Lent 1 • 14 Feb 2016


Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Romans 10:8b-13
Luke 4:1-13


Rev. Chris Udy



“When the devil had finished every test,
he departed from him
until an opportune time.”

Those are words
that end of our Gospel reading,
and they’re unique to Luke.

You’ll probably remember
that the story of the temptations
is in all the synoptic gospels -
so Matthew, Mark and Luke -
but each of the gospel writers
tells it in their own way
and with their own voice.
Mark wrote his account first,
and it’s the shortest.
Mark describes the baptism of Jesus,
and then he writes:
“And the Spirit immediately
drove him out into the wilderness.
He was in the wilderness forty days,
tempted by Satan;
and he was with the wild beasts;
and the angels waited on him.”

Mark talks about Jesus being driven -
almost forced into the wilderness;
he says nothing about what the temptations were,
but he says they lasted 40 days;
and he ends the story
with intriguing words:
“he was with the wild beasts;
and the angels waited on him”.
Matthew builds on Mark’s foundations.
He’s a lot more cautious
about anyone pushing Jesus around -
so he says Jesus was led by the Spirit - not driven -
into the wilderness.
He then describes the temptations
as bread into stones, then jumping from the temple,
then taking over the kingdoms of the world;
and the words he uses
to end his account are:
“Then the devil left him,
and suddenly angels came and waited on him.”
(No more wild things).

But this year we’re reading Luke,
and trying to hear Luke’s voice
as he tells us this story.

Like Matthew, Luke tones down
Mark’s opening words,
and he links them back to Jesus’ baptism.
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit,
returned from the Jordan
and was led (not driven) by the Spirit
in (not into) 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.”

Just very quickly,
this is one of the places
where we can see very clearly
that Matthew and Luke
not only had Mark’s gospel
open in front of them as they wrote,
but also another source of stories and sayings as well.
Matthew and Luke
use almost exactly the same words -
words that are not in Mark’s gospel -
when they describe the temptations of Jesus,
but one or both of them
changes the order around
to emphasise a theme
they want to highlight in their gospel.
It’s possible that Matthew’s source was Luke,
or that Luke had Matthew’s gospel to read from -
but most of the experts think
that both of them
were reading something else -
another collection of stories
that they call ‘Q’ or ‘Quelle’,
which is the German word for ‘source’.
Most of the experts also think
that Matthew copied
his order for the temptations from ‘Q’ -
so it was probably Luke
who changed the order around,
which leads us to wonder why it was
that he chose to make that change.

So Jesus was famished,
and, Luke says,
the devil suggested Jesus turn stones to bread.
He echoes the words that God had said
when Jesus was baptised:
“You are my son, the beloved,
with you I am well pleased.”
but the tempter turned
that statement of love and trust
into a weapon:
“If you are the son of God -
if you really are loved by God -
then command this stone
to become a loaf of bread.”
We’ve commented before,
but it’s worth saying again,
that temptations don’t come out of weakness.
We can only be tempted
to do something in our power.
Something has to be possible -
or at least we have to think it might be possible -
for it to be a temptation at all.
So the temptations we face
are about the kind of future we want to choose.
They’re about the kind of world we want to live in,
the kind of people we want to be -
and our sharpest and most difficult temptations
aren’t about avoiding something bad -
they’re usually about making a choice
about something that’s good.

Bread’s good.
Most of the things we’re famished for are good.
Jesus taught us to pray - every day - for bread.
Hunger’s a curse,
and after eating nothing for 40 days,
bread’s not only good,
it’s also essential.
It’s not that bread’s a problem -
and nor is political authority,
or spiritual power,
which are the other two temptations -
the problem’s not in what we want,
it’s in how we get what we want;
in the tricks and deals and compromises
we use to achieve our goals.
The problem’s in what it costs
to satisfy our hungers.

“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone
to become a loaf of bread.”

“It is written” Jesus replied
“one does not live by bread alone.”

There’s more to life than bread.
Hunger isn’t the worst thing we can feel
and sometimes - often! -
we need to put off
our enjoyment of one good thing
so we can achieve or preserve or accomplish another.
But how do we choose between them?
How do we learn
that putting up with one kind of hunger
can help us achieve something better?
How do we know
that the disciplines we’re taking on are healthy?

When Jesus says ‘it is written’,
that isn’t just a throw-away line.
For Jesus ‘it is written’
means he’s looking beyond
what he knows and feels about the world
to a deeper wisdom - a wider experience
and a greater authority.
For Jesus that’s scripture -
specifically it’s the scroll of Deuteronomy (8:3),
and the story of Israel,
famished in the wilderness
during the 40 years of their exodus.
For us, the Bible represents
wisdom won from a blend of brilliant inspiration
and bitter experience,
that has also been tested
through personal and community
discipline and reflection.
Most of us would also say
that those parts of the Bible
Jesus knew as scripture -
especially some parts of Deuteronomy,
like the purity codes and laws that mention stoning -
need to be weighed against other authorities -
other sources of wisdom
like Jesus himself in the gospels,
and modern medicine and science -
but the essential point is still the same.
We need to look beyond ourselves
to discover what’s truly good
and to learn which disciplines for life are healthy.
We need to read what’s written,
and we need a community
to help us work out how we’re going to live.

In Luke’s story, for the moment,
the devil is providing community for Jesus,
and he shows him, in an instant,
all the kingdoms of the world.
“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.”

The first temptation is about personal power -
having control of ourselves,
our needs and our hungers.
The second is about political power -
having control over others,
exercising influence and authority.
We don’t have to look too far
to find people who’ll do anything
to win and keep political control.
Not just in public life,
but in our families, in our communities,
and also in the Church,
there are people who will do and say atrocious things
to undermine someone they see as a threat
and to enforce their will.
The tempter tells Jesus
that all political glory and authority
comes from him -
and that’s a sobering thought -
but we need to ask what it is about us -
about us as citizens and voters
and members of the groups that we belong to -
what is it about us as human beings
that means we give leadership and authority
to unprincipled people?
Why do we reward
aggressive and untruthful men and women
with our votes, our loyalty and our support?

Jesus told the tempter
“It is written:
worship the Lord your God;
serve only him.”
Maybe the only one
who’s ultimately worthy
of our loyalty and obedience
is the only one who doesn’t need it.
If God is truth -
then God doesn’t need
to persuade us into a party or a creed
or impress us with bluster and threats.
But then responsibility rests with us:
we need to read what’s written;
we need to seek out truth;
we need to build a community
that will help us work out
how we’re going to live.

Finally, in Luke’s account,
the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem,
and placed him on the pinnacle -
the highest point - of the temple.
“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.'”

The first temptation is to personal power,
the second is political,
and the third is spiritual -
the ultimate power - power over God.
Jesus isn’t the only one
who can read what’s written.
The devil quotes scripture too,
and his suggestion is that Jesus
prove to himself
that he really is loved by God.
After all, he implies, if God really loves you,
he couldn’t bear to see you hurt.
So use that power that we have
over someone who loves us,
the tempter says,
the power to harm others by harming ourselves;
manipulate that most intimate and sacred gift
to show your power over God.

It’s spiritual power that truly holds us together.
It’s love and trust that builds a marriage,
a family, a home, a community.
Love brings us to life and gives us meaning;
trust is absolutely essential
to all the relationships that give us life -
none of the institutions of society
can operate without trust.
Language doesn’t work,
money doesn’t work,
government and the law
and even the armed forces of the world
could not continue if there were no bonds of trust.
Much, much deeper and stronger
than hatred and fear,
it’s love and trust that forms us
and heals us and leads us on
out of chaos and through our wilderness.
Love and trust are essential
because they’re the image of God in us;
God is revealed to us as Trinity -
loving, trusting relationship
is the essential nature of God,
and Jesus, the son, will not put that at risk
for the sake of a test.
“It is said,” he says this time,
not ‘It is written’ -
this is no game about who knows their Bible best -
“It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Temptations aren’t God’s way
of testing our loyalty or strength -
they’re options - possibilities -
about the people we want to be,
the world we want to live in,
and the future we want to see.

Our temptations won’t be the same as Jesus’.
We’ll be faced with options
that weren’t possible for him -
and some of the choices he had to make
are far beyond us -
but we all struggle with personal control;
we all need to exercise care and respect
in our relationships with other people,
and we’re all tempted to put God to the test -
we undermine the love and trust
that holds the world together.

Luke’s account of the temptations
is now complete - with one last point:
as much as we’d like to believe
that when we’ve faced a time of temptation
and found a way through it;
when we’ve read what’s been written
and drawn support from community,
we’d like to believe that that’s the end.
We’d like to think that we’ve beaten the devil
and now we’ll have the wisdom
and the strength to leave him behind ...
that’s not the way it works.

Luke writes “When the devil had finished every test,
he departed from him until an opportune time.”

Our temptations never really leave us.
The tempter is part of us,
and every year, and every day,
we need to make decisions
about what kind of people we’ll be,
what kind of world we’ll live in
and what kind of future we’re all building together.

The tempter returned to Jesus
when he was under stress:
when he was challenged, when he was tired,
when he was frightened and alone
in the garden just before he was arrested
when he was betrayed and deserted by his friends
when he faced a corrupt and heartless temple,
a brutal system and an unjust judge.
That’s why Luke sets the order of temptations
as he does -
because they mirror a lifelong struggle for Jesus,
a struggle that won’t end
until he comes to Jerusalem,
and, finally, to the temple.
Our temptations continue as long as we live;
we’re in some kind of wilderness
every day of our lives
and sometimes - often! - we’ll get lost and fall,
but we are made in the image of God,
and when we live in that loving trust
we will also find we are always forgiven.
So we pick ourselves up,
and read what’s been written
and look to our community for help;
we take up our cross,
and we follow Jesus
until we all arrive home.