Points To Ponder/Blessed is He who Endures Temptation
by Pastor Dennis Whitmore
One summer I was on a bicycle trip to South Carolina. I do these things alone and enjoy the prayer and meditation times these days on the road provide. I call home every night and report where I’ve been, how I am, and where I’m heading next. It can be lonely, so it’s great to call home.
In Petersburg, VA one night I’d just gotten off the phone with Marcella, when the phone rang again. Thinking it was her again, I picked it up. A woman on the other end said, “How are you?” I said fine. She said that she had seen me out front. I said she must have the wrong room number. She said no, she’d seen ME and she said (in a soft voice) “you look really good...” Without even a thought, I immediately and politely said, “Well thank you.... I’m also married. Goodbye.” Then I hung up the phone. It took five seconds and then I went to my knees. My marriage, my ministry, the respect of my children, all of it flashed before me. If I had hesitated, if I had lingered on this flirtatious ego lifter, I could have fallen. I could have disgraced my God and myself. I really don’t believe I would ever do that, but most adulterers (at least the ones I know), never planned to be unfaithful. Some love their spouses very much, and even have (or had) good marriages. I am not so cocky to believe that I am above temptation. Like swerving your car back onto the road after drifting dangerously to the edge of an embankment, I saw the cliff I had just avoided when I hung up the phone. I thank God that I had been so immersed in His word that the right answer was instantly brought forth. How many men and women of God lingered near the edge and then fell? There but for the grace of God go I!
The scripture is true: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful. Who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you my be able to bear it.” (I Cor 10:13 NKJV)
The Bible tells us that Jesus was tempted (tested) in every way just as we are (Heb 4:15). Notice how temptation came to Him in Matthew 4: “And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread’.” (vs. 2-3)
Jesus was sent into the wilderness for the purpose of being tempted.
For forty days and nights He was focused spiritually in a time of fasting. That’s a good thing; a holy thing. Then, afterward, the scripture says, “He was hungry.” That’s when the tempter came. Jesus didn’t wrestle with him for a month of days and nights; it was after a time of intense spiritual focusing when a natural human vulnerability presented itself. He was hungry.
Hunger comes in a variety of ways. You can be starved for food, but you can also be starved for attention or love, or freedom, or for an answer. Hunger makes us vulnerable. Hunger can sometimes make you most vulnerable when an opportunity presents itself and urges you to be hungry. “There it is...wouldn’t you like to give it a try? It could be fun...!” “You deserve this...!” “Who’s gonna know?”
The opening verses of Matthew chapter 4 intrigue me. He was hungry. Though He was God in the flesh, He was still in the flesh. (John 1:1-5, 10-14)
Good people, prayerful people, and people who long to grow in their faith are still subject to temptation. The temptations and tests come when they get hungry. Sometimes they are the kind that catch you off guard and try to whet your appetite and incite a hunger. Jesus was tempted first by the initial recognition of His hunger. “You can do it Jesus- nobody’s looking. Just turn one of those stones into bread.” (vs. 3, paraphrased).
So Jesus answers from scripture: “It is written, ‘man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (vs. 4)
Then, the devil goes to the scripture and uses that to justify why Jesus should do something spectacular to prove that He’s the Son of God. “Throw yourself off the temple roof,” he tells Jesus. “The scripture says God will send angels to catch you.” (quoting Psalm 91:11) Jesus again refers to the scriptural principle that one should never tempt God or try to force His hand to do what we want.
Then the devil jacks up his temptation. He knows Jesus came into the world because, in love, He desires to reach the whole world with the gospel of salvation. He’s hungry; He’s weak and tired. The devil offers him the world, if Jesus will just worship him (v 8-9). But again, grounded in scripture, He stands on higher principles: “you shall worship the Lord your God and Him only you shall serve” (v 10). Then the devil left.
Afterward, angels came and ministered to Him (v 11). Notice they came afterward. Jesus had what He needed to overcome the temptation and thereby be strengthened. They were there all along- on call. But Jesus prevailed by the power of God. James tells us: “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12) He goes on to say that if we humble ourselves before God He gives us the grace (that which is undeserved and beyond our capabilities) to prevail.
“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you...” (James 4:7-8a)
The late Dr. Robert A. Cook used to say that when you are tempted, just pray: “Lord Jesus, help me in this.” You can’t focus on Jesus’ name and that temptation at the same time.
Pastor Whitmore serves God at The First United Methodist Church in Laurel, MD. Visit www.fumcl.org.