“Temptation”

March 10, 2019 – Lent I

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches

(Video of “Temptation” on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43m_WgyS8as&t=97s)

Luke 4:1-13 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=418968364)

 

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” 

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 

When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Prayer.

Dearly beloved, welcome to Lent;

A season for all Christians to prepare ourselves

For the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of

Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Our methods of preparation remain unchanged

Throughout two-thousand years of Church history, tradition, and experience.

 

We pray.

We pray for others and ourselves.

We pray for the Church and the world.

We pray in silence and in unison.

We pray to connect our soul with God.

We pray daily.

 

We do penance,

Which is a fancy way to say,

We confess our sins to God in prayer.

We confess what we know we have done that violates God’s law and God’s will for our lives.

We also confess the sins that we are unaware of,

But have done them anyway.

We confess daily.

 

We repent of our sins,

Which means that we every effort to stop our sinful behavior,

Turn away from our sinful ways,

And vow never to engage in such activity again.

Every day we repent and work towards perfect abstinence from prior sins.

 

We give alms during Lent.

Almsgiving means acts of charity.

We give as an obligation to do what is right and just,

Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant.

We are to give anonymously, generously, and cheerfully.

Lent calls us to daily engagement in acts of charity.

 

We deny ourselves during Lent.

We fast from that which we love.

We are called to refrain from acts of self pleasure

That we might be freed to focus solely on the pursuit of spiritual goals.

Lent is upon us.

Let us prepare ourselves with

Prayer. Confession. Repentance. Charity. Fasting. Self-Denial.

Let us walk with Jesus to the cross

In anticipation of

The glory of the empty tomb

We know is coming.

This, being the First Sunday of Lent, is always a narration

Of the Gospel account of Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness.

This year, we draw from the Gospel of Luke;

Other years will draw from the closely paralleled Matthew, and

To a lesser extent, Mark.

 

1. In our eagerness to drink in the Gospel

and find ways to immediately apply it to our lives,

Every preacher today worth their weight in salt needs

To slow down this potential runaway train,

Less our efforts leads us to misguided but well intended interpretation.

 

When you and I experience this harrowing narrative

Of Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness

We are tempted to reduce the purpose and meaning of all temptations

To simply garden-variety challenges to individual faith.

 

Don’t.

 

Of course, we all face temptations to sin

Every day of our lives.

Of course, we should resist temptation to sin

Just as Jesus did.

 

However, the careful disciple should have our suspicions aroused.

There’s more here than a simple reduction to

Three lessons and encouragement to live righteously.

 

2. The first tip off is the fact that

The temptations of Jesus Christ

Takes place in an environment permeated by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is “full of the Holy Spirit” Luke reports. (4:1)

 

Where ever the Holy Spirit is present and active,

Take notice!

 

Jesus had just returned from the Jordan,

Where it is reported that he was baptized by John

And the Holy Spirit descended upon him

“In bodily form like a dove.” (3:22)

 

The same Spirit that descended upon Jesus

Had overcome Mary and her conception (1:35).

 

As we heard proclaimed a few Sundays ago,

The same Spirit of the Lord comes upon Jesus

When he returns to Galilee and he begins his ministry. (4:14)

The same Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus

Reading from the Isaiah scroll in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth.  (4:18)

The Spirit filled Jesus spoke truth to power,

and it nearly got him thrown off a cliff and killed. (4:29)

 

In a similar way,

Luke will paint a passion narrative

At the opposite bookend of the Gospel

Of a Spirit filled Jesus locked in a mortal fight to the end

Against the evil powers of this world.

 

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Whatever the temptations of Jesus mean,

It connects deeply with the Spirit’s prior intervention

In the life of Jesus Christ.

 

3. What do the temptations of Jesus mean?

 

Jesus was “led by the Spirit in the wilderness,” Luke reports (4:1)

 

The wilderness is deeply contested territory.

The wilderness exists

Between Jericho and the lower Jordan River valley to the East

And the mountainous City of Jerusalem to the West.

The contrast is defined to the East with water and life

Compared with arid, mountainous elevation moving West.

 

Think

Green verses brown.

Level, straight, and even verses crooked and steep.

Warmth verses cold, especially when the sun goes down.

Safety and security verses robbers and bandits.

 

In the wilderness,

The devil has home field advantage.

 

Jesus is led by the Spirit right to the heart of darkness,

Into demonic danger,

To engage in cosmic, divine warfare in the devil’s own backyard.

It is God’s intent,

It is God’s purpose,

For his Son, Jesus, to take the fight for humanity

Straight to the doorsteps of hell.

And Jesus would be armed with the power of the Holy Spirit to get the mission done.

 

The use of military language is intentional.

When it comes to God verses the devil,

It’s warfare.

It’s a fight with only one potential outcome;

One winner and one loser.

 

The Lord must always win.

 

4. Not only is the wilderness the devil’s playground,

Jesus is placed at further disadvantage:

He’s weakened by hunger and thirst for forty days,

All-the-while facing repeated, withering temptation.

This is before the grand finally,

The devil’s last three temptations

As described in great detail in Luke.

 

The weakened Jesus is tempted with nourishment and strength.

Observation #1: Temptation is targeted upon the vulnerable. 

 

The devil recognizes the divinity and power of a Spirit-filled Jesus

With the conditional phrase “If you are …”

The better translation from the Greek of this and the third temptation is

Since you are the Son of God …”

 

The devil knows.

Jesus knows the devil knows.

We know: Jesus is God’s Son.

 

Since you “are the Son of God

Command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” (4:3)

 

One does not live by bread alone, Jesus correctly quotes Deuteronomy (8:3)

The irony of this first attack

Is that Jesus is the one who feeds 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish.

Jesus is the one who feeds his followers with his body and his blood.

One lives “by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

 

All these kingdoms can be yours, the devil offers,

As if the world was his to give away.

The devil so desires to be worshiped,

To be elevated above God,

If only God would submit.

 

The devil lies.

All glory and all authority “has been given over to me,” the devil falsely claimed. (4:6)

Nothing has been, nor will ever be given over to the devil

Or his forces of sin or evil.

Nothing.

Observation #2: The devil lies, and those who lie are imitating the devil.

 

Loosely citing from the Shema, Jesus replies

“The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

Worship the Lord; only the Lord.

Lastly, the devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem

To the pinnacle of the temple,

And begins his final attempt by quoting scripture.

The 91st Psalm reads

“For he will command his angels concerning you

to guard you in all your ways.

On their hands they will bear you up,

so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” (91:11-12)

 

Observation #3: The devil knows scripture and is willing to cite it to his advantage and for evil benefits.

 

The observant will recognize the passion link of the crowd leaders

At the crucifixion scoffing at Jesus saying

“He save others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, His chosen one!” (23:35)

 

God will not be provoked.

God will not be managed,

Even for the sake of the Son of God.

Jesus smothers the fire with cold water

Bringing voice to the third citation from Deuteronomy

“Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (6:16)

 

Every test had been finished.

Every temptation had been tried.

Observation #4: God cedes nothing to the devil.

Not then.

Not now.

Ever.

 

The devil “departed from him until an opportune time.” (4:13)

 

Opportune time?

The devil departs until Jesus enters Jerusalem and the Passion begins.

The devil plays a prominent role in the Passion narrative,

With Judas,

With Caiaphas, Herod, and Pontius Pilate,

With the zealot inflamed crowds. 

 

Prepare yourselves, dearly beloved.

God has taken the battle over our souls

Right to the devil’s backyard.

God brings to the cosmic struggle over our salvation his A game:

Jesus Christ, his Son, filled with all the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Draw on the word of God,

It brings nourishment and strength.

Beware of lies, and those who tell lies.

Be warned: the devil cites scripture, and probably knows it better than you or me.

 

So, in whom do we place our trust?

 

We place our trust in Jesus Christ.

There is no greater victory than an empty tomb.

 

God wins.

That’s Good News!

Amen.