Saturday, March 16, 2019

No place for white nationalism among Christians!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Victory in the Wilderness

[This message was shared this morning during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Luke 4:1-13
Today’s gospel lesson, for this First Sunday in Lent, is Luke 4:1-13. This is Luke’s account of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by the devil. 

The most important thing to remember from this incident is that Jesus, the Son of God, succeeds where Adam in the garden of Eden and ancient Israel in the wilderness failed. And He did this for us, despite the unneeded and unwanted suffering and death it brought to Him.

So, let’s look at what happens, starting at verse 1: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.”

Jesus has just come from being baptized in the Jordan River by his relative, John the Baptizer. There, Jesus heard God the Father tell Him, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22) 

We know from the rest of Scripture that when Jesus is described as “the Son of God,” it means more than I mean when I speak of our son and our daughter. Colossians 1:15-17 says of Jesus that He is “...the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Jesus is both God and human, “the Word [made] flesh” (John 1:1, 14).

Others in Scripture have been portrayed as God’s sons, but in different ways. 

For example, in Hosea 11:1, God recalls, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” 

And, in the passage just before his account of Jesus’ temptations, Luke traces Jesus’ genealogy back to “Adam, the son of God (Luke 3:38).” The meaning here is that Adam was generated from God’s creativity. God looked on Adam and Eve in much the same way parents look on their children, with love. 

But in the garden, lush with everything he could possibly need, Adam, the son of God, fell prey to the temptations of the serpent, feeling the impulse to stuff his face with the very fruit God had told him not to touch. 

Similarly, about 1500 years before the birth of Jesus, God led His people Israel out of slavery in Egypt and, taking them to the promised land, oversaw the testing of their faith in the wilderness. Israel, even its leader Moses, didn’t pass with flying colors. A whole generation of Israelites, save for two--Joshua and Caleb--died on a forty year journey that should have taken eleven days because it fell prey to temptation, worshiping other gods, rebelling against God.

In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus, the Son of God, is led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Jesus spends forty days there and is, like Adam and Israel, tempted to sin and to rebellion against God the Father. Jesus goes there to begin the process of erasing the sin and death that had enslaved humanity since Adam and Eve fell into sin and to fulfill the mission of Israel to bring light and life to all nations.

Verse 3: “The devil said to him, If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’”

The word devil translates the word in Luke’s original Greek text, diabolos. We get the word diabolical from this. The word itself means one who slanders, defames, accuses falsely. The devil likes to slander, defame, and falsely accuse human beings, especially those who seek to follow Jesus, because of his deep resentment toward the human race. 

The devil is a fallen angel. And angels, aren’t as important in God’s creation as human beings. Only humans are created in God’s image. This is why the devil set out to lure the human race away from God. 

The devil, the liar and slanderer, calls Jesus’ place as the second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, into question. He’s challenging Jesus to prove Himself. He tells Jesus to take care of His hunger by turning stones to bread rather than fulfill His mission of enduring temptations sinlessly so that He can offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice for human sin.

Verse 4: “Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, in which Moses recalls when the people of Israel went hungry in the wilderness, wanting bread to eat, and when God, by the power of His Word, created something called manna for them to eat. God gave the people of Israel exactly what they needed from day to day, their “daily bread.” Moses said that we can’t live just for the bread we plant, harvest, mix, and bake. We must rely totally on God. Jesus did. And, unlike Adam in the garden, who ate fruit he didn’t need and so dishonored his relationship with God, Jesus refused to create food He could have used for Himself. Jesus lives for God and for us. Who do we live for?

Verse 5: “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.’”

In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve wanted to “be like God.” In the wilderness, ancient Israel erected a golden calf to worship and manipulate for its own purposes. Jesus could have taken the kingdoms of this world without saving us. But He refused to do this. He knew that only His death and resurrection could allow us to become part of His kingdom. Our eternal life with God was more important to Jesus than His temporary comfort. That’s a measure of the depths of His love for each of us. Without relying on the God we meet in Jesus, it's impossible for us to dismiss taking the easy path and opt for doing the will of God as Jesus did.

Verse 8: “Jesus answered, ‘It is written [again citing words from Moses’ words in Deuteronomy about Israel’s wilderness experience]: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” Jesus is ready for temptation not just because He’s the Son of God, but also because He knows God’s Word and through God’s Word, He knows Christ. If Jesus needed to know God and His Word to get through the wilderness, how much more do we need God and His Word?

Verse 9: “The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully;  they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”’”

The devil is a cunning jerk. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” The devil would have liked nothing better than to have devoured Jesus, gobbling up our chance for life through faith in Jesus in the bargain.
He cunningly uses God’s Word from Psalm 91, twisting the promise God gives to help His people into a magna carta for human stupidity, a blank check for believers to do any lame-brained thing that comes into our heads in order to prove that God is good for His word. That’s why in verse 12, Jesus cites another passage from Deuteronomy: “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Jesus turns each of the devil’s temptations away. Ambrose, an ancient church father, said that in the three temptations with which the devil tried to trap Jesus, the temptation to turn stones to bread, to worship the devil, and to take the kingdoms of this world rather than institute the kingdom of God for all who trust in Jesus, there was “every human transgression...for the courses of our own [forbidden] desires are the delight of the flesh [taking care of ourselves without regard to others], the pomp of vainglory [our love of being number one], and the greed for power.” The temptations with which Jesus contended in the wilderness are the same ones that confront you and me every day. One contemporary New Testament scholar calls them “the normative seductions of our...culture.”

And they always have been. But unlike Adam and Eve and ancient Israel, who were defeated by the seductions--the temptations--to sin, Jesus succeeded in resisting them and so, has was able later to win everlasting life with God for all who turn away from sin, as He did in the wilderness, and follow Him. 

But if it’s our intention to follow Jesus to life, we need to watch out. The devil is still looking, in the words of verse 13 of our lesson, for “opportune times” to trip us up. Referring to the gospel--the good news of forgiven sin and new life for all who trust in the crucified and risen Jesus, the preacher in Hebrews tells a people flirting with defection from faith in Christ, “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” (Hebrews 2:1-3)

Jesus won a victory in the wilderness because His eyes were turned always to God the Father and His purposes. Isaiah 45:22 tells us, “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” 

In Lent and in all of life, our call is to keep turning to Jesus so that He can give us life with God. That’s what Jesus died and rose to make possible, so that we can, day after day and into eternity, turn to Him and live. Amen