The Pastor’s Page
February News Letter
As we begin our forty-day Lenten pilgrimage this month, I would like to share some advice from Mark Twain about avoiding temptation: “There are several good protections against temptation, but the surest is cowardice.” Think about that. How many temptations have we avoided in life simply because we were too afraid to act on them? On the other hand, how much trouble could we have avoided in our lives if we had been a little more cowardly? When facing temptation, cowardice may be a virtue!
After Jesus was baptized and before he could begin his public ministry, Jesus was compelled by the Holy Spirit to confront three great temptations in the wilderness. And it wasn’t cowardice that enabled Jesus to avoid temptation, but deep faith in God. Satan made Jesus three very tempting offers. First Satan offered Jesus food. After fasting for many days in the wilderness had to be hungry. But Jesus said “no thanks” to the temptation to misuse his power by turning stones into bread.
Next, Satan offered Jesus something that for many people today would be an even greater temptation—power, wealth, and fame. Basically, Satan offered Jesus a career in government! When Satan offers Jesus authority over all the kingdoms of the world, he is tempting him by essentially saying, “If you are the Son of God, use your power to do some good by the only means of power we know—politics.” It has been said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Those in positions of power often end up worshipping at Satan’s altar instead of God’s. But Jesus would not pay the price that Satan asked of him.
Another person who was offered incredible power but resisted the temptation was George Washington. After the war for independence, many people wanted to make Washington the king of America, but he refused. One historian has called this the most important event in the American Revolution: “The key event was when Washington laid down his sword, retired as Commander in Chief of the army, and returned to Mt. Vernon. . . . Many would have been happy to install Washington as a benevolent autocrat. But Washington refused. That refusal to be a king . . . was one of the great moments in the American Revolution.”
Finally, Satan’s third temptation in the wilderness was to offer Jesus religion. Actually, what Satan offered was more like spiritual show-biz. Throw yourself down from the top of the Temple in front of everyone, Jesus, and you will become a superstar! Angels will catch you in their arms and everyone in Jerusalem will see that you are indeed the Messiah and follow you.
In the past few decades, there has been a great upsurge in “glitzy” spirituality that attracts huge crowds with astonishing displays of wonders and miracles. Many faith-healers have paraded across the stage on our TV screens drawing in millions of viewers, and maybe as many dollars, by their claimed ability to instantly cure people. People are attracted because we are a society that wants instant results. And many have come to expect the same from religion. Yet, when Satan offered Jesus instant spiritual glamour and glory, Jesus refused.
I find it interesting that Jesus is first made known at the beginning of his ministry not by what he affirms or by what he accomplishes, but rather by what he refuses. This is the first time in the gospels that we see Jesus in action. His words are the very first words we hear from Jesus’ mouth. And the first thing we hear Jesus say is “no,” which is quite interesting as we begin our Lenten pilgrimage, our forty-day walk with Jesus to the cross. Jesus could have easily spared himself the suffering that awaited him. Peter tried to talk him out of going to Jerusalem, but Jesus insisted that he must take up his cross. At his trial, Jesus refused to speak a word in his own defense. We usually think that Jesus died on the cross because of the things he said and did. But the gospels remind us that Jesus also suffered and died because of what he refused to say and do.
The temptations that Jesus faced are the same temptations we all face every day. And what is so dangerous is that, like the temptations Satan placed before Jesus, they seem so right at the time. What is so sinister about the temptations we face is that they seem so wonderful and alluring at the time. Only later, after we have succumbed to them, do we realize at what cost.
Jesus was able to foresee the cost and say no. But can we? Just like Jesus, you and I know what it’s like to be tempted. We know what it’s like to hunger for something we want—something that others might say we really should have. Spend that extra dollar. Drink that extra drink. Eat that last doughnut. Click on that questionable web site. Talk trash behind the back of your coworker. Sleep in on Sunday. Put work ahead of family. The list is endless. Temptation is everywhere.
So, where do we find the power to say no? Perhaps the next time you face temptation you might be able to remember one little word that has tremendous power. In Martin Luther’s famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” there is a verse that says, “The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure, one little word shall fell him.” Many think that one little word is “Christ.” But I wonder. Could that one little word that subdues Satan simply be, “No”?