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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


Matthew 16:21-28
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church USA
August 28, 2005
Temptation. The Tempter. The Seducer. When I say these, who do you think of? Jessica Simpson? No. We’re in church. You think of the devil. Satan. Right? THE Tempter. The one who tempted Christ in the wilderness. Horns, tail and pitchfork.
Wouldn’t it be great if devils always dressed like that? But the horns and pitchfork stuff is just a cartoon. Real temptation is much more subtle, more attractive, and definitely better dressed. And no one’s immune from temptation. Even Christ was tempted. Even in those precious moments when the goodness of the living Christ is revealed to us, there are temptations to turn him into someone else.
Today’s scripture is about temptation. Peter is tempted. Even Jesus himself is tempted, if only for a nanosecond. Temptation is the passionate desire to turn yourself, or your savior, into something else.

We might not be able to completely define temptation, but we know it when we see it. We know what temptation is, but where does it come from?
Does temptation come the devil? The CEO of Temptation, Inc.? Is temptation like a brain virus, or a soul virus, manufactured in Satan’s invisible gene lab? Is temptation part of unseen powers and principalities, constantly at war with God for possession of our souls?
Well, in a way, yes. If you read certain scripture, you can’t escape this idea. The Bible starts out with the serpent tempting Eve with the forbidden fruit. Or the book of Job, where God and Satan have a contest over how much punishment a good man can take. Satan runs the temptation factory. And he’s got a product that sells itself.
When Peter rebukes Jesus for talking about dying, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan!” Simon, who Jesus just nicknamed, “Peter,” gets another nickname, and it’s not nearly as nice.
Why do we do things we know we don’t want to do? Why do words fly out of our mouths that we know we don’t want to say? Why do we keep screwing up? We know better. But it’s as if some unseen body-snatcher invades in a moment of sleep. The devil. Give him six, and pray that we can block the extra point. Temptation comes from an outside power greater than we.

Or, does temptation come from the inside? Are you the root of your own temptation?
Do you bring temptation on yourself? When was the last time you tempted yourself with something? Oh, come on, you know you do it. There’s a sale at your favorite store – Dillard’s, Home Depot, the Sea Ray boat store. And there’s a letter from your bank saying they’ve just extended your credit to seventeen billion dollars. Sure, the monthly payments could feed a family of six. But hey, life is short. Your kids can pay it off.
But maybe the biggest temptation we pull out of our hats isn’t the temptation to do something wrong, it’s the temptation to do nothing at all. When Jesus says he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering, and be killed, and on the third day be raised – when he says this, Peter doesn’t offer any alternatives. He just says, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” OK, Peter, what would you prefer Jesus do? Well, I don’t know, but not this. Instead of Jerusalem, maybe a vacation in a safe, quiet place on the coast.
A couple of weeks ago, there was a commentary on Public Radio called, “Always Go to the Funeral.” The author wrote about how her father taught her, in her teens, to do this. She said,
“Always go to the funeral” means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don't feel like it. I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don't really have to and I definitely don't want to. I'm talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. …In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn't been good versus evil. It's hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.
Peter doesn’t say what he wants Jesus TO do, he just knows what he DOESN’T want Jesus to do. Forget doing something else, if Jesus had done nothing, if Jesus had taken the weekend off, instead of doing the heavenly something, where in heaven’s name would we be? Temptation comes from inside. And it blocks the good inside from making it outside.

Or, is temptation a necessary evil? Is temptation a built-in side effect of anything good?
Going back to Eve and the serpent, the question always gets asked, why did God have to plant apples? And why did God plant the thing smack in the middle of the garden? And if God created the world and saw that it was good, was God not paying attention when making the serpent? Could God have made women less inquisitive? Could God have made Eve more like her husband, willing to sit on the couch and wait for snacks? (We digress.)
God created the world and called it, “good.” God created the world out of love. And maybe the temptation to turn the things we love into something “not good,” is just built-in to the equation. Good can’t be good without the temptation for it to turn bad.
In the same paragraph that Jesus commends Peter for having the divine vision to see the Messiah… eight sentences after he calls Peter “blessed…” three sentences after he gives him the keys to the kingdom of heaven… Peter goes from being Disciple #1 to Jesus calling him, “Satan.” How fast the first becomes the last. How fast the best friend turns into the worst enemy. How fast the fruit that is good, and a delight to the eyes, and that makes us wise… turns sour.
Think about where your greatest temptations come from. Do they come from the people you hate? Of course not. Do they come from snarling devils with pitchforks and bad teeth? No. The greatest temptations come from the people we normally love and respect the most.
Teenagers who get tempted to do wrong things: Who does the tempting? The kids they NEVER hang out with? No way. They get tempted into stuff by their friends. Their boyfriends, their girlfriends, their peer groups. So what do you do? Forbid them to have friends? (“Get thee to a nunnery.” Not a half-bad idea.)
If you love, if you care, temptation to twist that love into something else, something you create in your own image instead of something created in God’s… if you love, if you care, temptation is always part of the equation. How you resist, and IF you resist, that part of the equation is left for you to solve.

Jesus solved the problem by turning his back on temptation. “Get behind me, Satan.” Of course, he didn’t actually turn his back on his beloved friend, the founder of his church. But Jesus did make it painfully clear that pain is part of love. Pain is part of his love for Peter. Pain is part of his love for us. And because he loves, because he serves, because he obeys the will of God MORE than he fears the pain of love, he will go to Jerusalem, and he’ll take Peter with him. Jesus chooses. And so can we.

Temptation. Does it come from the devil? From inside ourselves? From simply choosing to love?
In the end, it really doesn’t matter where temptation comes from. Temptation happens. And there’s no avoiding it. Unless we lock ourselves in our room, or some garden paradise, and resign ourselves never to face the holy places of God. And that may be a way to exist, but it’s no way to live. To never risk the road to the holy city is to lose ourselves to hell.
Jesus calls us to live lives that are full and fresh and new. Jesus calls us to live lives that every now and then threaten to scare the stuffing out of us. Jesus calls us to live – with him, as his friend. Jesus calls us to live -- as people who may stumble. But Jesus calls us to live – to live knowing that nothing, “neither death, nor life, nor things seen, nor things unseen, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Whatever the Satan of your temptation is, put it behind you. Live. And Christ will live with you.