“Check the Fine Print”
By Rev. Jennifer Christenson
For Christus Lutheran Church, Greenville, Wis.
February 17, 2013
1st Sunday of Lent - Luke 4:1-13 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%204:1-13&version=NIV
So, do you remember that story about Jesus in the synagogue first amazing and then angering the people from his hometown? And then the one about Jesus on the mountain top glowing and shining?
Well, pretend you don’t, just for a little while.
Today’s gospel reading happens before all of that takes place.
In today’s reading Jesus has just been baptized, been declared God’s beloved and now, full of the Spirit he is led BY the Spirit out to the wilderness.
He’s led by the Spirit to the wilderness where he lingers for 40 days, not eating and doing, well, we don’t really know what.
But that’s not the interesting part of the story anyway. The interesting part happens after the 40 days have ended and Jesus finally gets some company. Unfortunately, said company happens to be the devil, who is heck-bent on derailing Jesus’ ministry and mission before it even gets started.
And just how does the tempter intend to do this derailing?
Well, first the devil picks an “opportune time” to show up. Finding Jesus, hungry, lonely, and possibly quite bored at the end of 40 days in the desert, well, that’s a great time to tempt him with food, and then with power, and then with a stunt that would really cause a big fuss in Jerusalem, would get Jesus a lot of publicity.
And second, the tempter offers up things that are oh, so reasonable. So often we lump temptation and testing of our wills into a broad category of things that are bad and/or bad for us. We’re tempted by a big slice of apple pie or chocolate cake. Or both. We’re tempted to say mean things in response to a perceived slight, or to post anonymous snark in the comments section of a news article. We’re tempted to cut corners or behave unethically for our own gain.
But that’s not really the angle the tempter takes in today’s reading. The suggestions made are soooo reasonable. There’s truly nothing inherently wrong with Jesus turning a stone into a dinner roll. After all, Jesus was the Son of God, no one would even see it, and by gum, he was hungry. He hadn’t eaten in 40 days! No harm in that at all.
Too, there’s nothing really wrong with Jesus wanting to step in and have power and authority over the kingdoms of the world. Jesus’ intent in coming to this world was to save it from oppression and injustice and sinfulness of all kinds. What better way to do so than to take over as benevolent dictator, right from the start?
And, what is the problem with jumping off of the Temple into the waiting arms of God’s holy angels? What a simple way to gain a large following right from the start. What better way to convince the people that Jesus is who he says he is, that he is truly the Beloved Son of God?
On the surface, there’s nothing really, technically bad about the things the devil tempts and tests Jesus with. Which, of course, is the idea. Truthfully, those are the kinds of temptations that are far more difficult for anyone to avoid and resist, mainly because we really have to know what we stand for, have a solid sense of who and whose we are, in order to stand strong.
On the surface, what’s suggested is not so bad. But that’s on the surface. There is harm, of course, in the suggestions offered up by the devil. It’s buried there in the fine print, likely why they say, the devil is in the details.
For indeed, for Jesus to turn a stone into bread would mean giving in to the temptation to use his fully God, fully human status for essentially self-focused parlor tricks. Had Jesus grown accustomed to giving himself whatever comfort he wanted, whenever he wanted it just because he could, would he have been so willing to pay the ultimate price, to go to the cross when the path he was to take would require it? Or would his path even have taken him there?
Likewise, the offer to rule the world came at a steep, steep price. That wasn’t just a freebie like the stones into bread thing. Jesus would have had to change his allegiance away from God the Father who sent him, and God the Holy Spirit who was leading him here, there and everywhere, essentially turn on his own self. He would have had to bow down and worship one other than God, to put his ultimate trust in one other than God. More than anything, this particular temptation was a test of Jesus’ loyalty. Would he remain true to the one who sent him, whose path was noble, but difficult, deadly even, or would he be easily swayed to pledge his allegiance to another who offered a simpler path to glory? And again, if he was so easily swayed before things really got rough, would he be willing to lay it all down at the end?
And then, of course, that tantalizing suggestion to jump off of the highest point of the Temple. Had Jesus followed through with that one it WOULD likely have caused a huge stir in Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Heavens, word of it might even have made its way to Rome. And yes, people likely would have followed him after that. Why wouldn’t they? But would they have followed him because they believed in his teaching and his vision for a just world, good news for the poor, sight to the blind and so on…or would they have followed in hopes of seeing some even greater spectacle than the first?
So there is great harm buried in these seemingly harmless and reasonable suggestions. That’s the diabolical genius of what the devil is trying to do here: to stop this salvation thing before it even gets started, by whatever means possible.
So thanks be to God that Jesus knew what he stood for, why he’d come, and who and whose he was: he’d just heard again that he was, is God’s Beloved Son, led and carried by the Holy Spirit. His mission was clear enough from the start, and not even the offer of free biscuits could turn him away from it. And he says as much in his scripturally based responses.
And it is here where we finally get pulled into this story about Jesus and the devil most fully. Not necessarily because Jesus’ responses serve as a template for our own resistance of temptation, but because they give us a picture of who Jesus is, and what kind of Savior he intends to be for us.
The devil tempts with bread, power, and showmanship, and Jesus answers in turn. One does not live by bread alone. Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him. Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
One does not live by bread alone. Although God does give us daily bread, and we pray for as much in the Lord’s Prayer, this alone is not enough. Life, to be lived abundantly and to the fullest in the sense that God wishes us to, must also contain a steady diet of Scripture, God’s holy word, the very word of God that encourages, inspires, judges, repents and makes us whole and new. Jesus knows this and bids that we immerse ourselves fully in his Word, his life, his death, his resurrection, so that we too might know who and whose we are.
Worship the Lord your God and serve only him. That is, place your ultimate faith, trust and hope in the Lord your God and only in the Lord your God for the Lord your God is the only one who won’t let you down. Relationships may fail, jobs may get downsized, football teams will lose in overtime, TV shows will get cancelled…but the Lord your God will remain steadfast in love, and in giving you purpose, and in offering you hope and forgiveness.
Do not put the Lord your God to the test. Do not, for there is truly no need to do so. Truly no need because God gave God’s self the ultimate test in Jesus. In Jesus we see God pushing the limits to see how far God would go to gain our trust and confidence, to show us his everlasting steadfast love. In Jesus we see how far God is willing to go to save us from ourselves, and our temptations and even the devil him- or herself. And that’s pretty far, as the cross of Christ shows us, pretty far indeed.
This showdown in the desert between Jesus and the devil is a fascinating, intriguing story. And more than that, it’s a story whose outcome has significance not just for the two key players in it, but for all of creation, the universe, the cosmos, and you and me too. And that’s not hyperbole, exaggeration. For in refusing the reasonable suggestions, the reasonable temptations the devil offered, Jesus showed the devil and all of us the kind of Lord and Messiah he intended to be: one who would willingly suffer for our sake, one who would steadfastly and resolutely stay the course laid out by the Father and the Spirit, one whose great power was put to use not for self-gratification or flashy displays, but only for the sake of the other.
Jesus knew who and whose he was that day out there in the desert: God’s beloved Son, the Savior who would bring peace on earth and good will to all…and nothing could turn him aside from that identity and calling. And because Jesus knew who and whose he was, now, thanks be to God, we now know too. Amen