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Lent 1 – Luke 4:1-13
Three weeks ago I talked about the paradox of Epiphany — which simply means that Jesus looks and acts as our human brother - because he is truly human, but that eyes of faith can see both His humanity and the God Who shines in Him to save us. If you have not wrestled with that paradox yet, today’s temptation story will not make its whole point. Without wrestling through the paradox of Jesus as God and man, you will not recognize Jesus as human enough to be tempted like you are. And when He drives Satan away you will not recognize your place in the story.
Temptation bubbles up out of my sinful heart every day. I think of me before I think of you and I excuse my selfishness. That’s a temptation as surely as Satan proposing that Jesus turn stones to bread. The great difference is that Jesus said “No” while I often say “Yes.” If there were no dangers from pornography, no itch to drive faster than that other guy, no aroma from foods that will kill us, you & I would still be able to tempt ourselves with thoughts about our unique genius, or of visions of sexual partners who are not ours, or our infatuations with idols of flesh and metal. Temptation is sure to come. But shaking hands with it is another matter.
When we see a hungry Jesus back from a fast we can not imagine – 40 long & lonely days – when we see Him reject Satan’s suggestion that He turn stones into bread – few of us walk in His shoes with our worst hungers in mind. And we assume that Jesus never REALLY got so hungry that it hurt because, after all, HE IS GOD!! And God doesn’t feel the stuff we do!! Whether food or power or sex or money, temptation was as real for Jesus as it is for me because He is my human brother. He didn’t just wave His hand and temptation went away. No, He nestled Himself into the love of His Father. Our catechism teaches us to do the same: “God tempts no one (it says) but we pray that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world and our sinful self will not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair and other great shame and vice.” Yet most of us walk into danger regularly and do not take the time to pray because we aren’t afraid of temptation. Sadly, on the far side of temptation, with the crumbs of the bread we would have made stuck all over us, we are a neon sign for failing to overcome temptation.
In turning to God’s Word, Jesus took Himself into the bosom of God. This is what the shelter of His wings is like. This text does not teach us that there is some magic shield that pops up out of the Scripture if we just read a little of it to the Tempter. Rather, it teaches that in His Word God offers to be near me, to remind me that I am His, to assure me that no danger within me or near me is able to separate me from His love or power. Jesus urges us to “bathe ourselves” in God, and trust Him to win the battle. For nearly a decade we have been hearing stories about explosive devices that have stolen limbs and lives from our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those soldiers had put on every possible piece of armor that our military has been able to design for them. All that time most of us have walked into a new day of temptation without morning prayer, without carrying God’s word in our back pack, and without admitting that the places we go to are temptation places. Worry about muggers all you want – most of them will only take your wallet or phone. Put in the best alarm system you can – it does nothing to shield you from this threat. The forces arrayed against us aim for our very souls.
Our culture offers us little help. It doubts that God exists or has any power. It teaches us to live and enjoy each day to get the most out of it for ourselves. It sets few limits or issues many warnings. In fact, our culture is sure that you can handle whatever you want to all by yourself. Temptation is a medieval idea best left in the trash bin. Satan rejoices in all that and so does my own sinful self. It is almost as if I have discovered that temptation ought to be enjoyed, not avoided. Having failed to put on God’s armor (another medieval idea) I am as helpless as a soldier who does not put on his body armor.
The point of the 1st lesson, about bringing the very first of all your produce, and offering it to Yahweh, was to remind each Israelite and each of us, that Yahweh has a claim on us because He made and redeemed us. We are His. We have been bought with a price. He smiled from the heavens so that my crops and herds would grow. He smiles no less on our businesses and government jobs. Bringing Him the first basket of fruit, or the first lamb of the flock, or whatever is your profession’s equivalent, confesses that God’s claim is first and real.
But the writer of Deuteronomy also warned Israel not to forget who made the wheat grow, or who brought them in safety to the promised land. Because in the day that you forget, he said, not only will you forget to bring the first wheat to the priest, you will forget whose you are. And then curses replace blessings. When I go to my work without arming myself in God’s armor, I declare myself wiser than God – immune to the things about which He warns me. When I do not bring Him the first fruits I declare them mine and not His. All of that is background for Jesus’ battle with Satan. If there is one thing that must be written across this whole scene of Satan tempting Jesus, it goes something like this, “Satan, I am not yours. I belong to my Father. And I will be happy though hungry, content without other kingdoms and glories, and so secure in my Father’s love that I won’t jump into danger just to force Him to prove Himself to me. Satan, I am not yours, I am His. So Be Gone from me.”
I am able to think unkind thoughts without any help from you or Satan. That’s what sin is like. I can become angry with only your unintended provocation. My reaction time at striking back is almost as quick as when I was 18 – I just can’t hit as hard anymore. I walk in danger every day. But I also walk with Jesus, who beckons me to safe pathways even in the midst of enemies, who welcomes me back with bread crumbs on my face as surely as He welcomed Peter back from denial. I belong to Jesus. I have been marked with His cross and resurrection. And until He comes in His glory, He will never stop leading me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. So I will walk with Jesus today and battle temptation in His armor. I invite you to come with me and do the same.
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