In this sermon, I explore the temptation of Jesus. This is the featured text for the first Sunday in Lent every year.
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You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sometimes it floors me when I think back to the Millennium…and I realize just how long its been since we entered the 21st century…16 years ago…and things are vastly different than they were back then. One of the things that has changed so dramatically is the state of television…the bulk of tv shows, especially primetime shows were scripted back then…but in the year 2000, a new show came on that helped usher in the age of reality tv that we are so familiar with today…that show was Survivor…and the premise of this show, still running and just about to begin its 32nd season by the way…the premise, was quite simple…strand a bunch of people out in the middle of no where with hardly anything in terms of food and supplies…and see who can last the longest…and over the course of 40 days, let them gradually vote each other out of the game until there’s only one left and they are the sole survivor.
I was obsessed with this show for a while…I came into it a few years in and stuck with it up until just a couple years ago when I finally realized that every season is pretty much the same thing over and over again…but as obsessed as I was with it, I never tried out for it…I knew better…but I always wondered just what I would look like if I managed to go the full 40 days…and so for a long time, each every year when Lent kicked in…and different people would talk about giving something up…I always said I was giving up shaving just so I could see what 40 days of beard would look like…side note, I’ve never made it…16 days was longest I’ve ever managed…so I think its safe to say that if I can’t even make it 40 days without shaving…I certainly would fail to survive the actual experience…and some else would win the title of sole survivor.
That beings said…if there’s anyone who might just be able to endure the various hardships of 40 days in the middle of nowhere…with no supplies…no food…I guess today’s story shows us that Jesus might just make a pretty decent contestant.
Today, as we do on the first Sunday of Lent every year, we feature the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness…40 days…and Luke tells us that this wasn’t simply 40 days of fasting followed by 3 quick temptations…rather Luke tells us that the entire 40 days was filled with temptations…Jesus is out there alone for whatever reason…and Satan puts him through the ringer…and I’ve often wondered if there were moments during that time when Jesus asked the question “Will I survive this?”
I thought a lot about Luke’s emphasis on the 40 days of temptation that Jesus endured…wondering if the three temptations listed were it and those three lasted the 40 days…or if there were a lot of other temptations and these were simply the 3 that we hear about…I wonder if like Matthew tells us, that Jesus was out there fasting and Satan thought that hunger was a pretty powerful temptation to hit him with at the end of all that…and in short we don’t really know…only that these three temptations happen…but all I do know…is that it’s a good thing that it wasn’t me out there…because judging at how quickly my stomach starts growling on a daily basis…Satan probably could have tripped me up with that whole stones into bread thing by about noon on the first day…much less going 40 days without food. (pause)
But Jesus doesn’t go for it does he…nor does he fall to the other listed temptations. (pause) If you’re the son of God…turn these stones to bread. (pause) All the kingdoms of the world…I can give them to you…and all the glory that comes with it…if you’ll worship me. (pause) If you’re the son of God, throw yourself down from the temple…and he’ll send his angels to protect you. (pause)
We’re familiar with the 3 temptations aren’t we…we hear this story from the different gospels every year…we know how they go…and we know how Jesus resists…by quoting scripture…by throwing the word of God in Satan’s face…though interestingly enough…Satan uses the same tactic on him…he’s a crafty one that Satan. (pause)
But what interest me a little more is the way that things keep ramping up. With every passing temptation, Satan turns the screws a little bit more…taking up the intensity…and perhaps…the cost…Turn these stones into bread…You’re hungry…I can see that…in this first temptation…Satan uses physical need…something that we’ll all fall to…and as human Jesus was prone to this physical need as well…but the temptation is not in the hunger…the temptation is to use the power of God that lies with him…to twist God’s creation…that’s the cost here…it may seem minimal…it’ll only cost a couple of stones…and yet, what’s really happening would be Jesus deciding that these stones that God made to be stones, should be something else…that God’s creation isn’t good enough for him.
Well what about temptation number two? Satan shows off the kingdoms of the world…and reveals that, for the time being anyway, he holds dominion in this world…and he can give the power to anyone he chooses…and all Jesus has to do is ask. (Pause) So what’s the temptation here? Seems to be the desire for power…or advancement or glory here on earth…and we can probably relate to that can’t we? But then what’s the cost here? Well once again, it seems to be the notion that what God intended us to be, isn’t good enough…that want more than what we already have…that our pride craves the power that this world can offer…instead of being content with what we are given. (pause)
Well now what about number 3? When Satan hauls Jesus off to Jerusalem and sets him on the top of the temple…Hey son of God…jump off…because if you are REALLY who you say you are…then God’s not let anything happen to you…If he REALLY loves you like you say, then he’ll protect you…go ahead…prove it.
And once again, what’s the cost here? Seems to be forcing God’s hand…demanding divine intervention to prove something…and ironically, it would simply be proving something that not only Jesus already knows…but that Satan already knows as well…and so what good would that do? (pause)
These are the temptations that Jesus faces while he’s in the wilderness, just trying to physically survive…and its funny how Satan targets us when we’re weak just as Jesus was weak with hunger…but then he hits us when we’re strong…like when Jesus resisted the previous temptation…because as I said, that Satan…he’s a crafty one…so crafty in fact that he doesn’t just tempt us when we seem susceptible…he’s tempting us all the time…and if we look at the rest of Jesus’ ministry…the rest of the story right up until his death…the temptation continues…its even in the same form…it just comes from a slightly different source.
Turn these stones into bread…meet the physical need that humanity shares…temptation number 1…now think of what happened after Jesus fed a crowd of 5000 people with a few loaves and fish…they kept hounding him…so much so that he scolded them saying “you’re not following because of the sign…but because you ate your fill and now you’re hungry again…Jesus…meet our need. (pause)
All the kingdoms of the world I will give to you…take the power of the world…temptation number 2…and now think of the Jewish notion of the Messiah…the great earthly ruler who would reestablish the throne of Israel…who would cast out the Romans and place Judah at the head of all nations…Jesus…take power…and elevate us with you. (pause)
If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down…use your divine influence to save yourself…temptation number 3…which if you recall, happens in Jerusalem…the same place where Jesus hangs from a cross and hears the taunts “If you are the Messiah save yourself…come down from there…if you are able.” (pause)
Some scholars have suggested that these three temptations were only foreshadowing to the temptations that Jesus would constantly face during his ministry…right up to the moment when he dies on the cross…and there might just be some merit to that if we consider it…what’s a little odd about this suggestion, is that it seems to turn the temptation of Christ into a parable of sorts…and while I don’t think that the 40 days in the wilderness was a made up story to prove a point, the notion does give us something to think about.
Because if it was a parable…then we need to ask ourselves the normal parable question of who are we? Initially, we might think that we fit in with Jesus…because in our day to day lives we face temptation…but then as we see Jesus overcome temptation after temptation…and we know that we would never survive it…I think that rules us out of the Jesus connection pretty quickly…
And so…who’s left? Who’s the only other character there during the 40 days? (pause) Satan…but if we’re somehow connected with Satan, then just what is that telling us? Well, maybe on one hand it reminds us that we can be the source of temptation, both for others as well as for ourselves…and maybe in anther manner of thinking we’re just like those who tempted Jesus during his ministry…feed us…take the earthly power and share it with us…or prove to us that you are God. Prove to us that you are who you say you are. (pause)
And so maybe, just maybe there’s a little bit of truth here…and if so then maybe we see that the one that Jesus had to overcome is us…and while that might give us just a bit of pause when we start thinking about…isn’t it true that God became human and entered into our flawed reality to overcome that which we are powerless to overcome on our own?
Didn’t Jesus live and die and rise again to overcome the power of sin and death that reside within each and every one of us? Didn’t Jesus come to overpower that which we are unable to survive on our own? That darkness that resides right here…that darkness that we love and cling to…and yet hate it and hide it at the same time…we tuck it away, down deep inside us where no one can see it…well no one except God…but we cling to it so tightly that we cannot be honest with ourselves…much less can we be in relationship with the one who made us in the first place.
That is what Jesus came to overcome…that darkness that will continue to gather through this season of Lent…amazingly enough centering around Jesus until the moment that our darkness kills him. But the amazing thing about all this is not that we blame ourselves…or that we hate ourselves…or that we get this image of an angry God who is so mad at us that he has to kill his own kid.
Rather, we walk through this dark season right up to the cross, recognizing that Jesus could have saved himself…he could have let this cup pass…that he could have ended it…but that he loves us so much that he did it anyway…even though our temptations are too much for him to survive…because sin…brings…death.
But God…goes…farther…Yes Jesus WILL die on Good Friday…or at least we’ll remember, once again…that he did…because that work of God…that work of Christ…it is already finished…and Easter has already happened…and Christ has already walked out that tomb…it has already happened…and the good news that we find on this dark day, here at the beginning of this dark season…is that the temptations that Satan throws our direction now…has already been overcome. Yes we still feel it…and yes we need to acknowledge it…that’s what this season is about…about recognizing that temptation is not something that I will survive…but thanks to the love of God, shown for each us through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that temptation, has already been overcome.
I may be the problem…but God, has already given the solution. Amen.