The Heart of Temptation / Sermon / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Season of Lent / Sunday February 18th 2018 - / James 1:12-18
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday February 18th 2018: Lent / James 1:12-18 "The Heart of Temptation"
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully-grown brings forth death.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Temptation is something we have all experienced, and more than often failed to resist, yet even though we know it and have experienced it, temptation is a difficult thing for us to confront in our society. We all know that the way of Jesus Christ in the straight and narrow path – think of temptation as one of a million enticing gates lining that straight and narrow path, each one calling you to walk over the threshold into the dark.
In the Old Testament reading today it looks like Abraham is being tempted by God to sacrifice his son Isaac, yet in James’ letter, James by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one.” The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, along with all the hosts of heaven that They command, have no aspiration to entice or lead or tempt anyone off of the straight and narrow path. In fact knowing the ending from the beginning this whole episode with Abraham and Isaac is actually about trust and faith not about doubt and temptation, the writer of the book of Hebrews writes, “By faith, Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” [And in that moment, through it all] He [that is Abraham] considered that God was able even to raise [Isaac] from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, [Abraham] did receive him back” trust, trial, test, not temptation. Again what does James say in His Epistle: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.” When we read James say, “[God] Himself tempts no one” we then need to ask a follow up question about temptation to sin: ‘who or what then is seeking to draw us away from a life in Christ through temptation to sin?’ Can you answer this question?
First the easy answer; In our Gospel reading today Satan tempts Jesus for forty days in the wilderness after Jesus’ baptism, and yet there is more to temptation than Satan alone: In fact if you stop to think about it for a minute or two it would be safe to say that each of us have had times in our lives where we were tempted, not by Satan, but rather by the people around us. What does Saint Paul say, “Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”
To make matters worse the World we live in lays out temptations, each and every day, like a buffet table. The World hands you a fresh clean plate and says ‘don’t forget your knife and fork … oh, wait you don’t have a serviette … let me get one for you … go on (eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.)
Whether it is the devil and his fallen angels, or the World, or the people around us, or a combination of all of these things, it is good to be aware of what the dangers are when we face temptations. But wait, there’s one more adversary that we need to wrestle with when it comes to temptation and he is very close, she is very close, as close as your shadow.
Jesus said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Yes, the difficulty of the Christian life becomes obvious when we come to accept the fact that our adversaries out number us and we can’t even trust ourselves to be pure and righteous outside of the help of the Lord. We daily, hourly, minute by minute wrestle with the devil, his demons, the World, the people around us, and with the evil desires of our own heart.
The last one: the evil desires of our own heart, is the specific adversary that James speaks of in his letter, and here we see that “each person is tempted when [they are] lured and enticed by [their] own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully-grown brings forth death.”
Here James presents to us a life cycle of sin, to help illustrate this “life cycle” it may be helpful to consider a pathogenic bacteria, the sort that cause infections, something like cholera, or tuberculosis. Just a couple of Streptococcus bacteria left unchallenged by the body’s immune system can begin to grow, and before you know it, they pass the lag phase and once adapted to your body they take advantage of it, dividing rapidly; left unchecked, they can cause an overwhelming whole body infection, a systemic inflammatory response producing shock, reduced blood pressure and death.
Just a little tiny, small bit of Streptococcus might not seem dangerous but it is. There is of course a way to combat a bacterial outbreak in the body: we have medicines that will save the life of someone infected, but if they refuse the medicine they will die as the bacteria eats them alive.
So too with sin, while you might be able to convince yourself that a particular sin is not that harmful, or that it is just a little tiny, small bit of sin, left unchecked it will grow and as James says, “when [the sin is] fully-grown [it] brings forth death.”
The season of Lent is twofold: the first part is a self examination of our condition and the condition of the world we live in; the second part is an examination of the work of Christ Jesus to remedy our condition and the condition of the world.
In the first part we focus on our repentance, we focus on the realization that we are infected with sin, and this is an infection for which we have no immune response of our own, and that left unchecked our infection of sin will become systemic and we will die. With sadness and faithful hope we turn to the only medicine that will cure us of our sin.
In the second part we focus on the antidote to our infection of sin, Jesus, Who on the cross, sacrificed Himself to become an all-powerful antibiotic agent to which there is no drug resistant bacteria of sin.
While each year we revisit this two part focus leading up to Easter the sad part is that the society that we live in has grown more and more ignorant of the causes of sin, of the agents of sins ‘transmission.’ Our society doesn’t believe that the devil and his demons really tempt people into sin; they believe that ‘choice’ is ‘freedom’ even if personal choice can shackle you in the prison of sin and death; they believe this because they aren’t sure that sin really exists, they aren’t sure if the devil and his demons really exist, they aren’t sure if God exists because all of these things don’t appear to be material to them. Interestingly our society wants you to ‘live your best life now,’ presenting the complete flipside of what Jesus says: the society we live in believes that the desires of the heart are good and that we need to follow them.
Imagine a world that couldn’t see bacteria, that didn’t think you could become infected by handling something covered in bacteria, a world that believed that an infected person sneezing on you would only get you wet, or that no matter what sickness you seemed to have you could overcome it by sheer personal willpower, without any sort of external intervention.
If you can imagine such a world, then you know how the individual who is without Jesus in their life looks at temptation and sin. Sadly many in our world take bacteria and viruses more seriously than they take sin and temptation. And while bacteria and viruses are dangerous they can only kill the body where sin left unchecked can lead to hell and eternal damnation if untreated.
When you handle a raw chicken first you wash your hands and then again you wash your hands afterwards, and you don’t wash your hands by putting your fingers in your mouth, you do it with soap and water. You take your cutting board and you wash it with strong detergent soap and water even better you use bleach. In the same why then when you sin you need to turn to the one who can clean you, turn to Jesus. His blood will wash you clean, His blood is like bleach: in Psalm 51 we hear the psalmist say, “wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
Why is Jesus’ blood like bleach, why is it like an all-powerful antibiotic agent, why can it cure the disease of sin and stop the life cycle of sin where our own blood has no such power?
We often refer to Jesus as the Great Physician because when He healed people He healed body and soul, both fixing the symptoms of sin in the world, things like blindness and leprosy, while at the same time forgiving sin itself. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick [do need one]. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Jesus was conceived without sin, born without sin and lived without sin, and while it was all around Him, He never caved to its temptations: Jesus’ perfect resistance of temptation means that the ‘bacteria’ of sin never infected Him in the way it has infected us. Even when Satan, the first of the fallen angels, the master of deception, and the most cunning of adversaries tempted Jesus in the wilderness Jesus did not falter, He remained steadfast under trial always trusting His heavenly Father and unmoved when tempted by Satan the adversary. Jesus remained faithful even to the point of hanging upon the cross speaking with conviction and authority when He said, “It is finished!” Jesus remained steadfast even to His last breath upon the cross. In death He who never succumbed to then temptations of sin became sin who knew no sin. He did this for you so you can be saved from sin and from its eternal consequences, on the last day and for eternity you because of Jesus will never experience temptation ever again. Because of this Jesus received the very crown of life where we could not. And this is why His blood washes us clean; this is why His blood is like bleach, why it’s like an all-powerful antibiotic agent.
Think again on the words from James, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” We in Christ now receive the forgiveness of sin; we receive this very crown of life instead of the death. St Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death but while we did the work of sin we who are in Christ Jesus have not received the wages for our work, Jesus has, He died where we should have died. Jesus gave His perfect life in our imperfect life’s place. St. Peter tells us that we were ransomed not with perishable things like silver and gold but with the precious blood of Christ, like a lamb without a blemish. And because Jesus now lives, resurrected from the dead, you too receive this newness of life in Him, where without Jesus you would only have death. You can trust that you have this in your baptism into Jesus’ life death and resurrection.
Here is why temptation is so dangerous; why sin is so dangerous, because left unchecked it works to separate us from Jesus, Who is our life. This is why we need to daily wash our hands, and our whole selves, in the waters of our baptism when we ask for forgiveness, this is why we need to receive the antidote for sin in the Body and Blood of Jesus at the communion rail, why we need to pray “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The Christian life is one of repentance and we need to be as vigilant against the evils of sin and temptation as we are against bacteria. We praise Jesus that while the evils of this World out number us – the One Who defends and protects us, who wins the victory for us is more powerful than all our enemies combined. “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of His Own will He brought us forth by the Word of Truth” Christ Jesus Himself: In Jesus name. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 John 1:23, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’
 Matthew 7:13–14, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
 Genesis 22:1-18
 Hebrews 11:17–19
 Mark 1:9-15
 1 Corinthians 15:33
 1 Corinthians 15:32
 Mark 7:20-23
 Psalm 51:7
 Mark 2:17
 John 19:30
 2 Corinthians 5:21
 Romans 6:23
 1 Peter 1:18-19