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“A Trip through Temptation”
Luke 4: 1-13
March 6, 2022
The First Sunday in Lent
Have you noticed America’s fascination with food? Count the number of food-related shows on TV today. The list is staggering: from Iron Chef to Chopped to Diners, Drive Ins and Dives---there is an over-abundance of shows related to cooking and eating. Add to that the popularity of cooking blogs and vlogs that encourage everyone to be a home chef, and then the meal kits that drop at your door with recipes and ingredients---is it any wonder that we are fixated on food? A unique thing about American food culture is that in this country, bigger is better. Do you remember the old TV show, Man Vs. Food? Adam Richman toured the nation devouring massively-sized servings. In our own lives, we often give in to the temptation to eat more than is good for us. My personal weaknesses are shrimp and pizza, both of which tempt me to consume more than I should.
An article in Business Insider talked about how much larger portion sizes are in the U.S. than other places---whether in a fine dining restaurant or with fast food, where you can supersize everything. The article also noted how people moving to this country from other places often are surprised at the overwhelming number and assortment of food choices we have in our grocery stores---a fact driven by consumer demand for variety and personalized options.1
So it is not surprising that when we enter the season of Lent, we tend to tie our spiritual disciplines to food. And there is Biblical and historical justification for that. Jesus, after all, went without food for forty days in the wilderness. And from the earliest years of the faith, some Christians have used abstinence and austerity as spiritual practices. So during Lent, we pledge to give up sweets or sodas, chocolate or cheese, coffee or Coke. And there is nothing wrong with that. This practice can help us strengthen our reliance on Christ, who empowers us to turn away from temptation.
But Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness was about much more than food. As Barbara Chaapel pointed out in The Presbyterian Outlook, we often equate Jesus’ temptation to “personal temptations in our lives — diet, use of time, consumption, overwork. Yet for Jesus, they were really temptations about how he would carry out his vocation, how he would live out his identity, how he would use and understand his power, and what the power of God is like,” she wrote.2
Jesus’ temptations were about his identity and vocation. For us, isn’t it true that, when we are honest with ourselves, our greatest temptations are not about what we we eat, but about how we understand our identity and our vocation?
Who are we? Who are we as individuals, as Christians, as disciples? And because of who we are, what is God calling us to do? It is when we forget who we are that we are most likely to succumb to temptation.
The Lenten season helps us discover the answers to those questions, as we walk with Jesus toward Jerusalem. Our theme this Lent is “Journey with Jesus,” focusing on the ancient understanding of Lent as a journey, a passage toward deeper faith, as we walk with Jesus toward the cross. Every year the first Sunday in Lent brings us the account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, with the three-year cycle of lectionary readings alternating between Matthew, Mark and Luke. All of the accounts give us three main characters: Jesus, the Spirit, and the tempter. I should say a word about the tempter, whom Mark calls “satan” and Matthew and Luke “the devil.” Whether or not you believe in a literal devil, we can agree that evil is a reality, and the tempter in this passage is the personification of evil.
In a commentary on this passage, Fred Craddock noted, “In whatever images or concepts the power of evil may be presented, it is the testimony of experience as well as Scripture that there is in the world opposition to love, health, wholeness and peace. In fact, it is those called of God and committed to the way of God.....who experience most forcefully the struggle with evil. If Jesus wrestled, why should any of his followers think that believing makes them exempt from the fray?” he wrote.3
But evil was not in control! All three accounts tell us significantly that it was the Holy Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness! Our passage in Luke emphasizes that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit, and he was led in the wilderness by the Spirit. This fact should not be lost on us! We sometimes wonder if our trials are the result of our doing something wrong, or if God is not with us. We should remember that Jesus was in the wilderness because the Holy Spirit led him there.
The good news we find in this passage is that when we go through struggles, we have the power to overcome them through the power of Christ. We see that in the way that Jesus overcame each of these temptations.
In the first temptation, the tempter tried to get Jesus to turn stones into bread. Jesus had gone without food for forty days. He was famished. He was tired. He was alone. So often it is in those unguarded moments that our humanity gets the better of us. Listen again to verse 3: “If you are the Son of God, turn this stone to bread!” IF you are…. The voice of the tempter was trying to introduce doubt, doubt about who Jesus was, doubt about his relationship with God. “Surely God doesn’t love you. Why would you be here alone? If God loves you, why are you hungry? Why hasn’t God provided for you? Shouldn’t you just take matters into your own hands?”
There are many forces in the world that try to sow the seeds of doubt in us. Voices of criticism and judgment that can make us feel alone, unloved.
Two weeks ago, we celebrated the sacrament of baptism, and next Sunday, we will baptize another child. The words we hear at baptism---You are a child of God---are a promise that never leaves us, not when we are 10 or 15 or 35 or 95! You are a child of God!
If the tempter tries to make you doubt your identity, remember this: You are a child of God, created by God, claimed by God, loved by God. You belong to God!
We continue to hear about the toll the past two years has taken on youth and children. There is the constant pressure of social media saying you are not good enough. Added to that are these years of upheaval during a formative time in the lives of young people, causing anxiety, fear and doubt. Now that masks are no longer mandated in our area schools, I have been hearing about kids who do not want to take off their masks, because they are afraid for people to see them.
So let me say to everyone and especially to our youth: My friends, God sees you. God sees you and God knows you and God loves you. You are a child of God. Don’t let anyone make you doubt that. God created you, God created you just the way you are for a reason. Don’t let anyone make you doubt that! You are a child of God, and you belong to God.
When Jesus was faced with this voice trying to make him doubt his identity, he immediately turned to scripture; his response showed that he trusted that God would provide.
So then the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and told Jesus, “If you will worship me, all of this will be yours.” The temptation for wealth, material possessions and the comforts they afford, was no less powerful in Jesus’ day than in ours. Over the past two year, many people have given in to the temptation of material possessions. During the pandemic, when everyone was stuck at home, buying stuff became entertainment. One meme going around during the height of the pandemic said, “The difference between a good day and a bad day? An Amazon delivery.”
We have assuaged our pain with a glut of goods, but their promises are empty and their pleasures do not fulfill. Instead, we should seek wholeness and meaning and purpose in the one true God.
When we are grounded in God, we are connected to the ground of our being, and we can answer, with Jesus, “It is written, worship the Lord your God and serve God alone.”
Finally, the tempter took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, tempting him with taking command of the angels. It was a temptation to power. Imagine, in the temple, the most visible place in Jerusalem, what would happen if someone came flying through like some ancient superhero. It would have been a spectacle guaranteed to capture everyone’s attention, a screaming display of power.
Power still tempts people. The horrific invasion of Ukraine demonstrates desire for power taken to the extreme, the drive for conquest and domination that results in terrible harm to the innocent. We must reject such power. Ultimate power rests with God alone. True power is trusting in God, trusting that God knows what is best, wants what is best, and has the power to make it happen. Jesus dismissed the temptation to power by turning once again to God’s word: “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And then, “when the devil had finished every test, he departed from him, until an opportune time.”
Notice that overcoming temptation once did not mean temptation would never come again. Temptation continued to come to Jesus, just as it does to us. But because Christ lives in us, we have power to resist temptation through his power. In this passage, with every temptation, Jesus relied on scripture and the Spirit. And so this trip to temptation became a trip through temptation; Jesus came through and was confirmed in his identity and vocation.
Through Christ’s presence with us, we overcome our own struggles and come through temptation confirmed in our identity and vocation. We are God’s beloved children. God created us, God calls us, God loves us, and God never leaves us. As people of God, we live out our identity by following Jesus every day. That is our vocation, our call, to be like Jesus. To go where he goes. To serve him and walk with him, knowing that as we do, we are growing in our faith, and God strengthens us for the journey.
The eminent theologian Karl Barth wrote a major work called Church Dogmatics, published in 14 volumes totaling about 10,000 pages! When Barth was speaking at the University of Chicago as part of a lecture tour, a student asked during the question and answer time if Barth could sum up his entire theology in one sentence. Barth replied, “Yes, I can. In the words of a song I learned at my mother’s knee: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”4
During the Lenten season, remember who you are. Jesus loves you; know this! And knowing, do not give in to temptation. Jesus loves you; know this, and follow him on the wilderness journey. You are a child of God. As we come to the table, let us remember. Amen
Rev. Dawn M. Mayes
Manassas Presbyterian Church