The Devil made me do it

Message preached March 12, 1989
Greencastle Church of the Brethren
Greencastle, Pennsylvania USA
based upon James 1:12-15

Black comedian Flip Wilson used to get a lot of laughs by portraying a swinging woman who had an explanation for every indiscretion. "The Devil made me do it!" she'd say. The Devil made me do it...

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Adam and Eve, living in the garden of Eden, could eat the fruit of any tree, any tree but one, that's what God told them. Of course, you know what happened? They went right ahead and ate the fruit of that tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And when the time of reckoning came, how did they respond? Adam blamed it on Eve, and Eve blamed it on the serpent. "The Devil made me do it." Which was worse: eating the fruit, or blaming someone else, and thus avoiding responsibility?

From the beginning of time it's been our instinct, as human beings, to blame others for our own sin. "The Devil made me do it." We may not quite say it in those exact terms, but the effect is the same. Perhaps that's why we laughed when that comedian would brashly cry out, "the devil made me do it." We see ourselves, and our tendency to blame someone, or something else for our mistakes. It's not that the temptation isn't out there, the allure of biting into the current fruit of the day. That temptation is out there. It always has been. Even in the "good old days." The temptation to "do it," whatever "it" may be, is a part of life. That's the way the world turns. The difference, as we all know, is how we respond to this temptation.

Jesus was tempted, himself. After all, it is a part of life. It always has been, even then. The difference, as we all should know, was how he responded to this temptation. Jesus was fully a man, even as he was fully God. Two times, in particular, the Gospel records the temptation of Jesus. The first time was after he was baptized. He went off alone into the wilderness. Forty days and forty nights. It was there he encountered the tempter. Preparing for three intense years of proclaiming the good news of God's Kingdom, Jesus was tempted with a false gospel. The devil tempted him three times, luring him toward seeking to satisfy the needs of the world with economic, social, and political power.

"Turn these stones to bread," said the tempter, and a hungry world will follow you. "Throw yourself down from the temple," the angels will save you and the people will proclaim you Messiah. "Bow down and worship me," and I'll give you every nation, every empire. Now, granted, these are not exactly everyday temptations that we all face. They are savior-sized enticements. Jesus faced them, and said "no". "Away from me, Satan," he said. But temptation did not leave, even though the tempter did.

The Bible records another instance when Jesus squarely faced into temptation. That second time it was in the garden of Gethsemane. I've often thought it is interesting that it was in a garden, the garden of Eden, that Adam and Eve gave into temptation; and another garden, the garden of Gethsemane, that Jesus put aside his final temptation. Face to face with God and not the tempter, Jesus asked that the cup he was about to drink from upon the cross, might be taken away. Three times he prayed this.

I believe those temptations of the devil in the wilderness returned to Jesus in his final hours. And finally, Jesus put them aside, and drank from that cup. By drinking from that cup of suffering, Jesus took upon himself the responsibility for our sin. What Adam and Eve avoided that day in Eden, Jesus accepted. He took responsibility for that fatal bite of the apple.

You see, The Devil didn't make Adam and Eve do it. It was the willful act of a man and a woman. The tempter just placed the possibility in front of them. They were the ones who acted upon it. The devil didn't make them do it.

But Jesus took responsibility for what they did. He paid the price for that sin,

and every sin that has followed since. He paid in full upon the cross. He accepted the cup placed before him and drank from it, of his own will. He didn't avoid it. And Jesus died...

Instead of placing responsibility on some other person's shoulders, God himself in Jesus Christ accepted it. And Jesus died. The devil didn't make him die, just as that tempter didn't make him sin. Jesus laid down his life of his own choice, no one took it from him. (John 10:18) He died that we might live. He freely laid down his own life to take away the power of death.

In so doing he gave the power to live; the power to live not just eternally, but the power to live today as well. He died that we might live. And by his resurrection we know the truth, and he is the truth, and this truth lives with us, and this truth sets us free.

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In the Lord's prayer as we have learned it, we ask of our God, our Abba/Father in heaven, that we not be led into temptation, but instead be delivered from evil. It's important that we understand what Jesus meant by those words when he taught us to pray them.

First of all, those words speak most to the greatest temptation, the temptation to lose faith, to give up the promise, to deny God. A great temptation is to give up hope when faced with suffering or persecution. For early Christians the temptation was to chose to save their own skin when given a choice between dying a horrible death and renouncing Jesus and living.

The image of Christians being fed to the Lions, or used as living torches, or dying also on a cross like Jesus did, as the apostle Peter did, that image was reality to the early Christians. When they prayed, "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," they were praying for the power to withstand the testing of their faith. They prayed that they might survive the trial, not with their skins, but with their faith. They prayed that they might not succumb to the trial, and renounce their belief in Jesus Christ, but instead stand firm and not let go, even if it led to physical death. And this is really what those words mean when we pray them in the Lord's Prayer: "Let us not succumb to the trial."

A second thing we need to understand about these words is that when we pray "lead us not into temptation," we are not saying that God leads us into temptation. This morning's scripture reading from the epistle of James should make that clear. "Let no one say when he is tempted: 'I am tempted by God;' for God himself cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire."

God does not lead us into temptation. We don't ask in the Lord's prayer that an arbitrary God would kindly not push us where we really shouldn't be. The Lord's prayer assumes that temptations and trials and suffering are a part of life. The prayer is not that we avoid all those things, but that we might be given the strength not to give in to them. Because when it comes right down to it, the devil doesn't make us do it, any more than that old serpent made Adam and Eve do it. Nobody makes us give into temptation, whether it be the great temptation of renouncing our faith, or the temptation to give in to our uglier natures. "The Devil don't make me do it ... I do."

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Well, you know, we aren't threatened nowadays with the dreadful possibilities that those early Christians were. Nobody places us on trial and makes us choose between Jesus Christ and unbelief, our life or death riding on our answer. But I believe our faith is tested, perhaps not as drastically, but it is tested. It is easy to see how faith is tested by tragedy in life. I don't believe God causes tragedy to happen. I don't believe God caused a one-car accident near Rochester, NY which took the life of Devon Bontrager. The accident is senseless, a tragedy whereby a man of God was wrenched from family and church.

Faith is tested by such events. A great temptation is to give up faith in a God who doesn't appear to be around to stop such things from happening. A temptation is to use that experience as a reason to stop believing. How many do so every day? How many do so, but never say it aloud? Perhaps some even in this room. Faith is tested by tragedy. But we can't give up. And no matter how much we see, there is so much more that we don't.

There are many other more subtle tests of faith. Now, I am not one to run around searching for a "secular humanist" in every closet. Frankly, I think a number of Christians are searching for somebody to blame when they cry out about this so-called "secular humanism." But I do believe that there are many challenges to faith in our modern society. We need to be aware of them, and of how easily we can be drawn into a way of looking at our world which is totally devoid of any conscious awareness of God. As Christians, we don't leave our faith at the doorway of reason, just as we don't leave our reason at the doorway of faith. Faith is tested by reason. But we can't give up. And no matter how much we see, there is so much more that we don't.

There is the testing of faith that comes in the most obvious package. It's what we refer to most when we think of the word "temptation." It's the enticement to do that which we know, deep down, is wrong. We live in a very tempting society. Turn on the television and you are literally bombarded with high-tech enticement. The basic premise upon which commercial television is based is enticement. Programs are created basically to sell a product.

It many ways it has been a natural shift in recent years from programming which a basic sense of decency to the present confusion. The basic premise has always been enticement. The name of the game is temptation, whether it is kept in check or not. We've seen the changes in both programming and commercials. The limits are being stretched. How far they can be stretched is anybody's guess.

This is the world we live in, and it's not going to go away. Our faith is tested by it. We can give in or give up. We can live just like everybody else, or we can allow our faith to do the stretching. We can let our faith stretch us. Because, after all, no matter how much we see there is so much more that we don't. And God is active in this high-tech, high enticement world we live in.

We are given the power not to lose faith and give into temptation. God does deliver us from the evil one, who is still active also. But we dare never forget that the power of the devil has been crushed by the cross. The devil can't make us do anything. We do it of our own free will. Thank God that the One who died on the cross for us, is the One who lives in us today. And He gives us the power to keep the faith through every temptation, and every trial. In Him we stand straight and tall.

1989 Peter L. Haynes

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