The Sirens were three mysterious women who, according to Homer’s Odyssey, lived on an island. Whenever a ship passed by, they would stand on the cliffs and sing. Their beautiful song would tempt sailors closer and closer, until eventually they were shipwrecked on the rocks below. Odysseus was curious to hear the Sirens’ song, but was well aware of the dangers. He ordered his men to tie him to the mast as they approached the island and then to plug their own ears with beeswax. When Odysseus heard the Siren call he demanded to be untied, but his shipmates bound him tighter, releasing him only when then the danger had passed. The story explores the powerful pull we all feel at times to flirt with choices that we know are bad, and even destructive. No one can go through life without being tempted. Temptation is not sin; Jesus was ‘without sin’, yet even he was ‘tempted in every way, just as we are’ (Hebrews 4:15).
God allows temptation in your life. As you go through these tests your faith is strengthened. Jesus knows all about temptation. In the gospel of Luke Jesus was tempted for forty days (4:2). Although it was the devil doing the tempting (v.3), God allowed it (he ‘was led by the Spirit into the wilderness’, v.1).
This period of temptation followed Jesus’ powerful experience of the Holy Spirit at his baptism. This sequence of events is common, which is why we warn people that go to spiritual retreats that they may experience increased temptation after the weekend away (where the focus is on the work and experience of the Holy Spirit).
Luke emphasizes Jesus’ identity as the Son of God (3:23–38) but the temptations that Jesus faced are often similar to the ones we face. All these temptations revolve around control – control of our appetites, control of our ambitions, and control of our lives. The devil wants to control your life. In contrast, God wants you to know the freedom that comes from being led by the Holy Spirit.
First, we see instant gratification. The devil appeals to Jesus’ physical appetite (v.3) and offers instant gratification. Jesus answers, ‘It is written: “People do not live on bread alone”’ (v.4). In the long run instant gratification leads to disillusion, emptiness and despair. Listening to God and building a relationship with him leads to deep spiritual satisfaction, joy and purpose.
Second, we see selfish ambition. The devil showed Jesus in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. ‘He said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor… If you worship me, it will all be yours”’ (vv.6–7). The temptation to accumulate things for ourselves is very powerful. Material prosperity may lead to ‘authority’ and ‘splendor’ (v.6) in this lifetime, but the danger is that financial security becomes our ambition and we put our trust in wealth and not in God.
Jesus responded to this temptation by saying, ‘It is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only”’ (v.8). Ultimately, there is only one thing that can be totally secure and that is your relationship with God. This must be your primary ambition.
Third, we see presumptuous power. The devil takes Jesus to the highest point in the temple and says, ‘If you are the Son of God… throw yourself down from here’ (v.9). He then quotes the Bible at him (out of context, of course). Jesus answered this scripture with scripture, ‘It is said: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”’ (v.12).
We are called to a life of obedience and service to God. Jesus performed some dramatic miracles during his ministry. In doing so, however, he was obeying God and following the Holy Spirit’s leading. This is quite different from testing God and then asking him to back you up. Rather than coming up with your own plans and asking God to bless them, seek to find out God’s plans and obey his calling. Jesus saw off the devil and his temptations with God’s word. He repeatedly said, ‘It is written…’ and then quoted scriptures that directly answered the devil’s lies and temptations. The devil ‘left him’. But he only ‘retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity’ (v.13, MSG). It is a relief to have periods in life when temptations are not so strong – but you can be sure that the devil will try to lure you astray again. This Sunday at South Side we will talk about how to overcome temptation in week 2 of our series “Jesus is Better.” Come early and have a fresh cup of coffee at Café Connect before worship. Worship begins at 10:45, and we would love to have you worship with us!
Barry Pettit is lead minister at South Side Church of Christ in Washington Court House.