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Last week we heard about three of the temptations that Jesus faced while he lived on earth. They were powerful temptations that came directly from Satan. Jesus resisted all three, trusting in every word that comes from God.
But sometimes the direct attacks of Satan are easier to handle because you can see them coming and it’s obvious who they are coming from. Sometimes the more difficult temptations are the sneaky ones, the ones that seem to come from love and that don’t seem, at least on the surface, to be contrary to God’s will. That’s the kind of temptation we see Jesus crushing today.
Luke tells us that some Pharisees came to him and said, “Leave, and go away from here, because Herod wants to kill you.”
That doesn’t sound like a bad thing. It doesn’t seem like a temptation. It sounds like maybe some of these Pharisees had grown to care for Jesus. Maybe they didn’t agree with him, but they didn’t want to see Herod kill him the way he did John the Baptist. But Jesus’ answer to these Pharisees reveals that it was a temptation hidden in a pretense of caring.
Jesus replied: Go tell that fox, “Look, I am going to drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.
So, what was the temptation? Very much like Satan suggesting that Jesus turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger, the temptation was to think more about his own life than his mission. The temptation was to let the suggestions of men and the threat of death determine his actions instead of the word and will of the Father.
We are familiar with this temptation. It’s the temptation to look for the short cut, the easy way out instead of the way out of temptation that God provides. It’s a temptation we face when someone says something that is completely opposite of what God says in his word. It could be comments in support of abortion or LGBT/transgender issues, or a general statement that all religions worship the same God. We know what God’s word says. We know what God’s will is, but the short cut, the easy way out, is to say nothing. So, we take the shortcut and fail to witness to the truth in order to be liked or avoid a conflict.
There was an interesting poll taken a week or so ago. It asked what people would do if their city was attacked the way cities in Ukraine are being attacked. I believe the number in some demographics was that over 67% world flee. They wouldn’t stand and defend their town. That poll made me wonder what the response would be if a poll were taken in churches and the question was, “If you were told, deny your faith in Jesus or die,” what would you do? I wonder how many would take the short cut and deny Jesus just to live another day on the earth?
We all promise at our confirmation that we will endure all things, even death, rather than deny the faith we have confessed. But we all know that’s something that is much easier to say than to do. What you are willing to defend with your life shows what’s really most important to you.
When Jesus was told that if he didn’t leave Herod’s territory and stop doing his miracles there Herod would have him killed, Jesus resisted the temptation to listen. He resisted the temptation to put his life and earthly things above the will of the Father and the mission he had given him. And the Father graciously credits his resistance of this temptation to us in place of all the times we have taken a shortcut and made our lives and earthly things more important than God and his will.
What was it that helped Jesus overcome this temptation? He knew the Scriptures. He knew how the Father had said things would turn out. He knew that Herod was not going to be able to kill him because he had not yet completed the mission the Father sent him to accomplish. He knew that it cannot be that a prophet would be killed outside Jerusalem!
Jesus knew what the prophesies were. He knew what the plan of salvation included. He had revealed it to his disciples numerous times. He would go to Jerusalem. It was at Jerusalem that he would be betrayed, handed over to the gentiles, and crucified. Even if Herod really did want to kill him, which is unlikely because he wanted to witness a miracle, he was not going to die at the hands of Herod in Herod’s territory. The Psalmist was very clear. They would pierce his hands and feet and cast lots for his clothing. He would be crucified, and Herod had no power to accomplish that. Jesus trusted that his times were in the Father’s hands. No one could take his life until the Father allowed it.
That same truth gives us confidence as well. Paul reminds us that it is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom of God. There will be all kinds of bumps in the road of life. We may face a number of situations in life where we realize our life was spared, that many others in similar situations lost their lives. Maybe an illness, maybe an accident that we survived and many others didn’t. Our times are in God’s hands. No one and nothing can end our earthly life until he allows it.
Now that doesn’t mean we can be reckless or be poor stewards of our bodies. But it does give us strength and confidence when we face threats because of our faith. Knowing that our times are in God’s hands enables us to be like Shadrack, Meshak, and Abednego, and say to anyone who tries to get us to compromise our faith by threatening pain or death, “My God can rescue me from anything you threaten, by a miracle if necessary, but even if he doesn’t, even if this is the way he allows my death to come, I will not take a shortcut. I will not deny my faith in him because he has promised to take me to be with him in heaven.”
Jesus was focused on reaching his goal, the goal of offering himself as the sacrifice God demanded so that the sins of the world would be paid for in full. That focus enabled him to continue to preach and heal and cast out demons in Galilee and then head to Jerusalem when the time was in accord with God’s plan, not the suggestions of Herod or some Pharisees.
Paul reminds us to keep our eyes on the goal, our citizenship in heaven that Jesus won for us, to continue to live godly lives, to stand firm in the Lord, and not give in to shortcuts, the temptation to focus on earthly things, on our physical life, instead of our home in heaven.
Paul was moved to tears when he thought about the many he knew who made the focus of their lives earthly things. He was moved to tears at the thought that their desire to enjoy earthly life for a short time was going to cost them eternal joy in heaven.
Jesus was also moved to tears as he thought about Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the city that David conquered and made the capitol of God’s people, the city where Solomon built the temple, the one place on earth where God revealed his presence at a temple and where he taught that forgiveness comes only by the sacrifice of a substitute. Jerusalem, the place where so many prophets proclaimed the word of the Lord. Yet so many of those prophets were ignored. We heard how Jeremiah was threatened with death because he proclaimed the word of the Lord, and some who proclaimed God’s word were even killed because of it.
Over and over again God sent his prophets to call his children, Israel, back to him. Now, to use the example of Jesus’ parable, he even sent The Prophet foretold by Moses, he sent his Son to them. But they rejected him too. They would throw him out of the vineyard and kill him, thinking that they could keep the vineyard for themselves. But their house is left desolate. It would be completely destroyed within a generation after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
There is no shortcut to glory. Those who take the shortcut of compromising their faith in order to save their lives end up losing both their physical life and their eternal life. But those who trust that their times are in God’s hands find strength to resist temptation, to stand firm in their faith no matter what. They enjoy God’s help and favor now and forever.
Because we don’t always resist the temptation to take shortcuts, to compromise our faith in order to enjoy earthly things, we give thanks that Jesus did resist this temptation. He crushed the temptation to shortcut God’s plan. He crushed the serpent’s head for us and went to the cross to win us eternal life. Let your focus in life be your citizenship in heaven. In this way keep standing firm in the Lord, my dear friends.