Temptation to sin comes in all kinds of ways, but my guess would be that in popular opinion, the sins of the flesh are quite close to the top of the list.
Now, it may be that, resistance to this kind of temptation is an area in which you can claim the moral high ground. But before you feel superior to your neighbour whom you know is involved in a secret affair, what’s your position on drinking? Or how do you feel about your personal savings in the face of appalling world poverty?
Or whilst we’re at it, do you ever fantasize about getting even with someone for a wrong which they did to you, years ago?
The point I’m trying to make, of course, is that we all fall short somewhere or other and some of us fall short in many places at the same time.
Even if you’ve successfully resisted all of the evils that are commonly described as sin, you may well be left in a state of self-righteousness and pride. So, it seems that if we focus on how good we are we miss the point.
People are often challenged, or even taunted, to prove themselves. And Jesus faced a series of such challenges in the gospel reading which we’ve just heard. They were challenges to prove himself. They weren’t temptations to do evil things.
Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread, to jump from the top of the Temple, and to be Lord of all the earth. Some people will tell you that these things were bad in themselves, but we need to remember that the same Jesus turned water into wine, fed a crowd of people with five loaves and two fish, rose from the dead and is now proclaimed as “King of Kings” and “Lord of Lords”.
His temptation wasn’t to do bad things, it was to do good things for the wrong reasons. In the temptation story, Jesus is tempted to please someone other than God. He’s tempted to please his followers, leaders of nations around the world and even himself, by a series of demonstrations designed to show how good he was at getting things done.
But the point is that it’s only God who’s good, and our job is to do only those things which are pleasing to God. To do something good, or to refrain from doing something bad , simply or to satisfy our friends or families or ourselves isn’t enough , because it fails the commandment to worship God alone. This, I think, is the real meaning of the temptation to sin.
The temptations then, invited Jesus to use God rather than to be used by him. But Jesus showed his true power by remaining loyal to God. All of this is in contrast to what Adam did.
He pleased himself, and because we’re human we share Adam’s nature and continue to do the same kind of things. All of us without exception, from the most holy person down; we are all as they say, “in Adam”.
In Adam’s temptation and failure we see our own sinfulness very clearly and in Christ’s victory over temptation we see the victory that God makes possible for us. Like Adam we have a tendency to do what pleases us. Whereas Jesus always did what pleased God.
No matter how hard we struggle, by our own efforts we shall all fall short. So, in the end all that counts is for us to be found in Christ.
Because we all share Adam’s nature, then inasmuch as we are in Adam, we shall fail. But, we also share Christ’s nature because we’ve been given a place within it through baptism and the Holy Spirit. We are in Christ, and therefore in Christ we share in the victory over temptation and sin. Yes, It’s probably quite true that we’re not in Christ as fully as we would like to be, but to grow in anything takes time. The work of the Holy Spirit is to change us as the hymn says, “from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place”
The glory of the gospel is that God has done everything in Jesus that is necessary for us to become a part of this great movement towards God. The work of the Holy Spirit is to make us holy, to sanctify us, to make us divine.
Does that surprise you? At The Eucharist, when water is mixed with wine the celebrant quietly says “ As this water mixes with wine, may we share in Christ’s divinity, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
And so, I want to leave you with this thought. If you are rather an accomplished sinner, take heart. Don’t despair, God understands and loves you, just as much as he loves the greatest saint. You are in Christ and everything needful has been done. You are becoming divine. Rejoice in this, and you will find that God’s holy angels will be sent to help you just as they were sent to wait on Jesus all those years ago.