the wonderfully rosy picture of the expected results.  He lets us convince ourselves, so that when it goes badly, and it will, we are submerged into a sea of guilt.  It is like with a political candidate – if he is honest he will not get elected.  We want him to lie to us and tell us what we want to hear.  And then when he is elected, we complain because he lied to us.

However, Satan also plants the seed that God really isn’t such a nice God after all, that He’s not really looking out for our welfare, that He is hoarding good stuff and selfishly keeping it for Himself.  Therefore, we must fend for ourselves, we must account for our needs, we must take while the opportunity presents itself.  The forbidden presents itself as something we need to do to survive, to cope with the world, to handle what we must face each day.  It is the best choice.  It is the only choice.

And destruction results.  We see it with Adam and Eve, and we see it within our own lives.  We never thought that what we did would blow up the way it did and cause such damage.  It was only a sentence, a phrase, a simple act, or lack of act, it was only a habit, it just shouldn’t have turned out the way that it did. And now we are left with the tatters.

Now we move to the Gospel, and again we meet Satan plying his trade.  Jesus is hungry – after forty days of fasting, this is the classic understatement of the Bible.  When you want to do something spiritual, how hard Satan works to distract you. You fast and you are hungry, and so you can’t help but to think about food all the time.  Here is a half-round rock, weathered to a nice light brown, and it looks just like the bread mom used to bake in the backyard oven.  Close your eyes and you could almost smell it, and isn’t the smell of fresh baked bread such a powerful reminder!  The saliva glands begin to work, wanting their target, the bread.  You think of home and the enjoyment you had back then, and you consider what faces you, particularly in three years.  It would all be so simple, just a word – if You really are the Son of God

Up on the pinnacle of the temple, the rabbis declared the Messiah would come floating down out of heaven into the midst of the temple courtyard – here’s your chance, Jesus!  The angels will take care of you, and you will have it all.  You know what awaits you, the agony, the disgrace, the abuse, the cross.  You know that your disciples won’t have a clue about what you are about.  Why go through all that – take the easy way, the simple way, the fast way, the painless way.  You’ll get to the same point anyway, You’ll get the people following You, proclaiming You, honoring You anyway.  You could even make it look like you slipped.

And look here, here are all the world’s nations.  Why go through all the struggle?  Why have to win the world one individual by one individual by one individual at a time?  Join me and You will have more followers than you will know what to do with.  All without the hassle, without the death, without the rejection, without the struggle.  It’s all Yours.

Remember in these temptations how Satan repeated, “If you are the Son of God?”  You hear him again at the other end of Matthew, as Jesus hangs on the cross, “If you are the Son of God, come down off that cross!” [Matthew 27:40]  Satan never let up, never gave up.  And Jesus never gave in – but how did Jesus manage that?  Our first inclination is to say that He quoted the Bible in His defense against temptation, but we know that that is not enough – at least, it wasn’t for Eve.  So what gave Him that ability to stand?

Hebrews 12:2 gives us a clue as to how He was able to fight off temptation and suggests a tool for us as well: “looking to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.”  Jesus had something He really, really looked forward to, and would let nothing divert His attention, not even suffering and death.  It is described as “the joy that was set before Him.”  Not merely a target or a goal, not a command or an obligation, but “joy” – “ joy.”

Have you ever combated temptation with “joy” – a joy that occupies your attention, that so focuses your mind that distractions just can’t keep a toehold?  What is the “joy that is set before” you?  It may be the joy that you have come to experience in Jesus’ presence, or the joy at seeing Jesus working in your life according to His promises, or it may be the joy that comes from the mutual strengthening that can occur when Christians seek to be Christ’s body on this earth.  The joy may be when God has you participate in His growth of new Christians, as Paul experienced.  Where do you find your joy that helps empower you against Satan?

Yet, although it was enough for Jesus, it is not enough for us.  Fighting temptation still requires resources that are beyond us.  It is by no afterthought that the Holy Spirit has been given to us.  Even the best of equipment and the greatest of joys will not solve the incessant attacks of Satan.  As Jesus commanded Satan to be begone, only through the Holy Spirit can we issue that same command, in order to have respite from this battle.

And as well, it is the continual reassurance of our Lord’s involvement in our lives as He bids us come to His Table to take home with us His promised involvement in our daily life, walking our paths, experiencing our days, helping our hearts and minds remember His love and presence for each of us.

No, we cannot do this alone – we need the One Who is Master, the Master of temptation and the Master of Satan, we need Jesus Himself.  And here as we in repentance lay before Him our weaknesses and failures, He comes now to enter into us and equip us with the most perfect solution and the most perfect joy, a oneness with Him that will never be taken away, not for all eternity.  Come then, and see Jesus.  Come then, and receive His own Body and Blood in answer to your helplessnesses and sins.  Come then, and receive His gift of the Holy Spirit in your life in the joy He sets before us.

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