So when I was a child, with my sisters, we were always up to something. I mean that’s what it means to have siblings. Trouble. I remember once I was in the sixth grade, and some friends invited my sisters and I to go swimming in this creek down the road. When we asked my mom, and she initially said no. After some pleading and begging she said, ‘well you can go and wade in the creek.’ ‘What does that mean,’ we said? ‘You can walk in it.’ She responded. My sisters and I looked at one another and said, ‘ok we’ll walk in it,’ as we all winked at one another. Fast forward thirty minutes and my sisters, friend, and I are all swimming in this creek. Now most creeks are relatively small in nature. The water isn’t very fast flowing. But this creek was a bit more like a quick flowing stream. And boy it was dirty. The water was bright red from the Oklahoma, and while we were swimming and getting swept away, we couldn’t see anything in the water. All of the sudden, my sister, Prisella, screamed. We all rushed over to her, and she said that she’d cut her knee on something in the water. We got her out of the creek only to see, perhaps the worst cut I’ve ever seen in my life. A broken bottle, we think, had cut Prisella’s knee so deep that we could see her bone. In fact, she still has a scar to this day. She could hardly put weight on it. We friends and sisters, hoisted Prisella up and brought her home. On the way, we worked on our stories. We decided to tell mom that we were walking in the creek and Prisella slipped and cut her knee. This was the story. We get home and my mother was FURIOUS. She was so mad. Prisella was bleeding all over the place, and we were in that creek and blah blah blah. So we tell my mom the lie. We all do. We are all lying to my mother. And as she cleans the wound, she keeps asking questions and we keep lying, and then all the sudden, one of us breaks. Now to this day our collective memories of this incident always pins it on someone else. But for me, it was the baby, Gabby. She was always a momma’s girl. She told my mother that we had been swimming and that’s how Prisella got the cut. We got the beating of our lives that night.
This whole thing started with one little half lie. Well a lie of omission really. We told my mom that we were going to wade in the creek. We did wade, but we also swam. And that right there, that justification is what got me a spanking. My brain has always been my worst enemy, and from that lie of omission, that little half lie, grew all of the rest. And at first it didn’t seem like much. We’ll go swimming instead of wading. As long as we don’t get our hair wet, mom will never know.
This right here is usually how we end up in trouble. We eat just one sweet thinking that will be it. We tell just one little half lie, and think no harm. We cheat just a little bit, and think no one will notice.
You see, our walk with God is a lot like that. We leave the path of righteousness in one grand move. We don’t cheat in a big way when offered. We cheat in little ways all the time. We don’t go from be a ‘good little boy or girl’ to something extreme like killing someone. Like C.S. Lewis says in the screwtape letters, “Indeed the safest road to hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” The gentle slope, without sudden turnings. This is the most dangerous road to find yourself on because you don’t realize you’re on it till you are well on your way. And that one little thing, leads to a bigger little thing, to a bigger and bigger and bigger little things till you are so far gone you don’t even know how you got on this path or how to get back.
When you are tempted with these things, you rarely see the consequence of the action as bad. You see what you desire. With the creek, we saw swimming. My mom said no. Then at that next moment. That moment when my sisters all looked at each other and silently agreed that we were going swimming, we’d committed the first bad act. At that moment, all we saw was a harmless lie to my mother, and an afternoon of swimming. Later when we were working on our stories on the way back to the house, we saw two outcomes: 1. We tell mom the truth and get whooped. 2. We tell mom a lie, and we don’t get whooped. We never considered option three….tell mom a lie about the swimming, mom finds out that we lied twice, and get a worse spanking. Often times when we are tempted to sin, it goes kind of like that. You see your options as the things that you want and the things that are getting in the way. You see that this lie or this tiny tiny sin is the way around this obstacle. But you don’t see the third option. The option where you get caught. The option where you have to pay for that crime.
And the thing about all of this tempting in Matthew 4, is that it is so blatant. This isn’t like the everyday attacks from the devil. The subtle hints at doing wrong. The idea planting. The ‘well it isn’t so bad’ thoughts. But no, the Devil said, I’m going to get this Jesus guy on my side. If I could get the son of God to sin, this whole big plan to save and redeem will be out the window, and I will have won! So I’m going to offer him what no human could turn down.
When Jesus is approached by the devil in the wilderness, Jesus has been fasting for 40 days. He’s hungry. Without his steadfast faith, I bet that would be a real low point. A point where he’s like, hey a cheeseburger would be fabulous right about now. Jesus, though fully human, didn’t think like we do. Jesus, probably didn’t desire a cheeseburger as much as he desired to be faithful to God. After 40 days of no food, I’d be lying if I said that I wouldn’t think that a cheeseburger was the best idea in the world. That maybe after 40 days, just maybe, I had been faithful enough to eat that burger. If that were me in the wilderness, if it were even some of you I’m sure, you’d look at the devil and say, well what would it hurt to turn the stones to bread. But Jesus, says no sir.
He tells Jesus to jump and let the angels catch him. That doesn’t sound so bad right? That sounds pretty harmless indeed. But in Deuteronomy, it says, don’t put the Lord your God to the test, so no jumping. He shows Jesus all of the kingdoms of earth, and offers him power. One of what I perceive to be the biggest weakness of man, power. Power corrupts like no other thing on this planet, and he offers it to Jesus. Thinking, this Jesus guy, he’s human, and humans can’t resist this power business, so there’s no way he will turn me down, and I will have won. All Jesus has to do in return is bow down to the Devil, and Jesus sends him away.
You see Jesus saw all the options. He saw what would potentially happen if he said yes to any of these offers. He saw not only what he wanted then, he saw not only the offer from the Devil, but he saw what accepting the offers would mean. He saw that saying yes to the Devil even once, would have doomed all of our souls.
And this devil, this sin, this is what’s holding back the kingdom of God. We look at the big obvious temptations, and we say no. We say no to killing. We say no to adultery, we say no to the great big things. But what about giving coats to people who have none? What about advocating for the rights and freedoms of all people? What about when we fail to love as fully as we are commanded? All of these too are sins. The doing nothing is just as bad as the lying or raping. C.S. Lewis also says that ‘without Christ the Nothing is strong. The doing of Nothing is strong. Strong enough to steal away a man’s best years…’ The temptations that we face in this life aren’t just about our action sins, our lying and our thieving, but also about our sins of inaction. Our failure to behave as Christ did, the failure to live out the Gospel. The failure to feed the hungry, house the homeless, love the unloveable. These too are sins. And in some ways they are even more powerful than the ones that we can easily identify because we don’t often see them. They are part of a gradual walk away from God.
In Hebrews 4 it says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Jesus was sent to experience this life. Jesus was sent to experience our trails and our temptations as well as our joys and happiness. Because of Jesus’ ability to be sinless we have the opportunity to experience God’s mercy. We have the opportunity to enter the perfect Kingdom of God in the next time. And until that time, we have to work each day to resist the temptations of this life. The more that we are steadfast in our faith, the more of the kingdom of God we are bringing to this earth. The more light there is in the darkness of our sin and our imperfection. So as we go from this place today, I pray that we will all go with our eyes open. With awareness of our own weaknesses to temptation so that we may better combat it when faced with it. And that if we do fall into the traps of this life, if we do fall into sin, that we can rest in the knowledge that grace and forgiveness waits for us if we seek it with repentant hearts. Amen.