March 6, 2022 First Sunday in Lent The text is Luke 4:1-13.
1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where 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. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ”
5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And 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. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ”
9Then 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, 10for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11and
‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
Together with Christians around the world, we have entered into the season of Lent, and we begin the 40-day period of reflection and repentance that leads us to Holy Week and then to Easter. On that day we will rejoice at the resurrection of Jesus, the One who has come to free the world from sin and death.
But, prior to that glorious day, we will find ourselves journeying with Jesus on the way to Jerusalem, and we will experience with him what he encountered along the way. On our Sundays together in Lent, we will be witnesses to Jesus’ mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and love; this morning in the face of temptation we will marvel at his unwavering faithfulness.
It’s interesting to note that the very beginning of this morning’s passage tells us that Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit, for this event in the wilderness occurs shortly after Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River. And, you will recall that at his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove. And this same Spirit led him into the wilderness, where he was to engage in his 40-day ordeal with the devil. So, we can take comfort in knowing that the Spirit was truly with Jesus as he underwent these trials. Another point to note is that while the translators render the word as “tempted” by the devil, the more accurate definition of the Greek would be “tested”. Thus, Jesus finds himself being tested with regard to his faithfulness to his mission, his ministry, his nature, and his God.
This diabolical “tester” begins by taking advantage of the fact that a fully human Jesus has fasted for 40 days by suggesting that “if” you are the Son of God you could simply turn a rock into a loaf of bead to eat. I find myself imagining the sarcastic tone the devil used when testing Jesus in this way. This “if” was meant more like “since” this is who you say you are. “If you are the Son of God, ‘since you say you are the Son of God’, then make a loaf from this rock”. In his faithfulness, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy; “one does not live by bread alone”. The rest of this verse reads, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord”. Jesus knows that in spite of his hunger for food, that the Word of God is sufficient to tend to his bodily needs. He passes this first test and his faithfulness in God is revealed, to the devil and to us. There is no “if” about it, Jesus is the Son of God.
The next test concerns the devil offering all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus, saying that he, the devil has dominion over them and that they are his to give to Jesus. He says, all you have to do is worship me and I will give you authority over the whole world. We are to “worship and serve only God, Jesus tells the tester. Jesus’ faithfulness again wins over the temptation of glory and authority.
Jesus’ mission is to usher the Kingdom of God into the world and the offer of authority over the temporal world has no sway over him. After all, in John’s gospel we read that Jesus was with God before time began and that he was present when the world was created. The devil can’t offer to give to Jesus what is already his, and has always been.
The final test occurs on the pinnacle of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, where the devil has somehow transported the both of them. This is less a test of Jesus, but rather the devil is prompting Jesus to test God’s faithfulness toward his Son. “Surely God will come to the rescue and help you defy gravity and all the people will see this and glorify you, “if” you are the Son of God”. Jesus knows full well that it is God’s will that he completes his mission as God intends. He is to be glorified, not by flying around the temple in Jerusalem uplifted on angel’s wings, but his glory is to be expressed through his suffering, death, and rising from the cross. Much more suffering will he endure than dashing his foot against a stone; Jesus’ will be glorified through his bloodied hands and feet, and his pierced side. His willingness to endure the cross is the ultimate expression of his faithfulness to God, and he will not put the Lord to the test.
All in all, these tests, these temptations were intended by the devil to determine the manner in which Jesus would complete his ministry. They were less a matter of “whether” he would follow through in his mission, and more of a test of “how” he would do so. Would he succumb to his human need for food and use his divine powers to create bread from stones? Would this then show that he was willing to stray from the path that he knew he had to walk, that of placing the needs of others before his own? By refusing to give in to his hunger and instead reaffirming his trust in God, Jesus showed his faithfulness.
Would he take the easy way out and accept the devil’s offer of dominion over the world in exchange for simply bowing down in worship to him? Wouldn’t this be so much easier than enduring all he would have to, to be called Christ the King? Jesus knew that his kingship would only rightly be secured through his sacrifice. By turning down this offer of authority from one who didn’t have the right to give it, Jesus reaffirmed his devotion to God, again confirming his faithfulness.
Would he tempt God to keep him floating above the earth, not falling, held aloft by God’s holy angels? Would he, unbruised and unbeaten soar above the temple, to the adulation of the crowds below? Surely this would gain him the glory that the devil mistakenly thought Jesus craved; the kind of glorification that human kings sought. Quite the temptation from the devil; glory without suffering, adulation without effort, worship without sacrifice. “Just leap from the temple roof and surely God will sustain you, and your glory will be shown to the people and they will know that you are God’s Son”. Even this was not enough to cause Jesus to waver in his dedication to fulfilling his mission of salvation in the way it must happen. Even when the devil found opportune times to again tempt Jesus, his faithfulness prevailed. He asked God to take the cup of suffering from him, to save him from what he was to endure; even then, in trust and fidelity Jesus said, “yet, not my will, but yours be done”. There on the temple mount, later in the Garden, and even hanging on the cross, Jesus did not reject the path that God had chosen for him; he maintained his faithfulness.
How are we tempted to waver in our faith, in our God and in Christ, who has shown us what true faithfulness looks like? What are the things that test us? How do we respond to these temptations? Are we completely on board with the notion that we do not live by bread alone, and that what sustains us is the Word of God? Are we satisfied? Or, are we constantly striving to acquire more of everything, not caring about the needs of those who have nothing? Where is our faithfulness?
Do we worship only God, and are we certain that there are no other deities which we may secretly idolize; power, money, dominance over others? Where is our faithfulness?
Do we put the Lord, our God to the test? Are there times when we tell ourselves that our will has more sway in our lives than does the will if God? Do we surrender our lives, our time, our treasure to what God would have us do, or do we feel we know better than the One by whose will we are blessed with all that we have? Where is our faithfulness?
Which brings us back to the beginning of our conversation here this morning; we are at the start of 40 days of reflecting upon these and the other attributes that Jesus illustrates for us. In the wilderness Jesus shows us how his faithfulness defeats the devil and his temptations. He does not, he will not waver from the mission and ministry that will eventually secure the salvation of the world. You are encouraged during this Lenten season to reflect on your own understanding of your trust, steadfastness, and devotion to God. Where is your faithfulness?
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and Holy God, your Son, Jesus is the example of the faithfulness you desire from us. Give us the strength to overcome those things that seek to weaken our faith in you. Help us to emulate the faithfulness of Jesus. And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who remained faithful to the end and the One in whom our faith is placed. Amen.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.