February 26, 2023

Jesus was tempted...This has always been the traditional start of the 40 days of Lent.

I think sometimes it is hard for us to imagine Jesus as being human and tempted. Sometimes you and I spiritualize him to such an extent, that we forget he was a man, a historical person who walked this earth who did the kinds of things human beings do. Jesus Christ was true man, and true God.

 As a man he felt, he encountered all the emotions, all the senses, all the circumstances that we feel in life. He ate, he drank, he slept, he got dirty, he needed a bath, he prayed, he cried, he gave thanks, he worshiped. Jesus did and experienced all the things you and I experience in this life.

And as Luke tells us this morning, he even experienced temptation. 1 Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. 

Jesus was tempted as you and I are tempted. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, 2 There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and afterward Jesus was starving.

The interesting part is that He was tempted not so much with doing something evil, but with taking the easy way out in three different ways and renouncing what he came to do.

The first temptation was to change stones into bread. 3 The devil said to him, "Since you are God's Son, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." 4 Jesus replied, "It's written, People won't live only by bread."

This temptation really seemed like a good idea, give the people what they think they need, food. Become the bread, Messiah, feed the hungry people of the world, satisfy their need for the basic thing of life food, then you will have no problem getting the people to follow.

Jesus was tempted with giving the people what they wanted instead of what they needed. Sure, the people wanted food, but Jesus knew they needed more than food, they needed his spiritual food, they needed to listen to his teaching not because he bribed them with food, because he offered them life, eternal life. I am the Bread of Life

The second temptation was even more dramatic. 5 Next the devil led him to a high place and showed him in a single instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 The devil said, "I will give you this whole domain and the glory of all these kingdoms. It's been entrusted to me and I can give it to anyone I want. 

The devil would give Jesus the authority over all the earthly kingdoms.  Jesus would be our president, run every country. With Jesus in control of the world’s political, military, and economic power, everything would be fixed. There is just one condition though, that he bow down, which was a ritual and symbolic act, to the devil. 7 Therefore, if you will worship me, it will all be yours.

Jesus could take the easy way out, acknowledge the devil’s control of the earth, and then he could change the course of history. Did you notice something here? Two things I noticed. The first is that Jesus never challenges the devil’s claim to authority or the devil’s ability to offer it to Jesus. The second is that the title devil “diabolos” means “Adversary,” one who “pushes back” we might say.

The devil’s claim here is that the kingdoms of the world would offer substantial pushback to the way of Jesus, assuming he followed the way God was intending. But should he instead submit to the devil, Jesus would find the kingdoms of the world a “pushover.” But Jesus knew he would change the course of history in a far more dramatic way. He would die on a cross and then his father would raise him from the dead defeating evil’s control of this earth and work through his church, us. Jesus was tempted to take the easy way out, to renounce the cross, and to do the changes of this world himself instead of working through his people. Sometimes this temptation is very difficult for us to renounce. Sometimes it is easier to do thing ourselves.  

" 8 Jesus answered, "It's written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him."

As a parent, when we were teaching Hannah to do something, it was frustrating watching her try, maybe fail, but then try again to do something that I could have done in just a matter of moments. But if I would have done it for her, she would not have learned anything.  If Jesus would have worshiped the devil and then been given the authority of the whole world, we would not have learned anything about establishing peace and justice on this earth because Jesus would have done it all for us.

The third temptation was the most dramatic. 9 The devil brought him into Jerusalem and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, "Since you are God's Son, throw yourself down from here; 10 for it's written: He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you 11 and they will take you up in their hands so that you won't hit your foot on a stone." 

The devil had an easier way for Jesus to serve as the Son of God: the devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem and stands him at the top of the temple, overlooking the fiery altar-called a brazier below and says "Dive off the temple tower and let God perform a dramatic rescue.” The devil tries to use Scripture to convince Jesus to jump onto the altar. Surely God would never allow such an attempt at self-sacrifice to succeed, but would protect the Chosen One. This would show that God could be manipulated to do what we want and need. God is at our service. Such a message would be appealing to the masses, because we like to hear that God will keep us successful and happy. Take the easy way out and have God serve you, Jesus instead of you serving God. Yes, Jesus bargain with God, make deals with him, you be the boss, Jesus. 

This temptation hit Jesus right in the face. The devil tried to build up Jesus’ ego. He tried to show him that he can be powerful, he can even control God. 

12 Jesus answered, "It's been said, Don't test the Lord your God."

The refusal to jump gives us a couple of lessons. From one angle, it reveals the idea that we have sometimes that God would intervene to make the hero come out unscarred no matter how messed up things got, as if suffering and death could never end the hero’s path. Peter’s view. Maybe Judas. From another angle, the devil’s offer presents a weird parody of what Jesus actually would do, offering himself freely for the life of the world, though not on Jerusalem’s altar, but on a Roman crucifix outside city limits. 

No, says Jesus. There is no escape from suffering and death on the path of God’s kingdom that I, and my disciples, must take. We take this path into suffering, we follow it into death if need be. And we trust God’s deliverance after that, not seeking to escape or short-circuit the suffering, but to give us confidence to endure even at its worst.

This temptation wasn’t really something so evil, not like stealing or killing or things like that. But the subtleness of this temptation is even more dangerous. For this temptation is asking us to accept our will, our position before God instead of his. It asks us to be a bargainer with God. Well, God will do this if you will do that. Doesn’t sound so bad does it? But it is. For this temptation places us in control of our salvation, it places God at our mercy, instead of the other way around. God is the one who is in control, God is in charge of our salvation, God gives eternal life to us as a free gift, not as payment for good deeds.

Yes, Jesus was tempted, tempted not by doing something so awful, but by taking the easy way out. By taking the easy road instead of the difficult road of service, sacrifice and death. But these temptations didn’t stop here in the wilderness. Jesus was tempted by the devil to take the easy way right up to the moment of his death. This is what he prayed about when he was tempted in the Garden. And he had to continue to renounce the whole time. 

In the once controversial book  "The Last Temptation of Christ" the author portrays Jesus as tempted even as he hung on the cross.  Jesus imagines what life would have been like had he chosen another way. 

In his coma-like dream, Jesus gets married, has many children, enjoys the company of friends and works as a kindly carpenter until he is a white bearded old man. The dream concludes as Jesus is confronted by his disciples. 

Long ago they had given up the fight and their destiny shriveled. An angry Judas bellowed the truth about the uncrucified Jesus: "Traitor! Deserter! Your place was on the cross That’s where the God of Israel put you to fight. But you got cold feet; and the moment death lifted its head, you couldn’t get away fast enough." His life had been wasted, for he fell to temptation and avoided the cross. He chose an easier way and it proved to be the way of failure.

But we know Jesus didn’t take the easy way, he took the way of the cross, so the closing pages of Kazantzakis’ book finds Jesus awaken from his nightmare to find himself on the cross. The closing words of the "The Last Temptation" lifts high the central feature of our faith: Temptation had captured Jesus for a split second and led him astray. It was all a lie. Illusions sent by the Devil. His disciples were alive and thriving. They had gone over sea and land and were proclaiming the Good News. Everything had turned out as it should glory be to God!! He uttered a triumphant cry: "It is finished" And it was as though he had said "Everything has begun.!"

Do we try to take the easy way out, the way that doesn’t seem so bad, but is much easier? How about it, have you ever hoped or dreamed to win a large sum of money, instead of working for it? Have you ever tried to make a bargain with God demanding that God does things for you?

 I think all of us have fallen in this trap of taking the easy way out. That was John Newton’s trap. The profit and easy money selling slaves. Sure, our sinful nature tells us that the easy way is the best way. We like shortcuts. It was in 1748 when Newton as a sea captain was caught in a storm so violent off the coast of Ireland that he called out to God for mercy. It was this moment that marked Newton’ turn toward Christ which he called “the hour I first believed”. 

Through every form of temptation, Jesus renounces any loyalty to the devil, and embraces and pursues total loyalty to God. These forty days without food, but with the Spirit, had taught Jesus firmly who he was and whose he was. 

The road that Jesus calls us to follow is not easy, but difficult. A road where we are to renounce following ourselves and follow him. To pursue him and not other things. A road that asks us to sacrifice ourselves, our time and our energy for him. Jesus asks us to travel the hard, narrow road, because at the end of that road is our final reward, our eternity with him. So, as you are being tempted to take the easy way, what will you do? Will you take the easy way, the way of little effort, or will you follow the example of Jesus and pursue the way traveled by him, the way of sacrifice, the way of service, the way of the cross??

These 40 days of Lent are an invitation the church has taken for centuries to spend dedicated time with God by every means available to us so that we come to realize that real life for us is found first in God and what God through the Spirit continues to open up for us.

Our membership vows say do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness? Do you? Imagine becoming who Christ wants you to be. The past is what you remember; pursue a new present. John Newton was once lost but was found. And what did he find? The sweet sound of the amazing grace that was gifted to us through Jesus’ willingness to not allow temptation to stop him before he had even started.

Even when we are distracted in our lives, it is that sweet sound that changes us opens our blind eyes to what God is doing for us and in us. Grace that opens our hearts and we are no longer lost to the shadows of the desert and wilderness. We find home. And the saving voice of God singing in our own lives every day. How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. Do you hear the sound? What does your journey with Jesus look like? 

Is it the song of re-imagine. A redo or rebuild. A restart. Renew. How will you listen over the next 40 days?