Scripture Luke 4:1-13 Common English Bible
4 Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. 2 There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and afterward Jesus was starving. 3 The devil said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
4 Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread.”
5 Next the devil led him to a high place and showed him in a single instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 The devil said, “I will give you this whole domain and the glory of all these kingdoms. It’s been entrusted to me and I can give it to anyone I want. 7 Therefore, if you will worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 Jesus answered, “It’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”
9 The devil brought him into Jerusalem and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here; 10 for it’s written: He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you 11 and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.”
12 Jesus answered, “It’s been said, Don’t test the Lord your God.”
13 After finishing every temptation, the devil departed from him until the next opportunity.
The Spiritual Growth Team here at First Christian Church is in charge not only of worship planning for special days and seasons, but also of enhancing the spiritual life of everyone here. In the coming year we will work on a variety of themes for our services so that all of us can learn more about who we are, what we doing here, and why we do what we do. Why is, after all, one of the first questions we learn to ask as tiny humans, and it remains one of the important questions for as long as we live. During Lent we will be looking at “why?”
Beginning with “Why Lent?” In the early days of the church, the season we know as Lent was sort of informally observed during a 6-week period leading up to Easter during which sinners could repent and people wishing to be baptized could be prepared. This was formalized at the First Council of Nicea in 325. But that only allowed for 36 days of fasting, because Sundays are excluded. So in the 7th century an additional four days were added at the beginning of the season so that the period of fasting would be 40 days, reflecting Jesus’ 40 day fast in the wilderness after he was baptized. And why do we decorate the sanctuary with purple? To signify mourning as we anticipate the pain and suffering of the crucifixion, and because purple is the color associated with royalty, so celebrates Christ's resurrection and sovereignty.
Why did Jesus spend 40 days and 40 night in the wilderness? Throughout Scripture there is a pattern of important things taking 40 days and 40 nights. The flood, which cleansed the world of sinful people, was the result of 40 days and 40 nights of rain. Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Sinai (twice), at the end of which he brought the tablets of the Law to the (sinful) people he had brought out of Egypt. Elijah walked through the desert fasting for 40 days and 40 nights until he reached God’s mountain, Horeb, and spoke with God in a cave there about the sinfulness of the people. And now Jesus, whose purpose in life was to bring salvation to a sinful world, is spending 40 days and 40 in prayer and fasting - and temptation - preparing his own soul for the redemptive work that was ahead of him. And so, during the 40 days and 40 nights of Lent, we spend the time in prayer and (maybe) fasting to recognize our own sinfulness and come to repent before Jesus dies on the cross.
You might be wondering why I chose this particular piece of art for today’s message. It’s kind of disturbing. When I read this passage in several different translations, I was struck especially by the last line - “After finishing every temptation, the devil departed from him until the next opportunity. “ So the idea of the devil bringing temptation in the guise of opportunities struck me.
Testing our faith is what the devil does. It’s his job. It’s what he did with Job. It’s what he does with us. So ok, even knowing that the devil’s job is to tempt us, why did Jesus have to be tempted? I mean, what was the point? Surely, the devil knew that Jesus was the Son of God - he even says he knows that. And if anyone ever was going to resist temptation, it would be the Son of God, right? Jesus was fully human, and was or could have been just as tempted as any other human. And so, the devil did his job, and tested Jesus’ faith and determination to go forward with his mission no matter what. We will remember that much later in his story, when Peter tells him not to talk about his coming death, he turns and says “Get behind me, Satan.” Because the temptation was real, and right there in front of him.
I mean, look at the opportunities Jesus was given! He was hungry, starving even, and the devil offered him bread. Ok, he offered Jesus the opportunity to misuse God’s power to make bread out of stones, but y’know, it had to be tempting. He tempted Jesus with power - and the opportunity to grab power can be really hard to resist. He tempted Jesus with invulnerability, the idea that nothing bad could happen to him, that no matter what God would protect him from harm, even if he was about to die. And on every count, Jesus turned his thoughts away from the opportunities presented, and toward God, toward the mission that he knew was ahead of him. Jesus resisted the opportunity to get stuff to make him comfortable, the opportunity to wield political power with all the wealth and other very cool perks that comes with that power, and the opportunity to consider himself invulnerable, better than everyone else, untouchable by the ills of humanity.
You see, Jesus was human. He was born into a poor family on purpose. He was born into a subjugated people on purpose. He was subject to hunger, to powerlessness, and to mortality, just like the rest of us. He wasn’t part of the 1%, he wasn’t part of the ruling elite, he wasn’t immune to the pains and injuries of normal, human life. He was human. The devil was offering him opportunities that would make him something other than fully human, and that would negate the whole purpose of his existence. Jesus had to be fully human, so that we could know that he knew what we go through, how fragile we can be emotionally and physically. He had to be fully human so that following his ways would be realistic for us. He had to be fully human so that we could know temptations, and opportunities that are too good to be true, can be resisted. We have to be able to look at Jesus and know that he did it, and he was human, so we can do it.
I keep coming back to that last line. “After finishing every temptation, the devil departed from him until the next opportunity.” Oftentimes, I think, the devil comes to us knocking on the door with opportunities, presenting temptations that might look like a really good idea for a minute, but that might well not be the right thing for us, might not be what God would want for us.
Now, I know that we have many sayings about opportunity. “Opportunity only knocks once. Don’t let an opportunity slip through your fingers. Great opportunities don’t come every day - recognize them and seize them.” Those sayings are often used by salespeople to convince us to part with our hard earned money. I really should have said “Get behind me, Satan” when that nice young woman selling Kirby vacuums showed up at the door, but nooo . . . I had to fall for the something-for-nothing offer of “I’ll shampoo your carpet for free! No obligation to buy.” I know better. But hey, I got something for nothing. And then spent way too much money on a vacuum cleaner.
We are bombarded with temptations all the time, opportunities to earn more, save more, and get more for ridiculously cheap that sound too good to be true. We are daily faced with the temptation to give in to over-spending, road rage or other instances of inappropriate anger, or selfishness, jealousy, resentment, laziness, pride, unwillingness, over eating, over drinking, whatever fault we may be most prone to in that moment. The devil will find and take advantage of times when we are tired, or stressed, or feeling complacent to place these opportunities - those temptations - before us, hoping that we will act without thought, without prayer, without asking God for guidance in the situation before us.
At the end of 40 days and 40 nights of fasting and prayer, and temptation, Jesus could still resist every opportunity placed before him by the devil. Every time the devil made an offer to Jesus, Jesus referred back to God. “It is written, people don’t live by bread alone.” “It is written, worship your God and serve only God.” “It’s been said, don’t tempt your God.” Jesus was completely God-centered, even at his hungriest and weakest. The devil could not break through Jesus’ dependence upon God to guide his decisions and responses. And so he went away, until the next opportunity.
The good news, my brothers and sisters, is that we can do what Jesus did, for he was human, like us. And if he, in his humanity, could resist the devil’s offers, so can we. When we go from here, and have all those daily temptations to face and decisions to make, let us remain God-centered, as Jesus did. Let us rely always upon God to guide us, through the season of Lent and always.