Call On Your Champion - Pastor Aaron Dolan
I hope you never have to face such a difficult test. Not like the one Abraham faced. The most precious thing to him—and you can think of the most precious thing to you—not his wealth, not his health, but his son, and not just any son but his only son, the one he had waited decades and decades to have—God told Abraham to give him up. And not just say good-bye or send him away, because then he at least would know or could hope that his son was still alive, but actually watch his son die. Give up the most precious thing you could ever have. I hope you never have to face such a test.
But what made this even more of a heavy trial and even more unthinkable for Abraham was the promise. God had promised Abraham not only that he would be the father of many nations, but that those many nations would come from Isaac’s line—Isaac, his precious, only son. God had promised that all nations would be blessed by a Savior born from his descendants, from Isaac’s line. And now God said, “Put an end to that line.” What a heavy, heavy test!...Or was it a temptation?
God seemed to be contradicting himself—he was contradicting himself. The promise was all about Isaac’s descendants. Now kill Isaac, before he has children. That was the test, a test of Abraham’s trust and obedience. But then the mind starts going. How can this possibly be? Does God have something wrong? Can I trust God? Does God care about me? Has he forgotten? And now…it has become a temptation.
The line between test and temptation can be a pretty thin one. You know the tests that have come into your life, the hard times. You’ve had everything go wrong. You know what hopes have been dashed and what dreams have disappeared. You’ve wondered what in the world God is doing to you. Sometimes life dips into one of those valleys, even just for a moment. An important phone call comes as the baby is crying, just as the bathroom starts flooding from the toy flushed down the toilet. You messed up badly at work, then receive word that Mom was suddenly rushed to the hospital, and you get a flat tire trying to get home. One bad thing after another. Or just one really bad thing—cancer, heart attack, miscarriage—when reality seems to suggest something different about God than what you’ve heard in Scripture. Is God testing you? Or is Satan tempting you? Maybe both. The line can be a thin one.
When Jesus went out into the desert for forty days, he went because it was God’s will. The Spirit led him there. Being in the wilderness was not a temptation. That was the test. But Satan tempted Jesus in the middle of the test, using the test to try to get Jesus to doubt God, his Father, using his hunger to tempt him with bread. God gives these moments of testing in your life, opportunities to obey his Word, display your faith, and be strengthened through the ordeal. Satan is there in the very same moments trying to turn it into temptation, trying to turn your thoughts a different direction. God must not love me. God’s way must be wrong. God must not be paying attention. God must not care. Maybe there is no God. Maybe God is paying me back for something. And a test becomes a temptation.
When faced with tests and temptations, when reality seems to contradict the promises of God’s love and truth, that’s when it’s time to Call on Your Champion. Let’s see our champion win the battle here this morning in Matthew 4.
Let’s just focus on one of the three temptations of Jesus recorded in Matthew 4, the third one. “The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’” At first glance, this doesn’t seem to be a very tempting temptation, especially for someone like Jesus. Bow down and worship Satan? But look at what the devil was promising Jesus: all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. He was promising that Jesus would have glory and power over the entire world, that he would be the king of kings and lord of lords. Does that sound familiar? God the Father promised Jesus the exact same thing, that he would put all things under Jesus’ feet and make him ruler over everything. But according to the Father’s plan, Jesus would get it a different way. He first would have to suffer and die for the world. He first would have to face opposition, ridicule, torment, suffering, and crucifixion. First there must be a cross; then he would get his glory. The devil’s temptation was this, “Jesus, God’s way is too hard! There’s an easier way. Just worship me right now. No one will even know. Just bow down to me and you can skip right to the end. I’ll let you have the power and the glory, with no cross, no suffering.” And just think, if Jesus had given in, if there had been no cross, no death, then you and I would be condemned. But he didn’t. He’s our champion. He won the battle.
The devil tempts you and me with the same temptation. “God’s ways are too hard. There’s an easier way.” When you enter those valleys in life, when tests come your way, God’s way is to rely on his love and his promises. But it’s easier to give up, to curse God or to complain about him. “I don’t want to bear up under it, to endure it.” And just like that the devil has us doubting God’s love. God’s way is to be faithful and honest in whatever work you do. The devil says, “That’s too hard. There’s an easier way. Just slack off a little, just cheat a little bit. No one will even know.” The easy thing and the right thing are not always the same.
God’s ways are hard sometimes. His tests may sometimes seem unbearable, or at least very difficult to handle. So when we are tested or tempted, God gives us someplace to turn. He said in Psalm 91, “He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.” God gives us a resource in Jesus. He wants us to call on him. After all, Jesus knows what it’s like. He knows what it’s like to be tested and tempted. He’s been there. He agonized over these tests and temptations. It was so difficult for him that angels came and attended to him when his time in the wilderness was over.
Pray. Call on your champion. He was tempted just like you. “Jesus, you know what this feels like! Help me!”
You and I have lost battles with temptation. Too many to count. More than we’d like to admit. Jesus did not. He was perfect. He passed every test. He overcame every temptation.
Jesus went right to the heart of it. Yes, God’s way, the way of the cross, was going to be difficult. And yes, it would have been “easier” to avoid it. But the heart of the temptation was, who would Jesus listen to—God or the devil. Jesus went right to the heart of the issue. “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” It didn’t matter how many logical excuses there might be for not listening to God in this situation. It didn’t matter that listening to God was more difficult in this situation. He simply relied on the Word of God and obeyed it. He held on to the promise that God’s commands are always right, even if we can’t see how, even if we don’t understand why. He held on to the promise that God was his Father, who loved him.
Jesus overcame these temptations. He was perfect. That’s important for us. But the lesson for us is not a lesson on how to overcome temptation. Jesus’ perfection, his perfect record in overcoming temptation, is important for another reason. His perfect obedience is important because he did it for you. He overcame temptation for you, in your place. Where you and I have failed, Jesus succeeded. And he gives you the credit for his success. When we faced tests and failed, when we gave in to temptation, Jesus covers us with his success. He gives us his obedience before God. And he proclaims to us that he did things God’s way all the way to the cross just so he could say to you now, “I forgive you. Your sins are paid for. You are at peace with God.” “He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.” (Psalm 91:15,16)
Jesus obeyed all the way to the cross. That is the depth of God’s love, which is at work even when difficult things come your way. It proves God does love you. He does care about you. This is why, when we face even the most difficult tests in life, even when we dip into those valleys, we have confidence that his ways are right. We can trust him. We can obey him. We can do what is right, even when it’s not the easy thing to do. And when those tests turn into temptations, it’s not necessary to know the exact, perfect Bible passage to fight off specific temptations. Just know from God’s Word who you are. Your identity is God’s baptized, adopted son or daughter. Therefore, God’s Word and promises to you can’t be wrong, even when reality seems to contradict them. The devil wants you to doubt God’s truth and his commands, and he wants you to doubt God’s love. Get to the heart of the temptation. “Away from me, Satan! My Lord and Savior has told me otherwise. And that’s all that matters.”
When facings tests and temptations, call on your champion. He was tempted like you. Call on your champion. He was victorious for you.