JESUS IS TEMPTED
Deuteronomy 26: 1-3, 10-13; Luke 4: 1-13
When it comes to comic strips in the newspaper, my kids know I always read “Zits,” the ongoing agony of Jeremy, his parents, and his friend Pierce, in their teenage years. Recently Richard Hills told me to read “Pickles” about a retirement aged couple, so I read that one now. I wonder why he thought it was time for me to read that one? But this week I went back to an old favorite called “For Better or for Worse.” The parents are watching their young children grow up. This week they are watching the children play in the back yard. They cannot hear what they are saying as they look out the closed window, but they see their activities. The mother turns to the father and says: “They live in such a fantasy world.” But what they don’t know is the conversation their children are actually having. Their older boy says to the younger boy and girl, “You guys play house over there, and I’ll be a divorced guy and I’ll live over here.” The girl says, “Aw Michael, you always get to be the divorced guy!” In a minute they were on another subject. The young boy said “Now let’s pretend that bombs are gonna come, Michael! What if bombs come?” Michael responds: “We can build a bomb shelter so we can hide- if we’ve got time!” And Michael says to the younger ones who had climbed under a backyard blanket as their shelter: “Pretend I’m a soldier, ok? An’ I come to stay in your bomb shelter!” And it’s then when the parents made the comment I mentioned earlier. And the dad says: “It would be fun to be a kid again, wouldn’t it, Elly? And she agrees.
Our world is seriously filled with fearful things: kidnappings; what temptation or desperation would cause a person to kidnap another? How about shootings; what temptation or illness causes a person to shoot so many others? And this last week there was even a story of a father shooting and killing his own son. What an atrocity. We must surely know there is evil in the world. Does it reside in a fallen angel or a tempter that the Bible calls the devil? Does evil reside in the corrupt souls of human beings? It seems too easy to blame the devil for things we have done wrong because when God created humans, we were given the choice between life and death, blessing and curse according to Deuteronomy 30:19. We either can choose to let the tempter run our life, or, if we are Christians, to let Christ run our life. Temptations surround us. We are creatures made of flesh, and sin, and hormones, so God gave us a moral world in which to operate; one where the right things we do are reckoned as righteousness by God, and the wrong things we do are reckoned by God as sinfulness. And the truth is most people are a bundle of both. We are not all righteous, nor are we all sinful. But what do we do about the sinful part? How do we say “no” to too much food, or inordinate power, or inappropriate sex, or the parade of other temptations that entice our psyche? I’ve never been to New Orleans, but from what I’ve seen of Fat Tuesday on Bourbon Street, parades of tempters throw beads and some wrap their arms around persons whose resistance is lowered by drink, drugs, or peer pressure, and sometimes sorrowful results ensue. But we don’t live on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras, do we? So what’s the problem? Just this: temptation never takes a holiday. What will people do for money, or fame?
In the pursuit of a career, it was reported last week that one Sports Illustrated model went to Antarctica to have photos taken in her bikini in sub zero temperatures. She lost part of her hearing and part of her sight as she tried to look carefree for the camera. What is the cost of stardom; of success; of getting noticed? From what I read and see, stars are not generally more faithful to God than non stars; in fact it is often the opposite. Many are lost; and we are ones who might just have a closer walk with God than they do.
Today let’s consider the temptations that Jesus faced in that fateful time when he was eating and sleeping very little. In his human state, was he having a vision, a dream, or a real encounter with the devil? We cannot tell from Scripture but I know when I haven’t eaten for a period of time my body and mind don’t work like they usually do. And when I go with little or no sleep my emotions come loose and my mind goes numb. If only I had that wisdom when I joined others in college “pulling an all-nighter” before a test! What zombies we all were the next day! In a condition with little sleep and even less food, Jesus was tempted and hungry. In fact or in a vision, the devil tempted him with food. Have you seen the cartoons when a moral decision has to be made, there’s a man with an angel on one shoulder and a demon and the other? That is always a time of decision. And as the banner that hangs in our hallway during Lent reminds us, we would do well to ask ourselves “W.W.J.D.- What Would Jesus Do?” In each case Jesus clings to what he was taught in Scripture and he stands fast against temptation. In the first case when the tempter told him a way to get food, his quote was from Deuteronomy 8:3, when Moses reminded the Israelites of their own time in the wilderness: “God humbled you,” he said, “and let you hunger and then fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your forebears know; that God might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” Jesus clings to Scripture that he was taught as a young man. He did not forsake what the Hebrew Bible taught him. It is well for us to do as Jesus did. Know Scripture; follow Scripture; know God in part by knowing God’s words. And then, when someone offers you a doughnut, or a drink, or a triple cheeseburger, or a sure bet, and you know one bite or one drink or one bet could be your downfall, you too can turn away from the tempter.
Next the devil enticed Jesus with power, saying all the kingdoms within eyesight would be his to rule if Jesus would fall down and worship him. Another man once took the tempter’s offer. He wanted such power
, and he gave up his soul to gain it. In the non-fiction book In The Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson, the chilling story is told of Hitler’s rise to power. It features William E. Dodd, America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany. When Dodd first met Hitler, this was his description: “Hitler did not cut a particularly striking figure. Even in his rise it was easy for those who met him for the first time to dismiss him as a nonentity. He came from plebeian roots and had failed to distinguish himself in any way, not in war, not in work, not in art …. He was said to be indolent. He rose late, worked little, and surrounded himself with the lesser lights of the party with whom he felt most comfortable …. He loved movies—King Kong was his favorite …. He dressed badly [and] apart from his moustache and eyes, the features of his face were indistinct and unimpressive.” [Crown Publishing, 2011, p. 157]. That is the man who tried to take over the world. He did it by saying
“yes” to the evil urge for absolute power and convincing others—in part by tyrannical speech, and in part by intimidation from the “dullards” who took orders from him. Later in the book author Erik Larson recounts that Hitler made a deal with military leaders to become both President and Chancellor of Germany once President Hindenberg died. Larson called it “a devil’s bargain.” [p. 252] A Christian knows that absolute power is given to God alone; to try to grasp it is to try to be god in some way, and it is both heresy and fraught with a promise that God will win in the end. It happened with emperors Nero and Domitian in the first century who persecuted and burned Christians, and it happened when Hitler in the 20th century persecuted and burned Jews. There is only room for one absolute power in the world. Even Jesus said “No” to that temptation when it was offered to him. And how did he back it up? With Scripture, as before: again from Deuteronomy 6: 13-14. “You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve him and swear by his name. You shall not go after other gods.” [little g]
The third temptation the devil offered Jesus was the last one for that particular meeting. He challenged Jesus to test God, to throw himself off of the temple and see if God would send angels to catch him. Jesus trusted that he would be safe, but he would not test God for anything, especially for a voice in his head or an evil vision before his eyes. He stood fast, standing on the solid ground of Scripture for his final defense. He quoted our Psalm of the day, Psalm 91 that we will sing in a moment. The part that he quoted was Psalm 91:11-12, and again he quoted Deuteronomy for his final stand: “You shall not test the Lord your God.” Jesus himself grounded his decisions in Scripture, and in so doing, the devil departed from him. Once you establish that your decision will honor God and not the devil, temptation gets less of a foothold in your life because you do not give in. As you think about our Lord Jesus during these days of Lent, don’t just admire him or feel sorry for him. Learn from him. Then you, like Christ, will make tempters take flight from your life.
Jeffrey A. Sumner February 17, 2013