Following His Footsteps: “The Temptations” – Luke 18

temptations1In this lesson, we have the privilege of meeting five temptations. The singing group named “The Temptations” has been successful for more than half a century – noted for their choreography, harmonies, unmistakable wardrobe, and their musical evolution. They sold tens of millions of albums, featuring five male vocalists originally formed in 1960 in Detroit, Michigan under the name “The Elgins”. The founding five members came from two rival Detroit vocal groups. The group, over the years of their performances gave the world some true Motown hits, including “My Girl” (1964), “Treat Her Like a Lady” (1984), “Just My Imagination” and “Get Ready”. They have performed in venues from small supper clubs to huge concert halls – and are known the world over…but they are not the five temptations I want you to meet today.

I have in mind a different “five temptations” – these even better known but lesser liked. I have in mind the five temptations that are highlighted by the teachings of Jesus in Luke 18 that easily inflict His followers. They were recorded as a warning and a call to self-examination for all of us who name Jesus as our Master and Lord.

Let’s start by understanding something…Every believer faces a series of distractions that can cause us to move away from our call to continuously seek the Master’s smile by our both our clear thinking and our dedicated behavior.

• Some get caught up trying to EARN the love of Jesus –when that isn’t the right perspective at all.

• Others are routinely overwhelmed by and subjected to the strong winds of feeling, and cannot remain resolute to walk as a child of God ought.

• Still others, led by poorly reasoned arguments of strayed leaders, convince themselves that their salvation is all that matters, and Jesus can get their obedience AFTER they get to Heaven. That, too, is deeply errant thinking.

It is easy for believers to get off track in our walk with Jesus. A straightforward understanding of our walk with God should lead us to this truth…

Key Principle: Every follower needs to consistently re-examine their willingness to truly follow our Savior’s direction, step by step.

When we pick up reading in Luke, we need to recall that Jesus had been telling His followers that His Kingdom would not come until a time of suffering for them (and the world) that would include their deep longing to see Him (17:22). He would seem as though He delayed during their intense struggles – and some would be tempted to fall away from following Him (Luke 17:26-36).

Jesus followed those statements, at least as Luke recorded them, with five simple temptations that would befall the believers of that time. Though the teachings will certainly be necessary for the days ahead, they are also temptations we all face today – so they are even more relevant than first glance would make a student of the Word believe.

Temptation One: Becoming Self-Reliant

Look at the first temptation as Jesus presented it:

Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ 4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

In every age, there is a temptation for followers of God to become self-reliant. We get distracted and discouraged from prayer – but God desires that we remain persistent. Look closely at the verses and see if the temptation has been dangled in front of you, and God’s prescription for dealing with it.

First, note that Jesus’ point is not in question – the parable was to make the ONE POINT that persistence in prayer is a key to success in our walk with God (18:1).

Second, note that Jesus didn’t hesitate to make the characters in His parable VERY DIFFERENT than their underlying “real world” archetypes. In this parable, God the Father’s part was handed over to “an unrighteous judge”. The praying follower of God’s part was played by a nagging old widow. Don’t let that bother you a whit; it is all part of the medium of parable in the time of Jesus. Stay focused on the main point, which was disclosed in verse one.

Third, note that the parable offered both a comparison and a contrast in verse six and seven between the unjust judge and the King of Glory – but they were connected by the result. Though God listens out of GOODNESS, the judge listened out of SELF INTEREST. That wasn’t the point. The point was that BOTH LISTENED. God is not LIKE the judge, He is good. Yet, He is LIKE the judge in that He will hear the call of His children – He will not ignore their voices.

Fourth, note that WHEN Jesus comes, justice will follow. It won’t come BEFORE Him, but WITH Him. That is the point of verse seven and eight.

fire chief kevin chochranBelievers are tempted to seek justice in the here and now, and increasingly that is becoming hard to find. Ask the Fire Chief in Atlanta who was fired recently because he wrote a book for his Sunday School men on sexual purity that referred to homosexuality as a perversion. He was fired because he believed such a heinous, terribly unjust book as the Bible, in spite of the lack of evidence that he had ever discriminated against anyone in his departmental responsibility. He isn’t allowed to say that he believes that – because he was a public employee. If he held the opposite view, he could say that… there is no penalty for holding the non-Biblical but popular belief. Increasingly, tolerance means “you are free to believe what WE say.”

What should we do about that? Shall we write letters? Maybe. Should be cross-post on social media our objections? Perhaps. Here is the real question… Will we stop and pray for the people involved? Will we seek Heaven’s intervention for our public officials that are trying to serve with integrity and follow the Bible? Will we still do it next month? How about a year from now or later when the case is brought before the courts for the firing? I suspect we will find this momentary issue to be quickly distracted from, and be off on the next outrageous move of the enemy while Heaven awaits our persistent voice.

Here is the truth: If we advertise free counseling for marital difficulties, parent-child relationships and time management – we will find a line forming outside the door. If we advertise that we will bow our knee beside you and pray with you and for your need – no line will form. Many of us have been thoroughly conditioned to believe the answers can be found on earth, and seeking Heaven is at least less effective and at worst a total waste of time. We won’t admit it (that wouldn’t sound Christian!) – but our footprints and schedule books tell the story. We are self-reliant Christians – people given to frantic picketing in place of fervent prayer and social network complaints in place of quiet but persistent seeking of God’s face over a situation. What more did Jesus need to say about this? We are tempted to do it on our own, or give up quickly – and both leave us in a state of self-reliant weakness. As darkness increases, some will begin to recognize anew the tall stature of the bent knee.

Temptation Two: Becoming Arrogant

The second temptation is just as convicting, and offers a different warning…

Luke 18:9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The temptation for many followers of God is to become self-exalting and arrogant: We think of ourselves as “better” than others – but God desires we humble ourselves.

Look again at the verses, and you will see a comparable pattern to the first temptation’s revelation.

First, you see the aim and audience of the whole story in the phrase: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” These were people DOING RIGHT in life behaviors, but going off course in ATTITUDES. They followed God, but they used their obedience as a whip to sting those who seemed further back on the path.

Second, Jesus’ story opened with an event – both a Pharisee and a tax collector went to the Temple to pray. One went to recite his obedience and goodness, the other went to sob and seek God’s mercy for his many sins. One boasted of his works as a display before Heaven; the other was so broken over his own faults, he wouldn’t look up. One sought PAYMENT for a life well-lived, the other pleaded for MERCY for a life that left a mess in its wake.

Third, Jesus made clear who “connected with God” at the Temple. One man messed up his life but then sought God honestly; in seeking undeserved mercy he found hope. The other man who felt God’s grace was payment for his good choices knew little of what God truly wanted – and left without Heaven’s approval. God knows that my best efforts done for self are not righteous deeds – they are selfish deeds. They reflect arrogance – and I wish I wasn’t so familiar with them.

When each of us first heard the Gospel message, those who gave their heart to Jesus were quickly overwhelmed by His love, and we began our journey with a full knowledge that we were not worthy of our Savior’s love – nevertheless we have it. We began our journey in humility. Then… slowly… something happened. We walked a few steps with Jesus. We began to DO right. We began to experience the empowering of God in our lives as we served Him. Time passed, and we got “better” at doing God’s will as revealed in God’s Word. We watched as others DIDN’T FOLLOW GOD, and their lives were increasingly messy. We tried not to judge everyone overtly, but inside we knew that our obedience paid off – and their stubborn disregard for the things God said only brought them increasing pain. After a while, we began to see ourselves as “good” and “obedient” – a silent creep toward the “deserving” category. We tried to hide it, but on occasion, especially when really dark people happen by in front of us – it pops out of the surface. We believers, the recipient of God’s rich mercy, began feeling “deserving” of God’s special favor. What began in brokenness morphed into arrogance.

Let’s be clear: God resists the proud. He avoids the arrogant. We have a choice – we can see ourselves as the wretched, judgmental, self-loving people that we are – or we can lie and act like we really see the world through eyes broken by the realization of the receipt of our own undeserved blessings. Only when I am convinced that God’s mercy isn’t, wasn’t and never will be because of me – will I know Him the way He wants me to, and only then will I see the world as He does. Stunned by the wonder of God’s mercy toward me, I can see lost men as objects of my Father’s magnificent obsession. He loves the broken.

There is an old story of an eagle who, on an early morning during the spring thaw, soared high above the forest looking for something to eat. As he followed the course of a river he looked down and spied a small rodent, trapped on a piece of ice that had broken free and was floating down stream. Seeing an easy meal, he swooped down, landed on the ice, killed the mouse and began to eat. As he continued his meal, he saw that his perch was rapidly approaching a water fall, but determined to finish eating and thinking he would rise into the air and to safety at the last moment, continued his course. As the ice neared the falls, the eagle finished his last bite. Satisfied with his breakfast he spread his mighty wings and attempted to rise skyward as the chunk of ice tipped over the edge. While enjoying his meal however, he had failed to notice that the warmth of his feet had caused his claws to become embedded in the ice. Try as he might, he could not dislodge them and free himself from what had now become the burden that would carry him to his death on the rocks far below.

People who think they are smarter than the average sinner, stronger than the average person, more able to resist temptation and more powerful in avoiding sinful situations have forgotten how quickly any of us can find ourselves stuck in the ice of our own cold hearts.

Temptation Three: Becoming Mistrusting

Luke 18:15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

The temptation for followers of God is to become too worried and doubtful – but God desires us to trust Him in handling our lives.

This passage is often misunderstood. The disciples were not “anti-baby”. They didn’t dislike children at all (so far as we know). The issue was one of “PROTECTING JESUS’ HONOR”. That was their assumption.

There are always believers who think they need to protect Jesus from those who do not know how to act – but that isn’t the case. Jesus is perfectly capable of dealing with the errant and the profane. We don’t want to imitate them, but we don’t need to somehow become “bodyguards for the Savior”, for He needs none. It is a nice sentiment to give Him honor in that way –but that is not something He asked for. What does that mean? It means we share Jesus openly, and we let those who want to follow Him learn, step by step, what it means to be in the presence of the Holy One. We honor Him. We revere Him. We address Him with respect and come before Him carefully, because He is the King about all kings. The “not yet” believer in our midst may not know how to carefully enter His presence – but they should SEE it in the way we do it. At the same time, we shouldn’t be so caught up in protecting Jesus and His reputation, that we don’t see that He came FOR THEM.

A number of years ago there was a riot on the Haram esh-Sharif, the ancient “Temple Mount” of the city of Jerusalem. I was there with a British group, and we got caught up in a full-scale meltdown in Jerusalem, complete with tear gas, bullets and helicopters. I won’t take the time to explain it all, because it isn’t necessary to the illustration. When the troubles began, I told all the people that I could see to “get down” and crawl toward the northern gate, where the El-Omariyeh School is located. The people crawled along and we got to the Via Dolorosa, made a right turn and ran down the hill into the Kidron Valley. When we got to the bottom, the crowds were growing exponentially. I ran to the head of the group and went up to the door of the Gethsemane “Church of All Nations” to get the Franciscan fathers to open up and let people in for safety. The guard at the gate was stopping people from coming inside because “some of them had shorts on”, despite the fact that shooting was going on and people’s lives were in danger. That guy would have kept babies from Jesus! Some people don’t get it.

Jesus took a moment to offer a teaching that was larger than a mere response to the situation. He taught: “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” His teaching wasn’t about honor at all – it was about something else. It was about the trusting nature of the little ones that came to Him.

When we meet Jesus, we are told of His love. Someone explains to us the story about how He took our place at Calvary, and how He died for our sins. We respond to the message, trusting the Word of God and the power of Jesus to save. Time moves on, and we find ourselves walking with Jesus through times of celebration, and other times of trouble. After a while, we grow up… that is our problem. As we grow, we hear many opposing voices to the One we hear in the Word. Some exchange trust for doubt, and doubt for disbelief – because they stop simply taking the Word for what it is…TRUTH. Jesus made the point that children BELIEVE what they are told and RECEIVE the Word completely – taking it at face value. Grown-ups often complicate simple things, because they have a way of hiding their ego behind a mask, and their rebellion in a religious costume. Children just believe it is true because Jesus said it is. That’s good enough – of such is the Kingdom of God. May God grant that you grow in Him enough to be reliable and strong, but never so much that you become more intelligent than your Savior in your own estimation. Accept His Word as your final answer to life’s questions.

Temptation Four: Becoming Resistant

A fourth temptation was also presented by Jesus in the text in the form of the answer to a direct question:

Luke 18:18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’ 21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” 27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” 28 Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!” 29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

The rich young ruler had a problem to which many of us can relate. Some followers of God attempt to make up the rules for what God SHOULD want from us – in spite of the fact that what God truly desires we surrender to Him is WHAT HE ASKS of us. Look it up: the antonym of surrender is resistance. The participants of a resistance are called “rebels”. Some of us are trying to play both sides in one life.

Look at the situation closely. The man approached Jesus with a question – but He wasn’t actually going to accept Jesus’ absolute authority over the answer. IF Jesus told him something that he was willing to do, then he would do it. If Jesus asked for something MORE than the man was willing to give, he’d find another rabbi and ask again. This isn’t new or rare.

Countless times I have watched people argue that they were not doing wrong when they were walking in direct violation of the Scriptures, because they KNEW God wouldn’t actually ask them to give up something they felt so deeply about. I have heard this reasoning applied from boats to illicit relationships – each time the line of argument was the same – if I feel this strongly, God wouldn’t want me to deny myself and follow Him. They never read this story. They never considered how hard it was for a rich man to set up a “yard sale” sign and let all his stuff go – only to give the proceeds to the poor. That is what Jesus said to do. Why? Because we don’t have anything in our lives that God didn’t provide – including the things we clutch hold of to make us happy. If we are willing to find our joy in Him, we will find that He knew from the beginning what we truly needed.

Recently I read a Pastor’s blog where he wrote about his two birds, Coffee and Charlie. I thought it might make the issue of resistance more clear…

My pet finch Coffee runs into a serious problem once in a while. Her claws grow so long she loses the ability to control them. They get stuck in the nest and she can’t get them out. Once we found her nearly dead, hanging for hours upside down with one claw ensnared in her wicker home. Carol rescued her and nursed her back to health. We decided we needed to regularly clip her claws so she could maintain control of them. I reach into the door and try to catch her while she desperately scrambles to the eight corners of the cage to escape capture. Once I do grip her gently in my palm, her heart races in a panic and she attempts to peck at my hand to free herself. I hold her steady, clip her nails, and release her back into the safety of her cage where she gleefully flies for months without getting ensnared. But when the nails grow again, we have to repeat the procedure, each time with her panic, pecking and distrust. It’s sad when she distrusts me. Charlie, Coffee’s nest mate, seems to enjoy being held and stroked, simply receiving the care for what it is as we clip his nails. I’m afraid I’m more like Coffee when God gets me in his grip. I fret and resist and at times turn hostile toward him as he holds me tight and gives me a trim. I wish I was more like Charlie. Actually, I’m going to try to be. (Clipped from “Pastor’s Round Table” – original author unknown).

Temptation Five: Becoming Befuddled

One last temptation needed to be addressed by Jesus beginning in verse thirty-one:

Luke 18:31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; 33 they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” 34 The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

The temptation for followers of God is to be selective in their hearing a assumptive in their conclusions – but God wants us to know His Word and let its truths sink deeply inside us.

When you read the account as Luke gave it to us, isn’t it a mystery on your first pass of reading why the disciples didn’t “get” what Jesus was saying? Perhaps that is “Monday morning quarterbacking” – because we know the end of the story already. If we look more closely, we may have clues to why they didn’t relate the story to the coming months of Jesus’ earth ministry.

First, Jesus didn’t just say, “I am going to die on the cross for your sins…” It was much more cryptic. He used a title, “Son of Man” that came from Daniel, and was one that He used of Himself. Was it that clear in His speech, or just clearer to us after knowing the story?

Second, Jesus wasn’t involved in a negative way with Gentile authorities at that point (though Herod Antipas was a Roman puppet and wanted to see Jesus). It is possible that they weren’t clear that the popular itinerant preacher would be turned upon so quickly – and it never struck them that their movement was about to be violently interrupted. If this is just after the raising of Lazarus the disciples seemed to know something bad was about to happen, which is why I believe Luke 18 was just before John 11 and not after. In John 11:16 the Apostle recalled: “Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.”

Here is the bottom line: Many followers of Jesus don’t listen closely to His Word. They pick out the parts they like, and don’t contextualize anything at all. You can make the Bible say anything you want if you cut it up into fortune cookie sized sayings and string them together without context. Let’s be clear: speaking from the Bible is not the same as teaching what is IN the Bible. In churches around the world people will lift quotes, but many will say little or nothing about what was before and after the quote. They will select out what they like, borrowing by implication the authority of the Word – but fail to really explain what God said.

I have been in theology discussions where people offer all kinds of re-shuffled Bible parts – like fast food chicken nuggets that are reassembled and fried until you cannot tell what part you may be getting. The theology was just about as spiritually nutritious. We must be careful to measure the difference between theological debate and actual Biblical instruction – they are not the same thing. We need to stop robbing the Bible of its richness, and really study it to hear our Father’s voice.

Do you all know much about Emperor Penguins? Emperor Penguins are monogamous; they have one mate for life. Perhaps even more interesting than that, though, is the fact that it is the male Emperors who care for the egg until it hatches. Every year, when mating season is over, the female Emperors take off for the ocean; all of them together in one huge flock traveling hundreds of miles so that they can fish and get plenty to eat to sustain them and their new chick for a year. Meanwhile, back at their home, the male penguins care for the eggs. Each male tucks his egg between his feet to keep it from breaking and to keep it warm in the cold, harsh, winter winds. When all those females return from the ocean, hundreds, perhaps even thousands of them, how do you think they find their mate in the equally large crowd of males? The Emperor penguins always find their mate by the sound of their call, by their voice. It seems impossible for a flock of thousands of penguins to sort themselves out by the sounds of their voices, but they do it. They have learned to block out the noise of other voices, and hear the important one. That is what believers need to grow to do. Only when we learn to pick out God’s voice will be truly listen to what He really said. We must resist the temptation to pick and choose lazily, and do the work of real study with open hearts!

It is easy for believers to get off track in our walk with Jesus. Every follower needs to re-examine their willingness to truly follow our Savior, step by step.

Most people don’t understand why it is important to follow God’s Word closely. We have a world of experts, and many of them think they know better than anything you will read in the Bible. Maybe this will help:

The doubleheader train was bucking a heavy snowstorm as its steam engines pulled it west. A woman with a baby wanted to leave the train at one of the little stations along the route. She repeatedly called, “Don’t forget me!” to the brakeman responsible to call out the stations they approached. Her husband was to meet her. The train slowed to a stop, and a fellow traveler rather certain of himself said, “Here’s your station.” She hopped from the train into the storm. The train moved on again. Forty-five minutes later, the brakeman came in. “Where’s the woman?” “She got off at the last stop,” the traveler said. “Then she got off to her death,” the brakeman responded. “We stopped only because there was something the matter with the engine.” They called for volunteers to go back and search for the woman and child. When they found her hours later, not far from the track where they stopped, she was covered with ice and snow. The little boy was protected on her breast. She had followed the man’s directions, but they were wrong—dead wrong.

Just because people think they know what will work – doesn’t mean they really do. God designed life. He is the One Who knows. Follow His Word – it will lead you home.

You have met our five temptations. Now I ask you to stop singing their tunes. Turn your attention to the songs of the Savior – our magnificent King!

• Trust Him – not yourself.
• Behold His humility – not arrogance.
• Trust Him as a small child trusts his parent to do good.
• Don’t resist. Don’t rebel. Don’t over complicate.
• Listen to His Word.