By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
March 6, 2022
Luke 4:1–13 (ESV)
1 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,’ 11 and “ ‘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.
Over the past week I have done a great deal of soul searching. I have struggled with my own core believes in many ways. There is a reason for this. Faith is not easy. Faith is not something we can just jump into and live out. Faith is a struggle because life is a struggle.
I have watched various news reports and questioned my own beliefs. Do I really believe what I say I believe? I have had to face my own doubts, and my own self-deception. We all deceive ourselves. We all live lives of hypocrisy in some manner. We are not perfect.
I must thank a friend for much of this soul searching. Over the past few months, I have engaged in a bible study with this friend, and because of this study I have been required to dig deeper into some areas of my own understanding than I have previously. I want you all to know that when you teach, when you must in some way explain something to someone else you learn more. I have learned more about scripture while preparing for lessons and sermons than I ever did sitting in a pew or even sitting in a classroom learning how to study the Bible. If you want to learn about scripture, I encourage you to find someone or a couple of people to study scripture with. If each of us were to find a friend to study with and actually have to explain our understanding of faith to each other, we would deepen our spiritual lives in a way that we have not experienced it before.
I mention this because we were studying 1 Timothy and in the passage we were studying there was a strange verse that I have never really considered before. 1 Timothy 4:2, “2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,” This to me is a weird verse. Through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, what does that mean? This verse speaks of our own self justification and personal hypocrisy. We can justify our actions. We can claim that they are valid and honorable. We can even use those justifications to direct how we interact with the world around us. And these justifications can cause us to lose the ability to see the harm we are causing to others. Hypocrisy is the insincerity of liars. Lack of empathy is where our consciences are seared or more accurately cauterized. Cauterization is the act of burning to seal off the flow. This is something that was used to prevent blood loss, and since I am not a medical doctor, or doctor of any kind, I cannot tell you if it works well or not, all I know is that we used to do it when we dehorned cattle.
The searing of the conscience stops the flow, it prevents or dams up the flow of blessing from one to another. It prevents us from participating in the mutual profit of those around us. It is in essence greed and pride. We sear our consciences because we do not want to think or even consider that I might be participating in something that is causing harm to others. I have had to struggle with this concept all through this past week. I struggle with this because I am attempting to live my life in faith. I can see how I, and the actions that I have promoted contribute to suffering of others. And how do we live with this? We either must repent or we cauterize our conscience so that we are able to continue living without pangs of guilt.
This single verse got my mind and heart working the past few days. I had to come to terms with my own hypocrisy and blatant refusal to acknowledges others. I read the verse and I thought about things like racism, nationalism, war, peace, trade, and the list can go on. Every form of human interaction has the risk of entering some form of insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, because we are human. We, with our desire to be right often will unite with those we see as similar and we will neglect and demonize those we see as different. This is something that we have struggled with for most of our human history.
Is this what God wants? Was this what God desired when he told our first parents to go out into all the earth and subdue it? No. This is the fall. This is humanity in their desire to know good and evil struggling to make the world into their image instead of the image of God.
We are told that Jesus is fully human and fully God by the theologians. This is by nature a concept that we are unable to grasp. We cannot wrap our heads around this concept because it is beyond our comprehension. That does not really matter. What matters is what Jesus is. What Jesus did. And where we are in relation to that. One of the greatest struggles we in the western world have with this whole concept is the verses in today’s reading, the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.
How can God be tempted? Is this even possible? The answer is not easy because we approach it from our perspective. And our perspectives are filled with our definitions of good and evil; right and wrong. We equate God with our human understanding and when we do that, we can develop a skewed understanding of who God is.
God can be tempted. God has always been tempted. That is what the whole supernatural rebellion is all about. The sons of God, the spiritual beings that were created before our terrestrial plain, were God’s family. They had communion with God, but God wanted a larger family so he created the world and he said to those spiritual beings, “Let us create man in our image.” So, he created humanity as image bearers of God. This role as image bearers is significant. It means that we have a place in God’s family, it means that we are just as significant to God as the angels of heaven. This significance is something that some of the spiritual beings could not handle, so they rebelled against God. This rebellion is temptation, or a test of God’s character. Will God be true to his nature? Can we as members of God’s created family trust him? The spiritual rebellion tested God; the test was to see if God would give greater honor to one over the other. Will God choose humanity or angels? Our entire history is a temptation of God. It is testing God; it is trying to make God move one way or the other. The angels of rebellion looked at God’s desire to live in Eden as God choosing humanity over them. And they hatched out a plan to make that stop. Get the humans to join the rebellion.
God can be tested, God is tested. But God can handle the test. Our problem is will we trust God. This is the humanity side of the temptation narrative. Is it possible for humans to participate in what God had already set in motion?
We are told that Jesus was led into the desert by the Holy Spirit. I first want us to stop and think about this. We recognize the Holy Spirit as God. In the trinitarian view of God we have God the Father, Son and Spirit. Three distinct personalities that of one essence. The thing to remember is the one essence and not to worry about the three personalities as much, because this will only lead us into human justification and various heresies, because we cannot understand something that is beyond our shared experience. But we have experienced the one essence of God. This verse is telling us that God led God out into the wilderness to face the testing. God met the test head on without reservation.
And for forty days, Jesus was in the wilderness eating nothing. We get many insights from this. The fact that Luke and the other gospel writers use the number forty is significant. It links the experience of Jesus back into the history of Israel. They were tested for forty years in the wilderness. Moses was on the mountain forty days when he was receiving the law, and while he was up there Israel was tested, and they failed that test by building an idol of gold. Forty is a significant touch point that tells us that this is something that is linked to deep ancient roots.
Jesus was led by the Spirt to the wilderness to be tested. During that time, he ate nothing and was hungry. And the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” I want us to consider this test for a moment. Where is the temptation, where is the sin in this? This is the foundation of what we are talking about. When we think of temptation we think of sin, so we must consider what sin really is.
Theologically and religiously, we have a definition to this word. But I do not think we fully grasp what sin really is. According to our own faith and practice we basically label sin as disobedience to the will of God. I think this is a great definition. So often religious organizations define sin as disobeying God’s law. It might not seem like much of a difference but it is. To look at the will instead of the law is speaking of relationship in comparison of legal conformity. When we base our definition of sin on legal conformity sin is something we overcome through discipline and righteousness. But if the definition of sin is based on disobedience to the will of God, that indicates that we are in a conversation a relationship. Legal transactions can be negotiated, but relationships take something completely different.
It is not a sin to eat. It is not a sin to make bread to eat. It is a sin to make bread out of wheat that does not belong to you, or to grow wheat to make bread on land that is not yours. I want to reiterate that it is not a sin to eat bread. So where is the temptation what is the test?
This devil, this adversary or accuser, is testing Jesus. This personified representative of the rebellion is suggesting to Jesus take use the powers he possesses to provide for himself a necessity. It is not a sin to make bread, but it is a sin to disregard God’s will in the process. The will of God was for humanity to go into the world and subdue it and make it the garden of Eden. The temptation here is not just to make bread. It is to disregard the whole process of making bread. How can we encourage the world to come to God, if we are not interacting with the world? Our participation in the economies of mankind can be a witness to our relationship with God.
How do we make bread? First a seed and soil. Then the seed grows, reproduces and is harvested. Then the seeds are taken and ground into flour. This flour is combined with water and mixed into dough. That dough is formed into a loaf and baked at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. There are many steps involved in making bread, and there are many tools. Making bread even if we make it at home, is a community thing. We must interact with others to make bread. Even if we were to make our own tools, the idea is that there is still a relational aspect to eating involved. We make bread for the family. We trade with others so we have bread for the family. We interact with others. If Jesus were to simply make bread, he is cutting out the humanity of hunger. We do not live on bread alone. We live on the word of God. The word of God is that every single person on the face of this earth is important, and we need you to help provide the most basic things of survival.
To turn a stone into bread, the devil is challenging Jesus, challenging God to undo his own created order of interconnectedness. And that is our temptation as well. When we begin to feel as if we do not need someone else, or even a nation we are denying those people around us the right to bear the image of God in themselves. This is why racism is such a detrimental sin in our society. This is why it is important to recognize where we have denied the expression of the image of God in others. This is why war in every form is wrong. It allows us, it demands us to deny those outside of our group their identity as bearers of God’s image.
God does not need us to make the world into Eden. God could have made the world into Eden all on his own but that was not his will. His will was to have people freely choose to join him in that process. But all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all think we have the answers to all the world’s problems so we build empires and fight wars. This is the crux of the second temptation. “And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 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.’”
This second temptation is connected to the first. If God’s plan was that the entire world be joined in unity under this Edenic garden nation, we have failed immensely. We are told in Deuteronomy that when humanity attempted to make a tower that reached to the heavens God confused the languages and divided the nations among the sons of God, keeping Israel as his allotment. This teaching is strange, but it basically means that God allowed the rebellion to occur so that through one people he could convince everyone to come back into alignment with the plan. Our first parents freely chose to rebel, and we must freely choose to come back to God. When God divided the nations among these rebellious spiritual beings, he was acknowledging that he will not force anyone or thing to conform to his will. Yet his will remains the same. His desire is that all of creation, all people will come to him. And on that glorious day of the Lord, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord. But he waits, he waits for that final battle because he does not want a single person to die without an opportunity to come back to him.
This second temptation is a temptation for Jesus to jump ahead. The ultimate goal is that every nation and every tribe will be brought into and under God’s government. The tester says I can make it happen in an instant if you will just worship me. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?
The temptation again is to circumvent the relational aspects of the kingdom. God does not force people to love him. He freely offers all people the grace but we must choose to join him in his mission. William Penn, one of the early Quaker activists wrote this in a letter to Letter to Lord Arlington, while imprisoned in the Tower, “Force may make hypocrites, but it can make no converts.” He also wrote in Some Fruits of Solitude, “A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we do evil, that good may come of it…” Penn and the other early Friends, opposed the use of force, they believed that the only true and honest way to bring about change was to live that change in front of people. The ultimate goal of God is that all people will come to love him. But if God used force of any kind there would not be love. This would deny God of his nature and us of our own. And because God so loved the world, he allows humanity to be human. It is not God that causes the suffering of humanity, but we cause our own suffering. God does not cause children to live in abusive families, we are the ones that abuse. We are the ones that are broken.
It is only when we are able to see a different way of living, that we can stop the cycles of violence that define our societies. For the people of the world to see a different way that requires us to be convinced to live a different way. For people to stop the violence we must show that there is another way. Our mission statement for Willow Creek is: Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. This is actively showing the Kingdom of God. To incorporate this into our lives we must be involved in it with God. And we must be vulnerable and risk. Love inherently involves risk, because we cannot control others, we can only act and hope that they respond. Do unto other what you would like done to you is the golden rule so many of us live by, but have we really considered how risky that is?
The devil has tempted Jesus to fulfill his basic needs, and his ultimate desire, the third temptation occurs at the temple. “Throw yourself off, for it is written that the angels will lift you up so you will not strike your foot.” James the Just is said to have been thrown from the pinnacle of temple as the devil encourages Jesus to do. I mention this because it is a real thing that could happen. And this quote comes from one of the Psalms, that speaks of God being our fortress and protector. But what is the devil really tempting Jesus to do? Again, none of these things in themselves would be considered sinful, it is the intent behind the action. What will get the attention of the world? What can we do to get noticed? I remember growing up that there was always some gimmick that a furniture store would use to get people to come to their store. Once a guy sat on the roof in the middle of the summer and the longer he stayed up there the greater the discount would be. The local news was out on location the entire time, giving updates, because in the middle of nowhere there isn’t much news. The temptation here is to use the spectacular to attract attention instead of the truth. We like the show, we like the victory dance after a touchdown, and every hockey player has developed their own celly after a goal. We like these we want to participate in these actions, we want the show.
Do people come for the show or do they come for the truth? Are people coming for healing or the words of life? Are we here for the blessing or are we hear because we are disciples of God?
The devil is asking Jesus to use something spectacular to bring the people back to God. Jump off the roof and show them that God will not allow you to die. But Jesus said to the pharisees that even if someone rose from the grave they would not believe. The spectacular only works for a while, eventually you either have to become more spectacular or you need to deepen the roots. When we base our lives on the spectacular, we will constantly need something more but what we really need is to be part of something meaningful. We need to have a mission and a purpose.
We have a purpose, we are called like every other human being on the face of this planet to make this world into Eden, the place where God and humanity can live together in complete and total harmony. I do not want us to look at the larger picture. I do not want us to look at the news and point to Russia or the United States and say if only they would stop what they are doing then this would happen. No. That is not the point. God already has a government; he does not need our feeble attempts to replace his supremacy. I want us to look at ourselves. Have we succumbed to the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared? Have we fallen to the temptation that we know more and better than those around us? Or are we honoring that of God in the person sitting next to us. Are we honoring the image of God in the life of the clerk at the store? Are we thanking the servers at the restaurants for bringing us our daily bread? Are we actively participating in the kingdom in how we interact with those around us, or are we contributing to the burning of flesh to stop the flow of life?
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