Sermon: Temptation and “The Marshmallow Test”
Luke 4:1-13
21 Feb 2010 at St Paul's Lutheran Church, Sugar City, CO

Sermon with Children’s Sermon: Temptation and “The Marshmallow Test”

Need: Bag of Marshmallows & “The Marshmallow Test” Video (The Marshmallow Test.avi)
(Found at:

(Have children come up)

We’re going to do something different today.  Today the children’s sermon and the regular sermon are going to be together.

I have a bag of marshmallows here.  Do you like marshmallows?  I want you to pass out one marshmallow to everyone, and then take one marshmallow for yourself.  Then come back up here when you are done.  And I don’t want anyone to eat their marshmallow yet.
(Give bag of marshmallows to be passed out, and bring laptop out with video ready to play)

Does everyone have their marshmallow?  Just hang on to if for now and don’t eat it.  Have you ever been tempted by something?  Maybe by something you wanted?  How about with food?  I have a video on my Laptop this morning that I am going to show you.  It’s called “The Marshmallow Test” and is about 3 minutes long.  I’m not going to tell you much about it, but instead I’m going to play the video.  Please feel free to move up if you can’t see it very well.
(Play Video)

What did you think of the video?  How do you think you would have done if you were in that room with just one marshmallow?  Could you have resisted eating the marshmallow knowing that you would get a second one if you waited?

Do you know that Jesus was tempted?  The Bible tells us that one time Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert where he was tempted by the devil for 40 days.

Jesus also didn’t have anything to eat for 40 days.  I’ll bet he would have loved to have one of these marshmallows.  The devil knew he was hungry, so he said to him, "If you are really the Son of God, turn these stones into bread."

Jesus could have easily done what the devil suggested, but he didn't.  Instead, he answered, "It is written, 'Man does not live by bread alone.'"

Then the devil took Jesus up to a high place and showed him all the world’s kingdoms below.  He said, "All of this belongs to me.  If you will bow down and worship me, I will give it to you."

Jesus answered, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'"

Next, the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem and led him up to the highest point on the temple.  He said to Jesus, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here.  God will send his angels to rescue you."

Again, Jesus quoted the Scripture, "'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

Do you know what the devil did?  He gave up!  He said, "I'll come back and try another day."

The next time you are tempted to do something wrong, look in the Bible and see what the Bible says.  Then, you can do what Jesus did; answer with Scripture!

Okay, you can now eat your marshmallow if you want to, and you can take a second one as well and pass the bag around.

(Send children back to pews and put laptop away)

How about you?  Can you remember the last time something tempted you?  What are the temptations in your life?  Is it magazines?  Maybe a TV show?  Something on the internet?  What about a nice looking girl or guy in the mall?  Are you tempted by food?  That chocolate cake on the table is calling out “eat me, eat me.”

In “The Marshmallow Test” video, we saw children of about three or four years old struggling with temptation.  They were left alone in a room sitting in front of one marshmallow, having been told they could have another if they would wait a few minutes.  The struggle of temptation was recorded through a two-way mirror.  The result was actually pretty funny as these poor kids twitched, fidgeted, wiggled and twisted their faces up in knots trying not to grab that marshmallow.  Some made it.  The one’s that didn’t make it basically said, "To heck with it, I want what I want when I want it!"

The consequences for these children were mild, at least from an adult perspective.  Though for a three or four year old, missing out on another marshmallow is probably at least semi-traumatic!  For the rest of us, the results of falling to temptation can be devastating.  We've all seen it.  The judge who goes to prison for taking a bribe.  The teacher who does time for molesting children.  The pastor who is caught in a massage parlor.  The military officer who sells secrets to a foreign government.  Temptation is a booby trap in life's journey.  It is a kind of "pass go, collect $200, skip the hard stuff and proceed directly to fulfillment and reward!”  "You can have it all!"

Maybe you've heard this prayer.  "Lord, thank you so much for being with me today.  I have not gossiped, nor have I spoken a cross word.  My thoughts have been on you and I am thinking of the people in my life with love in my heart.  I have not been angry, sarcastic or impatient.  Now, please help me as I get out of bed this morning!" To live is to be tempted.  Sometimes mildly, and sometimes with gut wrenching severity.

Every First Sunday of Lent, we are taken into the wilderness as we hear the story of Jesus being tempted by the devil.  The three Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke tell the story in different ways and from different perspectives, but all of them suggest that Jesus experienced testing and temptation as a part of his spiritual experience and preparation for mission and ministry.

This year we hear Luke's story, and he has a unique take that begins with these introductory words of the passage, "After his baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted."

Jesus had been filled to overflowing with the Spirit at his baptism.  But the Spirit is not finished with him by any means.  This same Spirit leads him into the wilderness.  Actually, the Greek word translated in the text as "lead" is better translated as "hurled, threw, impelled, directed."  This is not a casual spiritual expedition here.  It is the very Spirit of God throwing Jesus into the physical wilderness and, even more so, hurling him into the wilderness of his own soul, his own call, his own identity.

For 40 days he was tempted by the devil...  What does 40 days have to do with anything?  For 40 years the Israelites were walking in the wilderness and were tempted by the unknown.  For 40 days, Noah was in the ark being rained on, and Noah’s faith was tested.  For 40 days, Moses was on Mt. Sinai.  The people did not know what had happened to Moses and even doubted he was alive.  Elijah was on Mt. Horab for 40 days.  Do you notice how the number 40 just keeps coming up?  It’s this great time of testing.

So Jesus went into the wilderness...  Have you ever been in a spiritual wilderness?  This is a place where you can’t seem to feel the presence of God anywhere around you.  You pray, you fast, you worship and raise your hands.  But… nothing.  There’s nothing there, and you walk around in a daze.  You begin to get distracted and wonder where God is in your life.  And after some time in that “wilderness’"you become tempted.

For 40 days Jesus was in the wilderness, and ate nothing and was starving.  And the devil tempted him.  “If you are God, turn this stone into bread.”  Bread is a basic food to live on.  Have you ever smelled fresh bread cooking?  It smells delicious.  And it makes your mouth water in anticipation.

But Jesus answered back, “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” That’s a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3, “He humbled you, then when you hungered he fed you with manna, to teach you man does not live on bread alone but by every word from the mouth of God.”

Jesus is saying that bread is just bread.  There is nothing of real substance there to completely nourish you.  He is saying, “You’ve got bread, but that bread came directly from God.  God is the one that supplies all your needs.”  He’s the one you have to lean on.  While the Israelites were in the wilderness for 40 years, God supplied their every need.  He was there for them.

Next, the devil took Jesus up to to Mount Hermon that is 9230 feet high and showed him all the kingdoms of the world.  It would be like taking Jesus up to the top of Pikes Peak.  So Jesus is on the top of Pikes Peak and there is not a cloud in the sky.  He can see all the way into Wyoming to the North and all the way down to New Mexico in the South.  He can see way into the West towards Utah and all the way to the East to Kansas.  Jesus has the grand vista from the mountaintop of Pikes Peak to the North, South, East and West.  And the devil said, “This is all yours, Jesus.  You’ll be the most powerful person in the world.  You will be the most glorious person in the world, if all you do is fall down and worship me.”

Here was a temptation that is at the root of so many temptations.  The temptation is the pursuit of glory, status, power, self-importance, self-glorification.  Which one of us would have given in to THIS temptation?  People deferring to you whenever you come into their presence.  Getting to be first in line every time and sitting at the head of the table.  Giving the toast to start the party.  Being the head marshal in the parade.  Quick promotions.  Your name in the paper...

But the devil is a liar.  He does not have the authority to give that power to anyone.  The devil shows his hand.  “If you worship me…” Yes, that’s what those who want power are looking for.  Worship.  I’ll put my name on buildings all over the country and have large casinos and a TV show.  Worship me.  But Jesus answered him, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” Look back at the 10 commandments.  “You shall not have any other Gods before me…nor serve them.”  Did you notice that Jesus said to the devil, “Worship the Lord YOUR God…?”

For the third test, the devil takes Jesus up to the top of a temple at Jerusalem, some one hundred and fifty feet high, and told to throw himself down and he would force God’s hand and the angels in heaven would catch him before he is hurt.

So can you imagine Jesus up at the top of the highest building in downtown Denver?  Jesus is on the top of the building and all the people see him.  A large crowd is gathered below, like watching a fire, and some people in the sick crowd shouts, “Jump, jump, jump.”  The devil said to him, “Jump Jesus, and as you are falling, the angels of God will swoop by and pick you up and then the entire crowd below will believe that you are the Son of God.  Prove to the crowd that you are divine, and when you have proven that you are divine, when you have proven that God exists, then the crowd will follow you.”

I’m sure if someone jumped off the tallest building in Denver and then landed softly on the ground, people are going to notice.  But people see miracles of God all the time, and they still don’t believe in God or follow God.  That happened often in Biblical times and still happens today.  One of the greatest temptations of life is to want God, is to need God, to prove himself to us.  Show me a miracle and then I will believe and follow.

It reminds me of the rock opera, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, when Pilate said, “Jesus Christ, if you’re divine, turn my water into wine.  Jesus Christ, if you’re no fool, walk across my swimming pool.” Jesus, if you turn my water into wine and magically walk across my swimming pool, then I will believe in you.  Then, I will be your disciple.  Then I will know for sure that there is a God.

And there’s another way to test God.  In The Simpson’s TV show, Homer Simpson says this:  “Dear Lord.  The gods have been good to me.  For the first time in my life, everything is absolutely perfect just the way it is.  So here's the deal; You freeze everything the way it is, and I won't ask for anything more.  If that is OK, please give me absolutely NO sign.  …OK, deal.”  You ever make a deal with God like that?  “Just get me out of this mess; just get me the money to make it thru this month; just don’t let my wife or husband find out.”

Jesus answered, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”  And the devil left him until a more opportune time.  Do you know what that means?  The devil comes back again and again.  He doesn’t just tempt us once and then run away.  This isn’t the “drive by devil.” This is the “drive by, shoot, go around the block, shoot again, go around the block, shoot again devil.”

Have you ever said, “I never fight with my wife, or I never fight with my husband?”  And then have a fight the next week.  Have you ever said, “I manage my money and don’t have problems?”  And then miss a payment the next month.  Each person has points of vulnerability that are like a crack in the dam.  Just a few drops of water will get thru at first and you may not think anything about it.  But soon it’s a squirt.  Then a waterfall.  Then the whole dam comes crashing down. 

Temptation will come in when you least expect it.  So how do you deal with these temptations?  You become grounded in the Word of God.  You seek out scriptures that talk about situations like yours.  Seek out others who have gone thru the same problems.  Trust me, you are not the first person to go thru ANY situation, or to fall into temptation.

There was a televangelist on TV who once said to his congregation, "Temptation is seductive and beautiful. Temptation lures us in and gives us a false sense of security and makes everything seem right for awhile." I fully agreed with what he had to say to this point.  However, he lost me when he said, "And if you will send a donation to my ministry, I will pray for you to overcome whatever temptation you may have.  I will hold your letter in my hand, pray for you by name, and that temptation will leave you never to return again." I couldn't help but wonder who was praying for his temptations.

The reality is, sin is seductive.  Temptation draws us and lures us into sinful behavior.  We see something we want and we try to rationalize our need for it.  The temptation can be for anything.  It can involve money or worldly goods.  We want the great things money can buy.  We want the worldly goods.  We want what the Jones' have.  The temptation is that the worldly goods move from luxuries to needs.  We feel we need these things.  We have to have them.

So we know that temptations are real and that temptations are an actual part of our daily lives.  Temptations are part of your real life and part of my real life.  Temptations are not theoretical, nor hypothetical nor imaginary.  Whether you believe in the devil or not, temptation is real for you.

And we all struggle with temptation all the time.  How nice it would be if the primary temptations of life had to do with marshmallows.  But usually the struggles and temptations of life have to do with the gut issues of life such as pride, greed, lust, gluttony, laziness, anger and envy.

Some are also tempted with power.  Another name for this temptation is control.  We want control over everything around us.  We want people to notice us.  We want the accolades.  I call this the E.F. Hutton syndrome.  When we walk into a room or say something, our desire is for people to notice us.  This temptation is very powerful.  It occurs in homes and families.  It occurs in business.  It takes place in churches.  Look at me!  Look at all the things I do in the church.  Look at how important I am in my own world.  Another way this temptation rears its head is in addiction.  We think we can control alcohol, drugs, sex, the compulsion to make money, or any other addiction.  We are in control and nothing can control us.

This temptation to control is so powerful that it leads to a temptation even more interesting.  I am so powerful I can even put God to the test.  I can do whatever I want and God will save me because God and I are best buddies.  We are just like this (crossed fingers).  In essence we are saying, “I am so important, God does what I want.”

But did you notice that Jesus was tempted with these same temptations in our Gospel reading?  He was tempted to change stones into bread.  He was tempted with individual need.  Of course, we can say he was hungry.  He was fasting, of course he was hungry.  Breaking the fast prematurely was the temptation.  He was tempted with worldly power.  He was offered kingdoms, riches, and control over everything in the world.  He was finally tempted to challenge God.  Jesus, you are so important God would never let anything happen to you, so throw yourself off of here.  Try to commit suicide, God won't let you die.  Yet, Jesus sees the traps.  He sees the temptations and he overcomes them.

By overcoming the temptations and being without sin, Jesus becomes our example.  Jesus becomes our hope.  Do you remember algebra in high school?  In my algebra book we had a lot of problems on each page.  For each section they gave a sample problem as an example for us to follow in completing the homework.  Jesus is our example to follow.  Jesus overcame the temptations of possessions, power and control over God.  He used scripture, prayer and faith to overcome the temptation.  Jesus gives us an example on how to deal with our own temptations.  We even have one more source for help.  We can call on the power and faith of the Christian community.  After Jesus is tempted he calls the disciples together.  He builds a community that can uplift and uphold one another in their life in Christ.  Jesus sets the example through prayer, faith scripture, and the formation of the community.

In addition to setting the example, Jesus also is our hope.  The world will continue to tempt us.  No matter how hard we try.  We are going to stumble from time to time.  We are human and we have our faults.  Now, that doesn't mean we can sit back and say its alright to sin.  We are to be like Jesus.  We are to struggle against temptation.  But, when we fall, when we stumble, Jesus is there to help us.  When his disciples stumbled and fell, Jesus did not abandon them.  He taught them.  He loved them.  He forgave them.  Jesus is our hope because when we stumble Jesus will teach us.  Jesus will love us.  Jesus will forgive us.  Jesus will help us change our lives.

What do I mean by a change?  When I think about making changes in my life to help me resist temptations and to make me a better person, I think about a mirror.  Of all of the inventions created by man, none is more unique or as interesting as the mirror.  A mirror is unique in that it is able to give us an image of ourselves.  A mirror will only show what it sees and reflects the identical back to the observer.

So when I think of a mirror, I think of individuality; for when you look in the mirror, you will see no one but yourself.  Too often we spend the majority of our time looking at others when we actually should be looking at ourselves.  This is what is so good about the mirror.  No matter how hard you look for someone else, you will only see yourself.

When I think of a mirror I think of a revelation.  A mirror shows things about your personal appearance that would otherwise be unnoticeable to you.

When I think of a mirror, I think of something that is essential.  Imagine with me for a few moments what you might look like if you didn't take time to stop and see what the mirror sees.  Many of you will agree with me when I say it would not look very good at all.

When I think of the mirror, I finally see reality.  The mirror cannot create, it can only reveal that which already exists.  It has no ability within itself to correct or change what it sees.  Only the looker can change and/or correct what he or she sees.

As I drove from Colorado Springs this morning, I was playing music from my MP3 player, and had it on “shuffle” so all of the songs were mixed up.  There are almost 100 albums on it with different kinds of music covering the last 40 years.  It was interesting that a Michael Jackson song came on that is called "Man In The Mirror,” as he sings about making a change.  The chorus goes:

“I'm Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I'm Asking Him To Change His Ways
And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change”

When we look in the mirror, we all want to see a good person.  And when we see the brokenness of the world, we yearn to make a difference.  We all know we can do better.  Gandhi said, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”  When we start with ourselves, we can always do something that changes the world for the better.

Temptation is very real in our lives.  And yes, it sure would be nice if temptations merely had to do with marshmallows.  But whatever is happening in our lives, Jesus can help us change and make a difference.  Through the love and grace of God in Jesus Christ, we have help not only to resist the temptation, but also to save us when we need the grace of God the most. 

Dear Lord,
We face battles with temptation every day.  We ask for your strength to stand up under temptation whenever we encounter it.  We ask for the wisdom to walk away when we are tempted, and the clarity to see the way out that you will provide.  We thank you Lord for all of your blessings, and for being able to count on your help in our time of need.



Cites and links to source material:

The Marshmallow Test (Video):
or on YouTube at:

Michael Jackson Man In The Mirror lyrics: