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.​

Luke 4:1-13

Pastor Marc's sermon for the 1st Sunday in Lent (March 10, 2019) on Luke 4:1-13. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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One of my favorite comic strips growing was Calvin and Hobbes. The strip showed the vivids adventures of six year old Calvin and his stuffed tiger, Hobbes. Hobbes, of course, was more than stuffed. He was, to Calvin and to the rest of us, fully alive. Hobbes embraced his tiger identity and had an approach towards life that was entirely his own. One of my favorite scenes has the two of them in the middle of a creek, jumping from one rock to the next. While in mid-jump, Calvin asked Hobbes if he believed in the devil, “you know, a supreme evil being dedicated to the temptation, corruption, and destruction of humankind?” Hobbes, without even thinking, jumped to a new rock and said, “I’m not sure people need the help.” Calvin then looked at us, saying “you just can’t talk to animals about these things.” And he’s probably right. We can’t really talk to animals about the devil. But we can, I think, talk about the devil and the nature of evil with each other. When we imagine the devil, we might think of some creature wearing an all red jumpsuit, holding a pitchfork, and who’s surrounded by fire. Or, we might view the devil as something a bit more abstract, like some kind of spirit we can’t fully describe. We might experience the devil as a kind of spiritual force or we might even have seen that force personified in the people closests to us. For every fan rooting for the New Jersey Devils while they play hockey in Newark, there’s another person whose experience an evil that feels as if it must have some from somewhere. When it comes to the spiritual questions I’m most often asked about, the problem of evil and the devil comes up a lot. And today, on this first Sunday in Lent, the gospel of Luke introduces us to a devil who tried to tempt Jesus in the wilderness.

Now, it’s important to remember what happened right before today’s scene from the gospel according to Luke. Jesus went to see what his cousin, John the Baptist, was doing in the wilderness. It was there, in the untamed places, where John told large crowds to share, to love, and to serve one another. John invited even tax collectors to collect only what was owed and ordered soldiers to not extort those they’re suppose to defend. John said a lot while out in the wilderness. And also baptized a bunch of people too. It was after his baptism when Jesus heard the voice of God identify him as the beloved, as the one in whom God was well pleased. In fact, God was so well pleased with Jesus that the Holy Spirit immediately sent him out into a different, and even more menencing, kind of wilderness. But before we get to that wilderness, in the few verses between Jesus’ baptism and Jesus’ temptation that we don’t read on Sunday mornings, Luke went shared one of Jesus’ genealogies. Starting with Joseph, Jesus’ earthly dad, Luke connected him back through history to king David, Isaac, Abraham, Methuselah, and even Adam. For Luke, Jesus’ identity as the Son of God wasn’t only affirmed by the story of Christmas. Jesus’ identity, as the Messiah, was part of the history of God being active, and present, in the world. Jesus, according to Luke, knew who he was. But he might not have known, exactly, how his identity as the Son of God was going to be lived out. So it’s during this in-between time, in the space between baptism and how he started his ministry with a sermon in his hometown of Nazareth, when the devil shows up.

The text doesn’t tell us much about the devil, at least what the devil looked like. We don’t hear if the devil has a forked tongue, hooves for feet, or is busy holding a hockey stick. Instead, Luke focused on what the devil said. And if you pay attention to the words, you realize the devil never really challenged who Jesus was. The “ifs” in verse 3 and 9 aren’t really meant to be questions; they’re really statements affirming that, since Jesus is the Son of God, he could turn stones into bread and he could tempt God to protect him. The devil doesn’t confront Jesus’ identity as God’s beloved directly, preferring to test and corrupt how Jesus will chose to live his identity out loud. And that’s why the second temptation is so insidious. It’s not the type of power the devil offered that’s scary; rather, it’s the scope of it. The devil used Jesus’ own sense of purpose and his mission to love and change the world, against him. Jesus wanted all people to discover what it’s like when God’s kingdom was near. And so the devil offered Jesus what seemed like the easiest, most painless, and quickest way to do it.

Yet that 2nd temptation shows us who, and what, the devil really is. Because what devil truly offers to Jesus is a lie and Jesus knows it. If we take seriously the whole scope of scripture, from Genesis through Daniel and even including the book of Revelation, we discover that the devil is offering a promise they can’t back up. Because when it comes to God’s Creation, it’s God, not the devil, who has ultimate authority. Whatever authority the devil thinks they have, it’s at the best temporary and one that they can’t wield or use or give out like they think they should. The devil, for Luke, is less a creature and, instead, is really a lie. It’s the lie that tries to convince you of your unworthiness. It’s the lie that tries to claim an authority over you that it doesn’t really have. It’s the lie that, by targeting your hopes and dreams, aims to shrink who you know yourself to be. “The devil,” in the words of one commentator, Professor Karoline Lewis, “does not question who Jesus is, but tries to get Jesus to question who he is.” The lie the devil offered comes when we are at our most vulnerable to try and convince us that we are not who God knows us to be. The devil, at least in Luke, tried to convince Jesus to question his own identity. Jesus, as we see, didn’t fall of it. But we, I’m sure, often do.

We don’t always remember that, because of your baptism and your faith, you’ve already been claimed as God’s own. God, in a very public way, anointed you as God’s beloved child. It wasn’t because you were perfect or lovely or always said the right things that God chose you. No, God made you God’s own because that’s just what God does. And because you are God’s beloved, a huge part of your identity is about being a child of God. Yet I know owning that identity is sometimes easier said than done. There are plenty of ways we lie to ourselves to say that’s not true. And there are people around us who try to further that lie by diminishing the fact that we are loved. It’s not always difficult to see the lie that’s around us but it’s sometimes difficult to chose to do something about it. Yet doing something about it might be what God wants for us during these next five weeks of Lent. Professor Karoline Lewis wrote, “perhaps a Lenten discipline this time around could be naming those persons and things who think they have you all figured out, who want you to be someone you are not, whose only true interest in you is how you might benefit them -- and maybe giving up those persons and things for the next five weeks...” Jesus, in the wilderness, knew who he was. And maybe this Lent, we can re-learn who we are too. You are, right now, a beloved child of God. And your life is different because of it.

 

Amen.