"The Temptation of 'If'"
If you were here on Baptism of the Lord Sunday, you remember that when Jesus had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.”
At the age of 30, the man Jesus of Nazareth came to know that he was the beloved Son of God.
Afterward, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tested by the devil. The wilderness is hot and barren. The gospel tells us that "he was famished."
From somewhere comes a voice-- "If you are God's Son, then command this stone, so that it becomes bread." And Jesus remembers John... the Jordan River... the sky opening and a voice thundering, “You are my Son... the beloved."
But now there’s a different voice: "If you are God's Son... if you are God's Son." A rounded stone could become a loaf of bread. Who could it hurt? If he is God's child-- then why shouldn't he have what he wants? The temptation is to turn away from the way of sacrifice.
The first temptation in the gospel story is to choose the easy life. We end up hungry for the wrong things. The life focused on security… worldly success… or play... or earthly pleasure-- is a life spent looking for substitutes for communion with God.
We're tempted to avoid hard things like forgiveness. Somebody says something thoughtless that makes you feel stupid... or devalued. Someone you thought was your friend hurts you deeply. We should forgive.
Or we’re faced with a situation where someone needs to be protected, or where we need to stand up for what’s right and just.
These are the times when it’s hard to follow Jesus. We’re tempted to do what’s easier.
Jesus understood the temptation of the easy way. "One cannot live by bread alone.
The adversary tries again. “If you will worship me, all the kingdoms of the world will be yours.” Jesus could have chosen success… and prominence or wealth-- instead of the way of self-giving love and redemptive suffering. But he didn’t.
The tempter tries again. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple…” You know what the scriptures say, “God will protect you."
As Shakespeare pointed out, “There is no error so grave but that some sober brow will not bless it with a proper text." Even Satan quotes scripture.
First century Jews believed that when the Messiah came, he would reveal himself from the temple roof. Jesus could be the Messiah the people wanted-- if he would do what they expected.
Did you notice? Jesus responds to all three tests with Scripture. All three responses are from Deuteronomy, the part of the Torah that details what covenant relationship looks like, that tells and retells the story of who God is…and who God’s people are… and how God works. Jesus comes back to the faith that had formed him, the rote prayers repeated so often that didn’t leave him when he needed them the most.
Knowing who you are and whose you are is essential to your wholeness as God’s child, and to your awareness of what God wants you to do with your life. Satan’s primary objective isn’t getting you to do something wrong-- but to get you to forget who you are. The Adversary wants you to lose your identity… and your sense of belonging to the family of God.
The ways Satan tries to convince us that we don’t deserve God’s love are subtle and clever. And these temptations-- like the temptations of Christ-- are far more treacherous than an impulse to disobey one of the commandments.
Think about this tricky question: “If you are a child of God, then why don’t you feel more like one? This can be deadly, because sometimes we don’t feel much like a beloved member of God’s family. The temptation is to believe that-- if you’re not feeling like a child of God-- then maybe you aren’t.
Or about this temptation: “If you are a child of God, why don’t you act more like one?
When we’re tempted to forget who we are, we’re in a kind of spiritual desert. The word “wilderness” or “desert” has often been used as a symbol for being lost spiritually. Sometimes we don’t feel or act like children of God. Sometimes it seems as though we’re wandering around in a wilderness, not knowing who we are.
Being in a wilderness place is an unavoidable part of the Christian walk. We fight some of our greatest spiritual battles when we’re out in the wilderness. It’s a time when we’re confronted with ourselves. and we need to clarify what it is that we want or desire more than anything else.
When we're tempted to forget who we are... when we're tempted to take the EASY way-- we're called to follow Jesus’ example. Jesus went back to the scriptures that he learned as a child… the stories he’d heard at home and in the synagogue. He remembered the things God had done for him. He recalled the truths God had spoken.
That’s what we’re called to do. We need to remember this story of Jesus in the wilderness.
There were no witnesses to this event but Jesus. So, he must have told the disciples-- in the hope that they would remember.
Remember that we have a savior who understands our struggle. Remember how Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee and made it clear what his mission was in his inaugural speech in the synagogue in Nazareth:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Remember who you are: a beloved child of God, claimed by God’s grace… and called to work in partnership with Christ to embody God’s love and to work for reconciliation and justice and peace in the world.
Following Jesus sometimes leads us into the wilderness, where we are tested and prepared by God for ministry in this world. It isn’t a comfortable place to be, but there, in the wilderness we come to rely more and more on God as the source of our strength. In the stillness of the wilderness, we quiet ourselves to hear God’s voice and to meditate on God’s word.
When we’re tempted, everything is at stake. As Christians we’re called to carry on Christ’s saving work in the world. God has an important plan for our lives. So, as we journey through Lent, let us seek to follow Jesus more intentionally.
The good news is that, beginning with our baptism, God claims us and calls us and by the Holy Spirit gives us the power we need to carry Christ’s saving love into the world.
Thanks be to God!
Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
March 10, 2019