ronan furuta OPv10mICdJk unsplashMessage for Lent 1 on Luke 4:1-13 given on March 6, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

It's usually like watching a short play isn’t it? We used to hear the temptation story cheering Jesus on from the audience. We wait for the grand finale, the music swells, Jesus defeats the devil, we jump from our seat for the standing ovation, and then we go back to our lives until next week’s drama. This story seemed so far removed from anything in our life—it’s just how Jesus’ ministry begins, it gives us the 40-days of Lent before Easter when we give up chocolate until the Easter bunny comes, yada, yada, yada…

But this year feels different. Two long weary years different. The coronavirus is in retreat for the moment, but who knows how long that will last? Certainly, its effects on the economy, political divisiveness, the increased drug and alcohol use, and the pandemic pounds around our wastes make the temptations of the devil (literally “ho diabolos—the diabolic one) in the wilderness for Jesus to satisfy his own desires with bread, feel close at hand.

The images of war, civilian deaths, hospitals, and neighborhoods being bombed, talk of nuclear threat, and millions, especially children and their mothers, fleeing Ukraine—make the power grab of the diabolic one in the wilderness into thinking he can wield kingdoms and increase Jesus’ power, sound very real.

The amount of stress we each are managing, the mental health struggles, anxiety, depression, and other issues surfacing in ourselves, our family and friends make the distrust and testing of God and the misuse of Scripture by the devil in the wilderness, feel a little too close to home.

Life has catapulted us from the audience of this story onto the glare of the stage. And the truth is, this wilderness is not just the place where Jesus begins his ministry—but rather, this temptation story shows us that all of Jesus’s life and ministry is a wilderness experience; this first wilderness is where he needed to hone his survival skills and learn to completely trust God.

Jesus will be tempted in every way, everyday—to give up his ministry:

• when he is rejected in his hometown,
• when he is challenged and questioned by both religious and political leaders,
• when his own followers do not understand him,
• when his family thinks he is crazy,
• when mobs press in on him and then abandon him,
• when he prays for the cup of crucifixion to passed from him—

Yes! All of Jesus’s life and ministry is a wilderness experience, tempting him not to trust in God’s power and God’s plan.

And yes, it is true for all of us who follow him. Poet Cheryl Lawrie draws us in this way:

i just realized
that in my imagination
the wilderness is always somewhere else;
a foreign landscape i actively have to enter
in the act of being faithful.

the wilderness is always where i am
right now
and faith is the courage to stay with it
when i’d rather pretend i am
anywhere else.

The wilderness is where we are right now with temptations the devil—the diabolic one—uses to thwart God’s ultimate power in our life, and our ability to trust completely in God.

With each temptation, Jesus shows us how to completely trust God, how to keep God center stage, the ultimate power in our life—how to grow our heart, so that it belongs to God alone.

Jesus is famished, having not eaten in 40 days, so the first temptation is for Jesus to use his authority to turn a stone into bread to satiate his own personal cravings and desires. But Jesus is filled with a greater power than physical desire—he is full of the Holy Spirit. He quotes Deuteronomy 8- “One does not live by bread alone.’” Human life is more than our cravings; instead, we live by the provision of God as did the Israelites who received manna in the wilderness. How important for us in this wilderness, coming out of the last phase of pandemic that our most important provision is to be filled with Holy Spirit and the Word of God, to grow our heart and to turn the Lord for our sustenance. Giving in to temporary desires only leads to more and more cravings that never deeply satisfy, as does the love of the Lord your God.

The diabolic one then takes him up and shows him all the kingdoms of the Roman empire, claiming them as his own, if only Jesus will worship him. It’s almost humorous, how deluded the devil is—thinking all of this is really his. But Jesus is full of a different kind of power—the Holy Spirit. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy again and rebuts the devil with the True Eternal Owner of all, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Jesus sees that if attaining fame requires becoming a servant to the diabolic one, the cost is too high. Jesus shows us that for faithful disciples, there can be no price too high for loyalty to Jesus Christ. Full of the Holy Spirit, we are willing to suffer energy and other material costs to save lives and find ways to deescalate the threat of further conflict.

From the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, the devil gives Jesus the third temptation: to test God by throwing himself down for a dramatic rescue. God would have to save him if God’s plan to usher in the kingdom through Jesus were to be fulfilled. Here the devil tries to use Jesus’s tactic against him—by quoting Scripture at him to make it sound like a legitimate request. Scripture can be used to justify anything, right? But testing and putting God on trial is a self-serving, and Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, makes this clear to the diabolic one when he quotes Deuteronomy again, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

How difficult it is to not test and bargain with God when we are weighed down with worries of people we love, when we cannot see how the problems, anxieties, and crises are going to be resolved—and we grasp at some form of control and rescue. Jesus invites us to shift our attention to Scriptures that rekindle our awareness of the Holy Spirit within us and help us trust in God’s power, presence, and provision in the wilderness. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…I will never leave you nor forsake you..” “I have chosen you and not cast you off…Do not fear for I am with you…”

the wilderness is always where i am
right now
and faith is the courage to stay with it

The wilderness is the place where Jesus cements a trusting relationship with God—a deep, abiding relationship that gave him Holy Spirit power to fulfill his purpose, to usher in the kingdom, to break the power of evil and save us from sin, death and the devil. He remained faithful through the cross and onto Easter morning.

The wilderness is here this moment, and it is a place of cheering—not from the audience, but from center stage. For right now is the place where Jesus grows our heart—giving us the Holy Spirit in a faith that sustains us, granting us strength to live with courage, and deep trust in God who is the ultimate and only true power in our life.

Photo by Ronan Furuta on Unsplash

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