The First Sunday in Lent
Scripture Reading: Luke 4:1-13
Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness
4 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted[a] by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’[b]”
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’[c]”
9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[d]”
12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[e]”
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
- Luke 4:2 The Greek for tempted can also mean tested.
- Luke 4:4 Deut. 8:3
- Luke 4:8 Deut. 6:13
- Luke 4:11 Psalm 91:11,12
- Luke 4:12 Deut. 6:16
Sermon: “Twice Led, Not Fed, Well Read”
Since today’s scripture is about temptation, let’s start by thinking about it in a way most of us can relate to. Pretend that, because we have so many Girl Scouts in our congregation, I have bought enough Girl Scout cookies to give everyone here a taste.
Soon, in this pretend world, we’ll pass offering plates overflowing with Thin Mints and Trefoils and other mouthwatering goodies.
If you’re worried about sugar, fat, or calories, should you take one? Of course not! But will you, that’s the question.
Psychologists call this self-control conflict. That short-term burst of sweet, yummy goodness would make you happy for what, a couple of minutes, but goes against a long-term goal to eat healthily, keep yourself well, or lose weight.
Still, a lot of the time, temptation wins. The secret to resisting, psychologists say, is in how we think about the cookie.
To understand what they mean, think about what you’ll probably be doing ten minutes from now. Got it? Now think about what you’ll probably be doing ten years from now.
If you’re like most people, your ten-minute thoughts were full of particulars. Of course, you’ll still be in church. Maybe you’ll be thinking about how glad you are that St. John’s has padded pews, or about how much longer this sermon can last, or about the doughnuts out in the foyer.
Move out ten years, though, and things get fuzzy. We focus more on the big picture, not tiny details.
Psychologists say that we can think about things at a low level, focusing on clear-cut, in the moment details, or at a high level, focusing on the bigger picture. Where do you think temptations do their dirty work?
That’s right, at the low level. When that offering plate full of Girl Scout goodies comes by, you might think of how those cookies will make your taste buds sing and say, “I am eating this cookie, and I’m eating it now!”
Willy Wonka Clip
Thinking about temptation at a low level distracts us from the bigger picture. It’s hard to see both at the same time.
When you look at a forest from a helicopter, it’s easy to see the whole thing as a forest. But when you’re on the ground, all you see are individual trees. You lose sight of the big picture.
Jesus’ high-level view of temptation helped him look beyond food, power, and glory to the much bigger picture of God’s purpose.
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It’s written, ‘One doesn’t live by bread alone.'” (Luke 4:3-4)
There’s more to the kingdom of God than food, Jesus said. Still, the temptation to give people what they want is a strong one. Doing good, though, can lead to codependency, where the other person, the needy one, controls our lives instead of God.
How could Jesus care for the needs of hurting people while still leading them to a life that values the kingdom of God more than anything else? The answer did not include being a first century all-you-can-eat buffet.
John’s gospel speaks to that.
The crowd got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “You’re looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Don’t work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:24-27, edited)
The devil’s next temptation was an especially sneaky one.
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. “I’ll give their glory and all this authority to you,” he said, “for it’s been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. Worship me, and it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It’s written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” (Luke 4:5-8)
“Look, Jesus, don’t you want to see the kingdom of God rule the world? Why not do it the way it’s done by nations, empires, and kings? Face it—this world runs by my rules. Let’s cooperate. Don’t make it hard on yourself!”
Try to picture Jesus as one of today’s politicians, playing the game, clawing his way to the top. It’s about the furthest thing from the hard road of the suffering servant it could be. Jesus chose to walk it, anyway.
You and I often don’t. We excuse away our craving for success and power as building our career, or protecting our family’s future, or even as doing the will of God.
When people mistake lust for power and control with the will of God, hatred blossoms, blood flows, and those supposedly on the side of God stand arm in arm with the tempter in the Judean wilderness.
The last temptation, like the other two, wasn’t just something Jesus struggled with.
The devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it’s written, ‘He’ll command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they’ll bear you up, so that you won’t dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered him, “It’s also said, ‘Don’t put the Lord your God to the test.'” (Luke 4:9-12)
“You don’t put God to the test,” Jesus said. Don’t we? How many people are mad at God because, in their minds at least, God flunked a test that they’ve set up? It might go something like this.
If God heals my husband’s cancer, then I’ll know that God loves me. If my boy comes back safely from an overseas mission, then I’ll know that God is on my side. If I get the job that I’ve been praying for, then I’ll know that God cares about me.
Will I walk with God whether or not I get that job, whether or not the cancer is healed, whether or not someone I love pulls through a life-threatening situation? Or am I going to say, “If you do this for me, then you’re my God. If not, we’re done.”
In the end, Jesus decided to walk with God for the long haul, despite temptations, trials, and disappointments. He looked at the path before him from a higher level, focusing on God’s long-term plans, not just for him, but for all people.
When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:13)
Temptation still looks for its opportune times, trying to draw us away from the God who made us and saved us to some lesser, life-destroying substitute.
Jesus, struggling in the wilderness, wasn’t in any place that you and I haven’t already been and will be again. When we find ourselves there, he’ll be waiting. We never face our demons alone.