Sermon for Midweek of Invocavit
James 1:2-15 + Luke 22:24-32
This evening we pick up the theme that we considered on Sunday—the theme of temptation, focusing on the lesson you heard from James. Trials and temptations, actually. The word used in the New Testament for temptation is the same word used for trials or testing. A trial or a test is a hardship that has to be endured, resulting in divine approval and blessing. You might think of Abraham, how God tested his faith by telling him to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac. That was certainly a hardship that God had Abraham endure, and when Abraham endured, his faith was approved and He was greatly blessed. Jesus, too, was tested. You heard Him in the second lesson tonight as He spoke to His disciples: But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. Jesus’ trials began in earnest when He was fasting in the wilderness. It was a hardship for Him to go forty days and nights without food, a trial of His faith in His dear Father and a testing of His obedience.
But a trial can also turn into a temptation. Let’s define a temptation this way: A temptation is the enticement to fulfill one’s desires apart from God’s will. For example, God had given Adam and Eve a very small test, the tiniest possible trial, the smallest hardship that can barely be called a hardship: don’t eat from this one tree. That wasn’t a temptation; it was a test. But then the devil came along and magnified that tiny hardship for Eve, deceiving her into thinking it was a really big hardship. (Has he ever done that with you—fool you into dwelling on a little hardship until it appears as big as a mountain, until you’re good and worried about it?) The devil did that with Eve, and then cunningly played on Eve’s godly desire for knowledge and wisdom. He used that desire and then tempted Eve, enticed Eve to find knowledge and wisdom in the fruit of the tree where God had said not to go looking for knowledge and wisdom. She listened to the devil. She saw that the tree was desirable to make one wise, and so allowed the devil to lead her astray from God’s will, to fulfill her desire where God told her not to fulfill it.
On Sunday we saw Jesus’ trial in the wilderness. His trial of hunger at the end of forty days of fasting was also turned into a temptation by the devil, who tried to entice Jesus to fulfill His desire for food in a way that God hadn’t given. But as we learned on Sunday, the devil was unable to entice Jesus away from faith in God and love for God and obedience to God.
Just to be clear on the difference between trial and temptation, let’s go to what James says at the end of tonight’s lesson and see how he talks about “temptation.” Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Here James shows us how temptation works. It plays to our desires, which may be innocent enough on their own, but temptation turns those desires in directions that God’s Word doesn’t allow, and that gives birth to sin, and sin, if left unchecked, leads to death.
James says that God tempts no one. He does “test” His children, as He did with Abraham and with Jesus. But He doesn’t tempt anyone to sin. And why does He test faith? James gives us a reason in our lesson: My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. “Patience” can also be translated “endurance” or “perseverance.” St. Paul said the same thing in similar words in Rom. 5: We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Peter, too, speaks of God’s good purpose in testing our faith: Now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,
So James urges us to rejoice in trials, because faith and perseverance in the faith are the most precious things God gives in this life. Without faith in Christ, we’re lost forever. With faith in Christ, you have God’s favor. You have everything, so you can lose everything here on this earth. As we sing in the hymn, And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, let these all be gone. They yet have nothing won. The kingdom ours remaineth. So God works on our faith with tests and trials in order to exercise it, to keep driving us back to Him and His Word alone.
What trials have you faced in the past and endured? What trials are you now facing that require you to shut your eyes and simply trust? How have you fallen into temptation in the past? How is Satan tugging on your desires even now to get you to serve yourself and to turn away from God and His Word? Listen to God’s Holy Spirit through the words of James. Know that trials for the baptized are not signs of God’s disfavor, but of His fatherly care. And even the temptations that come from the devil, the world, or our own sinful flesh are used by God for our good. This life is a constant battlefield, full of trials and temptations. If you have fallen into temptation—and there is no one who doesn’t fall, Christ is here to pick you up again with His forgiveness and mercy. And now, as you go forth with His forgiveness, go forth more committed than you were before to endure hardship, trials and temptations, with Christ Jesus in your sights as both your Savior and your example of patient endurance. As James says, Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Amen.