Luke 4:1-13

The Temptation of Jesus

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 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 is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”

Then 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, 10 for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    to protect you,’

11 and

‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

My time away for some study leave, vacation, and pilgrimage to Iona was much needed.  I am so grateful for the grant from SONKA, along with some of my continuing ed funds, and funds from my mom’s estate that allowed me to go on this trip…it seems like my mom keeps on giving to me even now!  This trip was much needed…for those of you who have been tracking with me this past year, you know that it’s been a hard year, filled with lots of questions and loss, so time away was good for my growth and for some perspective.  

It is fitting that we’ve been talking about Jesus’ need for time away…and this morning’s gospel lesson is about Jesus being away…as Jesus followers, it’s good to follow his example and pull away from time to time.

Now, I wasn’t gone for forty days…although, it seemed like it was close to that!  And, almost longer!  When I arrived at Heathrow on Monday, I had to take a covid test, it came back positive and I had to miss my flight and get a hotel room as I couldn’t fly that day.  I tested again the next day and it was negative, so I was able to get a US travel certificate and head home!  I may have had covid, but it would have been the tail end of it, or it could have been a “false positive”.  I’ve tested negative four times since the positive test on Monday.  

And, I wasn’t exactly in the wilderness…but, my pilgrimage to the holy island of Iona, where there has been an Abbey for 1300+ years and where pre-Christian Celts also revered…it’s and island mad of the oldest rock in creation, did seem quite remote and austere…as well as the Island of Mull where I stayed.  

I could have stayed there longer, even 40 days…it was a time of intense and wild beauty, as well as good journalling and thinking…

Now, we don’t know if Jesus was actually away for 40 days…40 is simply a biblical number given to say he was gone for a while.  

While their, he was tempted.  Now, we all face temptations, don’t we?

I know that we all struggle with some temptations.  There are certainly temptations such as eating too much chocolate or going into excess on something.  But, what’s the root of temptation?

A temptation for me, is that I sometimes fantasize about winning the lottery, getting lots of money and funding some of the things that I think are amazing, but seemingly never have funds.  Of course, I always think I’d save a bit of the money to pay off the bills, travel, pay for kids college…and that list kind of grows…of course, then I also realize that 

Our gospel passage this morning presents us with three temptations that Jesus faced.  

  1. Turning stones to bread
  2. Protection from being thrown off the temple roof
  3. Being given the world

Now, on the surface, there are some appealing things to these temptations I’d imagine for Jesus.  There are lots of stones in the world, and lots of starving people.  Wouldn’t it be great to solve the world’s hunger issues by turning stone into bread?  And, with Jesus, you know it would be good bread!

Being able to be protected physically from falling off the temple roof!  Well, we all want to be safe don’t we?  Wouldn’t we like to know that if we jumped off the roof of this building that we’d land safely?  That a bunch of angels would come to our rescue if we are being physically threatened?

How about being given dominion over the world?  Wouldn’t that be great!   We could make everything great and good!  People seem to like to remind us that this world is a mess, that no one is in control.  Well, we are good people, if we had control, then we could make the world safe, we could put our vision into play and make the world a better place…because we know better. We could even end wars like the petty war of ego that Putin is waging, which is causing so much death and destruction.  

Noted author, speaker, theologian and philosopher, Henri Nouwen talks about the temptations of Jesus in his book on Christian Leadership, In the Name of Jesus.  He says that Jesus, like all leaders are tempted in three ways and that we can practice certain disciplines that will help us move towards a better sense of wholeness and health:

  1. The first temptation of turning stones to bread is the temptation to be relevant.  We want to do something that is related to our experiences or others.  Yet, that’s a trap, it’s like me winning the lottery so I can fund the world’s great projects…you can spend so much time on that, that you lose sight of yourself.  Yet, Jesus wants us to know that we are loved and that we can return that love…as we grow in our understanding of God’s love for us, we don’t have to be relevant, yet, we can become confident.  Nouwen goes on to say that the key work or practice for us to move towards a deeper sense of awareness and confidence, is contemplative prayer.  Spending time listening to God’s love for us.  
  2. The second temptation of jumping of the roof only to be caught is the temptation to be spectacular.  Can we impress others with something.  Yet, God calls us to practice the simple work of serving others, of being with people, listening to their stories, encouraging one another, and living authentically.  Our discipline that leads us away from the temptation of wanting to do something spectacular is to be able to confess to others and ask forgiveness.  That’s hard to do, to yield to others, yet that gives us the humility to grow and to mature.  On a side note, our church is practicing this service to others in humility, not only with our local mission partners, but with our church’s giving to humanitarian relief for folks in Ukraine being affected by Putin’s aggression.  Check out the project that Bob Nottingham has set up for us that we mentioned earlier and help out.  
  3. The 3rd temptation of being given the world is the desire to be powerful, to get others to do what we tell them!  To get at others before they get you…really, to have others bow before your wishes, to get your way.  Yet, Jesus tells us that, in order to lead, one has to follow.  And you have to trust others to take you where you may not want to go.  We aren’t given the world, but we are given each other.  Our discipline or practice is to think about God’s actions, God’s word to us, to look at Jesus, to have theological reflection.  That allows us to look at our motives and to be shaped inwardly which moves towards outward actions. 

Temptations lure us in to something innocently enough and with seemingly good intentions.  This season of Lent is meant to be a time of recognizing and resisting temptations, and to take on practices or disciplines to help us to have perspective and grow.  To give us space…space like I had during my time away and the space I’m continuing with, even as I’m home.  I believe we all recognize that when we give into temptations, they become habits of thinking or acting, then they reform us in destructive ways or reinforce bad habits.  Or they can lead to growth if we lean into them and befriend them in ways that lead to maturity.  

Author and speaker, Dr. Brene Brown, in her book Rising Strong, says that our brains get stuck in particular patterns that are hard to break.  The only way to move out of those patterns is by creating a new practice, a healthier practice.   Oftentimes those new practices require courage.  It’s easy to give into the temptations around us, but moving towards a new practice can lead to our thinking patterns being changed and a new way of being.

The early church understood this.  They didn’t have a lot of the dogma that we have today.  For a few hundred years before Christianity became sanctioned by the roman government, practice was more important than doctrine.  Folks knew that they needed community and that they wanted meaning in life and a new way of being.  Christians practiced welcome, grace, hospitality, a sense of equality was practiced between ethnicities and gender, all were one, and there was deep commitment.  When someone joined the church, it was a huge commitment; it could cost you your life.  Yet, the rule of love was so compelling that folks were drawn in…the early church folks didn’t ask new members of the faith a lot of questions about belief, but they took time to be in the practice of loving one another.  It created new patterns of being and doing.  

They also understood that God was committed to them and that Jesus’ actions on their behalf gave them the grace to start over, daily.  They had an understanding of God’s relational nature, which gave birth to the concept of God as trinity, and that Jesus entered into this world, and became sin for us, for all of humanity.  That understanding of trinity was actually embedded in humanity even before Jesus.  Ancient Israelites believed that God was community, check out the first chapter of Genesis where the author states that creation was made in “our image”, God being referred to in the plural.  The ancient Celts also had an understanding that things came in threes, and the concepts of circles…that we need relationship and we can be held together in a circle, in a community.  Jesus’ response to temptation even is our response, we may fail, often, but ultimately, we win because of Jesus’ work for us and in us….and as we practice loving in the way of Jesus, we begin to fall deeper in love with God, we become more of our true selves, even as our overwhelmed with God’s love for and of us.

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