Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13
I.The Purposes and Focus of Lent
Lent is the forty day journey that takes us to Easter. Forty days, like the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert preparing for his ministry. Forty, in biblical terms could literally mean forty days or it could mean a really long time – as in the forty days Noah was at sea waiting to see land or the forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert with Moses. Forty days, for us, is to be our journey with Christ. Some take these forty days to give up something, to sacrifice something for the Savior that sacrificed everything. Others focus their prayers towards the lessons that Christ taught us and try to live more closely the life he calls us to live. No matter how you experience Lent, our walk with Christ is a lifelong process of discipleship. For this season, it is a journey that we begin with the story of Jesus facing the devil’s temptations in the desert.
We will be having a Lenten Supper and “Discovery” Program each Sunday evening throughout Lent. Each week will focus on the gospel message of the day and we will meet the topic of the day in songs, prayers, and scripture. Today’s topic will go into temptation, which is clearly one of the key concepts of this passage. Questions of logistics and reality plague this passage. Did this really, actually happen? If Jesus was alone, how do we know what happened? Was it really the devil tempting Jesus or was it just Jesus feeling temptations internally? These questions, while interesting, do not actually help us to understand what this all means for our faith lives. They are questions worth asking, but the answers do not change the message for us.
What are the temptations that we face in our lives? Of course, there are the easy, non-threatening temptations that we are allowed to struggle with: eat lots of sweets, drink pop, and watch more TV. These are things that are acceptable temptations that we openly struggle with, but there are other things that are more threatening as temptations. There are sneaky, half-truths that pose as innocent thoughts or actions that, in reality, eat away at the core of who we are. The big temptation/half-truth that I sometimes believe is that everything will get done; there’s no need to worry too much. It’s the lie of procrastination, believing that there will always be more time later. It is the crutch of laziness and it always comes at a price. There is the sneaky half-truth of “just one more” or the “I just want to try this once.” These are sneaky half-truths because once we have that one more, and once we try this one thing … we are more likely to have one more after that or do this one thing again. They are not just half-truths, they are lies that we believe.
A big temptation that I find in our society is that of functional atheism: this happens all the time in good, Christian people. We say that we trust and rely on God. We come to God in prayer and ask for God’s presence in our lives, but we act as though we are completely responsible for the success of everything that we plan or do. Our actions tell us that everything hinges on our participation.
III.How then do we resist temptation?
Jesus, in our passage for today, called the devil out on his half-truths. Even when the devil quotes scripture, Jesus looks at what each action asks of him and discovers the lies behind the temptations. We’ll go a little more in depth into each of these temptations this evening, but each of the temptations ask Jesus to define his identity by the world’s standards and needs. There is the lie of materialism and of power, and there is the temptation to manipulate faith.
In each of these temptations, Jesus saw the truth of the situation and did not listen to the half-truths that the devil supplied. Jesus countered the sneaky demands with Scripture, with the truth. Jesus realized that even if he could feed everyone in the world while on earth, that would not be sufficient for God’s grace to be known and appreciate within the hearts of the world’s population. He realized that showy examples of God’s favor is not the point of his power, and Jesus rejects human power and authority as the way to set the world right with God. How did Jesus resist those temptations?
1. Do not shrink from or deny the truth.
My Old Testament professor in seminary was a retired professor when he taught my class. Over the course of his tenure, he was involved in a lot of inter-religious dialogue and he related a story about when he first started meeting with Jewish rabbis. He was much younger and almost timid at first. Finally, one of the rabbis he had befriended confronted him and asked, “Gene, is Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior?” Sheepishly, my professor said, “Yes.” The rabbi then told him to quit apologizing for that fact; it wouldn’t help their discussions any to deny that. If Jesus Christ is your lord and savior, claim it. When you face temptation, find the truth of the matter whether it is hard to admit or not. Truth is difficult, but it is always the better course.
2. Do not let others take away your comfort.
The devil tells Jesus to throw himself down from the top of the Temple in a flashy display of his confidence in God’s angels who, it is said, will not let him dash his foot against a stone. The devil quotes Psalm 91 to Jesus, but he makes the Psalm into a promise against physical harm. Sometimes we would like to hear Scripture as promises that safeguard us against human troubles … but all of us know that terrible and tragic things happen to Christians just as much as they happen to non-Christians. The comfort of Psalm 91, as we will hear when we sing our final hymn today, is that God cares for us an eagle cares for its young, sheltering them with her wing, encouraging them to start flying even in the nest. Parents cannot protect their young from never getting hurt … but parents can try to prepare their children for the different challenges they will face in their lifetime. Knowing that God will be right there with us as we are learning to fly is a very comforting thought.
IV.Discipleship and Excellence
Jesus refused each one of these temptations because the real power of Jesus’ ministry came not from his ability to perform miracles or from his special anointing from God. Jesus’ real success was in being a mentor and role model to his disciples. Of course, he has a few extra credentials, but his whole life was a teaching lesson on how to live as a part of a new creation. We must be willing to share our faith and mentor others in their faith; this is part of our call as Christians. Lent is a wonderful time for us to do some self-examination and find where our discipleship and our walk with God could improve. How did you learn your faith? What (or who) helped you reach your specific beliefs?
I’ve been watching the Olympics as often as possible. There are wonderful parallels between the discipline of an athlete and the Christian journey. I am always interested in hearing how individuals got to the Olympics and who supported them in their journey.
Apollo Anton Ohno, the speed skater, gave an interview about his father’s role in helping him to become an Olympic athlete. After showing initial interest, Apollo was pushing back against his Dad’s push for him to compete. He was favored to win a large race when he was just 15. Instead, he came in last. Apollo says his dad, “was furious not because I didn’t do well … but because he could see I gave up.” After that race, Apollo’s father dropped him off at a cabin for some solitary time. His father told him he needed to make a decision about who he wanted to be and what he wanted to do in life. Then, he left him alone. On the eighth day of being alone, Apollo called his father and told him he had made his decision, he wanted to race. Apollo’s father knew that unless Apollo decided for himself, no amount of pushing was worth it.
Jesus goes to the wilderness right after being baptized in Luke. With the announcement of God and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, we know who Jesus is – the Son of God. What remained to be seen is what that identity would mean for the world. Jesus needed that time in the desert to root his ministry in his identity. In his answers to the devil, Jesus found a focus to his life that was rooted in his teachings, his ethics, and his convictions about what the people of God needed: convictions that were born of the same concern that God shows us when he raises us up on eagle’s wings. Let each of us commit to learning from Jesus’ example and teachings. Hold tight to the truth and seek God’s comfort in closeness.
Let us pray, Lord of all hope, Lent and the Christian life is a journey that requires intentionality. In seeking you out, you ask us to find discipline, integrity and excellence. Teach us your ways, Lord. And may each of us shine like the sun when you holds us in the palm of your hand. Amen.