Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, February 22, 2015
Testing - February 22, 2015 - First Sunday in Lent - Text: James 1:12-18
This morning we again have three texts that work well together. In the Old Testament reading we were reminded of Abraham and his testing of faith. In the Gospel reading we were reminded of Jesus and His temptation by Satan. And with Jesus’ tempting we are reminded that when Jesus was tempted, He was tempted way beyond what you and I could ever imagine, because He was tempted with every temptation with which we may be tempted and even more. And He never sinned. In the Epistle lesson, our text, James explains the difference between temptation and testing.
James begins by reminding us that temptations will come. We begin with verse twelve, “12Blessed 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. 13Let 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. 14But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (v. 12-15).
James begins by reminding us that the person who remains faithful through trials and temptations is certainly blessed. Perhaps that is an understatement. And, as we realize, in and of ourselves, we cannot remain faithful through trials and temptations, thus we realize that the person who remains faithful does so because God is with them and so we realize, yes, when God is with us we are certainly blessed.
James goes on to remind us that although God may allow trails to come, He tempts no one to sin. God is the author and giver of only good. God is not the author of sin. God tempts no one to sin, that is not His nature. When temptations come to us, we know that they are not coming from God.
We know that we are tempted to sin. Each person is tempted by his or her own desire, what we call our sinful flesh. When we are reminded of the fact that, as King David says, we are conceived and born in sin, then it is only natural that our inclination is to sin. We simply cannot help ourselves. We sin in our thoughts, even in church. We sin in our speaking. We sin in our doing what we should not be doing and in not doing what we should be doing, sins of commission and sins of omission. We do not even need practice sinning because it comes so naturally. And the great thing about sinning is the fact that while we are sinning it is fun. Think about it, if sinning were not fun, would we be doing it? Oh, we may have regrets later, but again, while we are sinning it is fun.
James lays out the progression of sinning as this; sin begins with a thought, and for those who would deny our sinning in our thoughts, I would ask, “What does God mean when He says that if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out?” Your eye cannot commit an actual sin, but it is connected to your brain which has a sinful thought. So, our sin begins with a thought, then it moves to a word, that is we are moved to speak evil words, and finally, sin can end in a deed, an action. The best example of this progression of sin is the sin of Cain killing his brother Abel in Genesis. Remember, Cain first despised, or hated his brother. He had evil thoughts. He devised, or thought up a plan to kill his brother. He called him out into the field and then he actually murdered his brother. Also, notice the eternal progression of sin. Sin begins inside of us, in our heart. That should make you think about the encouragement from our culture to look inside ourselves for the answers to life’s questions. All we find inside ourselves is our sinful nature. Sin has its heart inside of us. As James says, sin is conceived inside of us. And after its gestation, sin is born. And as sin grows, it reaches its fullness in death, and here we do understand, full grown, unrepentant sins brings death, eternal spiritual death.
But do not be dismayed. James goes on to explain the key in times of temptation. We pick up at verse sixteen, “16Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17Every 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. 18Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creation” (v. 16-18). First and foremost we are reminded that every good and perfect gift comes from God. As we said earlier, God only gives good. God does not tempt anyone to sin or evil.
“Of his own will,” God brought forth the greatest gift. The greatest gift was the gift of the “word of truth,” in other words, Christ Himself. As the Gospel writer John so poetically reminds us, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Apart from Jesus there is no and can be no truth. Jesus is the Word, the word of promise, the word of fulfillment, the word made flesh, the word made tangible in His Holy Supper. Jesus is the Word of Truth.
Jesus, the “word of truth” came, not for Himself, but as our substitute. Jesus came to do what the whole nation of Israel could not do. Remember, last week we saw Jesus appear with Moses and Elijah on the mountain of transfiguration. There Jesus conferred with Moses the law giver and Elijah the great prophet, to make sure He had actively obeyed and fulfilled all the law and the prophets, perfectly. Jesus came to do for us what we are unable to do. The fullness of the Gospel is this, that we cannot live as we ought, we cannot resist temptation and sin. Jesus came to complete all things for us in our place. He came in life, in suffering, in death, and in His resurrection for us, to be our substitute.
Jesus is our strength and our reward, even “that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creation.” Jesus has accomplished all things for us, in our place. We are a kind of firstfruits of His creation when we, with His help and by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us live lives of faith.
What Does This Mean? This means that we recognize the difference between temptation and trials. God may allow us to undergo trials, but this is not temptation to sin. The struggles and difficulties we may and will face in life are not meant to lead us into sin, but are meant to strengthen us in our faith.
On the other hand, the devil, the world and our own sinful nature (what we might call the unholy three) constantly hound us to sin. The devil, the world and our own sinful nature do not tempt us in order to strengthen us in our faith. Rather they tempt us to sin and even to sin boldly. The devil tempts us, not because he loves us, but because he hates us. He hates anything that is good, and anything that is from God. The world tempts us and even the things of this world which may be created for good can be used for tempting to evil. Remember such things that were created for good as dynamite, gun powder, nuclear energy and so on, all these were created for good and yet became temptations for evil. And our own sinful nature, that thing that is closest to us, that is a very part of us, is the thing which tempts us the most.
In and of ourselves, we cannot keep from sinning. We are conceived and born in sin. Sinning is our nature. It is natural for us to sin. Actually, for us to not sin is very unnatural. Yet, we have James’ exhortation to remain steadfast. Certainly this adds to the pressure as we daily face the temptations of the world.
In the Old Testament Lesson, God tested Abraham. God required of Abraham that he give back to Him the one most important thing, his son. At the same time, God gave Abraham the strength to accomplish his trial. Abraham could not have accomplished his task without the Lord’s help and strength. Remember, even when Isaac asked Abraham were the sacrifice was, Abraham responded that God would provide.
In the Gospel Lesson, Jesus, as true God, and as true man was tempted. Jesus was tempted for the whole forty days. He was tempted with every temptation with which you and I are tempted. He was tempted in every way. And yet, He did not succumb to temptation. He never sinned.
As we see in the Old Testament reading, as we see in the Gospel reading, and as we see in the Epistle lesson, only with God’s help, only with Jesus on our side are we able to resist and flee from temptation and sin. Again, as every Sunday, then we are pointed back to where we need to be, always at the mercy of our great God. We fail. God accomplishes. We fall for temptation and sin. God resists and overcomes. We mess up. God cleans up. We are doomed to eternal spiritual death. God, in Christ, suffers our punishment for us.
The result is this, that every good and perfect gifts comes from God, even and especially eternal life in heaven. God gives and we are given to. Is it no wonder that I continue to remind you of the importance of making regular and diligent use of the means of grace. It is through the means of grace that our Lord gives us the strength to bear up under temptation. Our making regular and diligent use of these means, the Word of God, through personal reading of His Word, through personal and family devotions, through every Sunday worship and Bible Class attendance, through remembering our baptism, through our regular confession and absolution, through our regular participation in the Lord’s Supper, this is how our Lord strengthens and keeps us in faith. As we begin this Lenten season and reflect on the fact that it was and is because of my sin that Jesus had to die on the cross, certainly we see the need, and from the word of the Gospel we are given the desire to make such regular and diligent use of these means of grace.
Temptations do come. Temptations arise through our own sinful flesh, through the attractions and distractions of the world, and especially through Satan himself. At the same time, these temptations are not to be confused with our Lord’s testing of our faith. Yet, in all these times, it is our Lord who is there, ready, willing, and able to strengthen us so that we might keep from sinning, so that we might bear up under any and all trials, so that we might win out in the end. And the greatest encouragement we have is this, the Gospel message, that even when we do fail (and we will fail), Jesus has already taken care of the consequences of our sins. Through His life, suffering, death and resurrection Jesus has already paid for our sins, giving us comfort and encouragement, indeed to confess and ask for His forgiveness and help. And He even pours out on us all His good gifts and blessings. To Him be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.