Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent March 10, 2019
When Jesus was baptized the Holy Spirit came upon him, and he heard the voice from heaven declare him to be the beloved Son of God. Last Sunday we heard of Jesus at prayer and suddenly he was surrounded by heavenly glory and the voice of heaven was heard to declare that Jesus was the Chosen Son of God. Jesus, beloved and chosen may cause us to ask, just what was Jesus chosen for, and our text today will give us an answer.
Full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. It was a time of fasting, the text said Jesus had nothing to eat for forty days. How could he have survived? Maybe the text meant he took no food with him into the wilderness. The wilderness here does not mean a heavily wooded area it means the wilderness of a barren and rocky landscape. It would have been difficult to find anything to eat. So certainly we understand the text which said that after the forty days of little or no food, Jesus was famished. It must have been a powerful hunger, physically he must have been weak and vulnerable.
The forty days was also a time of temptation by the devil. In the original language of the New Testament, the word “tempted” could also mean “tested”. Although Jesus was the beloved Son of God, he was truly a human being and subject to attacks from the devil. The words “Son of God” were not a title, but what Jesus was chosen to be and do. As the Son of God Jesus was chosen to overcome the devil or opposition to God and God’s will, for us.
Jesus endured forty days of hunger and hounding by the devil, and this testing would be good for Jesus. This testing would reveal to Jesus just what he was up against. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Jesus would respond to the cunning of the Evil Spirit. The first temptation sounds innocent enough, “Since you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” The devil knew about Jesus’ baptism and the voice of heaven declaring Jesus’ identity. But Jesus rebuffed the devil with the truth of Scripture, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ Jesus was quoting from Deuteronomy which also said “but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Jesus, the Son of God, would be a man of prayer and depend on the word and will of God. We know that Jesus did feed the hungry later in his ministry. He did so out of his concern for hungry people. Jesus would take a few loaves and feed a multitude. But first he would look to heaven and bless the food. As the beloved Son of God, Jesus would look to heaven for strength and direction.
The devil kept after Jesus and we heard the devil led Jesus somewhere saying in effect, “I want to show you something”. In an instant, a single point of time, all the kingdoms of the world were on display. The devil said “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to whom I please. All this will be yours, Jesus, if the price is right; the price was to fall down and worship the devil. How silly of the devil! How would the devil ever think Jesus would fall for that! But the devil wasn’t silly, but subtle. It is the temptation to want power. Some of Jesus’ disciples later on felt Jesus would use his status as the Son of God to gain worldly power and glory—and they hoped to benefit from that as well. Last year, an election year, I made a donation toward a favorite candidate. That was about a year ago; and that political party has not stopped hounding me for more money ever since. People can treat their favored candidates or elected officials like stars. It seems like politics is driven by money and the glory of power. Jesus gave an answer that we must know as well, “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” Jesus again quoting Scripture, from Deuteronomy, where Moses was telling the people “Don’t forget the Lord your God, thinking by my own strength I have obtained all that I have. For it is God who provides, gives, and takes care of you and me. It is indeed a temptation to think, believe, and live “It is all about me”. No, it is all about God. Jesus made it clear he was going to serve God only.
So now the devil changed tactics and said, ‘forget the kingdoms of the world, and their rulers, and how they lord it over others. Let’s get religious. The devil took Jesus to Jerusalem and to the Temple and quoted Scripture. Jesus was told to jump from the highest pinnacle of the Temple, it would be quite a drop into the valley below, but don’t worry, the Psalm said God command angels to protect him. This too, sounds like a stupid temptation, why would the Evil One ever think Jesus would jump off a high place? The devil was being stupid like a fox. Since Jesus, you are the Son oF God, God would protect you from all harm, wouldn’t God? But Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit saw through this temptation and told the devil “Do not put the Lord your God to the test. Jesus was tempted to doubt his role as the chosen and beloved Son of God. Ultimately this was a temptation to abandon the cross, the way of sacrifice and death for the salvation of the world. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus struggled mightily over the will of God. Maybe the Tempter knew Jesus’ humanity and his and everyone’s desire to avoid suffering. But Jesus never abandoned faith, and prayed for strength and obedience saying “Father, no my will by yours be done.” On the cross the temptation of the devil was heard from others, “If you are the Messiah, that is the Son of God, come down from the cross and save yourself”. But as we know Jesus did not pray to come down from the cross, but he prayed for the forgiveness of those who nailed him to the cross.
The devil must have know he was defeated through the cross. Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness was not limited to his actually crucifixion, but a prayer for us all for all time. The cross reveals the power of God’s love for us and for all. Jesus was raised from the dead to assure us that in this life we do not face temptation alone. We are called to trust Jesus as our refuge and strength. Some promises from the letter to the Hebrews provides commentary on the temptations and testing of Jesus by the devil: “Jesus is our merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God who sacrificed himself for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he able to help those who are being tested.” And another reading from Hebrews, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so shat we may receive mercy and find help in time of need.”
Not long ago there was the story of two sisters, ages 8 and 5, who were lost in the woods for almost two days. In that time mother and father were frantic and help was brought in to find the sisters. In that time the mother admitted her mind settled into a very dark place. Happily the girls were found and you can imagine the hugs from the parents. The oldest girl admitted there went further in their walk then they were supposed to. Spending a night where the temperature went down to thirty-eight degrees with rain, the girls huddled under brush to stay dry. The eldest said the youngest cried all night. The older one told her sibling to think of good things. The little five year old thought of fun vacations and favorite foods but admitted such thoughts did not work. She was still frightened. The two sisters said they depended on each other to survive and had faith their daddy was coming to save them.
That news story is like a parable for our text. Sin is like an alluring temptation to go further than the boundaries provided by the commandments. Often we want more adventure, more power, and more pleasure. We can become lost and all happy thoughts or positive thinking does not help times of fear. But Jesus, the chosen and beloved Son of God stayed true to his mission of the cross, to reveal the full extent and depth of the love of God for us. May we have faith that God will come and find us, come and save us. This is what Jesus was chosen to do, and he was faithful in overcoming sin, death, and the devil for us. As we heard from the reading from Romans today, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”