Matthew 4: 1-11
OJT For Jesus
March 9, 2014
In the first gospel stories of Jesus’ baptism and temptation—we are confronted with the singular truth that the sinless man came to earth so that he could identify with sinful people. As his life went on he continued to consort with fallen women, tax collectors and every other variety of the human condition. He did so as his way of identifying with us so that we could then identify with him. Jesus was holy, but never holier than thou.
He was led, or driven, into the wilderness and there experienced the three main temptations with which we are confronted. Again, this was not something artificially engineered to make some point to us. Jesus really experienced this in a very human way. Just like he experienced the cross in a very human way. His testing would enable him to return to his ministry stronger and better able to live out his mission of announcing the kingdom. His testing enabled him to understand us better.
We can think of this as OJT for Jesus. How else would he know what it was like to live like us, unless he did? Because what is described here in this experience is typical of what kind of choices face all of us. What we read about this time in the wilderness is life after the fall. After we ate of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we decided what is right and wrong. And it doesn’t take a theologian or a genius to see where that has gotten us.
Those temptations are really pretty simple…and all pervasive in the world. The following description of the three temptations draws from Adam Hamilton’s book (2nd ch.), Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus. We will be studying from this in the coming weeks during our Lenten study.
Food…who isn’t tempted by food? Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptation and lost their spot in paradise. In stories about the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, some were willing to return to slavery in Egypt because at least the food was better! Esau was willing to sell his birthright for a bowl of porridge. We’ve heard so much about a health care crisis for people of all ages due to eating too much or eating the wrong things.
Jesus was hungry during his fast and breaking his fast would have been so easy for someone of his powers. But he was there in the wilderness to sharpen his attention to the will of his Father, not to give in to every desire. His ability to resist gave him the ability to later say to his disciples…”do not worry about your life, what you will wear or what you will eat.” This first temptation speaks to our desire for immediate gratification and a need to have what we want, when we want it.
Jesus answered the devil with scripture: “one does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the lord.” Deut. 8:3 Jesus was there in the wilderness to sharpen his senses, not dull them by giving in to a whim for bread. Fasting was part of the discipline he was learning and that discipline would enable him to answer greater challenges to come.
In the second temptation, the devil asks Jesus to perform a spectacular feat. Who among us has never wanted to show off? Maybe you did some somersaults on the high monkey bars to impress that little red-headed girl in the second grade. The Discovery channel carried the spectacle of Nic Wallenda crossing the Grand Canyon on live TV. At the other side of the canyon was his family watching with popular TV preacher Joel Osteen. They were praying together, and indeed thru his live microphone you could hear Mr. Wallenda praying to Jesus. Call me cynical, but I’m less than convinced that this is the best application of prayer. It’s one thing to pray for safety as one is driving home in a snowstorm. But for safety during a televised, money generating, dangerous stunt? I’m not so sure about that. That seems to pretty much define this second temptation, testing God to keep one safe.
But when I was working at the hospital as a chaplain, I saw something like that all the time. Not necessarily in terms of dare devil stunts, but just unhealthy lifestyles that led to illness and disease. We can’t over-eat and smoke and then pray to God to keep us healthy. That is testing God. But there are less risky ways to show off. Like spending above our limits to have that car, or that play-thing that will out shine our neighbor’s possessions. There are lots of ways to demonstrate to others how special we are. I bet that even for Jesus it was tough resisting demonstrating his power to the devil. But by resisting it then, later, on the cross, when he was taunted “come down from the cross if you are truly the Son of God,” he was better able to resist that temptation. And if he hadn’t, think about what that would have meant to the world, to us. No, Jesus never put his Father to the test. He knew that his father would redeem his suffering. He didn’t need to win friends and influence people by a foolish stunt. “You shall not test the Lord your God.”
The third temptation, to seek power at all costs is, sadly, a common preoccupation and has been thus for ages and ages. “All these kingdoms of the world will be yours if you will fall down and worship me.” Self-serving, rather than serving God seems to be the order of the day in the halls of power. I’ve been watching Netflix’ series House of Cards…and boy, it is all about getting and keeping power. Politician Frank Underwood lies, cheats, steals and even kills as he rises from humble beginnings to the highest political office in the land. It’s about power over others that gives one unfair advantages.
But let’s face it, we don’t have to be power hungry maniacs to succumb to the temptation to worship things other than God. We may not be hungering for political office but we want things that distract us from serving God. Consumerism, pornography, violence in media and sports…the list of ways we have found to occupy ourselves in pursuit of little gods is endless.
“Away with you Satan. For it is written you shall worship the Lord your God and him only serve.” Maybe Jesus was angry because this was the most tempting of the temptations. The devil was stooping low when he offered this. Jesus certainly spent a lot of time talking about the misuse of wealth and power, and the danger of worshipping idols.
So we have looked at these most common of all temptations and we know that the human condition is characterized by succumbing to temptation. But there is a reversal in process, a move back to the garden that has been happening since Jesus walked this earth. Christ came to free us from this bondage and ushers us into the fullness of life he knew in his relationship with God. It is no coincidence that each of Christ’s answers to the devil come from the book of Deuteronomy…chapters 6-8. This book, more than any other, describes the covenant relationship between God and God’s people. It describes the original blessing for God’s people, what God has already done, and what it means to live in right relationship with God. Scripture describes that relationship and its terms, but I guess God decided we needed an example. So God sent Jesus.
Lent means “lengthening”, referring to the longer days upon us. As of today, with DST starting, the days are lighter in the evening. Lent is a time for the lengthening and strengthening of God’s Spirit within us. It should be a time of refreshment when we look toward the beauty of God’s created world, and not back toward our fall from grace. There is more light in our lives, light we use to see the possibilities for living with God’s original blessing.
We don’t need to walk a tightrope thru life anymore, fearing a fall into the abyss. God is securely behind us, under us, over us, and in us. Our safety harness is the love that will not let us go. As Bruce Epperley puts it, the uncertainty and brevity of life invites us into praise and wonder of this original blessing…constantly reflecting on God’s vision for our world. We let go of everything that keeps us from rejoicing in the beauty of this earth. Seize the moment, because this is the day the Lord hath made….for you and for me.
Lent is not about original sin…we don’t need help in understanding the human condition. It’s about original blessing, this glorious world that has been given as a gift to us. In God’s garden we awaken to what is real, to a holy adventure. We put away the illusion that the devil presented to Jesus. That illusion is that of a world in which we live for ourselves alone. Lent is about an inner transformation that leads to transformed behavior. It is a call to treasure each day and not bother with the unworthy or unimportant.
We can drive thru the orchards right now and see the workers pruning branches. The result is more light filtering into the tree, thus more blossoms, and eventually more fruit. But not the fruit that caused all the problems in the first place. In our Lenten pruning we bear fruit that brings heavenly values to earth. We are learning to live like Jesus lived, OJT for healing the whole world.