1st Sunday in Lent
February 18, 2018
“The Every Day Battle”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us is today’s Second Lesson read earlier from James chapter 1.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
Every day – every single day – of my 7th grade year at Irving Junior High School was a nightmare thanks to one J.J. Finnegan. J.J. Finnegan was an 8th grade kid at my school who, for lack of a better term – “bullied” me every time I saw him. J.J. Finnegan achieved “victory” over me every day through intimidation. The only way I achieved any victory was when we moved to Minnesota and I never saw him again…thank goodness.
Every day – every single day – we are under attack from a J.J. Finnegan in our own lives that will not go away. Not even moving will help with this bully. It’s called “temptation.” From the lure of the forbidden cookie jar to the draw of dark sites on the Internet, from the gossip we long to share to the grudge we continue to harbor. Temptation is a bully that won’t leave us alone and like every bully the intimidation is always there and so effective! Our battle against temptation is underway, even right now, and it is an every day battle.
Rabbis in James’s day, and some religions in our current age, teach that God is the author of all temptation and evil and that all the evil you are tempted with is a continual test from God. That is absolutely not true for two reasons: God cannot be tempted. He tempts no one (v 13); because God in His very nature is holy, there is nothing in Him for sin to appeal to, and God doesn’t need to use temptation to test us because we do it to ourselves each and every sin in our sinfulness, which is what James wrote about in today’s lesson.
This presence of sin is what generates for us the continual state of temptation that we live in. Consider verse 14 from James 1: “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” I guess it is safe to say that, in regards to temptation, we have met the bully – the enemy – and the enemy is us! But, like Adam after the fall, we like to blame others for our sin. We try to shift the blame to others for our temptation and sin: It’s the fault of my parents, my poverty, my youth, or my addiction. They’re to blame, not me. No, James writes, each person is tempted when they are lured and enticed by their own desire; dealing with temptation starts with accountability.
Perhaps we may think that, well, since temptation is such a daily occurrence, maybe it’s not such a big deal. Actually, it is. It is a VERY BIG deal. You see, the end result of yielding to temptation, any temptation, is death. Remember what James wrote in today’s Second Lesson? “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (v 15). Let’s face it…when it comes to temptation, it would be as if we rounded up a team to play 9 innings of baseball against the Tampa Bay Rays. We lose…well, then again, it is the Rays. We just might win. But the Tamp Bay Lightning…now THAT’S a different story! We’d have NO chance against them! Temptation is an every day – every single day – battle we just cannot win.
However, you are not alone in your battle. Christ Jesus knows all about temptation. Even better, He endured it without a single sin. Jesus Christ overcomes temptation, sin, and death to give us the Father’s good gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and life. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus was tempted – tempted directly by Satan himself! – and yet Jesus did not give in, and this is a significant thing for us! We have to rely on the other Gospel accounts for the details, but we know that to all of Satan’s temptations, Jesus responded with the Word of God (Deuteronomy). What does that tell you as to how we can successfully respond to temptation in our own lives?
When I was a kid, the COOL shoes to have were a pair of Nikes. The “cool” kids at Irving Junior High all wore Nikes. Well, one year my mom took me school clothes shopping, and guess what? We found a pair of Nikes on sale! I wore them to the first day of school and every day after that as proud as I could be and I tried to keep them as clean and perfect looking as I could. They didn’t stay that way, but I sure tried.
Such is the new life in Christ. In our Baptism we have this perfect, cool life of faith given to us by God. But instead of putting it in a shelf and trying to keep it clean, God desires that we take this life of faith like a pair of shoes and use it knowing it just might get dirty. The life of faith that we have been given is to be a living, useful thing, not some pretty knick-knack on the shelf. And when we tarnish it with the filthy blemish of sin, the shed blood of Christ washes us clean.
In this life you are going to get knocked around and tempted and you will face a number of trials and loads of suffering; the world is FULL of J.J. Finnegans and Nikolas Cruzs. Again, we cannot blame guns or parents or policies; you cannot legislate away or control evil. That’s what we have…a people problem. Evil, sinful people are going to do sinful, evil things every day…every single day. God knows this. This is why He has called you by faith, given you the new life in Him through the waters of Baptism, made you His own through the body and blood of Christ, and sustains you daily in the face of temptation and hardship.
The every day battle against temptation and our many losses are deeply discouraging like we saw in Parkland this week, and it seems like J.J. Finnegan is around each and every corner. But do not lose heart my friends. Jesus has defeated the bullies of temptation and sin and death for us. He paid our debt. He lived without sin. He put Satan in his place. Jesus won, but He gives YOU the victory by faith each day…every single day. Take THAT, J.J. Finnegan, wherever you are!