Temptation [Hebrews 2:17-18]
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In the book “Finding Men for Christ” George Dempster tells a story about his ministry from the 1920’s and 30’s in London. George Dempster was a clergyman, a pastor, who disguised himself as a docker working to unload freighters off the Thames river. Apparently in this time and place, the dock workers were usually broken men in need of healing. In the low tide, the freighters had to anchor far off shore, and long planks were used to get across the mud flats to the shore. George was pushing his wheel barrow across the plank, when some of the dock workers thought it would be funny to jiggle the plank and he lost his balance and fell into the shallow muddy waters. They all roared with laughter from the safety of the shore. The fall was painful, he was dripping wet and knee deep in muck. His instinct was anger – he was hurt inside and out, but a small voice whispered in his heart, “This is your opportunity.” So he laughed along with them and got up slowly. One of the dockers jumped in next to him and helped pull him out of the muck. He had an unusual accent for a dock worker, so George started a conversation, “Tell me your story, and I’ll tell you mine.” They looked ridiculous, covered in mud, trying to scrape slime off one another while becoming almost as filthy in the process. Finally, they got out of the muck and decided to go to George’s house for coffee.
Once he was home, the Pastor cleaned up and put on his normal clothes – whatever was traditional for a pastor, and came back out into the main room. The dock worker stared at him in amazement, and he said, “This is your story? Why would you be working down by the docks?” George responded, “To find you.” The dock worker started to get up as if to leave, but the Pastor restrained him, “A deal’s a deal. Thank you for helping me out of the river, and giving me the privilege of meeting you, but you promised, and I want that story of yours. You can see mine – strange as it is.” There was a long uncomfortable silence, but the Pastor pressed. “Tell me if I can be of help to you.” The man shook his head, “You can’t.” Why? Because I’ve gone too far. Pastor George leaned in, “Do you think it was an accident that I happened to get a job alongside you at that particular wharf this morning? Do you think it was chance that those rascals chose me for their cruel joke? Do you think it was coincidence that of all the crowd you should be the one to fish me out?”
Slowly the story came out. The man pulled two pictures from his pocket. A beautiful woman in one, and two little girls in another. Turns out the dock worker was actually a doctor, with a fine record. Lots of money, happy home, lots of friends. As it always seems to do – victory defeated him. He became popular, too busy for church – plenty of excuses. Social drinking became addicted drinking, became necessary drinking. The habit grew stronger until it mastered him. His medical practice as well as his home and family were neglected. Unhappiness, depression. Then he decided to disappear. He abandoned his family. Went to America, Canada, back to London – but now as a dock worker. And this is a quote from George Dempster “kneeling by the table, he and I talked with God. Never can I forget his prayer. At first the halting, stumbling petition of a brokenhearted repentant sinner…but as he confessed his feelings in these ways, he seemed to become capable of clearer utterance.” They got up from the floor, and he shook his hand and this broken doctor looked at the pastor and said, “And you will stand by me?” Yes. “Then I will prove what Christ can do.” So he started to clean himself up. It had been years, and his girls were finishing up college, but after some time going to church – setting himself back on the path. He was ready to reach out to his family again. His abandoned wife hesitated, unsure. It took a long time, over 6 months of clean living, good community, support and love – confession and forgiveness, but eventually he came back to his wife, and then his daughter, and then the other daughter. A home was restored, a family healed, all because a man fell in the mud.
Today we are continuing our series on the Lord’s Prayer. Piece by piece we have walked through the most common, ordinary words of the Christian life. Yet, when we take a closer look, we can find impossible, incredible things in the seemingly ordinary. We have repeated them so much that we have forgotten just how amazing they really are. Like saying, “I love you” to your spouse or kids – beautiful words, can become hallow of meaning if we’re not careful. But one of the best things about this sermon series is to take a second look, a double-take, look a little closer, rediscover beauty and meaning in the Lord’s prayer. Today we are going to zoom in on the words, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Today I want to talk about trials. Temptations. Basically, the bad things that happen in life, and what we’re supposed to do with them.
So we’re going to start with our scripture from the Hebrews today, where it says, [read v.17]. Now they are talking about Jesus, and it says, “therefore he HAD to become like his BROTHERS AND SISTERS (that’s you – he had to become like you, fully human) in EVERY respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest. Jesus was a human being, he dealt with the things we deal with. He struggled with the darkness that was around him in life – like we do. But it doesn’t stop there. It continues in verse 18, [read it]. Jesus is not some lofty statue or perfectly clean idol. Jesus is the part of God that got down in the trenches with us, the Jesus that pulls us out of the muck, by jumping in next to us. Think about the Pastor who disguised himself as a dock worker. He could have gotten up from the mud and declared, “I am a Pastor. I am better than you. I am more important than you. I demand you apologize.” But he didn’t – he saved a family by getting his hands dirty, by engaging, by seeing where the man across from him was and showing him a path to something better. And what I want you to realize this morning is that there is community that is found in resisting temptation. Jesus suffered, he dealt with temptation, and he overcame – so that he can invite us to do the same. He walks with us through the bad times.
And I realized, suffering is something we’re supposed to do together. Supporting one another. Yet for some reason, most of us have this mental block in our lives – we tell ourselves, “don’t tell anyone I’m struggling, don’t let it show that there is darkness in my life.” We’re like Elsa in that Disney movie frozen, “conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.” So many people struggle with the exact same things - but when we let shame or even just embarrassment control our hearts - we isolate ourselves from the love of our neighbor. One of the privileges of being a pastor is that over time I get to know people’s stories. Maybe they don’t tell other people what they are struggling with, but they WILL come talk to me. And that is such an honor, I love that about my job. I carry those stories proudly. And I would never break confidentiality. There is an expectation of privacy, and yet from my vantage point on this stage - I know who is struggling with the exact same thing. And you think you’re alone, but you’re not. Whatever you’re struggling with, I promise there are people around you struggling with the same thing. But if you privatize your struggles, you suck the purpose out of them. Now I am not saying whine about your problems. I’m not saying complain more – we don’t need that. But Jesus put his suffering to work, he made use of his pain. It says, “since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.” The greatest mistake we make when bad things happen is to think that it’s all about you. But if you follow the example of Jesus, if you put your suffering to work – you can actually use it to help the people around you. I have been through this horrible thing – I bet I can use that to help others. Maybe you’ve heard - the greatest drug counselors are former addicts, the greatest marriage counselors are those who have had broken relationships, the greatest financial advisors are those who have learned from mistakes and struggles and trials. I’m not saying you have to struggle to help someone – but we learn from those who did. Jesus had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way – so that he could turn around and help those who are being tested.
When I think about testing, trials and temptations - my mind is drawn to Zechariah, chapter 13 where it says, [read v.8-9]. Now, I don’t have time to get into the context very much – but basically the nation of Israel is going through some really hard times. They lost their home, their families, all their stuff – their entire identity. So, to clarify. Two-thirds shall be cut off. He’s talking about this big group of people, and he says right off the bat, “Two-thirds aren’t going to make it.” The third that makes it? I’m gonna stick them in the fire. I’m going to put them through the ringer. I going to stick my people in the fire, and then I will refine them. Have you heard this metaphor of refining metals before? If you haven’t, real quick – you pull precious metals out of the ground, and they have impurities, dirt and stuff in with the gold. So you stick it in the fire, melt it down, burn off the impurities and then fashion the pure, clean, beautiful gold into jewelry or whatever. Here’s the thing, the bible is very clear – the fire will come. Bad things happen in life. To quote the Princess Bride, “Life is pain, your highness, anybody who says differently is selling something.” Bad things happen, there’s no choice there, but our response in those moments - that IS a choice. I can’t keep bad things from happening in your life, but I can show you how to respond. When you face a problem in your life – whatever it might be. Medical problems, depression, betrayal, struggles in marriage, family, work. I use general words like “Darkness” because it applies on every level of life to every person in this room. When you face a problem, and you focus just on yourself, and you make it all about you – you suck the purpose out of your pain. Jesus gives us a better way. By focusing on the people around you – you can turn oppression into an opportunity. Ask yourself - How can I help others because of this? How can I relate to them, How can I comfort them? In this way, your struggles, your temptations, your trials actually become gifts. You have fallen in the mud – are you going to get angry or will you listen to that small voice that whispers, “this is an opportunity.” God uses difficult situations to strengthen our faith. The devil will try to use them to weaken or destroy our faith. Here’s an example. When we had our baby girl a couple weeks ago - she struggled to gain weight. She wasn’t eating enough, and she was losing weight - and that’s really scary. And the stress and fear brought us to tears - it was horrible and I never want to go through it again. But you know what? On the other side of it (baby Maggie is doing amazing by the way) - because of our suffering, Sara and I are now a resource for anyone else who might be going through something similar. We know what it feels like, we know how to fix it, and the work it takes and the anxiety, and lack of sleep, that goes with it - we know all that, and so we have an opportunity to help others, to love others who might be going through the same thing - that we could not have done before our suffering. There’s always going to be bad things. Bad things happen – so the question is “what are you going to do about it?” Will you follow the example of Jesus, use your pain to help others? Will you let God use the difficult situations you have gone through in His plan of redemption, or will you give up, implode on yourself and let pointless suffering become your new identity instead?
Lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil. These words are the only line in the Lord’s prayer spoken from a place of darkness. When a time of trial comes – our cry to God is “don’t let it overwhelm me.” Don’t let me give up. Don’t let me give in. Help me to find the opportunity in the pain. The good news this morning is that God delivers us from Evil. Two parts to that. First, there is going to be evil. Call it whatever you want – struggle, oppression, obstacles, darkness, temptations – Sh-stuff happens. There is going to be evil. Actually, the more you walk with God, the more you try to stand up and be a moral and righteous man of God, woman of God in our world – the worse it gets. God delivers us FROM EVIL, because in our lives we are going to find some evil. But the second part of the phrase - I want you to pay attention to the verb. God delivers. God is the one doing the action. He carries us out of darkness. It doesn’t say – God gives me superpowers, or God helps, it doesn’t say God cheerleads. It says God delivers. God does the work, all we need to do is cling to Him and his teachings. You are not the driver, you are the passenger – just make sure you’re in the right car.
Sometimes when we are facing the problems of life we feel so helpless. We feel as though there’s nothing we can do. In that moment, remember that God delivers you. Do you see how liberating that is? If you are feeling forced – there’s nothing I can do, I’m stuck, I can’t – then you are not living into the freedom that God gives you. You have forgotten your identity as a child of God. I heard this phrase in a bible study awhile back, “we do not fight for victory, we fight from victory.” We have already won, do you know how I know – because we are not the one’s fighting the battle. If it was ME verses my sin - I would lose. But it’s not me - it’s Jesus. God delivers you. Jesus frees us from the slavery of sin and death. You are not a slave. Jesus became just like us in every way – but he never sinned. He shows us that it is possible to take suffering and turn it into a refining fire. With Jesus, you do not have to obey the brokenness of the world. You are not a slave. You are not overcome. I will not be a slave.. If you believe that, say it with me – I am not a slave. I am not a slave
Alright, now I want to make this really practical. If God is going to deliver us, if we are going to walk in the deliverance of the Lord - there are some concrete steps we can take. Back in Hebrews, chapter 2, it says, [read v.1]. In your life, you are prone to drift away from truth. It takes almost no energy to drift. Think about when you’re driving on the road. If you’re going straight, and you’ve got your wheels going straight - does that mean you can stick your hands in your pocket? How long would that work? Like ten feet, right? Cars drift. Think about being in a canoe on the river - if you stop paddling the way you want to go, do you stop moving? Nope! You just float along with the tide. We tend to drift into temptation. And so the first step - the first thing you need to do walk in deliverance is pinpoint your weakness. Ask yourself, when are you weak. Matthew 26 is Jesus talking to the disciples and he says, [read v.41]. Some translations say, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” So I want you to ask yourself - when is your flesh weakest? When is your will power low? For some of you, you might say, “my flesh is weakest when I’m hungry” or “my flesh is weaker when I’m tired” or “when I’m lonely” or “when I’m scared” or “when I’m feeling invincible and everything is going good.” Temptation is sneaky. Temptation doesn’t come into our lives big and bold. It creeps in, in a thousand little ways. For example, the great wall of China is one of the greatest feats of humanity in all of history. They built this incredible wall to keep the enemy out – and it worked, for a while. Do you know how the enemy got through? They didn’t scale the wall, they bribed the gatekeeper. Temptation starts small. Temptation drifts into our lives, and so we need to be vigilant. There’s a reason they say don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry - you’ll buy a bunch of junk food you don’t need. It’s the same principle. Pinpoint your weakness. Look at your life, know when you are weak - that’s your starting point.
Then the second step is to plan out your way out. We know that temptations WILL come. We know that. So plan it out in advance. If you’re sober, you don’t make the decision to drink alcohol or not drink when someone hands you the cup. You make that decision ahead of time. You don’t make the decision to gossip or shame someone in the moment you hear a juicy story. You make that decision ahead of time. Know who you want to be, and how you want to act BEFORE you get in the situations. 2 Timothy chapter 2, verse 22 tells us, [read it]. The way to run away is to know what you’re going to say before you ever get into the situation. So pinpoint your weakness, know when you are vulnerable and then make a plan.
The last piece, once you have planned your way out, is to set up your safety net. Sometimes, even when we’ve made the right decision ahead of time, and we know when we are weak - sometimes our will power is still not enough. So you have to set up a safety net. Most of the time, that comes from the people around you. Like we saw at the beginning, suffering is not something we are supposed to do alone. Sometimes we need an accountability buddy - someone who knows what we are struggling with, is praying for us, and will ask us about it. Think about it like a personal trainer. Maybe you want to lose some weight and so you meet with a personal trainer, and they give you an outline of what you’re supposed to eat. Now you WANT to throw away that meal plan and go home and eat a whole bag of chips - but you KNOW that they’re going to ask you in the morning. You make different decisions when a safety net is in place, when you are accountable to someone. If I set a goal to read my bible and spend 15 minutes in prayer with God every single morning - and I tell my friend Charee about that goal. And I say, “Charee, will you ask me about that every day?” Shoot me a text every morning and say, “hey, how did your prayer and devotion time go?” If I know that text is coming - if I know that safety net is in place, my odds of success skyrocket. I had a friend who was drifting away from church one time. And she was a part of a Life Group that met every single week. And they stopped going for a couple of weeks. No reason, just didn’t feel like going. And the life group leader reached out and was like, “Hey, haven’t seen you around church or life group lately - how are you?” And my friend was so offended. She was like, “I’m not going back there, they’re so invasive and all up in my business.” I was baffled, I looked at her like, “I mean - praise God that you have people who care about you enough to check up on you - isn’t that amazing? That sounds like a really healthy church to reach out like that.” Pinpoint your weakness, make a plan and set up your safety net. Simple, practical, concrete ways you can walk in the deliverance that God gives us from temptation.
Really the whole application of this sermon is simply to pray this line “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” – pray that line, but remember what you’re saying. When we come before God and say, “lead us not into temptation.” We are asking God, in that moment when something bad happens, we are begging God – use my pain for good. If this is what life brings, then let it have purpose, let it mean something – take my brokenness, and use it for good. I have fallen in the mud. Lead me not into the temptation of giving up, of wallowing, of self-pity. Take my pain, my brokenness, my suffering – and help others with it. Redeem it in your glory. We stand before God, watching the example of Jesus, and we say, “sometimes we have to suffer, like Jesus suffered and I’m okay with that if you will use it for your glory – if you will use it to heal someone else.” I think about George Dempster falling in the mud. That moment was an opportunity, and and he turned that suffering into salvation. So pinpoint your weakness, make a plan and set up your safety net - and God will deliver you from temptation. Let’s pray.