The Testing of Jesus
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)
A lot of my messages pertain to things I struggle with personally, or I see the world struggling with, and I hope there might be something you can identify with and take with you.
But today I want to talk about something that I pray you don’t have to struggle with personally as I do, but you can take away some knowledge of how God walks with us through the downs as well as the ups in our lives.
Most of you know I’m a recovering alcoholic, and some of you have been here long enough when it affected my life in a significantly dangerous way. The biggest thing that I have struggled with as I try to better myself is the shame, the fear, the estrangement from family and friends and the repairing of my relationship with God.
The hardest thing about sitting in recovery meetings is having to admit to yourself that your addiction (whether it’s drugs, alcohol, porn, sex, gambling…pick your poison) broke so many relationships of trust with people you really care about. And that realization can be paralyzing. That paralysis comes from knowing even if those relationships can be repaired they will never be the same. When trust is violated, lying and casting blame come from estrangement.
Some of our lessons speak to us about temptation—or better yet, testing—which I can definitely relate to. The Fall in Genesis and the Testing of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel both show us how testing and temptation can come from the most innocence feeling requests, although they are deeply painful.
Genesis is the extended story of “how the world works”—or, how it all began. What we see beginning this week is temptation and sin entering the world—or at least the consciousness of the first humans.
We resonate with this tale of “how temptation works;” we know the truth of this story inherently. We have heard them so many times some of the sting is gone.
We can understand the allure of the fruit hanging there before Eve; we can identify with the famished Jesus considering how easy it would be to whip up bread out of stones. When it comes to temptation, that which is right there before us—so close that, like Eve and Jesus, we can see it, smell it, practically taste it!
And yet—it is not the temptation itself that is the “transgression” here. The knowledge of what is good and what is evil is just that: knowledge. But the action that goes along with that knowledge—the choices we make as to what to do with our knowledge. That’s quite another thing.
Our Gospel reading from Matthew turns on questions of identity; does Jesus really know who he is and how he is expected to behave? While in the wilderness, fasting and praying, Jesus wrestled with bedeviling questions of identity; of what it meant to be “the beloved Son of God.” In the last verse of Matthew, chapter 3, following Jesus’ baptism, we heard God’s voice from heaven proclaim, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Today’s reading starts with Jesus being led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There the devil begins to work on him. The clever tempter does not question whether or not Jesus is the Son of God–that’s not what “if you are the Son of God” means in this text. The Greek should be translated more like, “If you are the Son of God, (and I know that you are).” So perhaps saying, “since you are the Son of God,” would be closer to the original meaning. In any case, the devil was attempting to lead Jesus away from the true path onto an almost true path.
First, the evil one tried to get Jesus to use his powers to satisfy his own needs. “Since you are the Son of God,” why don’t turn these stones into loaves of bread” Jesus was fasting, so it is reasonable to assume that he was hungry. Then, the devil tried to get him to take an easy way to call attention to his message.
“Since you are the Son of God,” why don’t you throw yourself off the temple?” God won’t let you die and people will know who you are and listen to you.”
Finally, he put aside pretense and stated plainly what he wanted, “Worship me, and I will let you rule the world.”
All of these temptations have an almost rightness about them.
- Stones into bread; feed a hungry world.
- When you throw yourself off the temple and the angels catch you, everybody will know you are the Son of God; then they will really listen to and obey you.
- Rule the world; wow, you can legislate morality, create peace with justice, usher in the Kingdom of Heaven.
And Jesus responds by quoting Scripture and telling Satan to leave him.
The Son of God trusts the written Word of God and the Holy Spirit to lead him to a clear awareness of who he is and what it is he is called to do. Lent is a time for us to fast and pray and think about questions of identity and mission; of who we are and what it is we are to do.
And like the other alcoholics in a meeting I must remember not to be paralyzed by shame and fear and remember I am a child of God, and through God anything is possible! Including repairing relationships.
- Just as the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus at his baptism, the Spirit also came upon us.
- Just as the voice from heaven claimed Jesus as God’s beloved Son; at our baptism words were spoken that made it clear that we too are claimed and loved by God.
- And just as the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, we too have been led into a time of prayer and fasting.
Both as individuals and in our congregation, it is important for us to take this time to look at our lives, to reflect upon the gifts God has given us, the abilities God has blessed us with, the opportunities and relationships God has laid before us, and ask ourselves, “Am I, are we, using these things for ourselves only, or are we using these gifts to reach out to and serve the world in God’s name and with God’s love?”
As a congregation, are we anxious about our future, anxious enough to attempt desperate measures to make the world notice us again? As a Christian people in an increasingly secular nation and world, are we so concerned about pushing our agenda that we will engage in political strong-arming to get our way in the public square?
Or, are we sufficiently confident in our identity as children of God, trusting enough in God’s love and guidance; to step out into God’s future full of energy and enthusiasm for whatever mission and ministry God has in store for us?
None of us can avoid a life of temptation. How we face it is the first part of the battle; contrast Eve’s response, “Hmm, that does look kind of tasty…” with Jesus’ words, “Nope, it’s not just bread that I need….” Reaching out to touch is the natural next step, and if (and when) we get that far along the temptation trail, we’re pretty much goners!
Jesus doesn’t follow the tempter’s prompts. It had to be tough to do, as evidenced by his need for immediate attention from the angels as soon as the trial was over. We will need a lot of support in facing and overcoming temptation; likely, we will miss that mark on more than one occasion in our lives. But, coming through to the other side of tempting can make us stronger—and hopefully—a bit wiser.
Temptation & Testing are all around us inner lives. It is said: the greatest lie the devil ever told, was convincing the world he didn’t exist. Well personally, I think the greatest lie the devil ever told was convincing us we were all alone. That is the worst thing we can ever be convinced of, because when you believe that all hope is lost.
But our Lenten devotional today reminds us of something very important. It reads: The Spirit’s work is not in my own heart, but in our hearts. The Spirit does not live in the heart of a long believer, but in the hearts of all. Baptism belongs to the community, benefits the community, and is practiced in community. These aren’t mere theological technicalities either, but the very essence of what it means to be the baptized people of God.
That my friends is the most important thing about remembering our baptisms; whether in church, in a rainstorm, at the waterpark, or in the shower that we are reminded that we are people of God and we are never alone!