The title came as a result of a blast from the past. The group was a success back in the sixties and seventies. OK, I like the music of The Temptations. Who among that generation hasn’t sung along with them on “My Girl?” They had a song that was a hit in 1971. “Just My Imagination” was at the top of the charts for several weeks. It was such a mellow sound. I can still hear the lyric playing through my mind: “It was just my imagination running away with me . . . “
While reflecting on this text from Luke 4, I thought about The Temptations and their song, “Just My Imagination.” Temptation is more than just my imagination.
Each of us faces temptation as we journey through the Christian faith. As we have begun another journey to Cross during this Season of Lent, we find ourselves tempted, perhaps more than at any other time, to focus on ourselves rather than on the reality of the price God paid for our salvation.
Temptation is the act of tempting or the state of being tempted. To tempt is to try to get someone to do wrong, especially by making a promise or giving a reward. This text is a vivid example of someone trying to get someone else to do wrong by making a promise or offering a reward.
Mike Tyson’s promoters wanted Georgia to receive him with open arms for a fight with Lennox Lewis for the heavyweight championship at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta in June 2002. Then Governor Roy Barnes was opposed to Tyson coming to fight in the Peach State. He didn’t want a “sexual predator” boxing in Georgia. That sounded reasonable. But some of Georgia’s lawmakers said, “Wait a minute. We know he’s a sexual predator, but that’s all in the past. Besides, he served time. This would be good for the Georgia economy. If Tyson boxes here the sales tax revenues would result in millions of dollars. The state would be rewarded greatly.” Never mind that there was no evidence of genuine “repentance.”
That kind of temptation is real. Fortunately, Tyson’s promoters chose to look elsewhere. For Jesus temptation meant giving thought to more than millions of dollars for His home state.
After His baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit to go into the wilderness west of the Jordan River. I was there once. It is an unfriendly and desolated place where you wouldn’t want to spend even a couple of days, let alone your summer vacation. But Jesus stayed out there 40 days and nights. He didn’t eat any food. He was sorting out things about His calling to serve His God and offering Himself for the salvation of the world. He was alone. I was in a group of 20. So I’m not sure what aloneness would be like in that forsaken place. Jesus, however, knew. But, as Luke indicates, He wasn’t completely alone. He had some unwanted company. The devil just happened to show up, tempting Him to do some things. The devil’s presence wasn’t in Jesus’ imagination either. And these temptations were more than just His imagination.
Questioning God’s Provision and Care (vv. 3-4)
The temptation to question God’s provision and care is not imaginative. It is real. Though the devil tempted Jesus about the most basic of needs, bread, we sometimes desire to “feed ourselves” with things we feel are basic to life. But those “basic things” frequently involve a larger home, more gadgets, the finest appliances, the most expensive clothes, and a host of other material possessions to say that we have arrived.
Lack of Trust in God (vv. 5-7)
The devil made Jesus an offer that gripped His imagination. Most would not refuse it. We are tempted to grab for power that is not ours or take power in an inappropriate manner. The devil tempts us to slip into idolatry as directly as he did with Jesus, using devious alternates, to destroy our trust in God and only God.
The Easy Way Out (vv. 8-13)
The devil tempted Jesus to look for the easy way out of a difficult situation. Jesus committed Himself to not testing God or characterizing His ministry with a flashy display. He would not become a Messiah whose ministry was nothing more than a circus of miracles. Christ would not give into the temptation to call God to deliver Him from death in Jerusalem. Jesus eventually died there. He refused to choose His own deliverance, but opted for faithfulness to His Father’s will.
As Lent begins, remember that temptation is more than something in the imagination. Just as real is a way out. Read the Scriptures, just as Jesus did, and a way out can be found. Imagine that.
Sermon brief provided by: Jimmy Gentry, Tabernacle Baptist Church, Carrollton, GA