(From Luke 4: 1-13)
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, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Wikipedia, internet repository for all manner of information that it has come to be, lists three definitions for the word temptation. All of these definitions reveal aspects of temptation that apply to our message for this morning. The first definition of temptation is that temptation is the desire to engage in short-term urges for enjoyment that threaten long term goals. The second definition describes temptation within its context in the realm of religion; as the inclination to sin. Finally, temptation is also defined, and observed in the world, as coaxing or inducing a person into committing such an act by manipulation that causes curiosity, desire, or a fear of the loss of something of value in that person. Temptation, although an intangible and often unspoken aspect of our human condition, is no-the-less real and threatening to our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
In the 1970s, comedian Flip Wilson made us roar with laughter when his character “Geraldine” would recant a tail of some misdeed she had committed only to lament, “the devil made me do it?!” Wilson’s tales of woeful activities helped us to laugh a bit about those minor indiscretions and lapses in good judgement that can lead us astray. Temptation, however, can lead us into much greater danger than Geraldine could have ever imagined. At the very least, as definition 1 discloses to us, temptation can draw us away from our longer-term life goals. At its worst, temptation can lead us into a state of sin that severely impairs, or even block us completely, from maintaining an ongoing relationship with God. Thus, we can deprive ourselves of the love, compassion, mercy, and grace of God that Christ Jesus revealed when he was among us. Jesus knew the world’s temptation was very dangerous. That is why our scripture lesson for this morning, which discloses Jesus’ time of temptation in the wilderness, is so vital for us to share on this first Sunday in the holy season of Lent.
Chapter 4 of The Gospel of Luke reveals to its readers that when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River and full of the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit led him into the wilderness. He spent forty days there in fasting and prayer before entering into public ministry. While Jesus was in the wilderness, Satan, the Devil himself, appeared to him and began to mock and tempt him by offering him great worldly gains. “If you are the Son of God,” the Devil said to Jesus, “Command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” The Devil knew that in fasting, Jesus was experiencing hunger. He attempted to draw Jesus from his prayerful discernment about his impending work and ministry by tempting him to use his power to feed his hunger. Jesus replied, “One does not live by bread alone.”
Unsuccessful on his first attempt, the Devil then showed Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world. He said, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority, for it has been given over to me, and I can give it to anyone I please. If you then will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus replied, “It is written, worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”
So, the Devil took Jesus to the top of the temple in Jerusalem. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you, and on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” With this, the Devil departed from Jesus. The scriptures tell us that he awaited another opportune time in which to further engage with Jesus.
Jesus’ manner of addressing the Devil’s methods of temptation provide us with a powerful example to follow in the course of our own struggles with temptation. It is quite obvious from this lesson that the Devil was attempting, with his worldly temptations, to divert Jesus from following his plan for ministry—his goal, if you will. The first temptation took the form of meeting physical need, by tempting Jesus to use his power to turn a stone into bread. The second temptation was aimed at tempting Jesus with the wealth and power of authority over all of the kingdoms of this world, if he would abandon his plan for ministry and, instead, offer his allegiance in worship to the Devil. Finally, the Devil tempted Jesus to test the power of his connection and relationship, as a person of the Godhead.
In each of these tempting situations, Jesus was a powerful overcomer, and a conqueror, by his great faith, and by his wise and timely use of the Holy Scriptures in responding to them. It was not by accident that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to face the temptations of the Devil. There, in deep prayer, and free from any of the outside world’s distraction, Jesus was strengthened and empowered by the Spirit to face them. He confronted the temptations by quoting the Holy Scriptures, because his knowledge and understanding of them was so great. These behaviors of Jesus stand as our model for overcoming the worldly temptations that we experience in the course of our daily living. That is why maintaining our prayer-life, our constant connection to God, is so vital to our faith journey. In addition, through searching the Holy Scriptures, we will find the words that give us strength and empower our faith. For example, each morning, I recite two scriptures that have powerful and empowering meaning for me. From Philippians 4 verse 13, I quote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And, from Matthew 19 verse 26, I quote, “with God all things are possible.” These verses remind me daily who I am and whose I am, and just where I derive strength for daily living. Thus, like Paul shared with the Church at Rome, “I am more than a conqueror through him who loves me.”
On this first Sunday in Lent, I invite and encourage you to engage this season as one of personal growth and renewal. Strengthen your faith by growing your personal relationship with God as revealed to us in Christ Jesus. Be intentional in carving out the quiet space and time for prayer and self-reflection. Search the Holy Scriptures for those verses that speak of God’s peace, strength, unconditional love and forgiveness, and of wonderful new and eternal life in Christ Jesus, to you. The scriptures inform us that Jesus emerged from his time in the solitude of the wilderness filled with the Spirit’s power, and fully committed and focused on the work of his sacrificial and healing ministry. May our wilderness experience this Lent lead us to overcome the world’s temptations upon us, and then to engage our full focus and commitment toward our own life’s calling, by the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us. Amen.