The Sermon That Won’t Let Me Go

Maybe it is because of all the snow, ice and cancellations that have allowed me to spend more time thinking quietly to myself, but a sermon that I preached a few weeks ago will not seem to leave my mind. Now I suppose I need to preface that statement by telling you that most of the sermons I preach are locked into the back of my brain by Sunday afternoon. This happens because I must move on to the next thing. Sunday evenings I speak to teenagers, and by Monday afternoon I need to have a general outline of the coming Sunday’s sermon. Usually, the concepts from last the previous sermon are placed into my long-term memory until the next time I speak on the same topic or text.

There is one sermon that I cannot seem to escape. It was the first sermon in my series from the gospel of Luke. Each lecture in this series focuses on a story from the life of Jesus from the beginning at his baptism to the point of his entrance into Jerusalem before his crucifixion. The first message was on the temptation of Jesus.

I have had the opportunity to speak on this story several times throughout the years. The original plan for my preaching was to stay with the old familiar outlines and ideas. Normally I focus on the three types of temptation that were offered to Jesus and remain the same for us today. Jesus was tempted with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Those are the same tactics the devil uses on all of us to separate us from the work of God in our lives. Unexpectedly, this time something struck me that I had never noticed before when I prepared to teach on this passage.

Each of the temptations of Jesus was the offer of a shortcut to a positive end. The devil tempts Jesus to turn stones to bread. Jesus was hungry, and it is a reasonable request. The problem is that it bypasses Jesus doing any work. The second temptation (in Luke) is for Jesus to bow down to Satan and he would receive power over and authority over the whole world. Jesus will get those things at the end of his ministry, but only after he goes to the cross. The final temptation is for Jesus to throw himself down from the temple; if he does that, then everyone will see that he is God’s chosen one without him having to perform miracles or rise from the dead. In each case, the temptation is to reach a desirable goal by using a shortcut to God’s plan. The end does not justify the means.

For me, I cannot get two ideas out of my head. First, the way of God is long. There are no quick and easy routes to get to where God wants you to go. It will take more than three years for Jesus to accomplish the things Satan is proposing that could happen in an instant. Second, I am struck by the repeated fact that there are no shortcuts in God’s plans. You cannot have God’s will in your life entirely by Friday. There are no three easy steps to immediate transformation. The work of the Lord in my life and the world required a concerted effort over the long haul.

There are no shortcuts on the narrow way. The journey of faith takes a lifetime. God is with you for the duration, and I wonder, are you in it with him until his plan is accomplished in and through you. We want our spiritual life to be easy, and it just isn’t.

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