Preached on 10 March 2019 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The first Sunday in Lent, Year C
It’s not about chocolate or coffee or Scotch or junk food. It’s not about swearing or complaining or watching TV or using facebook. It’s not even about using plastic or fossil fuels. It’s not about eating fish instead of meat. It’s not about working at a food bank or a soup kitchen.
In fact, it’s not about you at all.
It’s about Jesus. Maybe today, we can just focus on Jesus and not make it about us.
This is about his identity and vocation as the Son of God; and how he will live out his vocation.
In Luke’s telling of the story, Jesus’ testing in the wilderness comes right after his baptism in the Jordan, when the Holy Spirit descends on him like a dove and the voice from heaven says, “You are my Son, the beloved, in you I am well-pleased.” Just like Matthew and Mark’s telling of the story. Except Luke tucks in Jesus’ genealogy, his family tree, right in between those two events.
Luke traces Jesus’ lineage back through Joseph, back to King David, back to Judah, son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, back through Noah, to Seth, and Cain, all the way to Adam, who is also named, Son of God.
Now that same Holy Spirit who anointed Jesus at his baptism, fills him and leads him into the wilderness where a spiritual battle is waged.
When he emerges from the wilderness, still filled with the Holy Spirit, he will go to his hometown, to Nazareth. In the synagogue, he will read from the prophet Isaiah about proclaiming Good News to the poor and release for the captives. He will say that the scripture is being fulfilled in their presence, that day. We heard about that just a few weeks ago.
Right now, though, let’s spend some time with Jesus in the wilderness, where, filled with the Holy Spirit he’s tested by the devil.
Everyone already knows Jesus is the Son of God, in this story. Luke’s been telling us that since the very beginning with the angel’s annunciation to Mary and then at his baptism and in his genealogy. But what does that mean? How will he live out that truth?
These temptations we hear about today, are uniquely targeted at Jesus, his identity and his mission. Each one is a challenge, “In whom will you place your trust?”
They are intended to make him doubt himself, his identity. They try to draw him away from trusting God and instead to trust whatever the devil lays before him.
Even the devil knows he’s the Son of God. The “if” in the first and third temptations is better translated as “since.” It presumes the truth of the “if” clause.
Since you are the Son of God, and you’re famished, do something about it. Save yourself. Feed yourself. Turn the stones to bread.
This is directly related to his vocation, but twisted back on itself. Later in his ministry, we will see Jesus miraculously multiply loaves and fishes, but to feed others, thousands, in fact, by putting his trust in God.
Jesus responds, quoting Deuteronomy, “One does not live by bread alone.” His trust is in God.
The second temptation is also related to his mission. He has come to inaugurate the reign of God; a reign of justice and peace. The people hope for and even expect a Messiah who will come with great power to overthrow the Roman empire and restore the throne of David.
The devil offers him that power (as if it were his to give) if only Jesus will worship him. Here, the if has its more familiar, conditional meaning of if you do this, then I’ll do that.
Wouldn’t it be so much easier if he just took the power from the current rulers and established his own superpower? But, Jesus rejects the devil. He will not gain power by playing by the world’s rules. No, God’s kingdom of Justice and Peace is outside of worldly powers.
His response is the heart of Jewish prayer. Worship the Lord, your God; serve only him.
In the third temptation, we find them in Jerusalem, the city toward which the whole trajectory of Jesus life and ministry is directed; the city where he will ultimately go to the cross; the city from which the church will be born.
The devil returns to the formula, “since you are the Son of God…” and he quotes the psalms in which there is a promise that the angels will protect the one who puts their trust in the Lord.
“Since you are the Son of God, prove it.” Here, in Jerusalem; not only at the center of the political world of the people, but the religious heart of Judaism, the devil challenges him to jump off the top of the Temple. Show us who you really are; see if God will save you.
“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,” Jesus responds. It’s one thing for God to protect him from danger, it’s something completely different to purposely put his life at risk for self-aggrandizement.
And yet, we will see him return to Jerusalem and to the cross, where he will face a similar temptation; to be saved and protected from suffering.
This is a battle in the spiritual realm. It is a battle over Jesus’ identity and vocation as Son of God and what that will mean. He comes out of the wilderness, still filled with the Holy Spirit and with trust in his Father, to begin his work.
So, you see, it’s not about us at all.