By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
March 10, 2019
Luke 4:1–13 (ESV)
The Temptation of Jesus
4 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’ ” 5 And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6 and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 And Jesus answered him, “It is written,
“ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God,
and him only shall you serve.’ ”
9 And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,
“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to guard you,’
“ ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”
12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.
At times it is difficult to engage with scripture and at other times when we read them it is as if we have entered the scene and are walking along side those involved. This phenomenon is largely due to the mental state of our mind at the time. When we are tired or greatly stressed, engaging with scripture is a chore that we can put off until we feel better. The problem is when we feel better, if we are not disciplined in reading scripture, we will often find something else to do. If you happened to read last week’s sermon, I wrote about how Jesus would make space in his life to pray. He would guard that space, withdrawing to isolated places to spend time with his Father. When I speak of engaging scripture, I speak about as in prayer. We often look at scripture as if it is a user’s manual. If you happen to need to know how to make life work, we read it for the answer and move along to other things. We have even made clever little acronyms for the bible: Basic instructions before Living eternally, Believer’s instructions before leaving earth, and Basic instructional book for living everyday. There are several them that I have heard over the years, some are fun, and some are bad. If we approach scripture as an instruction manual it will encourage our actions, but does it change our soul?
When I engage scripture, I engage it in a couple of ways. One approach is for sermon prep and bible study, with this approach I am seeking to learn all I can to encourage others. The second approach is to use the words of scripture to direct my life of prayer. And if I am honest, both of those approaches are very similar, because when I am preparing to speak, I am in prayer and often when I am allowing the scripture to direct my prayer life, I am often inspired to write things into sermons. Scripture and prayer to me is just part of life. It is something I have trained my mind and body to do, so it is difficult for me to read through the bible like a regular book, because my mind will often dwell on things for a while. And when my mind stops on a word or section of scripture, I ponder it, I look deeper, and I try to look at it from many perspectives. I will sometimes read it in multiple translations to see if things are worded differently to see if maybe what I first might have though might have been taken a different way by some other translators. I will consider the opinions of scholars as well as listen to the opinions of others. And when I am done with that I just sit and pray, I ask God to open things up so I can see more clearly. To read scripture is to pray in my opinion and to pray is to engage with the scripture, because to pray is to converse with God and what better way to do that than to join with those ancient writers as they prayed and composed the words we regard as inspired by the very spirit of God.
Like I said at times, this is easy and at times it is difficult. This is why I think it is so important to look at the life and lifestyle of Jesus. Jesus is more than a prophet, he is more than a teacher, he is more than a king, he is Emanuel (God with us). That idea is something that keeps me in a state of awe. God with us. If God is with us there is another side to it, we are with God. If Jesus is God with us then everything, we can learn from Jesus speaks deeply to our lives because it is God living, encouraging and teaching us so that we can be with him. There is something amazing about God being with us. It is a mystery beyond anything I can really wrap my head around, yet it is encouraging. It is encouraging because it tells us that we are not alone. In our darkest times, during our most difficult struggles, there is someone to walk with us.
Today we meet Jesus, just as we have so often in scripture, in an isolated place out in the wilderness. The past few weeks we have meet with Jesus later in his ministry, today we meet him before he begins his journey toward the cross. This passage takes place shortly after Jesus meet John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan. For approximately thirty years Jesus has lived his life within a community along side his family. He had spent seventeen years laboring beside his brothers, several of those years he had worked with Joseph, and possibly cousins and uncles. Every day they would leave their home to work, and every day they would return. They would take one day each week to rest from their labors, and on that day the would worship in their local synagogue just like everyone else in the community. When a teacher visited, they would go and listen, when there was a holy day they would participate in the festivities. They would travel to Jerusalem and offer sacrifices on the appointed days, they celebrated marriages and births, they mourned those that died, and they lived life just like we live ours.
Jesus was human. He was born, he grew, he laughed, he cried. Some people liked him, and others may have had other opinions. Jesus was a man. Do we fully grasp what that means? Jesus was a man. He had responsibilities. He had difficulties in life that he had to overcome. He had struggles. So often in my life as I face various hardships, I forget that Jesus was also a man, though the time was different then than it is now, many of the issues I face he experienced.
I want us to remember this as we consider today’s passage. Jesus the man went out into the wilderness to pray for forty days. He went out there because as a man he had to come to terms with the struggle we all face: desires for comfort and security versus answering a call to something greater. Yes, Jesus was more than a man, but Jesus still struggled because life is a struggle. We know he struggled because when he prayed the day of his betrayal, his body was so intensely stressed that he sweat blood. That is extreme stress, a level of stress I pray I never face. Why was he stressed, because as a man he knew what he was about to face, and the prospect of that even though he counted it as joy was not something his body wanted to endure.
Jesus went out to that wilderness to pray, because he was about to embark on a mission that was set in place at the foundations of the world. He was about to start that journey that would eventually lead him to the cross, and there were so many things involved with that journey. He had just spent thirty years as Mary and Joseph’s son. Seventeen years he had spent as a carpenter and now at the age of thirty he was going to walk away from that life and enter a great adventure. He was going to fulfill his purpose. He was about to step into the life he was meant to live.
For forty days he prayed and fasted. He spent forty days in a retreat, where he would discuss the redemption and restoration of creation. Last week I wrote about Jesus on the mount of transfiguration where his face shone and his clothes became white, and while he prayed and Peter, John, and James watch, Moses and Elijah appeared before them. Jesus was there praying and talking, and they were discussing things that were to occur. It is interesting to remember this because for forty days Moses was on the mountain with God when he received the law. Elijah spent forty days in the wilderness when he heard the voice of God speak in the silence. Forty is an important number, and the law giver, the prophet, and Jesus spent forty days in prayer, forty days talking with God about restoration of creation. They each spent this time in prayer prior to embracing a mission set before them.
At the end of the forty days of fasting and prayer, Jesus was tempted. Temptation we often see as a negative thing, and it can be. There is nothing in temptation that is sinful, it is simply the struggle of life. There are many choices and direction we could go with every decision we make. Each of those options has a cost and a benefit. Every choice we make is a temptation, because within every choice we must weigh in our own mind how we will respond in to our relationship with God, ourselves, and others. Temptation can become sin if we choose a path that leads away from God, or that places ourselves in a position where we do not consider the good of others. For forty days Jesus struggled with temptation, and the devil was there making every attempt to distract Jesus from the path that would lead to redemption.
Jesus prayed in that wilderness for forty days and he was hungry. “If you are the son of God, command this stone to become bread.” The devil encouraged him. This temptation is a choice in life we all face. This is that temptation to place our need above others. With Jesus Satan was encouraging him to use the power he possessed to satisfy his personal needs. “Just focus on yourself,” Satan seems to be saying. You have the power to make bread appear, you are hungry, just do it. Do not worry about the struggle of life, do not worry about the joy of relationship and allowing others to provide or serve you, just focus on your own needs. We face this temptation every day of our life. We are probably facing it right now if we want to be honest. It is placing our desires before those around us, nor taking into consideration how our actions will affect them.
The devil then shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time saying, “I will give you all of this if you only worship me.” This temptation is the one that caught my attention this week. The devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, in a moment of time. What does that mean. Usually when I read this segment, I tend to think that Jesus was shown the glory of Rome, and the numerous countries and empires that existed in that day. But this week I was challenged by the word all and the phrase in a moment of time. Was Jesus shown I that place of pray did he see all human history and the rise and fall of the nations rapidly play out before his eyes? Was this temptation really a dealing less with power and more about removing the will of humanity? Could Satan have really been telling Jesus, you could stop all this all the wars, all the suffering, and you could achieve your greatest desire of united humanity under your influence, you could do all this right now without the struggle of relationships, work, and sacrifice.
Then he takes him to the top of the temple and encourages him to jump. With the assurance that God would command the angels to keep him safe. This temptation is also one we face nearly every day. Just act and pray that God will remove any negative consequences. We can also fall in this trap when we plan without considering others. We think we know what is right, so we push forward, grabbing the bull by the horns and move. The problem though is a bull is a big beast with sharp horns and sometimes a bull has a mind of its own. God does say he will give us all the desires of our heart, but that comes after we seek him first.
I love to read the temptation of Jesus, I love it because I connect with it so much. Every time I read it, I see yet another perspective I had not considered before. Yet all of it speaks of the same things. The temptation to focus on self, the temptation to force others to do our will, and the temptation to try to avoid consequences for our actions. Jesus struggled, he struggled because everything that Satan said he had the power to do, but to do so would hinder or destroy relationships. Moses and Elijah spent forty days on various mountains speaking to God about these things. Moses was given the law to direct and encourage the people, but the people quickly twisted the law to the point that they could justify their own actions while appearing to be righteous in the eyes of the religious. So, God sent the prophets who cried out to the people it was mercy not sacrifice I desired. The entire law revolved around the core principle that we should love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Meaning we should love God, and work for the mutual profit or good of all. The Law and the prophets encouraged us to turn from our selfish self fulfilment, to turn from using coercion instead convincement, and to take responsibility for our own actions. God sent the law and the prophets to encourage repentance, yet we still struggle, so he sent his son. Jesus, being God, became man to live with us and to show us how to live that holy lifestyle with others so that we could then live with God. God showed us how to truly be human, and humanity is the struggle of relationships. And to travers life of struggle we need to Love God in our worship, embrace he Holy Spirit while we withdraw to isolated places to pray, and to live the love of Christ with others as we encourage and minister for the good of those around us.
As we enter this time of open worship, let us contemplate on this amazing mystery that is God with us and us with God. Let us consider how God is with us in our struggles and how we can allow God to help us overcome with him.