I should like to take a text from the Epistle to the Hebrews Chap.4v15: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin”.
Whenever we think of our Lord’s temptations by Satan there are three aspects we should think about: firstly, the temptations for Jesus were real; secondly, Jesus remained totally unstained by them, and thirdly, the purpose of his temptations was to assure us of his sympathy and help when we are tempted.
On the first point, on the reality of our Lord’s temptations, he felt the full force of temptation. A righteous person will feel the attractiveness of a temptation far more keenly than a weak person who gives way without realizing the long term danger. Christ sympathizes with the sinner because of the strength of the temptation to sin which only he himself our sinless Saviour knew in its full intensity.
What is important to notice from our Lord’s temptations is that Satan attacks us at every level of our lives: Body, mind and spirit. Bread for the body. Superiority for the mind. Self-assertion for the spirit. In terms of sustenance we have to learn that our bodies cannot live with bread as its only support. In terms of our relationships our minds must focus not on superiority but on the humility of God. In terms of our self determination our spirits must be guided by the will of God and not our own.
It is interesting to notice that Jesus answered Satan by quoting from the Book of Deuteronomy and we may presume that Jesus had recently been reading it or meditated on it.
One other point we need to remember is that these temptations were by no means the end of what Jesus experienced. One translation puts it this way: “So the devil, having exhausted every way of tempting him, parted company with him until a more opportune moment should arise”. (God’s New Covenant).
One further point that must be mentioned is that the temptations of the devil were not so much temptations for Jesus to do evil or wickedness. But rather to take short cuts or alternative ways to do God’s will. For this reason, the temptations were mainly presumptive in nature, and that is something Christians must be careful about. We should not presume or take liberties with God, to test his promises in a kind of do or die manner. The only answer for this kind of temptation is to be guided by God’s word just as Jesus was guided. “It is written” said Jesus, every time. If you remember the very first temptation in Genesis was to presume on what God had said. Did God say “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” said the serpent. “Of course you can eat it…your eyes will be opened and you will be like God”. How presumptuous that was. It was a temptation to act independently of God. Jesus was careful to be guided by God’s word even when the devil himself quoted scripture. For one scripture took precedence over the other even though both were true. How we need to know and study our Bibles and not to be caught out by our own reasoning or by false teaching. People will misuse the Bible for their own ends.
But aside from that, what I would like to emphasize this morning are the words of our text from Hebrews chapter 4 “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin”. Or again in Hebrews chapter 2v18: “For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted”.
All human temptations take place through the instrumentality of pleasure or of pain. Let us be honest with ourselves, as Christians there are aspects of our lives that need to be dealt with. It is something very personal between God and ourselves from the moment we decided to put our trust in Christ as our Saviour and Redeemer. It is to do with our sanctification or our being made holy by God’s Holy Spirit. Martin Luther had this to say: “Temptations build the sanctified character.”
But the question we must ask ourselves is whether temptation is positive or negative.
James, the apostle, says “Count it all joy when you meet various trials”, (1.2) because such testing produces endurance. The apostle Peter says that ‘trials’ and ‘testing’ show “…the genuineness of your faith…more precious that gold” (1Peter1.6&7).
St. Paul says that temptations are common to being human and God provides a way to escape from them that we may be able to endure them (1Cor10.13). One theologian regards temptations as the locus or the central point of faith. That is being positive. But on the negative side our Lord teaches “Do not bring us to the time of trial” or “Lead us not into temptation”. He urged to disciples “Pray that you will not come into the time of trial”, even as Jesus himself prayed in Gethsemane “Father, remove this cup from me, nevertheless not my will, but thine be done” (Luke22.40&42). It is in that same prayer of Jesus we see clearly the purpose of our own temptations whether positive or negative “…nevertheless not my will but thine be done”, whereupon we are utterly and completely dependent on the grace of God. There is no other recourse or help than in God alone and it must be said that this is a wonderful position to be in. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling”. Temptation compels us to search and to know God’s perfect will for our lives. It can be painful for again as the writer to the Hebrews says: “…for all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, later it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (12.11). Yes, there is a place for conviction of sin, repentance and confession. “…if we confess our sin God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn1.9).
We need to ask ourselves how are we to cope with failed temptation, not just once or twice but many times. We might have self-confidence even perhaps self-assurance but then we fall. Obviously, the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “…lead us not into temptation” is not suggesting a withdrawal from the world, what someone called ‘cloistered virtue’ but as St. James has said ‘blessing comes from struggle’. We are in the world yet not of the world. The fact is God does not give up on us.
Psalm37 “The steps of a man are ordered from the Lord…though he fall…the Lord is the stay of his hand”.
Proverbs 24 “…a righteous person falls seven times and rises again”.
Psalm145 “The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down”.
In the New Testament we may think of the Beatitude in Matthew 5 “Blessed are those who mourn, (who mourn for their sin) for they shall be comforted”. Again in the 23rd Psalm “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, (sin and failure are like that) I shall fear no evil for you are with me”.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep even when they go astray. We need to recognize that the process of our sanctification will take years by which we learn our dependence on the grace and love of God. Think of that great apostle Peter; how he failed Jesus time and time again yet our Lord was able to restore him to that place of trust and dependence, and the reason for this is that our fellowship with our Lord should never be broken. Our desire is to have unbroken fellowship and communion with him, and with one another. Our Lord has promised “I will never fail you nor forsake you” (Hebs13.5) until he has formed God’s perfect image and will in our lives. Like Jesus in his temptations so for ourselves, God’s will is achieved by obedience and suffering.
“For this reason…we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin….he is able to help those who are tempted”.
Bernard Hughes, 14 Feb. 2016